For those of you that are regular readers, you already know how much we love the Bellavista Reserve. It was one of our first trips in Ecuador. In fact, we hadn’t yet moved into our home but were still living in a hotel when the van from the Bellavista Lodge picked us up and transported us a meer 2 hours away into an environment so very different from the big city of Quito.
The problem with living in Ecuador is that we can’t afford to escape the city every weekend. Lodges like Bellavista, though beautiful and well-worth visiting, can add up and our budget just can’t handle it. That’s why I was thrilled to learn that we could stay at the Reserve’s Scientific Research Station for just $18.00 per person, per night. It’s not as nice as staying at the Lodge but for a family that is comfortable with tent camping, it’s a definite step in the right direction.
Inside the Research Station, you’ll find a hallway with rooms on either side. Six of them, in fact, each with bunk beds to sleep 4 people per room. We comfortably slept 13 people, all but one sleeping on the bottom bunk. Bedding was provided by the Lodge. The Station can hold up to 24 people and a small house just outside can sleep another 4-6, but at twice the price.
Further inside the building is a large dining room with bench style seating and colorfully painted walls. Next to that is a galley kitchen, long and narrow, and well-supplied with dishes, cups, glasses, and silverware. There are some very large pots and pans for cooking for large groups. A stove with three huge burners is hooked up to gas. There are bottles of potable water as well as a sink for washing dishes. That water is cold water only indoors but showers had wonderfully hot running water! And believe me, a hot shower after hiking a muddy, strenuous Cloud Forest trail is a beautiful thing to have. In fact, the toilet facilities were more than adequate with flush toilets and toilet paper (sometimes not found in Ecuadorian establishments). The Lodge provided a towel for each of us. We placed our own bar of soap and hand towel at the community sink.
We also brought our own iron cast skillet, sharp knife and chopping board, stove-top percolators for coffee, as well as dish towels just in case. All came in handy.
To keep costs down, we supplied our own food and cooked our own meals. We did take turns cooking as the kitchen is narrow and having four different families try to cook individual meals at the same time would have been a fiasco. If you end up with dishwashing duty, try for breakfast as you will be able to look out the kitchen windows directly into the cloud forest.
If you don’t want to cook, you can always hire the Lodge to provide meals at the Station. Or you can hike (30 minutes) or drive (10 minutes) to the Lodge and enjoy the meals over there. Check the current prices before making this an option.
There is no electricity and the Station is nestled into a bowl at the bottom of a hill where you see very little sun. It gets dark quickly. We brought extra candles (and once we drank enough wine, we had a great way to hold them) and our headlamps. Any kind of camping lantern would be a bonus. The outdoor patio with tables and chairs was a wonderful place to sit in the evenings. It was pleasant, if chilly, with very few bugs. And we could use a gas powered lantern safely while outdoors. But nighttime brought other guests, well after we went to bed. If the sound of little critters bothers you, just remember you’re in the wild and a few animals are to be expected. Though none of us had a middle of the night encounter with any creatures, we do know they don’t like banana bread. One bite was taken from an entire loaf wrapped in aluminum foil. But one bite only. If I had to guess, I would like to think that an olinguito had somehow found a way in and was touring the kitchen for an easy meal.
The Research Station is located on a backroad with only a locked gate to hint that it might even exist. It’s well hidden and difficult to see from the road providing a layer of privacy. The drive down is steep and in wet weather could possibly require a 4-WD vehicle. Parking at the bottom is tight. We managed to fit 5 vehicles with a series of multiple point turns that would do our driving instructors proud. Of course, you don’t need cars to get here. The lodge will help you with transportation if need be.
In case you can’t tell, I can highly recommend staying here. It was a great place to spend time with friend. Our teens hung out on the patio chatting and playing cards while the more adventurous of us disappeared into the Cloud Forest for hours at a time. Below, you’ll find some of the great photos I was able to take on a single weekend. If you prefer to see the pictures in large format, click on any single one and you can view a slideshow of them all.
Zip-lining is a favorite pastime along the Rio Verde Valley near Baños, Ecuador. These two intrepid zip-liners took this flight on August 4, 2014 in the late afternoon. If you happen to know their names, please let them know that their image was captured here at NotYourAverageAmerican. If they would like copies of the photos, I’ll gladly forward them. If they would them removed from the internet, I can do that as well.
