A Beautiful Place in a Crazy World

Mindo is a quiet town in the mountains with a growing tourism industry. It’s sleepy-quiet, and always adorned with wispy clouds in the surrounding hills. It is the cloud forest, after all, and we came to see the birds and butterflies and to do a bit of hiking.

My sister Kelli and I came to Mindo last year but it took us a ten hour bus fiasco. Shay and I made it in two from Quito and called Julia, one of the host moms for volunteers of Venaecuador, a volunteer organization I work with. She set us up with a clean hostel with a balcony and a view of the elementary school’s basketball courts, and agreed to take us bird watching in the morning. We hitched a ride up to the zip lining course and got a better view of the area; zooming by us. Also a déjà vu of my trip with Kelli, this time the guides weren’t as enthusiastic and Kelli’s screams weren’t echoing through the canyon so overall it was a bit less exciting, but I did feel myself overcome by a huge grin as I realized: “I’m zip lining through the cloud forest!”

We caught a ride down the hill with a Swiss who was checking out the place to see if his adventure touring company should add it to its itinerary. Not a bad gig! We walked along the river toward the Mariposario (butterfly garden) and saw a few groups tubing on the rapids. Shay decided she’d like to return earlier in the day when the butterflies are more active so we just hung out in the garden and watched the dozens of hummingbirds fight over whose turn it was at the feeder. Back in town we met a young U.S couple who had sold their homes and are retired and living in Euador off of renters in Colorado. They agreed to go birding with us (we were running low on cash and the ATM in town wasn’t working, so they split the cost) and we went to get brownies at a cocoa farm/hostal/bakery.

I had never been bird watching with a guide (other than Shay) and had a great time! It’s really exciting! We started at 6 and saw a Rufous Motmot before leaving town. It has a shiny blue body and a bright orange head, and I got a shot of it perched with a hummingbird flying by. We saw some scarlet tanagers and some finches on nearby fences, and then Julia pointed out a parrot about half a mile away!  I was proud to see one pretty far away that she couldn’t identify at first, but decided it was a road-side hawk. Walking up the hill we stopped for a half hour at a small valley where we saw our first green toucanet. In the large trees behind we saw several more toucans and a green and red quetzal really close. Here it was like an I Spy book with the green birds in the green trees and the leaves hanging down like they’re perched on branches. Looking for movement proved the easiest way to see what you think you’re seeing, and Julia had a 5000x telescope that made the birds look like they’re inside your house.

We saw another flock of Toucans and then some very fruit-loopy Acaricari very close up before ending our hike at a cable car ride across the canyon. Being wet and mountainous, Mindo has several beautiful waterfalls. We rode across and started a hike to the largest, Cascada Reina. Very avid birders, we took a couple hours slowly taking in all the movement surrounding us. We also share a passion for photography that coyly becomes competitive, so we had a great time spotting lizards, hummingbirds, shiny bugs, and the wonder of nature that any young imaginative kid would pretend to explore. We crossed rickety bridges and waded in the water with our shoes off. It was a lovely hike!

Working our way back up we were determined to hit up the other side of the waterfall hike. When Kelli and I came here, it was toward the end of our journey and we were adamant to fully inhale and savor the tranquility of this waterfall hike. One waterfall, Nambillo, we had climbed around and played our childhood creek game “poohsticks” and promised each other that someday we’d return. The cable car stopped operating at 4pm and we weren’t sure they would wait for us, so I started walking faster and expected Shay to keep up. Nearing 3pm, we had been hiking for nine hours on one liter of water between us! My nostalgia became a near-frantic effort to celebrate our promise. I started to feel bad for slave-driving Shay, but we made it to the falls with plenty of time to spare. I looked at how similar the falls were, thinking how much has happened in my life and Kelli’s life and Shay’s life in the last year. Such a serendipitous return to such a specific place, so far away from home, yet so special and symbolic to two wonderful, shared adventures, inspired a realization of the permanence of nature and the permanence of memory in comparison to the mercurial moment.

We made it back to town at 5pm, after 11 hours of hiking, exhausted and thirsty. After long brain-freezes from too avidly downing cold water, we took a nap, got a pizza, and met with a volunteer from Seattle named Temple. He told us that on the one day coup d’etat there were Colombians robbing tourists in the sleepy town of Mindo at gunpoint. Despite its peaceful, calming beauty, we can even make Mindo a rough place in a crazy world.

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