Ep.27 – Ecuador

Hello

Our video from Ecuador where we saw the wild iguanas in the middle of the largest city, Guayaquil and climbed the 444 steps to the top of Las Peñas. We then moved to the capital Quito, one of the oldest world heritage sites in the world. Finally we spent a few days birdwatching in the Cloud Forest where there are over 15 species of hummingbirds, some who even ate out of our hands!

Thanks for watching and don’t forget to set to 1080p!

Sophie & Dave

Cloud Forest – Ecuador

Hello!

We were glad to leave Quito on the penultimate day of their week long celebration of  independence. We booked on to a 3 day, 2 night tour with Happy Gringos to visit the Cloud Forest Reserve and stay at the Bellavista Lodge. On the evening before our departure, it was Noche de las plazas and given that we were staying right next to Plaza de Santa Domingo, it meant we were kept up by crazy loud performances and music going on until midnight when we had to get up at 5am. It was estimated that 70,000 people took to the streets that night to celebrate across 4 plazas in the city!

It was a short two hour drive from Quito with only 4 of us in the minivan. Along the way we crossed the equator several times as we meandered through the mountain range. For the last 15km of the drive, we turned off the main road down a bumpy, gravel path that led us deeper in to the cloud forest. We paused only to see a rare Andean Cock-of-the-Rock bird, a vibrant orangey/red colour, nesting near the road side. We pulled up to Bellavista and were instantly stunned by how beautiful it was. We were shown our room which was amazing and massive! We had only booked the ‘standard’, cheaper accommodation with the agency but there was a mix up and we were given a superior room with a spectacular mountain view looking out over the cloud forest. It was a very pleasant surprise as we were expecting it to be fairly basic and similar to the lodge we stayed in the Cambodian jungle where we had bucket showers!

After breakfast, we met our guide Luis ready for our first walk. We spent most of our time with just one other couple; Katherine & Philip from the Lake District who were lovely, knew much more about birdwatching than us and Katherine took the most amazing photographs! We later met another American couple, Dane and Libby, who had over 25 years of bird watching experience! When people are so passionate about something, it is infectious. Dave and I who could barely tell a pigeon from a sparrow were suddenly saying “oooh, what kind of Tanager is that?!”.

Anyway, this particular cloud forest rose over the Andes between 900 and 2500 meters above sea level. The subtropical rain forests contain extremely high biodiversity and Bellavista is renowned  for a huge presence of humming birds! We had been told that there are hummingbird feeders around the lodge but we were not prepared for what we actually saw. There were at least ten beautiful hummingbirds flitting around only a meter away from us, completely unfazed by our presence! We came to learn that Ecuador has the world’s highest number of hummingbird species at 132. The lodge has around 15 different species visiting daily. The wings of these birds beat incredibly fast, especially the Purple-throated Woodstar hummingbird we saw who sounded like a giant bumble bee! I could have literally stayed there for 3 consecutive days it was so fascinating.

The first walk was a slow one through the forest where we stopped to learn about different plant species and do some wildlife spotting. We saw butterflies, insects, frogs, a horned spider and a couple of birds from afar. We stopped at a lookout point where we had sweeping views of the dense forest whilst the clouds slowly crept across the mountaintops. We could visibly see the mist and clouds moving so quickly with the naked eye. We saw beautiful silver trees in the forest which were called cecropia and their colouring actually comes from a sort of spore coating on top of the naturally green leaves. The main purpose of the coating is to prevent the growth of epiphytes. Almost all of the other trees were covered with epiphytes, with some of the larger trees harbouring up to 200 different species of plants. From the lookout point, we were also able to spot two species of Tanagers in the distance.

We came back to a delicious three course lunch (something again we were not expecting) before heading back out again mid afternoon. We were able to hold the feeder containing the nectar that the hummingbirds drink in the palm of our hands. It was absolutely amazing and we were so amazed by how much more detail you could see when they were that little bit closer, not to mention feel the beat of their wings or the softness of the brush of their feathers. Dave filmed me whilst I had multiple hummingbirds on my hand and it’s so embarrassing to see my jaw literally dropped in sheer awe haha! We went for another walk through the forest before coming back for dinner.

The next two days followed a similar format, although we had the additional bonus of an early morning walk at 6.15am to catch the birds at their most active. The highlight for me was a bird that I (very proudly) spotted! It was called a Masked Trogon and had a really vibrant red breast and green back. We managed to see such a variety of bird species during our stay including Montane Woodcreepers, a Common Potoo and the most beautiful Turquoise Jay. One of my favourite photos was the Turquoise Jay eating a grass hopper! Dave’s favourite were the two different species of Toucans. The Plate-billed Mountain Toucan has the most colourful and gigantic beak, while its cousin the Toucan Barbet is much smaller both in size and the shape of the beak – both of these birds are range-restricted and can only be found in climates like this Cloud forest.

