Well if there is a place that is the complete opposite of the Páramo, it is the cloud forest. It may not be rainy season, but it was wet, warm, and surrounded by everything green. After we crossed the continental divide (on one side rivers flow to the Atlantic and on the other side the Pacific) and began to descend into the eastern slope of the Andes, it was clear we were in an entirely different place. On Monday we arrived in the cloud forest after a long 4 hour drive. We stopped for our first hike. Barely 2 feet into the forest, and I was in heaven. I was surrounded by trees with giant leaves, vines, insects, and the sounds of rushing water and singing birds. It was definitely an interesting hike. When we arrived at the end of the hike, we saw a cave with a river running through it. We began to walk into the cave when we spotted an oilbird, a cool nocturnal cave-dwelling bird. We then decided we wanted to walk through the cave to the other side. We began to wade through the river, when it suddenly began to get deep. So, logically, we put our backpacks on our head and continued on. By the time we got to the other side, we were all soaking wet (the water came up to our chests!) but amazed at the magnificent view. Once we finished the hike, we had lunch then drove to our hotel, named for the visible volcano that erupts every hour.
On Tuesday, we woke up at the early hour of 5:30 for a 6am bird-“catching” class. Now, I definitely slept a lot better than I did in the Páramo (we were in beds this time) but it meant getting up for class at 6 was even harder. However, we caught 3 different birds in our mist nets and got to see them and learn about them up close. And the view from our outdoor classroom wasn’t bad either! We were in class for most of the rest of Tuesday. Tuesday night, we went up the hill to do a field activity. However, the activity didn’t work out so instead, we watched the volcano shoot red sparks into the sky!
Wednesday was the earliest day and the longest day. We started our hike at 5:30 when it was still dark outside. We were on an adventure to see a rare bird called the Cock-of-the-Rock. When we started to get close, we could hear them calling. We went really quietly and really slowly. When we finally arrived, we saw about 20 of the most weird looking, bright orange birds. They were very loud and very close. I didn’t get any good pictures but the experience was awesome! After breakfast, my group went to start one of our big group projects. For our project, we are catching frogs in the cloud forest and the Amazon to compare them. Unfortunately, this has to be done at night since that’s when frogs are the most active. So, we went out and hiked about a mile, marking every 100m. We then had class for the rest of the morning. That afternoon, we were dropped off in the woods, one person every 100m, to be by ourselves for what we were told would be about an hour. We were instructed to observe and basically do whatever we wanted as long as we didn’t leave. So, logically, I took a nap. 2 1/2 hours later, we were finally picked up. It was definitely relaxing and cool to feel like you’re in the woods by yourself, with nothing to do but observe, draw, and write (and sleep in my case). That night, my group went out and hiked, catching frogs and recording their calls. I didn’t get to sleep until 12:30 that night but was up for bird-watching at 5:30 the next day!
Thursday, we bird watched in the morning, then had 4 hours to work on our group project. Since my groups project is mostly at night, we took a 2 hour nap before hiking to our next spot to mark every 100m for that night. While we were on that hike, the bottom fell out of the sky so when we got back, we were soaked. After lunch, we had more class and that night, my group went frog catching again. Luckily, we got back earlier that night so I got to bed around 11.
Friday was our last day. We woke up at 5:30 again for our last bird-watching adventure. After breakfast, we left to head home. We made 3 stops on our way home. The first was to the biggest waterfall in Ecuador, San Rafael. Unfortunately, it’s gotten smaller due to the hydroelectric plant upstream. On the short hike in, we were very quiet, hoping to see some cool animals. Unfortunately, I didn’t see many, but a few people in my group saw a spider monkey! After that, we went to another waterfall, called Cascada Mágica (or magic waterfall). It truly was magic! We got super close to it and got completely soaked! It was so much fun! Our last stop on the way back was in the Páaramo to talk about soil, right before we crossed back over the continental divide. We were all freezing! I definitely preferred the cloud forest!
Unfortuntely, 8 out of the 24 of us (1/3 of the group!) have gotten sick with the stomach bug since then. I’ve been one of the lucky ones. So fortunately for me, our academic director decided to cancel classes today to prevent us from all getting it. We all want to be well for our trip to the Amazon which starts on Friday!