When you’re mid-roadtrip and plan on stopping at your favorite restaurant for breakfast and the wait time ends up being 2.5 hours before you can even sit at a table, what do you do?
You get on the road and keep driving until you find the next best place.
And that’s another way to get to know the REAL Ecuador.
Our favorite restaurant offers up a pretty standard breakfast with juice, eggs, bread, and sometimes a protein like sausage. (We shy away from breakfast bacon because it tastes nothing like our American counterpart and we are just always a little disappointed). But the average Ecuadorian doesn’t eat this for breakfast. They often eat dishes that we might have for lunch.
Case in point – Cuencano Sabor – a small roadside restaurant on the highway between Machachi and the exit for Cotopaxi National Park. From the grounds of the restaurant it’s possible to see a beautiful view of the twin mountain peaks, Las Ilinizas. But on this day, they weren’t the attraction. It was the sign that said DESAYUNO or BREAKFAST.
We arrived to find a welcoming host outside at the grill finishing of the latest batch of Asado de Borrego. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know it was grilled mutton. And it was one of two choices for breakfast!
Inside, we found a simple, if dark, restaurant. It was already half full with Ecuadorians, all chowing down on the two dishes on offer for the day. After ordering our meals, our waiter brought us a plate of habitas y queso, freshly cooked fava beans in the skin with a side of fresh cheese. You can eat the beans with skin or pop the beans out of the skin. Either way, they make a yummy appetizer with a small bite of salty fresh cheese. He also brought a basket full of utensils and napkins. We were ready to eat!
Two of us ordered the mutton special and the other two went with chancho, or pork:
We ate everything, well-seasoned with the housemade ají, standard on any Ecuadorian table. And, before you ask, no one got sick. Eating at small local restaurants means using some common sense. We do look for cleanliness and we hope for soap in the guest bathroom. And we do travel with medication for stomach problems, just in case.
Let me know which you think was the better meal!
Yesterday, as we were sitting down playing Settlers of Catan, the table began to shake. At first, I thought it might have been a restless teenage son but quickly I began to realize it was much more. The building jerked, a plate or two fell, and as the robber danced on the game board, we all jumped up to find a safe place to stand. It was an earthquake.
I have experience with earthquakes. Living so many years in California it would be impossible not too. This quake was not the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It was shorter and not as strong. But we didn’t know that at first. We had no clue how far away the epicenter had been. And we all wondered if it might have been one of the many volcanoes in the area sending warning.
As the shaking settled and we gathered our wits, we all headed for electronic equipment to share the news, find out the magnitude and the damage, and to put on shoes. The latter was my idea. I was afraid this was just a precursor and wanted everyone ready to walk out the door if need be.
We knew from looking outside that this was a dangerous quake… the valley below had turned into a cloud of dust and it was my husband who said landslides. And he was right. North of the city, a vehicle was covered by falling debris but the driver escaped unharmed. Friends of ours were evacuated from apartment buildings while structures were checked for damage. Bridges were closed for a short time. The airport stopped flights for about an hour. Traffic was snarled all over town. And the dust cloud to the north and in the valley below Cumbaya kept growing larger and larger while all of this was going on.
The BBC reports three deaths from yesterday; two workers and a young child (it is common for children to play near their working parents) were killed by falling sacks of rice. Four quarry workers are still missing in Catequilla, after a landslide in the region. And this was “only” a 5.1 on the Richter scale.
Since yesterday afternoon, we have felt several aftershocks. There is something unsettling about the earth moving without warning, even when you know several small quakes are a good sign that the earth is releasing pressure slowly. It makes a large quake much less likely. But tell that to our bodies that are now primed to jump at every wiggle and shake, whether it be my knee hitting the desk a little hard, a strong wind hitting the side of the building, or an actual earthquake.
My mind keeps wandering back to the third floor of the Student Union at San Francisco State University, glass walls shaking as if they were about to shatter, people scattering to the four winds looking for shelter, a woman screaming “Get away from the glass, get away from the glass” and my heart pounding while my head tried to wrap itself around the disaster happening around me. It’s a memory I would prefer to do without – the panic, the lack of control, the inability to do much more than wonder how much stronger the shaking will get. A small quake here in Quito make me remember 1989 almost like it was yesterday.