Almost two years into our time in Ecuador, we are still learning and exploring. This week, we went into the mountains near Baños to investigate an idea for an addition to some Gapper programmes.
Baños is much loved of our Gappers – it arrives in the programme after some hard project work in the Amazon, and offers a break and some serious adrenaline pursuing. Slowly, the time there has stretched as each group of Gappers tells us they love the place and want more time there. Our latest idea is make it a good bit longer but include a completely different idea alongside the chill out time in town.
Baños sits in the shadow of Tungurahua, a very active volcano which periodically spits lava and smoke from its caldera. Our plan is to work with a foundation who are trying to conserve the natural habitat on its slopes. These forests are home to bears, tapirs, rare frogs, orchids, rare hardwood trees and some incredible views; all of which are under threat. (Don’t worry, between their land and the scary bit of the volcano are deep valleys so there is no danger of lava flows arriving in the night.)
The forests are dense with vegetation; among which are rare trees that we are planning to work to preserve, creating nurseries using saplings and reforesting with mixed forest to replicate the natural, virgin forest that dominates these hills. There are waterfalls and springs that are the very beginnings of the Amazon river – the water in them is going all the way to the Atlantic through the Amazon jungle. Through the climb up we ate strange fruits, some of which were actually quite nice. We saw a footprint of a tapir, and his bed; not him though. We saw orchids clinging to the sides of trees and a spider that had died because he ate a mushroom and it took over his body from the inside (that’s the reddy/yellow looking thing in one of the photos below).
The lodge is simple, but “cool” for want of a better word. You are up in the hills, cooking is on an open fire and the views are incredible. This is a unique place and being there is extraordinary – the loss of a few creature comforts is a small price to pay. There is mobile reception, which is frankly just depressing.
Above the lodge you reach the paramo – from there you can see Tungurahua and the glaciers of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo (the peak of which is the closest point on earth to the sun). This is Ecuador at its best – a bewildering array of environments, beauty, friendly people, a few splashes of the weird and wonderful and then the chance to chill out in a great little town and have some man made adventures.