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12. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part I

Monday, June 12th, Island Beneficiaries

Photo Credit: Anaconda Lodge Website http://www.anacondalodgeecuador.com/who-we-are-2/#

Francisco is a very intense guy from Chili with quite the history, which he didn’t hesitate to share with us over the next several days. He had been a heavy drinker, alcoholic CEO of a bank, not knowing what to do with his money other than acquiring many Mercedes, as long as they had fewer than 5300 miles on them. When as a 42 year-old bachelor he met Silvia from Colombia, she turned his life around, and he gave up his lucrative but unsatisfying career to become an activist on behalf of indigenous people and the environment.

When Francisco wanted to buy 9 hectares on the island to start an Eco friendly tour lodge, the broker told him that he would have to pay the same amount of money whether he bought the whole island or only part of it. He chose to get the entire property, and then turned around and sold it, minus 9 hectares, for a dollar per portion to the natives who previously had been driven off their island by the military.

Francisco has been jailed 3 times for speaking against the government, but that hasn’t stopped or slowed him down. On the way to the island, we had passed a Swiss Hotel. Apparently one day the Swiss Hotel drone was hovering around the Anaconda property. Francisco called the owners to cease and desist, and recall their drone. After an hour, there had been no retraction. Francisco got out his pistol and shot down the pesky intruder.

Francisco also said that he nearly threw a CEO of Texaco off his property. He couldn’t understand why such a person would come to his lodge anyway, but got angry when he heard disparaging remarks about the people and the land. Somehow the two were able to resolve their differences and the man ended up staying with a new sense of respect.

About half of the group went for a hike that was going to be repeated the next day. I decided to shower, nap, and get some laundry done, which is the only way in Ecuador to get dry clothes.

Every night was a frogging night.  As usual, we saw as many other interesting creatures of the night as we saw frogs.

It is important to look both on top of and underneath the leaves. Here are some leaf surprises. How many frogs do you see in these four photos?  Is there more than one?

   

Is this limbless amphibian called a caecilian, or a snake? How does one tell the difference?

And is this limbed amphibian a frog or a toad?  Again, how can one tell?

         

 

Monkey Frog

When I followed the hotshots into a swampy area, it was hard to see with mosquitos and other insects swarming toward my light, and I hadn’t brought my head netting. However, my reward was getting to see three frogs. With help as usual, that is.  

Victor stayed out late that night helping Melvin with his photography; I was only too happy to go to bed.

11. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part VIII

Monday, June 12th, The Art of the Wild and On to Our Next Stop

We had one more hike with Walter, Michael and Chelsea.  The itinerary said that it was strenuous, but by this time I was quite used to being pulled or pushed or loaned a shoulder or arm for balance.  In fact, since the helpers were all so wonderful, I rather enjoyed being one of the more dependent walkers on the trip.  Partly I lagged behind because there was so much to see and hear.  In a clearing before we got to a really steep part of the trail, I found  two anthills, about 10 feet apart.

 

Were there two different types of ants?  Was one an entrance and another an exit?  Did some other species construct or step o the one on the left?  The mysteries of nature!

Remember the blue morph butterfly on the “bridge to everywhere” in the photo on the blog 7. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part IV – A Buggy Night? The outer or ventral sides of morph wings look like gremlins, but others call them owl butterflies. See if you can “spot it”(sic!).

The forest floor yields more beautiful colors and patterns with closer looks.

Even leaf litter has potential for gorgeous abstracts, and one leaf had a big daytime surprise.  My reason for being on the trip, and I didn’t remember having seen the creature of my dreams when I took the photo!

Then there are fungi.

  

And red  berries and flowers in the green foliage. The walk was as happy for me as Christmas!  

When we got to the top of the trail, we were rewarded with a beautiful view from the Mirador.

