Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Heart Banos

Banos. I go virtually speechless when I think about the weekend Dave and I recently spent at this small town that is located on the base of the mountains as well as a hop, skip, and jump away from the jungles of Ecuador. It was incredible, the kind of weekend that makes you stop and gaze around in absolute wonder, saying "I can't believe I am in Ecuador!"

Teaching at an American Academy in a different country has all sorts of perks, one of them being that you are given days off for American holidays as well as for Ecuadorian holidays. This past weekend our small little school celebrated Thanksgiving while the rest of the country of Ecuador did not. It is a perfect time to travel because the rest of the country is working and you have your destination of choice almost entirely to yourself. So was the case with Banos.

The trip did not start out as one would hope. Twelve teachers and loved ones loaded up into the school van for the eight hour drive to Banos. About hour three, I got sick. Violently sick. Now, getting sick on the road in a developing nation is not exactly what you want to have happen. There is no city you pass through that might have an emergency room or a quick care. You just kind of have to buck up and deal with it or turn around and go home. There was no way I was turning around, so my fellow travel buddies helped me out the best they could, offering a host of remedies from their personal pharmacies, and away we continued. After moving to the front seat and sticking my head out the open window for about two hours, I felt immensely better and we were almost in Banos.

Day 1: The next day of our trip definitely started off on the right foot. After our complimentary breakfast of assorted fruits, juices, and eggs, a group of us decided to rent bicycles for the day and check out some of the waterfalls that Banos is famous for. The day was amazing! We biked along the rolling hills and mountains of the strip known as Rio Verde. We biked through tunnels, past farmland and through small villages. It was absolutely breath-taking.

Our group was having a pleasant time biking the trail, mostly because it was entirely downhill, but we were taking our time and stopping at every roadside attraction we passed. One of these attractions was on a small bridge that passed over a part of the rolling river we were traveling by. Not really sure what was happening on this innocent little bridge, we stopped to check things out.

It turned out that a company was there offering bungee jumps for the low price of $15.00. Not one to pass up an opportunity where you can risk your life, Dave volunteered to go first. Now, did Dave have to sign a waiver or watch an instructional video before taking this plunge of death? Nope. Not in Ecuador. I was praying the entire time. Though I wasn't able to get pictures of Dave actually diving off of the bridge ( I lowered my camera just as he was jumping), I did manage to keep it together to get pictures of another adventurous member of team newbie take the plunge.

The guys loved the adventure and the girls loved taking the pictures. After their heart-rates went back down to normal, we got back on the bikes and headed out in search of more waterfalls and adventures.

Waterfalls and adventures we did find--we crossed swinging bridges, hiked through rainforestesque hills, and I even rode a small metal basket across the gorge! If wonders never cease. The flowers, animals, trees, and water we saw were incredible and beautiful. Dave and I couldn't get over that we were actually experiencing this part of Ecuador and we felt truly thankful to be seeing it together on this Thanksgiving weekend.

After visiting the waterfall known as Pallon del Diablo, or the Devil's Cauldron, we hiked back to the main road and loaded our bikes into the back of a very nice gentleman's truck. He agreed to take all six of us back the 22 kilometers back to Banos. After biking, hiking, laughing, and facing my intense fear of heights, I was exhausted and ready for a hot shower, a good dinner, and a warm bed.

Day 2: Dave and I spent the second day of our trip in Banos in vastly different ways. While he went on another waterfall adventure, known as canyoning where he actually repelled down the waterfalls, I spent the day exploring the town. I poked into the little shops, walked through the outdoor market, and tried not to gawk at the cuy being cooked and served on the street corner.

I also found time to read my new favorite book, The Majic Bus, have a snack, and get a manicure and pedicure for under $12.00!

After Dave returned in one piece, we all were able to enjoy a dinner together at Casa Hood and turned in for an early night. We had to leave Banos behind early the next day in order to make it back to Guayaquil at a decent time. The only hiccup on the way back was having to stop to get the brakes checked when we made it back to the valley. We had a wonderful time and it was hard to go back to work the next day. Yet another place we can't wait to share with our friends and loved ones!

I'm going to try to post all of my pictures of Banos using the new slide show feature. There are quite a few of them, so look at them at your leisure. Maybe they will inspire you to come and see it all for yourself!