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.
such a cutie
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
this woodpecker refused to turn around
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.
pausing for a drink
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.
dusk falls at 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!
feeding from my hand
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.
the veranda at La Casita del Arte y del Te
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
You can’t help but to unwind on the journey to Mindo as the road slowly unravels across the mountains. Leaving the concrete and crowds of Quito behind, the surprisingly good road curls its way up and down for a couple of hours before it drops deep down into the small town. Soft, humped-topped mountains march alongside with every square centimetre rammed with spectacular trees and shrubs.
The tiny town of Mindo
Hotels and hostels for the most part are tucked tantalisingly away inside this greenery, built sympathetically with their surroundings, and most with a large amount of space between them and their neighbours. My hostel, the Bio Hostal, was located just one block back from the main square down an unpaved road. Walking down this road with my backpack I became aware of the peace and quiet of the place, with little traffic but resounding bird songs echoing around.
The Bio Hostal looked welcoming with its bright, airy dining area set out with colourful tablecloths and gigantic squooshy beanbags over in the corner.
Whilst Paul was checking me in, Maria, the most delightful eleven year old came over to practice her very good English with me and Marcela her mum, who was sweeping, beckoned me over to the back door and pointed out two green parrots that were playing around in the large tree outside in the garden.
My room was a good size and with two huge windows and it was nice and bright. It was basic but squeaky clean and it contained a double bed, a desk, a hand basin, a TV and some little wooden storage units. The bathroom was tidy with a three quarter-sized bath with a shower over it, decent towels and a basic toiletry pack. I also checked out the dorm which contained just five beds (two sets of bunks and a single) – these beds were much wider than your average bunk too and it was also very comfortable.
The Bio Hostal, Mindo. Everything is half built in Ecuador – don’t let this put you off
There was some discolouration on the ceiling and the walls of my room BUT it was clear from the slightly different colours of paint that a war was being raged against the damp which was attempting to sneak in. The amount of rain that falls every afternoon is quite something and whilst a lot of the buildings in the town could no doubt be made more modern, their rustic individualism only adds to the overall charm of Mindo.
There are plenty of little nooks and crannies for you to sit and relax in at the Bio Hostal, and with lots of magazines and books to read, hammocks hanging and places to sit overlooking the garden with its bird life, it is just a nice place to be.
somewhere to relax
Breakfast is included in the price and was ample. Fresh pineapple or melon juice, a plate of fresh fruits, scrambled egg, a tasty roll or toast and jams (or marmalade to use the Spanish) with coffee or tea – more than enough to set you up for the day hiking or visiting the many sites in this tiny town.
So, what did I get up to in the Cloud Forest?
Quite a lot actually and I shall cover the individual activities in another post, but the absolute highlight for me was an early morning bird watching walk.
Now. I like birds and I can identify quite a few, but I am no expert. I really really want to see a typical multi-coloured sat in a tree whilst in South America, but when I found out that Mindo had toucans I was very disappointed not to find a guided tour that I could afford.
And then I struck gold. A walk was going out the following day and from my hotel. The guide was none other than our hostel manager and he was already planning to take a small group of guests out and there was room for me an affordable price.
We struck gold
Rising early, Irman Arias (do check out his link. He is one talented man) served us all breakfast and then, just as the dawn was breaking at six am we set off. We trekked through the deserted town as the mist rose eerily up from the forest and the bird songs were shrill and clear. We walked for close on five hours and every so often Irman would stop and set up his tripod on the track and without fail, he would hone in on a bird or three. Through the telescope even the small brown birds became interesting and we all had been given binoculars to share around too. But then, all of a sudden – sat in clear view, though I doubt any of us would have spotted it without Irman was a dazzling yellow toucan. It posed for ages for us on its branch, and was soon followed further on in our walk by a small green one, the more traditional black and red one (as adopted by a brewery) and then playing for ages in the trees about our heads a trio of multi-coloured toucans.
An amazing bird
The toucans were the highlight for me but we also saw red, yellow, blue and white birds, humming birds and a swallow tailed kite. Irman walked along, gently calling and often being answered by various birds He knew all the names and exactly where to find most of them, having lived in Mindo all his life.
Irman Arias – the amazing bird guide
As well as the birds, Mindo can offer butterflies and frogs, good coffee shops, humming birds and orchids, tubing in the river and waterfalls, as well as zip lines through the canopies and miles and miles of spectacular walks or bike trails.
The best bits
- The relaxing atmosphere created by Irman, his wife Marcela and their adorable children
- My bird watching walk
- The location – very close to the main street but far enough away to be so very peaceful
- The oh-so-comfortable bed
Would I recommend Mindo and the BioCloud hostel?
Yes – without a shadow of a doubt.
Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Bio hostal this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay
Whilst I shall still endeavor to update my main posts every Tuesday, my site needs to evolve. My main posts will cover my travels and personal thoughts as before, but I will post shorter, additional entries in more immediate response to the situation on the ground. These will include hostel and attraction reviews, location information and short, snappy entries which I think may be of interest to you.
Please feel free to comment once I get myself organised and let me know if you like the more frequent posts, beginning with this one.
The Cloud Forest
The view at La Casita del Arte y del Te, Mindo
I have been in The Cloud Forest for three hours and I seen humming birds and parrots, been chased by two horrid dogs and I have had the most amazing vegan chocolate and coffee cake. I have had four señoras at the next table advise me to change my lunch order before I got a fish the size of something which would put Jaws to shame and I had a leering man in welly boots grab and shake his scrotum at me whilst he was weeding his banana plants! Who said Mindo was quiet?
Not a humming bird but it’s still pretty