Day Twenty-Eight

Yesterday was such an awesome day. It’s been quite a whirlwind of events and emotions since my last post, but yesterday was a truly great day. I’m gonna do my best to recount the past five days, but yesterday was probably the best since my last post, the day we went ATVing for the first time.
If I remember correctly, Saturday was, at least until the evening, a fairly boring day. I think that’s the day I started feeling kinda sad. Not homesick or anything, just sort of frustrated with the group dynamic here in Baños. I am absolutely in love with this Andean, laid-back touristy vibe, but for some reason I haven’t felt as attached to the UBC group as I’d anticipated. I’d been feeling this sense of loneliness ever since we left Quito, but I think for the first time it really flared up on Saturday and I was just down. My expectations were just too high, I think. We are a group of thirty individuals; obviously it’s way too unrealistic to think we’d all be best friends and do everything together. I’m not sure why I had that expectation, but when it comes right down to it, I’m perfectly happy with the friends I’ve made here. But in terms of the group dynamic here in Baños, it’s been hard because it’s been raining a TON too; never like a torrential downpour or anything, but it’s been raining pretty consistently since Friday. And people have been getting sick…I’d say half of our group has salmonella right now. Over the weekend and stuff so many people ended up in the hospital, going in for check ups and then getting prescriptions. I’m extremely lucky; not once have I felt sick or nauseous. But I definitely think that the whole salmonella epidemic within our group has definitely brought the dynamic down.
So on Saturday, I did some homework in the morning and early afternoon, because I had a presentation today that I needed to prepare for. There’s a nice little lounge area on the second floor across the courtyard from my room, and it’s been my favorite place to study or write in my diary when I need some alone time.

