THE HEAD IN THE SKY
Cloud Forest: «also known as mountain forest, a wet tropical forest at an altitude usually between 1000 and 2500 meters that is characterized by a profusion of epiphytes (a plant that derives its moisture and nutriments from the air and rain, and grows on another plants) and the presence of clouds even in the dry season.»
On the 6th of november, we headed to Santa Lucia, 30km north west from Quito, above the ecuatorian line. Thanks to Wadly and Eco Volunteer Ecuador, we managed to spend a week in a Cloud Forest, head above the sky, where time and space seemed to be completly altered. These 1803 acres of forest were declared protected by the government in 1989. The 12 families that were exploiting the area for agriculture before the law, had to find other sustainable ways of living in one day.
Thanks to the help of the reserve Maquipucuna situated in the valley, and many volunteers, these 12 families had the opportunity to build an eco lodge in 2001 at the top of the mountain. Today santa lucia is made of 80% of untouched primary forests, 16% of regenerated seconday forest over the past 30 years, and 4% of silvo pasture.
During our week in the lodge, we spent some precious time with every single personn who works there. We understood how this place became again one of the richest wildlife sanctuary in the ecuador in 30 years time. Today, Santa lucia is applying in becoming the 7th biosphere place in Ecuador !
Thanks to the camera traps dispatched everywhere on the site and the daily bird monitoring activity, we estimate that more than 45 species of mamals and about 380 species of birds thrive in this protected area!
One morning, we followed Noe, who few times a year, goes and check the 150 points that are on the reserve paths, to identify and count and classify all the bird species ! Just by listening and observing around him for 10 min, he was able to write down the number, gender, height and distance of every bird spieces around us! It is easy to forget that the birds are necessary for the forest to thrive and expand ! Ecuador is home for about 1650 bird species which is about 17% of all the world bird species ! We estimate that 37 species are endemic to the country and about 97 species are threatened with exctinction ! As we were trying to play the same observation game, we both agreed that our view was far from the eagles and our hearing not really felin accurate…
As we were talking about preservation, an incident happened the same week in the reserve of Maquipucuna. Even if the sanctuary which is protected since 1989 contains about 14826 cres, right in front of us, 6 acres made of the Andes bears’ favorite trees, disappeared to clear a space for bio diesel and bio alcohol. Many conflicts of interests persists even in protected areas.
Many times we went for walks with Edison to discover the secrets of the flore. From the tree named “Sangre del Drago”, which bleed like humans and turn their red substance into a very efficient antiseptic cream, to other medicinal plants properties, we realised that the forest was much more than a natural oxygen factory, but also the best encyclopedy and pharmacy we could find on earth !
Freddie also cooked us delicious meals every single day, with some ingredients from the organic gardens as fresh vegetables from the valley that they carried to the top with the mules the first day ! As we love cooking and never had the opportunity to cook in a restaurant kitchen, we asked him to be his «sous chefs» ! Well… his ayudantes ! »Senores francese, comida lista !!!» As we did not have electricity before 9pm, we had to cook with candles which complicated the game a bit more ! At the end, only Freddie tried our Risotto which was cooked with so much love !
The last night, we found some time to sit with Eduardo, one of the founder, to hear the story of this place. We really felt emotional hearing the dedication that the families put into this project and how this place became a meaningful family life project. «we dont earn a lot of money, but we can say thay we have a good life, and in the end, that’s the only thing that trully matters.» his words are still resonating in our head and this precious confident moment, lighted up by the candles, was priceless. We blew the flames at it was time to sleep.
Music was a big part of our stay in Santa Lucia and even if our improvised band «los ayudantes» will never be played on the radio, «los tres de santa lucia» were sweating their energy out and the south american songs found an echo in the valley.
The rainforests seem to be the main concern when it comes to deforestation and preservation. even if they represent only 2.5% of the world’s forests, the cloud forest host more endemic species due to natural bareers, like colibris, orchideas etc. These forests also act like water towers ! They easily capture the condensation from the cloud and release the fresh water to the rivers and in the ground. These forests provide fresh and abondant water to cities and villages in many south america countries.
Of all the dangers the cloud forest is facing in ecuador, the mine extraction, the local agriculture and the wood harvesting are the most dangerous. Even if some areas are protected, many hectares are cleared every year to grow the sugar canes and other crops by local people to survive and feed their families. It is very hard to blame the local population but many examples in Ecuador show that by educating the local population and empowering them with sustainable alternatives, they can work together to protect these too valuable ressources. Unfotunately, the gouvernment,s politic is not helping in the right way, as it allowed almost 4000 concessions for extraction on the whole territory which creates gigantic holes and disturb the biodiversity.
Santa lucia first income is earned from eco tourism and scientific work. Working with many universities in the world, the reserve have the support of many academies in UK. If you decided to go in Ecuador, we can only highly recommend you to disconnect from everything in the Santa Lucia community ! You will meet the most welcoming and inspirying ecuadorian families and spend the best time in the clouds, while embracing the wet beauty of this surrounding heaven .
We really wanted to thank you all individually : Eduardo for sharing your story and giving us a precious part of the Ecuadorian history, Edison for talking us on tours and sharing you knowledge about the forest with so much enthusiasm, Paulina for being so kind and trying to make this place one of the best biodiverse protected area in Ecuador, Chuta for your great musical vibes and taking good care of Shakira, Freddie for the delicious veggie food and teaching us to play the andean Flute and Noe for taking us with you on a walk and reminding us that beauty can be found using different senses. Thank you all for showing us how this place works and how with motivation, education and energy it is possible to change the way we live and the way we perceive places Everything is only a matter of perspective and it is time to protect what we remain until it is too late !