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A week in Mindo, Ecuador

Imagine a place where the electricity turns off randomly from 11 am – 2 pm, the rivers flow of chocolate, hummingbirds bring you honey, and unicorns run wild and free upon rainbows that pave the roads.

O.k., it’s not that grand, but it has been a nice get-away from our get-away; and you can still find ice-cold beer from 11 am – 2 pm – power or no power.  

When we first arrived in Mindo, we took a much-needed day to recover from our hike, popping blisters, licking wounds, and cleaning the cow shit smell out of everything. My legs have been a nice shade pink for the past 6 days from the calamine lotion I’ve been soaking them in from all the bug bites. I don’t know how Kate remains to be un-bothered by these little devils. I guess I’m sweeter than she is.

The biggest decision you will have to make in Mindo is whether to go left, right…or straight. It’s a sleepy little mountain town where even the dogs struggle to find the energy to bother you.

There are more than enough hostels and hosterias to choose from.  From our hikes around town we discovered there are more places to stay outside of town than in town and at much higher prices – in town we found places for as little as $8 a night; however we decided to stay at Casa de Cecilia for $11 a night  – which we picked simply because of this image.

Casa de Cecilia sits on Rio Mindo where, downstream, families come and wade/bathe on weekends. Wi-fi is just fine (except when the power goes off of course). Breakfast is not included in the $11 price, but you can get eggs, bread, fruit, coffee (acceptable at best) and juice for $3-4  at Casa de Cecilia or anywhere in town. Breakfast at Cecilia is served next to the river from their outdoor kitchen and is a great time to enjoy the scenery and get in some bird watching. Lunch of rice, beans, soup, house drink (juice), and your choice of chicken or beef will set you back a solid $3.50 maybe $4.00 if you throw in some eggs.  Dinner can get up there, if you include (2) 1.5L beers with your meal, for two people you’re looking at $14-16.

The whole town is safe. The people move just a tad bit faster than the dogs, which nap in the middle of the street and can’t be bothered by the cars, trucks and buses that happen to come along. You will find there is a small ex-pat community. You will likely see a middle-aged white guy with a straw hat and flip-flops pulling a rusty old red wagon full of jams and cookies, possibly accompanied by one of his 2 blonde children. If so, go for the almond cookies, even though they are over-priced, and be prepared to be drawn into a long conversation about how he drove his motorhome from Portland down to Ecuador. He might even invite you to his weekly drum circle at his house on Saturday if you are so inclined.

Main street will offer you equal number of pizza spots as tour agents trying to convince you that for $20 you should abseil/repel off a waterfall, zip-line, or “raft” down a relatively tame river riding on one of the 8-10 inter-tubes all strapped together. After the excitement of our hike, none of that really interested us; however if you are here, by all means zip-line ’til your hearts content.

Other activities, each with a small fee, are the frog concert at 6:30 pm just outside of town, several privately owned trails that will set you back a few dollars to access, an orchid garden if that is something you fancy, and of course a chocolate tour – might we recommend Choco Arte, where, for $6, you can watch the chocolate-making process in a woman’s home and of course taste the chocolate to your hearts content! In our opinion, this is a better option than the larger, and seemingly, more “corporate” Quetzal.

We opted for a few self-guided day hikes and enjoyed the slow pace of the town. We did decide to hike out to the Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo on our third day, which was a pleasant stroll of about 6  miles roundtrip on a flat dirt road  The cost for the entrance to the butterfly garden was a bit high, $6 each, but it’s not often you find yourself in a sealed canopy surrounded by hundreds of butterflies in all phases of life. We spent just as much time outside the garden watching 20-30 hummingbirds, of various species, duke it out with wasps for the coveted sugar water.

Because our camera is broken, we could not document the hummingbirds, but we did indeed see these two species, among many others.

