A desert with leaves

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Cacti, agave, dusty roads, scorching sun… “Is this a desert?” I coyly ask park ranger Franklin Mora. Of course, I have already guessed it isn’t… and indeed, why the reserve is so special. Because what I haven’t told you about Parque Jerusalem is that it’s full of trees, full of budding plants and colorful flowers, including bromeliads and orchids.

Take the “Farmacia de la Naturaleza” (Nature’s Pharmacy) trail and discover innumerable plants and flowers with healing powers.

The park’s most obvious natural attraction is the flat-topped Acacia trees bearded with Spanish moss (actually a kind of bromeliad). Of course, the “contradiction-agent” here is Man. Erosion in the area surrounding this patch of forest has made what was once a humid environment a seemingly dry one. But the forest stands strong, and continues to show off its true personality, creating a spectacular dichotomy between the essence of dry and that of humid.

David Cascante, CEO of Learning Tours, has brought a group of Nebraskans over to replant campeche on the site, and officially calls the area a semi-humid forest: “Things grow well here,” he says, “It’s very green yet just to the north it’s really dry”. This is the highest dry forest in the world, and more importantly, another testimony to Ecuador’s extreme biodiversity and why it is so important to protect it.

This little fellow is the largest hummingbird in the world, the Giant Hummingbird.

The land belongs to Pichincha’s provincial council. International birding groups come at dawn to scout the site, with Giant Hummingbirds being a major highlight, along with surprising migrant species depending on the season. Volunteer groups and local schools complete morning activities by midday. Evening campers can stay the night here, in a natural sanctuary for foxes, owls, marsupial frogs and bats.

Parque Jerusalem lies just to the west of the Pan-American Highway, north of Guayllabamba. Follow the signs to the left after you cross Pisque bridge onto the Ruta Escondida, and the colorful human-size letters spelling out JERUSALEM indicate the turn-off to the park (www.pichincha.gob.ec/turismo/jerusalem.html).

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