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Then I was planning on walking up to the Mirador de la Virgen outlook point with Lorena, but then I ended up going with Gabito and some other friends to a bar to watch the Champions League final, Barcelona versus Manchester United. I’m a Barca fan all the way, but an Ecuadorean, Antonio Valencia, plays for Man U, and so everyone in the bar, plus the Ecuadoreans I was with, were rooting for Man U. So I essentially had to restrain my excitement when Pedro then Messi and finally Villa scored, because the people around me weren’t too thrilled. But I’m glad I got to watch the match. We watched the first half in this Cuban bar, and then switched to a less populated Italian restaurant for a late lunch. I also won two bets, the first with Gabito and the second with his friend from Quito, Daniel. Neither of them paid up though…
Later that day, Lorena and I did get a chance to hike up to La Virgen. We were both, for some reason, feeling super emotional and lost, and so when we got to the top, we spent a good twenty minutes zoning out with our headphones in, gazing at the beautiful view of the pueblito and watching the clouds and fog and mist flow by faster than I’d ever seen before in my life. And again, Explosions in the Sky served it’s purpose. It was literally such a trip, with the powerful music in my ears, matching the movement of the clouds and the occasional bird in the distance. Listen to Catastrophe and the Cure…it served the same purpose as it did for me on my second to last day in Vancouver, when I went down to Wreck Beach by myself one afternoon and sat on a log with my music and watched the late afternoon sun slowly set above the rolling waves. I felt that same sort of release on Saturday with Lorena, and it truly helped to calm my mind and allow me to refocus.
For dinner on Saturday, I believe we went to this place called Cafe Hood, right next to the park in the center of Baños. I had vegetable taquitos and a simple salad with lettuce, tomato, and my new favorite vegetable, avocado, but the food wasn’t nearly as delectable as Ayahuasca. Afterwards, we went out because (we thought) it was the quiteños’ last night with us in Baños. Before going to the Leprechaun Bar for the second time, probably the most popular bar here, Raquel and I stopped at Ayahuasca for canelazo, that unique hot drink made from sugarcane; for two dollars we got essentially the equivalent of a teapot’s worth of mora (blackberry) canelazo along with our favorite appetizer, the fava bean hummus dip with nachos and naan-like bread triangles. The dueño was super friendly and for some reason didn’t charge us what we owed, but we gave him a generous tip as usual and introduced ourselves. We now know him as Freddy, and I hope to go there once more today, because it’s our last day here in this cute little town.
We met up with the rest of the group at Leprechaun, where we danced for a good 2-3 hours. I had an absolute blast. It was the largest group that’s gone out as a whole together, probably a good third of the UBC group plus our five or six quiteño friends. Honestly, that’s all I need to do when I go out: dance. It’s just such a thrill for me, and when I’m with my closest friends, listening to a good mix of gringo and Latino party music, I’m set.
Around one or so, a smaller group of us went out for some food, and I realized how starved I was. There’s nothing like traditional Ecuadorean food at one in the morning. Overall, Saturday night was up there with my birthday night and the salsa night, the first week in Quito.
Sunday and Monday were pretty boring days, if I remember correctly. There was a sort of chill night/goodbye party on Sunday night because the quiteños were supposed to leave the next day, but I left early because I was literally exhausted. Monday, we had class from ten to one, where we wrote an in-class essay, then had lunch provided by the hotel: killer vegetarian sandwiches. The caprese I had the week before was kind of bland and boring, but the vegetarian sandwich just has VEGGIES: lettuce, carrots, avocado, tomato, cucumber, cabbage, and then I wanna say pickled jicama or something. Add some mayo, salt, and pepper, and either blackberry or pineapple juice, and you’ve got yourself an amazing lunch. I was really missing veggies in Quito, but here they’ve been easier to come by, probably because we’ve been eating out every night at non-traditional Ecuadorean places with salads on the menu. But nothing tops Ayahuasca’s salad. It’s the same ingredients every time, but it always tastes a bit different. Thursday night’s salad was by far the best, though. Lettuce, carrots, tomato, avocado, raisins, cheese, cucumber, pepper, and some sort of balsamic creamy vinaigrette thing. The best three bucks you’ll ever spend on a salad.
In the afternoon, Lorena and I did the Virgen again, and then I think I just worked on more homework. I was still kinda feeling down, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. That night a large part of our group went to Casa Hood (different from Cafe Hood), a quirky, hippie restaurant, where they played Ratas, Ratones, y Rateros for us on their large movie projector. It’s a realistic film set in the poor part of Quito, about a drug addict felon who essentially ruins and destroys everything he comes into contact with. It was a brutal snapshot of how the other half lives; according to what I’ve heard, the film is a pretty accurate depiction of that sort of lifestyle. More people went to the hospital later that night, ending up with salmonella, but I just had a chill night and peaced out early.
Tuesday, we had lunch in the hotel again, then later in the afternoon I went for a run through the town by myself. It had been a while since I’d gone, but this one felt particularly good. When I got back, Lorena and I and some other friends hiked to the Virgen, and then went out to Ayahuasca again. It took a while for the food to come, as usual, but it was so worth the wait. Raquel and I split the super nachos, with beans, cheese, salsa, and veggies, this eggplant dip thing with the house bread, and the salad. I have yet to be disappointed with Freddy’s food. The guy is such a machine. Although he had three other people helping him that night, he still does the majority of the work. The bar and the kitchen space is tiny, and our entire group filled the restaurant that night, but Freddy just doesn’t quit. Tonight I want to sit at the bar and just watch him work. And get a picture with him to remember him by.
Now YESTERDAY…was just amazing. It was an adventure. Went for a run in the morning with Raquel, had my usual fried eggs on the whole grain roll, kicked butt with my group on our presentation on the subject of the effects of regionalism on Ecuador’s patriotism, had my favorite sandwich and blackberry juice, went to the market and bought six granadillas, three oranges, five bananas, and four of this other type of fruit I can’t remember the name of, all for like a $1.50. The produce is incredible here, and the insane price is the icing on the cake.
Then our adventure began. I rode with Forbes on a motorcycle, Lorena with Emil on an ATV, and four other friends paired up on two other ATVs, and we headed for the river, crossed the bridge, and began our ascent of one of the lusciously green Andean mountains. It was SUCH a thrill, and by the time we reached the top, we caught sight of the best view of Baños we’d seen yet. We were meters and meters above the Virgen outlook, which we could see as a tiny tiny stairway from where we were, and to top it all off, it was a gorgeously sunny day AND, for the first time, we could see the towering volcano, the mighty Tungurahua. We could see all of it except the very top, which was always covered by the misty clouds. Other clouds would swoop in and mar our view, but we stopped several times to take pictures and stuff when the view was good. I took a good 250 pictures yesterday, while on the motorcycle and then later on the ATV with Emil, and I’m sure I got some killer shots.
Like I felt on the Chiva last Thursday, I felt so alive and content and appreciative yesterday. Winding up, down, and around that mountain on the back of a motorcycle, and then while driving an ATV, was such a rush. I can’t even begin to describe to you the feeling of absolute joy and awe that I felt, much less the breathtaking scenery, with the rolling Andean hills and the brown river down below, to the blue skies dotted with silvery clouds and the multicolored buildings of the city below, to the parts of the road lined with trees and populated by the occasional stray dog, chicken, or, in one case, a lonely brown donkey, to the lazy cows roaming on the steep pastures and the omnipresent, omnipotent Tungurahua in the distance. I’m so glad I got pictures, but truth be told, they won’t do the adventure justice.
After descending the mountain, we headed out on the highway in the direction of Ambato and later Quito to the north to explore for a bit, but our three hours were winding down so we headed back to the shop. We got back to the hotel around 5:45, and at six the hotel had organized salsa lessons for us! They taught us some of the basic steps and then we danced in pairs, me first with the instructor and then Raquel. We were both missing our quiteño dance partners by the end…I had a ton of fun during our hour lesson, but it wasn’t the same as dancing with my brother and Quito friends. Later, for Forbes’ birthday, we went to this cute little Italian place called Pappardelle’s, where Lorena and I ordered tiramisu as a surprise for him, which the waiter brought out with flair and a five minute birthday song playing throughout the restaurant. The food was much better than I’d expected; cream of broccoli soup, then shared cannelloni with Emil, and a shared pizza with him, Raquel, and Jayda. And we all shared a bottle of white wine in honor of the cumpleañero. It was a perfect end to a fun-filled day.
As for today? I went for a really solid run, going farther than I’d gone before to get a good feel for the town before I have to leave it, and had my usual for breakfast. I think I just want to explore the town for most of the day and eat at Ayahuasca for sure. Tomorrow the adventure continues: we head for Cuenca in the morning.
Pictures from my walk this morning with Lorena (and I apologize…at the moment I don’t know how to rotate the photos just using my iPhone).

