I have to admit that ziplining in Ecuador was the one activity I looked forward the most. I love to fly and have always been enamored with airplanes and anything that gets me into the air. Although I have zipped in Costa Rica, Mexico and even aboard the cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, I heard that the Ecuadorian experience would excel due to the depth of the valleys, beauty of the jungle and mountains and length of the lines.
Our destination would be Mindo Cloud Forest in the Amazon jungle. Woohoo! We were told to wear jeans and long sleeved T-shirts to protect us from sun, shrubs and bugs. Hiking boots would also be a good idea as we would hike from tower to tower over varied terrain, while wearing our light weight equipment (approx. 5 pounds).
First stop: Mariposas de Mindo
Mindo is a small town located to the north west of Quito in the Andean foothills of Ecuador. Mindo is surrounded by the Mindo-Nambillo Cloud Forest; the forest is home to 400 hundred species of birds, many of which are in danger of extinction, and 90 species of butterflies.
What we did not expect was an amazing glimpse into the life of butterflies with a visit to a vivarium called Mariposas de Mindo, the #1 thing to do in Mindo according to Trip Advisor. First, we stepped into a small room to see photos of the 4 stages of life and I reflect on the changes in my own life over the years, appreciating that no matter what our age, change is possible.
Next, we duck under a cloth door and emerge into an explosion of color with butterflies of all kinds fluttering all around us. Some with big blue interior wings, millions that camouflage as owls, tiny red and black or dainty, lace like yellow with black trim. It was truly a magical place and like no other butterfly haven I’d ever seen,
Another 20 minute s (not enough) was spent trying to get a blue one to land on our fingers laced with banana or catching one on camera. In one corner, a bench afforded a peaceful spot to just listen to their wings flutter as they flitted from leaf to leaf or pollenated flower to flower.
Along the wall are the 4th stage butterflies emerging from a chrysalis! It takes about 3-4 hours for the wings to dry and the butterfly is able to fly. IN the meantime, his/her buddies fly around almost as if saying, “come on, I ‘m waiting for you”.
One more surprise met us as we departed. Several small colibri (hummingbirds) fed on sugar water at a feeder, resting long enough for some of us to get a photo, not so easy, they are really fast!
Outside waited our next mode of transportation, open back pick-up trucks. We jumped in and they whisked us off in trails of dust toward the zip lines.
Trail guides lined up waiting to fit us with our equipment (belts, carabiners, leather palmed gloves) and ‘cascos’ (helmets). I was thrilled to find that they had several helmets already fitted with the attachment for my Go Pro (I actually use Activeon), another woohoo!
Group pictures and a bathroom break were part of the melee and then we got the safety briefing. Pretty basic instructions included “listen to the guide”, do not play with your equipment (okay!), do not put your hand in front of the pulley, keep your head to the side of the pulley and watch the hand signals from your guides. There were two: “slow down” and “keep coming”. Pretty easy, and I felt set to go! I climb the first set of steps and let the guide clip me to the line. A mini jump up helps him get me locked in. With no time to think, I’m nudged ahead and before you know it, I’m zippppppeeeeeeeeeeeeng!
Now, I somehow missed the instruction that the guide on the other end had a brake, so I used my leather lined glove to slow myself down. Bummer for him, he had to hook up and shimmy out to get me… sorry dude.
First run down, nine to go! Two were high speed runs; several others were designed for “tricks.” Tricks? Not sure what that meant, but I’m all about that kind of excitement. We hiked up several, well-groomed trail levels (all uphill, at an elevation of approximately 9, 000 feet) under cover by humongous trees, hiking from one zip run to the next. The group lined up one zip tower after another in anticipation of the next thrilling run.
Last Stop: Another form of Mariposa!
Ah, the “tricks”… We alternated turns doing the “Superman” (facing forward with a guide behind you) or “Mariposa” (Spanish for butterfly – face the guide then lay back until you are completely upside down). Both are optional, and an added level of WOW for those willing and able to enjoy the adrenaline rush.
Learning or trying something new is a takeaway from vacation that is personally fulfilling and rewarding. Join us in a cloud forest!