Well, to begin with, I got lost! I went for a walk, took the wrong turning and then I ended up about a mile away from town up a dead end. But it was no big deal – after all, I was wandering around the countryside just a stone’s throw from the equator and surrounded by cloud forest, many of the four hundred species of birds that live here and drifts of butterflies.
I finally found the right road and I hiked up and up and up. After an hour and after having turned down offers of lifts from several passing trucks I decided to check the map. Hmm – why had I not spotted the note from the nice lady in the information office earlier? Nine kilometres! And it was all uphill. Eventually I staggered to the end of the road to find my worst nightmare. The entrance to the cascadas (waterfalls) was via a suspicious looking cage suspended across the valley, hanging above the canopy of the cloud forest on wires and pulleys and driven by a car engine in a hut. The most enticing attractive Ecuadorian man hopped in and out of the cage to prove it was
safe and promised to hold my hand all the way over – and he almost had me sold – until I then realised that I would have to walk for a minimum of another two hours the other side to get to just one of the six waterfalls and back. After my hike up the mountain I truly had no energy left, having also forgotten bring my water bottle (I was not having a good day) so regretfully I declined (although secretly I was relieved not to be trusting myself to a cable hundreds of feet up in the air) and I began the much quicker yomp back down the mountain. I got blasé and tried to look up at a vulture while breaking into a jog and tripped over my walking boot. I KNEW I was having a bad day and sprawled out in the middle of the road I turned the air blue as I mopped the blood from my knees, checked out my torn trousers and swore at my damaged camera.
Arriving back in town, the power was out and it was to remain out for the rest of the day.
Searching out lunch I ended up on the wooden veranda of a coffee shop which was owned by a German family. I quickly switched tables when I realised that there were hummingbird feeders hanging at the open windows which were attracting birds by the dozen. I invited myself to sit with a man who was obviously making his onward travel plans (I recognise the signs well – guide book, note book with lists of names and countless crossing-outs and concentration) and a bit later we were joined by a couple of American travellers. The birds were fascinating; with some not much larger than a big bumble bee; and they darted around and then hovered to suck the sugar mixture out of the feeders just feet in front of us.
Some had iridescent blue and green plumage, others were black and white or had red tails, but all were amazing. The afternoon flew by as we chatted and swapped tales and wondered when the best time would be to venture out into the now pouring rain.
Later that evening, myself and Martin (the planning traveller), met up again as we had arranged and we trekked a little way out of town to the Mindo Lago.
This was billed as the ‘frog chorus’ and we arrived at the little complex just as dusk was falling. A small veranda overlooked a couple of plant filled ponds and thick shrubs and trees pressed down to the water’s edge. After a thimbleful of wine we were given an introductory talk whilst fireflies flashed in the bushes and the noise from countless frogs picked up in volume. We then all trekked in the dark down to a narrow path around the ponds and walked through the tiny forest area whilst our guides pointed out with their flashlights the various frogs, insects and a HUGE spider. We all gathered in the pitch black and discovered how a certain bacteria on some fallen logs actually glows in the dark and as we passed around a naturally occurring glow-stick I marvelled at how wonderful the natural world can be.
One of the highlights of my stay here was the (very) early bird watching walk. You can read a more detailed report by clicking here on the link – Bird watching in the cloud forest Suffice to say I was VERY excited to see toucans in the wild!
The following day I set off on a shorter hike to the Mariposario – the butterly farm. I was given an introduction and shown some caterpillars, chrysalises with their clever camouflage and then some butterflies which had emerged just an hour or so earlier. Some of the chrysalis resembled little globules of metal – these were the ones which would hang close to water – and I was then free to wander around inside the beautiful gardens. Butterflies fluttered silently around everywhere and it was even possible to feed some. They would cling onto your finger after being enticed there by some over-ripe banana.
They would settle everywhere, then flicker off or hang in droves from the wooden posts or flowers. The best but the most elusive to photograph were a dinner plate sized electric blue and these drifted around epitomising the very essence of the cloud forest. I then very happily hiked back to the town where the power was out yet again.
There was a lovely little coffee shop called La Reposteria around the corner from the Bio Hostal, so I tended to camp out there when the power went out. The Swiss owner Andrea visited Mindo few years ago and never left. The coffee was always lovely and the atmosphere very calm and tranquil, and the place glowed with candlelight.
It seems Mindo attracts people and then grabs them so that they don’t want to leave. It is a tiny little town but I also found another tiny little coffee shop which served the most delicious vegan and chocolate cake overlooking the river and owned by a French and Italian couple. Another delightful find was a little place called Mishqui Quinde – Sweet Hummingbird which served quinoa pudding with fruit and ice cream. Sat in the sun chatting to the owner, I was invited to climb the wooden log ladder and take a peek inside the tree house where he lives.
Mindo also serves up canopy zip-wire courses for adrenaline junkies and tubing – this is where you charge down the river sat in massive inner tubes, although I passed on both of these activities. When I arrived many of the cafes and restaurants were closed but they were busy preparing for the season and the whole town was receiving a lick of paint.
It is a friendly town and I could quite happily have stayed longer and tucked myself away in one of the lovely little cafes and spent my time reading and writing but the time came to move on and head for the manic city of Quito