Archives for posts with tag: mindo

Every morning, I wake to the sounds of dozens of birds and bugs and breezes, frantic and excited for another day of sun and rain.  I lift the mosquito net over my head, just enough to peer out the window into Armando’s plot of land, bursting with greens and changing every second as the early light grows and shifts.  There’s one tree back there whose trunk is covered in a creeper with round, neon little leaves.  The other day I was up to grab my book and spotted a Motmot in that tree, relatively still and silent with its brilliant blue tail hanging nonchalantly toward me.  I could hardly contain myself, searching for the binoculars without taking my eyes of that tail, sure that it would fly away just as I opened the case… but it stayed, just hopping up a few branches as I gawked from the open-air bathroom.

Why does nature express itself so creatively, so exuberantly, here in this particular place?  Sure, it could simply be a matter of humidity and heat, of eons of evolution and careful conservation efforts in recent years.  Who knows, it could even be that some divine being decided to bless these hills and valleys with its most inspired designs.  These days, though, I can’t shake the idea from my mind that there’s some sort of magic in the mix.  The glitter and flap of iridescent blue butterflies sweeps me into a world where magia becomes possible–even necessary.

This morning we dragged ourselves out into the sunrise, high above Mindo and past where the canopy tours run, to search for some of the thousands of bird species that grace this forest.  I had been out once before, alone, and saw dozens of gorgeous species, few of which I could identify.  Though everything is enthralling with or without a name, I was happy to have Armando pointing out bird calls and differences between males and females and subspecies along the way.  Of course the small lemon tanager males are more brilliant than the females, with blindingly yellow streaks under their jet-black wings; songbird sexes are always relatively easy to tell apart.  The toucans are harder.  There are not only males and females, but also at least three species that we saw– one with a distinct, red-spotted chest and two that look the same to my untrained eyes.  They were chatting and singing to one another across the gravel road, high in the trees but easy to spot, cocking their heads and preening their feathers.  Occasionally one would stretch its black wings out, feather tips silhouetted neatly against the sky, and glide silently to another branch.  Whether they were chasing each other, joking or teasing or crying longingly for a mate, I am left wondering.  How do they choose whom to love?  I find it hard to believe it´s simply a matter of the biggest beak or loveliest cackle.

But what do I know about toucan love?

Then there were the quetzals, stunningly sparkling and marine-colored.  They are normally scarce and certainly difficult to see perched in camouflage against the canopy, but today we saw at least three pairs, chasing one another and hunting for insects in the wide-open ravines that lead down to the Rio Mindo.  I surely would have missed them had I been alone, but Armando patiently pointed out each one and we stood in awe as their red tails flashed in and out of sight.  Instead of singing, sometimes they just laugh like hyenas, like they´ve got some secret I´d be a fool to guess at.

¨Qué más quieres ver?¨ asked Armando after we’d marvelled some time over toucans and quetzals, the two most magnificent, ¨exotic¨ birds to my eyes.  A hawk, a woodpecker, an eagle?

And just past the next curve, he shushed me over to look up at a branch hanging over the road, dripping with epiphytes: a hawk, silent and serious, glaring over the valley below.  He (she?) then starting calling, slowly and softly at first, almost gently, then crescendoing steadily into a wild war cry.  As it let out the last deafening pulse, it opened its wings and dropped away around the curve, out of sight.

As the sun finally crept over the canopy and my stomach started growling, I didn’t need to know much more.  That this place is perpetually happening, that its life force cycles in every direction, up and through every [damned] mosquito and [steadfast] hawk, every day of the year, doesn´t require that I know about it.  The fact that I can, just a bit… magic.

-Monday, May 2

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I walked more than a marathon yesterday, loaded with a pack, through mud and across streams, to return to Mindo from Quito.  Now every time I move my legs I’m reminded of the journey.  But it feels good.

I went to visit Armando again on Saturday, and after a couple days of hanging out with the beach bunch, we got it together to do the walk he´d mentioned many a time.  It actually runs from a small suburb south of Quito, called Lloa, and follows the Rio Blanco, which then joins with others to become Rio Cinto, past Volcán Pichincha and the thickening cloud forest reserve called Mindo-Nambillo.  Juanita, a friend who lives in Quito and expressed interest last time we talked about it, joined us in the afternoon, and we were walking by 4 pm.  With only two hours of daylight on Monday, we made it perhaps 8 kilometers in before night fell and it started to rain.

My feet were already aching from the rubber boots I´d bought for the trek.  We quickly set up our tents and huddled together to feast on some pork fritada, mote (hominy), papas, and sweet plantains we´d bought in Lloa.  The mosquitos were swarming our flashlight, just a thin netting between us and agony.  Although the rain continued off and on throughout the night and I woke up dozens of times to get more comfortable, we awoke dry and well-rested.  Miraculous.

For breakfast, I had the first bite of peanut butter since I left the states three and a half months ago.  Bread, banana, brown sugar.  Juanita was in love instantly (she lived in Houston for most of her life, though– how could she have missed banana-PB combo?) and was dreaming of those sandwiches for the rest of the day.

So, here´s the math: we started walking at 7:30 am.  Stopped at 9:45 for about a half hour to eat tuna and avocado (and a lot more).  Got slowed down at one point to scale a small, root-entwined cliff where the path had been swept away by the shifting Rio Cinto.  A couple pauses to take photos, gather water from little streams, or pop some toasted fava beans.  Stopped again at about 3:30 to eat, by then brain-dead, wobbly, and slap-happy.  Got picked up, joyous!, by a truck at 5:00 pm, just 4 km from Mindo.  All in all, we walked about 45 km (28ish miles) in 8-9 hours.  Not bad, eh?

Armando helping Juanita across one of the many streams.  She brought hiking shoes instead of rubber boots, but she quickly gave up on trying to stay dry and clean and ended up covered up to her shins.  Tough gal.

What with the distance still to travel, the sharp pains in my toes and feet, and the impossibly mucky, rocky terrain to concentrate on, I surely missed the majority of the scenery– not to mention the record diversity of plants and animals.  That said, I´m walking with some gems: the morning sun gilding epiphyte-covered guava trees, a section in pura selva that felt akin to the Old Growth Trail in Corvallis, gigantic heart-shaped leaves and hordes of yellow-beaked toucans and green parrots squawking over the way north.

Armando and I were cracking up all evening as we tried to hobble our way back to the house.  I went down for a 10-minute nap at 7 pm and ended up eating dinner when I woke, groggy, three hours later.  Even though we´re fit and strong, I guess walking a marathon with an extra 20 pounds requires a wee bit more training.