Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Black Sheep Inn, Day Three

March 17, 2008. Another beautiful morning! We're definitely getting the routine down of getting up early and having our adventures in the morning, and then sitting out the afternoon rain indoors by a toasty fire. Today we graduate to horses from yesterday's mules. I ride Pinta, Colleen and Ian ride Maria, Mom rides Campion, and Ian rides Bonita. Maria and Bonita both had foals following along. Our guide is 14 year old Alfredo, who turns out to be absolutely fantastic. We give him a hefty tip at the end.

Here's some short clips of our ride. I apologize for the Cloverfield-like camera handling, but I was on horseback and twisted backwards in my saddle ...

The trip is about 5 hours long and goes to a local cheese factory and an Andean cloud forest. Riding up through the mountains for an hour or so is fun, but the cheese factory is really a bust. It turns out to be a low ceilinged three room compound with one guy inside separating curds and whey. He won't allow us to take pictures. No cheese is for sale. Cheese sweat drips from the ceiling about 6 inches above our heads. It's interesting for about 5 minutes. Not much of a destination, but we welcome the chance to get off our horses.

After a snack break we head up to the cloud forest. We literally ride into the clouds, and the temperature drops. The vegetation changes from lush to scrubby and then to a short forest dripping with epiphytes and moss. We ride down some pretty slippery and muddy ravines, and the horses lose their footing with alarming frequency. The foals fall down. Luckily, we won't fall off a cliff, just into the mud, but nobody does. Alfredo ties up the horses and leads us on a walking tour of the cloud forest. It's pretty damn cool! The boys enjoy the gloomy wet scenery; Ian isn't scared in this picture, just hamming it up as usual. I love the plants! Beautiful flowers, orchids, mushrooms, and epiphytes. I don't have a flora and fauna guide book, so I can't tell you what any of these are. Aside from these exotics, most of the other plants I saw were very familiar: clover, buttercups, dandelions, lupin, grasses. I realize that I am in fact still in the Americas! I had kind of forgotten that since usually when I travel I end up on another set of continents.

I had really hoped to see a lot of exotic birds on my trip, but unfortunately that was my one disappointment. I think next time I come to Ecuador I won't travel with two small boys, and my bird sitings should improve dramatically! I did manage to get a photo of one pretty yellow bird that I think is a brush finch.

Our ride back to Chugchilán and the Black Sheep Inn was uneventful but relaxing and enjoyable. I think this was really my favorite Ecuador adventure! I've always loved horseback riding, and combining it with a nature hike is like icing on a cupcake.

In the afternoon I visited with the local llamas, and then attended a dance exhibition put on by local girls. The girls were really cute! They did one dance in formation, and then they did a May-pole type dance. They picked the tallest guy from the audience to hold the pole, and it was pretty funny to see him scrunch waaaay down to allow the tiny little girls to weave the ribbons around the pole above him.

Ian and Julian posed with a couple of dancers for a celebrity shot. And tomorrow Julian turns three!

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