This would be my last morning with my host family, and they wanted to take me through Old Quito to visit some of the churches. This area has many streets blocked off on Sunday mornings and is accessible by foot only. There we so many people out and going to church since the Catholic faith is very important to them.
One of our stops was at El Conjunto Monumental San Francisco. Construction began on this church just one month after the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, but took 100 years to complete. The church itself was beautiful and very ornate, decorated with lots of gold leaf since gold was abundant in this area during that time period.
Afterwards, we met back up with the group to continue on toward the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve near Mindo. I said goodbyes to my host family and thanked them immensely for their hospitality. They were wonderful hosts and I enjoyed how much time they took to show me around.
As we drove outside of Quito, the poverty became more apparent, with many run-down houses and people walking barefoot on the side of the road. This was the first time I fully understood we were still in a developing country and I felt grateful for my home in the United States.
After just a short ride, we passed El Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world), one of Ecuador’s tourist traps. This monument marks the equator, and it’s possible to take a picture of you standing with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other foot in the southern hemisphere. Ironically, the actual equator is about a hundred feet away from the marker, so in fact, everyone in those photos is only standing in one hemisphere. It was enough for me to drive over the equator, knowing that I would spend some time during this trip on both sides of the equator. I was glad that I did something more unique with my host family.
We also stopped along the way at a well-known photo stop; however it was much too foggy to see the valley below. Instead, I made a new friend with a donkey.
We arrived to Bellavista after a beautiful drive up a mountain. This cloud forest reserve is even higher in elevation than Quito. A cloud forest is different from a rainforest; a cloud forest is high in elevation (hence, in the clouds), cooler, and certainly moist. Mostly, in a cloud forest, you will see a large variety of flora, including trees, mosses, ferns, flowers…It is also known for the many birds that live in the canopies. The hotel had many hummingbird feeders set up on the premises that attracted the birds. There were also dozens of beautiful overlooks since the cloud forest was in the mountains.
We were able to take a guided hike that afternoon, so we put on some rubber boots and got started. March is during the rainy season at the cloud forest, so there were puddles, mud, and lots of rain during our hike. This moisture, along with the coolness (which slows evaporation) helps keep the cloud forest green and lush. By the time we returned from our hike, we were all soaked, and covered with mud from slipping on the downhill trails.
We cleaned up before going to dinner. Afterwards, there is nothing to do since you are in the middle of nowhere and with minimal amenities. The hotel had board games to rent, so some of us borrowed Monopoly and we made our own fun.
The sounds of the cloud forest helped lull us all to a peaceful sleep.
If you’re looking for information on a different destination, check out my other trip reports for inspiration!