After lunch, the staff once again loaded all of our luggage into wheelbarrows or onto their shoulders and ran it down to the taxis. We had to walk, although hitching a ride in a wheelbarrow, by that time, was tempting. We went back across the bridge for the last time, transferred to the bus, and traveled to a landing at Puerto Ahuano, some miles away.

Francisco, owner of Anaconda Lodge, where we were going to stay, met us there. We took two motorized canoes again, loaded with suitcases, duffle bags, and backpacks, down the river to Anaconda Island. Once again staff helped to wheel the luggage from the landing to our respective guesthouses. After lunch we regrouped on the porch, where Francisco and his co-owner wife Silvia told us about themselves and the Lodge.  

For more about this colorful character Francisco, be sure to look for his story in my next frog-blog,# 12. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs, on this site,  next week.

Speaking of color:  TEACHERS AND ARTISTS AND KIDS OF ALL AGES!!!

Kerry Kriger, founder, has updated the SAVE THE FROGS! art contest website AND extended the deadline to December 10th. If all goes well, he even might let me help!

10. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part VII

Sunday, June 11th, More bugs and FROGS!.

     

Spider Photo Credit Melvin Grey

On our way to go frogging this evening, the group made quite a big deal over this, to some, yukky leech. Leave it to me, I find it stunningly beautiful!

People have similar reactions to spiders. My questions are: Will the leech eat the spider? Will the spider eat the leech? Will they keep a respectful distance? Or maybe become friends?

We found more lovely insects that night, including a green and yellow female mantis and her egg case and a green and yellow stick bug, in perfect artistic harmony with the leaf on which it is sitting.

        

Mantis Photo Credit Melvin Grey

It was more satisfying to me to see my froggy friends in situ. Without their being handled, I was much happier. However, if I hadn’t had plenty of assistance, I may not have seen any frogs.  Thank goodness for STF! friends who want to share the joy of watching them. Here is a frog in a folded leaf, side and frong views, and a spotted glass frog

        

We were frogging on the trails by the river we had walked on earlier. Others were often able to spot things that I couldn’t, although I was the discoverer of a pretty green mantis on the ground (photo not available). Quickly I learned to hang out with certain people with more expertise than me, one of whom is Katie O’Donnell.

Katie, after studying Ecology & Conservation Biology in Missouri, is doing a Post Doctoral Program at USGS, in Gainesville, where she met and became friends with Michael. Katie pronounces her name “AW-sum PER-sun.” She also is  serious wildlife photographer. This is Katie’s second Save the Frogs! trip this year, as she traveled with Chelsea’s Ecotour to Peru. It would not surprise me to see Katie co-leading Save the Frogs! Ecotour herself in the future.

Victor was another great person to hang out with. Victor found this colony of frogs, which generally are solitary creatures. I couldn’t help but follow the most adventurous of them, starting a climb of 40 feet or higher from the bromeliad up the tree. Watch this guy go:

According to the time stamp on my photos, this climb took less than 3 minutes. The frog was headed to the top of the tree. S/he must have seen the way up as much higher than the Ceibo tree on Day 2 looked to us. And yet they make the ascent many times every day.

The most recent SAVE THE FROGS! newsletter is offering a LAST CHANCE for a discounted price on the Costa Rica and Ecuador ecotours, to which you can add the additional $200 discount for hearing of it from me with the code fass200. The best way to not miss a single story or special offer is to sign up for the electronic newsletter itself; it is always worth reading. Go to electronic newsletter

 

9. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part VI

Sunday, June 11th, To touch or not to touch.

That afternoon, we took another hike around the Suchipakari Trails, and learned more about how the locals use materials, such as catching birds with traps made out of palm.

Michael gave a presentation before dinner that evening on amphibian conservation. One of the most successful of international SAVE THE FROGS! chapters is Save the Frogs! Ghana.  Everyone is extremely proud of Gilbert Adum and the work he does on behalf of African frogs in general, and the threatened Giant Squeaker Frog in particular.  This bad news was posted by one of Gilbert’s friends on July 14th, with a list of the names of those who have died:  “New research shows that environmental defenders are being killed at the rate of almost four a week across the world.”

