The next day, we packed our stuff and took a taxi to the Ophelia Northern Bus Terminal for Mindo. We didn’t know the bus times and when we arrived at the terminal at 11am we found out the bus didn’t leave until 4pm. So we ate lunch at a small gas station that served corn on the cob with cheese and watched a couple hours of Spanish Scooby Doo. Back at the bus station we watched our stuff carefully and realized that with all the bus traveling we plan on doing, it is important to lighten our load (Gringos with a lot of luggage stick out like sore thumbs).
Bus ticket prices in Ecuador are based on distance and are $1 per hour. The buses are well kept and a really reasonable mode of transportation. It was $2.50 for a 2 ½ hour ride to Mindo. From Quito to Mindo is as remarkable change of pace. We dropped around 1,500 meters down winding roads to Mindo amongst mountainous rainforests. The town has about 2,500 people and moves a lot slower than Quito.
We arrived to Mindo late in the afternoon with no accommodations. Right off the bus, a stout, older gentleman named Señor Don Colon approached us with pictures and hand-scribbled notes about the extra rooms sitting above his home. He promised a clean and friendly atmosphere and at a price of $8/person a night, we were sold. He lived about a 5 minute walk from the main road and his house was incredible. As we walked through the exotic trees, flowers and birds that surrounded his 2 story home, we knew we’d made a good decision.
Our Spanish has gotten so much better over the past few days. When we first got here, I didn’t feel comfortable even saying “hola” to people, and now can have a good (although simple) conversation with anyone. But when the Don picked us up from the bus station, we were tired and taken a little off guard. We weren’t answering his question too well, so he presumed we didn’t know a word of Spanish. When we got to his house, he began giving us an elementary-level Spanish lesson when he introduced us to his black cat “Michu”. After having us repeat the words “gato negro” and “hasta luego” a few times we left to find dinner in town.
We’ve been eating mostly traditional Ecuadorian food, which consists of mainly rice, potatoes, and a small portion of meat (usually chicken). There’s only so many days in a row you can eat rice and potatoes. Luckily (and randomly) this small cloud forest town has the most amazing brick-oven pizza in the world. We made friends with the owner and went back three times during our time in Mindo, including to watch the super bowl.
Over the next few days we went zip-lining and did ton of hiking. Mindo is beautiful, it’s exactly how I pictured the Amazon Rainforest (even though it’s not). We spent one day with two kids from Denver. They are both sophomores in college who are sick of school, bored living at home, and looking for any way to keep traveling. John wants to be a paramedic so he found a program in the States that allows him to volunteer in the emergency room at a hospital in Quito for school credit.
One night we had dinner at the Don’s house with a French couple who had been backpacking for almost a year and were nearing the end of their trip. They had been everywhere and had so many stories. Including getting emergency air-lifted out of the mountains in Nepal after being attacked by dogs. They are scared of dogs to this day, which must be stressful because there are wild dogs everywhere down here.
During our stay with the Don, he was so friendly and always wanted to help us with our Spanish. He even gave Ben a packet of Spanish worksheets he’d printed out. He and his wife have three grown daughters and you can tell they miss taking care of people. On our last night we sat in their living room and chatted for a while about anything and everything. The Don came with us to the bus station the next morning (he was going to Quito to visit his mom).
As we sat on the bus waiting to depart Mindo, we saw the Don sitting on a chair outside, writing furiously. He jumped on the bus right as it was leaving and stopped by our seats to hand us what he’d written. It was detailed instructions on how to get from the North bus terminal to the South bus terminal in Quito (complete with illustrations of cars and buses and a giant happy face) We hadn’t even asked him directions. It was such a nice gesture and a true testament to how friendly everyone is down here.
We said goodbye at the bus station and headed South, back up the Andes.