Most people who visit this blog will think of one thing when the town of Mindo Ecuador is mentioned: birding the tropical rainforest. Located within the Tumbez-Chocó-Darién bioregion, it has one of the richest avifauna diversities in the world. A targeted must-see location for birdwatchers around the globe, Mindo has become known for its easy access and nearly unlimited opportunities to add to one’s sighting list. It is truly a birders paradise.
However, when going on vacation with the family, it often happens that not all members of the unit are equally enthusiastic about the prospect of tramping around the tropical rainforest in search of the Giant Antpitta. In deference to those non-birders within the group I am dedicating this particular article.
|Traveling in Style|
It was my pleasure over the last four days to take some friends from England on a Rainforest Adventure. Nigel Mallon, a dentist from Sheffield, arrived in Quito Ecuador along with three dental students to participate in a clinic that was taking place in the southern part of the city. This weeklong event ended on Sunday as the majority of the team returned to the United States. Nigel, Emilie Abraham, Ali Day and Zan Johar stayed behind to take advantage of few extra days of R&R. I accompanied them on their little adventure into the tropical rainforest.
On Sunday, after the bulk of the team had shuttled to the airport, I met the young thrill-seekers and brought them to my home to drop of their extra baggage. About 8:45 AM we were ready to hit the road and tackle the unknown. As we traveled out past Pululahua volcano north of Quito, there was a hushed excitement. Though weary from their previous weeks work, the team was anxious to adventure into this new uncharted territory.
About an hour and a half into our journey we stopped in Nanegalito for a late breakfast and an opportunity to stretch our legs. A small roadside restaurant provided everything we needed to start this new adventure. Coffee, tea, empanadas and bolas (a fried ball of cornmeal and cheese) were the morning’s fare and set the mood for the trip. A good meal and a few photos later we were on our way.
We arrived in Mindo at around 11:30 AM and went on to our cabins. We stayed at La Estancia, one of many hosterias providing comfortable yet inexpensive accommodations in this small rustic town. At $15 per night, which included breakfast, this small oasis fit right in with a student budget. The cabin had two bedrooms and a private bath. There was a small porch off the back overlooking a mountain stream. Two hammocks strung across the deck made a comfortable area to listen to the water and watch birds and butterflies flitting through the trees.
After storing our baggage we decided to walk on down to the butterfly forest, about a mile from the lodge. Although this group did not consist of avid birders, I had instilled in them a curiosity for species that are not encountered in Europe such as hummingbirds and tanagers. Of course, there was a distinct interest in seeing rainforest species such as toucans. This desire was fulfilled as a Choco Toucan flew across the road during our hike. It landed in a tree near the Mindo River and gave the team an opportunity to view it at a distance.
When we arrived at the butterfly forest we were disappointed to be told that, due to the overcast skies of the day, the butterflies were not active. But this did not deter this group of adventurers from enjoying the activity at the hummingbird feeders. There were about ten different species represented including the White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail, and White-Necked Jacobin. Emilie and Ali had their photos taken with Bruno, the giant gray Mastiff that resides on the property. After about an hour of being entertained by the hummingbirds we walked back to the cabin.
On Monday the team had their sights set on ziplining across the gorges of the Mindo valley. It was a beautiful morning and the air was filled with excitement. A pickup took us to the starting point and we were introduced to our guides: Junior, Hernan and Leonardo. After being fitted with our harness and receiving a brief safety lecture we were off to the skies. Our first challenge was a 300m (984 ft) trip across a valley at a height of about 100m (330 ft). It provided a beautiful view of the tropical rainforest, a view that would normally only be enjoyed by the exotic birds of the region. The harness gave one a feeling of security while zipping across the magnificent landscape.
This was the first of 13 ziplines ranging in distances from 75 – 400 m (246 – 1300 ft) that we would encounter on the adventure. However, for the more daring in the group there was no end of the excitement. On a number of traverses the team was given the option of modifying their traveling position. The “Superman” allowed the daredevil to assume the stance of this flying crusader, body parallel with the ground and arms outstretched in the true super-hero posture. For the ultimate thrill-seeker there was the “Butterfly”, an inverted cross stance with the head dangling precariously over the precipice. This was very disorienting as the traveler sped across the chasm. All in all it was a very exhilarating experience and highly enjoyed by all participants.
As I write this I find that the description is becoming quite lengthy so I have decided to divide it into two parts. There was so much more that we encountered on this 3-night experience and much more that we did not have time for. Stay tuned for the next installment.