We got to Pablo’s late last night after stopping for a pizza at a place that was crowded when it was a shack (said Pablo) but had lost all its customers since moving into bigger premises. The food was good, but there was only one other table of people there.
This morning we were off again, to the cloud forest at Mindo a couple of hours away. While I was loading the car I noticed that Sebastian’s temporary exhaust fix had been exactly that and the tailpipe was hanging loose again. I called Diego at Simon’s Car Rental and within forty minutes he had delivered us a new car and taken away the old one. I’m not sure there are many car companies – anywhere – that would have been as efficient.
Pablo had to return to Cambridge and so we said goodbye to him with big hugs all around (Pablo’s trademark). We were very sorry to leave him, and sad too that a little bit more of our Nieman group had been chipped away. Doors slammed, arms waved, farewells were shouted and we were on our way to Mindo, with a friend of Pablo’s driving the Fitzgerald’s in Pablo’s Discover and P, t and I sharing our car with Robert and Sui Fun.
Mindo is 6000 feet lower than Quito and once we left the highway we were weaving down a twisting mountain road trying to go easy on the brakes. The plants either side of us grew taller and broader as we descended and everything became more lush. Mindo is a flyblown little town with dogs hanging around street corners waiting for a bike to chase, and teenagers leaning on parked cars talking about whatever teenagers talk about in Ecuador (probably the same as everywhere else). All of us were feeling weary after all the driving of the past few days and we slumped into a restaurant feeling hot and irritable. The place was called “El Chef” but the expensive wood inlay in the chairs and tables spelled out “El Cheff” I wonder what the owner’s reaction was when his brand new, custom made dining room set arrived… The food though was generous and good; trout for some, pork for others and Sui Fun and I almost finished the bowl of hot sauce on ours.
There is a definite disconnect between Ecuadorians dealing with Ecuadorians and their financial dealings with foreigners. They are friendly and helpful (without exception so far) but at the Sachatamia Lodge, the 20% discount for cash and upgraded rooms that Pablo had agreed, turned into a ten percent discount and no upgrade when we actually arrived minus the only Ecuadorian in our group. It didn’t matter though. The cabins were new and cosy with big windows looking directly into the forest; a dark tangle of crooked trees, vines and elephant ear leaves. Creepers creeped, butterflies pranced and hummingbirds buzzed. Their wings really do make a racket. Feeders were set up all over the grounds and were always surrounded by electric sparkles of colour, as birds ranging in size from sparrow to bee dipped their long beaks in for a drink; their wings no more than a mist with a tinge of colour. Sometimes they would freeze-frame to a stop, their tiny wings held vertical for a moment as if cooling their hummingbird-armpits and then folded away. They are aggressive little things too, chasing each other away from popular feeding points.
The three of us headed down a dark path into the, lined with deep mossy banks. Faint slivers of late afternoon light reached through the canopy but the forest remained cool and gloomy. A bigger walk tomorrow. We slept that night to the sound of a raucous orchestra of frogs and insects jamming together into the night.