Visiting more hidden treasures of the “Unseen Ecuador”, Part Two
Finishing the hearty “peasants’ breakfast” at the town’s open-air marketplace, we leave the center of San Luis de Pambil in the company of Omar, one of the young entrepreneurs who have associated to start a tourism project in and around the “Piedra Blanca” (“White Rock”) Protected Forest. We take a secondary dirt road under a light drizzle and cloudy skies. Omar is worried that we might not have the best weather for the visit to the forest but I tell him, more optimistically than with any knowledge, that in one or two hours, the sun will be shining. Fortunately for all, I just happened to guess it right….
We make a short stop at a nice roadside country house, where we pick-up Xavier, another member of the juvenile group which is developing their ecotourism project, who also joins us for the excursion. As we begin to climb a bit, we realize that we are entering pristine forest premises… At both sides of the narrow road, we start seeing huge trees, covered in large ferns and mosses; the vegetation turns thicker and large and leafy bromeliads adorn the scenery. We also start catching glimpses of small waterfalls and crystal-clear riverine and waterways, rumbling down towards the coastal plains, where they will feed the larger coastal rivers which pour into the Pacific Ocean. The morning mist adds a touch of mystery and enchantment to the whole scene.
Some thirty minutes later we arrive at an abandoned school, literally “in the middle of nowhere”. The young entrepreneurs have bought the land and intend to build a rustic but comfortable eco-lodge, to serve as the home base to explore the magnificent forest, which extends uphill for many hectares. We arrive now at entrance to the Piedra Blanca Protected Forest. We park our 4X4 vehicle and after a brief inspection of the construction and discussing how it can be best utilized on the project; we begin a nature hike over a winding and slightly wet trail, right through the heart of a tropical rainforest. As the day is clearing up and we can feel the sun rays filtering already across the layer of clouds, we also start hearing a pleasant concert of bird songs. Soon, I begin to identify some yellow-rump caciques; several types of tanagers, an amazing blue-jay, a couple of toucans and even a rusty-red and beige wood-creeper. Evidently, this is a “birding” paradise….
The walk leads us to a natural pool, framed by two giant pieces of fern-covered rocks, a small but impressive cascade tumbling down some 10 feet downstream and continuing in the form of a small river which rolls downhill over a rocky-bottom. The place is indeed impressive and the sight alone is quite unique. In addition to the natural elements, namely fauna, flora and scenery; I tell our young hosts that the place has an evident potential for some adventure tourism and sports activities. They tell me that they themselves have already been experimenting some activities like river rafting, rock climbing and mountain bike routes and venues within the area.
The morning is now openly clear and the sun begins to warm the environment and rise the temperature, as the skies begin to turn blue, a perfect background to the green mass of vegetation. I ask Omar and Xavier if we can climb the larger rock across the pool, as I would like to see what it is like behind the huge stone. We start a stepping-stones exercise to cross the small river, until the slippery rocks knock me down flat on my face. After the initial scare, I rapidly react to realize that I didn’t break anything, not even my glasses, not even any bruises. Later, a few bruises would appear on my upper legs. I am in one piece, though soaking wet. Then we all burst into laughs and take pictures of the unexpected event. But, we made it across and now we are at the top of the big rock, looking beyond it, towards the north and east and realizing the vast extension of the pristine forest, clearly a secluded nature’s paradise. Xavier and Omar tell us that sightings of several species of monkeys are quite frequent. We don’t see any but yes, we can clearly listen, for several minutes, the distinct sound of the awesome “howler” monkeys. A flock of parakeets adds color to the scene and moment. Our hosts tell us that it would require a near two more hours hike to reach the actual “Piedra Blanca”, which gives the name to the Forest, a gigantic, “spaceship-shaped” piece of rock, seemingly “deployed” from above in the heart of a flat valley, covered in white, presumably calcium mineral deposits, as we had seen the evening before on a picture presentation shown to us by the boys.
The story is yet to continue on one more issue…… Amazing “hidden Ecuador”….