Mindo, que Lindo!
When our few days in the rainforest came to an end, we headed back to Quito to resume our search for a Galapagos trip that wouldn´t break us entirely. After two long days of traipsing around the many travel agencies of Quito´s Mariscal district (known as ´gringoland´) and a world of pain trying to withdraw money from as many ATM´s that would give us it, we had a five day cruise booked for the following week through the Happy Gringo travel agency (the first and last agency we went to – they were excellent and the cheapest we found). It was great to have it finally sorted. To make the most of the few days we had to spend on the mainland before heading off, we took a bus to Mindo, about three hours north of Quito.
Mindo is only briefly mentioned in the guidebooks we looked at, but it really deserves more attention. We were advised to go there by a couple we met in Peru and we’re glad now that we took their advice. It´s a small town, really a village, in the middle of one of Ecuador’s cloud-forest regions that´s best known for it´s bird watching. After getting off the bus on the main road about ten kilometeres from Mindo, we got a lift in the back of a truck to the village (the main mode of transport in the area) and booked into Hostal Rubby, a fantastic guesthouse run by local bird watching guide Marcello and his lovely wife Norma. We were the only guests for the three nights we stayed so had the best room in the house, the loft room complete with three beds, two hammocks and windows looking out over the trees. It was great value at seven dollars each per night including breakfast. We ate lunch there most days too, three bucks for three tasty courses. The place is named after Norma’s daughter Rubby, a little girl of eight who has a severely debillitating syndrome which means she has limited mobility, no speech and a mental age of two. Although we weren’t able to communicate normally with her, Rubby made us welcome by pulling at our hair and playing around us. We felt honoured as Norma said she doesn’t interact with the guests at all unless she likes them. She’s a lovely little girl but has it hard living in Ecuador where there are very few facilities for kids like this. Norma mentioned that they are looking for a trained therapist to work with Rubby… if you know anyone in that field who would like to trade their skills for some free time in Mindo, they should get in touch.
Marcello has a reputation for being a really good bird watching guide and we´d hoped to do one of his early morning trips the morning after we arrived, but he´d been booked up a year in advance by a pair of specialists who had him for two full weeks, so we had to make do with another guide who wasn´t the best! We spent five hours walking around Mindo the following morning looking at birdies, but we were a little disappointed with what we saw. All wasn´t lost though, as we´d learned that there was an Ecuadorian-German couple who would allow you into their garden for a few bucks and bring you coffee or tea as you watched countless hummingbirds buzzing around the place. It was excellent – I´d seen some of these birds before but never close up, and they´re really entertaining to watch. After about three hours watching them, I knew it was time for us to go when I realised that the plastic bits were coming off my camera as the glue melted in the heat!
There’s lots to do in Mindo including white water tubing and swimming in waterfalls but the water was low when we were there so we chose to visit a butterfly farm and zipline course. We went to the see the butterflies first and again spent a lot more time there than we´d planned. Although it was small, the place was full of butterflies, some of which were nearly seven inches in width. They were really nice to watch, and one part of the farm had a hatching box where you could see the pupas changing into butterflies over the course of about ten minutes. They also had some other animals, mostly frogs and, for some reason, preying mantis´.
On our last morning, we decided to give the zipline a try. Of the two zipline courses, one is owned by a consortium of locals and the other by some Costa Ricans. We did our bit to support the locals and did their one and they were willing to give a bit off their price so that helped! There were ten lines to traverse and the whole thing was done in about 40 minutes but it was the best ten dollars I´d spent in a long time. The guides would spin you upside down and stick you in all sorts of funny positions as you zipped across the valley on a metal cable. I´d done similar things before and thought that I wouldn´t get much out of it, but it really was a rush and pretty scary too!
We only spent three days in Mindo, but it´s the kind of place you could spend a lot longer in. If you´re ever in Quito and looking for somewhere more tranquil to pass a few days, you could do a lot worse than hanging around with the birds and butterflies in Mindo.