Day 1 Mindo Cloud Forest
Jun 13, 2013
|ECUADOR! I didn't know how to spell it correctly, let alone exactly where it was in the world; but the name evoked adventure and excitement when asked by our friends Annette and Brian if we wanted to go there for a trip.
This small country is located on the western side of South America. The capital is called Quito and is nestled in a long, narrow valley in the Andes on the slopes of Volcano Pichincha to the west. Quito enjoys a spectacular natural setting.
It is the highest capital in the world at 9,350 feet!
Needless to say, it took a little while to adjust! The Historic Center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. From the 7th floor of our hotel, which was on the eastern edge in the middle of the city, you could view its expanse, stretched out as far as the eye can see to the north and south. It is 25 miles long and 3 miles wide (at widest point), housing 2.3 million souls.
This is where we began.
We had 2 full extra days before the official tour with Gate 1 started and we planned to make the most of it. So a couple weeks before we left, I asked Google where to go in Ecuador for great birding. It replied Bellavista Cloud Forest Retreat. Brian agreed that it had good reviews and we sent them our money, with promises of an exciting trip up the mountain for some great birding and fun hikes.
Dennis arrived about 20 minutes late. A little worried, we hopped in and headed out on the 2 hr drive out of Quito to Mindo area. Dennis was……different! But he jumped right in with fun conversation and had us laughing before we left the city. We descended the mountain plateau and dropped into the valley. He talked almost constantly about the areas we were passing by, the history of the country, the government and interesting trees and plants life along the way. He was quite a lot of knowledge about the flora and fauna. It was beautiful, green and lush. Finally, we turned onto a dirt switchback road that weaved up the mountain. We passed a few private gated homes/gardens and small village and still we went up! A beautiful waterfall, up and up we went. The curves were sharp, the drop offs, basically straight down, but being covered with thick vegetation didn’t seem so dangerous. I sat in the back seat laughing; it reminded me of being on one of those carnival rides where you try not to squish the person next to you!
When we arrived and walked to the thatched out buildings of Bellevista, we heard the hummingbirds!!! They were everywhere! I think I counted 8 feeders but there were probably more. They go thru over 100 lbs of sugar every week! These little guys were zooming all around us, feeding and flying off and zooming around some more! One sounded just like a little lawn mower! He was a bit smaller than the others. They had a chart to help to identify the different hummingbirds. It was like hummer overload! You could stay RIGHT next to the feeder and they pretty much ignored you, they were so used to people. Or were so high on sugar!!!! I reached out and pet the tail of a large hummer then went up and pet its back! For me, this was a big deal :) Jim and I also saw our first Toucan, a Plate-Billed Mountain Toucan!
We did an hour long hike which was a bit intense, basically weaving our way up and down steep hillside.
The plants were huge! I remember feeling like I was in the movie Jurassic Park. Dennis taught us about the trees and plants in the cloud forest. It’s like a rain forest but at an elevation of 7-8000 ft which is watered by the moisture from the clouds. We managed to return right before a hard rain and were treated to a delicious, fresh trout dinner.
These trout were huge! I could have spent the entire day here, it was incredible. But Dennis had other plans. We returned to Quito a different route, a more rural dirt road. This narrow road led us through beautiful valleys, which is where Dennis, Jim and Annette saw the Cock-of-the-Rock; a shy, flashy bird that is most often seen flying from one area to another. He was hidden again by the time I got out of the car. Dennis had only seen this bird 3 times.
Trout were not native to Ecuador, but the people loved the taste and began farming them. We stopped at one of these trout farms, huge cement tanks with fresh mountain water running through. You could fish for them yourself or buy them. I'm pretty sure he guy said that these were the fish we ate up in Bellevista, but my spanish is rusty. A family had caught some fish and the kids were having fun cutting them up.
One young teen took our photo.
Again we headed thru the mountains, Dennis beeping his horn as he rounded curves barely wide enough for two vehicles. I will note on this style of driving later. We were going to visit friends of his that owned a restaurant in a town called Nono. A small, quaint village about 30 minutes from Quito. He promised great company and a delicious Argentina steak house. We were able to enjoy this couples small, private hummingbird/flower garden while they prepared our meals.
It was one of the best meals we had on the trip! We found out later that most red meat in Ecuador is not "hung", meaning the animal is slaughtered then cut up. This couple liked their meat to be bled for days before processing. I definitely noticed the difference, especially when ordering filet mignon while there (it was quite cheap) but finding it tough and not very tasty.
I was too caught up in the trip to really take a lot of pictures, and the ones I did take were often not focused well. Brian took loads of great photos. By the time we returned to Quito it was nightfall, and the valley was filled with lights. It was beautiful!
Our first full day in Ecuador was more than we hoped for! And it was only the beginning of an exciting trip!