It’s Mindo day!!! We got up nice and early, and Bea and I took a taxi to the north bus terminal, La Ofelia. It took about half an hour, and we paid around $7.50. One can reach the bus terminals by the public buses, but I would rather pay for a taxi, especially when I have my belongings with me.
We met up with Mattias and Paul, two other students from school, and got on a bus to Mindo! It takes about 2.5 hours and only costs $3 to go by bus. We first checked into our hotel. They were cleaning our room when we arrived (we’d booked dorm beds for $10 each), so we got upgraded to a 3 person room (Bella wasn’t going to stay the night). The hostel was divided into two or three different buildings, plus a patio/kitchen area. The buildings are all made of beautiful, finished wood, the beds had mosquito netting, and the room was surrounded by windows to look out of. The patio is right next to the stream, which has a resident iguana, and there are also hummingbird feeders. **This hostel ROCKS. It was recommended to us by other students at school, and I can’t wait to return to Mindo to stay here again. It’s called La Casa de Cecilia, and you should just really go there. More on this later.
At the hostel, the staff can give you tickets to do any activity in Mindo that you desire, or tickets can be bought there, as well. We went ahead and bought our tickets for everything we wanted to do that day: zip lining, a tour of an artisanal chocolate factory, and a night walk. After checking in, we ate lunch at a restaurant called Mindo Cazcai. It was right on the main street, close to the square, which I believe is why we paid more than usual. The food was good; I split a chicken and rice plate with Bea for like $8. That was not necessarily a highlight, but it wasn’t a letdown, either.
Then we took a taxi (a pickup truck) to the zip lines. Mindo has 2 sets: an older and a newer. They’re both 10 lines, both double-cable safety systems, both have beautiful views. We picked **Mindo Canopy Adventures because there was overall more ziplining distance. They quickly got us set up with harnesses and helmets, and away we went! They gave us a super short safety intro, but there is a guide at the other end of each zip line, and one who sets you up each time, so it’s challenging to get hurt if you listen to the guides. The views were beautiful, and it wasn’t a horribly far walk between lines. In between several, you do have to walk a little further, but it’s manageable. You also will have the opportunity to do the “superman” or the “butterfly,” which are special ways of going down the zip line. One involves wrapping your legs around the guide and letting go with your hands, like Superman. You can go down the zip line upside down or upside down with a guide. They definitely make sure that you have a good time, even offering to take your picture/video. **Take your camera if you have a zippered pocket to put it in.
After zip lining, we got Bea on her bus and went on the tour of **El Quetzal, a restaurant/hotel/chocolate factory. This is supposed to be the best of 2 or 3 chocolate tours, and did you read that it’s also a hotel? You can stay there, and from what I’ve read, the food is incredible, and a tour is included. They also have artisanal beers, if that’s of interest to you. It was just the three of us with one guide. We agreed to take the tour in Spanish, and Mattias and I would help Paul if necessary. Our guide spoke English very well, so he was able to answer any questions that we had. He showed us the fruit that the seeds come from, the same fruit that I ate in Bua, if you read that post. We got to try the sweet seeds. Then he showed us what they look like after they’ve been dried; they taste bitter since it’s pure chocolate. Finally, he showed us the same product after it’s been ground up, ready to be used.
Then we actually got to walk around with the guide and see the factory. They have stevia plants that they’re hoping to be able to use in their chocolates someday (they currently use sugar from elsewhere in the country). Cocoa doesn’t grow in Mindo’s climate (it grows in the coast), so they work with local farmers to bring it in. They also grow lemongrass and other herbs/spices, including ginger. Then we saw where the seeds are laid out to dry. First, they are fermented/processed naturally for several days, and then they’re spread out on wire mesh to dry for up to two months. Then they’re cooked/roasted, and then separated from the casing.
