After another long bus ride we arrived in Baños. It’s a really beautiful town, entirely surrounded by gorgeous green mountains. We even had a great view of a waterfall right nearby from the roof of our hostel!
Walking to our hostel (after accidentally walking for a while in the completely wrong direction after I remembered one turn wrong) I noticed a couple restaurants with people eating by candlelight and thought it was strange how many romantic restaurants there were in such a small town. Then we arrived at the hostel and found that all the lights were off.
Our first thought was maybe we should find another hostel. Then we learned that because Ecuador is going through a kind of drought, the entire country had forced blackouts at different times, and it seemed to be Baños’s turn. We were too hungry to care that much, so after dropping our stuff we headed out to dinner at a placed called Casa Hood, which would quickly become “our place.”
We ended up having an excellent meal, leaving to find a place for dessert, not finding a place, and returning back to Casa Hood again for dessert as well. In the end we actually ended up eating there for dinner all three nights we were in Baños! Really great food and atmosphere — plus a gigantic book exchange which was nice.
The next day we decided to indulge and have this eucalyptus steam bath offered by our hostel. What an experience that was! First you go into this wooden box, with just your head sticking out, that has eucalyptus burning and full of steam. It gets realllly hot and you have moisture dripping all over you. My legs felt like they were on fire. Then you get out and you have to keep dipping this towel in cold water and running it all over your body. Then you get back in, sit for a while, then get back out and do the same thing again.
You do this two or three times, then the next time you get out you have to sit in this tiled bath/seat full of cold water, and you have to splash yourself with water and the assistant also splashes you with water. It’s FREEZING! Then back into the box again, then the next time out you do the towel again, then have to dump an entire bucket of water over your head.
Finally you get back into the box for the last time, and then comes the worst part of the whole experience. You get out and stand in this open shower. Then the assistant makes you turn around, front, back, sides, etc. while spraying you with this super strong/sharp water from a hose. He “massages” your abdomen and back back and forth for a while too and that REALLY hurts! It’s pretty painful. Then when he gets to your feet it’s just really ticklish!
But it was really cool overall. I’d definitely never done anything like it before. It must have relaxed us pretty well though because we ended up crawling into bed and sleeping for an hour and a half after it!
The rest of the day we spent wandering around Baños, booking a tour for the next day, and just relaxing.
The next day was an exciting one: whitewater rafting! Both Lauren and Kassia had done it before in Cusco, but this was my first time so I was a little bit freaking out. Once we got to the river and they started giving us the safety lesson is when I really started to get terrified. They were talking about what to do if/when you fell off the raft, the raft flipped, etc. and it really started to make me scared.
I had always thought that when you rafted you were actually sitting IN the raft, not ON it. So seeing that I was going to be sitting on the edge (the further to the edge the better) and holding myself on the boat only by wedging my foot as much as possible under a thing in the middle of the raft, I was becoming much less sure about the whole thing.
Once we were on the river, though, it was tons of fun (but still scary)! We were on 3-4 class rapids, and Lauren and Kassia had only done 2-3 in Cusco and they said this was way crazier. Right away we were into huge class 4 rapids. Almost first thing we had to follow the command “INSIDE!” which means throw yourself inside the raft and hold onto the rope around the side as tight as possible or else you’ll fall out! During the lesson when we we learned the different commands, Lauren and Kassia were like, “Oh you’ll never have to use that one, they just teach it to you in case.” Ha! We did it twice!
But it was definitely really thrilling! So much excitement! We even jumped the raft over a rock one time. And they would get us to row into rapids so we’d spin around and around. And many times the raft was totally full of water from crashing into rapids like crazy.
There was only one bad part. We were in some rapids and our guide told everyone to get out (he’d done this a couple times in calm water just so everyone could jump out and swim for a minute). I was still just getting comfortable with being IN the raft, so I stayed in.
But everyone else got out, and they had to just hold on to the rope on the side of the raft and float on the rapids, but Kassia wasn’t able to grab on and she started being carried away on the rapids. It was the scariest minute ever, because I could see her going and was just imagining how much I would be panicking if I were her, and it seemed like forever before the guide was able to grab her and pull her back. Luckily we were almost done rafting by then, but she was really shaken up by it (as she should be).
BUT, aside from that incident, the rafting was totally amazing. I’m not sure it’s something I would do again anytime soon, but it is something I’d definitely do again someday. It was a lot of fun and really, really exciting!
We had lunch with the tour, then went back to Baños to relax. Then we went up to a cafe, called Cafe del Cielo, way up in the mountains that had incredible views of all of Baños and the mountains and the volcano surrounding. We watched the sunset and had a really nice hot chocolate/coffee/snack.
The evening was again spent relaxing and then at Casa Hood for dinner. We planned to go out and get a glimpse of the weekend nightlife in Baños, but I think the early morning and crazy rafting experience had taken it all out of us and we ended up just going back to the hostel and hanging out for a bit before totally crashing in exhaustion.
This morning we woke up feeling the effects of the rafting. From the intense rowing and using everything I had to hold myself in the raft, all my muscles are crazy sore: lower back, sides, abs, butt, and to a lesser extent arms. Every time we have to sit up or move around, we all kind of groan and say “Owwww!”
Anyways, then we had a nice breakfast and a relaxing stroll around Baños before packing up and catching a bus to Quito. I probably could have spent another day or two hanging out in Baños, it was such a nice city, but I also am enjoying having someone to travel with for a bit and Kassia and Lauren were leaving today (they’re in a bit of a rush through Ecuador so they can have some time in Colombia before they flight out in a few weeks).
So the three of us are now in Quito. It was a bit of a shock arriving here. First off it only took three hours to get here, which is a) an INCREDIBLY short bus ride in South America, possibly the shortest I’ve ever had!, and b) an hour shorter than what we’d read the bus ride would be. Then we got off the bus to find ourselves at this shiny, super nice bus terminal/shopping center. This was not at all the Quito we were expecting!
Even on the long taxi ride into the New Town, everything seemed nicer than we had expected from Quito, which has a terrible reputation as being a horrible, dangerous, dirty city. So far it all seems OK! In fact, Ecuador overall seems much nicer than we expected. Though it is supposed to be just as poor as Peru, the buildings and cities seem nicer, the people seem to be generally better off — dressed nicely, etc. Of course it may be just that we’ve only been in nicer cities so far in our time here.
It’s also really, really weird using the American Dollar, which is the official currency of Ecuador. We kept looking at prices and wanting to divide by three (like soles to dollars) or something to convert to the “real” price, but the price we were looking at WAS the real price! It’s always a bit more shocking that way, seeing the price upfront like that. I’m still getting used to it. And it’s also funny because they have the same bills, but they use a mix of American coins and Ecuadorian ones (they have 50 cent pieces, as well as an Ecuadorian 25 cent and 5 cent used alongside the quarter and nickel). And they also use the one dollar coins a lot, which we loathe using in the States!
Overall, though, Ecuador has been better than expected, as none of us were really looking forward to it. I’m starting to get much more excited about the Galapagos as well (will go searching for a deal for a tour tomorrow after we visit the Equator!), as well as getting a bit excited for going home (and to Sweden to finally see my favorite Swede again!)
Accomodation: Hostal Chimenea – $6.50/night for 4-bed dorm – mostly recommended; there’s wifi and computers, a pool (have to pay to swim though), a rooftop cafe serving breakfast (not included) that has great views of a waterfall and the surrounding mountains and town, OK beds/dorms (no lockers though) with ensuite bathrooms.