The Polylepsis forest in the Andean Paramo of El Angel
This past weekend I had the great experience to visit one of the world’s oldest and most endangered Polylepsis forests in the world. The only millenarian Polylepsis forest in the world.
The ascent to the paramo (high Andean tundra) of El Angel begins just past the town of Mascarilla. This is the point where the province of El Carchi (the northernmost province of Ecuador) begins. From this point on, the temperature drops and the vegetation becomes greener, the air gets cooler and the cultivated fields re-appear.
Up in the paramo of El Angel (Carchi province), at 11.745,68 ft above sea level exists a small valley of glacial origin that covers 12 hectares of the marvellous and unique Polylepis forest that belongs to El Angel Ecological Reserve. Within this area the “Polylepis Lodge” Hostel preserves 6 hectares from being destroyed by the surrounding communities.
The Polylepis tree, also known as Pantza, Colorado, or Paper tree, is famous for its fine bark that is constantly being shed to prevent parasite organisms, such as moss and liquens from adhering to its branches.
Among the different plant species that can be found inside the forest are: la hierba Del infante Del cerro (Lachemilla orbiculata), Zarcillo Sacha (Brachyotum jamesonii), Cardon Santo (Erymgium humile), different varieties of gentians and orchids, amongst others.
Besides a great variety of plants, many species of birds that can be seen, and there are also mammals, such as foxes and deer, that can be seen if you are lucky. This wildlife reserve is one of the few places in Ecuador where the famous Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) can still be seen flying low looking for carrion to feed on. Within the smaller bird species the observer can see hummingbirds of different kinds, cara-caras, hawks, wild ducks and many others.
The lakes, waterfalls, and the wildlife that inhabits this forest are surrounded by marvellous paramos covered with Frailejones (Espeletia pycnophylla), the emblematic plant of the northern Ecuadorian highlands. This plant is protected in the El Angel Ecological Reserve. The Polylepis forest is the only millenarian Polylepis tree forest in the World.
I include some photos only a few out of the 223 that I took and had taken. What made this visit equally satisfying was spending two hours at the famous Otavalo Indigenous Market and taking a meal with an Indigenous family at the Market Place. The only gringo face daring to sit down and eat una sopa de caldo de pato, pork foot soup it was delicious my stomach did pay the consequence two days later. Sharing with this family I also discovered their rich connection to pacha mama, mother earth and each colour taken so for granted by the tourist rich in meaning, culture and worship.
I share with you a poem dedicated to Pachamama and the Ancient Polylepsis Forest. Written underneath a 4000 year old Polylepsis on an early very cold Sunday morning being watched by one of the world’s smallest rodents and a tiny little rabbit.
You are the other and I am the other
There is no other.
Because you and I are one
Is, was and always will be.
You are me and I am you
Is it not obvious?
We are one
We inter-link we inter are, we are one
You cultivate the flower in yourself so that I may be beautiful
I transform the pollution in myself so that you my live
and have life to the full
I have supported and taken care of you
You have supported me
I am in this world to give and offer you peace
And you my beloved are here to bring me joy
So tread softly upon me
Treat me gently
Take small steps upon my face
Small steps that will only leave
Peace and Joy
Let each step that you take on me bring
Forth a flower
A ray of sunshine
A cooling refreshing breeze
Kiss me gentle with your feet my beloved.
Let us keep the earth Pachamama safe.