...Dano picked up friends from Cuenca, Reg and Cherry, in Quito El Centro and they hit the road for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the town of Mindo, nestled in the 'cloud forest'.
But.....did they make it?
Yep. (Did I burst your bubble? Don't worry, there's more to come).
We passed Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world...aka 'The Equator'), waved at it, and continued on. The dry, dusty terrain around us gradually turned green and lush as I maneuvered the never-ending winding road. I finally noticed a pattern...turn right, then left, then right, then left, then right, then left....repeat, repeat, repeat.
We arrived at the small village of Mindo. Mindo is somewhat like Banos in that both have adventurous things to do such as zip-lining, river rafting, waterfalls, and hiking. But Mindo is also a draw for bird-watchers along with other novelties like the butterfly farm and chocolate factory(ies).
Our hostal 'Arasari' was just a few blocks out of town. It's a cute enclave of cabins, pool, jacuuzi, restaurant, and beautiful, manicured landscaping.
To come and go from the property, we had to drive across a river which had recently overflowed and damaged the road.
|Notice the pedestrian bridge on the left. It was actually reconstructed after the river wiped it out...this time, a bit higher. |
Did OSHA approve this?
After we settled in, we drove back to the town center to see what was what. We had a nice trout lunch in a little hole in the wall, then went to find the 3 things we went to Mindo for:
1. Butterfly farm
3. Chocolate factory
We really didn't know if there was only ONE butterfly farm and ONE chocolate factory to go to, so when we found one we stopped and went in.
Turns out the butterfly and humminbird stop was all in one place. We paid a $5 entry fee and the proprieter walked us through his 'farm'. First off were the orchids. "DON'T TOUCH!!" we were told. The first orchids we encountered, I had never seen before. It was if they were hanging by strings much like those beaded curtains we used to cordon off a doorway back in the 1960's/1970's hippie days.
The 'guide' walked us to the next flower he wanted to show us. "Orchid", he said. Then to another type of orchid. "Orchid, he said". We started giggling because he kept this up. Yes, we KNOW it's an ORCHID!!! Then we started pointing at things...anything....and saying "Orchid".
Then he pulled back a flap and we entered into a large netted area where all the butterflies were. First, he showed us the various stages of becoming a Mariposa (butterfly). The eggs looked like large granules of pepper. The larvae looked like slugs, but were dry and fuzzy to the touch. The cocoons were pinned to horizontal sticks, many of different sizes (stages) and colors. Some looked like earrings! Then, we roamed the tented area and tried to take pictures of all the exotic types of butterflies. Damn things kept moving!!!
|The larvae. Approx 5" long.|
|Reg said this is the 'Owl Eyeball' butterfly. Some of them were about 5" wide/tall.|
We found the primary chocolate factory in town, but couldn't get to it as road crews had the streets accessing it blocked off. We went to another one outside of town but it was closed. Waaagghhh....no chocolate!!
After we did all that, we went shopping for snacks and booze.
We were wondering where all the activities were launched from as we didn't see any signs around town pointing the way. A guy told us it was the road that goes directly by our hostal. When we headed back to our hostal, I was curious. Ahhh...a sign (finally). It pointed STRAIGHT AHEAD. That's what I did. It put us on a 1-lane, two tire-track "road" and I immediately thought it was odd THIS would be the way. In a short distance we drove through a private gate and quickly decided this was not THE road, so I turned around. As I passed through the gate again, my front left tire found a hole. A big hole. Kerplunk we went...half of the front end down in the hole and the butt of the car sticking up in the air. Three tires were engaged with tierra (ground) but one rear tire was in the air. I stuck it in 4WD but it didn't do any good because once one wheel doesn't have traction, all 3 of the others stop trying. A lotta good my 4WD did!!!!
So, Reg and I were two men standing in the rain (Cherry stayed in the car filing her nails) trying to engineer a method to get the car out of the hole. Two men coming up with wild-ass ideas. Nothing worked.
