Mindo

Located in the cloud forest of the Andes Mountains, is the small adventure town of Mindo. We had one day in the town and were determined to fit as much in as possible.

First on the list was tubing! We had heard many stories of tubing down tranquil rivers all over the world usually with an esky floating alongside. Tubing in Mindo turned out to be quite a different experience! We hopped in the back of a ute driving through town as random Ecuadorians ran alongside us and jumped in the tray with us. It later turned out these were our guides! A few blocks later a raft made up 5 tubes was thrown on top of the ute and we were off to the river!
tuing

Standing next to the gushing river we received our safety briefing (delivered entirely in Spanish) and were given our helmets and life jackets. We were starting to realise that this may not be the idyllic float we had anticipated!

The only information that we had been decipher from the rapid fire Spanish that was directed at us during the safety briefing was hold on to the ropes tightly and keep your legs up. So as the tubes were thrown into the river we jumped on and did just that. It was a rough and bumpy ride over rocks and down rapids but we came out the other end (relatively) unscathed.

We barely had time to cough up the last of the river water when were in the back of another pick-up truck and off on a waterfall hike! To get to the start of the hike we were required to catch a dodgy looking cable over the rainforest canopy. When we were dropped off on the other side we were told that after we had after we had finished hiking and needed to catch the cable car back simply to pick up a big stick and hit the cable three times. Someone on the other side would hear the banging and come and collect us!

We enjoyed a nice hike to several different waterfalls and enjoyed a refreshing dip as the afternoon storm hit. Fortunately, someone noticed our banging on the cable and we went back across the valley in the cable car and caught another ride back into town.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

It was then time for our final activity and the one Jen was most excited about… chocolate tour and tasting!! We received a tour explaining the complete process involved in making chocolate in a local farm and then sat down and enjoyed some free samples. We had been told from people that we had met that we would be more than full of chocolate after the tour was over. These people clearly had not met Jen and after the tour had ended we had to return later that night for Dinner!

Quito

It was a long and bouncy ride from Cotopaxi National Park sitting in the back of a trooper but we somehow managed to make without Jen using the sick bag! We were very nervous about checking into our first “party” hostel of the trip. Things were off to a good start when we turned up just in for Trivia!! We joined a team with fellow some fellow travellers we had met in Cotopaxi and finished up a respectable third place and were in bed by 11pm.
The next day we wondered around the streets of downtown Quito and happened to stumble across a parade in the square. Next it was off to visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional for a fantastic view across the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our last night at the hostel did not prove quite so tame as the first when we indulged in a few too many happy hour specials and somehow ended up piling into a taxi with a few new friends for a night out in Quito. It turned out to be a bit of a random night with shots, fish bowls, running into friends from Wollongong and from a our Dragoman trip!

It was a sad and sorry Tristan and Jen the next morning, struggling to pack their bags in time for the 11am check out so we could attempt to make the bus to Mindo.

Secret Garden- Cotopaxi

Following a couple of nights “roughing it” along the Quilotoa loop, we were excited to check into the Secret Garden lodge at Cotopaxi. Not only were we staying in very cute hobbit holes with views looking out towards the towering and majestic Cotopaxi Volcano but (and definitely much more impressive) we had the benefit of all you can banana bread!! Jen was in heaven!

DSC02674

After filling up on more than our fair share of banana bread, we headed off for our first activity. A waterfall hike finished off with a jump from the top of one of the waterfalls into the icy water.

 

We spent the afternoon relaxing in the hammock enjoying beautiful views of Cotopaxi before tucking into one of the best meals of the trip. A delicious fish red Thai curry.

IMG_0759

The place we called home for two nights! Lucky us!

19720352_10102092681481942_1521198007_o

The next day we were up early to tackle the Pasochoa summit trek. This trek was so muddy that we ditched our hiking books (or in Tristan’s case his joggers) and swapped them for their trusty gumboots. After three hours of slipping and sliding through the mud, we reached the summit of the volcano at 4,220m giving us panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. During our struggles up the mountain we were put to shame by the hostel’s dogs, a 12 year-old Daschund and an even older Dalmatian!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

On our last day at Secret garden, Jen decided to have a “chill” day relaxing in the hammocks while Tristan was off to mountain bike down the world’s tallest active volcano. Some members of his group were put off by the condition of the bikes when we stopped to collect them and pulled out of the bike ride but Tristan was determined to continue.

The group drove up to parking area on Volcano Cotopaxi at 4,600m before hiking up to the refuge at 4,800m. After returning to the car park it was then time to jump on the bikes!

Things did not get off to a good start with Tristan’s derailleur snapping in half on the first corner. But a quick change of bikes and Tristan was off again! Descending over 1,000m on a hard tail bike with dodgy brakes over rough corrugated roads was not the most enjoyable experience. Things got worse though when one of the pedals snapped off. Despite the offer of a third bike to break Tristan took this as a sign that it might be time to pack it in for the day and head back to the hostel. It was then time to head to Equador’s capital Quito!

 

Quilotoa Loop

 

It had been a good couple of weeks since our last multi-day trek and Jen was starting to miss that feeling of being sweaty, sun-burnt and out-of-breath tramping up some mountains at altitude. Accordingly, we made plans to take off on the Quilotoa loop trek!

The Quilotoa loop is a walk through some beautiful and remote towns in the Ecuadorean highlands with the spectral grand finale of Laguna de Quilotoa. The laguna is a 3km wide lake situated in a volcanic crater with the crater rim standing at 3,915m.

