Assorted, unorganized musings
Mindo is 2.5 hours by bus from Quito. My brother and I went there for a two-day, one-night trip. Mindo is known for their cloud forests, butterfly population, waterfalls, and birdwatching (#1 birdwatching place in the world).
The bus ride was better than I expected — third world buses are always hit or miss. This bus was far better than the one I took from Shanghai to Suzhou; about equal to the one from Beijing airport to downtown Beijing.
Mindo itself is a quant lil’ town serving mostly tourists. Wild dogs roam the streets more than they do in Quito. Not nearly as much as in India, but enough to make you a bit uneasy. My brother and I referred to them as "rabies".
We found a hostel ($8/night/person) run by "Norma" — she amazingly spoke English, which was a surprise, and nicely outlined what there is to do. Her husband is an expert birdwatcher. By western standards, of course, the hostel was a piece of shit — little hot water, word floors that creaked all night, etc etc. But nothing beats next-to-nothing prices, a homemade desayuno the next morning, and a husband-and-wife team who talk to you in Spanish.
That afternoon, against the advice of Norma, we trekked out to the waterfalls. It was about 2 hours of hiking — mostly on a muddy road, then down into the forest / jungle area. Mindo had received rain for the past few days so we were sure it was going to pour at any moment. Luckily, it didn’t. The hike was grueling at times — sloshing through mud, climbing down rickety stairs, crossing three-board-wide bridges over fast-flowing rivers. We finally reached the waterfall area. Lots of people swimming around in the water and jumping off the cliff into the water.
We only rested there for 20 minutes or so before turning around and headed home. Rain seemed imminent and we weren’t well prepared to deal with it, so we hedged our bets and got an early start. The views during our hike to and from waterfalls were incredible — endless forest and brush.
Mindo is called "cloudforest" because the clouds hug the tops of the trees. Its elevation is lower than Quito but higher than the Amazon, so it creates an interesting atmospheric dynamic.
After dinner I read in the awesome hammocks on the deck outside our room — looking out into the forest and the small town below. Peoplewatching is always fun as well.
The following morning — after another disastrous night of sleep — we checked out the butterfly collection. Nice. Then back to town for lunch and the bus back to Quito.
Every interaction is an opportunity to deploy our Spanish language skills. We did so with varying success. Often, we’d remember a better phrase (or any phrase at all) after the fact. Either way, I know I’m very close to being fluent — if I spent 6-12 months immersed in the country, I’d experience quantum leaps in improvement. Hopefully.