We had decided to head out of town early for our second day in Quito and Diego had suggested either visiting a nearby rainforest or crater lake, both of which offered some good hiking. Since we were heading to the Galapagos, with all its volcanic landscape, we decided to opt for something a bit different and chose the rainforest.
After a small breakfast of granola, yoghurt and coffee, Diego met us at the hotel and we were on our way heading north through Quito. Our hotel was on the south end of town and Quito is a sprawling city that extends some 40 kilometers in a north-south direction. It is nestled between the tall mountains of the Andes being bordered on both sides by mountains at least twelve to fifteen-thousand feet high and some of the taller ones that exceed fifteen-thousand are snow capped. As we woke up this morning and looked out our window, it turned out to be a beautifully clear and sunny day which was a blessing as the original forecast had been for rain both days. Best of all, Cotopaxi, the nearly twenty-thousand foot-high volcano that has been spewing smoke for the last year or so, was clearly visible to the south of town.
It was a Sunday morning and so the traffic was light as we drove north through Quito and it was a bright sunny day. Though we were under an equatorial sun, the temperature wasn’t very high as we’re at nine-thousand feet. Still, you could feel the warmth of the radiant heat and between the sun and the altitude, you have to make sure you don’t burn. We learned this on our climb up Kilimanjaro over a year ago. What we didn’t realize today was that our drive was going to take us through some of the most amazing scenery as we traversed the Pululahua Geobotanic Reserve on our way to our destination. The road was very windy and hugged the mountain sides as we continually ascended and descended the terrain on way deeper into the mountains. The views were tremendous and the lush vegetation was as dense as one can imagine aside from the haphazard cultivated fields on the slopes of the mountains that were somehow were managed to be maintained. Here and there, one would see a small dwelling associated with the fields, but how the inhabitants managed to get to and from them was a mystery to me.
We eventually came to the small village of Nanegalito and as it was a Sunday morning, lots of local residents were out walking in town and visiting the small shops. We stopped for a bit as Diego needed to call into work for some troubleshooting, but this gave us time to explore a little and take in the local scenery. The town was surrounded by taller peaks and again in the distance we could see a few snow covered ones that announced their awesome heights.
Back on the road again, Diego turned off the main route shortly after leaving Nanegalito and we were now ascending a small dirt road traveling higher and higher up into hillsides thickly covered with vegetation, all the time looking across magnificent vistas with deep ravines and very steep slopes. Along the way we saw hikers, each with binoculars who were clearly bird watching, giving us some inkling as to the true nature of the region we were now in. We eventually came upon our destination, Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve Resort. This is totally eco friendly place with buildings erected partially out of local bamboo and a number of unique rooms all with different views of this rain forest in the clouds. As we exited the car and walked up to the office, we immediately noticed there were numerous hummingbird feeders and, more importantly, dozens and dozens of hummingbirds all flying around to the different feeders. And there were perhaps a dozen different species each paying attention only to their own brethren as if the others were totally foreign to them despite looking so similar to us.
We decided to take a short hike before lunch on one of the many trails that traversed this rain forest in the clouds and along the way, Jeff, who has a penchant for orchids, began searching for these unique plants that are native to this region. There were streams and small waterfalls along the trail which was often quite wet and slippery, but we continued upward until we reached the road we came in on and where we had seen the bird watching hikers earlier. As I was checking our coordinates on my gps, I found that we were almost smack on the equator, off by only slightly more than one minute of latitude. We descended another trail based on our maps that had been supplied and slowly made our way now descending the slippery trail, all the while making sure we didn’t get lost. At one point, Diego, Kathy and I stood looking at our map to determine we were on the right trail back to the lodge when Jeff walked up to the three of us and asked if we were going to follow the bright yellow sign pointing back to the lodge that was right behind the three of us and which we had completely missed. It was an incredibly comical moment and only goes to show that being observant to your surroundings is as important as how to read a map.
We made it back safely to the lodge and all sat down for lunch in the circular restaurant that overlooked the rain forest. We had a wonderful homemade soup and local fist with salad that was all delicious as was the tiramisu that was served for dessert. We walked around the lodge a bit more as I took some more hummingbird photos and then we all loaded back in the car for the trip back to Quito. This destination was one of the most breathtaking places that I have been and that includes my African travels. If you are a bird watcher, I can’t imagine a better place.
The drive back was equally as beautiful, though I will have to admit that I dozed for a bit after our wonderful hike and lovely lunch. As we excited the thickly covered mountains of the reserve and dropped back into the valley with Quito in the distance, we came upon Mitad del Mundo, or Middle of the World, where a monument exists celebrating the location where a French explorer calculated the equator to be in 1736. He was actually about 240 m off in his calculations, but regardless, there is a yellow stripe representing the equator so you can walk with one foot in each hemisphere. We made a brief stop here and went to the top of the monument for the view.
As we drove back into town, there was unfortunately cloud cover in the distance covering up Cotopaxi, but at least we had seen it in the morning. It is approximately the same height as Kilimanjaro, but exists on a continent with many twenty-thousand plus foot high mountains where Kili is the highest on its continent. We said our farewells to Diego, who was an incredible host to us, and decided to relax before heading out to dinner. Tonight was an Ecuadorian sushi restaurant which may sound a bit funny, but given he fresh seafood around here, it was another amazing culinary experience. Tomorrow we awaken early to get to the airport for our trip to the Galapagos and the next part of our wonderful journey.