“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~
Leaving the main road and driving the winding one lane gravel track for twelve miles was an adventure in driving, but worth the effort. The four of us had arrived mid afternoon for our one night stay at the .
Stepping out of the car I could smell the earthy aroma of moss and decaying vegetation while being enveloped by a fine mist…the clouds. It was ever so still. I didn’t want to break the silence of this intrusion into the natural world, but we were welcomed most heartily by one of the staff.
Perched at an altitude of 6500’ in the Tandayapa Valley region near Mindo, Bellavista has grown from 136 acres in 1991 to its present 1800 acre reserve and eco-lodge. Owned by a British/Columbian couple, Richard and Gloria Parson’s, their mission is education and preservation. A cloud forest is a pre-montane/subtropical forest in the roughly 3000 to 8200 foot range. Its biodiversity attracts serious researchers as well as bird and plant lovers from all over the world. According to their website, Bellavista is part of the Mindo Area of International Importance for Birds, the first area so designated in South America, by Birdlife International in 1997.
The iconic landmark of Bellavista is its geodesic dome, designed by the owner. It is a four story dwelling built with precisely cut glass panels and wood. The dining room and living area are on the first floor. Its walls are largely glass which leads to viewing decks surrounding the building. I had the feeling I was in a tree house looking out into a green world teeming with bird life, orchids and bromeliads. The 360 degree view from the dome allows the rugged peaks of Pichincha and Cotacachi in the distance to be seen on clearer days.
Our rooms were located on the second floor of the dome…accessible by climbing a ladder, one at a time. The dorm and family rooms are on the third and fourth floors. The rooms were simply furnished with handsome wool blankets covering the beds. Each room had large windows for viewing the shrouds of mist in the distance. We decided that we would go back to the car, get only what we needed for the night, use our day packs and bring no luggage in. Smart decision. There are several guest houses on the property, in addition to the geodesic dome house.
Leaving our windbreakers/rain jackets on, we spent our time outside, listening to the natural hum that was in the air. Over 300 species of birds are recorded here, but we weren’t able to spot very many. However, the various species of hummingbirds kept up a steady pace to the feeders placed around the viewing decks. But to see this tiny little hummer slowing down briefly to have its picture taken while perched on the bromeliad was delightful to watch.
Being on the equator, flowers bloom year round.
The naturalist guiding our “walk in the clouds” pointed out orchids. Some were at ground level in the ditches, others danced from trees like butterflies. Approximately 4200 species of orchids can be found in Ecuador and more are discovered each year. I learned that orchids are the largest of plant species in the world.
With their giant spikes bending toward the light, giant bromeliads clung to branches.
The New York Botanical Gardens wrote that the diversity of epiphytes (“air plants” that grow on other plants) is higher in the cloud forests of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru than anywhere else on the planet. Because of the cool and humid environment, plant life thrives in these conditions and the canopy level cloud cover provides the necessary moisture.
This is a beautiful place to spend a couple of days. There are trails and four waterfalls to lure hikers on and off the beaten path. We didn’t have that kind of time to spend , but I can see why it is a special place to view the flora and fauna.
I remember that our dinner was quite tasty and that we just about had the place to ourselves that evening. The four of us played cards before turning in early. Those wool blankets were a life saver as the walls of our wooden and glass room became as cold and damp as the outdoors and our heater didn’t work.
The next morning we once more took a walk in the clouds before winding down the narrow road and heading to Quito.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed … so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.” — Wallace Stegner
Photography by Ron Mayhew.