Mindo is a small town situated in forested mountains North West of the capital Quito. It’s a popular spot for hiking and bird watching.
Having returned from our trip to the mangroves with Hans it was time to move on from Finca Sommerwind. and head to Mindo. Initial research showed that accommodation here could be relatively expensive or did not have parking for Tigger. With a few places in mind we decided not to book anything in advance and just wing it when we got there, like we normally do. It was a Thursday, so before the busy weekend period when visitors from Quito would normally arrive, so we shouldn’t have any issues.
Crossing the Equator
The ride was 137 miles, much of which was on the Pan-American Highway. Altitudes would reach 10,232 feet, or 3,119 metres. Often when we reach these kinds of altitudes it’s been on dirt roads with spectacular scenery, for example, Nevado Del Ruiz, and it certainly looks and feels like we’re at altitude. Today, in comparison, we were on a major road, and other than the temperature dropping, didn’t feel like we were high at all. The route takes us past mile after mile of rose plantations. Due to high wind breaks it’s impossible to see the roses but the grand entrances to the plantations leave us in no doubt as to what’s happening behind the barriers. Ecuador is the 4th largest producer of roses in the world. Millions of them are exported mainly to the US and Europe each year. At the side of the road vendors sell two dozen roses for $2 USD, or about £1.40 GBP. How much are two dozen roses where you live?
We’re riding south and approaching the equator. Fixated to the digits on the GPS, we watch as they slowly count down to N 00.00000 degrees. Altitude is 7,982 feet or 2,433 metres and it’s 15:18 on the 28th September 2017. We’re at the equator 🙂 But, wait a minute, where’s the monument announcing the existence of this virtual line around the earth? Here, there’s but a small red spot of paint at the side of the road which we assume was put there by the road builders. The “official” crossing of the equator would have to wait for another day. But we’re in the Southern hemisphere, first time ever for Steve.
As we approach and enter the outskirts of Quito, the traffic starts to build and the heavens open. The combination of traffic, torrential rain, road closures and subsequent detours makes for a pretty stressful ride. I did find myself swearing at Gladys, our GPS, rather a lot as we tried to navigate our way through the melee.
Breaking free of the outskirts of Quito we find ourselves on a well paved road that takes us to Mindo. Clouds are low, rain is in the air and there’s very little visibility in places and few photo opportunities. It’s also getting dark. Arriving at Mindo, Tigger is almost running on fumes because we didn’t buy fuel as we left Quito. I, wrongly, assumed there would be fuel on the way. Still, we’re here and debating whether it’s safe to leave Tigger parked on the street.
The photo of the GPS below is a good illustration of just how difficult it is to see in direct sunlight. This was the best shot I could get. For a full review of the GPS, and other gear we use, CLICK HERE.
Guesthouse Mindo was on our list of possible places to stay. The owners, Marco and Juanita, were absolutely charming and assured us that it would be safe to park Tigger on the street. Mindo is “muy tranquilo” (very calm) they told us, no need to worry. OK, we’ll stay. Marco and Juanita have a lovely guesthouse, are incredibly welcoming and go out of their way to help out if they can. For example, Janette fancied pizza for dinner, Juanita walked us into town to show us where the best pizza in town could be had. It was closed, so she walked us to the next best place. She could have just told us the name and given directions but Juanita went the extra mile, in this case, quite literally. At $14 USD, £10.60 GBP, per night, Guesthouse Mindo was a bargain.
Having had a somewhat lazy day after we arrived in Mindo we decided we’d better get off our backsides and get some exercise. The entrance to the forest park was about five km, three miles, away and we decided to walk. It was uphill pretty much all the way. There are a number hiking trails at the park and we picked the one that would take us to see the waterfalls. The trail started, not at the entrance to the park but across a forest filled valley that we’d traverse by means of a tarabita. Basically, a steel cable is suspended from one side of the valley to the other. A steel cage is suspended from the cable on rollers. A second cable is attached to the bottom of the cage and is used to pull it back and forth over the valley, in places skimming the forest canopy. The means of propulsion is an old Nissan pickup engine and gearbox. The brakes from the pickup are used to slow and stop the cage at each end. It’s maybe half a mile from one side to the other and the feeling of flying over the forest canopy is great fun.
