The third day in Ecuador brought us to the first of three landscapes within the country. On the west is beautiful beaches, central Ecuador is steep volcanos of the Andes, and the east is the lush Amazon Rainforest. On day two, we had the opportunity to drive through the mountains and see some incredible vistas. From snowcapped volcanoes, windy overlooking roads, and rich vegetation everywhere on the mountains. One of our stops for the day was a cloud forest. We drove to a high elevation, parked the bus, and realized everything was white around us. This is when we realized we were at the cloud forest. We filed out of the bus and were in awe at the crispness of the air and the fast-paced clouds moving among us. The trail was just to right and before the entry sat an indigenous Ecuadorian family selling empanadas and coffee, I must say that a few people were eying up the caffeine instantly. Entering the cloud filled rainforest did not pose an easy feat right off the back for a bunch of Americans. Within the first fifty feet of the trail sat a fallen tree directly on the slim trail. We could have turned back, but we gained the courage to climb the fallen tree and get over. A little mud never hurt anyone. We then had a short hike through the lush forest, and we saw things such as millipedes, transparent butterflies, common American plants that grow in the wild, all while overlooking the mystical forest which had a white tint throughout it. It was amazing to hear Skipp identify and share his knowledge of various plants and insects in the animal. It truly made me connect more with nature learning of the thousands of plants around me.
After about a mile or so hike through the mud bath, it was time to turn around. When we got back to the road, the fun most definitely did not end. Our group built up an appetite and we showed our support to the local vendors, and all bought some cheese empanadas. These were phenomenal, crispy outside with a gooey queso middle made for a perfect post hike snack. I compared the empanada to an Ecuadorian grilled cheese; my peers did not agree. Many members of our group indulged in a cup of Ecuadorian black coffee and the word was that it was phenomenal. It was so good that people were talking about it the day after. As we sat down on the curb and enjoyed our snacks, many trucks and cars began driving by. I have to admit, we did look like a bunch of stranded Americans so it must have been rather funny/intriguing to them. Due to this, just about every car and truck that passed gave us friendly honks, a wave, and a huge smile. This was really heartwarming, and we had a great time watching their faces light up as ours did the same. Just to add one more great memory of this excursion is credited to Skipp. We were all sitting on the curb when suddenly the empanada vendors tent began slouching down. What was the cause for this? Our outdoorsmen leader Skipp was chasing a butterfly to show us and bumped into the rope holding up the tent. We were able to share a laugh about this because Skipp and the locals were able to quickly and easily fix it so there was no long-term damage. This was an amazing short trip which gave the crew more memories than we anticipated! Next time I write we will be touching the second of three landscapes!