After returning from the jungle I joined Swee on a bus to a town called Mindo situated in cloud forest. We had awesome rooms in Casa de Cecilia hostel! Mine was up a ladder in the loft with no windows or doors so was completely open air meaning I could fall asleep listening to the river and birds in the garden. The hostel had hummingbird feeders, so as we ate breakfast we could bird watch…unfortunately they were far too fast for me to catch a good picture of them!
We took a chocolate factory tour which demonstrated how chocolate is converted from the Cacao plant to a chocolate bar. A really interesting tour and we got to eat the cacao fruit which has weird hard big seeds the size of walnuts that you suck on and we got to taste each step in the production process…and to top it off we got to eat a brownie at the end! We also visited a butterfly garden…which was extremely overpriced at $6, but gave us the opportunity to get up close to the most amazing and creepy butterflies I have ever seen – the owl butterflies. They were huge with a wing span of about 20cm!
We arose early one day to hike a series of waterfalls. We walked from town up a large hill where you catch an open cable cart to the mountain opposite to begin the waterfall trail. What I imagined would be a gentle forest walk ended up totally 40km by the time we had done the round trip! We earn the burger we had for dinner that night!
I left Mindo with a Canadian called Sean who was staying at the same hostel and headed back to Quito before boarding another bus to the own of Banos. Banos was a lot more geared up for tourists and is famed for having hot springs. So off we went to take a dip…annoyingly a school group of about fifth had the same idea. One of the pools was so hot it actually burnt to step in (imagine running a bath but forgetting to put the cold tap on)…and so I hovered dipping a toe in and trying to brave the heat. After encouragement from a local old man I doused myself in freezing waterfall water for a whole minute, thus numbing my entire body and then went in the burning hot pool. The pool cheered and I got a round of applause…but it wasn’t more than four minutes before it as necessary for me to repeat the process! Surprisingly I did leave the baths feeling really good…so there is something in the Russian and Scandinavian sauna, ice bath technique….
Whilst in Banos no one can leave without doing the famous swing…so off we went at 5.45am up the Tunghurahua volcano to the site of the swings. We paid our $1 entry and then we swung…lots..because we were the only people there and there was nothing else at all to do! The view was clear, but by 7am clouds had descended and you couldn’t see five meters in front of you, let alone off the side of the mountain!
As a last burst of activity before leaving Banos, I went on a 20km “flat and downhill” bike ride to yet more waterfalls. Clearly the bike rental people had never actually done the route themselves as there were a fair few long gradual incline hills to contend with. The rain stayed off for most of the journey and we stopped off to admire the canyon, people bridge jumping and small waterfalls before reaching our final destination Rio Verde. Here we had a small hike down to a huge waterfall where you could view from afar and crawl through rocks to reach a platform behind the waterfall. Fortunately there were trucks to return us back to the town at the end of the day!