Monday, June 4, 2012

Baños Adventures

Hello and greetings from Baños, Ecuador's adventure capitol!  Let me bring you up to date on our adventures since we last wrote:

We decided we ought to do a little touring while in Quito, even though we plan to do most sight-seeing when we return in a few weeks.  We walked around town with Andrey one day, taking some photos with his cell phone in the Plaza de la Independencía and from a restaurant called El Mirador, for its wonderful views of the city.  On Thursday, we took ourselves to the Cathedral, which is home to many paintings of the Quito school: indigenous artists trained in the Spanish style who worked their own culture and beliefs into the christian paintings they did.  One scene in the church features Jesus eating cuy (guinea pig) at the last supper!  They also have a museum with portraits of every bishop ever to hold office in Quito, many robes and hats worn by church officials for the last 300 years, and paintings and silverwork done by local artisans for the church.  After the church, we walked across the plaza to the Casa Presidencial, Ecuador's White House if you will, and took a tour.  We could not see any of the rooms currently in use for political purposes, but the tour did take us through several beautiful rooms, including the very high tech cabinet room, the dining room, and the "yellow" room, with portraits of all the presidents, where Press conferences are usually held.  We also saw many gifts to the president of Ecuador from other nations which were on display.  While we did have to go through a metal detector and present ID to visit, the overall security was somewhat lacking, in comparison to my experiences in Washington, DC.  There are also several small shops under the government building on the plaza with absolutely no security.  I suppose the government has a lot of trust of its citizens!

On Friday, we got a slow start, enjoying the morning in Quito with friends, but eventually made our way to the bus station and on to Baños.  The city is in a valley between mountains and a volcano, which is the heat source for the thermal pools.  Friday night we learned the lesson, again, that groups of more than 10 are really annoying!  A group of Canadian students was staying in our hostal, there were perhaps 25, and they decided to stand outside our room talking until 3 am, despite our request that they move and talk more quietly.  At 8 am, having gotten very little sleep, we decided to head to the pools to relax.  There are several pools in and around town, but we decided to go to one that is close by and well recommended.  The site is right next to a waterfall, so the view is lovely!  The pools were actually paved like swimming pools and many children were playing and learning to swim in the cooler, but still warm, pool.  There was also a cold pool for lap swimming and the the hot pool where most people just sat and relaxed.  The water had many minerals in it and had a sort of murky yellow color.  After about two hours between the hot and warm pools, we were well wrinkled and decided to get some lunch.  We headed to the central mercado where Matt had Yaguarlocro, a potato soup with blood sausage, and I had Seco de Pollo, a chicken stew, that came with some excellent cheesy-fried potatoes.  Exhausted from the lack of sleep and the hot water, we napped in the afternoon.

Yesterday, we went canyoning!  Canyoning is repelling down waterfalls.  We stocked up on a big brunch at the mercado, Matt had more yaguarlocro and I had lapingachos - a platter with more cheesy-fried potatoes, egg, sausage, salad of tomatoes, onions, beets, and lettuce, and avocado.  Our adventure got off to a slow start, as we had been told to arrive at 2 but the other couple coming were told 2:30.  We also shared a bus with a group going rafting, so we had to wait for them and all their gear.  When it came to our gear, we had wet suits, worn over our bathing suits, a jacket, harness, and helmet, and non-slippery shoes.  While they did have a XXXL wetsuit that fit Matt, the biggest shoes they had were a size 44, 3 sizes too small!  So Matt wore his keens, which were a little slippery but did the job.  Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures as I didn't want to risk submerging my camera.  It was a perfect day, sunny and warm, though a little windy.  We first had to hike up to the top of two of the waterfalls, the first was 18 meters high, the other 20.  The first fall we repelled "alone", that is to say without a guide rope - just one rope connected to you and the mountain and you walked backwards down the waterfall.  I tried to stay towards the side, as the water was quite powerful in the center.  When close to the bottom, the guide calls out "1-2-3-salta!" and you jump backwards into the pool!  It's really fun, though sometimes hard to get up out from under the waterfall!  The second, taller waterfall, the guide attached a second rope to the harness that he controlled to help stabilize on the way down.  At the bottom of the two waterfalls, we cross the highway to continue dowm three more.  The first fall was 5 meters and you go down like a waterslide - on your back, arms crossed, with the guide rope controlling the fall.  The last two falls are connected - a rappell down 5 meters, then you switch ropes and do a 40 meter free fall controlled by the guide.  I rappelled down the first part easily but when I saw the second part, or rather, couldn't see the ground under the waterfall, I told the guide, "No voy a mentir, tengo miedo!" (I'm not going to lie, I am scared!") But he told me to be "tranquila" and trust him becuase he's professional.  I held onto the rope and stepped out onto the watefall.  I took a few steps down and though, 'This isn't so bad...' and that's when the freefall started!  I was surprised, but then it was awesome!  You fall between a sort of cave and the waterfall, so the water is coming down directly on you and the whole scene in beautiful!  When I got the bottom, I unhooked and wanted to run up to the top to do it again!  Unfortunately, what goes down must come up and it was quite a hike to get back to the highway.  By the time I got there, I was so tired that the thought of hiking back up again was not appealing.  The rappelling was hard work and my hands and knees were tired, too.  Matt decided not to do the last 2 falls, so I give everyone who reads this post permission to call him a wimp.  There was a 6-year-old boy, the son of a guide, who went down the last 3 falls, proving that children know no fear!  There was also a French girl who got to the first fall, and decided not to do it!  There goes $25, because you know they don't give refunds.  Overall, we had a lot of fun and I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone in Baños.When we got home, we took a hot shower and grabbed some Chinese food for dinner.  I am so happy for the chifas here in Ecuador - I don't think I realized how much I missed it!  It's also cool to see Chinese people speaking fluent Spanish.  We were so tired that we hit the hay early.  

We slept a good night and woke up early this morning, enjoying a breakfast of cheese and banano empanadas and freshly squeezed jugo.  The empanadas here are almost like the hojaldre of panama - a puffy fried bread - with filling then sprinkled with sugar.  This afternoon, we plan to take a chiva bus tour of some other waterfalls in the area.  We are still looking into making arrangements for a trip into the Amazon.  As always, we will keep you posted.  Thanks for reading!

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