Questionable laws but also a lot of good
Arriving in Quito you will be overwhelmed by the Latin atmosphere, the Spanish colonial past, the beautiful buildings of the old town in baroque and rococo and the many churches that are certainly not inferior to those in Cuzco. Flemish missionaries of the Jesuit order not only passed many questionable laws, but also did many good things, such as the founding of the beautiful university annex library of Quito, one of the pearls of South America.
Before leaving for Galapagos I stay in one of the continent’s top lodges, Mashpi Lodge, recently featured in the BBC series Amazing Hotels with Giles Coren and acclaimed chef Monica Galetti as well as in top hotels of National Geographic.
Three hours’ drive from the capital, I reach the cloud forest, another world. The lowest part of the private concession consists of primary jungle, at 2,400 m altitude. The main reason I’m here is to look for very rare birds like night swallows, forty species of hummingbirds, various hawks and kites, not to mention the fly catchers, barbets with all their colors, toucans in three species and manakins to list only a few. The protected forest, about 1,200 hectares in size, is a true oasis for many mammals including the rare ocelot, weasel cat and cougar. There are programmes to improve animal spotting, but it is too early to poach life in the nearby farms.
A must for every nature lover
After a flight of 1H40 I reach the Galapagos, about 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador, consisting of hundreds of islands of which only four (!) are inhabited. The Galapagos are not beautiful, they are very young volcanic islands where the ocean polishes the landscape daily, but it is extremely fascinating and a must for any nature lover, if only because animals and birds have no fear of people. (You have to be careful not to sit on sea lions on the port pier in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Bauqurizo).
This is where ecotourism has arisen, protecting both fauna and flora, where people live hand in hand with nature every day. And where Darwin, my hero, collected his Darwin finches and invented the theory of evolution.
A revelation to experience
Previously, the islands were only to be visited from a cruise. You hop aboard a day cruise to one of the islands and in the evening you have the freedom to dine at one of the many restaurants that Puerto Ayora is rich in. I waited with my visit until lodges were built on the islands and stayed at the beautiful Pikaia lodge in Santa Cruz and in Gold Bay in San Cristobal. I was introduced to the very fragile nature under the guidance of top guides who explain to you in a very personal way – not in a group and at your own pace – what it is about and what parameters are used to protect fauna and flora.
Because there are people living mainly on Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora – 20,000 inhabitants) they farm there, of course all strictly bound by rules and laws. It was a revelation for me to go through this.
The basis of our contemporary thinking
I can recommend anyone to visit the Galapagos to explore and explore the islands, by cruise or from a lodge. For me personally, Darwin is the founder of the foundation of our contemporary thinking about the nature surrounding us. And I would recommend everyone to read his book, ‘On the Origin of Species’.