I woke up early this morning, 4:45, and couldn’t get back to sleep. A long wait eventually brought the morning, and after breakfast at the hotel, we headed downstairs to meet the driver, Fernando, who would be taking us to Mindo. There was a mixup with license plates – some vehicles in Quito are not allowed to drive during rush hour – so we had to wait for another van and another driver. While waiting, I checked out a few watches being sold by a vendor across the street from the hotel. They looked inexpensive and I asked about one in particular that liked. The man said, in Spanish, that it was $60. I told him that was too much, but he corrected me and said $16 (I’m realizing my Spanish is still terrible). A much more reasonable price. But when I tried to pay for it, he shook his head because I had misunderstood again. It was only $6! It will likely only tell me what time it is in Taiwan, where it was made, but I’m okay with that.
The drive out of Quito was hair raising. Fast, dangerous, busy, every car gunning for an inch of space. More than fun.
On the outskirts of the city, we stopped at a museum that features exhibits on the aboriginal people of the area (real shrunken heads included!) and a fairly extensive ‘interactive’ display of Equatorial trivia. One of the most popular topics: how water flows down a drain in one direction in the Northern hemisphere, and the opposite direction in the Southern hemisphere. It’s popular because you can see it proven right there. But that widely accepted “fact” is actually not true at all, never has been. I learned about the Coriolis effect years ago, and that the drain story is one of the most commonly believed myths in the world. But even here, at the museum, they had a demonstration to show it’s “true”. When the museum guide started setting up the water basins, I didn’t feel good about it. I resented someone trying to dupe me, and I was disappointed that a museum would perpetuate the myth for tourists instead of explaining why it wasn’t true (there’s good science as to why it’s not true!). Watching closely, I caught the trick (it’s all in how the water is poured into the basin). Fernando, our own guide, then explained that the museum is not even located on the equator, which was a few hundred meters to the North! The scam can be done anywhere.
We drove on, along the winding, bending, twisting roads of the Andes mountains to the town of Mindo, up in latitude, down in elevation, at 5000 feet (1500m). The road driving there was great, with switchback after switchback, the hills densely packed with tall trees and jungle vines, the sun a patchwork across them. I could almost feel the beauty of this country.
Mindo itself is tiny, with dirt roads strewn with pot holes deep enough to swim in. The store fronts were weathered and ramshackle, something out of an old Spanish western.
The place we’re staying is just outside of town, the El Monte Lodge. Incredibly, we had to take a rope pulley system across the river that runs alongside it. There is a flat wooden seat to sit on while the staff pulls on the ropes to haul you across. One trip at a time, the bags, us, everything. The lodge is set in the middle of the jungle forest, huge cabins with thatched roofs at the side of the river. Clouds fill the tops of the hills here, the trees disappearing into them.
Before long we met the owner, Tom, and his nephew Matt. They’re from Mississippi! Wasn’t expecting that. Our guide for this area also has the name Fernando, just like our driver. Suspicious.
Lunch (with yucca fries) was delicious, with a toucan watching us from a tree by the river. Afterwards we suited up in rain gear to go for a hike around the area. It’s in every way a jungle. Epiphytes grow on the trees, Tarzan vines hang down from a high canopy. It was raining during the hike, something that was completely welcome. The area is full of plants with leaves the size of small cars and there are spiky trees and flowers that make me feel like I’ve been transported back in time about 80 million years. Although not everything is huge – Fernando spotted a tiny frog that he caught for us to see. Two of them could fit on a quarter.
Back at the rooms, I took a quick nap and had some much needed relaxation time. My back is sore again so I was pretty happy just to kick back for a bit.
The main lodge where the meals are served is large, set outside below high peaked roofs. Dinner with Tom and Matt was good, with lots of conversation. There were dozens of stories that came from all of us, though I think with our excitement about having just come from Galapagos, we might have dominated the conversation.
Back in the cabin Fawn spotted a beetle, a big one, that we decided would be best living outside for the night. We went for the catch-with-a-glass-and-postcard trick. Griffin soon saw another one – in my bed. A third showed up by Fawn’s bed, but that one got away. There was even one in Fawn’s luggage, also escaping us. A fifth is now nestled under the bathroom sink, along with a furry spider nearly the size of my hand. Anything that big deserves a name, so Fawn and the boys settled on Andreas. Andreas the spider, our roommate. And although we’re calling those bugs ‘beetles’ for the boys’ sake, let it be known that those critters, almost the size of mice, are cockroaches.
(March 14, 2012.)