Mindo is a small town about 2.5 hours north west of Quito. The bus wound its way along mountain roads before descending into a valley, dropping us at the bus station on the main street.
After checking into our cabaña we wandered the streets of town, stopping in at a coffee shop where we were joined by the cutest little puppy named Valentina. She sat with us for a while but she was more interested in our brownies than our company.
Walking the streets a bit more we also came across some other cute little puppies, and found a vegetarian restaurant where we stayed for dinner, served by a middle aged hippy couple.
The next morning we chose to visit La Cascada (The Waterfall). Being a holiday weekend in Ecuador we thought this might be the least touristy and most natural of the towns attractions, which include zip-lining, a rather sketchy looking cable car, butterfly farm etc.
We walked 7 or 8kms up a dirt road until we reached the entrance to the waterfall, then descended down a pathway that arrived at an unfortunately very crowded and unnatural pool area. There was a couple of tiled pools, a building that looked incomplete where some ladies were selling things from a BBQ, and even a water slide that ended in a substantial drop into fairly shallow looking water. Not the quiet and natural paradise we where after!
The actual waterfall itself was another 1 minute walk along the trail, but you could only view it from a platform and couldn't swim near it. Rather than stop and relax there we decided to make our way back to town, sharing the tray of a Ute with a German couple who were equally disappointed with La Cascada.
After our big morning walk we were quite hungry so decided to actually have some lunch, something we haven't been doing of late. We found a café run by a German guy that served up a delicious smorgasbord with chorizo, falafel, cheese, bread, dips and a few little salads. Such a treat!
For dinner that night we went to an Italian restaurant where we ended up sharing a table with 2 Canadians, Colleen who is working as a teacher in Quito, and her Aunty who was visiting her. Colleen offered to have us stay with her in Quito when we return there for a few days later in the month which is amazingly nice of her!
Still not really interested in the touristy offerings of Mindo, we spent the next morning taking a stroll along one of the dirt roads leading out of town. To our surprise we spotted some distant mountain tops that were covered in snow. Given Mindo is quite low in altitude we hadn't expected so see snow capped peaks, but we found out later that those peaks were in fact at 4700 metres!
We spent the afternoon at the highly recommended Mindo Chocolate Factory for one of their tours. The tour was lead by the owner, and after explaining the process to us we had a tour of the garden, where we were shown some cocoa trees, then the greenhouse type room where the beans are fermented and dried.
Next we were shown the machinery used for separating the cacao from the shells, though they weren't running at the time. Following this the cacao is ground then added to sugar to make the chocolate. We were shown the rooms where this takes place, but only through windows which were difficult to see through.
The tour ended with a tasting. We were given a tiny piece of their brownie, which was pretty good, plus a little tub of 100% cacao sauce that we had to add sugar to according to our liking. We were given tiny bits of coffee, chilli, and some sauces they make from the fermentation by-products to try with the sauce.
We didn't get to try any actual chocolate which was really disappointing, especially given we paid $6 each for the tour, quite expensive for Ecuador. It was also expensive to buy the chocolate and after buying another brownie we decided they had enough of our money. We later spoke to a girl that had a tour a few days prior, who said they were given more chocolate samples than they could eat, as well as some chicken cooked in one of their sauces! Ripped off!
We had planned to have dinner at a Quinoa restaurant we spotted near the cheese factory, but when we returned it was closed! So, the cheap and cheerful veggie restaurant it was.
On the Sunday morning we had to get to the bus station early, as they only let you buy tickets on the day, and being a holiday weekend the first bus at 11am was likely to sell out. At 7.30am we managed to nab some of the last seats back to Quito.