Thursday, 6 February 2014

Ecuador - Mindo

The first stop after the Galapagos was overnight in Quito, then we on to Mindo the next morning (more Quito later).  Mindo is a village part way down the west slope of the Andes, in cloud-forest.  It is in the Choco region of northwest South America, one of the most diverse small areas in the world, and also one of the most threatened, as most of it has been logged or converted to agriculture.  The Mindo area is an exception, with some large areas of privately and publicly owned protected forest extending up into the mountains.  As a result, it is a mecca for birders.  It has the highest per capita number of people with binoculars around their necks of anywhere I've been, including many locals who work as bird guides. We stayed at Hacienda San Vicente, known as La Casa Amarilla (the Yellow House).  They own a big area of forest with their own set of trails, heading well up in to the hills above town.  The first page below is the house, and a view of the town in the forested valley from part way up one of the cloud-forest trails.  Part of the reason for the diversity of the area is the weather, which typically involves a sunny morning, clouding over in the early afternoon just as it gets really hot, then rain beginning in the late afternoon and lasting through the night - ideal growing conditions for plants.  And great for hiking, if you time it right, which we didn't quite do.

The birds are clearly a main attraction - including the 7 species of hummingbirds I saw from the back porch - so the bird list started to take over my sketchbook, especially when we hired a guide for the morning to take us up to an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek (communal display site for the absurdly red-plummaged males) and point out all the other species in the tree tops.  But there are also chocolate-makers in the area, so we could experience the whole process from cocoa pod to eating.  And it is a lovely town just to hang out in - without having to be self-conscious about displaying binoculars, or sketchbooks.

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