Hiking Quilotoa took a lot out of us. Dan was surprised to learn he was susceptible to altitude sickness, and Stella and Gabriel demanded a moratorium on hiking. I had pushed my thighs to their limit, first kneading them into a wobbly, rubbery state, which then snapped into rock hard tightness after a moment’s rest. Any sudden pressure on my quads, usually coming from my hyper kids jumping on top of me, made me cry out in pain. We all needed a rest, and that is exactly what we found in our next destination.
After a forced layover in Quito, we took a bus North to the warmer more humid jungles of Mindo. Located less than a three-hour drive from the capital, in a dense, green, cloud forest, Mindo is a small town with a population around 4000. It’s proximity to Quito has made it an easy getaway for city folk and visiting travelers, who are looking for a vastly calmer experience. Many roads are still unpaved, and there are charming, two-story, ramshackle wooden homes that stand crookedly against encroaching modernization and development. Kids ride their bikes, roller skate, and play soccer in the streets, including along the main drag. Dogs lay lazily on corners, and roosters crow in the early morning. Even the foreigners are treated with great friendliness and welcome, as if old, reunited friends. There is a big expat community of shop owners, who never seem too busy or bored to tell their tales and enquire with genuine curiosity of another’s path. There are many entrepreneurs opening healthy restaurants, producing chocolate, running guesthouses with convivial bars, and organizing tours.
We stayed at lovely Caskaffesu in an adobe room, where there was a nightly show of Andean musicians to entertain us. The owner had a couple of young American girls who were working at his guesthouse, making excellent cappuccino, and sweetly inviting Stella and Gabriel to bake key lime pie with them. Across the street, Gabriel was able to play a pick-up soccer game with some local boys, and we had no shortage of tasty cafes to satiate our hunger. Although there was much we could have done in the way of hiking to cascades, tubing down rivers, and canopy flying, we were far too lazy for such adventures. We had to force the kids to abandon play with the owner’s dogs, and pull our noses out of books and laptops to be as active as we were.
The two highlights of our time, besides taking a break from the over-scheduling of our days, were a short jaunt to Mariposas de Mindo, where we visited a butterfly farm, and a long morning in the surrounding hills with a professional bird-watching guide. Mariposa de Mindo should speak for itself in these photos. The greenhouse is the perfect place to interact with butterflies, feeding them mushy bananas, learning about all stages of their development, and to admire the diversity of flora in the region.
If I hadn’t made it clear in the description of our African travels, we had all become more interested in birding on this trip. Mindo is a birder’s paradise, with more than 600 species, including colorful toucans and jewel-breasted hummingbirds. We had to head out very early in the morning in order to see more birds at their peak active time. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about Ecuadorian birds, having his own ‘bird’ eyes with which to spot these camouflaged creatures, and being able to distinguish what type was singing or mimic their calls. He drove us to a few different spots, and then carried a HUGE telescope on our walk, as we searched the canopy around us. As soon as he spotted a fowl, we would try to find it with our binoculars, always stunned that he had seen anything in the dense foliage. Within seconds, he would set up and focus his telescope on a perched bird, and all the fine feathers and tiny features would be suddenly made clear to us. I was able to take many of these pictures through the telescope, otherwise my camera was useless. It is a fact that we would not have seen even a quarter of these birds without his assistance, and we certainly would have never known what we were looking at.
Here is our ridiculous list of birds sighted within a four-hour period:
- Kites: Swallowtail, Hook-billed, Grey headed
- Redbilled parrot
- Squirrel cuckoo
- Common Potoo
- Hummingbirds: White necked jacobin, Rufous tailed, Andean emerald, Brown violet ear
- Masked trogon
- Rufous motmot
- Crimson rumped toucanets
- Toucans: Chestnut mandobill, Choco
- Woodpeckers: Golden olive, Montane
- Spotted wood creeper
- Slaty spine tail
- Gleaners: Lineated foliage, Scaly-throated foliage, Buff fronted foliage gleaner
- Flycatchers: slaty capped, ornate
- Black phoebe
- Tropical kingbird
- Rusty marginated flycatcher
- Southern rough-winged swallow
- Ecuadorian thrush
- Slate throated white start
- Three striped warbler
- Euphonias: Orange belly, Thick billed
- Tanagers: swallow, blueneck, bay headed, fawn-breasted, golden, silver-throated, flame face, metallic green, beryl spangled, blue grey, Palm, lemon rump, white-lined
- Black wing saltator
- Yellow bellied seed eater
- Tricolor brush wing
Our trip to Mindo was short, but it was just the reprieve we needed. We headed back up to Quito for one last night, before the final stop of our entire adventure…