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ANNIVERSARY IN THE RAINFOREST – Part 1.

October 12, 2013

Day 1, Sept 25, 2013. On our way to Ecuador          

          Well, we thought the San Jorge Eco-lodge was about 20 minutes west of the Quito airport. When we got to Quito (after a 3-hour layover in Bogota, Columbia) and cleared customs, it was well after 2am, the next day. We were expecting a driver from our lodge to be standing out front holding a sign “San Jorge Eco-lodge” for us (which is what we had been told) and he would take us the 20-minute drive to the lodge. Were we ever in for a surprise! Since we were there 5 years ago, they had moved the airport! So we were now about 1 1/2 hours away from the lodge. No one had told us about this change and we got out to the exit area and there was no one there holding up a sign. Uh oh.

Phil got someone to help him call the lodge to see where they were, and we learned that the driver had returned to the lodge and we should take a taxi! At the last minute (Good planning or premonition?), before we left home, I had made luggage tags – just in case of who-knew-what. I had very cleverly glued a cut-out copy of the lodge letterhead onto cardboard, encased them in contact plastic, and attached them to our bags. That is how Phil had their phone number at hand when he had to call them. And that is how our taxi driver had their phone number to call them to find the final road up to the lodge.

          We didn’t get an explanation of what had happened at the time due to the language barrier. (We have GOT to learn how to speak Spanish!) At that point we had to find a taxi driver who could find his way to the lodge – not an easy destination – especially with no street or road signs. A man (speaking some English) who seemed to be managing the taxis found a driver who said he thought he could find it. When we expressed concern and doubt, the “manager” decided to take us himself! We agreed on $45. He grabbed a nearby taxi, we threw our bags in the trunk, and off we went.

After driving for what seemed like forever, and being sleep-deprived, through miles and miles of Quito and the surrounding areas, we got to a road that we recognized from our last trip, but none of us (including the driver) were exactly sure which was the one that would take us up to the lodge. But we were getting close! Our driver called the lodge and got instructions for the last 1/2 mile. The manager, Vicente, and his helper, Fernando, met us at the gate and were so glad to see us, and so apologetic for us  having been abandoned at the airport. We learned that another couple had shown up at the airport a few minutes before us, seen the sign and approached the lodge driver about staying there. Since language was a problem, the lodge driver thought they were the couple he was supposed to pick up! So there went our ride.

We said a grateful goodbye to our taxi driver, with a nice tip, and Vicente and Fernando carried our bags up to our lovely room. We told Vicente we thought we’d be ready for breakfast by 9am.We had paid extra to have a queen-size bed and a balcony with a view, and in 2 or 3 hours we would actually be able to see it! But at that moment, at about 4AM, we fell into our deliciously comfortable, firm bed and didn’t wake up until 8:30 the next morning.

Day 2, Sept. 26, 2013. San Jorge Eco-lodge, northwest of Quito, Ecuador

Nights and early mornings are chilly there – in the high 40’s to low 50’s depending on the altitude. Sleeping under wool blankets and a comforter – and with a small heater in the room – we were warm. We opened our curtains and the doors out onto our balcony, and there far below us in the distance was the sprawling city of Quito (over a mile high) – chock-a-block with crowded, cramped city dwellings – with high mountains even farther beyond in the distance. Nearby, below us, was the rest of the lodge, tile-covered roofs, patios among gardens, blooming with beautiful flowers and with hummingbird feeders hanging all around, and nearby farms with roosters that had been awake for hours.

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Phil had planned for our first day to be laid back – just getting used to the altitude and recovering from the long journey to get there. There are several trails on the 230-acre San Jorge mountain reserve, so plenty of places to look for birds “in our own backyard”. We knew the day would warm up, so we dressed in layers. Our room was on the 2nd floor of the upper building, and required a hike up a trail through a garden to get to. Then a hike down in the morning to go to the main buildings where the dining room, lounge, office, garden patios, etc. are located. The hiking up to our room was the hard part – at least until we acclimated to the elevation. We relished the chance to get in shape for our hikes in the coming days, so did the walk to and from our room gladly, even if we did have to rest several times on the way up – mainly to breathe! So we hiked down for breakfast.

