Palabra del día: empujón, ajo
We are up well before sunrise, at 5:00am. We sneak in to breakfast just as it is set up, discussing our trip for the day. We are going to visit the canopy walk, one of the lodge’s main attractions. We walk through the foggy morning, reaching the pale metal-and-wood behemoth which rises to the rainforest canopy just before sunrise. The metal is slick with condensation, and we carefully place our feet so that we don’t slip on the trip up.
Usually, it is me who is struck with severe vertigo, but today, unable to see the forest floor, I am fine. The Other Half, however, takes coaxing to walk across the rickety suspension bridge between the walk’s three towers.
We are hard-pressed to see anything beyond a few feet in the foggy conditions, though our guides assure us that it will be a sunny morning. We hear the water-dripping calls of russet-backed oropendolas, my favorite bird of the trip. Noisy cobalt-winged parakeets fly overhead, mere shadows through the mist.
We can tell when the sun rises, as the mist begins to imperceptibly lift from the landscape. By the time 45 minutes have passed, we can see many of the birds we have been hearing.
Our young naturalist guide is still learning his trade, so we get to hear the tips and tricks that his older mentor gives him. While we are watching for birds, they forget for a moment that their companions can understand Spanish. They get into a betting war over whether or not we will be able to identify a sample of the plant that they have brought with them to the canopy. They let slip what it is (Canela) before turning toward us expectantly. Of course, even if we couldn’t understand them, the unmistakable scent of cinnamon would make identification easy.
We play a game of who can identify birds the fastest, and our native guide wins every time. Through the spotting scope, we see a great potoo which I am hard-pressed to pick out from the foliage around it. Turns out it was sitting not 10 meters in front of me at eye level. We see myriad tanagers and other birds, though in total, we only spot 50 species from the tower. Usually, this figure numbers in the 100s for the lodge.
On the way back to the lodge, we are treated to a discussion of native plants. We discuss the kapoks, ficus, iron palms, and ranacaspis, as well as ajo (a vine which tastes like wild garlic), ginger, curare, the various strengths of different palm fibers, and how to find water if one is lost. Though the discussions are fun (including the requisite stories of who poisoned whom with what in local lore), the Other Half and I get more of a kick out of finding the pair of crested owls which frequent this particular trail.
Most of our afternoon after lunch is free, so we decide to explore the trails and the mariposario (butterfly house) near the lodge. By this time in the trip, we have almost walked out of our shoes, and the low-key confines of the mariposario are a welcome diversion. No one else joins us in our explorations, and we see several colorful forest whiptail lizards sunning themselves on the boardwalk.
The lizards and butterflies scatter like iridescent jewels at our approach, and we are no less impressed by the small butterfly house. Several species of owl butterfly, morphos, and smaller species (some of which are totally obsessed with sweat, so user beware) flutter around flowering plants and feeding stations within the cloth confines of the structure. We see newly emerging butterflies drying their wings on cocoons that more resemble precious stones and metals than an insect’s home.
At 4:00, we arrive at our designated meeting spot to wait for our guides. We see the ever-present tamarins of the area cavorting around the pavilion.
We begin our walk with high hopes, only to have them dashed by the calf-deep mud we trek through. The squelching makes so much noise that most of the bird and mammal life that isn’t taking shelter in the rain is busily avoiding us. We do, however, nearly step on a very interesting creature just after taking a dry break under a large termite mound:
Unfortunately, because of the rain and my mistaken belief that reptiles and amphibians in the rainforest have excellent guidebooks for identification (ha. ha.), I only snap one picture of the snake. We get into an argument with the guides over whether it is a la equis, known more commonly as a fer-de-lance (what the guides think), or another, nonvenemous species (what I think). When I get home, we finally figure out that this fearsome creature’s prey is:
*drum roll please*
That’s right. A snail. It’s a Dipsas indica, more commonly known as the neotropical snail-eater. I was almost more excited to finally find some kind of list of Ecuadorian reptiles after we got home than anything.
We are still discussing the identification of the snake over dinner, which consists of chicken rolls with ham and peppers, potatoes with peppers, rice, fried eggplant, apple strudel, and raspberry tart.