18 Jul

Ecuador Travelogue (part 2)

Mindo’s a funny place. It’s pure Ecuatoriano – full of little tiendas on every block with free-roaming dogs that expertly dodge trucks that carry fruta or pescado or dangerously-packed construction equipment. And though not untouched by the corporate world, it’s still free of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and peanut butter. But as with all pueblos turisticos in Ecuador, there’s a rise in Internet cafes and adventure tourism. And it’s in those places that you see the most gringo influence. The most fluent English speakers and the most Americanized young men – emulating the X-Games and Jackass ethos we export abroad – run these establishments. And they look to be doing well. It’s ironic that gringo tourists flock to the gringo-ized Ecuador. But alas. It’s true.

Even we were drawn to the canopy zip lines advertised all over town. On Thursday, we rode/walked our piece of crap rented bicicletas up the mountainside to the original canopy adventure, called simply Canopy Adventure. We were the only customers. Two guias went with us.

What you do is you get onto a raised platform, where they strap you onto a steel cable and give you some quick safety instructions. Then they tell you to sit on your harness, cross your legs at the ankles, and hold on to the straps that are attached to the cable. And away you go, zipping above the cloud forest valley. My guide was kind of a grumpy jerk; Eileen’s was much more gregarious and nice. But it was fun either way.

The course consists of 13 cables, some freaky high up and others mas tranquilo. On some of them, you can opt to do the superman or the mariposa, both of which require a tandem trip with el guia. For the superman, you hook the backside of your harness onto the cable with a safety running to your guide. Then you basically fly horizontally through the air, face first toward the next platform. For the mariposa, you sit on your harness facing your guide and once you take off, he flips you upside down and holds onto your legs. I liked the mariposa a lot, but it was definitely freaky to see the sky below you and the canopy above.

Our return to Quito was in the standard bus, which travels through so many switchbacks that I had to put my head between my legs – or at least get close to doing so. There wasn’t actually enough leg room to bend over all the way. But I survived anyway.

17 Jul

Ecuador Travelogue (part 1)

Eileen got sick in record time. Her stomach started rumbling on Monday night, not even 48 hours after our plane had landed. By Tuesday morning, she was even more uncomfortable and though the bichos remained tolerable for the ride to Mindo, by Tuesday night, there was no denying that the bichos were indeed bichos and not – as we had hoped – just a delicate stomach adjusting to new food.

We traveled to Mindo not by bus or taxi but by camioneta. At the bus stop, as we were waiting for the coche to Mindo, some guy appeared saying, “Mindo, Mindo. Van a mindo?” I said si because yes, we were going to Mindo, but then I saw that he was driving a white truck with an oversized flatbed bien cubrido so that you couldn’t see what he had in the back unless you put an eye up to the thin slats and peered through. “That’s not a bus,” I said to Eileen. “Are you sure you want to take it?” And she said sure, so I said okay to the guy and he opened the passenger side door for us and we piled in.

Angel was his name, and not only was he harmless, he was, by the end of the trip, asking if we’d have any interest in gaining a god-daughter. “Bueno,” he said just before letting us off, “el primer paso en la amistad es compartir numeros telefonicos.” So we punched our US phone number into his cell phone and shook his hand and after several un gustos, we caught our second camioneta into Mindo.

We stayed at El Descanso, which mean “The Resting Spot,” mas o menos. And boy did we rest. Eileen’s bichos were getting angry. So while she slept, or at least tried, I read a lot. I also took a few trips into the main drag (six blocks away) and got some sanduches de jamon, which were just about he only thing I ate all day, what with Eileen’s loss of appetite and all.

But even with Eileen’s ailing stomach, we remembered immediately why Mindo was one of our favorite places when we lived here four years ago. The air is, for lack of a better term, well-oxygenated. It’s about 4000 feet lower in elevation than Quito, and it’s not full of pollution. My glands were starting to get swollen in Quito because your immune system mistakes the pollution for disease. But in Mindo, we both gravitated toward the hammocks overlooking the hummingbird-populated selva that is El Descanso’s back yard. Last time we were here, we heard someone say that there are 19 species of hummingbirds in this jardin alone. We were in the off season, so we only counted six. But apparently the entire continental US only has nine species. They move through the air impossibly fast, fluttering their wings ten times a second, and they buzz like bees when they fly (not when they hover unless they’re really small). It’s a sound that, minus the Doppler effect, would be soothing. But because I’m apiphobic it puts me on edge.

Still, on the first night, as Eileen and I lay in bed, a light rain was falling, and some exotic bird species were singing, and I said to Eileen, “This sound we’re hearing right now? People put this on CDs and sell it.”