Hello from the warm cloud forest in Mindo! Before arriving here after spending three wonderful days high in the Andes on the slopes of the Cotopaxi Volcano. We spent our first two days hiking and horseback riding along the green, rolling slopes beneath the Cotopaxi Volcano.

Gearing up for a horseback ride. Photo by student Nadia A.

Gearing up for a horseback ride. Photo by student Nadia A.

Out on the range in the high Paramo. Photo by student Nadia A.

Out on the range in the high Paramo. Photo by student Nadia A.

And before making the drive down to the cloud forest, we trekked up the second highest peak in Ecuador, Cotopaxi. As we drove up the mountain, rain and wind turned into fog and snow, and soon our driver pulled off the road. We bundled up and began hiking up to the climbers’ refuge at nearly 16,000ft. While not all of us made it all the way to the refugio, we all returned safe, tired, and satisfied with our efforts.

One step at a time. Students hike to the refugio on Cotopaxi. Photo by student Nadia A.

One step at a time. Students hike to the refugio on Cotopaxi. Photo by student Nadia A.

We’re now in the warmth of the cloud forests of Mindo, nearly 10,000ft below our high point in the Andes, and the nocturnal insects of the forest fill the air with a melody of sounds. What a place for biodiversity!

On our first full day in Mindo, we took a cart attached to a zip line over a valley, then hiked to a waterfall where we went for a swim. The experience was exquisite, and the water temperature was shockingly cold.

Photo by student Sydney S.

Photo by student Sydney S.

Later, we split into our individual groups — the Wildlife & Conservation group watched humming birds and the Photography group learned about their cameras. Then we walked back to downtown Mindo and had dinner. Our National Geographic Expert María gave a talk about oil in the Amazon, and we said our good nights!

The next day, we woke up at 4am and quickly got ready to go to the conservation center run by our trip leader Niki, Un Poco del Choco Reserve. There we learned about Niki’s job, and we measured birds to contribute to her research. It was amazing!

Our trip leader Niki removing a bird from the mist net. Photo by student Sydney S.

Our trip leader Niki removing a bird from the mist net. Photo by student Sydney S.

Niki demonstrates how to measure birds. Photo by student Sydney S.

Niki demonstrates how to measure birds. Photo by student Sydney S.

After dinner, we learned how to salsa — amongst many other types of dances — with the locals, and the music helped us connect to the culture better.  A great day- now it’s time to get out and further explore the forest!