Thursday, February 03, 2011

Mindo, Ecuador - New Years in the Cloud Forest

Mindo, Ecuador

Our drive to Mindo was scary for me. Our driver was happy to take us, but wanted it to take as little time as possible. He put the pedal to the metal and flew down the Pan-American Highway. From time to time, the tires let out a screech. When I wasn't wondering if we were going to roll off the road, I was admiring the huge mountains and incredible drop offs beside the highway. The valley floor was dedicated to Quito and its suburbs. The major road was regulated to the mountains.

Gas was cheap. $1.48 a gallon.

Great scenery on the drive to Mindo.

After we passed Quito, we started to descend into the cloud forest. This required going over 30km of the windy back roads. Our driver continued to hurry to our destination. That meant more screeching tires and trying to pass as many people as possible. I was used to some of this from the Middle East, but that was just among other drivers. This trip added in the twisty roads. I tried to just admire the scenery, but I couldn't ignore the lurching car and squeals of the tire. It was white knuckled riding. I felt confident that our driver knew what he was doing, but when the rain started, I wish he would have slowed down. I loved when we got caught behind a bus for a while.

Descending into the cloud forest.

Cloud forest.

The entire drive there, I kept wishing I was on my bicycle. The scenery was amazing and there was such a celebratory atmosphere. Since it was the afternoon of New Year's Eve, people were getting ready for that evenings festivities. One tradition was for kids to dress up in costume or drag and demand a toll from cars passing by. They stopped the cars by stringing a rope across the road. Unfortunately, we were insulated from the fun atmosphere in the back of the truck The driver talked to everyone who stopped us. We just rode along. If I had been on my bike, it would have taken times as long, but I would have experienced more than three times as much.

New Year's supplies were on sale at every major intersection.

Sometimes kids, dressed in costume, and even drag, put a rope across the road. You have to pay them to pass.

When we finally arrived in the town of Mindo, our driver didn't trust our directions. He asked a local whose sister happened to work at our lodge. She hopped in the back of the truck and showed us the way. Later, our hosts relayed that the woman also said our driver was crazy and for an Ecuadorian to say that was a big thing because they have lower standards of what constitutes safe driving.

A neat plant.

A flower that looks like it has upside down pink bananas reaching for it.

A frog on our night hike.

The hostel was run by a man who had lived in Mindo since before it became a tourist town and his wife, a woman from California. That night, we enjoyed a fun New Year's meal with the other guests. It had more Western influence than I would have liked, but all the guests were Western and the cook was too. It made sense. After dinner, we went out on a nature hike where our host could show us whatever he was able to find. I remember glow in the dark algae, frogs, a couple spiders, and lots of fruit trees.

Fireworks are part of every New Year's celebration that I know of.

Some leftover Christmas, and possible Hanukkah, decorations.

After the walk, I was ready to go to sleep. We had already done a big hike that morning, then rode in the car which always tires me out, eaten a big meal, and gone for a second short hike. I really wanted to go to sleep, but I also wanted to experience the celebratory atmosphere that I had seen all day through the car windows. Our hosts were headed to the town center to pick up their kids and would return just after midnight. Even though I was tired, it seemed like a great opportunity. I am a sucker for taking advantage of opportunities.

These effigies represented the Old Year. You put your bad energy in them and burn them when the clocks strikes midnight.

At midnight, you burn the effigies.

Unfortunately, I didn't experience New Year's in Mindo as much as I watched it. It was still fun though. It really is a family affair. I saw very little drinking. Families are out. Five year old kids are running around on their own. People are setting off fireworks. They ate. They danced. They celebrated. They put last minute decorations on their effigies and at midnight, they lit 'em up.

Watching all their bad mojo go up in smoke.

Not everyone comes to the town center to celebrate. Each home might have their own effigy.

The effigies each represent El Viejo Ano (the old year), even if there is the face of a famous person on them. You could see them strapped to the front of cars while we were driving to Mindo. Each El Viejo Ano is dressed up and decorated. The things put on the effigy usually represent something from the past year that the decorator wants to leave behind. Then, when the New Year comes, they burn the effigy and send all that bad mojo up in smoke. This tradition reminds me of the Xoxobra festival in Santa Fe, NM where they create a 100 foot Old Man Gloom and burn him around Labor Day.

Mating butterflies.

Another colorful butterfly.

A questionable bridge over to the local swimming hole.

The local swimming hole.

The next day, we did another waterfall hike. Unfortunately, very little of it was hiking. Mostly, we followed the road. It was billed to us a waterfall hike that you could swim in at the end, but there was no swimming in this waterfall. They said people can't even boat down it. However, 20m upstream from the waterfall was a nice family spot to spend the day and you can get in the water there. In that area, they have changing rooms, a little restaurant, a great view of the waterfall, and a couple man made rock pools to soak in the water on a hot day. Unfortunately, it was drizzling and definitely not a hot day. That didn't seem to be stopping anyone from enjoying it though.

Huge leaves make Tina look small.

I don't think this is a bromeliad, but it is growing off the trunk of a tree.

Unrolling Fern fiddleheads.

I'm not sure, but I think this is star fruit.

On the way back, we were supposed to stop and do a canopy tour, but I was kind of tuckered and really wanted a nap after too many nights of bad sleep. We ended up doing a couple hikes right around the lodge that were actual hikes in the woods. It was wet, but it was great. After that, we passed the night away doing crosswords and chatting with another traveling couple. They had been on the road for five years following the husband's oil work to the North Sea and Eastern Russia with lots of fun vacations in between.

That furry thing will be come a leaf, just like the one to its right.

Another fun flower in the cloud forest.

The next morning, we were booked into a birding tour. Neither Tina or I are birders, but I felt like we should take advantage of it since the area is famous for it. When we woke up for our 5am tour, it was pouring rain. No tour. Back to bed. After another fantastic breakfast, we were off to the Center of the World, the Equator!

Huge leaves or a little me.

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