This post is a continuation of “The Ecuadorian Rainforest” post.
OH MY GOD I LOVE BAÑOS!!! Though I might have been a bit biased since my last taste of real civilization had been two weeks prior. Baños is the thrill seekers mecca! For one, it is built at the base of an active volcano. The thing could go off at any moment, which might attest to the various volcano paraphernalia around the town, including an enormous depiction of Maria above of voraciously exploding volcano inside the church in the middle of town. Yep. I totally expect there to be some volcano worshipping cult there. Ya know, throw in a gringo for ritual sacrifice and appease the mountain for another ten years kind of deal! Apart from the impending volcanic doom, thrill seekers will love the various day trips hosted by some shops in the city to go canyoning, zip lining, ATVs, Ect. Honestly, for those wanting to explore the jungle and aren’t in touch with someone who knows what they are doing, coming here is a fantastic option! I wish I had more time to spend in the city, but sadly all I got was an afternoon. So how did I spend it? Well, the first several hours was spent wandering the streets, looking in artisan shops, and eating good food. But what topped my day off was my very much-needed massage. $20 for 65 min full body massage. I know, sounds sketchy, but it was one of the best I have every had! Top that off with a fantastic dinner, and dancing! The next morning I was greeted by an amazing view from the terrace cafe on the roof of my hostel, and then spent the rest of the morning at a local cafe that had hammock chairs and a broad variety of coffee and teas!
From Baños we had a 6-hour bus ride to Mindo Loma, and of course, I get carsick in the first 10 minutes. So I spent most of the ride in a sprawled out position across two seats trying to sleep it off. We finally arrived at about 6 pm to find that our reservations at the lodge were “misplaced,” but luckily they were able to recommend an alternative. Our newly acquired host was a German whose parents bought a huge area of land in Ecuador, and then raised him here. Did you know that during WWII any Germans found outside of Germany were considered traitors and put in concentration camps? I didn’t, so I was fascinated when I heard stories of our host’s grandfather and his escape from Germany while helping people in his capacity as a judge by marrying Jews to Germans to give them immunity! Faith in humanity restored. The house we were staying in used to be a travel lodge, but it was closed down when the owner decided to start producing tea (Herbiosa Luisa) in his backyard instead. I thought that the accommodations were great (cabins), but due to its very remote location and our host being the only soul living here (and ominous looking meat hook outside), most of the girls were convinced we would be murdered in our sleep (or eaten!). Somehow, we survived the night. The next morning we drove up to Mindo Loma, where we would give individual presentations on plant families that we had been previously assigned. My family was Piperaceae, which is the pepper family from which we get all of our black and white pepper. Mindo Loma is a bird sanctuary, and during our presentations, we had throngs of hummingbirds darting in and out of the cabin area. You could sit right next to the bird feeders and feel the air dispersion from the huh velocity of the birds’ wings! It brought back childhood memories of sitting on my porch watching this tiny hummingbird we had named Napoleon fight off all the rest to try to monopolize the feeder!
The ride to Otavalo hit a bit of a snag, or better say a pop. Two of our tires on the bus blew out about an hour from our destination, and we ended up sitting around for about an hour and a half waiting for repairs (though I will say if we had been in the US we would have been there all night!). It wasn’t until about 10 pm that we rolled into a dead city. It was eerily quiet and almost impossible to find a place to eat. All of us were wondering, “We left Baños for this?” and went to bed feeling a bit disgruntled. The next morning the city underwent a drastic transformation. The dark streets with iron bars across storefronts changed to a buzzing via de la vita! Shops had customers darting in and out, restaurants full of waiting tables, but the best part was the market. The night before there was a vast courtyard in the middle of the city that seemed like an area of abandon, but in the light of day, one could barely see the pavement amidst the throngs of tents with vendors selling their wares to Ecuadorians and gringos alike. And they were fervent about their roles, as the moment you crossed the boundary of the tents their attack began! With wave after wave of offers and counter offers, it becomes a bit dizzying trying to make a purchase, but you get used to it. I learned from. European markets that first you visit all the tents before making any purchase because there is almost always duplicate items for a lower price. Though it was my first time haggling in Spanish, it seems the skill is quite cross-cultural. I spent a total of $19, and bought two scarves, a bandana, and two pairs of earrings all handmade! The only reason I didn’t turn spendthrift was the promise of cheaper wares when I visit Peru in a month. So that was basically may stay in Otavalo consisted of bartering, good coffee, and having Laura teach me Spanish. Overall a very successful venture.
The last leg of our journey. We woke up early so we could make two small side trips on our way back to Quito. The first was a trip to the equatorial line, because who doesn’t want to stand on two hemispheres at the same time? And after all the hardships of the voyage, John guessed that our muscles could use some rehabilitation, so he decided to take us to his favorite hot springs in Oyacachi. Getting there was a bit perilous, and required about an hour of slow travel on poorly cobbled roads, but the scenery was breathtaking. A rolling mountainous background with green fields and the occasional farmer was tilling about. Every once in a while, we had to stop for cattle or sheep to get off the roads because in Ecuador they let livestock roam to allow for cheaper feeding. When we finally made it to Oyacachi, I was a bit hesitant. I was expecting lukewarm waters like what I experienced in Italy, not the luxurious hot springs I went to in Japan. I was pleasantly surprised to find the water to be at least 40°C, and very good at melting the knots away from my shoulders. There was also a freezing cold river coming down from e mountains that you could quickly jump into if you were brave enough! After about two hours of bathing and tanning in the cool mountain air, we had a delicious lunch of Trucha y Arroz (trout and rice) made by some of the locals. We then headed back to Quito for a final banquet a rooftop terrace with the best view of the city where we said farewell to our fellow biologists and branched off on our different ways. For me, a week of recovery in Quito and then a two-week internship at an organic agricultural farm! Be on the lookout for more posts! Ciao ciao!