I know, I know. Where have I been? Well, I’ve been having fun and lacking internet at home, hence the brief hiatus. My apologies!
A few people have told me that, while they love to hear about my adventures, what they really want to read about is my normal life. Truth is, my “normal” life is filled with adventures right now. But I’ll try and pump out a blog this week about what a “regular” day is like from start to finish, here in the Andes.
Until then, let me tell you about my weekend in a cloud forest…
How do I capture the overwhelming green (green times a hundred) of the mountains? How do I describe what it’s like to take a bus through the Ecuadorian countryside, driving through clouds at 10,000 feet while forest and sky hug every corner of the surrounding landscape? How do I explain the nothingness of driving up, down, and around hills for two hours? Or the way fog meets forest in the distance but it all blurs when you drive through it? The landscape is so beautiful sometimes, it’s almost unreal. And yet, I should be getting used to living in the clouds by now, shouldn’t I?
A few of my friends and I took a bus out of Quito on Friday afternoon, just as the daily 3:30pm storm was about to drop out of the sky like a load of wet laundry. I was sitting next to my Irish coworker, Jen. Behind me was Clemence from Paris and Eli from DC. To my right, Desiree from Oregon and Libby from Ohio. I had a backpack full of stuff on my lap. There was little leg room and red fringe dangling all around me like I was stuck in some old woman’s lampshade. The guy in charge announced for everyone on the bus to guard their belongings (from each other?). We were headed to Mindo, on another Ecuadorian adventure.
The ride was mostly zig-zagging through hilly forest. As we got lower in altitude and closer to Mindo, the plants got more lush, more green, the leaves bigger, fatter… The smells heavier, and less mountain-crisp. When we arrived in Mindo, the first thing I noticed was the slightly warmer air. Ahhh, it felt so delightful to get out of the snappy mountain air when I’d been desperately craving summer!
The second we exited the bus, we were overcome with some sort of giddy jungle excitement. The tiny town was instantly delicious, and we couldn’t get over the strong flower smells and warmer air that snapped us right into vacation-mode (believe it or not, travel writing is actually hard work people!). We wandered down the main road and towards our hostel, La Casa de Cecilia, which cost us a whopping $6/night — walls not included.
When we found it, we were led up a tiny staircase and through a hatch-door in what was to be our bedroom floor. In we walked into a room with a bunch of bunk beds and barely any walls. I think this may have been the first time I had to sleep under a bug net (I actually don’t think this is true, but can’t remember where else I may have done this). Thank goodness for those nets though! I quickly saw some of the largest bugs I’ve seen in years. There were a few moments of panic when said bugs landed on friends or flapped frantically in front of our faces, but we knew we had our bug nets to protect us in our sleep. We even prepared for bed in total darkness each night, just to lessen the chances of either having large bugs in our beds, or — worse — seeing the ones that were already there.
We were giddy. Our bedroom was practically outside, in the forest, and little more than space separated us from giant flowers and moths the size of birds (that Darwin guy picked the right country). In every shared area, there were hammocks dangling between wooden beams. It didn’t take us long to realize we were very happy to be there, in Mindo.
On Saturday morning, after a delicious breakfast of eggs, bread and jam, freshly made pineapple juice, and arguably the best coffee (that doesn’t say much) that I’ve had yet in Ecuador (it was cloud forest coffee, local to the region, and organic!), we were headed to our first activity: hiking to waterfalls.
To get to the hike, we had to ride in the back of a pick-up truck 30 minutes through rugged dirt roads to a little hut, out of which an iron basket would take us high across the trees and to the beginning of the trails. We were joined by an extremely Russian Russian named Nikola (he said he was from Germany – lies), an awesome Swede with long, long dreadlocks and cool tattoos named Jacob, and his dad, who we later found out was very… fit. Hehe.
We let the men go first. Then it was our turn. Not gonna lie, I was unexpectedly nervous to get in that thing. However, I was wearing my extremely sexy EMS pants that unzip into shorts, so I felt unusually outdoorsy and well-outfitted for the occasion if we were to plummet into the trees. Five of us girls got into this tiny little basket, for lack of a better word, and there we were, floating across the forest a couple hundred feet above the ground, dangling from three questionable cables. I find that the older I get, the more I worry. As I yelped and smiled with joy, I admit that I did imagine, several times in fact, the cables just snapping and all of us tumbling to our deaths in the cloud forest of Mindo, Ecuador. Luckily, that didn’t happen and we made it across. Yes, I was relieved. But dangers like this one are just a part of living in South America.
We began our hike, which had its tricky moments, trudging through mud, getting whacked by large branches, witnessing interesting plants, and navigating slippery rocks. We got to see a few beautiful waterfalls, crossed a couple rickety and slippery bridges, and basically just savored the sunshine through the shade of large green leave as insects and birds chattered and screamed all around us. It felt very jungle-y. Very I’m-not-in-NYC-anymore. Very I’m-glad-I-bought-these-awesome-pants-that-turn-into-shorts. I loved it.
