Traveling across the Andes, I’m struck by several things, good roads, light traffic and the ever-changing landscape. Crossing Papallacta Pass, at around 14,000 feet in elevation was anti-climactic, I expected something more other than the road ceasing to climb and starting to wend its way down toward Quito. We end up maybe an hour 45 minutes west of Quito at a unique eco-lodge, Bellavista.
As a photographer I find one of the more difficult things to try to overcome is understanding the place where I end up. I don’t think it matters whether it is the next valley, the next county, state or another country. Barry Lopez in Crossing Open Ground thinks of the landscape as a duality, one external and the other internal. The external is the physical world as we perceive it, how the rain falls on a given plants leaves, the way wind moves through the grass, how the sun illuminates the landscape through fog. He writes “One learns a landscape finally not by knowing the name or identity of everything in it, but by perceiving the relationships in it-like that between the sparrow and the twig (it lands on)”.So, how does a traveling photographer learn the landscape or even recognize those relationships? Certainly by research, it’s always good to have an idea of what you might find, especially if time is an issue. But if you want to get the most of time spent, hire a guide. At the very least, use a guide to get grounded. The places we visited had guides on staff, locals that had a good grasp of the local flora and fauna. Ecuador actually has a school for guides to increase the number of guides available and gives more people the chance for a job. Bellavista sits high in the cloud forest, a place of fog, mist and cool temps. Sitting above the Tandayapa valley it is home to hundreds of species of birds as well as many mammals, not the least of which is the Olinguito. A new species, very similar to the Olingo (nocturnal fruit eater of the canopy), discovered from a museum specimen thought to be an Olingo. DNA analysis confirmed that it was a new species. The lodge lights an area of the canopy at night and provides bananas for the nocturnal visitors like the Kinkajou or Water Opossum. The star is the Olinguito. Seeing any of these critters is a joy but as a photographer a little disappointing. No flash allowed, makes night photography a little difficult. We compensated with headlamps and high ISOs. Not a satisfying solution. They didn’t allow for flash to be used around the many hummingbirds visiting their feeders either (now revised to no flash closer than 10 feet of hummers). This is a magical place, with great guides, and an almost dizzying number of creatures to photograph. And it’s a good jumping off place for visiting other places around the Tandayapa valley. Which we did, that will be the next post.