This is the travel diary of two South African ladies who have taken time off to backpack around the world. Roxy has qualified as an attorney and Joy as a teacher but before we settle down into the world of responsibility, we decided to break free and take this opportunity to discover more about the world, the people who live in it and ourselves. We welcome any comments, advice and insight that our readers may have. Hope you enjoy following our adventure with us as much as we enjoy living it! =)
Wednesday, 9 September 2015
28/07 - 29/07
After a lovely breakfast with our host, Daniel, and the girl from Argentina, we set off to find the bus station that would take us to the main bus terminal, Ofelia. From there we took the 11am bus to Mindo. As Mindo is in the cloud forests, it meant a slow and windy up hill drive. After about 2hours of mountain passes, we arrived at our destination. We quickly mobilised and found some cheap accommodation from the touts at the bus stop. We would only be in the town for the next 24hours so we had no time to dilly daddle. We ended up taking the clean, double room which was a little way away from the main part of town (10 metres from where the dirt road started so technically still in town) and had roosters in the yard. Who needs an alarm clock when the cocks will be crowing at the crack of dawn.
The little old lady that owned the establishment then kindly walked us to her friend who was a tourist information guide. Alex told us all about the various activities that the place had to offer and after 30mins of draining his brain, we had a comprehensive plan in place. First activity on the agenda.... Zip lining over the cloud forests. Alex organised for one of his mates to take us part of the way to the zips. Unfortunately, they didn't go too far out of the town and that meant a 45min brisk uphill walk.
Yay! We have reached the entrance sign
Once we arrived at Monkey Canopy we were speedily geared up in our harnesses and given a brief safety talk. Instead of spending the rest of the day on a 10 zip course, we had decided to save money and only do a two line zip course. We felt we would get the gist of it by then. Besides, the clouds were starting to look dark and loom above us.
Getting geared up
Harness and helmet on and we were ready to go!
It must be noted that helmets are very technical pieces of equipment and must be put on by a professional - there was no way Roxy could have done it by herself!
The instructor told us that we could do the two zips the conventional way....or we could opt for the more adventurous route and each do one crazy zip across the valley. Obviously being the daredevils that we claim to be, we chose the latter...
Joy with the instructor
The.............. Metre long zip about....... Metres above the ground
Joy was up first and she had chosen the 'butterfly' pose. This descent involved Joy being held backwards and upside down with the guide holding her feet. In this way she could have her hands free to fly through the air like a little flutterby.
The instructor getting the guide into position to hold Joy in the butterfly position.
As the guide was on the other side already, Rox had to do her boring conventional pose first. But it was a good way to break her into this extreme sport. It also opened up the path for some great photo ops which would have been challenging for Joy to have achieved while flying through the air upside down.
On the other side, the guide unstrapped himself from Joy and tied his harness to Rox. It was then Joy's turn to to the conventional pose. After that impressive upside down display from earlier this would be child's play! But even in this normal posey, it was still an exhilarating zip across the sky.
And lastly, Rox was up for what they termed the 'Superman' or in this case, the 'Superwoman' pose. It may not have been upside down, but as your your body cut through the air face first, it meant that Rox was fighting for breath and her eyes were watering from the sheer speed of the zip. It felt like flying - what an adrenaline rush!
After that awesome experience, it was time for another shock to the system...A sugar shock. Mindo has their very own custom made chocolate factory called El Quetzal. They run tours of the chocolate making process from tree to table and we got to taste all the steps in between and of course revel in the delights of the final product. The next tour was at 4pm so we had to run down the hill to make it in time. One good thing was that we were working off the calories before we actually ate the sweet treats.
Always time to sneak a few quick pics though
Bridge on the way down to town
People trying their hand at tubing...
... Although it looks like the guide is doing all the hard work
As it was the dry season the river was pretty low and the rapids were not that impressive, so we decided to give tubing a skip.
Looks like the chocolate factory has their own home brew of beer
We made it just on the nick of time and took our seats around the table, which still had remnants of the precious tour (Joy was almost tempted to lick the plates clean but realised that would be rather rural.)