You Tube videos of Gilbert, include subjects ranging from his talking about the making of charcoal in forests that threaten habitat destruction, to his speech for Ghanese graduates in England, who have gotten their bachelor’s degrees majoring in the study of amphibians.

Sadly, there are a few international chapters, including Save the Frogs! Colombia, that either have become inactive, or haven’t gotten off the ground.  Victor is a scientific advisor for SAVE THE FROGS!  and a professor of conservation biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit, Nayarit, Mexico.  He is a gentle, sweet man.

Victor is bringing his daughters up to share his love of the natural history and ecology of amphibians and reptiles, and gotten them to do presentations themselves in their pre teen years.  He is concerned about the environment, especially as impacted by human activities, including tourism. If I could peel him away from his cell phone every once in awhile, I would love to help him start a STF! Mexico chapter.

Jaime had a few surprises for us.  He often stayed out most of the night until early morning, and brought back treasures. The first was this scorpion.  Somehow, with all of the crowding around, the headlamps, and flashing cameras, I got some unusual photographic effects.

 

The other was the beautiful  glass frog he had captured.

Ever since I first learned about the glass frogs’ transparent belly, that reveals the stomach, intestines, liver and heart of this tiny creature, I have been completely enamored of it.  What a thrill it was to see it in person!

As they did with every frog they picked up, our guides made sure to put them back exactly where they were found.  We were not allowed to handle them if we had any bug spray on.

It is no surprise that I felt quite ambivalent about the experience; on the one hand, delighted to see frogs and other endemic or native life, but worried that we were frightening or otherwise going to do harm to my favorite creatures.

The SAVE THE FROGS! newsletter is offering a LAST CHANCE for a discounted price on the Costa Rica and Ecuador ecotours, to which you can add the discount for hearing of it from me with the code fass200. The best way to not miss a single story or special offer is to sign up for the electronic newsletter itself; it is always worth reading. go to electronic newsletterhttps://www.savethefrogs.com/media/electronic-newsletter/

8. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part V

Sunday, June 11th, AmaZOOnico

Today we were taken in twos and threes across the river in a pole boat, walked for 20 or so minutes to another  river landing, and  then rode by motorized water canoe to AmaZOOnico Rescue Center.  

A young French guide, who had been volunteering for 3 months, explained that the animals are confiscated from illegal poachers and pet traders.  Many of the animal residents are injured from cruel practices, such as drilling holes through turtle or tortoise shells to hang them on ropes. These guys escaped that torture.

 

The paw raised by the front turtle did not move for a long time.  Our guide told us the turtles are always ready to drop off into the water in case they feel threatened.

Another water animal, definitely prehistoric looking, is the Caiman (in the muddy water, left).  In the alligator family, Caiman can grow from 4 to 16 feet long.

Some animals can be rehabilitated and released into the wild again, but if they have multiple behavioral problems and/or physical injuries, they cannot.    

The baby monkey’s father is called The Killer, and probably will never be let out, although the mother and infant might.  

AmaZOOnico has quite a bit of protected land outside of its enclosures, so released species can hang around nearby in relative safety, and the staff can also keep an eye out for how they are adapting.

One of the criteria for release is that the animals are NOT comfortable around humans.  Too much trust makes them vulnerable to being caught or killed.

The volunteers are supposed to avoid eye, physical, emotional and language contact with them.  The animals are not supposed to be called by name.  One person didn’t follow the rules, and the animal died of sadness when she left.

The animals do have names.

This Martin is not my husband.  

Corn is a popular food both for monkeys and macaws:

Two other birds, a parrot with clipped wings, and a curious toucan, were also behind bars.