Aside from birds, one evening after dinner we were lucky enough to catch a brief glimpse of a rare mammal called an Olinguito. It looks a little like a cross between a monkey and a weasel but is part of the raccoon family. We did however see a Tayra weasel the following morning.

Join us next time as we head back to Quito briefly before flying out to our dream destination, the Galapagos Islands!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave

 

Singapore

Hello!

We flew from Phuket to Singapore and arrived in a country with fantastic sign posts, in English! We bought a tourist tube/underground pass for three days for 20 Singaporian dollars (around £11) which was really good value! You can get anywhere in Singapore fairly quickly on the tube network. We hopped on and arrived at Bugis station, near where we would be staying for the next 5 days. Singapore was definitely too expensive for a private room so we were in a 6 bed dorm in a hostel instead. The hostel was in a great central location adjacent to Arab street (quite a famous area with lots of food options and a mosque at the end of the street) and Haji street with bustling cafes, street art and live music.  Our first impression of Singapore was that it was a cleaner, more beautiful version of London. The enormous office tower blocks remind you of Canary Wharf (just with fancier architecture) and the quirky cafes and street art reminds you of a trendy Shoreditch. The hostel was fine, we were in a room with 4 guys who were essentially nocturnal, so we only actually had the light on in the room once in five days! Quite annoying to have to rummage round your backpack shining your phone torch but it definitely encouraged us to get out all the time and spend barely any time in the room other than to sleep. I was also enormously pissed off that it was gendered bathrooms, so if I needed a wee in the night, I had to go downstairs sandwiched by two key-swipe doors!

Anyway, on our first full day, we went to the botanical gardens. They are massive, beautiful gardens with exotic plants, specialist gardens and lakes. It’s predominantly free, just $5 to enter the orchid garden. We both agree that it is the best park/gardens we’ve ever been to, mostly because… we saw FIVE, wild, giant monitor lizards! This was hugely exciting to me, the first one we saw was over a metre long and really solid, you could see his veins bulging through his armour-like skin. SO COOL (see photos below). We spent pretty much the whole day wandering around every corner of the gardens, but we easily spent 2 hours stalking lizards. In the evening, we met up with Dave’s friend from work back in the UK; Akhil and his girlfriend Amrit. We had a lovely dinner with them (thank you Akhil again!), and then we had a nice little walk around Clarke Quay with our Singaporean tour guides. They also gave us sound advice about walk-in clinics…

The next day we went to the recommended walk-in. It was so efficient, we just had to register with my passport and then we were seen after one person! I had a small friction burn on my ankle that I got at the Cambodian Wildlife sanctuary. After three weeks it still hadn’t healed and turned into a hole which kept oozing pus (so grim, soz). I was paranoid that there must be an insect inside but fortunately the doctor said it was just an infected wound so I got antibiotics, cream and peace of mind, all for £35 and just a morning of our time, so not bad at all! In the afternoon, we had a potter around the Gardens by the bay. They have these incredible ‘super trees’; vertical gardens which combine nature and technology to produce a solar powered light show every evening. There are apparently over 160,000 plants across the 18 super trees! Whilst Singapore is extortionately expensive (food & accommodation), they do have great free activities. We settled down to the light show which started at 7.45pm when the sun had properly set. It was Star Wars themed and one of the most spectacular displays we’d ever seen! The imperial march blared through the speakers as we looked up to these 50 metre trees lit up in the darkness.

We went back to the gardens by the bay the following day during daylight to visit the cloud forest and the flower dome. These are the two paying attractions you can visit there but they were definitely worth the money! The flower dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world (1.2 hectares!) and is full of beautiful plants from around the world. We loved the Cloud forest even more though. It’s basically a man-made mountain covered in tropical plants. They also have the world’s tallest indoor waterfall which was so awesome! Everything in Singapore was just so cool, we walked all around inspecting the exotic plants, they even had giant lego replicas of carnivorous plants next to the real life-size ones!

We watched their film called +5 degrees which shows the impact of global warming in the next 100 years if action is not taken. As we came out, we were discussing how Singapore is such a tiny country yet is so innovative and focused on sustainable energy, and comparatively how America has a president that doesn’t believe in climate change. Literally the following day, Trump withdrew America from the Paris agreement. The stupidity is bewildering. Hopefully more countries follow Singapore’s lead and create beautiful, sustainable and free places for people to appreciate like Gardens by the Bay!

Singapore was definitely a completely different experience to any other country we’ve visited in Asia. We’ve had an amazing 4 months in Asia and on our last night we dined on an extravagant feast of…super noodles in the hostel. Not just any super noodles, but a value pack of super noodles haha. But we then went to watch the super trees light show again because we loved it so much. This time it started to rain and it was like a mass evacuation with about two thirds of the spectators rushing to leave. It was essentially a light sprinkle so we were more than happy to stay and enjoy the full show even in the rain.

Thanks for reading and catch us in Australia next time!

Sophie & Dave