Our tour guide
The cacao fruit
You can actually eat the litchi-like layer around the seeds
After picking the fruit and removing the peal and the pulp, the beans are left to ferment for 2-10 days.
After fermentation the beans contain purple pods inside
The beans are then dried out until they turn brown. At this stages the beans still taste nothing like chocolate.
These dried out brown seeds are then roasted and the beans shells separated. What remains is known as cacao nibs
This at least start to resemble the tastes of chocolate but a really bitter chocolate
The nibs are then windowed and ground. At this stage the result can be made in cacao powder or the cacao butter can be extracted and used in products like lip balm.
Coco powder and cacao lip balm
For the making of chocolate making process, sugar is added and the mixture is conched to create a more refined and smoother texture.
Chocolate brownie recipe. Try it out - we shall be happy to sample the end products for you.
The mixture is then tempered (made hot and then cold again various times) and the hot chocolate mix is then delicately placed into trays to be placed in the fridge which will come out in the form of the magic chocolate bars that we all know and love. The bars are then packaged and sold to a much appreciative chocoholic society.
Once we had been given the theory behind the making of the chocolate and had had the opportunity to taste the stages before the final product, the guide took us around the establishment to show us the theory being put into practice. This was all very fascinating, but when were we going to get to eat a sample of this chocolate brownie they had wet our appetites with.
Nothing more send than a man wielding delicious hot, liquid chocolate. Wonder if he gets to lick the bowl :) If not he must have to self control of a saint!
Cacao tree that is evergreen and grows to between 4-8m tall
The cacao flower that will grow into the fruit
The drying out process
A cat who is also clearly a chocoholic - must be Joy's spirit animal.
The fermentation process - which really did not smell at all that appetising. As much as we loved chocolate, neither of us knew that fermentation was part of the chocolate making process. What an informative tour...now, about that brownie...
...Oh, more education first, yay.
Beans being dried out.
At the factory they also process their own coffee, nuts and chili to make the various chocolate collaboration flavours.
Just such a vibrantly coloured plant!
Coffee roasting machine
Machine that separates the shells from the chocolate nibs
More grinding equipment
Chocolate being conched on the left.
Compression machine used to extract the cacao butter
Notice the heater that they use to increase the temperature of the room. We were informed by the guide that the chocolate making process is such a delicate one that the slightest thing can go wrong and the chocolate will be ruined. Apparently, chocolate also easily absorbs any odours or flavours around it. Thus, the chocolatiers at the establishment adhere to strict safety and cleanliness standards. Who knew chocolate making was such an exact science. Tempering is also one of these extremely difficult processes to get right. If chocolate hasn't been properly tempered it expires sooner and it also has that white layer around it.
Chocolate powder towers.
Finally, after being showed around the whole place, we got to sample our first morsel of heaven. It was a new product that they were launching to the public - caramelised almond dark chocolate. It seemed to get nods of approved all round. Guess feeding the guinea-pig people on the tour is a great way of product testing.
Chocolate moulds being placed into the fridge.
After being educated on the makings of chocolate, for about an hour, we went back to our seats and it was time for the main event... Sampling the chocolate brownie!!!!
The chocolate sauce on the side was pure, unsweetened liquid chocolate. It was bitter but so rich in chocolate flavour. Wonderful!!! The brownie was quite simply the best thing ever made in the world ever!!!!! DECADENT!!!!!!!
So much deliciousness in our faces right now!!!
Rox would honestly swim in chocolate if she could, but for now... covering her face in it would just have to suffice
The brownie tasted like warm chocolate fudge made a baby with a brownie - it was so soft, moist and rich!! This alone was worth the $6 we had paid for the tour.
On the tour we met an American couple. After bonding over our love for chocolate, we got to chatting about almost every topic under the sun. We chatted so much that the chocolate factory had closed up and had to ask us to leave. But there was still so much chatting to be done so they insisted that we join them for dinner at the restaurant attached to their guesthouse. Being parents themselves and having a daughter who had also travelled around the world, they insisted on treating us poor, long term travellers to a fancy meal. Keeping in the chocolate theme of the day, we ordered chocolate chicken medallions and a burger. Although it sounds like a strange combinations, the bitter chocolate sauce and the chicken actually complimented each other well. We were even treated to a glass of completely overpriced red wine ($5 a glass). After a lovely evening of great food and even better conversation, we had to sadly bid our new 'parents' farewell. They were incredible people who had, in only a few hours of chatting, taught us some important life lessons and inspired us to live everyday to the full!
