Our day started out simply enough, enjoying a cup of coffee while watching llamas graze on the grounds of our 16th century hacienda in the Ecuadorian highlands. Originally we had planned to hike around the base of Cotopaxi, the snow-capped active volcano south of Quito as popular with day trippers as it is with hardcore mountaineers, but the park was closed as a precaution due to Ecuador’s recent earthquakes. Our innkeeper pointed across the valley “You should hike at Pasochoa, I’ll let Flavio know”.
Winding bumpy roads snake their way through Ecuador’s chain of Andean volcanoes. Three hours in the van watching city turn into farmland and eventually something more remote we arrived at our destination. Greeted by a large Jurassic Park style wooden gate, the doors opened and we began our descent into one of the most wild places I’ve been. Jungle in every shade of green imaginable stretched out for miles while the heavy mist sunk throughout crags of the surrounding valleys. This was the singular environment of Ecuador’s cloud forest and home to Mashpi Lodge.
Walking past grafitti covered walls coughing on fumes from rush hour traffic I pass a woman pushing a cart of lychees down the narrow sidewalk. She’s wearing a brightly colored skirt with a shawl draped around her shoulders and bowler hat, typical of the indigenous Andean culture. I, standing at 5’5, tower over her and many here. No matter which way I go, I always seem to be walking up.
As you may already know the evening of April 16 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador with over 135 aftershocks in the following days. Coastal cities of Manta, Guyaquil, Pedernales and many smaller communities were devastated with over 500 confirmed dead and over 2,500 injured. I was in Quito the day of the earthquake, my first time in Ecuador and my first visit to South America.