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December 31, 2010 / stephanie

Ecuador Adventures 2: up the mountain on mules

Day 3 on my Ecuadorian Adventure. I woke up to the ratchety songs of Long-tailed Mockingbirds drowning out the ocean sounds below. After a breakfast of delicious fresh fruit, we packed up our things and prepared for the long trek to La Casita (the little house) in the mountains. Our baggage was strapped to a van and we drove through the rural villages until we got to the town of Loma Alta. We stopped there and chatted with Giovanni, the surrounding area’s Presidente, and we viewed some of their new facilities that had been funded by donations from various conservation societies. A new nature center highlighted the nature viewing trails of the nearby Loma Alta Reserve. The center was meant to be a starting point for visiting eco-tourists venturing into the Reserve.

One of the trails that go through the Loma Alta Reserve, this one goes through the dry forest

The land here had not always been conserved. For a long time, the people had been living in the lowlands and using the highlands for logging. After some time though, they figured out that the river that provided them with water was drying up due to the substantial loss of trees in the forest. Once they cut back on the amount of logging and the forest grew back, their water source also replenished itself. The trees in the higher altitudes were catching rainwater and fog that rolled in from the ocean and then that water drained down to the river. There still aren’t any giant, slow-growing Guayacan Trees in this forest, but they will eventually come back.

So, we had one more stop before getting into the reserve. Our van splashed its way through 11 river crossings to the town at the end of the road, El Suspiro, or “the sigh” in English. We were told that some days, when there is a lot of rain, the town of El Suspiro is completely cut off from the rest of the world. There aren’t any bridges on their only road.

River crossing, view from inside the van

El Suspiro was a tiny, tiny village, much smaller than neighboring Loma Alta. The villagers were incredibly friendly and the children were curious to meet us, the rare visiting gringos. But they all knew our leader, Dusti, since she has come through the town and worked on this project for the last 15 years.

having pasta for lunch at Mauricio's house in El Suspiro

the local children in their school uniforms

saddling up our mules

The children, of course wanted to know everything about us and play with us, but we couldn’t stay long. Our belongings were removed from the van and mounted onto mules. We had a 4-5 hour journey ahead of us, up into the forest.

the horses reach an impasse: cows.

So we boarded our mules and set off in a line. As we gained in elevation, the environment gradually changed from dry with short, poky plants, to lush with tall, broad-leafed trees. We had several more river crossings to pass through and a lovely preview to our week ahead: lots of mud. The mules did not especially like walking through all the mud or the river with its rocky bottom, but their caretakers were ready with the crack of a bamboo whip to get them going.

It was really only my second time ever riding a horse and my second time ever being in South America. A couple times I thought to myself, wow, this is real, I’m doing this, I’m riding a mule up a mountain in the tropical rainforest in Ecuador! And a few days ago I had been working at a call-center in snowy Wisconsin. It was a pretty unbelievable feeling… which was shortly followed by an unbelievable soreness and stiffness in my legs that lasted at least two days.

We reached La Casita around 4:00pm and got to set up camp. For me, this was a sleeping bag on the hard wood floor, protected only by a one-person mosquito net tent and a slightly leaky roof. Not exactly luxurious, but it was sufficient for the next five nights we would be there. And definitely worth it since I’d be seeing some amazing new birds.

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