Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Galapagos - Mindo Cloud Forest (Day 11)

After breakfast in the Executive Lounge of the JW Marriott Quito, we went down to the lobby to wait for our tour to Mindo Cloud Forest. The pickup time was scheduled to be 8:30 AM. It was almost 9 AM and we were getting worried. All we had was a credit card receipt from Celebrity Cruises for the tour. We spoke with the hotel concierge and she made a phone call. She was able to contact the driver who was stuck in traffic. He was at the hotel about 30 minutes later.

We didn't know what to expect - we thought there would be a large bus with other people since that was what we had the entire time we were in Quito. It turns out we had a private tour in a mini-van. Our guide was excellent - we couldn't have asked for anything better.

Mindo is world famous as a birdwatching destination but there are plenty of other activities to offer as well. Our day was filled with opportunities to see three of the popular natural sites - orchids, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Our first stop was at the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve which is a 650 hectare (approx. 1,500 acre) cloud forest reserve located only one hour from Quito. We parked the van and waited for a guide from the Orchid Reserve to join us.

Just across the street from where we parked is a trail which is very easy to navigate. Along this trail our guide pointed out various air plants including bromeliads, orchids, mosses and ferns.

She spoke in Spanish about the various plants in the botanical garden while our tour guide translated for us. We were able to explore the gardens at our leisure taking time to photograph the beautiful orchids.

Ten minutes from the Orchid Reserve is El Siete Restaurant where we stopped to view the hummingbirds of the Pinchina region. Outside the restaurant are a handful of hummingbird feeders which allowed for up close viewing. We watched the birds for awhile and then went exploring one of the nearby nature trails.

By the time we got back from our hike, the restaurant was ready for us. Inside there are large picture windows that allow for viewing of the forest area. There are more hummingbird feeders so we had plenty of visitors as we ate our meal. We enjoyed our meal and the hummingbirds.

Our final stop was at Mindo Lago which has a handful of rustic cabaƱas (cabins) around a lake in peaceful surroundings. One of the attractions at this site is the butterfly house. In the evening, there is a "frog concert". It was starting to rain when we arrived at Mindo Lago, but that didn't stop us from visiting the butterfly house. Inside the butterfly house you can walk around the garden photographing and watching the butterflies that make this their home. In addition, our guide showed us the various of stages of butterfly growth since they breed the butterflies that live there. There were only a couple different butterfly species but we still enjoyed the visit.

From Mindo Lago, we had about a 1.5 to two hour drive back to our hotel in Quito. We passed by the sights we'd seen our second day in Quito, such as the Mitad del Mundo (The Equator) Monument. One of the surprising things we saw was the price of diesel fuel in Quito - it was $1.03 per gallon. Back home we were still over $4 per gallon for all types of gasoline. One has to take into consideration that the average wage earner (laborer) only makes $2 - $3 a day. This is a very poor country, but at the same time, it is very beautiful and worth the visit. Perhaps tourism can help Ecuador increase the quality of life for at least some of the people.

If you have the time while in Quito, I would definitely recommend adding the Mindo Cloud Forest to your must see locations. We were happy that we had the full day after the cruise to enjoy this private tour.

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