While hiking back to town we acquired a four-legged friend, Kate named him “Oh Perro,” and for the remaining time in Mindo, our black mutt of a dog – with a white spot on his chest, managed to find us every time we headed out for a hike and when we sat down for dinner he would wander into the restaurant and lay down at our feet.

Saturday – Tuesday was a four day holiday, which was great for us as the town actually had a pulse.

November 1 – All Saints Day

November 2 – All Souls Day (Day of the Dead):  Along with the belief the soul of the dead visits the families these days, one of the specialities in Ecuador is the Colada Morada, a fruity, spicy drink that I found to be…not too exciting – each family having their own recipe from what I was told.  The drink is paired with a “bread doll”, mine had a bit of cinnamon on the inside.  In either case, the Colada Morada is something to be enjoyed once the souls of the dead arrive to the celebration.

November 3 – Independence of Cuenca

On November 3, 1820 the city of Cuenca (third largest in Ecuador) gained independence from Spain and the country of Ecuador celebrates this day as a national holiday. 

During these days, the town was alive with people; however, to keep in step with the casualness of Mindo, no parades or major celebrations happened, just lots of kids playing in the river, riding their bikes around the non-working fountain in the town centre, couples strolling arm in arm eating ice cream, everywhere homemade grills where covered with various meats from beef to chicken to fresh trout. If Norman Rockwell painted the utopian Ecuadorian scene, this would have been one of his finest works.

Sunday we decided to hike up to Cascades in Tarabita, there is a cable car that will take you across but it was down for repairs when we arrived. It was a 9 mile hike roundtrip. The road took us up passed the zip line operations, where we stopped to watch and listen to the people scream while we enjoyed a tasteless empanada. Once at the trailhead of the falls, called Cloud Forest Trail, we ventured down a very steep and very muddy trail to the river. On this particular weekend, and much to Kate’s amusement, the trail was congested with people wearing questionable footwear for such a journey (flip-flops, high-heels, brand new all white trainers), and then of course there were those who hadn’t been off a couch in 365 days and struggled with every step to get down, stopping whenever, wherever on the 3 foot wide trail, to catch their breath or balance with no consideration of anyone else around them. After about 1.2 km you arrive at the falls, there are several. To your right there is a concrete water slide, built directly into the rock about 20 feet above the water. To your left, the trail winds down to a shelter where, next to all the families wading in the river, women dressed in traditional Ecuadorian garb sell grilled chicken and beef. Down the path a bit by a larger waterfall, you will find a metal platform designed for the sole purpose of jumping off and falling 50′ into the cauldron. We watched in awe as several boys jumped into the swirling water. What was most unbelievable is that they fashioned a home-made harness of sorts, worn like a climbing harness, that was connected to the platform with a rope. A “friend” would hold the rope to apparently make sure the jumper did not go too deep when jumping. All of this would definitely be illegal in the good ol’ U.S. of A. – but in Ecuador, this is what you do on a long holiday weekend.  

On Wednesday, November 4 – the town was once again quiet and empty and the weather was suddenly cold and overcast all day, which made for some great hammock/reading time.

We spent Thursday, our last day before heading back to Quito, getting laundry done, packing, arranging bus tickets and treating ourselves to a nice meal, which included conversations with a couple of ex-pats from Buffalo New York, one of whom was working on getting his permanent residency in Ecuador; along with another couple from California with the dream of making Ecuador their new home…someday.

Friday we woke up at 5:30 a.m., packed up our still wet clothes – nothing dries in Mindo – and headed down to jump on our bus. As we left, “Oh Perro” found us, dogs are clever that way. It was clear to “Oh Perro” we were leaving town. For the first time ever, he jumped up on Kate, trying to prevent her from getting on the bus, as if to tell her, “Don’t go!”  Kate’s heart melted as “Oh Perro” parked himself outside the bus and stared at us as we drove off. If you find yourself in Mindo, please say hola to “Oh Perro” for us.

We are off to Quito for our first volunteering opportunity.


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