After toodling around the beautiful gardens and monastery at Hacienda Cucin, Kathy and I ate breakfast and then started our journey north to the Cloud Forest. I really had no idea where we were going as Kathy had taken the lead and booked everything for us. Oswaldo, from the Refuge, picked us up, then we stopped in Otavalo and picked up two passengers – Peter and Sandra. We thought they were other guests who would be staying at the Nature Refuge, but it turned out that Peter owns the place and Sandra is the manager.
The 2 ½ hour drive was beautiful. We stopped at a vantage point that allowed us gorgeous views of the crater and the volcano – we were told what a disaster it would be if the volcano blew – so I thought we should stop standing there and move along. The road got bumpier and bumpier as we headed towards our next stop. The vegetation was very diverse and lush – and areas reminded me of Northern Vietnam. We ascended into the clouds and heavy rain. I would never tell Bevan this, but with all the mud and not so perfect road conditions I was wishing we were in his beloved Defender. I was a little nervous as we slowed down because there were 4 men standing in the middle of the road. They all were carrying large machetes. I was thinking “put the pedal to the metal” – but Oswaldo was slowing down. Now my Dad always told me not to pick up hitch-hikers – and I would assume this would include men carrying large knives!!! Obviously Oswaldo’s father did not impart the same wisdom. The 4 armed men jumped in the back of the truck. I thought life was over and thought – I really have had a good run! However, after several miles, Oswaldo stopped and the armed men disembarked without any bloodshed.
Soon after we pulled into a yard – there was a weather beaten house and chickens walking on the veranda. When I realized this was where we would be spending the next 4 days I was wishing the men with the machetes had slit my throat. But like everything, things look better in the morning light….or is that in the dark?? Bevan thinks our house in Cafayate is on the edge of civilization….he has seen nothing!
Our lodging was actually quite nice. It was rustic – but new and clean. Kathy and I had a cabin down the path that was constructed about 4 months ago. Although it was cold and damp (we slept in our jackets!) it was definitely do-able. (Tonya would be proud of me – I stayed at a place ‘sin’ [‘without’ for the Spanish deficients] 5 stars) Although I must admit that I do like the luxury of boutique and high end hotels, this place had charms of its own. It would be hard to have a Four Seasons in the middle of a nature preserve. Peter- the owner- led us on several nature walks. He is an avid birder so was able to point out several different birds. I think he was a little disappointed at the lack of knowledge that Kathy and I had. As he would point out and say “South American gold beak Tattinger XIV” (this is nonsense, I have no memory of any real names”, Kathy and I would yell out “BIRD”. (Shanda – does this remind you of Claire’s nanny??) When he would ask what we saw – our answer was typically – “a big brown one” or “a little yellow one – with a chubby belly and pointy nose”.
Day 2 arrived, as did another guest – a self-proclaimed ornithologist. She enjoyed discussing all the bird life with Peter. The 4 of us walked 5 miles to see and listen to the mating dance of “Cock of the Rocks”. These beautiful red birds fly around and make quite the sound. It was very interesting and we are told a very rare opportunity. The other guest told us a joke she loved – what is a fisherman? A jerk at one end of a line waiting for a jerk on the other. She said she couldn’t think of one for Bird Watchers. In a microsecond I came up with: Birdwatching: when there is a quack on each side of the binoculars.
Kathy and I had fun with some hikes and a little road trip to some pre-Incan ruins. Oswaldo drove us- it was a very steep road and narrow. Sometimes he can’t make it up with the truck but was able to this day. Oswaldo’s wife, Lupe, is the cook at the Refuge. Every meal had multiple courses. Home made soups, home made bread, salads, meat/fish, deserts. It was amazing. It is great to have a home cooked meal when traveling. They had 2 year old twins that were very cute!
Sunday was spent driving to Quito and shopping at the market place in the park. We stayed at “Cultura Café” one of the first boutique hotels in Ecuador. It is in a great location and great little find. (thanks Miriam for the suggestion!) Our stay there was short – we were up at 2:30, to catch a taxi to the airport for a 6am flight.
I am now back in Calgary. Thankful for water I can safely drink from the tap, a warm house, a toilet that can handle toilet paper, and a bed without bugs.
Things I learned on this trip:
-if you almost step on a caecilian worm in the jungle people consider you “really lucky!
-bed bugs seem to love Deet and yes it is possible for your bites to get bites
-there is a bird that can moonwalk!! Seriously check this out – it is a really funny video and very educational and entertaining. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2Bsu4z9Y3k
-I can survive (perhaps thrive?) in less than 5 star accommodation. Sometimes to see amazing things you really do have to get off the beaten track.
-Even if watching your child get a needle makes you almost faint, you can watch a periacetabular osteotomy in the operating room (good job Kathy – you rock!)
-If I leave Bevan alone too long he will shave his head bald!
Things that I was reminded of:
-I am very lucky to live in Canada and have great healthcare
-I am happy to have a body that is functional (at least most of the time!) and I would rather my body function well than to look great
-It feels good to help other people and volunteer
-I love to travel and see new places
-I love to be home