MINDO/QUITO 6th - 9th May (Heading North)
Bethyn, Katy (fellow volunteers) and I began our week off by travelling up to Quito in the hopes of connecting on to another bus to Mindo, a small cloud forest 2 hours out of Quito. However, our weekend didn't quite go to plan...
All was fine until we arrived in Quito after the 9 hour bus ride and discovered that we'd just missed the last bus to Mindo for the night but when we asked around at the bus station someone suggested that perhaps if we went to the other bus terminal (Quito has three) there may still be buses leaving from there. So we quickly bought tickets and took the hour long bus across the city to the other bus terminal only to discover that there were no buses to Mindo from there either. It was time to put our 'big girl' pants on and get ourselves a place to stay for the night as well as ring the hostel in Mindo and inform them that we would not be arriving until the next day (or so we thought).
Thankfully, we found a place to stay near one of the main streets in the Old Town of Quito and got ourselves some dinner on La Ronda in a strange restaurant/bar/disco place. We went to sleep in the hopes of getting to Mindo the next morning. Luck, it seemed was not on our side as when we woke up the next morning we found out there had been a landslide (very common in Ecuador) and there was no pass to Mindo. Again, we rang the hostel in Mindo and informed them of our delay by another night... What was supposed to be 3 days in Mindo was looking like it was only going to be one.
We spent the day being annoyed by Quito's comparatively expensive taxis and food when we took a $5 taxi only to discover that the museum we wanted to go to was $8 each and nothing else was open. Let's just say we were not big fans of Quito that weekend. Especially since we are used to the smaller, cheaper, cleaner Cuenca which we now call Home.
Thankfully, the next day we finally caught a bus to Mindo. We were dropped on the side of the road in what felt like the middle of nowhere but crossed the road and started walking down a road towards Mindo (there was a sign thankfully). We were quite happy enjoying the peaceful walk down the road surrounded by lush greenery until a taxi drove past us and asked if we needed a ride, we nearly declined as we were content walking until the driver mentioned it was 7km to town and we realised there wasn't really much option.
When we finally got into the gorgeous little village of Mindo, the temperature was lovely and the Hostel was perfect for the one night we were going to stay. We had arrived pretty early and after putting our things down we quickly got down to making the most of the one day we had. First, we went to one of the many tourist agencies and organised to do a zip-line tour with 10 different lines through the forest. This took just over an hour and cost us just $20 with the options to fly superman or butterfly (upside down) as well! Enjoy the pictures below.
After the zip-lining we were pretty hungry so we found some lunch along the one main road. After lunch we headed back to the Hostel for a bit and booked a Chocolate Factory tour at one of the few famous chocolate factories that Mindo has. Once we'd booked that we went to the Info centre to find out what else we could do. Although the weather had turned pretty cold and wet we decided to catch the Tarrabita (cable car) across to where you can walk to some waterfalls. We didn't have much time before the Tarrabita closed so we just walked to the closest waterfall which was rather powerful and pretty.
By the time we were back it was still pouring with rain but we had our Chocolate Factory tour which was really relaxed and interesting. We got to participate in recreating the ritual that the Incans used to do when making chocolate. This involved roasting the cocoa beans and peeling the shells before grinding them until a paste started to form. We then used this paste to make a drink with boiling water, cinnamon, chili powder and honey. It was rather bitter and strong but an interesting experience and Katy quite liked it.
After the chocolate factory experience, we got to take home some of the shells to make cocoa tea and we bought a famous Mindo Brownie which we shared between us (it was super duper delicious by the way). We then quickly got a bite to eat at a sandwich place that had recently opened nearby.
The next morning we were up bright and early to catch the bus back to Quito. Thankfully, we got a relatively early bus back to Quito although it was still a hassle getting between bus stations and there was another landslide which again nearly stopped us from getting back but luckily the bus pushed through and we weren't back too late.
On the Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th of May we just had a chill couple of days in Cuenca.
VILCABAMBA 12th - 14th May (Heading South)
On the morning of Friday 12th May Bethyn, Katy and I commenced the second part of our week off. We chose to head south of Cuenca to a small village called Vilcabamba "where the balmy air is synonymous with longevity." (Lonely Planet)
We first took the bus to Loja and from there we caught another bus to Vilcabamba arriving around 1.30pm. The 'hostal' we stayed in definitely was a "backpacker's retreat" about 1km out of the main centre with gorgeous views, room, atmosphere and temperature. We got ourselves settled in our room - with the fortune of not having to share a bathroom due to the shared bathroom not being available and still getting it for just $12 USD a night. Outside our room was a patio with hammocks and a view over the bush.
We spent the afternoon enjoying the peace and exploring the Hostel. For dinner, we ate in the restaurant at Izhcayluma (name of the hostel) which served delicious food and had a wide range of food to choose from.
After dinner, we headed down to the bar for a couple of games of pool (which I suck at fyi) and enjoyed the 'not too hot, not too cold' temperature.
The next day we headed into town for breakfast at a place called Midas Touch which served scrumptious food for brilliant prices. After breakfast we wanted to explore a bit so decided to do the quick hike to a small spring called Agua de Hierro that the Lonely Planet guide recommended... only to find out that the spring was merely a trickle and really not anything special to walk 30 minutes for. Nevertheless, it was a nice walk and we walked back into town to try out the Juice Factory. By this time, it was about lunchtime so we went in search of another Lonely Planet recommended place which had apparently moved and thanks to Google maps and more walking we eventually found the place we wanted. This place was called Shanta's Bar and the owner had a pretty wicked moustache and the bar stools were saddles. It was in a beautiful quiet setting in the open air with a cactus garden around it. We enjoyed a scrumptious pizza before heading back to Izhcayluma for our massages that we'd booked the previous night.
That evening, we dined at the Hostel restaurant again as it was so yummy the previous night and continued down to the bar for a few more games of pool before heading to bed.
The next morning we checked out and got some breakfast at Midas Touch for the second time before getting the bus(es) back to Cuenca, arriving late sunday afternoon in time to get into bed nice and early for work the next day.
It was lovely to have a week off (even if it was a while ago now).