20 November 2015: After briefly exploring a very tiny hunk of Quito and the surrounding Ecuador area for a few days, we boarded a small van and headed for the city of Minto and the El Monte Sustainable Lodge in the Cloud Forest. Love the way they transport their fruit to market. Although it was only 49 miles to the lodge, it took us 2 hours as we stopped several times and took in the beautiful scenery.
The road into Minto got pretty primitive and when our driver pulled up by a stand of palms and said “We’re here!”, we all got fairly quiet.
I have to admit that when we got out of the vehicle, I was greatly relieved to see a young man coming down to help us with our luggage (rather than 4 to 5 heavily armed Banditos). Turned out he was actually from Wisconsin and had taken this job to experience Ecuador...ah, to be young again!
Further around the corner we could see a small river with a cable crossing...never saw that coming! After several trips back & forth over the rushing water powered by Jerod, the rope-pulling Wisconsin boy, we all were lead to our “cabins”. Very impressive buildings actually. Each couple had a pretty good sized house to themselves, complete with full, running water bathrooms, and plenty of hot water for showers. Our place was the only split level structure, basically a large A-Frame with two single beds, bathroom, and living space downstairs and the master bedroom & bath upstairs through a floor hatch that was to be closed at night...they never told us why and I never asked. We slept upstairs not only due to the double bed there, but because suddenly it seemed safer to be upstairs, on the other side of a closed hatch at night.
The bathrooms & showers in each house were all decorated to some extent with river rock. It was a fabulous meld of modern and primitive. Jay & Leslie’s “hut” had doors on the outside wall of their shower. Even though the small windows in the doors were curtained, Jay just couldn’t resist giving us all a show by opening the doors as he showered. Leslie was much more constrained and polite.
After we freshened up and unpacked a bit, we met for the standard communal lunch in the main building (open air sides with palm frond thatching). Most of the fare was oriented to a vegetarian diet, but it was all very tasty, fresh, and nicely presented. After lunch we met with Fernando (who would be our guide for our stay) to discuss what we’d like to do. It didn’t take us long to decide on the things we’d like to do and we were all really happy that Layne was recovering from her 24 hour flu-bug. Fernando took us out for a brief hike and tour of the lodge grounds. Susan & I had to do a little extra after the group hike to get our minimums in for the day...but the walking streak is still alive. Jay had to test out the lodge relaxation equipment before giving his final approval...after his "test" nap.
Dinner was good but I’m burping onions like crazy...seems that onions are a heavily favored ingredient in most meal-time offerings here.
In the dark of the morning...and I used that term “morning” very loosely...we all realized that we didn’t really think it through very well when we agreed to the 4:30 a.m. departure time to hike up to the Cock-of-the-Rock viewing blind (now there’s a phrase to think about... viewing blind). Apparently we had to arrive before dawn to see the quite brilliantly colored birds become active in the early morning light (another fact that had evaded all of us the previous day when we’d merrily set up our daily tour schedule with Fernando). Fernando drove us a few miles up the road and then we hiked up a pretty steep jungle trail in the bare gloom of dawn. With nothing to actually focus on visually, the entire hike I kept coming back to how I’d not only missed my morning coffee, the O-Dark thirty departure time, the jungle mountain hike in the dark on a slick muddy trail, and why we thought risking life and limb seeing this rare, exotic bird would be such great fun. (It really was fun to do and I really never felt threatened or endangered, but in retrospect it was much, much more fun than in the moment...and it makes it a bit more fun to write if I can whine a little.) I’m just glad that we were all in pretty good walking shape and reasonably stable on our feet. Layne was still a little weak from her bout with the flu, but she was a trouper and kept up with all of us. Watching from the viewing blind as dawn broke, we did sight a couple of the bright males in the courting area before they all left for the feeding grounds deep in the forest. Susan & Leslie wanted a picture with the sign for the Cock-of-the-rock viewing area just to prove they had made the climb.
|Yes, that little red spot in the bottom center frame is the famous bird for which we risked life, limb,|
coffee, and breakfast rights. Note to self: Always check starting times before signing anything.
Funny how a camera and a little photo editing can make a dark scene seem fairly light...I still maintain it was really dark for most of the hike up the side of the mountain...just sayin'
Spent a couple hours total for this adventure, but breakfast and coffee were very welcome when we got back “home”... I was just glad the other folks at the lodge had left us something.
