I arrived in Mindo on Monday afternoon. In order to get to Mindo, which is two hours west of Quito, from Otavalo, you have two choices. You can take the same bus back to Quito that you came to Otavalo on which takes you to the Carcelen bus terminal in Quito. Unfortunately, you can’t get a bus to Mindo from that terminal. So you have to take a taxi to La Ofelia terminal or… You can take a different bus from Otavalo to Cayambe about halfway to Quito, wait for a bus that goes to La Ofelia and then connect to a bus that goes to Mindo. That’s what I did. Also, if you take a bus from the new airport, you have to go to the old airport and then take a taxi to a different bus terminal to go anywhere else. I’m not sure why you have to go to the old airport since it isn’t operating. But you do.
None of the bus terminals I’ve seen are enclosed buildings. Here’s the bus terminal at La Ofelia. At least it’s covered from rain. The others I’ve seen are just open lots or street corners. A bus will pick up anyone that flags it down anywhere along the highway and will drop anyone off anywhere they want, as well. So far, I haven’t spent more than $2.25 for a two hour bus ride. The rate is approximately $1 per hour.
I left Otavalo at 11:30 and arrived at La Ofelia in Quito about 1:45 after changing buses in Cayambe. The next bus to Mindo was at 4pm. Arrived in Mindo about 6pm and was dropped about a block from my hostel. It’s the Hostel Caskaffesu. I believe this is the nicest hostel I’ve stayed in anywhere. It’s $16 a night.
It has a restaurant that serves dinner and a nice courtyard and Wi-Fi in the courtyard and restaurant but not in the rooms.
This was my room.
It had a private bath and hot water. What only my room in the Galapagos had that none of these have is a TV. Which wouldn’t do me any good anyway since it’s all in Spanish. There’s also no heat in any of the hostels I’ve stayed in and air conditioning only in the Galapagos. All of the other locations have been at 4,000 feet or better so you need blankets.
Monday evening I met a 29-year-old Israeli, traveling on a German passport and living in Scottsdale, AZ. We hit it off so on Tuesday he and I went to the Mariposas de Mindo, a butterfly farm. It’s a little smaller than the one I’ve visitedt in Niagara Falls, Ontario but we actually got to see a butterfly come out of it’s cocoon as a butterfly. They had lots of interesting butterflies.
What I enjoyed more was the 20-30 hummingbirds that were working on feeders just outside the butterfly farm. I spent about a half-hour shooting pictures and then went back Thursday with my long lens to shoot some more.
After the butterfly farm, we stopped at a roadside restaurant with one table and some bamboo swings in front of the counter. I had a veggie burger and some Mora juice. That’s blackberry juice with a little sugar. The mora ice cream is pretty good, too.
Tuesday, Aviv, the Israeli, had met a couple from Washington State on another tour and we all got together for dinner Tuesday night and decided that Wednesday morning we were going to this Reserve to see and hopefully, photograph the “cock-of-the-rock”. It is a very colorful bird and puts on this show every morning at 6am, rain or shine, to try and attract a female. In order to be in place at 6am, we arranged to have a taxi, a truck with a flatbed on the back, pick us up at our hostel and drop us at the beginning of the trail. We are told it will be muddy so we arrange through the hostel to borrow boots. We have headlamps and small halogen flashlights. It is totally dark. We get to the trailhead at about 4:30 and start walking. It’s about 5:45am when we get to the Reserve lodge where two volunteers live for 3-6 months at a time. From there it’s another 30 minute uphill climb. By the time I got to the location, I WAS WHIPPED. To add insult to injury, we saw two of these birds and through such thick tree branches that only one person got off a shot and about all you could tell was that it was red.
Sorry, no pictures of this event from me. My camera was safely packed away in my camera bag on my back while I tried to stay on my feet as we slid through the mud. The return trip to the road where another taxi was going to meet us in about an hour and a half was worse than the trip out because it was mostly uphill. There were places where the mud was so thick it nearly sucked your boots off.
When you start a trip like this you don’t expect everything to be perfect so I write it off as an interesting experience. I thought I’d earned a heart attack on this trek and, for a while, I thought I was going to have one! Luckily, I was back to normal in about 24 hours although my left knee didn’t bend to well the rest of Wednesday and into Thursday.
One of the other things that Mindo is known for is chocolate so last night I took a tour of a chocolate factory in town. We tasted cacao beans straight from the larger cacao shells. You suck on them and they don’t really have a chocolate taste. The beans are fermented and if they are going to make chocolate bars they leave the cocoa butter in it. If they are making cocoa powder the fermintation process separates the cocoa butter off. They’ll use the cocoa butter with some sugar, milk and vanilla and make white chocolate.
The fermented beans are laid out on a large screen on 2×4’s in a green house-type structure for several days. The redish-orange things on the right are peppers. They are trying a mixture of chocolate and pepper. Not to my liking. By the way, this is dark chocolate only. No milk chocolate in this process.
Then a fan separates the shell from the pure cacao. I tried some 100% chocolate. It is extremely bitter. You may have seen chocolate bars that say they are 85% or 77% or 67% pure. They add sugar to taste. Some lesser grade of dark chocolate has fillers added so Hersey’s Dark Chocolate isn’t pure.
Another product they have is BBQ sauce made of chocolate and ginger. Very tasty! They have a small restaurant there and I stayed from dinner. Pork chops with chocolate/ginger BBQ sauce. I couldn’t leave without a few samplesl The owner of El Quetzal, the chocolate company, is from Ecuador but has lived for a while in Michigan and he told me he speaks Spanish with an American accent. He also ask me if I’d heard of the scores from the first round of March Madness. I hadn’t so he pulled them up on his computer and we talked about the upsets. He has Louisville in his pool.
Tomorrow I had for Quito and the last days of the trip. I’ll be back in Dallas on Tuesday but won’t be back to work for another week.
More to come.