Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mashpi Lodge

(Written by TerraDiversa's Edd & Cynthia Staton)

A private driver picked us up in Quito for an early morning drive to Mashpi Lodge. Mashpi has ushered in a new level of tourism in Ecuador. It's an extremely high-end ecolodge hidden in an amazing cloud forest northwest of Quito.

On the drive there we crossed the equator twice and enjoyed the lush countryside.

We drove past fields of sugar cane and through tiny villages for a couple of hours before heading down a narrow, bumpy dirt road for another forty five minutes. Where exactly was this place?

A short distance from the last village we entered the cloud forest, and instantly the air became misty and cooler. It looked, felt, and even smelled different. The surroundings felt primitive, like we were entering the world of Avatar or Jurassic Park.

Finally the clouds thinned and we arrived at the gate. As it opened we expected to find ourselves at the lodge, but, no, there were another twenty minutes of excitement and anticipation as we wound our way past waterfalls and increasingly dense vegetation. Then at last we rounded a curve and there was Mashpi Lodge, our sleek, ultramodern home for the next three days.

The interior is stunning, with wide open vistas of the forest in every direction.

And talk about a room with a view--WOW!

After getting settled and eating lunch we were hooked up with two lovely couples visiting from Canada.

We hiked to the Life Center, where native butterflies are studied.

We saw beautiful scenery

and even a baby ocelot along the way.

This is an orphan they are hoping to reintroduce into the wild, but without parents to teach it to hunt the task will be difficult.

Inside the Life Center we observed many species of awesome butterflies.

We were told that sunny days are unusual, so we felt fortunate to see a stunning sunset before heading back to the lodge.

The next morning required early rising for bird watching from the lodge's observation deck.

This is a good example of why the area is called a cloud forest.

Then we were off on another hike, this time a long one to a waterfall. There's Mashpi in the distance as we trekked through the forest.

After about two hours we heard the roar of the waterfall and soon arrived.

Some of the group chose to cool off in the water. The temps were a bit too nippy for us.

The challenge of a long hike is when you get where you're going you still have to go back. We were pooped, so after lunch a nap plus a bottle of wine and a trip to the Jacuzzi formed the rest of our afternoon agenda.

On our final morning we packed in the activities before heading to the airport. First we climbed up, up, up the observation tower

for a breathtaking look at our surroundings.

Then, we climbed into a bicycle-like contraption for a treetop cable ride across a long, deep valley.

Across the sky we soared, feeling just like Elliott and ET.

Everything looked much different from our unique vantage point.

After that adventure we had one more memorable treat in store. We stopped near the front gate at a hummingbird observation spot. Thirty one different species have thus far been identified at Mashpi, and many of them were strutting their stuff for us.

A most remarkable thing happened just before we left. As our departure was on Valentine's Day, Mashpi's staff had thoughtfully given both of us roses when we checked out. These are of course not indigenous in a cloud forest, but we were curious to see if the hummingbirds would react to the flowers' red color. Indeed they did.

So we decided to take our little experiment a step further, and Cynthia received a Valentine's present she'll never forget!

Did we have a fabulous time at Mashpi Lodge? What do you think?

We highly recommend a visit to Mashpi Lodge. It is truly a remarkable trip of a lifetime! Contact our travel specialists for details.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Whale Watching Trip

From June through October each year humpback whales journey from Antarctica to mate in the warmer Pacific waters of Ecuador's coast. Although they can be spotted from as far north as Esmeraldas all the way south to Salinas, prime viewing of these magnificent creatures is enjoyed near Puerto Lopez on Ecuador's central coast.

Early Sunday morning our TerraDiversa group of 15 plus guide and driver (on a trip co-sponsored with GringoTree) set off for that destination. Here's a shot of the "Sea of Clouds" as we went through the Cajas mountains.

The total drive time is 7 hours, so the trip was broken up with a stop at the Guayaquil Historical Park.

The park, set on 20 lush acres smack in the middle of an extremely prosperous neighborhood, is first class all the way. It's divided into three sections.

The Wildlife Zone is home to indigenous plants and animals.

Young coffee buds grow right out of the bark. Who knew??

This homely looking mammal is a tapir.

The Urban Architecture Zone preserves historical turn-of-the-century buildings that were actually moved from downtown into the park and reassembled.

And the Traditions Zone celebrates the cocoa-producing culture of the Ecuadorian coast. The park was so big we kind of rushed through this part to continue our journey but stopped to take a group photo.

After lunch at a nearby mall we continued up the coast and arrived late afternoon at our lodging in Montanita. Most of the group spent the rest of the day exploring the shops and restaurants of this lively town known as the "Surfer Capitol of Ecuador."

An early start the next morning took us to Puerto Lopez, a fishing village that enjoys a tourism windfall during whale watching season.

We donned life jackets, climbed into the boat, and were on our way.

Some of the group thought we'd see whales quite near the shoreline. Wrong. We kept going out, out, out and amazingly, although we rode a couple of hours and about 25 miles before the first whales were spotted, no one got seasick.

Our guide guaranteed we'd see whales. Did we ever!

It was unbelievable we could safely get that close. We spent about an hour enjoying our good fortune.

Then we continued on to Isla de la Plata, or Silver Island, so named by the Spanish when they first saw it gleaming on the horizon. Words cannot describe the disappointment they must have felt when they discovered upon disembarking that the silver color was due to massive amounts of bird droppings instead of precious metal.

In modern days the island is nicknamed the "Poor Man's Galapagos" because numerous species from that famous archipelago also reside there. Most notably, the blue footed booby,

also named by the Spaniards not for having large breasts but because of their clumsiness on land. And perhaps because they wander around as in this pic clueless to the possibility that they could be dinner in the wrong species' eyes. Fortunately on this island and the Galapagos no such predators exist.

Isla de la Plata has a rugged and wild look that made for some nice photo op's.

After a long and bumpy ride back to Puerto Lopez we returned to Montanita, ate dinner, and crashed. On our last morning we stopped off briefly in nearby Olon to admire the amazing and completely deserted beaches

then stopped at a craft village to shop for some lovely merchandise created by local artisans. An example are these napkin rings made from tagua, or vegetable ivory, packaged in a cool balsa wood box.

Tuesday evening we were back in Cuenca from an amazing whale watching excursion that exceeded all expectations!