We’d got quite used to Quito after the last few days, but it was time for a change of scenery.
We’d decided to go to the cloud forest: we’re not entirely sure how one defines a cloud forest but it seems to be like a jungle in the mountains, usually drizzled in mist. As we checked out of our hostel (the highly recommended Casa Helbling) we asked the owner about our destination – he said something along the lines of ‘It rains every afternoon, torrentially, for hours…’ – oh goody, just like home!
We were heading for Mindo – it’s only a couple of hours from Quito, but might as well be a different world; it’s several hundred metres lower in altitude, and tucked away on the other side of the Pichincha volcano from Quito, drenched in cloud and draped in the lushest of greenery. Not having done the most thorough of research, we didn’t realise it was one of the bird-watching locations in the world: we just thought it sounded like a nice place to visit – though to be honest, we were mostly sold on staying in one of these cute little caravans…
The journey there was mildly interesting, as this was our first taste of bus travel, Ecudorian-style. The bus was reasonable enough, but it felt slightly strange that after you got on, the driver and mate shut themselves off behind a door, closing off the front of the bus completely, with curtains blocking any forward view. It also seems to be frustratingly common for buses over here to have a metal bar running across the side windows at eye-level – there might be wonderful scenery outside, but you’re going to get a crick in your neck if you want to see it. However we could just see enough to know that we passed ‘El Mitad del Mundo’ on our way to Mindo, and so were briefly back in the Northern Hemisphere.
As the altitude decreased, the oxygen and humidity increased, and soon we were in the cloud forest, and checking in to our posh caravan at La Roulotte (if posh camping is ‘glamping’, what would that make this – glaravanning??!) It really was lovely – double bed bunk-beds, a luxurious en-suite and a wood-burning stove. In the middle of all the caravans there was also a great central restaurant/seating area, surrounded by bird-feeders and beautiful gardens. We soon saw lots of birds, including quite a few hummingbirds, and realised why bird-watchers flocked to Mindo. Nearby, there was also a ‘Mariposario’, or butterfly farm, and this too had beautiful gardens and bird feeders. There were even more hummingbirds here, as well as hundreds of, yes, butterflies, in every stage of their short (double) lives.Now, it’s usually very difficult to catch a hummingbird in flight, as they’re maddeningly quick little things – they’re like little sprites, with unpredictable, sudden changes of direction, and sometimes it’s as if they’re being radio-controlled by someone watching you line up your camera shot, jerking them away just as you hit the shutter release. However, there were so many of them here that after several hundred attempts (and that’s only a slight exaggeration!) we managed to photograph some, delicate wings beating like crazy. There’s a couple more shots below, for anyone who’s twitching to see more.
We were also offered the rare opportunity to smear over-ripe banana on our fingers and feed the butterflies – it’s a rotten job, but somebody’s got to do it – here’s Kiah taking up the challenge.
That night back at the hotel, the lovely staff took us on a walk to find some frogs, to round off a fantastic, nature-filled day.
The next day we set off on an adventurous ramble through the jungle; this included having to propel ourselves across a river in a little cage (via a rope and pulley system), and having to clamber up a densely forested hill, complete with ropes to get you up some rocky parts. We were really proud of the girls as it was tough going, though to be honest they seemed to find it easier than us.
Once at the top, we dropped down the hill on the other side to find a huge rope swing, and steps leading to a waterfall and riverside swimming pool. It would have been lovely to relax in the sunshine after such a tiring walk, but the weather had other ideas and the promised rain duly fell, and fell, and bucketed down. It didn’t stop the girls going for a swim though, but they did opt to wear their waterproof coats, which seemed a little ironic, and amused the local family who were the only other people still braving the elements. To get back to our comfy caravan we had two options – walk several miles in the pouring rain, or get a pick-up to pick us up. We took the latter, and shared it with three other people who were also waiting. As there weren’t enough seats inside, Pete had to stand in the back for the twisting, bumpy, half hour journey, dodging low-hanging branches and riding the sudden jolts and jumps, swaying to the rhythm of the road – it prompted one of those moments of reverie when you hope you live to a ripe old age so you can look back and smile at days like these…
Mindo had been a great destination, and we were genuinely sad to wave off the staff at La Roulotte as we headed back to Quito…