Over the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday, my long-time friend Gretchen and her partner Juniper came to visit Ecuador.  We spent 10 days touring the country together in their rental car.  Today’s post is a travel log chronicling our adventures together.

Please note: this is a very long photo essay and the emailed version will certainly be cut short.  
Go to onthewingadventures.blogspot.com for the entire unabridged version.

First, we went to the cloud forest of San Miguel do los Bancos, an area NW of Quito, 
to enjoy the plants and birds of the area.  

I couldn’t get enough of the hummingbirds and the toucans at the lodge’s feeders, 
but my old I-Phone 6 can only capture so much!

We found so many wonderful treasures in this cloud forest at 3,600 feet elevation. 

This snail was as big as my fist!  
I enjoyed learning more about the plant families and looking at them through Gretchen’s hand lens.  
Then, we spent a little time watching the butterflies of Mindo…

And being silly at the Equator!
Next, we flew to Cuenca and enjoyed some of the Christmas festivities there (see previous post).  
On Christmas Day, we had a wonderful jaunt around the lakes, hills and 
Polylepis Forest of Cajas National Park.  
This is what it looks like when you go hiking with a Botanist!
Where’s Gretchen?  She was in heaven!
After Cuenca, we headed south.  This was my first time in the southern part of Ecuador and I was completely in awe of its green rolling hills, deep canyons and rushing rivers.  Much of our trip centered around exploring the east and west sides of Podocarpus National Park.  This park covers 560 square miles near the Peru border, and ranges in elevation from 2,300 feet to over 12,000 feet.  
It’s dense forest and perpetual fog added to its beauty.
 Podocarpus National Park is located in a triangle south of Loja and Zamora.  Remember, I live in the north central city of Ibarra, so it was a great treat for me to travel so far from home. 
Sitting on the porch in Zamora overlooking Podocarpus with our morning cup of tea. 

High up in these trees, we spotted the nests
of the Oropendula birds. 

In Podocarpus, you have to look up, down and all around.  Life grows on life in all directions. 

This is a Yamila Tree- harvested to near extinction for its wood.

Ferns, Orchids, Bromelias, Oh My!

           In many trees and along cut banks, we found signs of ants and termites making their home. 

Water, Water, Everywhere!
At another birding lodge, we spotted some Euphonias and Blue-Green Tanagers, 
a Blue-Gray Tanager and more hummingbirds!

Here, Juniper is looking through a bird blind at the rare Tinamou in the trail. 
A coati was scavenging the bananas from the bird feeders.
This tarantula also made his presence known. 
I took a cultural tour of Zamora and learned a little about the production of sugar cane.
This is sugar cane growing with bananas.  It perpetually grows, is cut periodically, and is smashed through a mill.  The extracted sugar juice is then cooked down in large troughs over a wood fire.  
After it reaches desired consistency, it is cooled in small molds to be sold as panela or hard sugar.  
It can also me pulverized into a granular sugar or processed into white sugar. 
Finally, it is drank as a refreshing juice, or fermented into a liquor. 
On the west side of Podocarpus National Park, we climbed to a high and chilly elevation to see an entirely different botanical ecosystem and the beautiful valleys below. 

After spending the bulk of our time absorbing Podocarpus, we only had a couple days to drive north. We spent an afternoon in the lovely city of Loja. 

We also enjoyed the central square and an animal market in the 
primarily Indigenous community of Saraguro.
Then we visited Azogues and learned about the traditional dying and weaving of 
Ikat textiles in Gualaceo.

And a lunch stop in my favorite cliff-side village of Alausí.
By this time, it was December 31st…. and we had a whole new adventure waiting for us on New Year’s Eve.  Stay tuned for my next post detailing all the crazy year-end traditions in Ecuador.