Butterflies, humming birds, and orchids--oh my!

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
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Trip End May 04, 2007


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Sunday, October 29, 2006

I caught an 8 am bus to Mindo this morning. Aside from a very drunk old man practically assaulting me before being escorted from the bus, the two and a half hour ride was very smooth. I have NO clue what the hell he was trying to do or why, but I had a window seat and he reached across me and hit my chest repeatedly as he seemingly tried to open my window and then make my seat recline. Whatever. As soon as I arrived, I went to La Casa de Cecilia, a cute, tree house type of complex that Brandon and the others had stayed at several weekends ago. I got a tiny private room with shared bath for five bucks--definitely not a bad deal! There were no locks on the doors nor lockers in which to store my things, so I just wore my money belt and left the rest of my stuff under the bed. I know better than to trust strangers in foreign countries, but Cecilia, a sweet older woman, and her daughter run the place, and they all seemed like very kind and honest people. More importantly, I seriously doubt they want my clothes or other random items I brought with me in my day pack.

I learned several things from my trip to Mindo:

1. Never assume that you will be able to find an ATM wherever you go. Yes, I know that is quite obvious if you are traveling to very small, albeit touristy towns, but for some reason I did not bother to get money in Quito. BIG mistake. I have to save at least 6 bucks for transportation home, 5 for lodging, and then money for over a day's worth of food and sightseeing. In a town that charges you to see every waterfall and is known for various fun but pricey activities, I am a bit frustrated with my financial situation, as I have about 26 bucks. Oh well, good practice for being on a budget, which I have not been too good about these past five weeks!

Mindo is a very small town with one main street and is surrounded by a large cloud forest. It is known for its butterflies, humming birds, bird-watching, hiking, and many adventure activities (tubing, waterfall jumping, etc). I ran into many groups of young travelers visiting for the weekend, including some people I had met one evening out in Mariscal with my classmates, all waiting for the afternoon bus back to Quito. Most people tend to arrive Friday night and leave on Sunday, so the town was relatively quiet on Sunday afternoon and practically dead on Monday. After settling into my hostel, I went to the local Mariposa museum , which was okay but quite expensive. I later discovered it was not the butterfly farm that I had intended to visit. Nevertheless, I saw a cool exhibit of the butterfly growth or birth cycle (some of the larvae were incredible--they looked like jewels decorated with gold!), some beautiful fully grown butterflies, as well as some orchids and humming birds. I also got some great opportunities to play with my camera and test out its capacity to capture color contrasts. Here are a couple of my favorites. I especially love the butterflies hugging!

2. I am a bit freaked out about traveling alone, in the sense of personal safety and also in terms of loneliness. I know, nothing new, but it hit me kind of hard on Sunday. I am just about to begin the real part of my trip, in terms of backpacking and traveling by myself, so in this sense Mindo is somewhat of a warm up for my imminent travels around Peru, Bolivia etc. Not having arrived with anyone, I visited the tourist office hoping to get some info on the nearby trails, and perhaps to meet some other travelers and maybe even hire a personal guide for tomorrow morning (that was before I realized that there was no ATM of course). Irman, one of LP's recommended bird guides, greeted me and offered his services for 30 dollars. Although that was obviously out of the question, he was very friendly and gave me some good advice on what to do in Mindo. I had been feeling a bit down as I ate my lunch of fried tilapia (very tasty) at El Chef, watching groups of travelers prepare to go back to Quito after a long weekend of fun together, and was disappointed although not at all surprised when no one else was in the tourist office. Soon enough, however, a German woman walked in and we began talking. Karen, who is 26, is staying in my hostel, traveling by herself and is also in search of a travel companion in Mindo, primarily for safety purposes as many of the hikes are along deserted paths. I definitely began to feel the need for a travel buddy when I went for a little walk after lunch. Irman pointed me towards a road that initially passed a bunch of hostels but then seemed to lead nowhere. I was not really thinking about the fact that I was alone, carrying all of my valuables and on a deserted dirt road until a young guy on a bike came up behind me and slowed down a bit. He was just a local guy going home, but it was at that moment that I started to get paranoid. I HATE to make bad assumptions about people, but I couldn't help it in this case. Your instinct is your most important guide, and it was telling me to turn back. Plus, I was just feeling a bit bummed out and the scenery was not all that exciting. I did see some cute cows though, and thought this picture was particularly funny.

