Day 55 – Basket Case

Yesterday’s early night was because 3 nights in the Amazon with a 5am wake-up call just wasn’t enough for us!  We have booked a guide, Julia (the wife of our driver Franklin), to take us on an early morning walk to see some of the amazing bird life of the Mindo Cloud Forest.  I do find myself asking why can’t birds and animals have a lazy start to the day?

Amusingly we find out that there was a mix-up when our accommodation host Ignacio arranged the booking for our transfer yesterday and Franklin had driven the 3 hour journey the day before as well only to find we were not there.  Opps!

Julia is a very knowledgeable guide and extremely good at spotting birds.  She has with her a tripod mounted telescope and a pair of very good binoculars they we are given.  As we walk she will suddenly pause, listen, and then scamper to a point and set up the telescope and let us see what she has seen.

The main draw as far we are concerned are the Toucans.  I managed to catch a glimpse of one whilst on the Argentinian side of Iguassu Falls, but it was an all too brief viewing.  Mindo delivers them in spades.  A wonderfully majestic looking creature, with large beak and colourful plumage, they are fascinating to observe.  There are four different types of Toucan in Mindo and we see them all:

Choco Toucan
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Pale Mandibled Aracari
Crimson-rumped Tucanette

We are told that there are always two toucans (a bit like Jedi then), as they mate for life, and this is borne out by our viewings where we almost always see two of them within close proximity.  Whilst they are in close proximity to each other, they are rarely in close proximity to us, and this makes photography challenging.  Niki didn’t bring her long 400mm lens on the trip due to its size and wieght, but today would have been a day that we would have used it a lot.
Julia however has a neat trick with the iPhone and the telescope and we manage to get some OK shots via this method.  Not photos that will win any awards, but good enough for capturing the memories of what we saw.

We do see some other birds, including a cuckoo, but to be honest by the end of the 4 hour walk we have probably had enough of bird watching.  The Toucans are amazing to mere mortals, but you have to be a full on twitcher to get excited about some of the others.

On the way back down we can hear the screams from the canopy zip wires, one of Mindo’s top attractions.  These are a canopy zip wire ride through the forest, but something we decide not to do, partly due to the fact that the safety record is not the greatest.

As we are about to get back into the car for the journey back, Niki spots a Crimson-rumped Tucanette on a branch close by, and manages to get some great close up shots.

We have a delicious brunch at our accommodation and do some IT maintenance.  Our MacBook has started to run a little slow due to the HDD bursting at its seams so we relax and sort photos for an hour or two.

Our failed attempt to get to the main waterfalls yesterday gives us our afternoon activity and we walk back up (via a longer but easier route) to the cable car, eventually getting a $1 lift on the back of a truck for the last 2km to the cable car.

Well THEY call it a cable car.

It’s not as ramshackle as the crate over the river yesterday, but then again we are not taking it on a 10m long, 2m high journey across a river.  This time we are crossing a 100 metre deep ravine on a 560 metre long cable.

What you have is basically a metal basket that has wheels that run along a fixed cable.  The propulsion system is particularly interesting.  Using the basic concept from yesterdays wooden crate of a rope that you pulled yourself across, it instead employs an engine to pull the rope.

An actual car engine.  A Nissan one in fact.  I know this because the engine, exhaust, gearbox (and lever), all 3 pedals and a handbrake are clearly visible as you near the front of the queue.  You can also clearly see the “driver” sat using the controls to propel the cage across, complete with iPod headphones listening to music as he does it.  I particularly like the way he knows when to stop applying the power and prevent the cage crashing into the far side (that is out of sight due to the cloud).  This is done by him watching for a short length of yellow paint on the cable approaching him (you have to hope he is not someone who gets distracted easily!)

Niki chats to the ticket chap and he asks where she learnt Spanish and if she is a Spanish teacher in England.  The regular practice is improving her language skills no end.  He wears a Green Day T-shirt and sings the lyrics to ‘Basket Case’ as we leave, and I think you have to be ‘poco loco’ to ride this system.

The ride across is exhilarating (we are stood up as it only seats 4 and there are 6 in each car) and on the other side we enjoy a 2 hour walk round the waterfalls.  The tracks are hard work at times with some steep steps, but its all good Inca Trail training.

Another bonkers truck ride (which we are overly excited by the fact the chap turned the wooden plank over in the back to give us a dry seat) and we are done for the day except a lovely relaxing meal and a couple of drinks at the lodge.  We see Franklin, Julia and their children enjoying a free pizza supper as an apology for the unnecessary journey to Quito!

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