Holidays for a cold-free person

Zen is not a state that I reach easily. I have never been able to sit on top of a mountain and enjoy everything without getting upset.

But I may have finally found the one activity that made me inner peaceful and contemplative: walking on the river.

Rocking knee-high rubber boots, earlier this year I found myself hiking the creek from ankle to thigh in the reserve maintained by the luxury eco-friendly Mashpi Lodge retreat in the Choco rainforest in Ecuador. Maybe it was the sound – water on rocks, rain droplets cascading from giant leaf to giant leaf, or me lapping – but something about mindlessly walking in the river in a light drizzle with only my guide was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever done. Even the fact that my final destination was a spectacular waterfall that I could swim in didn’t make me wonder when the heck this was going to end.

I was in Mashpi because I wanted to at least get a taste of Ecuador’s wonders before heading to the Galapagos, which was picking up their pace. Quasar, the shipping company that operated the ship I would be on, also had a team on the mainland. I only had five days, and while I couldn’t wait to go back and see some of the volcanoes and highlands, it meant I spent my time in Quito and Mashpi.

As you land in Quito the first thing you notice is something I’ve never got used to: the altitude. This ancient city is over 9,000 feet above sea level. The second thing you notice once you get to the historic center is how incredibly grandiose it is, which is quite astonishing for a city built on the slopes of a volcano. In fact, it’s so grand (and historic) that it was the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site (along with Krakow) in 1978.

“Multicolored colonial houses in Quito.”

Mike Matthews / Getty

I stayed at the Illa Experience Hotel, which is located in a converted mansion a few blocks from Santo Domingo Church, on a colorful street with a number of art galleries. The hotel aims to give guests access to artisans living and working in the area, and to give these same artisans access to guests in the hope that the area does not become a living museum of hotels and restaurants. ‘Airbnbs. So every evening, you will be asked if you want to go to a milliner or see a painter who lives a few blocks away. The hotel also has Nuema as an on-site restaurant, which has been named one of Latin America’s 50 Best.

As for Quito itself, the stars of its urban spectacle are its churches. Many of you have undoubtedly seen your fair share of churches in your years of travel, but Quito has a few that for purely earthly reasons will delight. Basically they have a lot of gold.

The two most spectacular for me were Santo Domingo and La Compañía (or the Church of the Society of Jesus). Santo Domingo has three major draws. The first is the main parish hall which is covered with trompe l’oeil. The second is the refectory, where next to a Mudejar coffered ceiling are two rows of elaborate and comically bloody portraits of Christian martyrs. The third is the Chapel of the Rosary, a blood-red dome-shaped room accented with gold (as if the accent had been made by Midas himself) filled with statues and reliquaries.

La Compañía is baroque excess that manifests itself. Located near the Presidential Palace, its construction lasted nearly two centuries. Photography is prohibited indoors, unfortunately. It’s gold, gold, gold everywhere. The central nave is a frenzy of Mudejar carving and although one could normally be drawn to the central altar in most churches of this size, the designers of the side chapels seemed determined to make sure they rival each other for yours. eyes because they are just as excessive.

While there are a plethora of sites and experiences that I did not have access to over my two days, I can recommend the illuminating collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts at the Museo Casa del Alabado. And if you want a meal that will truly amaze you with what chefs can do with ingredients you’ve never heard of, grab a table at Quitu Identidad Culinaria.

Even though I didn’t have time to follow in the footsteps of my hero Alexander von Humboldt and climb Cotopaxi or Chimborazo, I knew I wanted to see something outside of Quito.

Quasar suggested that I visit Mashpi, which is only a three hour drive from Quito, although a difficult three hours for those prone, like me, to motion sickness. Once you’ve escaped the expanse of Quito, you cross jagged mountains softened by the lush forests that line them. Showcasing lean trees with feathered tops and all manner of brush and vines underfoot, the landscape is a painting of Frederick Church coming to life. These mountains slowly give way to something between mountains and hills, all covered with a perpetual fog. It is in these misty hills that we find Mashpi.

Operated as a science lab (they discovered a number of endemic species including a frog), an upscale retreat, and a spearhead for cloud forest preservation, the lodge is housed in a modern glass building , wood and steel. While comfortable, it’s not all about the frills. Still, it’s hard to sit still in one of their bedrooms with the jungle pressed against floor-to-ceiling picture windows as a rainstorm drowns every thought in your head.

Your days (and nights) as a guest are spent on walking safaris in the jungle. Mashpi controls most of what remains in this region of the cloud forest and is slowly trying to expand (while simultaneously employing the regional population) to preserve more. In case I need to know if I could have been a botanist, zoologist or geologist, there is no doubt after this trip that I could not be. Not that I don’t find the plants, animals and rocks fascinating – my ‘I’m getting old’ dream is to hike with guides who point me to things. I like having a begonia leaf that tastes like a green apple or translucent butterflies that were invisible to my eyes. I want my walks to be filled with nuggets like how walking palm trees can move two feet a year or the symbiotic relationship between cecropia and fire ants. But the idea that I could remember this thing or spot a fishing spider on a ledge 15 feet away is laughable.

And I would never, ever have taken a night walk in the jungle without a guide. (Although I really, really want to see the Translucent Frog someday.)

But after a few days of river rides, lazy afternoons spent in what was essentially a glass box surrounded by slingshots with rain on the speakers (every millennial’s dream scenario) and mornings spent with dozens of hummingbirds of all colors and sizes (the most shocking part is audience fly), I was more relaxed than I had been as far back as I can remember.

So much so that on the long drive back, I kept my mouth shut as, in the pouring rain, the driver continued to manually turn the wiper switch on and off rather than just leaving it on.


Comments are closed.