Hacienda Manteles owns and conserves a large area of cloud forest. You will need to borrow rubber boots at the Hacienda, and perhaps a good walking stick, to explore this extremely muddy environment.
This is truly a jungle, but a chilly, clammy sort of jungle. All surfaces, all leaves and rocks are slippery and slick. You can see many sorts of epiphytes (plants that grow on top of other plants, never touching the soil).
The hike is exhilarating, but exhausting too. Whereas at home I can hike a good three hours without trouble, in the cloud forest the steep but slippery mud and the thin air caused me to ask for mercy after two hours or so.
The Hacienda is a working farm, with the goal of introducing organic farming to the valley and preserving the cloud forest above.
I watched Ernesto compost the kitchen garbage, and layer it with droppings from the Guinea Pig coops.
Predictably, farmers are not easily swayed. Organic farming produces less, and the crops must be priced higher. Yet, according to César and Ernesto, the farmers are starting to understand that organic farming keeps the land fertile and the resulting produce is more wholesome.
The helpful owners of Hacienda Manteles can arrange your transfer from Quito.
However, if you are stubbornly independent like me, you can reach Manteles almost all the way by bus. From the North (Quito), or the South (Cuenca), take a bus to Baños.
Get off in Pelileo, half an hour before reaching Baños. In Pelileo, you can catch a white pickup, as long as you have the little map from the Hacienda's web site (drivers do not always know every Hacienda). The road from Pelileo to Patate is scenic, dramatic even. Then from Patate to the Hacienda, it is an awful unpaved road, a true bone rattling experience. I paid my driver $11 to take me from Pelileo to the Hacienda.
There are buses going all the way to Patate, a small town with a great ice cream parlor.