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Refugio Paz de las Aves (Antpittas, Cock of the Rock) Napo Cultural Center / Napo Wildlife Center Maqui Pucuna (Andean, spectacle bears) Pictures: https://photos.app.goo.gl/aOKStycD50Q5hYTz2 (still adding pictures!) The trip all started when we visited the Phildaelphia (American) Bird Expo on Sunday October 1st. We have some birding friends – Scott Weidensaul had given a Project Owlnet talk on Friday night at the expo – but we had opted to see Noah Stryker’s talk about his “Big Year” at a local high school instead. Noah’s trip started in the deep south of South America and worked it’s way up through Ecuador – and during his talk, as he progressed up the western coast of South America; Noah mentioned visiting “Maria” and the Giant Antpittas at Refugio Paz de las Aves. Turns out a couple of our other local birding friends, Gene Harris and Joe Farkas had either been to Refugio Paz previously or knew of the site. Anyway – I digress. So, we go to the show (and we actually bumped into some friends at the expo center who were going to the far more popular Night of the Living Dead expo in the adjoining conference halls). The show is relatively small – and seemingly, mostly a travel show for birders. We like to travel – more so than bird – so this was a good show for us. We spoke with different vendors about whale watching off of Chile and tigers in India amongst other things. My wife, Stacey, has a 34 year old Blue Crowned Amazon – or Mealy Amazon named Pete [Pete has his own, new (somewhat incredible) story! Google: “Pete the Parrot prosthetic”]. Because of Pete, Stacey has had on her bucket list to visit the clay licks of the Peruvian Amazon to see the parrots in their natural environment…..so, we are walking the show aisles – collecting more brochures than we can ever use and we bump into one of the few Ecuadorian booths hosted by Isabel from Maqui Pucuna. Isabel is quite charming, engaging person. Isabel worked us a bit to consider Ecuador over Peru….even taking us to the Napo Wildlife booth a few booths down to review some videos! So we had walked most of the show – and were about to head out when I needed to visit the men’s room before the drive back. On our way to the exhibit halls restrooms – we discover that there is an area with silent auction items provided by the vendors attending the show. Guess what?! Napo Wildlife has a 4 night – 5 day visit up for sale; with two nights each at their cultural center and wildlife center. There was only one small bid on the trip. I think there was some karma – or something going on here - as it was late in the show – the three day show was about to close in an hour. So, even though we really shouldn’t have bid on this package (for numerous reasons) – we look at each other – and a bid goes down…..too good not to try for after all. So, we are driving back home, and we get the call – that we “won” the trip….and the planning begins. Remember that we bumped into Isabel first. Isabel had advocated for visiting Maqui Pucuna to see the Andean (Spectacle) Bears. So, one of the first emails was to Maqui to find out when was a good time to slot in when we could see the bears eating the fruit in the trees, Rebeca replied with coming in the November/December months as optimum. We had also tied in the connection with Refugio Paz and the Cock of the Rock/Antpittas….so – how to tie them all together into a trip in the not too distant future. A flurry of emails later – and we had the trip planned with two nights at Refugio Paz, after an overnight at the airport due to the late arrival of the Delta flight from Atlanta (11:30pm). Then shuttle back to the airport to head off for the four nights at Napo. Then back to the UIO airport to head to Maqui for 3 nights. Hindsight is generally 20-20, and we probably should have added an extra night at the Wildlife Center – and planned for some time in Quito. The other thing that would have been nice would have been to get RP and MP booked together since they are close to each other – but the scheduling just didn’t work. We ended up with a couple of longer shuttles than we really needed – it is what it is. The other thing is that we probably could have rented a car and driven ourselves. Driving ourselves would have given us a little more flexibility with what we did when……oh well…..again, it is what it is. I think the (4) shuttles were each about $80/each plus tip. The one connection not included with the Napo stay were the flights from Quito to Coca and back; $420 round trip. We live on the east coast – and Ecuador is in our time zone, due south. Quite nice in a lot of ways. Only about 6 hours of flight time – which included some longer (less stress) layovers. We overpacked (as usual, argh). Thinking that the two cloud forest stops at Refugio Paz (RP) and Maqui Pucuna (MP) would require heavier