Today I’m writing from Ecuador. I have completed the middle leg of a ten day trip, exploring the wonderful nature that Ecuador has to offer.
An amazing part of the trip has involved staying at a lovely ecolodge, El Monte, in the Mindo cloud forest region. Entering the lodge was already a lovely adventure, via tarabita (cable car) across the flowing river. My partner and I were welcomed to a wonderful two storey cabana, the ground floor a sitting room and upstairs a bedroom. As the cabana was situated right by the river, our downtime was accompanied by the rush of the water and many singing birds. An idyllic paradise, which was a more than perfect setting for going with the flow and practicing mindfulness.
Whilst I am a firm believer that peace is found within, there are of course places that can make us feel enveloped with a sense of peace and El Monte certainly was such a place. We had the privilege of bird watching, spotting countless birds that I admittedly cannot remember all the names of.
Hummingbirds and toucans flew close by to the lodge. Communal dinners were an excellent time to wind down and also learn about plenty of new topics. That’s one thing I love about travel – the ability to learn so many new things and hear people speak passionately about their views, knowledge and experience. It helps broaden our sense of the world and connect with our fellow humans.
On one of the days we went on a tour of a chocolate factory, seeing the process of growing cocoa beans through to the making of chocolate. The bean takes five months to mature and after being taken from the tree, a further one month to go from the fermentation and drying process through to the extraction, mixing and packaging. It makes you more conscious of the efforts that go into making chocolate. So many of us will eat an entire bar without thinking about the work behind it. Much like my article on tea making and appreciation, I will certainly be a lot more mindful and appreciative the next time I eat some chocolate.
New life was witnessed at the butterfly farm opposite the lodge, with examples of caterpillars and pupa through to the butterflies hatching and drying their wings before flight. Butterflies live only around fifteen days after their metamorphosis. Seeing them dance around in their beautiful colour was something extraordinary to witness. Knowing that their life is so fleeting made it special that time was being shared with these creatures.
Wildlife was amazingly diverse. Within the immediate area of the lodge, we spotted armadillos and a crab. However, my favourites were the leaf cutter ants who had formed an orderly crossing between two trees, carrying varying sizes of cut leaves across the path. Some hitchhiker ants jumped onto the leaves as the other ants carried across the loads. Whilst a lot of the leaves were considerably larger than the ants that carried them, one ant amusingly was carrying a small and rather dry leaf that looked like a miniature slice of pizza.
I also had the great pleasure of ziplining for the first time. Ten ziplines took us above the forest canopy, displaying extraordinary views of the clouds meeting the dense treetops. I enjoyed flying through the sky, superwoman style and also had great fun hanging upside down for a couple of the lines, but mostly I stayed in a seated position, enjoying the view.
Another highlight was the amazing waterfalls. As the drops were fairly tame, we were able to enjoy a paddle in the waters below, which were wonderfully cooling.
Orchids and bromelia were in full force throughout the forest. One orchid was amusingly nicknamed mother-in-law’s tongue, featuring a waggling tongue-like structure, apparently imitating a talkative mother-in-law. I enjoyed learning that some of the orchids only grew small flowers beneath their leaves and that the tips the leaves were coloured the same colour as the flowers that hid beneath. Giant anthurium leaves were a joy to see, dubbed the poor man’s umbrella, which reminded me of one of my favourite Ghibli anime’s, My Neighbour Totoro.
Even if I were unable to see, I know I would have enjoyed this wonderful place. The slightly damp, woody smell of the forest, the chirruping of the birds, the zipping noises of hummingbirds’ wings, the flow of the river, crashes of the waterfalls, soft brush of the breeze, and pitter-patter of rain on the leaves all created a beautiful, inspirational atmosphere and soundscape. Mindo certainly will be a place that I carry within my heart even after I’ve long left here. I like to think of travel not only as food for the soul, but in terms of memories they create, travel also can act as a repository of peace. Travel and learning new things brings a natural state of mindfulness, the lessons of which we can bring to our everyday lives.
If you are planning a trip to Ecuador, I thoroughly recommend checking out El Monte. You can find out more at www.ecuadorcloudforest.com