El Monte Eco Lodge is located in the Ecuadorian rain forest outside of Mindo. Although it is just ten miles north of Quito as the crow flies, it takes two to three hours winding through the mountains by car. Don and I first visited the lodge two years ago when we were looking for a short excursion outside of Quito before our trip to the Galapagos. We decided it was the perfect place to take my parents before their trip to the islands as it offers a completely different landscape, a cool tropical rain forest that is never too cold or too hot.
The lodge compound runs along the Mindo River by a dirt road river just outside of town. You actually have to cross the river on a suspended pulley cart, the only entrance to the lodge.
The compound is comprised of a main house and three to four individually designed cabins set along the pond or the river just beyond.
The style is simple and elegant – handmade furniture, comfy beds and vases of lilies. The roar of the river makes for great sleeping.
We arrived at the lodge just before lunch on a Friday morning. The lodge had arranged a taxi for us, $100 from Quito to Mindo and back. Our driver, the simpatico Benito, kept my father entertained as they tried to converse in bits Spanish and English, often just exchanging names of car makes and models and whatever else interested them along the road.
It’s an interesting drive. First the sprawling city of Quito turns into a dry, bare mountainous landscape. Up and over the mountains the landscape turns green as you descend into the rain forest. The hills still foggy and threatening an afternoon shower.
However, it was not the smoothest journey, marred by a slowdown to get past a recent landslide and another delay while Benito changed a flat tire.
When we finally arrive the other guests are already seated at the lunch table with our host and owner of the lodge, Tom. The dining room is located in the main house, a large open air thatched structure with a high peaked roof, enormous living areas, and two dining areas with an open kitchen just beyond.
The dishes served are well crafted healthy foods made from quality produce, a mixture of local ingredients and international favorites. The first lunch started with a kale and bean soup followed by a Mediterranean plate of humus, tabouleh and falafel served with pita bread. For desert a chocolate pudding served over bananas.
After lunch we met our guide, Fernando. He coincidently had been our guide on our last visit. He was now a mature 24. A soft spoken young man with a quiet confidence and great knowledge of his native area. After consulting with him we came up with a simple itinerary for our short 24 hour visit, starting with an afternoon walk around the property. The next morning we would get up early to see the toucans followed by breakfast and a visit to the butterfly house just across the road from the lodge.
The walk around the property was a gentle affair getting to know the rain forest environment. As in the the Amazon the trees are filled with bromeliads and other epiphytes, but here the air is cooler with fewer annoying insects.
The property was once a farm with remnants of citrus and bananas groves still in existence. The orange trees don’t do well in this climate and are quickly covered in moss making it difficult for the plants to capture enough sunlight to produce fruit. Fernando carries a telescope and listens carefully to the sounds of the forest, stopping frequently to show us exotic birds and insects. My mother tries to take pictures of the colorful specimens, but is at first unsuccessful using the zoom function on her camera.
Fernando, offering to help her, skillfully captures the image and shows her how to work the camera, always with a kind understated confidence.
The trail winds through the forest behind the property, the lush vegetation blocking much of the light. It’s starts to rain a little, but the massive leaves prevent the drops from reaching the ground.
Before dinner we sit by the fire in one of the spacious living areas of the main house. The warmth of the fire feels good in the cool evening air. We thumb through some of the many picture books of Ecuadorian flora and fauna. From the Amazon to the Galapagos, this small country has much to offer.
Dinner is with Tom and just one other guest. Pete from northern England is a birder and frequent traveler to Africa. This is his first trip to South America. Both he and Tom are good listeners and show interest in every topic mentioned. The food is fresh and healthy, starting with a vegetable and tofu soup severed with biscuits made from yucca flour. For mains, stuffed eggplant on a bed of quinoa followed by raspberry pie for dessert. It’s a homey feeling with the warmth of the fire at our backs, good food and attentive conversation.
December 9, 2011
For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.