Stepping one muddy boot in front of the other, I trudge through the jungle. The rain beats downon me, but I have a rain hat for protection, made from an enormous leaf found alongside the trail. I look around me and don’t recognize any of these plants, trees, or flowers, nor do I recall having seen any of them before this moment. The diversity of life in the rain forest is awe-inspiring.
As we reach a fork in the path, our local guide directs us up a steep narrow path that gives me reason to exchange a nervous look with my fellow hikers. As we climb and grab hold of the trees for support, we make our way to even ground. And then I see it, the beautiful reason that Pischko, our guide, brought us all the way up here. I stand before a tree so large its base could house a human family. The sheer size of this 500 year old tree stops me in my tracks and I gaze upon it with a sense of awe that only nature could inspire. Pischko tells us that this cibros tree is revered by the local peoples, who visit it each year for a special ceremony of life. I can’t imagine a better location to revel in the gift and mystery of life.
Hiking through the Amazon jungle was one of my favorite experiences in Ecuador. The county has everything, rain forest, mountains, volcanoes, waterfront. And as a result it hosts a diverse range of plants and animals. To give you an idea, Ecuador has 4,716 different species of orchids, 122 species of eucalyptus, 219 species of palm trees, 1,653 species of birds, 127 species of hummingbirds alone, and over 400 different species of the bird of paradise flower.
During my time in Ecuador, I was lucky to spend many days in the Andes mountains, where the views were spectacular. Several cities where I stayed are located at high elevation, like Cuenca at 8,600ft, Alausi at 7,400ft,and Quito at 9,000ft. These cities are colorful and vibrant, and the drive to get to each took us winding around the Andes.
For a variety of reasons, Ecuador has been shielded from some of the negative effects of tourism. One of the main reasons is surely the respect and reverence that the Ecuadorian and indigenous people have for the land. They recognize that it was here long before them and should not be interfered with. They treat their natural resources with a respect that puts us to shame. So, while there are many places to see and explore in Ecuador, much of the land is protected from us and remains a mystery.
I was lucky to meet a number of indigenous persons in Ecuador, who gave me a glimpse into their lives. On our way to Alausi, we visited some ladies that were milking cows high up in the Andes, while each carried a child on her back. They worked hard without complaint, and taught us how to milk a cow. We visited a cacao farm, where cacao beans are grown and exported for production of chocolate in Europe. The farm is lucky to have hearty soil, which is rich in minerals because of all the nearby rivers and volcanoes. They ensure that the soil remains rich by planting all sorts of fruit trees on the farm, like mango and guava and ginger.
We also visited an indigenous village in Santa Clara where the Kichwa familia of the Yaku community demonstrated sifting for gold in the river bed. All of the Amazonian rivers in Ecuador have gold in them. The process to extract it is not easy, but the results are amazing. The Kichwa also showed us how they make chicha from steamed yuca plant and clay pots from clay in the soil. Their understanding of and use of the land’s natural resources was remarkable, and left me with the impression that despite their lack of formal education, they know far more than me.
I could go on all day about Ecuador. It’s a beautiful and adventurous land. I zip-lined into a double waterfall in the Amazon jungle, rode the Devil’s Nose train through the Andes mountains, stood on the Equator, hiked through the jungle and swam in the Amazon River, tried delicious new fruits, met indigenous people, and learned to love this amazing country. Needless to say, I recommend you visit Ecuador!