Whenever you visit a foreign country, you will almost always hit a language barrier. After we got off the plane in São Paolo we kept going round in circles looking for where we could check in for our next flight because no authoritative people could never stand us, let alone help us. Eventually we stopped in a relatively crowded part of the airport and one of the teachers, in frustration, shouted, “Does anyone speak English?” to the general area.
“I speak English. It’s the only language I know!” said an bearded American pilot whose navy-coloured uniform was decorated with a variety of winged badges. He looked authoritative, alright but he was completely useless to us because he, too, was stuck on the same side of the language barrier as us.
Staying in a hotel, you will also come across a variety of people with nationalities. Being the polite school girls we are, we try to greet those we walked past in hallways or meet in lifts but it is rather tricky to decide in three seconds whether to greet the person in English or Spanish. A couple of safe options are either to singsong a whole lot of vowels that make a word that sounds like both ‘Hello’ and ‘Hola’ or, simply, to smile. This can be awkward, though, because nearly no-one returns the friendly facial expression. The Ecuadorian tourists I’ve come across must just be inherently unfriendly.
Breakfast was really early this morning because we had to be on the bus at 7:00 to take the two-hour trip to Mindo, a small but charming town in the northern hemisphere part of the country. Between Quito and Mindo there are several microclimates to be admired as you drive along the twisty roads in the Andes mountains. The changes between microclimates is almost instantaneous. One side of the mountain is dry and covered partially by small shrubs and shirt grass and then suddenly your looking at thick, dense, dark green forest intermingled with clouds. Again, no photograph could do the sights justice. The only things that really could have improved our absorption of the natural beauty was if the bus remained somewhat perpendicular to the ground and if Ecuadorians could start obeying solid lines on the road. Especially around blind corners bordering cliffs. That would be nice.
You know what would also be nice? If I wasn’t deathly afraid of heights. I so wanted to go zip-lining through the Cloud Forest canopy but, considering I nearly passed out on the cable car (which, to be fair, was a little rusted and operated manually by a man working a machine that looked more than vaguely like a car stripped of its covering. It was also freaking high.), I thought I’d better not. The cable car ride over a valley was fun, though. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be zip lining so I stood at the front of the 1m x 0.7m steel basket and held on for dear life. It sounds cheesy but it really did feel like flying, standing up in the basket with the air rushing past my ears so fast I couldn’t hear anything but the wind. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Below us (far, far below us) was the Cloud Forest; giant trees and a rushing river and a thin veil of mist between them. If my breath hadn’t already been taken away by the flying feeling, I would have said the view did. When I stepped off the basket in the other side, I almost fell into my Biology teacher; I hadn’t realised it but my legs had turned to unset jelly. My hands were shaking. The world spun a little. It was at this point that I decided I would not survive zip lining.
There’s that scene in ‘The Notebook’ where Noah says, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” And there’s that song that goes, “I’m like a bird; I wanna fly away.” And I just think these people must not be afraid of heights because if I we’re a bird, I’m pretty sure I’d be a penguin.
When everyone was across the valley, we hiked through the Cloud Forest, and that was fantastic. (I know I sound repetitive but there really are no words to describe this place so I have to use some lame repetition.) Hiking down was fun. At the end of the trail there was a roaring waterfall and a turbulent river. Hiking up was hell. The scenery was still stunning and the clouds rolling along the ground and the trees cooled us down but the altitude certainly took it’s toll on us, regardless. I felt embarrassed because I knew how red I was and how much I was sweating and panting but then when I got back to the cable car, I saw that everyone else was much the same. “It’s the altitude,” we defended ourselves. Which it really was. And the walking-through-clouds thing didn’t help the sopping wet situation. I sound like I’m complaining. I’m not! This trip has totally been the most sensational experience of my life and I’ve enjoyed every split second of it. The environment’s just going to take some getting used to.
After the braver half of the group had finished zip lining, we went to a Butterfly Farm. Good grief there are some massive butterflies out there. There was one the size of my face (no exaggeration) whose wing pattern made it look like a snake. Another smaller one had wings alternating between being black and being transparent. There were scarlet-striped butterflies and bright orange monarchs and huge yellow ones. We went into a room with all of them with our sole aim to have one land on our finger. So we drowned our fingers in sugar water, ran around the room with our hands raised above our heads and repeated, “Land on my finger. Land on my finger. Land on my goodman finger!” We looked more than a little crazy and most of it was in vain but we sure had fun running desperately after butterflies. Not the face-sized snake one, though. We ran away from that one. It looks like a snake for a reason.
When we left the Butterfly Farm it was almost two thirty and we were ravenous so we, logically, went for lunch.
The problem with eating traditional food for lunch in South America is that I’m really enjoying it. Let me explain: I’m getting attached to some of the things they give us because they’re so delicious and they won’t be available back home and this is a problem. There’s this smoothie-like drink made from apple custard fruit and raspberries or some other red fruit that just makes me happy when I drink it. And I’m going to miss it.
Anyway, today we ate lunch in a restaurant called Sachatamia that made us take off our shoes before we went inside. At first I thought it was just because we were all muddy from the Cloud Forest but then I noticed that nine of the waitresses or other guests was wearing shoes either. Everyone inside pranced around in their socks. The restaurant has fancy wooden floors. While I was running to tell my friend something, I slid uncontrollably and my shoulder became violently acquainted with the side of a wooden pillar. I now have a long, line-shaped bruise on my upper arm which is more embarrassing than it is painful. Aside from having a no-shoe rule, the restaurant prides itself in being surrounded by almost thirty species of hummingbirds. So while I was eating my deliciously buttered trout and boiled vegetables inside, outside there were hundreds of vibrant hummingbirds flitting about and drinking nectar. We were allowed to go see the hummingbirds up close and I now know why they are called what they’re called. When I stood silently still, I could hear the thrumming of their wings as they flew past my ear. Now that was truly spectacular. One hummingbird flew a bit too close and its wing tapped me on the ear. This experience ended all too soon as we had to get back on the bus for our two-hour ride back to Quito.
We had take away chips for dinner and sat by the steaming pool to eat them. We laughed once again at the people who could not believe they were looking at pale people. (This, to be honest, is getting a little creepy.) Then, exhausted, we went to bed. Flying and hiking and having hummingbirds fly into your ear really takes its toll on a bunch of teenage girls.
It’s so awesome.
Until tomorrow xo
(I quickly want to add here that most of these posts are uploaded the day after they’re written because of Wifi scarcity. For example: this post was written on and about Tuesday 22 April but it’s only being posted on Wednesday. Sorry about that.)