  

We also saw kinkajous, quatis, ocelots, jaguar pintas, and aguti rodents. We saw and heard about tapirs who not only have prehensile probosci, but the males also can point and aim urine at an unsuspecting intruder.  In captivity rather than running away as they otherwise would tend to do, a tapir can maul a person to death, especially if there are juveniles involved.  

AmaZOOnico Animal Rescue seems like a really fine opportunity for volunteering or a charity to give to.  To learn more, check AmaZOOnico.  

If I weren’t hoping to volunteer with Victor Luja in Mexico, and to work with elephants, I would seriously consider this myself, though I think we all need to steer clear of the tapirs.

7. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part IV

Saturday, June 10th, A Glimpse of the Past, Spiders and Bugs

We were on a close schedule to go the Quichua community on the shore of the Napa River.

Our interpreter told us the story of how the indigenous community has been preserved and sustained by a group of women and their crafts. Two local drinks were passed around in these bowls, one made from yucca and sweet potato water, which now is mashed instead of masticated.

                                                                                        Photo Credit, Katie O’Donnell

Finally, after a demonstration of the native clothing, we were treated to a dance, which we all were invited to join.

Birds hung around. The turkey was shooed away two or three times, clearly disappointed that there was no invitation to a turkey dance.

  

 

 

 

 

 

The Macaw wriggled with delight
as Connor scratched its back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our interpreter invited us to climb to the top of the Sacred Rock, although this must be done barefoot.

Two of our three  Canadians, Brian and Crystal, in white hats, made the ascent with Michael and Katie.

Crystal is a self-described shy and timid nurse. However, there was nothing she wouldn’t try, including zip lining with a group a few days later. That was an activity that I chose not to join myself!

Crystal got the absolute best video at Quichua, of a Toucan who was determined to beat her to the toilet. This is her still photo. You can find the video next to it on her Facebook page. Crystal’s Toucan Toilet Trot

Walter seems to belong to all eternity, in time transfixed.

Am I in love? It shouldn’t be too hard to guess.

Saturday, June 10, Part III A Buggy Night

At Suchipakari, right near the dining porch, there is a small and shallow bathing pool. There were frogs around it, and in the evening, they would sit on the side and or go for a swim. Here is one that Jaime caught, in a most unnatural habitat.

As we went out onto the wet trails, each with our headlights, it was possible to get some dramatic glimpses of the trees: A black, grey and white theme, echoed by insects.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victor made a friend. Photo Credit Melvin Grey

Melissa did as well.  She and her mom Jennifer never met a living thing they didn’t love.   Photo Credit Melvin Grey

                                                                                                                 .

A tarantula showed us her butt, and that was all.  Jaime demonstrated the green bug becoming spiney when touched.

As it turned out, we would see many more Morph or Owl butterflies, especially as they seem to be flying both in the  day and at night. My name for the photo: Butterfly on a Bridge to Everywhere.

And so ended my second night at Suchipakari.

The deadline, October 15th, for the SAVE THE FROGS! Art Contest is right around the corner.  For submission directions, click this link: submit your artwork!

6. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part III

Saturday, June 10th,  Easy Does It!

The little girl at the left, with her dog Cocoa, was at our “taxi station” out in the middle of the country,where the jitneys picked us up at the end of our walk to go to our next destination.

We were sorted into the 4 taxis, and bounced to a spot near a river which had two waterfall hikes.

Being unnecessarily proud, I started off on the harder path with the majority of walkers, but hadn’t gone up too many steps before I asked Michael Starkey to take me back to the other group.

Michael, co-leader with Chelsea Carson, was a friend of mine from an online course I had taken in 2015 on environmentalism, through Save the Frogs! He is so enthusiastic when he talks about Save the Frogs, that he periodically inserts an adorable little plié as he speaks. If you search for Michael on the web, you can find a photo of him with Jane Goodall!

Michael works full time for Save the Frogs! and recently found his bride when both were hanging around the monkey cages at an environmental project where they worked.

