Palabra del día: colubríes
After a fitful night’s sleep, we wake up at 5:30am to eat breakfast before we meet the van from Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge at 6:15am. We drive up by the Mitad del Mundo, and our guide Cristina offers to stop at the attraction if we haven’t seen it yet. We decide instead to stop at several vistas on the way up to the cloud forest.
We stop at Pahuma Orchid Reserve, a small reserve with myriad walking trails promising waterfalls, orchids, and occasionally cock-of-the-rocks. We elect to look for orchids and a few birds in the area, and stop to look at several of the delicate flowers growing from bromeliads, elephant ears, and trees. We see a group of beautiful jays, smoky blue birds with a black mask. These birds are considered Near Threatened by the IUCN due to their locally scarce distribution and propensity for primary montane forest habitat. Habitat destruction has made them increasingly rare, prompting their listing.
We begin walking up the muddy slope to one of the higher waterfalls but are forced to stop when the path becomes too steep and slick. When we turn around, I become probably the only person to hurt a plant in a plant reserve. A loose stone dislodges underneath my foot, causing me to twist and fall down the hill. Luckily, I catch myself on a few well-rooted trees, though an errant elephant ear goes rolling down the slope beside me as I am helped back up to the path proper. All that is bruised are my backside and my ego, though Cristina continues to tease me about my fall throughout the rest of the trip.
When we return down the hill, the reserve owners have not started cooking breakfast yet, so we continue down to another local restaurant with hummingbird feeders set out. The restaurant is called Los Armadillos, a fitting name considering my family’s history.
My father went squirrel hunting several years ago with my brother and a friend. While they were walking around, an armadillo came up to them and began following them around. When they stopped, it would stop at my dad’s feet, sniffing around him. He poked it, prodded it, and tried to leave it behind, but it had decided that he was going to be its buddy for the day. Since that time, we have never let him forget his encounter with the creature. So of course we had to tell him we ate at the armadillo restaurant.
I had unfortunately decided to wear a bright purple shirt (classy, I know) for our first day in the cloud forest, and I kept getting close encounters with the hummingbirds while we were eating breakfast. They were highly indignant that I was not the flower that had been advertised by my bright coloration.
We arrive to the lodge at noon, in enough time to find our room and get comfortable before lunch at 1pm. The room we are in (the Pinchincha room) has windows on three sides, all of which open to get better looks at our surroundings. One side overlooks the lodge entrance and hummingbird feeders, and an entire glassed-in side (decorated with decals to keep the birds from hitting the glass) faces the mountainside. We have a personal space heater and electric tea kettle, just like home.
Lunch is served in a domed cafeteria which has 360 degree views of the surrounding forest and a ladder at the center which leads upward to the lodge’s dorm rooms. We meet a couple from New Zealand who has been birding through Colombian and Peru for the last month. Many of the people we meet here are older couples or small groups of college-aged friends from the UK or New Zealand.
At 3:00pm, we meet Cristina for a trip on the trails. The impenetrable afternoon fog has already started rolling in for the afternoon, and we focus on finding more common birds and insects that frequent the area around the lodge road.
When we return at 5:30, we know we are in the right place. Cristina is a wonderful guide with a background in conservation research, and we pester her with questions about her aspirations and her work. After dinner, everyone lines up on the bench in front of the hummingbird feeders to wait for the inevitable nectar thief who arrives after nightfall: the olinguito. The lodge personnel wait until after dark to pull the feeders down so that the olinguito can come enchant the lodge visitors. This night, we are also treated to the arrival of a white-eared opossum who hears someone clear their throat and runs.
The olinguito is a mammal identified as a new species in 2013, though specimens have been on display in zoos and museums for more than 40 years. Two of them frequent the feeders of Bellavista after dark, though they do not seem to get along so well. After we retire for the evening, I repeatedly have to open the door to scare them off our roof when they start fighting in the middle of the night.