Mindo: The day that (almost) never was

Days: 235

Total distance travelled: 44,857.7 kilometres (27,861.93 miles)

We arrived at the bus terminal almost smack bang on 9am, ready to grab our tickets and jump on board the 9:20am service, bound for the cloud forest town of Mindo.

Sounds simple, and that is exactly what we thought as well.

What we didn’t expect on arrival at La Ofelia bus terminal was a lengthy, stationary queue to the ticket window with a rather animated gringo standing at its head.

At first we thought it was just a case of a confused tourist with a poor grasp of Spanish, but before long we realised that this wasn’t the case.

We never got the full picture, but it was either a case of the 9:20am being already full, or possibly cancelled!

Whatever the reason, it was irrelevant and the next scheduled bus wasn’t until 11am, too late for us to get there with time enough to be able to do anything!

But then people power (or was it the dollar signs flashing before the bus company) came to our rescue.

Here stood a long queue of people, all wanting to get to Mindo, and all clutching their $2.50 per person for the privilege.

Eventually the bus company relented, and offered a 10am bus, which eventually was pushed further forward to 9:40am and our plans for the day were no longer dead in the water!

About 2 and a half hours later saw us arriving in the ruinous looking streets of Mindo.

The place wasn’t actually in ruins, however what appeared to be slowly progressing street works certainly gave the place that look for our first impression.

Still, we didn’t have a huge amount of time to play with, so our initial plan was to immediately seek out a company through with to zip line through the cloud forest.

We quickly revised this, thinking it more prudent to first purchase return tickets back to Quito.

To maximise our time here, we decided on the 5pm bus, only to discover that it was sold out.

So too was the 4pm and the 3pm… Hmmm, bit of a problem here!

Thankfully, like earlier that day, we weren’t alone in this predicament, so it wasn’t long before a 6pm bus was arranged, our tickets were purchased and we were able to rest a little easier.

We quickly settled on a cheap zip line option, dined on a lunch of pizza and beer, before returning to our tour operator for our ride to ferry us up to the cloud forest.

Around 15 minutes later, we were up on the ridgeline, getting fitted into our harnesses, donning gloves and helmets for the ride that was to come.

Our Launchpad into the clouds

Our Launchpad into the clouds

As could be expected when you’re up amongst the clouds, visibility was a little limited, but it was also kind of cool peering into the distance, where we’d shortly be flying above the canopy, and having no clear idea of what lay ahead!

Who knows what lies ahead?

Who knows what lies ahead?

Ready to launch

Ready to launch

After a short briefing in Spanish, followed by a couple of additional checks to make sure that I’d gotten the gist of what was being said, and we were ready to go.

The cavalier and gentleman in me right to the fore, so I was to boldly lead the way, with Sarah to follow.

As you might imagine, it was pretty cool, the eerily quiet and still air suddenly broken by the sound of pulley on steel cable, although it wasn’t a sound you really noticed at the time.

One of the protective gloves was made with reinforced leather, and it was using this that you had the ability, should you desire to, slow yourself down (by gripping the cable behind your head).

In truth, it wasn’t really needed for any of our rides that afternoon.

On our way back to town, it began to rain, putting an obvious dampener on any plans we had to aimlessly wander the town.

Therefore, once back in the now wet and muddied main thoroughfare, we promptly made our way to El Quetzal, a chocolate factory and café we’d spied earlier during our search for lunch.

We’d been eyeing off their chocolate brownie, and promptly ordered a slice along with a couple of hot chocolates to warm our sodden bodies.

The brownie was simply delicious!

Hands down the best we’ve had on this trip (true, there hasn’t been a huge amount we’ve had the chance to consume), which made how insipid the hot chocolates were, such a disappointment.

When they were delivered to us, we were shocked by their size (they were huge), but we suspect this was to their detriment, as they were far too milky, and barely tasted of chocolate at all.

We loathe sugar in a hot chocolate, but both of us found ourselves having to reach for the sugar jar, as this seemed the only manner we had available to try and improve it!

It also made our next decision that bit harder.

Whether or not to pay the price to partake in one of their chocolate tours.

We pondered for a while, before figuring what else would we do to pass the time before our bus, so signed ourselves up for the 4pm tour (they run tours in either Spanish or English).

Ready to partake in an El Quetzal chocolate tour

Ready to partake in an El Quetzal chocolate tour

Colourful cacao pods

Colourful cacao pods

The start of our tour was tied in to the end of the preceding tour, and began with a brief talk about the history of chocolate, the different types of cacao, the major production areas and a few tastings.

Given that one of the samplings was more of that delicious brownie, the decision to partake in the tour suddenly seemed very wise indeed!

That delicious brownie and some of El Quetzal’s chocolate sauce

That delicious brownie and some of El Quetzal’s chocolate sauce

Our host, Francesco discusses the history of chocolate and El Quetzal (left) & some raw cacao (right)

Our host, Francesco discusses the history of chocolate and El Quetzal (left) & some raw cacao (right)

We were able to pair the delicious, yet very bitter sauce with coffee grounds, some of their iconic chocolate balsalmic, chili flakes, or our favourite, a ginger syrup with a sweet and fiery kick.

Given our earlier indulgence, we decided to wrap our portions of brownie in napkins, saving it for later!

Eventually the tour, despite the wet, progressed outside, where we were shown their methods for growing the cacao tree (in something akin to the ways of permaculture) alongside other plants such as bananas, coffee, sugarcane and several more, which helped discourage insect pests and disease.

Further afield (okay, perhaps only a 10 metre walk, but still a little further) sat their drying shed, where cacao beans, alongside coffee and chilli, where dried before any actual processing could occur.

From there it got a bit more mechanical, with machines for roasting, as well as the extraction of the cacao butter.

I confess to becoming a little lost from this point on (we got the general gist of it, but don’t recall all the specifics) so if you want a bit more expert knowledge, perhaps check out the work of Doreen Pendgracs from Chocolatour?

Their actual chocolate making facilities are also on site, and their renown for their tempering ability (at least so they say) is well enough regarded, that top chocolate makers from as far afield as Europe often visit so they can learn the process.

We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the end of the afternoon, but don’t just take my word for it.

Here’s a glowing endorsement from an expert who should know (I spied her handiwork in the guestbook)…

Some of the harshest critics gave this place the thumbs up

Some of the harshest critics gave this place the thumbs up…

This day had one final twist in store for us, and it just so happened that it decided to keep it until lucky last.

We arrived back in Quito, just after the clock had struck 8pm, and quickly made our way to the Trolebus area.

Several buses passed us, and the other prospective passengers, but not one stopped, all simply dropped their passengers and sped off.

Turns out that for the Carnival long weekend, services would only be running until 8pm and not the usual midnight…

Cue an unexpected taxi ride to round out a day full of unexpected twists and turns!

 

Notes:

* A bus to and from Mindo takes 2.5-3 hours and cost us $2.50 US per person in each direction.

* A variety of operators offer all manner of zipline packages, however we went for a small package of 3 ziplines for $6.00 US each, plus $5.00 US per person for transport there and back.

* A chocolate tour with El Quetzal cost $6.00 US per person, and ran for about an hour.

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2 Responses to Mindo: The day that (almost) never was

  1. thatsbalogna says:

    Coooooooooool! Brodie’s brother got married in Mindo. We had a wonderful time there, but didn’t have time for the chocolate tour. We did, however, check out the butterfly sanctuary in the area. 🙂

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