Day 7: Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

Thursday. Good morning, Mindo! Everyone sleeps especially sound under its blanket of seclusion, besides those paranoid by the small winged creatures that share our rooms. For the second magical day, a chorus of birds rose our sleepy minds, and dense green jungle shrouded our peripherals on the walk to breakfast.

The dining room chatter revolved around our first journey from the Cloudforest Lodge: a hike to Cascada Nambillo, an uphill climb to a waterfall. In the natural course of Ecuadorian travel, getting from point A to B was an adventure in itself. All of us hopped into the beds of three pickup trucks and enjoyed a beautifully unstable ride to the trail head. The cool drivers even bumped tunes perfect for shaky travel-dancing, during which we resembled little bouncing popcorns. If you ever find yourself in a truck bed flying through the gravelly streets of Mindo, I would highly recommend standing up for maximum-safari-thrill-ride-effect. It makes dodging branches and banana leaves just like a real life game of Temple Run!

Here’s what our truck ride was like

The trail head itself was less a head, and more literally a steep drop off. All good, because the enormous valley between us and the path was easily traversable with a few shifts of Tarabitas, or cable cars that whisked us along a slack wire (yet another incredible transportation experience). While at the will of a Tarabita, an exciting vulnerability was heightened by a sensation of weightlessness. The ride’s view was a stunning 360 of jungle and rising mountains for miles. Pure awesome. Also, Kerry: you are a champ for making it across with zero tears shed.

The hike itself featured contrasting soundtracks. Wholesome nature sounds (buzzing, chirping, babbling brooks), were accompanied by the music of few select sirens, namely Britney Spears and Fergie, blasting from an iPhone speaker. The parallel between the materialistic lyrics to “Glamorous” and our unscathed wilderness surroundings was created in a single line: “Up in the sky.” More fitting songs in our mountain repertoire included Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” and Aladdin’s “A Whole New World.” Music helps a lot during a hike – you don’t overthink the precarious spots presented by the earth when you’re light on your feet from half-dancing.

We arrived at the falls with mouths in full gape mode at the roaring 200 feet of water. A few courageous souls braced themselves for the frigid, cascade-crafted pool. Lance braved the ice-breaking wade-in, and others followed once they confirmed that frostbite hadn’t set in. The falls were of course a sight, but the moss covering the sheetrock surrounding the Cascada’s crater was ethereally shimmering. I’m telling you, Mindo is magic.

The group at Cascada Nambillo ~ Photo courtesy of Jean!

We established that we had our fill of this waterfall, deliberated a little, and the team decided to take an extra hike to smaller cascades with a more swimmable waterhole. Here, all of us waded in. For one adventurous spirit, however, simply doggy-paddling was not enough. After noticing Lance had disappeared with intentions to cliff jump into the pool, we made a spectacle of ourselves to the other tourists by screaming “NO! DON’T DO IT! SOMEBODY GRAB HIM!”

Moments later, Lance came cascading down with the falls on the end of a bungee cord, and promptly buoyed back up with the aid of a life vest. We learned that at the top of the ledge, a helpful man in charge of the impromptu cliff-jumping situation had tossed a rock into the water from above and had given Lance the kind instruction “Land there.” He did just that, and nobody got hurt.

After the morning’s wild adventures, we returned to the lodge with evidence of our athleticism: muddy shoes and bug-bitten legs. Our slightly peckish selves were presented with a carbo-loaded lunch to get us ready for the next activity: a butterfly sanctuary, or Mariporsario.

The best butterfly gardens have a stocked koi pond, or hummingbirds darting about at their entryways to warm you up. This one had both. We entered the reserve through curtains made of flowers, and I watched smiles spread across everyone’s faces as they subconsciously stuck out their pointer fingers in hopes that a butterfly would choose their hand for landing. We were instructed to slather a banana baby formula-esque substance on our hands to make this process more efficient for both parties.

Many of us were lucky enough to serve as butterfly perches, and some even developed personal relationships with the insects that arrived atop them, sharing dialogue and making memories. The most notable experiences include, but are not limited to: a certain individual taking on the function of a butterfly’s personal bathroom, and another getting a butterfly to the face, serving as an unmatched nose accessory. The main takeaway: it is equal parts you choosing the butterfly, and the butterfly choosing you.

Might Skye have deceived this butterfly with her body art? ~ Photo by Olivia Ahner

We said goodbye to our pretty new friends and ventured to the Mariporsario’s backyard, which contained exquisite gardens and moon pools, plus a wonderful hybrid pavilion/treehouse. With the evening, we returned from this paradise for some pre-dinner relaxation, then recieved a delectable meal of bread, chicken soup, steak, potatoes, and cooked vegetables. And I quote, “This meal is so on point.” Thanks to another meal of pure fuel, some students were energized for a lizard-filled night hike, while others got ahead on their editing grinds. The wonder hasn’t ended, nor do I expect it to any time soon.