Located just a few hours northwest of Quito on the edge of the mountains and the coastal plain is the town of Mindo. As you take the road west out of Quito towards the coast, the elevation quickly drops and the forests begin to take a definitively tropical appearance -- huge canopy trees, vines and llianas, bromeliads and orchids. This is our first brush with the tropics in Ecuador: up until Mindo we have been in the mountains. The bus dropped us off on at an intersection some 10 kilometers from the town and the bus driver advised us to wait for a truck from town which would be along eventually - or we could walk. As dusk was rapidly approaching, we opted to wait and fortunately the promised truck soon arrived and we were soon in town. Another short ride in a camioneta later we arrived at our hostel La Roulette which was located in the midst of the forest a short distance outside of town. We chose to stay here for the opportunity to stay in a handmade roulette or gypsy wagon and our's did not disappoint.
With a bed on one side and en-suite bathroom on the other our gypsy wagon was lined with wood and the stained glass and arched roof beams made it completely adorable. And a much needed place for Annie, who was seriously ill at this point, to rest and recuperate with some degree of privacy. The owners of the hostel were so incredibly kind to us: while Annie napped I attempted to communicate that my wife was feeling ill and they became so concerned that they insisted on running into town to purchase some Pedialyte to help her stay hydrated.
The next day, while Annie recovered her strength, I lounged in the hostels restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of Swedish Rösti while enjoying the most lively and varied parade of colorful birds drop out of the trees to feast on their own breakfast of bananas set outside the restaurant's windows. Mindo's real claim to fame is their status as the world capital of birding. Although places like Costa Rica provide stiff competition, over the past few years Mindo has consistently won the Christmas Bird Count - last year birders (people who really dig birds) recorded over 450 bird species.
It turns out that Annie and I are birders too. After a couple of days Annie was feeling much better and seeing as we were in the Birding capitol of the world and all, we figured it would be a shame not to see some of the areas famous residents. It was awesome. Our birding guide, Sandra, picked us up early in the morning and together we drove deeper into the forest. Even during the drive our guide was eagerly pointing out birds -- we had gone all of 100 yards when she spotted a Common Potto sitting on a fence post. Eventually our truck stopped and we got out to walk. Sandra had given us each big high powered binoculars and she carried a high end spotting scope. She also carried a speaker and we would occasionally stop so that she could send out a warbling cry of one kind or another in order to provoke a particularly shy bird out into the open to defend its territory against this new, electronic challenger. All told we saw over 40 different species of birds including toucans, toucanettes, and a rainbow selection of tanagier species. Sandra's enthusiasm was contagious and we soon found ourselves sitting in rapt fascination behind a blind excitedly awaiting the arrival of each new bird even when it was one we had seen before. And did you know you can take photos through a scope on your Iphone? You can.