The next stop on our Ecuador trip was the Maquipucuna Eco Lodge, a mere hour and a half away from Quito. Already on the bus we learned just how lucky we were: a few days prior to our arrival a few wandering Andean Spectacled Bears arrived at the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest surrounding the lodge!
Unfortunately, this third segment of our Ecuador trip started on a sour note. When I settled into my airplane seat for the flight from the Galapagos back to Quito, I pinched a nerve in my lower back. It sent piercing pain down my leg. Henceforth, the remainder of the trip, for me, was clouded by excruciating pain and very limited mobility. Luckily I managed to enjoy it nonetheless!
The Spectacled Bears are an endangered species, with only a few thousand individuals remaining in the wild. They continuously migrate in search of food, so predicting when they will arrive at a certain location is nearly impossible. Some bear researches spent a lifetime studying these bears without ever seeing one. Bears started visiting Maquipucuna forest in 2009. They have been arriving every year since for a visit that can range from two weeks to three months. Arriving at the lodge in bear season, therefore, was a real stroke of luck.
We arrived mid day, and pretty much immediately went on a short hike to search for bears. I could barely walk and almost gave up. Luckily, one of the guides, Luis, volunteered to stay with me. He let me walk very slowly and rest whenever the pain was too much. I managed to limp for about two miles before seeing a bear climbing up a tree, eating its way while breaking large branches. The sight was well worth the effort!!
For the rest of our two-night, three-day visit I mostly stayed at the Maquipucuna lodge. Every now and then I took very short walks. My family, meanwhile, went searching for more bears and ended up seeing quite a few. But I found the lodge to be such a pleasant place, that I didn’t mind staying behind all that much. This is what it looked like, the main building (where our rooms were located) being on the left:
This is the dining room, where we dined on delicious, fresh, cooked-on-site meals:
And the ceiling in our room, unlike any other ceiling I have ever slept under:
There was also a second floor for lounging and relaxation:
We started our days early, at 6:15 am, with a strong cup of Ecuadorian coffee made of beans grown on the premises. After coffee we went on a short birdwatching hike, and enjoyed seeing the many birds our guide located. We then feasted on a tasty breakfast, followed by a morning hike. Every day there was also an afternoon hike following lunch. One day we went on a night hike after dinner. We immediately realized that the Maquipucuna forest looks completely different after dark, including the animals one can spot!
This is what the secondary cloud forest looks like:
And, yes, there were Pokemons there, too:
The Maquipucuna cloud forest was one of the first nature reserves in Ecuador, and is now home to nearly 400 species of birds, and a vast variety of plants, including hundreds of orchids (and other beautiful flowers!).
Even when I couldn’t go hiking, therefore, all I had to do was sit on the terrace and wait. Sooner or later an amazing bird showed up:
Our stay at the Maquipucuna Lodge was memorable not only because of the surroundings and nature, but also because of the human interactions we experienced. We met a crew of dedicated local guides; a very nice family from Canada, and a two-person documentary crew from the BBC, who came to Maquipucuna to film the bears (one of the two used to work for National Geographic, and hearing about some of his adventures was very interesting!). We also met Santiago, Ecuador’s leading bear researcher and conservationist, who gave an interesting presentation about the bears. Nancy, an Entomologist (bug expert) volunteer, lived at the lodge and also gave talks. She has a degree in introducing bugs to the general population, and her presentation about bugs was so interesting, that we all forced her to give yet a second one. This is Nancy showing us a spectacular bug she caught:
Nancy helps run a website that answeres bug questions, so if you are interested in bugs check it out: https://askentomologists.com