Off the Beaten Track

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, June 20, 2004

Leaving the coastal resort town behind, we travelled about 200 km across the western lowlands, where the forests have long since been cleared to make way for acres and acres of banana, oil palm and cacao and peppercorn plantations. In contrast to the concrete buildings evident in Quito, we noticed that most of the homes in this area were wooden structures built on stilts, many of them adorned with tropical plants in hanging baskets. Then just as we were about to begin the steep ascent back up the western Andes to Quito, we noticed an interesting sign for "La Isla Hosteria", so decided on a slight detour off the beaten track.

After scraping our bottom a couple of times on an extremely rough stretch of road, we reached a very narrow suspension bridge across to the island. Disappointed and ready to turn back, we noticed car tracks on the bridge, and on closer examination realized that it was for more than just pedestrians, so decided to risk the crossing. With both side mirrors folded in, we just managed to squeeze through the bridge supports. Even more frightening was the swinging that started when the front wheels first got on the bridge. Holding our breath, we slowly made our way across and were delighted to find ourselves on a little island paradise.

Developed three years ago by an Ecuadorian doctor working in Quito, La Isla is a small and peaceful resort built on an island of about 50 hectares. Seven tastefully constructed small cabins surrounded a modern swimming pool, and all were set in very well maintained tropical gardens - obviously a labour of love. Being the only guests, we especially appreciated the tranquillity of the gardens and enjoyed strolling the croton-lined walking paths, taking an occasional dip in the pool, and watching the vibrantly coloured birds and butterflies. Even the dragonflies were a fluorescent blue! That evening there was a power outage so we watched the sunset and had a romantic candle-lit dinner. As the evening developed we gradually became aware of the strong scent from the night jessamine bushes - very evocative of our garden in Sri Lanka and of the Herb Garden. We lay back in our lawn chairs listening to our CD of Andean music by the Ecuadorian group "The Imbayakunas", and watched the stars come out. The Big Dipper is still visible early in the evening in the northern sky, but we can no longer see Orion. No matter, the Southern Cross is now very prominent and will guide us all the way down to Tierra del Fuego.

Two days later we again hit the road for Quito, but this time only managed about 50 km before stopping in Mindo - a small village at about 1300 metres altitude that is a famous spot for sightings of a wide range of migratory birds. We dubbed it the "up and coming Monteverde", as crudely constructed hostels and restaurants were sprouting like mushrooms, all with their "ecotourism" labels. We visited a local NGO conservation organization - "Amigos de la Naturaleza-Mindo" - and were impressed by the work they were doing in providing educational activities for local communities aimed at preserving the biodiversity of the forests while developing opportunities for alternate income generation. They were previously funded by CIDA, but are now largely self-sufficient. We also enjoyed watching a large group of local schoolgirls on a "tubing" expedition down the river, and an interesting visit to a butterfly garden.

We spent two rather vigorous days of hiking through the forest reserves surrounding Mindo. Most of the trails were well maintained and labelled, but on the final stretch we somehow managed to get really "off the beaten path" and found ourselves scrambling over and under fallen trees, and battling spider and insect-infested dense growth. Panic was about to set in when we eventually found our way out of the forest and back to the van - camped in the parking lot of a rustic lodge. Moments later we were totally relaxed as we treated our aching joints and insect bites to the soothing waters of the hotel jacuzzi.

So now......this time we really are heading back up to Quito!
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