The Ecuadorean cloud forest is magnificent. The difference between a cloud forest and the rainforest is that the cloud forest is at a higher altitude (3,00-5,000 feet) and is cooler — although not less humid. We are here at Mashpi Lodge, a 3 hour drive from Quito, a large private reserve created for the purpose of preserving one piece of the original cloudscape in the face of extensive loss of forest in the last 30 years to deforestation for agriculture. The lodge is beautiful, the food memorable and the guided tours are strenuous and excellent.
We were told there is actually more rain here than in the Amazon basin — it seems very believable when watching the rain and clouds that surround us from morning to night although we miraculously arrived during the only few hours of bright sunlight for the last 2 days.
I have been concerned whether I could physically manage the activities and keep up with the others but that has not been a problem. We have taken walks from the Lodge down steep pathways to the river bed below where waterfalls stream off the intense vegetation. We are required to wear waterproof boots over our socks and the walk is uphill or downhill onto mostly imbedded coca cola crates that give some traction on the very muddy and slippery paths. The trails curves down the hillside zig zagging among immensely tall trees with hanging vines and the occasional flower which manages to get enough sunlight to bloom. And then of course we have to come up the same way.
Today we walked with our boots through a long stretch of riverbed, stepping on the smooth rocks and through sometimes swift running eddies down the valley carved by time and filled by wild growth of trees and mosses. It is primeval feeling indeed — looking up through extraordinary high trees with roots in the soft moist ground. Although it is necessary to walk with eyes on the next step ahead given the uneven steps so looking downward is more practicel and safe then up toward the misty sky. It is dark under the trees and every turn brings another view of the forest, quiet except for the occasional bird song or frog croak.
We get up at 6:30 for bird watching and see a number of colorful birds in their morning rituals but it is not until go to the Life Center where there is some open space with bird feeders (using only some indigenous bananas) that we see some of the flashier citizens, like smaller birds in the toucan family.
There is butterfly hatchery nearby as well, providing the pleasure of walking amongst these brief living pollinators of the worlds flora.
Mashpi Lodge itself is a very modern luxury structure, with rooms with glass walls looking into the forest and 3 gourmet meals a day, with unlimited fresh fruit juice — mango, blackberry, tamarind, sour sop, tree tomato, and orange, to name a few.
The special excursions include a walk down the hillside to a 4-person gondola ride high up over the top of the trees, allowing a vision of green tree tops with the surprise of an occasional irridescent blue butterfly flitting through the leaves below. And our final morning we do the sky bike, a bicycle on a cable, powered by one person pedaling in the back and another person sitting in front. Gratefully, although I had prepared for this by exercising on a stationery bike at the Berkeley Y, I sat in the front and enjoyed the incredible view while a courageous woman from Philadelphia from our group peddled me along the route and back.
A night walk allowed us to see several dark-loving tarantulas as well as a giant snail and the loud croak of very small tree frogs.’
The 3 days we spent in Mashpi took us to another world, showing us what a great part of this world once looked like before man’s need for survival as well as greed for natural resources changed much of the Ecuadorean landscape It is a well executed experience for those who can afford the high price of luxury in the middle of a spectacular cloud forest .