Cloud Forests, Butterfly Gardens & Chocolate Bars of Mindo
Day 1: Morning | Hike Cloud Forest & Visit a Butterfly Farm
From Quito, I took a day trip two hours northwest into Mindo for some hiking in the cloud forest. The tour was arranged with an agency near my hostel called Galasam International for around US $65, including tax.
Early in the morning we gathered at a local meeting point, Magic Bean, and were on the road just after 7 a.m. The scenery along the way was gorgeous and in no time we had arrived at the cloud forest.
Before we entered, the bus stopped so everyone could take in the scenery. It was stunning. The landscape was alive and full of lush green leaves. Thick clouds hovered over the forest, giving it it's name.
Six of us jumped into a cable car and rode across the valley to the other side. It was like a group-sized zip line and so much fun. After we reached the opposite side, the hike began.
One by one, we trailed after each other, stopping to look around and take photos, taking care not to slip and fall. The weather had been wet and the ground was pretty slick.
Our waterfall hunt in the cloud forest turned out to be a success. We stopped at each pool of water to enjoy the waterfalls. Half way through the hike it started to drizzle and eventually pour so we weren't able to see much in the way of animal life but all the green was more than enough.
Our group finally reached one of the bigger waterfalls we had been searching for, Cascada Colibries. By this point we were completely soaked from the downpour but a few from the group jumped into the warm water for a swim.
Turning around we began the hike back toward the zip line. The rain was falling so hard at this point it was tough to navigate through the forest but we eventually made it safely back to the bus.
Our next stop was a butterfly farm and orchid garden called Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo. My obsession with orchids always gets me so excited for secret spots like this and who doesn't love butterflies? I figured, this might be what heaven looks like.
As you enter the garden, orchids cover every surface. The guide stopped here and there to point out certain varieties and give descriptions of the plants.
Our group made it’s way through the garden and toward the butterfly house. Before entering the butterfly garden, we received a lesson on the stages of a butterfly; everything that occurs before a beautiful butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Here's a giant caterpillar. It was enormous and felt plump with sticky feet.
There were hundreds of chrysalises pinned up waiting to open. Some were shiny and gold or neon green and all different sizes, too.
We entered through a little screen and it didn’t take long to learn that chasing butterflies isn't easy. I felt like a maniac running around the garden trying to catch a butterfly with it's wings open just to take a photo. The second you get ready to snap they flutter off. In any event, I decided butterfly gardens might be my new favorite place.
Day 1: Afternoon | Learn How Chocolate Bars are Made
Time for CHOCOLATE. Next, we stopped by a chocolate maker up in the rain forest and learned about the process. Yumbos Chocolate offers hands-on tours in their garden and a chocolate shop, along with tastings. Yes, please!
The chocolate making process is a long one. After four years, seeds produce cacao fruit like these. When they're picked, it only takes three weeks for new fruit to grow back.
After cacao fruit is picked the seeds are used to make chocolate. Here's a peak inside.
Inside a cacao seed; the white layer on the outside is very sweet but the purple cacao inside is super bitter. We tried 100% cacao down to 60%, which is the most popular chocolate bar blend at Yumbos Chocolate. That means 40% sugar and no milk.
The cacao seeds are fermented in a wooden box lined with leaves as to not taint the flavor. This small batch stays here for about a week.
After fermentation, cacao seeds are dried. Each week they are moved to the next screen to ensure all moisture is lost.
When cacao seeds are fully dry they are ground up. The shells are blown away with a big fan and further separation is needed by hand to ensure the best quality. Small batches are the norm.
The cacao is mixed with sugar and ultimately poured into molds. The molds are put on a vibrating machine to eliminate any bubbles. The chocolate sets for a day and is finally packaged for the customer.
During this process an oil is left over. This oil is cacao butter, you know, the one you rub on your stretch marks. The chocolate making process is a pretty amazing one and Yumbos Chocolate was very informative. Now, I totally understand why gourmet chocolate bars are so expensive.