The bus to Mindo wound through the mountains on knife-edge roads, making us both queasy and terrified. As we climbed higher, clouds obscured our view of the sheer drop where the road fell away.
After recovering from the journey at our charming hostel, ‘Guesthouse Mindo’, we went on a night tour of the cloud forest with Mike, a mildly eccentric Canadian whose passion for frogs brought him here from Toronto 2 years ago. Also along for the tour were a couple from the US; Tom and Helen. Tom was a bird enthusiast or ‘birder’, peppering poor Mike with questions which had nothing to do with his beloved frogs.
We were lucky enough to see a variety of creepy-crawlies in the pitch black forest, including:
– A wandering spider, which eschews a web in favour of speed, mobility and decidedly punchy venom. It vanished as soon as we turned our backs on it in the dark, which was wonderfully reassuring.
– Ecuadorean Harvestmen; arachnids with tiny, hideous bodies, long spindly legs and vibrantly coloured bottoms.
– Stick insects, ranging from your ‘typical stick’ to a thick, spiky monstrosity often found relaxing on a leaf next to one of our faces.
– Hundreds of luminous, hairy caterpillars; the kind whose touch would likely make you itch your skin off.
– A bewildering array of frogs (much to Mike’s wide-eyed delight), ranging from the tiny green jungle frog to the massive, squat cane toad.
– Bats, which swooped delightfully past our faces to feast on an offering of bananas.
– A Kinkajou! This weird, reclusive creature is a nocturnal, tree-dwelling relative of the raccoon and was NOT amused when we trained our high-beam flashlights on it. Fun fact; Kinkajous can rotate their creepily humanoid hands 180 degrees to flee up a tree backwards.
– The tail-less whip scorpion, an ancient arachnid that is part-spider, part-scorpion which hunts prey with its elongated front legs before trapping them with large, spiky ‘pedipalps’ near its mouth. Despite its absolutely nightmarish appearance, these creatures are entirely harmless, as our guide demonstrated by letting one crawl all over him.
After the tour we base farewell to Mike, who disappeared back in to the foliage, presumably to lick a few frogs. We made our way back to town for pizza, watching the canine soap opera which plays out nightly on the streets of South America.
On Thursday we woke at dawn and met our guide, Irmin, for a birdwatching trek. A friendly man with an impressive knack for finding rare birds, he helped us spot a dizzying number of birds, including:
Despite seeing over 30 species, we barely scratched the surface of avian varieties in this incredibly eco-diverse country. There are 1632 bird species in Ecuador, roughly 3 times as many as can be found in the U.K.
In the afternoon we went zip lining above the forest canopy, a popular activity for tourists in Mindo. Following the death of a tourist 10 years ago the safety features of these routes were completely overhauled, and we zipped along safely at startling speeds whilst taking in the beautiful views around and below us.
Later we visited a butterfly and hummingbird sanctuary, where butterflies the size of small birds flap serenely past your face. The hummingbirds were a delight, darting around the bird feeders with great dexterity as they beat their wings 12 to 80 times per second, faster than the human eye can see. Their delicate, vibrantly coloured frames hung perfectly still in the air; we were transfixed and could have stayed for hours.