Is this legal?


Last Sunday we met up with Arya, a fellow student we met at our Spanish School in Quito.  Arya had emailed us last week to let us know she was coming to Mindo and would be staying in our hostel.  We offered to meet her at the bus station to help her get oriented; she gladly accepted our offer.  She arrived at about 9:30 as planned and after getting settled in her room, a quick walk around town, and a coffee, we decided we would hike to the waterfalls.

We would take a “taxi” to the trailhead, rather than walk the five kilometres as we had done earlier in the week (once was enough for that walk). In Mindo, they have a couple of regular taxis (cost is about $6 to go just about anywhere locally), but the normal mode of transport is hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up truck.  Cost is one dollar per person.  We found a truck that was getting ready to leave and climbed into the back, squeezing ourselves into a spot amongst the other six passengers already on board.   There were 6-8 people crammed into the extended truck cab too.

Off we went, groaning with every bump we hit along the pot-holed road – a definite reminder that we’re not 20 years old anymore.  A couple of kilometres out of town, the truck came to a sudden stop.  A man jumped out of the cab and explained, in Spanish, that we were taking a little break, if we didn’t mind, to pick some lemons.  Would we mind helping them?  Arya and I looked at each other and said sure, why not?  Chris on the other hand was rather suspicious of the whole situation, plus he had all his camera equipment with him.  He opted to stay at the truck with our knapsacks.

Arya and I and a few of the other passengers followed this guy towards a field.  I got the feeling this wasn’t his farm, and these weren’t his lemon trees as he directed everyone to crawl under the barbed wire fence.  As Arya scrambled under the barbed wire fence and down a muddy slope, I asked out loud:  Hey, is this legal?  Yes, I know, very astute observation on my part.  Too late to turn back now, Arya was already on her way down the hill, so I quickly followed behind.  This guy was telling us to hurry up as he pulled Arya’s jacket off her and motioned for her to put it on backwards creating an instant basket.  He then proceeded to whack a tree with a stick and as lemons fell to the ground he threw them to us to put in our “basket”.  The other passengers were doing likewise.  It was all very confusing and chaotic as everyone was tossing lemons at us and talking in Spanish.  We were laughing so hard as we tried to catch the lemons – clearly baseball was not our forte! The man pointed to me to get some of the higher lemons – yes, me – let’s face it, Ecuadorian men are not known for their stature.  Within about 10 minutes he was satisfied with the haul and we curtailed it back to the truck, watching out for the cow paddies along the way.

Now that we were accessories to his crime, he decided introductions were in order – names and where we were from.  His name was Colon, as in Christopher Columbus.  He insisted we only speak Spanish to him as he rode with us in the back of the truck.  In fact, he told us he was a Spanish teacher and therefore felt entitled to correct our Spanish and have us repeat our sentences until we spoke them to his satisfaction.  His English was very good but he used it only when necessary.  Arya and I were having a great time with this gregarious fellow.  At one point, I was scratching my feet – I was wearing sandals and something must have bitten me in the field.  Suddenly, Colon grabbed my foot, took my sandal off, squeezed open a lemon and smeared the oils from the skin all over my foot – weird, yes, but boy did it feel good.  I held up my other foot and he did the same.  We learned the lemons were for his restaurant – to serve with the fish dishes – and we were invited to his restaurant in the evening for a party. (Note:  we looked for his restaurant later that night but could not find it….hmmm….a little suspicious perhaps.)

When we got to the trailhead at the waterfalls, he stopped the truck and thanked us for our help, wished us well, and waived the dollar fee for all of us, even though Chris didn’t help (as he pointed out).   I observed to Arya that she probably didn’t expect to have this much fun and excitement with a couple of old folks like us!

The trailhead to the waterfalls begins with a ride across the canyon in a cable car, powered by a Nissan car engine and transmission, as Chris observed.  Someone has taken the guts of a car – dashboard, ignition, gas pedal, clutch and gears – and altered it in order to “drive” the cable car forward to the other side, and then put it in reverse to bring it back.  I had not noticed any of this (which was probably a good thing) as I was too preoccupied with a) how far across we were going (530 m), b) how flimsy the cable car appeared, and c) how high we were above the canyon floor.

As we traversed the canyon, I tried to keep my eyes focused straight ahead as I have a fear of heights.  Occasionally, I glanced down below and my heart almost stopped as I saw the raging river at least 250 meters below.  I tried very hard not to think about what would happen if the little Nissan engine stopped mid-way – I took some comfort knowing it was a foreign engine, although I would have felt better if it was a Honda – either way, we would have been goners for sure if the engine failed. Unbeknownst to me, Chris captured this all on video.

Once safely on the other side, we hiked along a beautiful, if not at times treacherous path that wound its way down to the canyon floor, to the base of a spectacular waterfall.   Often we had to wade through the river to continue the path on the other side, or overcome other obstacles like fallen trees strewn across the path.

The scenery was spectacular as we were engulfed within the cloud forest, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. In all, there were five waterfalls that we hiked to.

We took our time, pausing to take many pictures along the way, and enjoying the company of our young fellow traveller.  Arya is twenty years old, originally from New York and a third year anthropology student, studying in Portland, Oregon.  She took a break from school for a semester to travel and volunteer in South America – on her own.  Conversation came easily that afternoon.  Arya shared with us her plans, her dreams, her hopes for her future.  We shared with her our story of how we met and our first date.

As we reached the last waterfall, it started to rain.  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for to test out our new rain gear designed to fit easily over our back packs and provide full length coverage – kind of a cross between a poncho and a rain jacket.  When I purchased these last summer, Chris was not entirely convinced we needed this strange looking rain gear, but I persuaded him it was just what we needed when we were carrying our packs in the rain.  Well, we looked ridiculous, confirmed by Arya’s laughter and her observation that she couldn’t decide if I looked more like Little Red Riding Hood or the Hunchback of Notre Dame – thanks Arya.  Oh well, I’ve always let practicality override fashion – maybe this time I went a little too far as I conceded Chris definitely looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  To my credit, I stayed nice and dry, although Chris complained that they weren’t breathable enough so he got just as wet by sweating as he would have in the rain – picky, picky. By the way, I would have posted some pictures of us except all the pictures of our rain gear were taken by Arya on her camera, so we’re out of luck.

We missed out on the last two waterfalls on account of the rain, one of which was the Nambilla waterfall that we had visited earlier in the week and had only seen the top of the waterfall.   Guess that just wasn’t meant to be.

We shared the return cable car with another couple – much to my dismay.  There was seating for four which seemed to indicate (at least to me) it was designed to carry four people, not five.  So I’m wondering – Did we really want to stress the limits of this rickety, hand-made device???  But the operator saw no problem in having the fifth passenger stand up all the way – yes, stand in this flimsy little cable car.  The young guy didn’t seem to mind one bit; and Chris and Ayra who sat opposite to me, kept smiling reassuringly at me; meanwhile, my heart was racing, convinced we were going to plunge to our deaths at any moment.   What can I say? I have an irrational fear of heights.

Luck was with us, as a “bus” was waiting on the other side, and we were spared the five kilometre walk into town.

Category: Ecuador, South America
Please leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you! Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.