Our trip to Ecuador was a bit unusual for us. For one thing we took several semi-organized tours, something we rarely do. We did a lot of research first, trying to focus on eco-friendly (in reality, not just name) companies that were Ecuadorian, or at least largely beneficial to Ecuadorians. Bellavista is one of a series of eco lodges located in the vicinity of the Mindo nature reserves northwest of Quito. Bellavista is European owned but employs only Ecuadorians and is responsible for conserving a reasonably large chunk of land sprawling across several mountain ridges.
The entrance to Bellavista is located off a seldom used gravel road that is moderately challenging in the dry season. We spent a couple days here, which basically means hiking out from the lodge on loops and eating meals here. The nearest habitations are small villages at best.
Bellavista's centerpiece is "the dome", which is perched on the edge of a ridge. The main floor is the restaurant with storage underneath, several rooms above it, and an open dormitory space on the top floor. Meals are fairly simple, consisting of soup (always a soup), entrée, vegetable and dessert. Entrees are generally vegetarian, local trout, or chicken.
It's not precisely a natural environment, but Bellavista has littered the main area around the rooms with hummingbird nectar feeders. On the plus side, there's always entertainment to be found right outside your door. A dozen varieties of hummingbirds prowl the area throughout daylight hours. We aren't exactly birders, although 90 percent of the clientele at Bellavista is so we learned a lot. These are the most common of the lot - buff tailed coronets.
We took roughly a million pictures of the hummingbirds on and off the feeders. We've narrowed that down to some number that will probably still be considered excessive but at the moment at least we're in the hummingbird fan club so here are assorted species. The colorful fellow on the right is a green violetear. No one said the naming process was creative.
A purple-throated woodstar in flight. He does have wings, they're just moving a bit fast for the camera. Capturing flying hummingbirds on film is much like capturing lightning. Take a few hundred rapid pictures of a random segment of forest and hope something flies through.
This is our personal favorite hummingbird. It's on the common list at Bellavista so I'm sure it's not a favorite for birders (most of whom spent all their available hours perched somewhere waiting for something unusual to come by). This is a booted racket-tail. He has, well, little white boots, and a minature whale-tail (it's black and longer than you might expect). He also has a fantastically glowing green belly but that doesn't make it into his name for reasons that we can't possibly understand.
Ok, so you're sick of hummingbird photos now. But wait, this is the most exciting of all. Well, exciting in the sense of getting home two weeks later and going through all the pictures and finding this one, followed by an hour of research to figure out what it is. Yes, it's another buff tailed coronet, but that white bit at the end of his bill is his tongue. We'd say something erudite about hummingbird tongues here but I'm afraid we don't know any more than that.
Everyone has a tolerance for sitting around marvelling at hummingbirds. Ours is relatively short by Bellavista standards, but there are twenty-some hiking trails spreading through the cloud forest as well. The hiking trails are where we spent most of our excursion time. For the most part they wind through secondary cloud forest and are rated easy through suicidal, although other than the 'suicidal' trails they all seem to be roughly the same difficulty to us.
There are several species of orchids around the lodge. They have a name but we've forgotten it as our brains were overloaded with bird name adjectives and there was no room left in short term memory for flowers.
This is a plate-billed toucan, because just calling it a toucan would be too easy. It spent all its time hopping about in that strange hopping way that toucans have. It was also rather dark where it was hopping about so we couldn't really get a focused picture. This is the best of the two dozen blurry toucan images we've stored on disk.
Yes, another bird. This is the last bird on this page, we promise. It is a guan, which is a very odd sort of bird, at least by our experience. This is one is high up in a tree, and is somewhere between a chicken and a turkey in size. We're told they can be domesticated, and will in fact become somewhat protective over routine poultry (we just wanted to use the phrase 'routine poultry' on a website). Anyway, as you may have guessed there aren't many mammals around Bellavista. An assortment of small rodents and some lizards fill out the usual wildlife array.
So apart from birds, Bellavista is actually quite worth visiting. This for instance is the view from our room, which was not in the dome but was above the main office. There are no windows, just screened panels with light curtains. The view from the bed was roughly the same as this and no doubt would've been a spectacular sunrise. We however we already up and looking for interesting 'things'. Interesting 'things', as you may know, are most active at dawn. We don't really know what these things are because we didn't see any, unless you count other visitors at the lodge.
It's time for the first rubber boot picture. Bellavista provides these as do all tour companies in Ecuador. So do many hotels, car rental companies, street vendors, and probably McDonalds. Rubber boots are the official form of footwear in Ecuador. They have several advantages: volcanic ash for instance (Tungurahua erupted during our visit), they count as protection against snakes, and most importantly in this picture, that would be the trail David is standing in. Did we mention it's the dry season?
This is one of the 'suicidal' hikes at Bellavista, which of course means it's very highly recommended and worth doing. In some parts of the world we'd call this canyoneering though. Here our intrepid guide (Fernando) climbs a ladder to a rope which is used to swing/vault to the top of the waterfall.
There are several waterfalls that can be accessed. They are all fairly strenuous hikes from the lodge. The good news is that you'll be so hot by the time you get there, you won't mind swimming in this mind-numbingly cold water. These streams do drain down the west side of the Andes, so proximity to the equator (which is a short walk away) is no guarantee of tropical temperatures.
To the east from Bellavista, the ridge of Pichincha can be seen. Bellavista is around 7500 ft (2300 m) above sea level. The roads in from Quito go quite a bit higher to cross the western range of the Andes before descending to the Mindo area. By private car this is a 2-3 hour trip from Quito, by public bus (and then private pickup) it's another hour longer than that.