clothing than the Napo Wildlife (NW) portion of the trip. This thought was mostly incorrect. Even though the RP & MP stops were at about 9500’ of elevation; the temperatures were quite temperate, ok, hot. MP and NW stops also provide the seemingly ubiquitous rubber boots (Wellies like) gratis. Lightweight clothing and maybe a fleece, very light rain coat, was all that was needed at all of our stops. Seems that there had not been that much rain recently either – so even the rubber boots were not really necessary if you had decent hiking boots and didn’t mind them getting a little dirty. I guess there is some safety in the rubber boots if you happen to step on a snake. It was our experience, that there is little to no arch support and you do feel every rock that you step on with these boots. Can you say tired feet?! We both opted out of boot use when we could. As for over packing – I did take my camera gear, which is about 15 kilos alone. So, check in for the TAME flight from UIO to Coca was a bit awkward. Fortunately Stacey had brought a stuffable duffle in case we purchased any items we needed an extra bag for – and we repacked a couple of bags at the counter to get through. NW had a representative at the counter, maybe Elizabeth, that stepped in and saved the day for us with her Spanish! NW gives everyone a sticker saying whether they are going to the Wildlife Center or the Cultural Center at UIO so that when you get to Coca it is a bit easier for them to sort out (although this seems like a mostly unnecessary step as everyone gets on the same canoe for the first leg of the trip to the cultural center). Stop #1: Refugio Paz de las Aves Back to our first stop. We didn’t really suffer from the elevation, Quito and UIO are both at 9350’. We did suffer a little bit from the heat and humidity. The shuttle from UIO to both RP and MP is about 2 hours +/- on Rt28. You turn off Rt 28 I believe at the village of Nanegalito to head into MP. You go a few Kilometers further on rt28 after the town to get to the RP left hand turn. Both sites are several Kilometers off of the asphalt on the bumpy Ecuadorian clay. We overnighted on arrival at the airport Wyndham hotel. Very nice. Easy to get to, there is a recurring shuttle van that picks up right outside the baggage claim area at UIO. I have to confess that we don’t speak Spanish. This was not really much of a hindrance though. We got by just fine. We communicated mostly by email with RP, NW and MP. This mostly worked – but the Internet/cell is generally not great for the lodges either – and sometimes there was a little stress waiting for replies and confirmations. The first small miscommunication was with Vinicio at RP regarding the pickup at the Wyndham. Vinicio had sent an email saying the driver (Rodrigo) would pick us up at 1:30am when he meant 1:30pm……to which I replied via email and Vinicio ended up picking us up at 8:30am. Which was great for us – but unfortunately hard on Vinicio. All in all, all the lodges were very accommodating, as one would expect. So, after a nice breakfast at the Wyndham – we were collected by Vinicio. We through our duffle bags in the back of the pickup and headed off to RP. We generally had pretty great weather throughout the trip. We had some rain showers at RP and MP – but nothing that interrupted anything important. Quito is building a new bypass to the airport – but it wasn’t quite open when we arrived. Seems that we basically drove through the north end of the city up over a mountain pass. The east side, Quito side, of the mountain is pretty arid desert. Once you get over the pass – the lush cloud forest starts. On the drive in, Vinicio stopped so Stacey could use the ladies room (a small fee service if you want tissue!)…..and there happened to be a convenience store – I went in and got a couple of cokes and a 6 pack of cervesa!! The RP family was a standard mtn farming family before Vinicio’s father, Angel, decided to try ecotourism with his ability to ‘habituate’ the antpittas and his cock of the rock lek. I will botch this part of the story up – and will count on Stacey to correct me here. The farmers of the cloud forest are just amazing! Literally they have deforested sections of the mountain tops and they have cattle grazing on the sides of these mountains. They are also growing corn and other crops like blackberries. The RP story, as I recollect it, has the grandmother having 7 sons. Vinicio’s father, Angel, was taking blackberries to another local lodge to sell them and he came across some birders…..the long and short of it is that he realized there was a market for his birds! He had a better lek for the cock of the rock – and also had access to the antpittas. Our impression, confirmed by Vinicio, is that the farming life is not an easy or prosperous life in Ecuador. Angel tried to make a pitch to his brothers to make a go