Over the holidays, I took advantage of the school vacation, and stole away for two days to explore a part of Ecuador I hadn’t seen before.  It was my Christmas present to myself.  After a 2 1/2 hour bus ride east of Quito, I found myself dropping into the edge of the Oriente or Amazon Rainforest – a wonderland of unique plants, birds and a little adventure for me. 

I booked one night in Rio Quijos Eco Lodge in Baeza, Ecuador and a big surprise awaited me when I arrived.  A tour group of white-water rafters from the US were using this as a home base to raft several rivers over a week.  I had a great evening chatting with them and 
learning about this area as a world-class rafting destination.  
In the waning light of the first day, I relaxed along the Rio Quijos, which flows into the 
Rio Coca and the Rio Napo, before meeting up with the Amazon.

Butterflies and birds were everywhere.

The one destination I had on my list was San Rafael Falls in the Cayambe Coca National Reserve.  This is the tallest waterfall in Ecuador.  As the bird flies, it is not very far from my house in Ibarra, but the large snow-covered Volcán Cayambe is in the way, so the roads to get here circumvent the volcano and its surrounding National Park.

To explore the valley on a short timeframe, I hired a taxi driver and guide.  This is Edison.  We spent a wonderful day together discussing the economy and culture of the valley, the plants and animals of the rainforest, and the beautiful waterfalls I wanted to visit.  Even though he has lived in this valley his whole life, he had never bothered to enter the Park to see this waterfall before.  
He was amazed, and said that he wanted to bring his family back here soon.  
We visited other waterfalls that day and enjoyed the plants of the forest. 
As part of my day-trip, Edison took me to another interesting attraction: La Gruta de Los Tayos.  A gruta is a cave with an opening at both ends, more like a tunnel.  Tayos are known as Oilbirds.  These birds are nocturnal and nest in caves or grutas, but will flutter about when disturbed by somebody walking into their space.  I think this gruta is officially located in the National Park, but the trails to access it are on land owned by a local family.  They charged me a couple of bucks to “guide” me to the gruta and teach me about the ecosystem, and their efforts to preserve their little paradise.  To get there, I was told that I had to hike down a steep trail into a canyon.

What I didn’t know was that to get to the gruta, I’d be repeatedly crossing and walking through a thigh-high rushing river.  It wasn’t very cold, but it was exhilarating!  
And yes, our presence disturbed quite a few Tayos as they fluttered about. 
All in all, my trip east was a lovely little get-away!