Last weekend consisted of the two most adventurous days so far during my time in Ecuador. I went with the Hinkles and Tatiana to the town of Baños, a town south of Quito in the Sierra (mountain region) but close to the Oriente (Amazonia). We took a bus from the main bus station in the south of Quito, called Quitumbe. It looked more like an airport than a bus station because it had two levels, ticket windows, terminals, signs, and the whole bit. The bus ride there took 3.5 hours and included many stops in small towns even though it was supposed to be a relatively direct route. Once we got there, we immediately hit the ground running. There’s no way I can cover every detail because there was so much we did. I will mention two categories: outdoor adventures and food.
When we first arrived, we had a bite to eat and then decided to hike up to La Casa del Arbol, a tree house located on a mountain, overlooking a valley. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ecuador and includes a swing that provides a view of the valley below. We started hiking up to a cross that overlooks the city. Then we had trouble finding the trail, so we walked the rest of the way along the side of the road. Beautiful scenery the entire way. The total hike must have been 7-10 miles and over 2500 feet of elevation gain. We enjoyed the views and the swing as a rest after hiking. Since it was getting late, we took a taxi back down to the town, had pizza for dinner and turned in early at the hostel.
La Casa del Arbol
The next day we went to a tour guide agency that provides outdoor activities. There were many options from rafting to mountain biking. Most of the customers were Ecuadorians. An interesting observation of Baños was that the majority of tourists were Ecuadorians there for the weekend, with fewer American, European and Asian tourists. We decided on canyoning, one of the more adventurous activities. It involved rappelling down waterfalls in this beautiful canyon close to town. We went down six waterfalls of different heights. It was an amazing experience that I will remember. For all of the people concerned about safety out there, this was an accredited agency that was probably just as safe as any agency in the United States.
Later that day we hiked up to the Virgin overlooking the town. All of those activities made us tired. That night we decided to go to see the volcano in a chiva, a type of open-air bus with music and a festive atmosphere. It took us up to the cross, where we got a chance to see the glow of lava erupting from the volcano for a few minutes before the clouds came in. There were tons of vendors of food to satisfy the cravings of the people visiting. A nice way to end our day.
Baños from above
Our final morning we decided to go mountain biking on the waterfall route, which descends from the town through a valley with a river and lots of waterfalls. The ride wasn’t particularly strenuous, which was welcomed after all we did. The culmination was a park with a gigantic waterfall called Pailon del Diablo. The shear amount of water on that waterfall was incredible. Many balconies at different levels existed to view the waterfall. We took our time before we returned to the parking lot where we locked our bikes. So many people do this route that rides are offered back uphill to town.
Pailon del Diablo. This photo doesn’t do it justice.
I tried so many different kinds of food on this trip. What was probably the most bizarre item is what I tried first. The guide at the travel agency offered us all fried insects: a type of flying ant that comes out around the volcano only once per year. The flavor wasn’t bad, but I chewed it too much, resulting in feeling the pieces of leg and wing go down my throat.
The two most iconic Ecuadorian food items I tried were cuy (guinea pig) and canelazo (a hot beverage with cinnamon, apple and sugar cane alcohol). My guide book mentioned that cuy was roasted in the market, so we sought it out. Everyone told us that it costs $20-30 to try it. We found a small restaurant that was roasting them over coals. They offered a plate with piece of roasted cuy, rice, potato and a little bit of salad for $4, so we jumped on the opportunity. Cuy was tasty. The skin and fat reminded me a bit of roast pork, and the meat was similar to dark meat poultry. It was a little bit difficult to eat, however, because there were many small bones and not much meat. That night when we took the chiva to view the volcano, we got the chance to try canelazo. We had one provided by the chiva, which wasn’t very good because the alcohol didn’t mix, so it was all on top. Then we bought one, which was pretty tasty, especially in the chilly mountain air at night. It tasted like a hot, sugary, cinnamon flavored apple cider with liquor in it.
Whole cuy roasting
Next I will mention miscellaneous food items that I tried. First was salchipapas at the waterfall. Salchipapas is an Ecuadorian dish that consists of fried potatoes and little pieces of sausage. Also at the waterfall, I got a coconut ice cream, which was fantastic. It was my first ice cream in Ecuador. The texture was less creamy than regular American ice cream, which worked very well with the coconut flavor and pieces of coconut. I also tried two new types of sweets. One was a taffy that practically every vendor was making. It was sweet and molasses flavored. I really liked it but my friends didn’t. I also had the opportunity to buy a bag of sugar cane pieces to suck on. Chewing on the sugar cane resulted in a sweet juice.
Now that was a novel. So much to say about such an amazing place.