Bill and Michelle from Georgia
It was quite late by this time and we had to quickly get breakfast supplies for the morning and hurry to our hostel where the sweet little lady was waiting up for us to let us into our room. We collapsed into bed after a wonderful day. After all the chocolate we were sure to have 'sweet' dreams tonight :)
The day before we had heard from Alex that bird watching in Mindo was incredible, especially early in the morning. You could organise an experienced guide to show you around but unfortunately, they were pretty pricey and we hadn't met any fellow bird watches in our short stay as yet to split the cost with. So we decided to save money and do our own bird watching. As the birds start to appear at the crack of dawn, this meant that we had to rise before them to walk the hour to the main viewing point. This translated to a 4:30 am wake up, leaving our hostel at 5pm in order to get to the viewing point around 6am.
Early morning wake up - note the mist still clinging to the valley
Up before the sun rose over the mountains
On our way to the viewpoint we spotted our first interesting bird - all by ourselves I might add..
A Montane Woodcreeper
We were trying to maintain a good pace up the hill as we wanted to get to the top quickly to see the tucans and other birds deeper in the forest. But at the same time we couldn't help but to take our time to spot all the nature and birdlife along the way.
Rox on the never ending trail
Under the cloud forest canopy
Our second sighting - a woodpecker type bird
Our third sighting - White winged Guan. We really are getting good at this!
After what seemed like an eternity of walking up hill to the view point, we arrived and came across three other groups of bird watchers with their fancy guides. They had obviously been driven up the hill and their bird watching trail would just continue down the hill to the town. These guys were professional, they all had massive binoculars, tripod telescopes as well as multiple lens cameras set up for precision viewing and photography. All we had were our wits and natural spotting abilities along with our five year old cameras and Joy's pair of mini binoculars which turned out not to work. Nonetheless we were still able to see some incredible bird life just like everyone else there. Also it was great because every time one of the professional bird watches spotted a bird with their fancy equipment, they would point in its direction and we could all then spot it with our naked eyes. Plus they would tell the group it's proper bird names, we we definitely learnt a lot piggy backing off the other people's birdwatching tours.
Tucan in the tree
Sign to mark the viewing point
Yellow Mantled Tucan
After most of the tucans had flown away from the viewing sight, the main attraction of the place, we headed further along the path that nobody was said to venture down much. Less people and noisy vehicles, hopefully equalled more birdwatching opportunities...
...We were right, we came across many more species of birds. Female Masked Trogan - not as colourful as the male of course.
Male Masked Trogan
As we headed further down the path we came across one guide with just one lady birdwatcher. We recognised the lady from the chocolate tour we did the previous day. She obviously recognised us as well and beckoned us over to show us a species of bird they had spotted. We could deduce that this guide was probably the best of the lot. Firstly, it appeared he only took people one on one and also he had taken the off-the-beaten-track route from the other guides and he had a very impressive tripod and camera set up. He seemed to be able to spot birdlife at the drop of a hat and even allowed us to look through the telescope to get a better view. He even shared later that he was the guide that the Lonely Planet recommends to take on these bird watching expeditions. We didn't want to impose on the personal guide watching tour but we kept bumping into them along the path and they seemed happy to share there finds with us and vice versa.
At one stage along the route the guide, Marcelo, even pointed out a nest he had found built into a stone wall.
Rox with the dynamic duo bird watching expeditioners
After about two hours of intense bird watching we decided it was time to leave our beloved ornithology group and go to see the nearby waterfalls. We were after all on quite a strict schedule.
Joy at the entrance to the National Park
There was just so much natural beauty all around us. We would spot a stunning flower and two step on, a tree trunk covered in interesting moss.
