I’ve just returned from spending two days in the cloud forest at Bellavista Lodge, high up above the Tandayapa Valley, 85 kilometres to the North East of Quito.
I left Quito at 6.30 am yesterday and travelled for about two hours to reach the lodge. It is set in eight square kilometres of steep-sided sub-tropical rain forest and contains a plethora of bird and plant species. My accomodation was in an upstairs room over the main reception area that was reached by an external circular staircase. It had large windows that gave it the atmosphere of being in a tree house.
I thought that my travel notes must have been incorrect as they said that on leaving Quito, you descend down to the forest. I’ve always thought that you would go ‘up’ to get to a mountain forest. However, the notes are quite correct – Quito is at an altitude of 2,850 metres and the cloud forest is at 2,600 metres. The highway descends down a scenic river valley for most of the way and the last 16 kms are up a bumpy mountain road that best resembles a goat track.
I’m not sure about other parts of the world but in Ecuador, at least, forests below 600 metres are called rain forests and those above 600 metres are called cloud forests. At this time of year, the dry season is just ending. Cloud descends around lunch time and when the atmosphere cannot hold any more moisture, rain begins to fall.
The schedule at the lodge for visitors is generally, 8.00 am breakfast, 9.00 am rainforest walk, 1.00 pm lunch, 3.00 pm rainforest walk and then dinner at 7.00 pm. Some of the walks are along quite challenging tracks.There is a little bar area where guests gather for a drink before dinner and this makes it very companionable for someone on their own like me. The food is basic, but tasty and fresh – fruit, cereal and eggs for breakfast and a choice of two dishes for both lunch and dinner along with soup and some cake for desert. The servings were large and certainly more than I could eat. I ate most of my meals with a lovely Swiss family who had moved to Ecuador for work just six weeks ago. Their two young boys were very polite and very inquisitive. I enjoyed answering their many questions.
I had a wonderful guide named Natalia. She had a superb knowledge of plants and birds and was in fact a walking encyclopaedia. Her eyes were as sharp as a tack. Along the way she picked out minute objects such as beetles, a native bee colony, skinks and caterpillars. She could attract birds into range by imitating their call and would point out birds in the trees that I couldn’t even see.
The vegetation in the forest is lush with many varieties of broad leaved plants. Some are used by the native people as medicines. Others provide food for birds and animals. The plants use a variety of methods for pollination. Some have flowers that face the ground as their pollinators are ground based. Others have bright coloured flowers to attract the birds. One large tree looks from a distance to have a mass of white flowers. However, because it has no noticeable flowers at all, it makes a white coloured silk across its top leaves as away of attracting birds. They are not flowers at all – just shiny white leaves. There were many plants that were recognisable by their foliage – just different species within a certain plant family – Verbenas, Philodendron, Epacris, Bromeliads, Begonias, Black Eyed Susan etc.
The birds are also fascinating. Ground birds are generally brown coloured while those that live in the forest canopy are brightly coloured – red breasts, yellow plumage and others are blue or green. One of the green coloured birds was a variety of toucan.This is much more of a location for birders than it is for animal lovers. I think we counted over forty species of birds over the day and a half while I was there. The mammals are few in number and very hard to see – spectacled bears, sloths and a type of racoon. Of course there are small animals such as squirrels, rats and other small rodents as well.
Near the lodge itself is a feeding station for humming birds. They feed on a mixture of four parts water and one part sugar, but also go back to the flowers for about 40% of their food needs. Humming birds use so much energy flying, that they have to feed every five, or six, minutes. They are beautiful birds and move very quickly. Some fly at 100 kilometres per hour and they can fly forward, backward, upside down or just hover in one place like a helicopter.They were very easy to photograph as they sat for a few seconds on the feeders but were very difficult to catch as the hovered. I watched them for a while and saw that they hovered just a little way from the feeder before dropping down to drink. I could use this observation to get my camera in some sort of position to photograph them before they landed. Their wings move so fast that it is almost impossible to capture them without any blurring in the shady light under the forest canopy.
I expected that my lost bag may have arrived at my hotel by now, but alas it was still not there. More calls to the airline tomorrow!