Finally a young man came by on his motorcycle. The 3 of us tried lifting up the front end but no deal. I asked if him he had any friends nearby. He said he would go get them. A few minutes later he came back on his motorcycle with a young kid on the back. We thought...a lotta good he's gonna do!! But, seconds after they arrived, 3 other men came walking down the road...the friends the guy went and got! They examined the situation and came up with nothing. I suggested we could still lift the front-end up (and make the airborne back tire engage with the ground) now that we had 5 guys. One of the guys piped up and asked what kind of 'propina' (tip) would I give them? Hmmm....did that mean they wouldn't have helped us if we didn't fork up $$$? I said '$20 dollars'.
I put Cherry at the helm of the gas pedal. The lifting almost didn't work but after we kept rocking it we got a bit further and further until my car was back on firm ground. I paid out the 20 bucks and everyone was happy.
Back at Arasari.
You have to ask the front desk to turn on the jacuuzi for you in order to have it pre-heated in time for use. I gave them a 2 hour lead. Meanwhile, the 3 of us sat on Reg and Cherry's front porch and munched on junk and enjoyed our cocktails. Then we hit the jacuuzi under the night stars and backlighting of the landscape. The bubbles were great but the temp was somewhat mediocre.
|A raised area of game tables.|
In the morning, we had a nice breakfast in the outdoor/covered restaurant. We had noticed while driving around the past day, there were a significant amount of LARGE dogs roaming town. I mean HUGE!! The co-proprieter of Arasari told us a lot of people from the Quito area dump their dogs in Mindo hoping someone will take care of them. She lets them hang out on the grounds and crash in the restaurant because they are all very sweet and she knows they'll get scraps from customers, plus she feeds them leftovers customers leave behind. There were a few friendly kitty-kats, too.
Cherry and Reg planned to take a hike to waterfalls. I chose not to as my knees had been giving me a lot of trouble and I didn't relish the thought of walking in a humid environment. We found the CORRECT road to go up to where all the activities originate and, let me tell you, that STUPID sign to go straight ahead was WRONG!!! You have to turn Right!!! GRRRRRR!!!!!
I decided to explore (uh-oh). I continued up the single-lane road we had been on to see what I'd find. Nothing much, but it was pretty.
I noticed an ABS brake light illuminated on my panel, but it was dimly lit and my brakes were working fine. I plodded along. Hmmm...now my air bag light was illuminated. My instincts told me to turn around and head back towards civilization lest I get caught up in the middle of the mountains (aka 'nowhere') and break down.
About half way down the mountain, past the point where I dropped off the gringos, I stopped to take photos of a cool house under construction with dramatic views over a deep valley. I left the car running.
My mind raced though thoughts of how I was going....ooops...we were going to get back to Cuenca, what would happen to my car, the tow bills, etc etc.
Along came a guy in a beatup pickup truck and asked if I needed help. Apparently, he's an informal taxi driver who shuttles people up and down the hill to all the adventure activity stops. I told him what had happened. He offered to take me to a mechanic he knew in town. I hopped in and he moved his adorable 3yo son over to sleep in his lap while bumpety-bumping all the way down the hill.
We drove to his mechanic and he told him my problem. We waited about 20 minutes for the mechanic to finish what he was doing. He threw his tools into the back of the truck and hopped in himself and away we went back up the hill. When he arrived, he knew immediately what the problem was. A wire leading to the alternator had corroded badly and eventually broke, therefore the alternator was not charging the battery. He took the battery out of the drivers car and put it in mine and put my dead battery in his and got it kick-started. My car started.
Down the hill and back to Arasari and I parked my car. The mechanic and driver followed me and subsequently extracted the alternator from my car to take to his repair shop. Mind you, this is Saturday afternoon and we were slated to leave Mindo for Banos the next morning.