of ecotourism – but they didn’t think he could make a go of it…….seems the family squabble got bad enough that Angel had to lease another piece of farmland to do his ecotourism separate from his brothers. Now, I believe, that his brother Rodrigo has joined the operation. Rodrigo is really a great guy/guide. Stacey and I were a bit curious as to how the food was going to be on our trip……….and, I have to say, one of the best parts of the trip was the food at each stop. The food was really amazing!! At RP, Maria, Angel’s wife and an assistant (maybe Rodrigo’s wife Diana) prepared the food. Delicious! Fresh juices and local produce. I really liked the Mtn Tree Tomato juice. The kitchen and eating area are detached. We had the one room with an ensuite bathroom. I have a medical condition – and my own bathroom is really nice…the Ecuadorian septic systems cannot handle the tissue – so you need to dispose of the toilet tissue in little trash cans (you do get used to it) – we are spoiled in the US with decent septic systems!...the hot water was provided through an electrical appliance at the shower head. Not perfect – but it worked. All the power in Ecuador is standard USA outlets…..(I don’t know why I didn’t check this before I left – I was expecting the 220 European power (I made a couple of stupid mistakes for someone that has traveled a fair amount)). Using the US currency was also nice! Anyway – the family lives on the first floor of the house – and the guest rooms are on the second floor. There is a second communal bathroom for the other three guest rooms on the second floor. There is also a little guest area, for the day trippers, on the property with two bathrooms and picnic tables for sitting and observing the hummingbird feeders. They also put out a couple of plantains for the tanagers and other species to snack on. The hummers are amazing – if you sit and observe for a while – the hummers will invariably come and “buzz” you……you can literally feel the breeze they get so close…..there are plenty of bugs – so the evening and morning lights attract some neat flycatchers. There are a lot of lodges that make day trips for a fee with their clients to see the cock of the rock lek and the antpittas. The cock of the rock seems to me like a guarantee to see, the antpittas are also pretty reliable. We saw 4 of the 5 species of antpittas. We only missed the yellow fronted – and we were going to take another stab at it – but our flight to Coca left to early and we had to skip it. Angel, Vinicio, Rodrigo and Maria were fantastic. They really tried to show us whatever we wanted to see. I am also attracted to butterflies, moths and anything with 4 legs. I would encourage people to actually stay here vs staying at a lodge and just making a day trip. Maybe it is just me, but you get a better feel when you break bread and see how people really live in a spot. Rodrigo drove us to the airport on departure morning. The drives are simple – once you get on Rt28 it seems you basically just go straight to the airport. You do drive by the Equator museum/monument which we managed to just drive by 4 times (we heard it was a neat place to see and take a picture – but it didn’t seem important enough every time we drove by it)! We spent some general birding time during the day – spotting a common pootoo sleeping on the top of an exposed branch. Got some decent pictures of it with a scope and smartphone. They also knew about some night larks on the other side of a creek valley that they focused the scope in on. Not too many raptors. We did see some neat woodpeckers – but too far away and too dark to get pictures. We purchased 3 tshirts as we were leaving. Turns out an Ecuadorian XL isn’t quite the same as a US XL! NBD. This is definitely a small, family operation, but really a nice place to stay. Cell service seems to “free up” / become available / get stronger in the parking lot in the middle of the night. So, basically no service – sketchy at best at night. Kind of workable though. I was actually able to check in to our TAME flights at 3:30am or so……we didn’t ask about any soda or liquor at the meals – we just took the bottled water and fresh juice. I had brought a 6 pack of cervesa and a coke – and we did have those while there. Probably best to stop on the way in at a store if you need any snacks or beverages. Stop #2. Napo Cultural Center. The flight from UIO to Coca is only 98 miles but a 5 hour bus ride. The flight was neat in that the plane basically goes around one of the mighty peaks outside of Quito, “Antisana” (maybe) snow covered glacial peak. Quite beautiful. The Coca airport is right downtown. Looks like they are in the process of building a new terminal. The current terminal is quite simple, which is also very nice/quick. They forklift over the luggage to an open air window where they hand the bags to the waiting