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Just got back from hiking La Virgen:

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And this is the the mountain that we went up yesterday on motorcycles and ATVs:

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After scaling La Virgen for the last time, Lorena and I went for lunch at Cafe Hood, close to the park. I had the only traditional Ecuadorean plate on the menu: tortilla de papa (my fave; essentially mashed potato cakes with cheese, this time), choclo (maíz; corn), pickled beets, and then an avocado/tomato/lettuce salad. Delicious; much better than the first time I ate there.
Later in the afternoon, I walked around the town by myself for a couple hours, trying to take it all in before we leave tomorrow. Here are some pictures from my walk:

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After my walk, which gave me the tiniest sunburn, I spent a good hour packing and organizing all my stuff. Good thing I’ve acquired two handbags since I’ve been here…I’m running low on room, what with my souvenirs! It’s crazy how fast money disappears when you’re traveling, even when you think you’re being responsible and careful with how you spend it. Things should be easier in Cuenca, though, since our meals are included with our families.
For dinner we went to AyahuasKa, which I realized I’ve been spelling wrong since the beginning.

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Again, it was just our group in the restaurant, and Freddy, once again, was a total machine in the kitchen/bar. I think our group definitely provided him good business this past week. I ate there five out of nine times for dinner since we’ve been here, and not once have I been disappointed. Tonight I had my favorite fava bean hummus dip, and then a curry chicken and apple salad with pesto, spinach, and tomato on top. TO DIE FOR. Words cannot describe how delectably delicious that food is. If you EVER go to Baños, it’ll be the only place you’ll need to eat.
And now I’m just content. That feeling’s back. That whole travel feeling I’ve attempted to describe, the one of fullness and contentment and satisfaction. I feel so incredibly lucky to be here right now, in the town I’m in, with the people I’m with, in this incredibly diverse and beautiful country I’m in. Life is a beautiful thing, and I’m extremely content to be living it here.

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