For a change of pace, we spent the afternoon chillaxing in hammocks, followed by a chocolate tour. I knew a week earlier that I would be going to on a chocolate tour, so let me just tell you… I was CRAVING chocolate like never before. We learned about cocoa plants and saw how cocoa goes from plant to plate. But really, for me, the tour sounded something like this: “Blah blah blah, chocolate, blah blah, chocolate, blah, blah, cocoa plant, blah, blah, and NOW YOU WILL GET THE CHANCE TO SAMPLE SOME OF OUR FABULOUS CHOCOLATE!” DING DING DING!!!! Oh yeah, I was excited. When they told us many people considered their brownies to be the best brownies in the WORLD, I was skeptical, curious, and intrigued, like I was about to meet some celebrity that I had imagined naked all week long. But mostly, I was salivating like a freakin’ dog in heat and I just needed some chocolate… fast.
By some miracle, I was the first to get served my chocolate brownie, along with a cup of hot chocolate to wash it down. Everyone looked at my brownie, wondering how it would taste. At that point, I didn’t care. I was going to eat the hell out of it no matter what it tasted like. I was DESPERATE for chocolate and couldn’t stand the anticipation much longer. I took a tiny corner of the brownie and put it in my mouth. It was strange: at first, it tasted so far from what I expected that I was confused. Even though I had been anticipating that moment for DAYS, it was… different.
And then it hit me: the brownie was fucking DELICIOUS.
I kept eating it, overwhelmed by the fudge and the chocolate, the cocoa flavors were heightened after all the talking, as if listening to a man talk about chocolate for an hour had elevated my brownie-devouring experience. It was like brownie yoga or something. I honestly don’t know how a brownie could taste better: it was the best brownie I have ever had in my life. Good work Mindo Chocolate.
There is little to do on a night in Mindo, so, logically, we signed up for the “Frog Concert.” Now, let me just say I was skeptical about this activity. My friends seemed into it, and there was no other option, so I agreed to go. Clemence from Paris has a fear of frogs (he he he he… ok sorry, sorry), so we decided this would be good for her. For some reason, she agreed.
The hostel told us it was a 10 minute walk up some dirt road. We began walking, and quickly managed to get lost. When we asked a couple of men in a bike-cart where we might find the “frog concert” they laughed in our faces and said they had no idea. Yep, we felt like gringa idiots. Luckily, a passing Ecuadorian woman and her gentleman friend overheard us, told us those two guys were Cuban and didn’t know what they were talking about, and the Ecuadorian guy proceeded to walk us the 30 minutes along some dark road to an even darker dirt path in the woods. We were then instructed to walk (in the dark silence) to the so-called frog concert from there. Ok then.
Luckily, he was right. We walked and walked and walked, and eventually came across a mass of people sitting on a little porch over a frog pond full of lilly pads, and we could hear constant croaking: we knew were were in the right place.
They distributed crappy wine, and after a lecture by a very cool and passionate frog expert, they turned out the lights. He used his cell phone to call the frogs and… they freakin’ responded! It was actually kind of awesome. Then, we formed a very long line and walked in total darkness through the woods, around ponds, listening for tree frogs, encountering frog-eating spiders (upon which a flashlight unfortunately shone several times), and some crazy bark that is covered in an organism which makes it glow in the dark! I know, cool right? All cool except for the gigantic freaky spiders… (Chill down my spine.)
On Sunday, we split into two groups: the ones who wanted to check out the butterfly (mariposa) farm, and the four of us who wanted to go on a canopy tour. I chose the canopy tour. Basically, we had to walk in our harnesses from one launching dock to another, from which we’d zip line across 13 different cables of varying lengths and speeds. I’ve gotta say, this was super fun. I had gone zip lining in Costa Rica, but that was a few years earlier. We were FLYING through the air. It’s a crazy feeling to be holding onto a little rope and launching yourself hundreds of feet in the air, barely missing palm tree branches as you cross the sky. Yes, it’s scary when you realize how easy it is for something to go wrong. But man is it thrilling to mess with those odds… It was beautiful.
The entire weekend in Mindo filled some hole that had formed in my Quito living, and it was wonderful. Everything, from the waterfalls, the forest air, the lush plants, the amazing floral scent, the tranquilo vibe, the friendliness, the frogs, the bug nets, the clouds, the rides in the back of a pick up truck… It all just made me feel that thrill of travel, that za-za-zoo excitement that I am where I want to be right now, doing what I’ve gotta do, living the adventures I daydreamed about during the 9-5 grind of my previous job, when I’d sit in a grey office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan knowing I didn’t belong there, but not sure how I’d get out… Or where I’d go…
I left out the story of how we almost collided head-on with a truck while I was standing up in the back of a pick-up, but instead the other car swerved and ran over a 50 to 60-year-old woman. Yeah, things suddenly went from thrilling to serious. I left out all the delicious trout we ate, and the friends we made, and the pillow talk we shared…
I guess not every story makes it into the blog. At least now you have a taste of some of the stories that are out there, zipping high above the trees in the clouds of Ecuador.
Here’s a song that just came on my random shuffle by the Be Good Tanya’s called The Littlest Birds. I think it perfectly wraps up my mood right now. And now, I shall go to sleep in my apartment in the clouds.
Night night, world.