Refreshing the New Year

Jim and I had a lovely 4-day Christmas holiday in Mindo – 2 hours northwest of Quito.  On the way there we opted for a driver and bird guide (Sandra) and spent 12 hours birding along the old Quito to Mindo road.  A very fun drive with a nice 2 – 3 hour walk in the Yanacocha Preserve.  Yanacocha is one of the volcanoes surounding Quito.   Here is a little video of us driving through the countryside.  Driving from Quito to Mindo on the Nono-Mindo road

Seems we were birding by fire-hose (just like Spanish).  On this day we managed to see around 70 different species of birds.   It is good that our guide could keep track of them for us.  They were all interesting, pretty and colorful but began to blend together.  “Look, another brightly colored yellow tanager.”  We must have seen 15 species of tanagers!

Roadside Hawk – yes, he was beside the road, but that *is* it’s name.

It was quite a change from our 6 species in Quito.  Mindo has moved a bit upscale since our last visit three years ago.  Still a very rural town, but the tourists trade is beginning to bring more money and thus a better life for the people.  We spent all four days birding and hiking – three with a guide and one on our own.  All-in-all, we identified around 150 birds.  A pretty amazing number as in 10 days in Texas last Spring for the migration, we only saw 100 species.

Slaty-backed Whitestart – they were nesting in the cliff next to the road.

On our solo walk we saw a live armadillo!  Very cool!  This is the first live armadillo either Jim or I had seen.  Turns out there are two species around Mindo.

Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) is more of a big deal than Christmas day.  We had dinner (roasted leg of lamb, rice, potatoes and salad – not traditional) with the owners of the hostel  where we stayed (an Ecuadorian/US couple – Luis and Susan who lived in the Chicago for 15 years and moved to Mindo 5 years ago), their friends from Tuscon and Carmalita, a lovely woman from Mindo.  Carmalita spoke no English, talked very softly and has no teeth.  We sat with Carmalita and it was really hard for us to follow her Spanish.  But we had a fun and enjoyable Noche Buena.  The folks next door (not at our hostel) had an even better time.  They started partying around 10 PM and did not stop until around 10 the next morning.  Loud music, singing, talking and general drunkenness.  But, I guess they had fun.  Unfortunately we had a 6 am birding date with our guide Sandra.  A very short night for us.

The courtyard garden at CasKaffeSu our hostel.

After returning via bus – $2.50 a piece for a 2-hour bus ride on a pretty comfortable and empty bus followed for a 20 minute taxi ride that cost more than the bus ride (but still only $6.00), we are now back at school, studying and preparing for Nuevo Año.  Lots of activities and traditions around the new years.  Get your grapes ready.  The last twelve seconds leading to midnight, you have to eat twelve grapes, one at a time and make a wish for the new year with each one.  There is also a tradition of “año viejo” which is a managotas or muñecos – a doll of varying sizes, stuffed with straw or paper, clothed or painted and with a mask representing a well known person, either liked or disliked from the past year.

There are also some giant ones that line one street and can be seen on New Years Eve.  The tradition (much like Zozobra in Santa Fe) is to burn the effigy at midnight on New Years Eve to cleanse the bad and good from the past year and prepare for the new.  Last time we were in Ecuador, we also heard that you write your bad things on a piece of paper, throw it in the fire and then jump over the fire as a further cleansing activity.

Managotas in El Mercado Santa Clara

Lastly, everyone dresses up in costume for New Years Eve – evidently it is common to see men dressed as women – stop traffic and “request” money from people.  It is supposed to be in the name of the widows of the barrios.  Hum…  Last time Jim and I were in Ecuador, it was more like armed robbery.  But, I’ve been told the current government has cleaned things up a bit.  Jim and I have our masks (read that costumes – I have a nice blue feather carnival mask and Jim has a glasses/nose/tongue mask and horns) ready from New Years celebration at school…  Us who never dress up!  The pressure was great but we had fun shopping at the street vendors for masks.  (Stay tuned)

I’ll close with some more pics of various things and a couple of videos (for those of you really into them!)

Cloud Forest Trail (video)

Panorama view of cloud forest and Mindo (video)

Long-tailed Sylph – Check out that rudder!

Oh my gosh, too hard to ID right now!

A local trout farm. It may be called trout or tilapia in the markets…

The terrain around Mindo. So beautiful!