Last weekend I took my first real trip outside of the Quito vicinity. I went to Mindo, a small town situated in the cloud forest, located about 2 hours northwest of Quito. Most of the other Oregon students and I all took a two hour bus ride from Quito. The landscape changed from being desert-like just north of Quito (where we crossed the equator) to farms to tropical cloud forest.
As soon as we arrived, we decided to do a hike. Getting there involved a taxi ride from the town and then a ride in a cable car across a valley. The view was incredible during the short ride. Then we hiked down into the valley to see the waterfalls. There were five on the trail we took. The cloud forest was interesting in that it had some very tropical aspects but wasn’t as hot and humid as a jungle. There weren’t all of the exotic animals and bugs that one would expect. However, the forest was very lush and green with vegetation. All of the waterfalls were beautiful and reminded me a bit of Oregon. The best wildlife I saw were the butterflies.
Afterwards we returned to the hostel and got ready for the chocolate tour at a tree-to-bar chocolate factory. The place was called El Quetzal. It was a very small operation that brought in raw cacao from local farmers and then did the whole process from fermentation to chocolate bars and cocoa powder. We got to see their operation. The tour cost $6, and I don’t think it was quite worth that much since it wasn’t all that exciting of an operation. It was a nice thing to see, though. We got to sample their special chocolate products at the end. Then we ate dinner at the restaurant linked to the chocolate operation. I had a pork chop with a chocolate barbecue sauce, and then one of the famous brownies. It was a bit of a splurge (for Ecuador prices) but worth it since I won’t have anything like that soon.
The next day we got up and had a leisurely morning and ate breakfast at the hostel. Our next stop was a butterfly garden, which ended up being quite a walk away. Once we got there, we entered. They hatch and grow many different kinds of colorful butterflies. It was interesting to see how the chrysalises of the butterflies were designed to camouflage in different environments: some looked like leaves and others like flower buds. I even got to put some banana on my finger and hand feed butterflies.
Afterwards we checked out and went for lunch. I had pizza for the first time in a long time. It was different than other pizzas I’ve had but descent. We looked into doing more after lunch but there didn’t seem to be that much more that we could do in the amount of time we had, so we decided to return to Quito on the 2PM bus.