Exploring Ecuador’s Pululahua crater and geo-botanical reserve, Part Two
We continue with our descent to the crater floor inside the Pululahua Volcano, located a few minutes northwest of the Equator and less than a half-hour from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. As Pablo, Monica, Roberto and I film and take photos of the fantastic landscapes and scenery, Marco, our local guide, tells us abundant and extremely interesting information about the geological characteristics of this old dormant volcano; its unique climatological conditions and why it is Ecuador’s first “Geo-Botanical Reserve”.
The luxuriant vegetation is home to dozens of animal species, but the ones that capture most of our attention are the dazzling hummingbirds, diverse species of them (Ecuador has a record-breaking number of over 100 different species of hummingbirds on its territory); which fascinate us with their metallic-brilliant colors and shining feathers, magically illuminated by the intense sun rays of this Equatorial location… Marco points out two minuscule varieties which are endemic to the zone and one with a distinctly curved beak, evidently designed to probe deeper inside certain cup-shaped larger flowers.
In just about forty minutes from the rim, we have reached the crater floor. As we had seen from above, it is made of predominantly flat and extremely fertile volcanic soil, which makes it the perfect place to cultivate vegetables, maize and diverse fruits. Marco tells us that some forty families inhabit the crater and own mostly rectangular pieces of the land, which creates that chess-board vision from the upper rim, a colorful patchwork of green, yellow, orange and brown-colored rectangles. The area is crossed by several paths, respecting the boundaries of the private properties. The downhill bikers have also arrived and we cross paths with them, near one of the ranches, as they refresh themselves inside and outside with plenty of bottled water.
Our guide tells us about one of the most notorious properties inside the crater, the Hacienda Pululahua, which was built by the Spaniards around 1825 and ran by the Dominican Friars until 1905. The local residents, particularly the more elderly, tell numerous stories about the rather harsh working conditions which were imposed by the former landowners. Now, the Hacienda is part of the Reserve and its installations are part of the National History Heritage, thus protected by the State of Ecuador. And talking about history, our guide has more surprises for us as he tells us that many of the trails in and around the crater were already transited since more than one thousand years ago, by the Pre-Columbian cultures which inhabited the Equatorial region, among them the Caranquis from the north and the mythical Yumbos, basic components of the legendary “Kingdom of Quitu” that covered much of present-day Ecuador, before the arrival of the Incas. So, the place is also filled with rich history, in addition to its unique natural characteristics and scenic landscapes….
But there is yet one more element of admiration. Those ancient civilizations were so well acquainted with their privileged position and its unique relationship with the Sun on such a premium planetary position, at the very Earth’s Equator, that they had aligned a sequential series of huge stones in the direction that marks the exact passage of the Sun during the Winter Solstice, on December 21. No wonder, they are still acknowledged as advanced astronomers. With such a glorious load of information and experiences, we make our way uphill back to the crater rim, using a different and slightly shorter trail, that brings us sweating but happy, back to the summit and headed directly to a strategically located cliff-side panoramic restaurant, with floor to ceiling glass to allow for the stunning views of the Pululahua crater, as we devour a delicious Ecuadorian luncheon of “locro”, a rich potato soup with cheese and avocados, small empanadas and roasted piglet with its own native “vinaigrette” and salad. Cold beers and fruit juices quench our thirst as we wait for dessert: “mora” ice-cream, a perfect finale for the expedition, accompanied by the nearly magic view of the huge cloud moving in from the west and rolling over the crater rim and into its interior walls and floor, as every afternoon, since eons ago…..
One more magic experience and day in the enchanted realms of Ecuador, right in the very “Middle of the World”……