The official entrance to the trail to the waterfall. We had to pay $3 to enter this rather deserted path
Rox on the trail to hunt down the flowing water
We had taken the alternative route to entering the Park, most people just take the cable car across the valley. This meant that the road was a bit overgrown and not maintained and that one had to take more adventurous means of scaling down the valley... like using an abseiling rope for example.
Joy was up first on the slippery slope
Then it was Rox's turn to face the mud and nature... but she made it.
And a frog was at the bottom to greet the uncommon new arrivals
View of the cloud forest
The next challenge that was thrown our way was a tree swing. Okay, we didn't have to jump on it to carry on our way, but challenge accepted anyway!
Posing on a more natural tree swing - hopefully it could bear our weight
We were getting close to the waterfall
Don't worry, this wasn't it ... just a little teaser along the way
Crossing streams to find this hidden waterfall
Rox admiring the roof-like canopy
And of course Biology teacher Joy had to stop and admire this interesting moss and other wonders of nature
Rox blending into the nature with her luminous coloured, orange second skin jacket
And eventually after getting thoroughly distracted and fully immersed in the nature, we found the Nambillo Waterfall and the dysfunctional, rundown water amusement park that seemed to be attached to it.
This was supposed to be a point to jump off of, but the water level did not seem to support the physics of this potentially fatal jump.
Similarly, this super tube looked like it would give some serious chafe. It didn't have enough water flowing through it and it would drop you into the same shallow water below. Needless to say we did not try out these 'attractions.'
Small splash pool
Once again distracted by running water and pretty water plants
We had heard from our couch surfing host, Daniel, that a person can jump off the 12 metre high ledge at this waterfall and safely land in the pool below. He had done it many times and highly recommended this adrenaline rush experience. But when we arrived at the tourist information the day before, Alex had said that they don't allow tourists to jump there anymore. However, when we arrived at the waterfall hut, we were greeted by an old and wise looking man who beckoned us to the edge and gestured that we should jump off. He looked like he had spent his whole life managing the property so we were more likely to trust him than a potentially over-protective tourist officer. He even threw a stone off the edge, which we thought was to test the water level - it seemed like a legitimate test! After Rox had asked him, in rudimentary Spanish, if it was 'safe' and he nodded eagerly, we were convinced. We quickly went to put on our costumes and psyched ourselves up for the jump. He showed us that we should jump forward and keep straight, pin-drop position, whilst making the jump.
On the edge of the 12 metre drop
As Rox has her ever crippling fear of heights, Joy volunteered to go first...
Joy getting the 'safety' briefing from the old man
After Joy had given Rox strict instructions that if she should perish, to tell her parents she loved them and to promise her that Rox would continue travelling should she die, she was ready to go...hmm, well, as ready as she would ever be.
From this video it appears that the death jump went well, but what it doesn't show is that as soon as Joy emerged from the water and got through the strong current, Rox could see that something was amiss. Joy, who always thrives in these sorts of situations and is generally an easy going and not complaining person, came up with a traumatised and pale face and nervously shaking her head to Rox. It took her at least two minutes to calm down and climb the steps back up to the jump spot. When she got to the top she relayed to Rox that she had jumped off the edge and hit her feet, hard on rocks at the bottom of the pool. She strongly advised Rox to not even consider taking the risk, even though Rox was shorter. Joy had even thought that she was paralysed when she first hit the bottom (perhaps a little over dramatic), but thankfully, could feel her feet when she emerged from the currents. Her feet even swelled from the impact. Nonetheless, the old man, who could easily ascertain that the jump had not gone 'swimmingly', still insisted that Rox should take the plunge. NOT A CHANCE THAT WAS GOING TO EVER HAPPEN NOW!! WHAT A PSYCHO OLD WATERFALL MAN - WAS HE JUST AN UNDERCOVER SERIAL KILLER BECKONING UNSUSPECTING TOURISTS TO THEIR DEATH?
We should have probably taken the hints from the run down and seemingly out of order water park features that it was dry season and the water level was nowhere near what it should have been to attempt these activities safely. Anyway, lesson learnt and at least we survived the ordeal to tell the tale.
We decided to take a few minutes to allow us to get over the near death experience in the cool (and by cool we mean very cold) river.
