The cloud had lifted from the forest this morning and hummingbirds are apparently late risers. Hard to imagine them taking it easy with a cup of coffee, but but all was quiet at the feeders. After salty scrambled eggs we changed into Wellingtons (what would the noble Duke think of his legacy to the world…) and met our guide for what was billed as a three hour walk through the forest. Our guide was a bony young chap, tall and skinny and carrying a machete with him. A little way into the forest he swung it at what he described as a blood tree, leaving a small slit in which welled a crimson jewel of sap. He smeared it onto our hands whereupon it turned into a smooth white paste, which he said was used to relieve mosquito bites. The boys were impressed and Tom started seeking mosquitoes in order to test it out. They had a great time in fact; there was a lookout tower with terrifying open bamboo ladders to climb, a rope swing into the trees and a couple of ziplines across small valleys. On the first one we came to, I went and then Tom went. Most of the way at least. I watched him come to a dangling halt about fifty feet from the end and at least a hundred feet from the ground. He was absolutely thrilled. We threw a rope to him but it fell short and so he was pulled giggling back to the launch point where P was clipped on to the pulley as well and their combined weight finally got them across. “Can I do that again?” asked T.
The forest was damp and earthy and quiet, we saw – or heard at least – a couple of hummingbirds but for the most part all was still. At some point we realised that our three hour hike had passed the four hour mark and Roddy, the driver, told us that Pablo’s car had to be back in Quito by four o’clock in order to avoid a hefty fine, as different cars are banned from rush-hour driving on different days of the week to ease congestion. That meant we had two and a half hours to get out of the forest, pack up and get to Quito. We raced along the last part of the walk phoning in orders for sandwiches for the road. Yes, the Cloud Forest has a mobile signal. We threw passengers, bags and lunch into the cars and raced away, now with ninety minutes to do the drive that had taken us two hours the day before. It was a white knuckle ride as I struggled to keep pace with the more powerful Disco. I thrashed the little car back up the 6,000 feet we had descended, dodging past trucks labouring up the steep inclines in clouds of exhaust. As we got into Quito, the usual racetrack became even more competitive as we were now part of the race – not just observers. We slid into the most marginal of gaps and cut everyone else up mercilessly – though to be honest that is just normal driving behaviour in Quito. Two blocks from Pablo’s house at 4.05, Roddy spotted a traffic cop on the corner and quickly pulled into the car park in front of a row of shops. He had a chat with the policeman, but he refused to let Roddy continue so the car had to stay where it was until 7.30pm and everyone in it had to walk the last bit to Pablo’s.
It was strange to be in his house without Pablo but we worked up a pile of pasta and sat in the formal dining room surrounded by his wonderful pictures of South America.