In 1790, several haciendas existed in that area that were used as Jesuit retreats. The hacienda at San Jorge was part of that community and in 1905, the Ecuadorian president and his family purchased it and the farm around it. In 1970, Jorge Cruz Sr, and some family members bought the big hacienda to develop an agricultural and cattle farm. In 1989, Dr. George Cruz and his wife, Irina, (the present owners) developed Hosteria San Jorge Botanical Reserve to show the historic and bird-important area to the world, and developed the Magic Birding Circuit with 4 other eco-lodge sites that they built, at Milpe, Tandayapa, Yanayacu, and Cosanga.

The staff was glad to see us at breakfast, and again were very apologetic for last night’s mix up. They showed us to our table in the dining room (seating for about 24), and brought out a pot of the thick Ecuadorian coffee for Phil and te negro for me (black tea). Half of Phil’s coffee cup he filled with milk! Next came a plate for each of us with a variety of nicely arranged fruits – papaya, melon, and strawberries. Then huevos – scrambled or fried. And we were set for the morning. I had told them ahead of time that I had a problem with wheat, and they were very accommodating – none of my meals (including the desserts) had wheat. Occasionally, my soup would be different from Phil’s, or my dessert would not be the same as his. They really did a good job, even though I can usually pick and choose things I’m able to eat from whatever is offered. I can’t always tell what the ingredients are if something is coated in a flour substance, like chicken or fish, but they were careful to let me know that if something had to be coated, it was with corn flour. We had remembered from our previous trip that the food at this and their other lodges was excellent. And we were please to discover that it was still true. Vicente’s wife, Rosa was an excellent cook! All our meals were wonderful, and mainly consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables and many of the native foods and dishes. For us, all of those features help make a trip very special.

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After breakfast, we spent some time sitting around one of the patios where there were several hummingbird feeders and managed to see Black-tailed Trainbearers, Masked Flowerpiercers, a White-bellied Woodstar and a few Shining Sunbeams. Aren’t those names great? We also saw Eared Doves, Great Sapphirewings (another hummingbird) and a pair of gorgeous Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers. And walking around the gardens, we saw Tyrian Metaltails, several Great Thrushes, and Sparkling Violetear – yet another hummingbird.

It was soon time for me to take a nap. The long day before and equally long night were taking their toll. Phil sat out on our balcony and looked at birds from there. Below the balcony was a great expanse of shrubbery filling an expansive downhill area to the main buildings. They had a fruit feeder stuck in the middle of the area and we could usually find birds there, such as a pair of Southern Yellow Grosbeaks and lots of Rufous-collared Sparrows. Phil, of course, found his usually Tit-Tyrants, which I had not yet seen.  When I woke up he had me join him on the balcony and we puzzled over several flycatcher-looking birds. After a conversation at dinner with our guide-to-be, Julio, we decided they were White-crested Elaenias, even though we couldn’t see their crests. I suspected they might be young ones.

In the afternoon, at the end of a walk on one of the Lodge trails, we returned to our room and noticed a couple of the staff coming down the stairs rather hurriedly. When we approached our room, we discovered why. There were flowers strewn all along the walkway leading into our room, a trail of them through the room, and an arrangement of them on the bed! Also, there was a bottle of champagne, two glasses, and a large platter of fruits on a table! How sweet was that! Phil had told them when he made our reservation that we would be celebrating our 30th anniversary, and this was their way of honoring us!

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In addition, at dinner that night, 2 other groups were there, and after dinner the cooks and staff and owner, George Cruz, came in with a beautifully decorated cake to celebrate and for everyone to share. A Canadian group of birders sang a French birthday song to me, then we explained it was our anniversary. It was all great fun and so kind of the staff. One of the couples at dinner was Chinese, and we had seen them during the day with large cameras taking photos of the flowers in the gardens. We later learned that they were the couple who had confiscated our airport ride the night before! They were very nice, spoke English rather well, and we chatted with them several times. After dinner, we also met the man who would be our guide for the next 3 days – Julio Ayala. He joined us with Jorge Cruz, the owner of the lodges, for our celebratory dessert and we chatted about birding and what we would do the next day. Our plan was to go to the nearby Yanacocha Ecological Reserve for the morning. Sr. Cruz again apologized profusely for the airport mixup. And we headed off to bed.

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2 Comments
  1. Diane de Moye permalink

    Loved reading your first days!

    I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book “The Signature of All Things” and liking it a lot. Sorry you didn’t like the other book. Bummers!!

    Gorgeous weather – colors pretty good. Next year you can also marvel at the sumptuousness of it all.

    Love, D

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Boy you’re fast! We are sure looking forward to seeing the seasons change. How did your dinner go thurs night. And what did you serve? A

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