My favorite place that we visited in Ecuador is Baños. I don’t care how touristy or cliché that may sound. Baños offers outdoor adventures out the wazoo, great nightlife, and local organic eateries on every street. Street art is omnipresent as brightly painted walls line nearly every hostel and shop. The vibrant dwellings and vivid tropical flowers create an upbeat vibe that coalesces beautifully with the laid back, relaxing nature generated by frequent hammock sightings.
During our weekend in Baños, we discovered canyoning (read: jump to your death through a waterfall). We geared up in wetsuits, helmets, and roping and climbed to the top of various waterfalls. We then repelled down the stone face as water pelted our faces. Scaling down a rock face is hard enough, then add slippery surfaces and forceful water intent on plunging you toward the pool of water below and you get a healthy dose of bruises, water inhalation, and fear. I felt like I was finally getting the hang of the whole process when we came to our last obstacle. Instead of slowly footing our way down the falls, this rock front jutted out only to cave back under. This meant we literally just jumped off the top of the waterfall and hoped that the rope would catch us before hitting the sharp pile of rocks below. That was one of the scariest moments of my life, but there was no other way down. I gulped back the fear and took the plunge. Clearly I made it safely as I am sitting here typing this post. Jenn 1: Waterfall 0.
We also rented a four-wheeler and drove up the steep country roads to summit one of the nearby mountains. We encountered our fair share of farm animals as we ventured up to the “Casa de Arbol,” also known as the tree house. This majestic tree house was built at an incredible height and projects over the valley below. We swung to and fro over the safety of ground, and then out into oblivion on the handmade wooden swing. I held on to that knotted rope swing so tight that my knuckles turned white!
The next weekend, we made the horrendous trip to Mindo, a cloud forest. We left Riobamba early on Friday on the bus to Quito, where we passed hours and hours gazing out the window, eating local papas, and bumping along in anticipation of motion sickness. Due to our bus delay, we missed the connecting bus to Mindo, so we hailed an expensive cab ride up to the rainforest. We enjoyed talking to our cabbie, practicing our Spanish, but the desire to spark conversation quickly deadened as we swerved around narrow bends going way too fast in the pitch dark. I felt my stomach lurching every few seconds, staving off the desire to vomit out of both disequilibrium and deathly fear. We eventually made it to Mindo in the dead of night. The woman who owned the home we were staying at rushed out to our car as we pulled up yelling, “Whitney, is that you?” She was so concerned that we had gotten lost. Her motherliness instantly quelled our fears as she whipped up a late dinner for us before bed.
During our stay in Mindo, we hiked through the tropical vegetation to the uppermost point, where we took a “cable car” ride over the forest canopy. The hike was punctuated by trailing dogs, waterfalls, and a quick stop at the butterfly gardens. The hike turned out to be way longer than we had anticipated and by the end of the day we were exhausted, drenched in sweat from exertion and humidity, and emotionally drained from our arguments over directions that lasted nearly all morning. As we devoured an entire pizza over dinner, our frustration quelled and we remembered how truly grateful we were for such an amazing experience hiking through a cloud forest.