This is where I stopped understanding 100%… I believe that the dried seeds used for chocolate bars get melted down, then cooled slightly, poured into molds, shaken to remove air bubbles, and cooled again. The other seeds get pressurized, I believe, and the different components of that liquid are used for other products: cocoa butter, sauces that they make, etc… At the end of the tour, we got to try plain chocolate syrup. Delicious, but bitter. Then we got to add their different sauces to it: ginger sauce (delicious), a BBQ sauce, and another that I cannot remember. And the best part: we got a brownie. Y’all, I love chocolate. Cheap chocolate, expensive chocolate, Hersey’s, pure dark chocolate, with fruit, with nuts, I love it all. And this brownie was practically life-changing. It was so good that I was willing to pay $3 for one brownie so that I could bring one back with me. Also, we learned that white chocolate is not chocolate. Now you know.
After our chocolate tour, we went in search of dinner. This is not me talking bad about my friends, this is just what happened. They wanted street food from the guy around the corner. I’d already been stomach sick on this trip and it took me a full week afterwards to recover, so I did not want street food. I ate one empanada thing with platano verde and chicken. Paul ate like 3 with yucca and chicken, and Mattias had three with corn and chicken, I believe. I was starving, but we didn’t eat more… I wasn’t upset, just really hoping that nobody ended up sick. We didn’t know how long that food, with chicken in it, had been sitting out, or how many people had touched them after touching the raw chicken… (Update: Paul was sick when we got back. I can’t say why, but there’s enough correlation for me to avoid street food).
Then we went out for our night tour (**Mindo Night Tours). A pickup truck picked us up from the hostel and took us to this amazing property. The tour guides were actually new: they’d only been in Mindo for 3 months and actually specialized in reptiles. Despite that, they were fairly knowledgeable about the insects and frogs that we saw, and they tried to get kinkajous to come. Sadly, they weren’t around that night, but it was a lovely tour. They have a bird tower that they rent out, and if one could afford it, I think it’d be a wonderful experience.
After that, we returned to the hostel. I took a shower, and the bathroom seemed clean enough. I was still upset that I’d forgotten my flip-flops… My singular complaint about this hostel is that the mosquito netting didn’t stretch around the bed fully. It sat on top fine, which was okay, but I would have preferred if it stretched more so that I didn’t sleep with mosquito netting in my face, or my foot out of the netting. With that being said, I had THE BEST night’s sleep. The men left their window and curtain open, so we got to listen to the stream and the animals while we slept. I didn’t sleep very long, since the window also allowed in a lot of light and noise in the morning, but we all woke up feeling quite refreshed.
I ate breakfast at the hostel for $3.50, I believe, and got juice, cafe con leche, eggs, and a roll and a half with butter and jam. It was definitely worth the price. I then headed off for a yoga class, since I’d really been missing practicing yoga, but there wasn’t actually a class. I ended up at **Hostel El Descanso, which has a beautiful backyard set up to be a hummingbird haven. It’s slightly pricey at $4, but you can stay as long as you like and watch the birds. Not only did I see hundreds of hummingbirds, I also saw several other types of local birds and TWO TOUCANS. I saw toucans, which was the coolest thing ever. I also met a professor from Europe who was very interesting to speak with.
The men had decided to rent ATVs, so I then took a taxi to the butterfly farm. It’s very informational, beginning with a short intro from a guide, offered in both Spanish and English. He told me about the life cycle of the butterflies and their diets, and then I got to spend as much time as I wanted in the butterfly garden. They have a hatching system set up on one wall, so that you can see each individual stage of the life cycle prior to hatching, and if you wait for a few minutes, you’re almost guaranteed to see a butterfly hatch. **Tip: Put some banana on the tip of your finger (they have them lying out). You’ll be able to hold almost any butterfly you’d like. Another tip: have someone else check your back for butterflies before you leave. I checked myself in the mirror before leaving, but I still walked out with one on my backpack. Luckily, the tour guide saw it and brought it back inside. They also have a koi pond outside, so, obviously, I paid $0.50 to feed the fish.
I met up with the men afterwards, and they had street food again for lunch. I bought a banana from the market and called it good, since we ran out of time for a restaurant. Our bus to Quito was just as uneventful as the first, and then I took a taxi back to the house. Many of the taxi drivers here are incredibly kind and friendly. This driver was no exception. He charged me quite a bit, but it was both a Sunday and a holiday (father’s day), so I expected that. At the house, we had dinner: cabbage soup, and omelet, rice, tomatoes, and ice cream for dessert. With a full belly and a great experience, I went straight to bed.