passengers. The Napo guides are waiting outside on the sidewalk for the passengers with their bags. There was another couple arriving with us from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada – and they were spending all 4 nights at the wildlife center. They loaded us up in two pickups and a taxicab – and off we went to the canoe dock right by the big bridge in town that crosses the Napo river. Once at the dock – we did a briefing – and signed the releases…..used the facilities one more time – then loaded up in the canoes and headed for our approximate two hour voyage downstream. They gave us a bag lunch on the canoe: simple sandwich, apple, juice, chocolate bar and some chips. Our guide was Andreas. Andreas had been a guide for 4 years. He had been a martial arts instructor – but a friend had told him about this opportunity guiding – and we are thankful for the friend! Andreas was great! We had Andreas with us our entire time at both Cultural and Wildlife and then we also had a local guide with us. Erica was with us for the two days at cultural and Meleton was with us the two days at Wildlife. One quick point to make before getting into the details of the stay. On the canoe ride down – we stopped next to an oil drilling facility that had a methane torch burning. Turns out there are a lot of these facilities on the river. The torches incinerate tons of bugs and birds every year. The oil companies also pipe out the oil along the river. Andreas posed the question: “How many oil spills do you think we have every month on the river?”……long delay – nobody guessed…….”3 per day” according to Andreas! Yikes. Some of the spills may not be that big – but still – any spill contaminates a lot of water. All of the local communities still drink the river water without purification……..small aside. We happened to be the only guests at the cultural center – quite nice = we had the place to ourselves! We were a little skeptical of the Cultural Center experience. We don’t generally like ‘exhibitions’ of people staged for photographs……turns out we didn’t get this experience at all. The women of the community had come up with the Cultural center idea about 7 years ago. The Wildlife Center has been in operational existence for 17 years. The local native community owns and operates these centers. They had help originally with an NGO for financing – but have since bought out and now independently run the operation. The villas are really nice! The generators generally shut off at 11pm and start back up at 4 or 5am. Just by coincidence we arrived the day before a large annual festivity was to happen, the crowning of the Queen. The party ran from 8am to 1:30am and the power never shut off that night! We met Maria and Erica upon our arrival. Maria seems to be the head of the local women – and their effort to preserve their culture. Erica was younger and assigned to us as local guide. Erica had a 3yo and another on the way! It turns out that there are some wildlife viewing advantages to staying at the cultural center. Cultural is closer to the (2) parrot clay licks and also to two canopy towers that have been built around huge Ceibo trees. These towers are amazing feats that they were built where they are. The towers are huge! I believe it took them a year to build each tower. It’s quite a bit of exercise to get up all the sections of stairs….but once you do – it is an entirely new perspective. The trees in the jungle, and the cloud forest for that matter, are just full of life – living ecosystems in themselves. Orchids everywhere. Orchids get little respect down here – they are everywhere. The other thing that seemed to be everywhere was leaf cutter ants. Amazing. 7x24 these female ants go out and collect leaves to bring back to the subterranean colonies. So, the first evening at the cultural center it was just a short hike behind the school on the property to a tower. Andreas had a Swarovski scope with him – and we headed up the tower until sunset. It is a really amazing view of the canopy – and you can see the river from two of the three of the towers. The Howler monkeys add some ominous sounds to the canopy. You quickly also start to recognize the parrot and macaw calls as well. The food was again fantastic at the cultural center. There are a couple of Ecuadorian food items we picked up on right away: 1) they use a spicy, pickled condiment called “Aji de tomate de árbol” on the table to add as desired (seems there are plenty of derivations on this theme at each stop, all delicious). 