Those of us flying into Miami have another full day in Quito. Rather than spending it in town, a group of us have arranged with Eduardo to visit a cloud forest.We begin by retracing the first part of our route through the gorge(s) from our earlier trip to Otavalo. We pass a few flower-filled greenhouses and then arrive at the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) complex. We had not planned to stop here -we will have too little time in the cloud forest as is, however, despite a general lack of interest, Eduardo doesn’t want us to miss this important Ecuadorian tourist site. The complex (a monument, museums, shops, a tourist village, etc.) is closed when we arrive and, despite our bus driver’s best efforts to sneak in, we are unable to enter. Now let’s get to the cloud forest!Our first stop (at the end of a short detour) provides a view into Pululahua Crater, carpeted with small farms and hosting a geobotanical reserve on its slope.
The scenery is becoming spectacular: Steep mountains carpeted with tall trees. The earth road drops straight down below us and every bend reveals another magnificent view. I wish I were traveling through here in my own vehicle so I could stop along the way and soak in the wonderful wild scene.
Our next stop is the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve. This small reserve has a collection of carefully tended orchids, forested hillsides, abundant bird life, and a small stream complete with waterfall.
We start our tour with a short, slightly slippery hike the waterfall. The air is moist and the surrounding vegetation luxuriant. Thick stands of slim trees tower over dense tropical undergrowth.
Eduardo warned us in advance that it has been dry and that there may not be many orchids in bloom. He is correct, but there are still a good number of plants displaying amazing intricate, and often miniscule flowers. Walk too quickly and they are easy to miss. Of course, a magnifying glass would have proved helpful too!
Back on the road we pass through more spectacular mountain scenery. Wow.
We turn down increasingly smaller roads, ending up on what is essentially a wide dirt track. Despite the decrease in road quality, there are actually more signs of human habitation here. In places the wooded hillsides yield to open pastures where cattle graze and an occasional home or the rooftop of an otherwise concealed resort. Signs direct visitors to unseen shops and lodges.
At last we enter Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, which focuses on education. As if to prove this point, a student group is settling in as we arrive.
We will be having lunch here in the thatched geodesic dome that is at the center of the facility. However, until then, we are free to wander the nearby paths and watch a multitude of hummingbirds taking their own lunch at the numerous feeding stations. The hummingbirds blend into the leafy undergrowth, but when I look closely, it seems as if there are hummingbirds everywhere!
It begins to rain during lunch. Not a surprise, really, since Eduardo’s explanation of cloud forest weather systems included the fact that morning humidity builds up and condenses into afternoon rainfall. It rains very hard.
It is still misty, but the rain has mostly stopped by the time we finish lunch.
Outside the hummingbirds have been joined by beautiful tropical birds. A lovely red, white and bluish masked trogon cooperatively poses on a branch. However, the rest flit about in the dark undergrowth, leaving me with images of blurred bright colors in both my memory and on my camera.
Being that we are in the cloud forest, where daily rain is a fact of life, there are plenty of umbrellas for everyone (unfortunately, I forgot to bring the umbrella hats!) and we follow Eduardo into the misty forest.
Our walk is too short and most of the birds are hunkered down out of the rain. Still, it is lovely to be out here. I wish we had more time.