The two now live in Gainesville, Florida. Michael is delightfully accommodating, and always ready to lend a hand to anyone, or a finger, to his own kind of pets.

Chelsea won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Ecuador, and is well suited to the environment, customs and language of South America. She volunteered for Save the Frogs! for a year, and then became a guide. She led, by herself, a STF! Ecotour to Peru, and then teamed up with Michael for this trip. She will be a tiny bit busy, as she is starting her Master’s program this fall. Interview with Chelsea

She certainly was busy with this hike. She must have run back and forth between the two hikes at least 2 times, as we encountered Jennifer separated from the difficult group coming down the trail towards us. Chelsea elected herself to find and reunite them.

The “easy trail” walk, led by Chelsea and Walter, wasn’t altogether that easy, with the elevations, rocks, and mud. We wore high rubber boots on these walks, and more than once, we felt the boot gripped with the “schloop” or “ehchuelup” sound while we tried to lift our heavier than usual feet to march up the path.

Melvin pointed out an interesting part of the landscape as we started out (more about toilets anon).  He also had pointed out that I couldn’t see through my binoculars because I was looking in the wrong end!

Help to appreciate other scenery with my own eyes was unnecessary.

The path along the stream:

Patterns of the railings, not only for the colors, but also for the support they provided.

        

More fungus.

Both groups got to go to a different swimming hole near a waterfall, and ours was well worth the travel. The cold and splashing water was really refreshing, and lovely patterned leaves at the site intriguing.

When we all got back to the head of the trails, a wonderful lunch of fruit and veggies was served to us in the open shelter before we were off to our next appointment (if you can believe we have appointments in the jungle!)

 

 

5. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part II

Friday, June 9th, Monkey Frogs

After lunch, the local guide Walter took us on “El Gran Cacique” (“The Great Chieftan”) hike. He was equipped for the job he said, because his father was a Shaman, or medicine man.   

The first major stop was at a giant Ceibo tree. The anchoring roots are can grow to 50 feet, and the trees can be as old as a million years.   The tree itself can grow to 230 feet high.

  

Ceibo seeds are a source of cotton, the fibers of which are used to seal and wrap dart guns, as well as to form stuffing for pillows, mattresses, and other furnishings.  The bark can be used for headache, diabetes, diuresis, and even as an aphrodisiac for love.  Ceibo trees have a love-hate relationship with fig vines, which can strangle and kill even a giant tree, but also protect them against falling in storms.

The walking tree is so called because of the long thin above ground roots that appear to shift with the sun, but actually, the shape changes as new roots grow out of the trunk over time.

Walter showed us several ways of using the palm plant, making a woven cap, crowns, as well as a back scratcher by cutting the leaf fronds from the stalk.

 

 

 

Tree trunks, and white fungus every bit as lovely as an orchid, offered many images and patterns

We saw a bullet ant, which apparently has a sting that hurts as much as being hit by a bullet. and a lovely wasp nest.

That night we went frogging for the very first time. Jaime (guide and professional wildlife photographer) discovered a monkey frog by the pond, which we all got to crowd around and photograph.  Of course, Melvin’s (professional wildlife photographer) images are superior, and with his permission, I am reproducing them here.  

      

Photo Credit Melvin Grey

It was pouring rain, the trail was slippery mud, and I did my first face plant (out of three). Jaime, Victor, Connor, and few other of the crazies stayed out much longer, but a warm shower and bed time was just what this little lady needed!

 

 

4. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part I

Friday, June 9th, Into the jungle, (1st photo not withstanding)

Jaime, professional wildlife photographer and guide, arrived at Villa DaFiore just in time for the group photo in the previous blog.  He is a good friend of Chelsea’s, and helped her while she was living in Ecuador. Jaime was born in Spain, but stayed once he came to Ecuador to stay.  He says that his English is poor, and he talks English as quickly as he speaks Spanish, so it was hard to follow him sometimes in either language.  It was easy to read his body language, though, as an exuberant, happy person who enjoys telling and playing jokes, and showing and telling about his wilderness discoveries. This is the dragon Jaime is about to slay, (in the kindest and gentlest of ways.) 

