Reserva Los Cedros: Cloud Forest Reserve in Cotacachi
I first heard about Los Cedros from my son Scott and his girlfriend Holly when they came to visit us in Cotacachi for a few months. Friends of theirs had made the arduous journey by mule and raved about its great natural beauty. They wanted to go and we were eager to try out our newly-purchased 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Unable to find much about Los Cedros in any of my guidebooks, I Googled it and was impressed. We made reservations. Los Cedros offered us a reduced rate if we would bring pineapples and vegetables. They would also send a pack of mules and a guide down to Magdalena Alto to pick us up at a cost of $10 per person.
A Bit of Historical Background
In the 1980’s a North American named Joseph DeCoux came to Ecuador to do what he could to preserve the country’s forests. Over the years since then, working alone and with groups, Jose has managed to preserve 6400 hectares of cloud forest, rainforest, mountains, valleys and wild rivers. While we didn’t see them this trip, the reserve is home to howler and spider monkeys, the Andean cock-of-the-rock and quetzals.
We did feast our eyes on some of the reported 200 orchid species, butterflies and giant moths.
The land is governed by Fundación Los Cedros and not only protects the area’s priceless watersheds and 3 river systems but also does all it can to prevent deforestation, mining and pollution. Numerous research programs and projects have been conducted in Los Cedros, the biggest private reserve in Ecuador.
Los Cedros borders the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. It’s named for the giant cedar trees that once covered the area in abundance. There are still many large trees of different species in the reserve.
Getting There Isn’t All That Easy
What looked like a short distance from Cotacachi to Los Cedros on a map, or less than the 2 hours to Quito from Cotacachi– (http://reservaloscedros.org/about/maps/en/) is in actuality quite an undertaking in time and physical endurance, especially in the area of one’s gluteus maximus. The 3 legs of the journey meant driving, then more driving, then a long mule ride.
Maybe you already know this, but riding a mule is not the same as riding in a car, a wagon, a bicycle or even an elephant. Riding a mule is much worse. In fact, riding a mule is more akin to a workout on an out-of-control massage machine with no padding, the kind that runs rollers up and down your backside. Add biting and kicking and you get the idea.
Or more like bouncing along on a pogo stick with hooves and hair.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. . . The first part of the trip didn’t involve stubborn quadrupeds.
Our odyssey began the day before in Cotacachi and ended with a soak in the hot springs of Nanguli, just past the town of Apuela.
This 2 1/2 hour part of the trek into the Intag by Land Cruiser was adrenaline-rushing enough, with winding turns and sheer drop-offs. We spent another day exploring parts of the area not easily accessible.
But this was nothing compared to the next morning, the first leg of our Los Cedros trip, which began with 5 of us mucking along muddy roads still under construction. It rained intermittently and the mud was at least 6 inches deep much of the time.
The Trip Takes an Unexpected Head-Spinning Turn
Gary, lost in the pleasure of driving his much dreamed-about Land Cruiser, was jolted back to reality when the Toyota spun around out of control and lurched far to the right, almost tipping over. All that kept us from free-falling off a cliff was the protective high side of the road that stopped our slide.
Just as hair-raising was our next challenge—crossing a narrow bridge slippery with thick mud, and crawling carefully around a huge piece of road machinery. At any moment we could have slid into the raging river we had just crossed. Thank God for 4-wheel drive and Gary’s steady hand. I must say though, I took a quick glance at Gary and he looked like he was in seventh heaven!
Hyperventilating slightly, I was greatly relieved to come to the town of Chontal, where we asked for directions to Magdalena Alto and filled our empty gas tank.
Siphoning gas into our tank in Chontal.
The road narrowed and climbed upward through a forest. Enchanting views of fields, streams and woods were glimpsed through the thick underbrush and trees.
Magdalena Alto is a collection of pastel wooden houses, situated just past an idyllic river-crossing. I wonder if those living there appreciate just how lovely a spot they are graced to feast their eyes upon each day. Women chatted along the road and children raced between the trees and splashed in the water.
On we went until we reached a sort of way station with a couple of wooden buildings. A string of mules awaited us, staring sullenly in our direction.
The rest of the harrowing journey by mule to the top of the mountain will be recounted in my next blog. And I know I promised pictures of rare orchids. Patience, dear readers.