At 10 in the morning, the group headed for the Butterfly-Mariposa House. As always, having lots of brightly colored (and sometimes HUGE) butterflies & moths flying very close to you and landing on a shirt sleeve or hand quite often creates a pretty special memory. Back to the main lodge for lunch. Turns out that Tom, the owner of the lodge is from Mississippi. His wife is from Ecuador and when they married, they decided this business was the perfect match for them. Both very gracious and made every trip to the main lodge a joy. Back on the road again (literally) as we walked into town to see the orchid house and hummingbird place. The orchids were lovely and quite exotic (after all we were in Ecuador!). The hummingbird house was awesome. It was set up like a bar. You sat on stools looking out over a wooden “bar” into a somewhat cleared patch of the jungle. Several feeding stations were placed throughout the clearing and the hummingbirds were thick! Lots of varieties and just fascinating to watch (and try to photograph).
Jim had decided to stay with Layne and was feeling pretty worn out himself. So they both stayed in their unit for the afternoon to get some rest. Jay, Leslie, Susan, and I had lunch and then enjoyed an adult beverage in the clearing contemplating our upcoming afternoon zip line adventure (and what I considered one of the biggest horse flies I had ever seen).
Susan & I had done a zip line in August of 2012 visiting Jim & Pat Kraby in Big Sky, Montana. It had four runs and it cost about $80 per person. Being our first zip line “ride”, we had a ball and said if we had the opportunity to do something like that again, we’d jump at the chance. This Mindo Canopy Adventure cost $20 per person, so we really weren’t expecting much...as usual, I was wrong! Thirteen runs, each one surpassing anything we experienced in Montana.
It was another awesome side tour from which we all came away breathless from the beauty and shear joy of being alive in this fantastic area. We returned to our “resort” and after lunch After a lovely dinner with lots of story telling for Jim & Layne to endure. I even got some quality time taking pictures of the dragonflies & damselflies of the area.
Back to the lodge for dinner. I had noted earlier that Tom had had built a cobb (clay) oven at one end of the dining area. I talked to him about the oven and he told met it wasn’t used very often because dry wood was difficult to keep on hand. He said for now, it’s used occasionally and more a decoration than a working component of the kitchen. That said, today was Thanksgiving in the states & Tom had their chef finish cooking a turkey in the cobb oven. Turned out very well (and I was very happy to have something without a heavy onion presence). Layne was still recovering from the flu and the earlier “fun” of the day and had decided to skip dinner as well. Jim thought it would be good to take a dinner plate back to their unit so she’d have something eat for the evening. He never returned and we just decided he’d turned in early for the evening. Turned out, the flu bug Layne initially had, finally took hold in Jim’s gut...Luckily he didn’t need a hospital trip, but was really glad it was a 24-48 hour variety of yuck.
We all turned in after our Thanksgiving dinner and talking with our hosts and the other guests about the fun we’d had...after all we’d been up early and packed a lot into the day. We got a little tour of the kitchen before leaving and noted how you can make a blender for the perfect Margarita if you don’t have electricity to spare.
Jim & Layne still were recovering from the flu as the four of us headed off at 5:15 am the next morning on a bird watching trip before breakfast...where was my mind when these starting times were mentioned? Fernando took us back up the road to the Mindo Canopy Adventure, but stopped and said we needed to walk up the hill if we were to spot any Toucans. He’s obviously had a lot of experience and pointed out an amazing variety of birds on our walk.
Once again, the early start was well worth it...especially in retrospect. Back to the lodge for breakfast and to get our stuff packed up. One more adventure here before we return to Quito...a river rafting this afternoon. I didn’t think the little river by the lodge was anything special, but it was fabulous to raft it in a set of inner tubes with your friends. Jim was still pretty shaky and decided to get some more rest but Layne came down to be with the chase and film crew. The float was about a half an hour but it certainly was one of the favorite floats of my life (so far...).
After getting changed into dry clothes and thanking everyone we’d met here for such a wonderful time, we piled back into the little van for the trip back to the big city. Jim was looking quite pale but was able to stay upright in his seat and avoid any moaning during the two hour ride. We checked into our Hotel arranged by Viking with no problems. Jim went to bed and the five of us had a mixed grill (mostly meat) dinner. Sam and Martha were coming in at 10:30 pm, so we stayed up to welcome them. They got to the hotel about 11:30 so we had a mini meet and greet and we all called it a day! Tomorrow starts the actual Viking cruise itinerary.
(I am shocked that with all the fun we've had so far, this has only been the warm-up to the actual Galapagos trip!)