2) no salt and pepper generally unless you ask for them. 3) Ecuadorians add popcorn to their soups (and it works!). The chef at the cultural center has won awards…and it shows! There is a full bar that is open 7x24. They have an attendant in the bar area all the time. They just put any drinks on your bill. The drink prices seemed very reasonable. The cultural center has also set up butterfly gardens – or maybe just gardens – but the butterflies love them! The next day we went to see the clay lick on the river. The parrots were there – but a hawk and a red tailed boa constrictor perched up in a tree were preventing much activity from happening on the licks. We got some good pictures – but didn’t get the best of the parrots on the lick. From here we went to another lick, I am going to say an in the jungle lick that is maybe ½ mile or 2/3rds of a kilometer back. Again, amazingly enough – there is a poured concrete walk to the lick. There is also a fully functional restroom at the lick. Andreas had warned us that this stop could take some time – so maybe bring a book – or something to do while we wait (great advice!). There is a poured concrete sitting area/blind that sits maybe 75’ back from the lick. There is also a small creek about 100’ behind the lick that you walk over a small bridge. I mention the creek – as you wait for action at the lick to happen – I could browse for moneys, butterflies and months in the forest behind the lick stand. We were some of the first to arrive. I think there might have been about 15 or 20 of us at the lick at one time. The noise from the parakeets coming in was quite exciting – but they got spooked by howler monkeys in the canopy. Andreas said we can leave if we want – but he suggested we wait it out now that the monkeys had passed. Great advice, we were all in on waiting. A couple of hours later about 14 scarlet macaws came in. 8 would be at the lick and 6 in the trees watching guard…..then they would switch who was licking and who was guarding. After the scarlets left – we had cobalt winged parakeets and orange fronted parrots come in…………hundreds of them! This was a very cool experience. Essentially this was the original goal/purpose of the trip…..everything else from here on out would be gravy. This was really cool – as our pictures and videos will hopefully demonstrate. Turns out the day was just starting; as we headed back to the cultural center from here and the Queen party was just ramping up. We got arrived back in time to eat lunch and freshen up and head to the party. There was a dance contest on the volleyball court of regional dances from the river and mountain cultures of Ecuador. The first group of dancers was literally 3 year olds!.....there were maybe 7 to 10 more dances working up from elementary, middle, high school to adults…..the community is alcohol free 364 days of the year…..we just happened to be there this one day where they are drinking a fermented beverage served by the local women in buckets with a ladle. I don’t know how many buckets (gallons) of liquid were consumed – but it was quite a bit. There were quite a few people as other local communities came to the event as well. after dinner that evening we headed back to the Queen competition – which was supposed to start at 8pm – but didn’t really get started until 9pm…..at 10pm we had had enough – and retired - like the old fuddy-duddy people we are. Turns out the party went until 1:30am and the ‘favorite’ did win….I forget why she was the favorite. It was really a neat day! The next morning we did the breakfast thing – then headed back to the same river clay lick to see what was happening. We got a much better show this morning than we did the previous morning. From here we had the canoe take us to a path that would take us to another tree canopy tower that was maybe 1 kilometer back in the jungle. It was quite hot – and when we got to the tower – Andreas and Erica had a better surprise for us…….instead of climbing this tower – we would hike another bit downhill to a remote lick. This lick was like a national geography episode. A little cave stuck in the side of a hill. Creeks coming together and flowing out – and camera traps placed to try and catch the larger mammals in action. All we managed to see were some butterflies – but the experience was again fantastic! Andreas figured us out – and really did a great job. Erica was really nice too. She helped with animal spotting and explaining some of the culture. From here we went back for lunch and to pack up for the wildlife center. After lunch we headed to the canoe area to head about 10 minutes downstream to where the black water creek comes into the Napo. From here our bags were moved to a paddle canoe – and we swapped Erica for Meleton. Meleton was one of the original builders of the Wildlife Center. We paddled (I should say Andreas and Meleton paddled) 7k up the creek to about a 20 acre lake that the wildlife center is on (about 2 hours). The canoe ride is really a special event. You never know what you will see next. Maybe an anaconda? caiman? We didn’t see any big mammals or snakes on the ride up – but we were treated to monkeys, toucans and all sorts of birds and butterflies. When