I told 'my driver' I was slated to pick up my friends up on the hill when they got back from their hike, but obviously I couldn't do that now. I gave him $20 for all the driving around he did and got his phone number. When Reg called me to come pick them up, I told him the predicament, but had a friend who would be coming to get them. Then, I called my driver and told them they were ready to be picked up. I told them to look for two gray-haired and very tired looking gringos. When he arrived, he spotted them immediately. My driver, his son, and Reg and Cherry all crammed into the front seat of a Datsun pickup...with stickshift. The 3yo sat in his dads lap as they drove back to town, honking the horn to notify people coming up the hill someone was coming down the hill.
We had dinner at Arasari's restaurant as it got dark. I was worried the alternator might not get fixed in time. Soon, it was getting late. I wondered where the mechanic and my driver were. Come to find out, they were out in the parking lot, in the rain, in the dark, reassembling my car with only his tools and a lightbulb connected to a bare wire clamped to the battery. I went out and helped in the effort and got my fancy LED flashlight out to assist the surgeon. In short time, everything was back to normal. I thanked them profusely for their efforts. All total, the cost of this drama came to about $100.
Sunday morning, the car started fine. But, no air conditioning. I figured a fuse might have been blown when the cable wire broke, but couldn't find any fuse that looked bad. Oh well, the worst case was driving back to Cuenca without AC.
Off we went, headed for Banos. Buh-bye Mindo!!!
Turn right, turn left, turn right, then left, then right, then left....it was dizzying. But, somehow, the trip out of Mindo seemed to take less time than when we first came in.
About 5 hours later, we arrived in Banos and checked into our hotel 'La Posada del Arte'. I hadn't stayed there before but Reg and Cherry had. It's a huge house with an odd layout, but charming with lots of colorful art everywhere. The dining room was beautifully outfitted with cobalt blue plates made by the famous Ecuadorian ceramic artist Eduardo Vega. Later that evening, the staff built a nice wood fire in the stone fireplace. LPDA has a rooftop deck and many rooms have balconies where you can sit and enjoy the view of the waterfall just a block or two away.
|Looking down (from the rooftop) to the patio between the main house and the annexed addition.|
We stopped in to Banos to stay the night because it would break up the long (10+ hours) drive back to Cuenca from Mindo. All of us had been to Banos before, so we didn't feel the necessity to go check out the scene. We had dinner at a relatively new Italian restaurant then crashed in our rooms.
Breakfast at LPDA was different than the norm. Usually, when breakfast is included, it's just fruit, bread, juice, coffee. But, we could order anything from the menu so we all had huevos rancheros!
After breakfast, we hit the road again. But, before the trip, I had read about an adventure activity center in Banos that I'd had never heard of before, and it was on our way out of town, so I took a short jaunt off the highway to check it out. In a short distance there was a beat up old single-lane bridge that crossed a gorge. Cherry didn't want me to drive across it, but soon a bus came along and it didn't plunge into the gorge, so I figured if the bus can do it, so can I!!!
But, before crossing, I parked the car and walked over to the gorge. OMG!!! The river below had been cutting into the narrow rock-sided gorge for so long it had made a deep cut. Both sides of the gorge were solid rock and narrow, so the water was really making a scene crashing through the tight passage.
|Reg contemplates Cherry's $1 million dollar life insurance policy.|
|The river is about 100 feet down!!|
Check out this video!!
We drove home (w/o AC) to Cuenca and arrived in the late afternoon and our 'girls' (3 dogs) were delivered to us by their caretaker.
Cuenca - Riobamba - Quito - Miami - Quito - Mindo - Banos - Cuenca....in 10 days.
...NOT To be Continued...
HOWEVER....do tune in again soon as the next few subjects I'm going to write about is our Presidential election (voting tomorrow) and 'was that approved by OSHA?'. Won't it be interesting to see how they (presidential candidates) go about campaigning, how long, who gets to run/who doesn't, and how the winner is determined? You might be surprised. Will the winner be the person with the goat that produces the most milk? The one who can bead a necklace the fastest? Or, the one who can eat a whole cuy (guinea pig), bones, feet, face, skin, and tail included in less than 90 seconds?
Y'all come back now, ya'hear???