Joy testing the water level below the super tube. She could go under but her hand was still above the surface - definitely not a suitable level!!!
We found this clever little caterpillar making a daring cross over the river on this rope
Rox trying to look calm and collected in this icy water
After we had regained our nerve to continue on the day's quest, we headed to towards the cable car ('tarabita ') to scale the 530 metres above ground and head back down towards the town. There are about 6 other waterfall in the Park to see, but they were on the opposite side of where we were and would take another two hours to see. Besides, Nambillo was one of the more impressive ones anyway and to be perfectly honest we had had our fill of waterfalls for a while! Now it was time to go and see something safer... Butterflies.
Pic at the bottom of Nambillo
One last glance at the death waterfall
Joy beside her matching flower
As if we hadn't faced the grim reaper enough times for the day, we nearly stumbled upon this snake on our way to the cable car. Death must be out to get us!
Multi coloured fern
Cable car flying across the valley
Hmm...just a small rusty cage hanging on a metal cable supporting us as we hurl through the air metres above a deep valley. That seems safe and not at all terrifying. At least our cable car driver seems relaxed about it!
Most people pay for the cable car on the entrance side but it seems nobody else takes our way into the Park (Maybe they are just lazy or we are just crazy?) so it worked in our favour as the cable car operator never charged us for our return passage.
Trying to look calm so high above the ground
The end was in sight
After a brisk one hour walk down the hill and across the bridge, we came to the path towards the butterfly farm.
Only 2.5 more kilometres to go (in the Greater scheme of things this was a small distance compared to how far we had already walked today)
A free butterfly in the nature - we must be getting close
Joy finally at the entrance
Visions of what was to come
We quickly paid the $5 and a very friendly butterfly enthusiast took us on a short tour through the butterfly life cycle and what we could expect to see inside the enclosure.
Stage 1 - The butterflies find a mate and become one
Stage 2 - the female butterfly lays the eggs
Stage 3 - the larvae hatch
Stage 4 - the caterpillars eat and become fat worms
Stage 5 - the mature caterpillars find a sturdy leaf and start to spin themselves inside a cocoon
Stage 6 - once inside the cocoon the worms transform into butterflies
Stage 7 - when they are fully developed the butterflies emerged from the chrysalises
Stage 8 - after the butterflies wings have dried off they can fly and start to eat nectar from flowers. And they start the whole process over again when they are mature butterflies
As we entered the dome, we were bombarded with a colourful array of fluttering wings... There were butterflies everywhere!!
Butterfly that uses its big eye shaped wings to imitate a larger animal and frighten away predators
The life cycle
Inside the dome there were real life displays of the various life stages of these creatures.
Tray of pupas of all different butterfly species
Even metallic gold type pupas
These green ones look so much like leaves that it camouflages into its normal natural surroundings
Caterpillars chowing down
Just handing out
Butterflies emerging from their cocoons
Mature mom butterflies monitoring the rebirthing process
Butterflies letting their wings dry out
Obviously this was a rough and tough fighter butterfly who had been injured in battle. Coming to check out the new recruits or potential challengers.
Official scientific butterfly names
Joy the butterfly whisperer
Butterfly with its wings being unfolded for the first time
When they first emerge from the chrysalis, the butterflies have inflated stomachs and we noticed that while they are letting their wings dry out, they also excrete their extra weight onto the floor. Here these remains can be seen.
Not only do butterflies enjoy the nectar of flowers, apparently they also like to snack on squashed bananas...
Thus to lure them, one had to stick a finger into this gross mooshy mixture - For Rox, whose other fear is that of bananas, this was not an appealing notion
But for the privilege of having such a magnificent creature perched on her finger Rox just had to suck it up and touch the banana goo
And success!! It worked:)
Joy relaxing at the tranquil koi pond
This was one of our favourite butterflies
The butterflies would extend their long tongues in search of the banana pieces - it was a super ticklish process
One of the butterflies even had a thing for Joy's knee cap
Two at once - Rox was becoming popular
They say the best time to visit a butterfly farm is in the hottest part of the day when they are most active, so around about 12.45 seemed perfect to us
Butterfly with bean like antenna
The eyes are watching us...
