27th – 29th September We head north out of Quito to visit Bellavista Lodge, one of the cloud forest lodges near Mindo at an elevation of approx. 2000m.
But first we make a stop at San Antonio de Pichincha, where we cross the equator at 00.00.00 degrees with the extinct Volcan Pululahua towering in front of us. One of Ecuador’s biggest claims to fame, as well as its name, is its location on the equator and La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World City) is where measurements made in the 18th century, showed that this was the equatorial line. Today however, GPS devices show that it is incorrect by about 240m…….but we are close!
It’s a long and steady climb surrounded by steep and densely forested mountains, with late afternoon cloud and mist beginning to settle on their slopes. A long, dirt road brings us to Bellavista Lodge and we keep our fingers crossed that we will be able to park and sleep inside our Land Rover. Thankfully this is no problem as there is a small area that we can park in and we can use all their facilities including a bathroom for shower and toilets…….very helpful and friendly people. We are provided with a map showing all the various hiking trails, which we can’t wait to do as we have amazing views across to the forests and the garden is full of birds.
We are surrounded by a constant ‘hum’ from the many different hummingbirds as they drink from the little feeders set amongst the flowers and trees. They are quite incredible to watch, their tiny feathers glowing with an iridescent sheen in the late afternoon sun.
This beautiful reserve is at the southern edge of the Choco/Andean rain forest that stretches from southwestern Colombia to northwestern Ecuador. Bellavista began in 1991 as a partially deforested farm of 55 hectares purchased by a British/Colombian couple. Since then it has grown through further purchases and additions by other people, to become a reserve of 700 hectares. There are 10km of hiking trails, much of it through dense, primary forest. It is home to many species of plants, birds and other animals amongst its steep valleys, streams and hidden waterfalls, trees draped in mosses, trailing plants, bromliads and orchids.
Plants grow on the top of trees to absorb more light and many have huge leaves for this purpose also.
Insects and hummingbirds are very important pollinators in this cloud forest and to attract these birds, the flowers have strong colours and provide nectar as a source of energy, so the birds benefit too.
Ferns grow in abundance here in Bellavista, loving the high humidity and shade in the forests. We saw many beautiful tree ferns and other ferns growing on the ground or from other plants. Approximately 150 species of ferns grow here in Bellavista but only a small number have been identified.
The silence in the forest is incredible but early morning and late afternoon, we hear all the different bird calls. Our second day is very wet but after sheltering for nearly an hour under large leaves whilst the thunder rumbles, we manage to climb to some miradors where the sun is tinting the mist yellow, as it drifts upwards from the valleys through the hills.
30th September – 1st October – Leaving beautiful Bellavista, we take the dirt road that descends to Mindo, now a thriving little town that has grown as a result of the many tourists that flock here for the cloud forests, zip-lining and many other activities. We have come to visit the Mariposas de Mindo butterfly farm and find it to be a fascinating visit, following the lifecycle of these beautiful butterflies from eggs to caterpillars and pupae to butterfly.
Butterflies are everywhere and there are so many different species. The iridescent Blue Morpho is beautiful but rarely settles, making photographs difficult, others land at our feet and we have to be careful not to tread on them.
We are unable to find camping with our vehicle in the town and so take a room at Hospedaje Caskaffesu where owners Luis (Ecuadorian) and Susan (American) make us feel very welcome. Moby only just fits under their gate. A very relaxing place with a courtyard full of exotic plants and a cosy restaurant where we have a very nice evening with Phil and Jan from Canada and later share a meal with them at El Quetzel…..a cafe and restaurant to be recommended.
2nd – 4th October – We return to Quito and camping at Hostal Zentrum whilst planning our next trips south of here, to explore the Quilotoa Loop (including the crater lake) and a visit to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. Another high altitude stay but we can’t miss the world’s highest, active volcano at 5897m with its perfect, conical shape and snow-capped peak!