For our weekend break from construction progress, the team favored my suggestion to head up north to Mindo for a day in the cloud forest. The elevation would give us a break from the relentless heat, and the 13 cable lines connecting the canopy would make for an exhilarating breeze through the trees. Forgoing breakfast, we grabbed some bananas and headed for the bus – hopping from one to the next until arriving at our destination 3 hours later.
Before I get too excited re-living my superman flying experience, let me get off track for a moment to paint a clearer picture of the Ecuadorian bus situation. Because…you really have to understand the details to fully appreciate the duration of these side trips. From my last post concerning bus rides, we concluded that:
1. The seats, aisle, (and sometimes roof) are completely jam packed.
2. The odor is ….unique, overpowering and unavoidable.
Now add to that equation, mariachi tassels adorning the curtains that wont stay shut or fully open, a completely reassuring Jesus sticker collection at the front of the bus – the shrine that is no doubt guiding the driver around the fatal corners while passing other buses and honking his clown car horn to valiantly deter any oncoming vehicles; and don’t forget, the traveling gypsy teens that forcefully ‘give’ you presents then demand payment for the Gordita Porn Disk 1 or repackaged Mani Candy at the next stop before they depart to other targets. Their gifts are always preceded with a drawn out well-recited story involving the deaths of their parents and the orphaned children they have to feed. I have to give them credit, they’re much more creative and industrious than the panhandlers in Seattle. A man’s gotta eat.
When we separated from the crowd of the buses, the air was invigorating. It had a fresher, cleaner feel to it. At 5,000ft we were all a bit chilly riding up to the canopy in the bed of a sup’d up pickup. We clung to the roll bars and peered out into the brush to spot some of the rare bird species. Colorful flickers darted through the drizzly haze into the palm leaves, chirping as if to mock our delayed sightings.
At the top of the park awaited the entrance to the zipline insanity. We geared up in helmets, harnesses, and gloves while listening to a mundane safety speech “..Please do not let go of the cable…. This is a dangerous activity…. can be life threatening… yadda yadda yadda.”
We lined up on the first platform, it was a short jaunt of cable to the next staging area – just enough to get the heart rate elevated and break you in before having the crap scared out of you. The second line was a screaming blur. A rush of wind. A collision with air. A green landscape wizzing by. A leaping cry, like a tickle from the lungs. Hair whipped back, feet flailing, hands clinging for dear life. What seemed like 1,000 ft off the ground, made reaching each platform a successful victory of prevailing life.
The rest of the cables became easier. In fact, there was even the sound of laughter blended with the crying as we made our way through the canopy. I found myself giggling uncontrollably while flying in superman position across the longest cable span. This involved the aid of a tandem instructor to achieve maximum flying capacity. It was almost surreal, looking down at the rain forest passing below me, free as a bird and enjoying the view.
As we came around to the last 2 cables the mist we had been flying through had accumulated into a substantial rain shower. The rain hit our faces like pellets of stinging ice as we zipped across the finish line. The weather had certainly taken an unexpected turn for the worst. By the time we reached the kiosk we had missed the last ride back down, forcing us to hop in another truck. For the first 5 minutes of spastic bouncing I felt like I was on an improved Indiana Jones meets Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland, the perfect way to end our day of adventure! Those sentiments quickly dissolved. The rest of the ride back left us sopping wet, shivering, beat-up, bruised, and not to mention starving (and you can ask anyone in my family, you don’t want to be around me when I am hungry – It’s just not what you would call a pleasant experience).
By the time we reached the Mindo bus station we looked like a bunch of drowned rats. Carrying only our day packs with water bottles and cameras, we were foolishly caught in the element without any spare clothing. Just when we had abandoned hope of being remotely comfortable, our heavy hearts nearly jumped out of our chest at the sight of the giant glowing sign reading ‘se sirve pizza.’ We had 15 minutes till departure time. We bolted for the door and ordered 2 of the largest ‘jamón con piña’ we could get. They came out of the oven right as our bus was leaving – we grabbed our precious cardboard boxes and ran through the puddles to get on our bus with mere seconds to spare. We plopped down in our seats, water puddling all around us, and scarfed down every glorious mouthful of the chewy fake cheese and saltine cracker crust.
Throughout my travels, there seems to permeate a repeated reminder that pizza is one of the few culinary treats we have mastered in America. We do it right. But in that moment, in those circumstances, Ecuador managed to do it better.