Beautiful orchids in the butterfly farm - an overload of colour and splendour
They really seem to love bananas
This one either had a death wish or a foot fetish
The enthusiastic lady in the beginning had said that if we were patient enough we could actually witness a new butterfly emerging from its cocoon. We had pretty much seen everything else the park had to offer and a little extra time on our hands so we waited... We were in luck and we managed to see one such butterfly do exactly that. Unfortunately, Rox's camera had died (after all the nature pics from the morning) and Joy's camera's video had malfunctioned, but we still have step by step photographs of the action.
Change pic drying out the wings
Breaking through the chrysalis
Unfolding the wings
And finally releasing the extra stomach wait
View of the butterfly farm
Come to me elusive blue butterfly
the love making process
Butterflies cooling off and drinking pond water
In flight (blurry) butterflies
Educational section of the park
We just couldn't stop trying to capture the magnificence of these creatures in flight- not sure we could ever do them justice
This was definitely the love making process going on but we weren't quite sure why the other butterflies were trying to get involved?
Procreation looked like hard work especially while trying to multitasking and fly at the same time... Maybe the floor was a better option
The miracles of both flight and Procreation being displayed
Somebody else getting close
These little children were so excited about butterflies it was so much fun to watch the sheer joy displayed on their curious little faces. This little German boy was totally in his element
Pose for us Blue
After being in heaven for about two hours and taken many more pictures than we should have it was unfortunately time to leave, but first... Let's take more pictures of the amazing hummingbirds that just happened to be flying around outside the centre.
Perfectly perched on the feeder
Can you spot that enormous tongue lapping up the sugar water?
Flying and eating at the same time - impressive.
After getting distracted by the nature for the last time, we quickly headed back down the hill to the town. We quickly bought bus tickets for the 3pm bus, sourced rolls and fruit for lunch (padkos) and went to buy two slabs of chocolate from the chocolate factory (one for our host Daniel and one for us). They were pretty expensive but definitely worth it!
After a rather twisty turny bus ride, where we both tried to spread out in the rather empty bus and get some shut eye after the busy last 24 hours. We were still pretty exhausted when we arrived back at Daniel's 2.5 hours later, especially after our 4:30 wake up and approximately 15 kilometre hike around Mindo that day. However, when we walked through the door, Daniel had invited friends over and arranged for us to go and watch his Argentinian football league team play at an Argentinian bar in the area. This meant great beer and wine, incredible steak and passionate warcries being chanted. No matter how tired we were we couldn't refuse this attractive invitation.
The bar was packed with guys wearing THE TEAM'S colours - red and black. No supporters from the other rival team would step foot into this place. There was nothing else for it but to support the Argentinians - Go Rivers!!
It was the first of the two match final being played by these two teams - one on each team's home turf so that the result would be fair. The Rivers were playing the Tigers from Mexico. It was a heated match but in the end it closed with a nil all draw. The winner would just have to be determined next week in the final of the Final league match.
After the match, Daniel's girlfriend, Karlha had organised for us to go to a Salsa dance academy that opened its doors to the public once a week and was free entrance until 10pm. We literally made it in by the skin of our teeth and only had to have a drink each to ensure the free cover. We had mistakenly thought that we could just go to the club and watch all the professionals doing their thing - we were still very 'green' Salsa dancers and nothing at this level. After Daniel and Karlha hit the dance floor, we were bombarded by guys asking us to dance. They looked like we were aliens when first we refused them to them to get drinks. But after the drinks were finished there were no more excuses and we had to participate. We were clearly out of our depths but our dance partners could see we were gringo and were very patient with our constant misplaced steps and standing on toes. Eventually we got into the swing of things and were soon being thrown up into the air and flung onto the ground. Rox nearly put her back out with all the fancy turns her partner was putting her through. Needless to say, a fantastic night was certainly had by all!! Then it was to bed with the fluffy cat Puszek at our heads/feet to try and find some rest before our tour to the crater lake, Quilotoa, early the next morning.
Rox, Joy and our host Daniel (proudly wearing his River's t-shirt) at the Salsa club.