we arrived at the wildlife center we got placed in Villa#3 – had a brief review of the facilities. Settled in for dinner and just chilled out for the night. The next morning we woke up and headed to meet Andreas for breakfast. We were mostly through with breakfast when the bar tender – host – noticed, with some excitement, that the giant river otters were out cruising the lake looking for fish! We all quickly scattered to get our cameras and to get Meleton in the canoe to get out and see the otters. The otters are truly an experience. We must have hung with them for an hour or so – then we got distracted by some squirrel monkeys and birds. We headed back in to use the facilities and get a little more organized before we headed back out in the canoe to see what we could find heading up another black water creek. We did manage to see the top (eye) of a caiman…..and the obligatory toucans, monkeys and other birds and butterflies. The orchids and flowers were really neat too. From here – back to lunch and a brief siesta before heading to the third tower and a night walk back to the canoe. Meleton was quite good as a spotter…between him and Andreas we were really onto a lot of cool things. Small birds. Tortoise on the path – then up to the canopy. We saw macaws and all sorts of birds and animals. They explained the Bullet Ants – we saw lizards up at the top of the canopy, easily more than 200’ up…..on the night hike back – we saw all sorts of cool spiders. No owls, I was kind of hoping for an owl – but no luck. The howler monkeys serenaded us. On the tower Meleton answered some questions: 1) Have you ever seen a jaguar? Yes. once. Two months ago! 2) Have you ever seen a harpy eagle? Yes. 4 times. (he is 36 years old) Dinner and the canoe ride back out early the next morning (5:30am departure from the wildlife center dock). On the canoe ride out we saw some really cool toucans, white fronted ?? monkeys, and a couple of kingfisher species….only one kingfisher stayed long enough for me to get a picture of. The canoe ride back – and check in at the airport all went well. Off to Maqui Pucuna and the spectacle bears! The Internet was actually quite good at Napo. No cell service – but the Internet was usable. I think they say $10/day-device…..but the bill was less than that. There is a fee based laundry service that is available at both locations and we used it at the cultural center. We were skeptical about the cultural center before we arrived. Culture is generally not our “thing” especially if it seems to be staged or invasive culture. But this was really a neat experience. The cultural center also offered up better access to the clay licks and two of the towers…..it is well worth stopping here on your way to the wildlife center….we would have added an extra day to the wildlife center if we could. Stop #3. Maqui Pucuna Roberto, the shuttle driver, met us at UIO. All of these transfers really went off without a hitch! This was probably the one concern I had coordinating this myself through email……but. Thankfully, everything really went off without a hitch. (We had used a travel agent on our first trip to Africa. A driver was supposed to meet us at the airport and drive us to the JNB airport hotel……….guess what? – the driver was like 45 minutes late and panic was starting to set in on us as we first arrived in Africa back in 2012. It wasn’t the travel agents fault – this crap just happens sometimes.) Roberto helped us find an ATM to get some more cash – we tipped well at Napo and RP; we needed to replenish a little. We then headed off for Maqui Pucuna. We arrived mid-afternoon – and enjoyed getting settled – then had a briefing and dinner. (You do also get a complementary pair of rubber boots to use for your stay!) Our room was nice. Was a newer building with two units, sliding glass doors that opened to the sounds of the river. Side wall was all glass too – with windows that opened. Quite nice, about 30 steps to the eating and meeting area. It’s easy to just roam about MP and look for peepers, birds, hummers (multiple feeders again), butterflies, moths, leaf cutter ants! This was the stop on the trip where we got to mingle and meet the guests. There was a father and daughter from the twin cities of MN. Mike and Amanda. Amanda had been on a semester microbiology in the Galapagos and the two of them were making some additional stops before heading back home. We also met another couple from Denver area with a brother-in-law from Portland, OR. Shap, Sharon and Martin. Also a local tour operator in Quito, Paul, who was showing around an outdoor reporter, Veronica, from Sao Paula, Brazil. Mike, Amanda and Isabel all went zip-lining the next day. They reported the excursion to be a lot of fun. MP employs a young local as a bear tracker. He would get dropped off on a dirt bike – then head into the forest to find the bears. We