The trail is well worn and winds its way up and down the mountain following the path of the river that gives rise to the waterfalls. In places the way is steep and we need to resort to clambering on hands and feet. We visit five waterfalls in total, each of which is pretty enough, but individually not particularly spectacular. The forest is hot and humid, everything feels damp. Walking is hard work in this humidity and staying hydrated is vital. The constant sound of unseen insects and birds fills the air and sub-tropical plants and flowers line the path.
The return walk was interrupted by a couple of breaks. A chap had set himself up at the side of the road selling caña de azucar or sugar cane water. He had a manually operated machine for crushing the sugar cane to extract the juice. A little lime juice would be added to slightly temper the extreme sweetness and the resulting drink was incredibly refreshing. Of course we had to have a go on the machine 🙂
The second break was at a property on the edge of the forest to see hummingbirds. The owners of the property put up sugar water feeders to attract these beautiful creatures. We’ve seen hummingbirds on numerous occasions but we never cease to be amazed at how they hover and dart from place to place. For such small birds they’re incredibly territorial and aggressive towards each other. The property had a small cafe where they sold fresh fruit drinks which we enjoyed whilst watching the birds. We’d been there for maybe half an hour when the couple running the cafe announced that they were closed and they were going home. But we haven’t paid for our drinks. Oh, don’t worry, just put some money in the donation box and stay as long as you want. Brilliant.
We’d certainly got some exercise. By the time we returned to the guesthouse we’d walked sixteen km, or ten miles, in the humid conditions. The refreshing shower was most welcome.
Video – riding the tarabita near Mindo
Video – hummingbirds at the sugar water feeder near Mindo
The three B’s
Our legs still aching from yesterday, we set off on another walk. This time to the butterfly farm about 3.5km, 2 miles away. We’ve seen lots of butterflies in the wild but they’ve been extremely difficult to photograph. Hopefully, the butterfly farm would offer easier opportunities to get some photos. At least that was the plan. At $7.50 USD, £5.68 GBP, each, we thought it was a little expensive for Ecuador.
There’s a short, maybe five minutes, guided tour of the farm which explains their work there. After that we were left to make our own way. There’s no shortage of butterflies and taking photos is much easier than in the wild. It’s almost as if these beautiful creatures have become used to humans and allow us to get really close. Our favourite were the Morphos. Their open wings are a bright electric blue. However, the moment they land they close their wings and present a somewhat dullish brown appearance. We spend a fruitful couple of hours in the farm and come away with some nice photos of the multitude of species here. Mission accomplished.
The same evening we go to the quinoa restaurant. Quinoa is supposed to be a super food, whatever that is. It’s rich in some vitamins and minerals, fine, but I’m not sure how that alone makes it a super food. The Mishqui Quinde, sweet hummingbird, restaurant has a purely vegetarian menu and almost every dish has quinoa as a core ingredient. I’m usually disappointed by vegetarian restaurants. The food is often bland and they don’t serve beer. This is not true of the rather splendid Mishqui Quinde restaurant. We both choose burgers and there’s a fine selection of artesanal beer. The décor and atmosphere are both great. What an unexpected treat. Certainly a change from some of the challenges Janette often faces as a vegetarian.
So, in one day, we’d enjoyed Butterflies, Beer and Burgers – the three B’s 🙂
Our last day in Mindo and Steve has his best meal in Ecuador so far. Looking for something typical of the region for breakfast, Marco at the guesthouse recommends Tigrillo and the Bio Mindo restaurant as the best place to get it. Half expecting there not to be anything vegetarian on the menu, Janette has some granola at the guesthouse. We find the restaurant still setting up for service at 09:55. This is the second time we’ve gone out for breakfast only to find that service doesn’t normally start until 10:00. Surprisingly they had pancakes and fresh fruit on the menu. Although she’d already eaten, Janette couldn’t resist.
Tigrillo is a meal of two halves. Chicken in a thick tomato sauce with peppers and onions is accompanied by a potato layer thing, again with vegetables, and topped with a fried egg. Both could have been served independently and I’d have been happy. All delicious and accompanied by fresh coffee and fresh blackberry juice. We both left completely stuffed 🙂
At the start of this post I said we’d arrived at Mindo practically running on fumes. Well, fortunately, I was able to ride alone, very slowly, to a fuel station not too far down the road and fill up. Janette hates to push and was mightily relieved we were able to leave Mindo without incident.
Until the next time.
Saludos, Steve and Janette
A few more bonus shots from Mindo 🙂