With something as intense as the month-long, sleep-depriving TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course that my friends and I were taking, the only thing that helped maintain our sanity was having fun with the very limited free time we had. Still, my fellow teachers and I couldn’t go very far for diversion, given that we only had Saturdays and Sundays off. Thankfully, Mindo was a short drive away.
We were on a westbound bus for just a couple of hours when it rolled into Ecuador’s Chocó Bioregion on the final Saturday morning in September, 2007. Immediately, I could feel the tranquility of Mindo, which was surrounded by lush cloud forests. As we lugged our backpacks through the pueblo’s weathered streets, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and calm everything seemed to be. It was a drastic change from the constant onslaught of car alarms, honking horns and loud engines that I was accustomed to in Quito.
After we arrived at our lodge and unpacked, my friends and I piled into Andy’s (our Language Corps Advocate and acting guide) poor excuse for a truck and headed towards the zip lines. Sitting in the rear, driver’s side corner of the bed, I felt every bump, ditch, rock, and pothole that Andy furiously drove over as we ascended the winding dirt roads through the cloud forest. The 15-minute, excruciating ride finally led to the canopy tour station.
I soon forgot about my bumps and bruises as the eleven of us flew through the thriving treetops of the comely cloud forest. The afternoon may have been overcast and a bit chilly, but the weather didn’t dampen our moods. While enjoying every second of the canopy tour, all of us successfully made it through the ten zip line stations, wishing there were ten more.
Just before dusk, our group then walked to Mindo’s mariposario, butterfly garden. There, we were able to see many hummingbirds come out and fade with the last few rays of sunlight. In addition, the owner gave us a nighttime tour, flashing and shedding his light on several insects and plants, while we slowly made our way around the small lagoon of the butterfly garden. Our tour finally ended with a concert performed by the many different types of frogs that resided in the mariposario’s pond. It was amazing to see (with the guide’s flashlight) and listen to the various kinds of ranas; the mixture of noises produced a sound that was truly unexplainable.
Sunday morning brought another painful pickup ride and visit to the bosque nublado. Be that as it may, we had only our legs to take us through the towering trees this time. While Andy and our local guide, Dani, explained everything there was to know about the cloud forest, I, along with many of my friends, took pictures of the vibrant vegetation, as well as the majestic views of the verdant valley that surrounded us.
The pacifying hike along the winding path culminated with a stop at la Cascada de Nambillo (Nambillo Waterfall), where most of us jumped off an 11-meter-tall cliff, into the gushing waters below. Although the rapids were freezing, the adrenaline rush was so addicting that some of us, including myself, had to leap for a second time. Lastly, the majority of our group went upstream from the cascade in order to go down a stone waterslide, which led into the shallow river. This descent, however, wasn’t nearly as fun as the cliff jumps, considering that my left leg grazed some large rocks as I entered the water.
The fun I had that day, or the whole weekend for that matter, made up for any injuries that were sustained. The worst part for me, in fact, was seeing that peaceful little town in the bus’s rearview mirror. It was depressing that we had to return to the capital so soon.