would follow after about an hour later to hopefully see the spectacle bears. The first day we had probably our best sighting. We stayed with a (pregnant?) female that was in a tree right over the trail for about 2 or more hours while she basically decimated the top of the tree. This spotting was really convenient – only about 20 minutes up the trail! Any fruit she couldn’t reach – she would just snap the branch with her jaws and pull the fruit back into her. She was quite comfortable in the top of the tree! I am guessing she weighed about 250lbs or 120kg. They wanted us to be quiet on the trail and around the bears – which is reasonable. The main trail is seemingly an old road – so quite nice. Some of the spur trails you really need to have a guide – or keep track of where you are! The intent is that you are always with a guide when more than a couple of hundred meters from the lodge. The guides pretty much carry a machete all the time – or they know where the nearest one is stashed! There is a nice little waterfall you can walk to across the road and down a bit. Another reason for walking to this waterfall is that you get cell service along the way! There also seems to be a little “hot spot” right next to the cook’s corner in the eating area of the lodge. There was a common pootoo sleeping on a branch a little too far off the path to try and venture towards. Maybe I should have made a better effort – (but I didn’t). These birds are amazing to spot. Their camouflage is amazing! The food was great again. Open air kitchen and eating. There is a bar – but you have to remember to ask for drinks – they don’t push the services. I did have a lager. We purchased a couple of tshirts and some chocolates on a departure. My impression is that this is a family operation with a lot of great intentions. Protect the forest and the entire eco system within it – while sharing it for educational and research purposes. We had three good sightings of (I think) the same bear. The night walks were really good here. Headlamps and flashlights in hand – you can find peepers right outside your room door. We saw snakes, vipers! Spiders. Moths….all sort of really cool things – even a grasshopper that was metamorphosing….. Quito: We decided on the last day to leave early and tour Quito some. Roberto, the contract driver that Maqui uses, came out and got us for an 8am shuttle from MP to the Quito MP office, departing Maqui about 8am – dropping off our luggage at the Maqui city office for the day. We then headed into the city at about 11am for the rest of the day. One of the other MP guests, Paul, is a local French guide in Quito, gave us a good itinerary to follow for the day (see picture of the itinerary). We did most of the itinerary. I can’t easily do an entire day of churches and museums……we did some neat shopping and got some locally made items. Quito has a lot of traffic and is seemingly quite congested due to its heritage (growth since 1534). There was a protest going on at the public square, I think the local taxi drivers were protesting Uber – or vice versa. The military was out in full riot gear – and there was a lot of chanting going on. Kind of neat to see. We didn’t feel threatened at all. There is a chain of chocolate shops, Republic del Cacao, these are really just a tourist trap = waste of time. We did buy some chocolate at the Pacari store – seemingly everyone says this is the best chocolate, even Oprah. It was really a long day by the time we got to the airport and checked in. Roberto picked us up that evening at 8pm at the MP Quito office to shuttle us to UIO (about an hour drive) – for our 12:30am red eye departure. We got to the airport about 9pm and the Delta check in window didn’t open until 10pm……the entire plane was in line by the time the window opened……(fortunately Stacey had upgraded us and we went to the priority line and got right through)….spent a couple of hours in the lounge. The UIO international lounge is really nice. The Internet/cell service was not the greatest at our stops….so we were able to catch up with emails and social media in the lounges. Was a great trip/experience. I took about 7000 pictures…most of which I am sure are junk – but I got some good shots! This was not like a sedentary African safari (sitting in the vehicle most of the time)……much more active – a fair amount of hiking. Much more free to move about than Africa….there are less mammals that can hurt you in close proximity. Take some longer cotton socks to use in the rubber boots. Deet insect repellent is really a necessity. Long sleeve shirts can be shed if you have appropriate bug spray. Shorts would be great – but you really need to wear long pants away from the villas…. The tipping was suggested at $10/day-guide. This was our minimum, we did double or more this at times.
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