Day Twenty-Two

So yesterday was AWESOME. The chivas came around 10:30 and we split into our two class groups. The rain was still coming down, but it never really got much stronger than sprinkling. The chivas were bright and painted all sorts of colors, and right when we left they turned the typical reggaeton Latin music on. I couldn’t help but smile as we made our way out of central Baños.
The town is essentially situated in a valley, or a small area of mostly level terrain, but bordered on all sides by the rolling Andes mountains. We headed south on the main highway, which curved along the edge of an Andean slope; this slope plunged steeply down into a river valley, and every so often we’d see a thin waterfall (cascada) streaming down into the rushing river. At one point we even saw a hawk, or some other similar type of bird, soar alongside our chiva some hundred yards out over the valley. This for me was literally magical, and surprisingly enough, the combination of the rush of humid air, the brilliant green of the Andes rolling by, the laughs and gasps of awe of my classmates, the bird flying above us, and the thumping reggaeton music, was truly a wonderful experience. I couldn’t help but stare out at the landscape around me, smiling and taking it all in.
The first of our two spots was this gatelike gondola contraption that, attached to thick wires like a chairlift, crosses the river valley and gives you an incredible view of one of the waterfalls. Did I mention it’s a couple hundred feet in the air ABOVE the river? For a dollar, you get to clamber into the little yellow buggy and hold on tight as you go across the canyon and back. It was SO worth the dollar.
Our second and last stop was a little hike down to one of the more famous waterfalls, what they call the eighth wonder of the world: El Pailón del Diablo, the Devil’s Cauldron. It took about twenty minutes to hike down closer to the water, and another dollar to get close, but when we did… Let’s just say raincoats didn’t cover it. The waterfall was literally gushing, and we all got soaked trying to get closer and take pictures. One of the local guides said it was the strongest and most powerful he’d ever seen the falls, so in that respect I guess we were lucky. It wasn’t the most enjoyable walking back up, soaked through and through, but at the top I bought a mostly peeled orange for 25 cents, with a hole cut into the top. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about eating it, because the white skin underneath the peel was still there, but I asked the vendor and he basically said, squeeze and then suck. BEST idea for after-hike snack. So juicy, so ripe, so delicious.
We waited for the rest of the group to finish the walk up in a little open store and restaurant, where I bought a banana and a coffee. Again, the fruit here absolutely amazes me. The only disappointing fruit I’ve had here is an apple, but the bananas and the oranges, along with many others, are superb.
We then drove back to the hotel, once again with reggaeton pumping and the humid breeze blowing, except this time we were all soaked and clammy. We got back, changed, then Lorena and I went for a walk, stopping for some tasty fresh bread, snacks for the week, and fruit and fresh squeezed smoothies in one of the indoor markets. Granadilla. Officially my new favorite fruit. It’s like an orangey-pink fruit about the size of your fist with an almost styrofoam like skin, but inside, essentially a translucent gloop with a bunch of pomegranate-like white seeds, sweet and with the crunch of the black seed inside. So delicious.
Later that afternoon, she and I climbed up the Mirador de la Virgen, essentially halfway up one of the mountains to an incredible viewpoint where there’s a giant statue of the virgin in a chair. The first half of the trek was switchbacks, and one of the many stray dogs in this town led us up about that far; we named him Alejandro, or Alejo for short. But halfway through the HUNDREDS of steps, he ditched us. But with the light of the late afternoon sun and the cool breeze that wafted by us as we reached the top, and the breathtaking view of Baños, the steps were worth it. We had a great conversation at the top too, while gazing out at the vistas below us.
After our descent, with our knees shaking a little from the climb, we took a rest and watched a movie with Forbes. We headed out to dinner afterwards, to Ayahuasca, and it is without a doubt some of the best food we’ve had this entire trip. It’s not typical Ecuadorean, but it’s cheap, and for the most part healthier than some of the more fatty, carbo-loaded Ecuadorean dishes (which I still love, but it’s literally been weeks since I’ve eaten enough veggies in a day). Last night I had a KILLER chicken sandwich, with spinach, peppers, cheese, and some kind of garlicky mayo, with an incredible side salad, a few nachos, and water, all for the cool price of $4. You can’t get much better than that.
When we came back, full and satisfied, a bunch of us watched a movie then we all kinda crashed around 11:30, what with our waterfall escapade of earlier. Altogether, though, an awesome, adventure-filled day.
And just when I though my days here couldn’t get much better that, today proved me wrong. I started off my day with an awesome run around the town around eight in the morning. It was drizzling a bit, but it didn’t bother me too much. I was thrilled to discover I hasn’t lost all of the progress I’d made during my second semester at UBC. It was a very peaceful run, and although I was alone, there weren’t that many people out that early in the morning. And anyways, this town definitely feels safer than Quito. I mean, I never once felt threatened in Quito, but in Baños at least there are significantly less people and fewer cars, and the environment isn’t as fast-paced as a city as huge as Quito.
For breakfast again, I had my usual fried eggs on a grainy roll (the eggs here are to die for), juice (which was better today because there was significantly less sugar added), and coffee, which is extremely strong but delicious. We then had class in one of the meeting rooms in our hotel, and at one we had lunch provided by the hotel. I had a caprese sandwich, but it was underwhelming. The vegetarian sandwiches were packed with vegetables, so I kinda wished I’d had one of those instead. But no worries; tonight we’re off to Ayahuasca again, so I’m stoked to get me one giant salad.
Then, after a half an hour of searching for open tour companies, in the sprinkling rain, we found a good deal for ATVs, or like four wheel dirt bike motorcycle-like things (I’d never been on one before, so I had no clue what they were). There were twelve of us, so we rented six bikes for a two hour guided tour. $15 a person sounds like a lot, but trust me, it was so worth it. And it just so happened that the rain stopped just before we left, and it hasn’t rained since.
Raquel drove first, because the bike was a semi-automatic (and yes, I still don’t know how to drive stick; Dad, let’s get on that this summer) and we headed north on the main road and then ended up mostly on this path that follows the urge of the river canyon. It was so surreal, driving in the open air surrounded by the towering, lusciously green Andes. I actually almost enjoyed riding in back better, because I coils watch everything instead of having to focus on the road.
After crossing this bridge that stands over an insane canyon through which the water just PLUNGED, we came across another one of those gondola-like cage contraptions that crossed the canyon. Our guide informed us that for a dollar the company would take us across the canyon, and for six you’d get to ZIPLINE the way back. He also said it wouldn’t cut into our ATV tour time. So of course we went!
Ok, so quickest ten seconds of my life, but SO exhilarating! I even got my zipline on video! We all went superman-style instead of sitting, and it was ridiculous flying over the canyon like that. I sincerely hope I get to do it again.
We continued a bit more on the bikes, then turned around and headed back to Baños, and at this point I drove. So much fun. I just can’t describe it. For those of you who have driven ATVs, you probably get it, but add the factor of OH MY GOODNESS WE’RE IN THE ANDES?!? Yeah, it was pretty sick. Totally worth the $15. No doubt.
Tonight we’re off to Ayahuasca again, and then probably dancing, but I’m not entirely sure. It is a Friday, but things have been pretty dead here at night and frankly, it costs money to go out and party here, just like anywhere else. And we’ll probably be going on some other adventure tomorrow so I need to make sure I get my sleep! Here’s to more fun-filled, adventure days like today! I’m ready!

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