I got back to the hostel around 3 pm and when Karen got back an hour later we decided to grab a drink at El Descanso, a cute hostel and cafe known for its outdoor porch and garden filled with humming birds. This was definitely the highlight of my trip to Mindo. Watching hundreds of humming birds feed and flutter about the garden as we chilled on the porch and talked was so peaceful and relaxing. Exactly what I needed after a somewhat hectic week. They became particularly playful when it began to pour. I have never seen so many humming birds, and have never seen them just hanging out in trees and sitting on the feeders like this without their wings flapping a billion times per second. Ecuador is home to hundreds of different species of humming birds, but we mainly saw this green and turquoise one. Here is another great shot. I also took a video of the birds feeding, which is really cool in terms of visuals but unfortunately did not capture the amazing, subtle buzzing sounds of the birds' wings.

Karen was on the same budget as me, so we decided to take advantage of our hostel's kitchen and pick up some very basic items form the small market (canned tuna, avocado, bread etc) for dinner. As there was absolutely nothing to do and no one else in the hostel, we spent the rest of the evening chilling in the hammocks on the porch, listening to the rain and the animal noises. It reminded me of the jungle a bit (funny how I almost felt nostalgic for the jungle and missed the familiarity of Quito), except it was quite cold.

3. Even though I am concerned about personal safety and am at times lonely, I HATE waiting for people, especially for people I don't really know, and love having freedom to do my own thing. Yes, yes, I know, I can't have it both ways, and I seriously need to work on my impatience problem. But I was quite frustrated on Monday morning when I woke up with the roosters (we went to bed very early), got dressed, ate, paid for my room, and was all ready to begin hiking by 6:30 am only to have to wait an hour and a half for Karen to get her ass out of bed and take FOREVER to make her breakfast and get organized. I felt bad rushing her (she has been traveling all around Ecuador for 10 weeks, and she flies home on Tuesday, so Monday was her last day of sightseeing) and it was good that I had company, but at the same time I wanted to have sufficient time to hike and was determined to catch the 2 pm bus back to Quito. I didn't exactly have the option to stay another night given my money situation and wasn't too keen on getting back to Quito much after dark. We finally got on the road around 8 am. We had perfect hiking weather--not too hot or cool, with enough mist to make the cloud forest earn its name but enough sun to brighten up the day. It was a bit annoying that Karen was a slow walker (I like to walk quite fast, at least for fairly easy hikes not at high altitudes), and although I felt bad speeding ahead of her I decided that I had already waited long enough before and thus was not obligated to alter my pace. I wasn't that far ahead after all.

About 15 minutes into our walk to the Rio Nambillo falls, we ran into Irman, who was heading the same direction to meet his brother Marcel (another bird guide who led my friends around when they were in Mindo). We walked together for a half hour, which was nice because I got to practice my Spanish and he showed us a few birds along the way. I was also psyched that he ended up buying my LP off of me for 14 bucks (it is brand new and lists his name), as I had been hoping to sell or trade it when I got back to Quito. Irman and Marcel are both extremely nice and both seem like excellent guides, so if any of you go to Mindo and feel like hiring them visit the tourist office for more information.

Karen and I walked for about 2 and a half hours to the reserve, which charges a three dollar entrance fee. Here is a picture of the bridge leading up to the entrance and one of Karen going down the steep path towards the bridge. Karen didn't want to go in, but I wanted to see the waterfall after having walked all the way there and so went by myself. I was quite disappointed. I hadn't realized that the reserve was primarily for swimming, tubing, waterfall jumping (the waterfall was quite small), and just chilling out rather than some grand spectacle like the waterfalls around Banos. It would have been tons of fun had I been with a group of friends and had time to spend an afternoon doing the various activities that were available, but it was not worth it to go in and take a quick peek. I definitely wish I had been able to go with the other Amazonas students or with Eric. Oh well.

We attempted to go back to Mindo via a different route but ended up going back the way we came after reaching a fork in the road and having no clue which way to go. All in all, I am glad Karen and I ran into each other. She sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, but she is a very nice girl and I definitely felt safer walking with or at least near someone. We got back early enough to shower and grab a quick bite (for me, a meal of multiple ice cream bars, bread rolls, and chocolate, all of which seem to have become the new staples of my travel diet) before catching the 2 pm bus back to Quito. So, I did not exactly have the time of my life in Mindo but I am glad I went.
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