One of the guiding principles of our trip is to find places that are somewhat off the track and hard to get to. A few years ago while staying in a mountain cabin, we came across a coffee table book called Off the Tourist Trail, 1,000 unexpected Travel Alternatives. This book provides full-page photos and details of places and events in the world to visit that are similar to more popular destinations but attract fewer tourists. We have taken a lot from this book. For example, we decided to visit the lakes region of southern Chile rather than the lakes of northern Italy; we went to Glacier National Park instead of Yosemite or Yellowstone; and we are going to several destinations in South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and southern China listed in the book.
It is out of print but we searched for a copy on the web - a fun book to get if you want dream-inducing travel information: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6642344-off-the-tourist-trail.
A destination that captured our attention was the Mindo-Nambillo cloud forest of central Ecuador. A two-page spread of beautiful photos with the narrative beginning:
“The cloud forest is a truly magical place filled with the sights and sounds of an ecosystem that still flourishes in this corner of Ecuador free from 21st century cares. In Fact, to say that Mindo-Nambillo is a rejuvenating place is a huge understatement. For years, a well-kept secret or largely ignored paradise, depending on who you ask….”
This is what brought us to Ecuador.
Dan also has family in Ecuador. His cousin, Casner, married a wonderful woman, Jeaneth, from Quito. They now live in Colorado. But Jeaneth's mother and family are still in Quito, and her mother, Maria Beatrice, graciously offered to drive us to Mindo . We met her and her driver Freddy at her home in suburban Quito, visited awhile, and we were off to the cloud forest.
She proved to be one tough grandmother. She is in her seventies and accompanied us on everything, including a long slippery hike down to and up from a waterfall in the forest while she was wearing sandals. She sat squeezed in the backseat of the car with Malia and both girls for the long drive. We later shared a large cabin. One morning we left at 5:30 AM for a 3-hour birding tour and Grandma Beatrice stayed behind. We latched the door from the outside to keep a dog out not realizing that we locked Beatrice inside. Later, she showed us the high window that she crawled out of for her freedom!
The size of Quito became apparent as we kept driving and driving... and driving and we're still in Quito. An hour at least? 2? Luckily we stopped for snacks along the way, which she had brought (and we really enjoyed: a popular Ecuadorian snack of roasted corn kernels and white beans. Very healthy!)
Finally we entered green lush forest and the single road started its snaking descent from the mountains of Quito. Looking far down to valley floor we could finally see the tiny town of Mindo nestled in the humid cloud covered forest. The town and the region gave us memories we had hoped for and more:
*The breathtaking and necessary mode of transportation to the waterfall hiking trails... a ride on the Tarabita (a gondola car powered by an adapted truck engine) that zips across the intensely high tree top canopy to the other side of the valley. It did indeed take our breath away. Here was where Marie Beatrice showed no hesitation to descend on the slick muddy steep hiking trail to waterfalls below.
*An incredible early sunrise bird watching adventure with a local expert guide, Marcelo, who cared a lot and knew even more about the birds of Ecuador. His 2 hour tour turned into 3.5 hours, complete with toucans, more toucans, tanagers, and countless kinds of hummingbirds. !! ( Las colibris in Spanish. Fun to say.)
*Pouring rain beating on the metal roof in our upstairs cozy cabin. Fun with the girls inside during the rain.
*Small town with no post office, friendly people, and only a few paved roads, but a peaceful central plaza with a playground fascinating architecture.
*Being able to walk over the rushing river bridge to town for small errands, solo time and exercise.
*DELICIOUS quinoa restaurant, where every dish was literally made from quinoa. The restaurant is called
"Mishqui Quinde" (sweet butterfly) and has the front of a campervan built into the front windo, with minimal seating in wooden and artisan surroundings upstairs. We went back two nights in a row for the quinoa soup. What I would give for another bowl of that soup.