Ecuador, Day 11. Exploring Mindo.

It feels like we’ve been gone a long time, that traveling is becoming our new normal. This absence of responsibility is starting to appeal to me. How can I make this my full time job?

Breakfast this morning at 8 and then a 3 minute walk to a butterfly farm down the road. This was better than we expected, with about 20 species of butterflies (plus a dog) in a large room behind mesh curtain doors. A quick educational tour to start, and then we were free to roam. The boys took to the Owl-Eye butterflies immediately. Not only is there an image of an owl’s eye on its giant wing, but also the unmistakable head of a snake. The butterflies didn’t mind being picked up when goaded with banana, and there were easily more than a hundred of them in the room, flying free, often landing on us.

Just outside the butterfly area was a gift shop (you want butterfly bookmarks, gift cards or mugs? We got ’em.) and a walkway where they had mounted a series of hummingbird feeders. What shifty little birds they are. Note the second photo below was taken by Griffin.

Back to the lodge with some free time before lunch. We’ve had quite a bit of spare time these last couple days and that’s fine with me. It’s given me a chance to take some photos of the lodge and this incredible area we’re staying in. I should probably be working out but I’m finding my sore back an adequate excuse. Massage will be a priority when I get back. (Note our cabin nestled in the jungle in the second photo below.)

After lunch, Oakley, Fawn and I went with Fernando up the road (again, this crazy road) and stopped to walk a few hundred metres in the POURING rain to a cable car that runs over a deep valley. The rain falls heavily here, straight down, and sounds completely different on the jungle forest. The leaves are broad and hard and heavy and it sounds not like trees, but a giant, loud tent. The cable car was fun. Run by a car motor, complete with gas pedal and clutch, the basket is a rickety metal cage that rattles like a set of dentures. The view spanned distances of hills and valleys, the sides of the Ecuador mountains. The speed of the cable car had the rain streaming sideways, soaking us completely, but we agreed it was even better that way. Only 2 minutes over and 2 minutes back, it was over in a moment. Good thing it was $2 and not the $20 I expected because I misinterpreted the Spanish. Again.

Walking back we saw one of the area’s (and continent’s) most venomous snakes, a Fer-de-Lance. This one, however, posed no threat. It was a baby, barely 8 inches long and had unfortunately been run over by a car. Still alive, it opened it jaws to attack when Fernando touched it with a stick. It had a large triangular head, and even injured and small, looked completely threatening.

Back to the cabin to change, Griffin and I headed out for tubing on the river that runs through the lodge property. Alaya, her dad Matt, and Other Matt, who works at the lodge, came with us. We were a little worried as it had been raining all day, the river was high, and there was a crack of lightning about 2 minutes before we left. Recipe for disaster. Or fun. Either one.

Down at the river, we suited up in life jackets and helmets and jumped on. 6 giant tubes were lashed together with ropes and everyone got on the raft together with 2 guides. As we suspected, the river was fast and high with the rain and we shot down the rapids, simply holding on. The guides were incredible, guiding the tube-raft through the current, steering it between rocks. Clearly though, the river was faster than usual and they sometimes shouted at each other frantically. Twice they fell out and clung on to the sides, trying to get back in. We often went over rocks we were supposed to go around, clearly out of control, and water splashed up and over us as we were bounced around in the current. It was constant and fast, with deep dips and sudden thrusts upward. At one point the raft simply folded in half and Missouri Matt and I cracked our helmets together. A few moments later a sudden slingshot nearly tossed me right out. Near the end a huge pointed rock sat in the middle of the river, obviously an obstacle to go around, but we came to it so fast that the raft went up and over it, folding and twisting, falling again down the far side. Overhanging tree branches were another constant hazard, and we were always ducking to avoid them. The river was long, 3kms (1.8mi), and by the end we were madly adrenalized, laughing and shouting about it like we were the first ones to make it through alive.

After the cold water of the river, I took a hot shower and headed down to the main lodge for a beer and a relaxing fire before dinner. Damn fine.

(March 16, 2012.)

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