On Saturday I was woken by the alarm at 6am and it took me a while to wake up properly and remember why I had actually set it! I was catching an early bus to Mindo, a small town in the Cloud Forest about 2 hours away. However, I first had to get to Ofelia bus station, which would take an hour, by my estimate.
Ana Maria was up and made me breakfast before I left and after a 20 minute walk to the bus stop and a ride to Ofelia, I arrived in plenty of time for the 8.20am bus. It took a while to leave Quito as, in true Latin American style, we had to stop and start until the bus was well and truly full and this meant that the conductor had to drum up custom at each stop. Eventually, we were on our way. We passed Mitad del Mundo and then drove out into the verdant mountains, with the road twisting and turning up and down some steep inclinations.
Apart from the locals and me, there were some very loud young Americans on the bus, who, luckily, must have fallen asleep once they had exhausted all their talk, as I couldn’t have listened to many more sentences with ‘like’ being every other word. Opposite me, there was a beautiful young local girl, who tried very hard to cook her baby under a polar fleece blanket. By the look of the baby’s head when she eventually decided to give it some air, she very nearly succeeded as it appeared well steamed!
On arrival in Mindo, it was not clear where to go, so I made my way along the main street, which seemed to be under some major re-development, to a tourist office. I was followed by a lady from the bus, who, it transpired, was from Finland. We ended up spending much of the day together, sharing a taxi to the Mariposaria (Butterfly House) and then to the Tarabita in the Cloud Forest.
She was in Quito, staying with a family, and undertaking some voluntary work in a kindergarten in South Quito (the poorer area), which she was finding quite eye opening. The children come from very impoverished backgrounds with little love and a lot of violence at home, so the kindergarten is a safe haven for them.
We first went to the Butterfly House, having arranged for the taxi to come back and collect us. Inside, we were surrounded by butterflies of varying sizes and colours and were also able to observe them emerging from their chrysalis’s.
Back in town, we had lunch at a cafe and then took a ‘taxi’ (4 wheel drive ute/pickup) to the Tarabita, which is a cage like contrapation, that whizzes over the treetops to the other side of the valley.
Once there, there is a walk through the forest to a cluster of waterfalls. Daya made it to the first one but decided not to venture further so I continued on my own. The track was very wet and slippery in places and there was a lot of climbing up and down but it was worth it, if only to go for a walk in the countryside. However, it was extremely hot and humid and I felt very sticky and dirty at the end.
The taxi returned to pick us up and once back in town, we parted company, she to check in to her hotel, and me to make my way to the chocolate factory, where I sat for quite some time over a cup of coffee and eating a piece of carrot cake. They do run tours but I would have missed the bus back to Quito if I had done one so just enjoyed some ‘musing’ time instead.
Afterwards, I had a brief walk in the town, watched some boys playing with inner tubes in the river and then made my way to the bus stop.
When the bus arrived, I discovered that my seat number didn’t exist and was directed to the seat beside the driver. I assumed this was normally meant for the conductor but was used for ‘over spill’. I had an excellent view, as long as I didn’t think about falling off my seat, down the 3 foot drop and out the open door! I was also able to observe the driver take his hands off the wheel to put on his tie or fumble in his pocket and his eyes off the road to talk to the conductor or play with his phone. Not only that, I could also see all the cars overtaking the bus on blind corners. It was quite an entertaining position to be in but, at one point, I did decide that it would be safer to wear the almost functional seat belt!
We made it back safely, without any mishap, and I then had the reverse journey from Ofelia to the house. Once there, I sat with Ana Maria over a cup of coffee and had a long chat about various topics, including politics and our life histories. Francisco and their grandson had gone to Emeraldas, so she was trying to enjoy some quiet time on her own (so far unsuccessfully). It was quite late by the time we went to bed.
Sunday morning was extremely relaxed. I didn’t go out until after 11am, at which time, I went around the corner to the transport office to buy my ticket to Lago Agrio for Monday and then caught the bus into the old town for breakfast at a bakery I have visited a couple of times previously. Their breakfast is excellent and I spent quite some time over it, watching the customers come and go with their purchases.
Afterwards, I walked up to the Plaza Grande and sat there for an hour or more, along with all the locals, observing the people. This square is always busy, but on Sundays, families, street vendors and every man and his dog seem to pass through, so it is very entertaining.
At Ana Maria’s suggestion, I had also planned to take the Hop on Hop Off tour bus, so once I decided I was getting a bit warm in the sun, (i.e. red nose) I went to find the bus stop in San Francisco Plaza, another beautiful square in the old part of town.
The bus took me first up the Panecella, where the large statue of the Madonna with wings, overlooks the city. I had originally intended just going there, but Ana Maria had had some guests, who had been robbed at knife point there a couple of weeks ago so I was a bit nervous about it. The bus stopped for half an hour so I was able to admire the view and then continue on for the rest of the tour. I didn’t hop off until the bus was back at the Artesanal Market, near the house.
Then, before going home, I ventured to the supermarket, which was absolutely packed with people with large trolleys full of goods, so it took quite some time to get through the checkout with my 6 items. I was stocking up on food for the next day or so as I have a 7 hour bus trip to Lago Agria, which, I am told, is a somewhat dubious town, so I will not be venturing out of the hotel before I join the tour group for the Amazon on Tuesday morning.