KERRY'S JOURNEY TO ECUADOR
Kerry was hosted by World Journeys on a tour of the wonders of Ecuador.
My first stop in Ecuador was the capital city, Quito, staying at the Casa Gangatena hotel, a former private mansion, beautifully restored and located in the heart of the old city. Quito is in a valley surrounded by active volcanoes at 2800m, consequentially altitude has an effect on most people. It’s not extreme, but you will experience shortness of breath while climbing stairs, some people may get headaches and have difficulty sleeping. We recommend, allowing for jet lag, a stay of 3 nights in Quito to acclimatise.
There is a lot to experience in Quito. The Casa Gangatena is wonderfully located in San Francisco square. Each evening the hotel provides a complimentary excursion within walking distance. We experienced two of these. One was a private group presentation on Cacao and Chocolate and the importance of this produce to Ecuador and many families. The second was a private after hours visit to a beautiful 17th century monastery. These tours are very special opportunities for hotel guests. The Sunday brunch is also a weekly highlight if you are there over the weekend. Quito is about to close its central streets to traffic, making exploring the narrow-cobbled streets and plazas even more enjoyable.
The currency is the US dollar which makes it easier than the often-double conversion that we New Zealanders often need to do. Everything is very affordable with lovely food, wine and craft beers. Street vendors are fun and engaging and do not hassle you. Bargaining is friendly and they leave you alone if you have no interest in buying. Ecuador is the home of the Panama hats but be aware that you may find one for USD20 and some for USD500, the quality varies dramatically. The finer the weaver the better the product. The price you pay, even with bartering determines the quality of the product. With a fine weave you should be able to fold and roll you Panama hat, for it to unroll back into its original shape. There are wonderful people in this fun city but do be aware of pickpockets!!
Mashpi Lodge, Cloud Forest, Ecuador
Mashpi lodge is located 3 1/2 hours from Quito. Transfer is by comfortable air-conditioned car. The roads are very good, other than the final 20km at the end, which is very bumpy gravel! The cool towels and cold drink on arrival were very welcome. Mashpi Lodge sits at 950 metres above sea level, between lower montane rainforest and cloud forests in the heart of a 1,200-hectare (3,000-acre) private reserve. The dry season is July - September.
Here we met a biologist at the onsite Research Centre who has studied in many places around the world. He was genuinely excited to be at Mashpi which has pristine forest and a vast variety of wildlife, much of it endemic to Mashpi and Ecuador.
The Lodge is a National Geographic Unique Lodge and has featured on the program Amazing Hotels. It really is a very special place. Beautiful architecture and everything you could wish for to relax and unwind, but also to hike and explore the amazing environment.
Mashpi has a range of activities. Walks of all levels of difficulty. A ‘cycle’ over the treetops and the Dragonfly, a cable car traveling 2km way above the tree canopy. We spotted a variety of birds including a Toucan and numerous butterflies. On our first afternoon we did the ‘cycle’. The next morning consisted of combining two waterfall walks of moderate difficulty and then returning to the lodge via the Dragonfly. That afternoon was a visit to the Hummingbird garden. The birds were amazing, zipping around. Their wings can beat 200 times per second. They can travel up, down, backwards and sideways.
Mashpi offer a variety of walks, one starting at 3am for the ‘Cock of the Rock’ to see the birds at dawn, rated very difficult, to easy night walks.
On our final day we had an early wake up for a dawn walk. Wonderful bird calls were interrupted by a lone Howler Monkey. Their call can travel miles. Just around the corner we had to step over a giant snail. The diversity of the wildlife is amazing. Breakfast was on the deck of the Life Centre. Butterfly and Orchid research Centre with stunning views over the valley. The drive back to Quito was broken with a stop for lunch at the Middle of the World. There is some discussion whether the line and monument marking the Equator is in the right place. Near enough apparently.
Story coming soon........