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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

24 July 2011

Variable conditions

23rd July 2011

Today was a strange mixture. Up hideously early in the morning birdwatching; a long, weary and immensely frustrating drive all over the middle of Ecuador; and this evening finds us relaxing in our own hot spring pool in the rain and mist.

The birdwatching happened by accident, we were asking Julia some questions about other special places around Mindo with our broken Spanish and her clunky English, and then she phoned someone and booked us to visit Refugio La Paz de Las Aves tomorrow morning. With a 5AM start… groan. This was the serious birdwatcher’s kind of birdwatching – we weren’t just rambling around to see what was about, we were targetting five special species that this place is renowned for. The Cock-of-the-Rock is at least impressive, a weird orange and blue fellow who is up every morning at 6AM to make outlandish squonking noises at his fellow Cocks in the same patch of forest every single day. Hence our early start. Hence the grainy and unsatisfying photos!

The other four species are all different kinds of Ant-Pitta. These are small brown birds that live right down on the forest floor amidst the thick undergrowth and so are incredibly difficult to spot. Hence their desirability to the hardened ‘watcher. And so I present to you the magnificent Gallery of Ant-Pittas:


The best bit of the morning was stopping at a place called Mindo Loma where they have hummingbird feeders. The air was alive with the tiny jewel-like birds, and it’s such a strange delight to have them pass so close that you feel a breeze across your face. We could have stayed longer.

But we had to get back to the other side of Quito and into the mountains for our final two nights at Papallacta, hot springs with a nice relaxing hotel attached. Three hour journey took five. Honestly, I can handle idiots overtaking on blind corners and trucks bearing down on me on mountain roads. But dammit I hate not having a map. We asked Julia for directions, and she turns out to have a much better grasp of birds than roads. So having driven a half-hour too far north-east I stop at a petrol station and get two conflicting suggestions. In Spanish, of course. We take the more likely sounding and eventually join the Autopista (motorway?) which seemed according to plan. But then – and no, I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel – the road suddenly went from motorway to busy town centre in a hundred yards, and a couple of minutes further on without taking any turn-offs or seeing any signs I was driving along a small road with no other traffic. Bum.

Eventually I stopped at a shop for directions, and luckily the guy had internet within so we resorted to Google Maps. The first thing I discovered was that the directions at the petrol station were crap, and we were too far south. The second thing I found was that Google Maps is hopeless in Ecuador. Half the roads – the main roads – weren’t marked or were in the wrong place, which became apparent when he overlaid the satellite image. He used this to show me which road to get onto and how to reach it. This road isn’t on the map. What chance does anyone have?!?

So we left the random town in the middle of nowhere and a half-hour later finally found a sign-post to Papallacta. This led us up and up and up and up, right into thick clouds reducing visibility to twenty yards. Didn’t stop the idiots overtaking on corners, of course. But who cares! We made it just before dark.

Which brings us to this nice hot pool, right outside our room. Darkness is falling, there’s a gusting wind blowing the rain into near-horizontal spray, and we’re over 3,000 metres up in the cold Andes. But the water is bath heat and very relaxing. Tomorrow is our last full day.


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