Photo Credit, Jaime Culebras

We were less than an hour out of Quito, driving past the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve, when Jaime with his sharp eyes spotted a few black dots on a hill, and asked the bus driver to stop.  Can YOU see them?

The dots, seen through binoculars, were actually bears, as Jaime correctly predicted. The only bear in South America is the Oso de Antes Ojos, or Spectacled Bear, also known as the Andean (short-faced) Bear.  The bears are considered vulnerable, and are radio collared for tracking. Jaime says he has only seen 6 in 6 years. Gradually, we were able to make out three bears in a group in the middle of the hill, who proceeded to run up a trail as we got back onto the bus.

Our drive to Suchipakari took about 4 hours with a stop or too.

When we got close to our destination, we saw that the bridge to the little town was closed to buses (see the low hanging yellow bar across the entrance),

so we transferred into 4 or 5 taxis, bounced up a road for a half hour or so to a “taxi stand”, and then walked on an attractive path to the lodge for 15 minutes.  The staff went back and forth between this drop off point and the lodge. bringing the luggage either on their shoulders or in wheelbarrows.   

A delicious lunch was served to us on the patio.  In Ecuador, most meals begin with a hot soup, and were always yummy in their variety.  Yucca and plantain were abundantly used for every eating purpose. After lunch, we had time to settle in to our lodges before our first group adventure.  

3. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Villa daFiore and Tumbaco Part II

Thursday, June 8th, Getting to know you

All of the schools in the Tumbaco area are centralized, within a few blocks of each other.  The geopolitical consequence of this is that children at a distance, poorer, or in a small barrio without transportation, do not get to go to school.  The massing of buildings and children results in an hour or more of streets jammed with children of all ages pouring out of their classrooms, as well as with the parents or guardians waiting for them.  Groups of students were wearing different kinds of uniforms, but each was a visible symbol of their school and/or grade.

The younger child, Kelly, came out first. She hesitated for a long time before answering the standard name question, so I wondered if she made that up.

The older girl, Rosemary, was the almost last one to come out, but in the meantime, I met Samuel.  He came right up to me and asked me what I had in my hand.  It was my cell phone, so I asked him if he wanted me to take a picture with it. He said yes, and after posing for nanoseconds, he ran off.

At 6 o’clock, The Save the Frogs Ecuador group gathered in the dining room for introductions, and all sounded like really interesting people, whom I appreciated more each day, as you will learn in future postings.  

We left the next morning after breakfast, but before we did, Melvin took the group photo below, and then ran to get into the picture at the far left. 

Photo Credit, Melvin Grey

Patricio, in the middle of the back row is personable, energetic, works day and night, and bent over backwards to make sure we all were accommodated, at breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between. The location seems a non sequitur, but the grounds are lovely and the food is good.  Villa daFiore gets five stars in my book!

It is my prayer for Mirabella that people go by and love on her, as I asked Kelly and Rosemary to do. But if they do, Mirabella might be even sadder when they grow up and spend less time on the grounds. It’s a really hard thing to figure out.

From Kerry Kriger:   “In May 2017, Stephanie Steelman won a free SAVE THE FROGS! Ecotour through our once in a lifetime Ecotour Sweepstakes.”  Here is an excerpt from what Stephanie had to say about the trip:
“Michael and Chelsea were organized, had a great deal of biological and logistical knowledge in navigating the country, and are wonderfully smart and funny people to be around. They have a grace and organizational capacity beyond their years (I can’t believe Chelsea is only 25, oh man.) I also liked how they connected the group with local guides who had a great deal of indigenous and biological knowledge specific to each region we traveled to… I’m a true convert.”

Watch for your own opportunities to travel with us!

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