They say you can’t do the loop without getting lost and we were certainly no exception! The set of directions we were given read more like a treasure map and had us tramping through local villager’s backyards searching for tiny goat tracks hidden by the thick scrub.

Tristan (despite previous bad experiences from Adventure Races) took charge leading Jen and our new German friend Desi off into the wild. He began to think at one point that he might have made a mistake when the path he chose lead off into a swamp. However, he kept going for another couple of kilometres just to be sure. Fortunately, Desi was present as a potential witness to prevent matricide taking place when he finally admitted that he might have made a “small” mistake that meant back tracking those couple of kilometres through the swamp and up a hill. It was a frosty walk from that point on… and then it started to rain.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Somehow we managed to make it to our accomodation for the first night without coming to any physical blows. At our hostel we were lucky enough to be upgraded from our dorm to a private bungalow complete with fireplace!

The comfort of our accomodation was not able to erase the painful memory of the hike for Desi and, following her violent glimpse into married life, she feigned an illness and was off on the first bus the next morning to Latacunga.

Day 2 did not get off to a much better start when our new walking companion was chased by some vicious dogs. Upon hearing the screams everyone did the right thing by taking off as fast as they could in the opposite direction, leaving poor Ali to her fate.

Thankfully, Tristan had relinquished the navigating duties which meant our second day did not involve any major deviations from the suggested path. After a tough climb out of the canyon we were greeted with some beautiful views over the valley and then continued on to our hostel in Chugcilan.

We started off early for Day 3 (the last day of the hike) and the toughest. It was 1,000m elevation gain from the town of Chugcilan up to the rim of the crater overlooking Quilota laguna. This meant of course that we would first need to descend a couple of hundred metres before even starting the climb!

We somehow managed to make it to the top and when we did were rewarded with some gorgeous views that made it all the worthwhile. Finally we made it back to our hostel where Jen crashed into a heap and said for 100th time she did not want to do any more hikes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Banos

Our next stop in Ecuador was the adventure town of Baños. Situated in the Central Highlands, the town is surrounded by towering mountains and beautiful waterfalls.

For our first activity we rented a buggy and took off along the ruta de las cascadas. Driving a long the roads winding mountain with crazy Ecuadorean drivers overtaking at every opportunity was a hair raising experience. It was even more dangerous on the way back when Jen decided to drive. The road went through tunnels and along the side of the canyon giving us spectacular views.

At the end of the loop we parked our buggy and hiked down into the canyon for an up close view of the Devil’s Cauldron. There was a path cut into the rock leading to a cave behind the waterfall which allowed you to experience the powerful gushing waterfall up close.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After surviving the return trip to Banos with Jen behind the wheel we headed up to Casa de Arbol, a treehouse and swing giving amazing views over the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next day in Banos happened to be a rainy day. We spent the morning playing an intense game of Janga and watching Netflix. In the afternoon we decided to venture out and climb what felt like a million steps to the top of the mountain to try another swing. This one appeared to be a little more dangerous because our harness was literally tied to a very worn out piece of rope.

 

Our last day in Banos was another action packed one, Tristan got up early to go canyoning. Slipping, sliding and abseiling down lots of waterfalls in the rainforest. In the afternoon we headed to Parque Aventura for some zip lining. The first zipline was headfirst down into the gorge, zooming over the river. At the end you feel like you are about to crash into the cliff wall but the brakes come on at the last second (lucky we were in the brace position). After the zipline we headed across a long bouncy suspension bridge with our trusty guide running out in front of us bouncing and swinging the bridge as much as possible. At the end of the bridge you reach the base of the cliff and climb up about 200metres over the raging river. We reached the top with shaky legs and then it was off on the final zipline back to the other side of the river.

Cuenca

After a few short days, unfortunately our beach side stay came to an end. Off on another overnight bus, we crossed the border into Ecuador and went back up into the Andes to Cuenca.

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city and is filled with some beautiful colonial architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, handsome plazas and lots of impressive churches. We checked into an AirBnb apartment for a few days and made use of having a kitchen, heading to the local market to pick up some ingredients, and enjoying some home cooked meals.

In the mornings we got up early to go for a run along the Rio Tomebamba before Tristan headed off to Spanish classes and Jen settled in for some days of Netflix and blogging of course.

DSC02325

Our view from our Airbnb!

DSC02326DSC02328DSC02330DSC02335DSC02336

Mancora

Somehow we managed to survived the 19 hour bus trip to Mancora, hopping off in the early morning into some brilliant sunshine and a swarm of clamoring tuk tuk drivers. Tristan negotiated a price with one of the drivers which he thought was so reasonable that he tipped the driver but actually turned out to double the normal fare. Our packs were tied on to the tuk-tuk with a bit of string and we were off!

Mancora is a small rustic beach side town close to the Ecuadorean border. A short bouncy ride along some dusty streets and we arrived at our ecolodge retreat. We dropped off our bags and then it was off to the beach for the first time since Uruguay!

The next few days we spent soaking up a bit of sunshine, swimming and enjoying some beautiful sunsets. We even tried to start a bit of a health kick with some runs along the beach and a yoga class! Although given Tristan’s inflexibility and general ineptitude at this may be something that won’t be repeated on the trip.DSC02297DSC02298DSC02301DSC02304DSC02309DSC02314