Man, what a week. Life here in Ecuador is good. Weekdays are spent in class, doing homework, playing with kids at the daycare, hanging with my EcuaMama & hermana, and trekking around Quito trying to find good desserts with my IES Amigos. All. Good. Things.
It’s the weekends that have really been incredible so far this semester. This weekend, 12 of us headed to Baños- a fun town about 3 hours south of Quito. The scenery of this city is absolutely amazing, as it is surrounded by green mountains and waterfalls. We arrived in Baños by about 11am on Friday morning, and set out to make the most of our time.
First, we headed up the mountain to Casa de Arbol, where we were able to swing on The Swing at the End of the World. Check it out- truly a Pinterest worthy place. It is essentially a swing that goes out over the valley and overlooks Baños and the surrounding mountains. The perfect amount of thrill and tranquility packed into one activity.
Although we took a short bus ride up the mountain, we decided it would be fun to hike down. We expected it to be an intermediate hike and that it wouldn’t take too long. Joke’s on us- in true misadventure fashion, we took the wrong trail: the most advanced trail in Baños. We virtually hiked straight down the mountain. Even after years of hiking experience, I had to slide on my butt down half of the trail, because walking upright guaranteed a hard fall onto the trail or into the vegetation on the side (or both at the same time, as our friend Maria can testify). Our group got separated, and 3 hours into the hike, it started pouring rain. Most of me wanted to laugh, but there was a very small part of me that wanted to cry. Regardless, the views were absolutely beautiful- we got to look out over all of Baños as we hiked from the top of the mountain down to the town. 4 hours later and we had all made it back safely, although we were soaked, scraped up, and muddy.
“I regret nothing” was a very common phrase this trip, and this hike was a beast, but I think we are all thankful it happened nonetheless. We obviously celebrated our hiking accomplishments with food and dessert.
Saturday has to be one of the top 10 best days I have ever lived. After a delicious breakfast at our hostel, we headed to the most notorious bridge in town: Puente de San Francisco. Here, five of us decided to jump off the bridge. I’ll be honest- I was freaking out for awhile. However, after some guided meditation (thanks Adrien!), positive self talk, and sending up a few prayers, I was ready to go.
The whole experience was absolutely surreal. As I stepped out onto the platform and spread out my arms, it was just me and the mountains and the river below me. My head was clear, my mind was tranquil, and as the guide counted down from 3, I let myself fall. Then- pure joy as I hurled through the air towards the river. The adrenaline rush was so much that I couldn’t stop laughing as I swung through the valley. I truly felt invincible after this, and I won’t forget it for as long as I live.
After this, a group of us rented some high quality mountain bikes and decided to ride about 10 miles out of Baños to a famous waterfall called Pailon del Diablo. This was hands down the best biking experience of my life- it felt like I was living The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as we raced down the mountains and saw waterfalls and valleys from the trail. We passed through small towns, stopped for a delicious and cheap lunch, and enjoyed incredible views, all thanks to our bikes. After winter in Michigan, it felt so great to be back on a bike and out in nature.
We reached our destination of Pailon del Diablo, which is the largest, most spectacular waterfall I have ever witnessed. There aren’t really any more words to adequately describe it. Most of Saturday was generally spent gazing in awe at the world around me.
The combination of the hike from Friday and the bike ride had us sore and ready to hit up the famous hot springs. Personally, this hot springs experience is hilarious to me. I was expecting a beautiful, natural setting, whereas these hot springs had the feel of a public pool. There were people everywhere and we all were forced to wear swim caps. It felt slightly janky, but NO REGRETS!
After the hot springs, we decided to explore some of the Baños nightlife, where we discovered the being gringos has its ups (free admission anywhere!) and its downs (getting hit on by strange men). It’s all part of the experience, and it’s a blast to be a part of a group that loves to dance!
Sunday was spent hanging out in a local cafe before catching the bus back to Quito. 5 of us came very close to peeing our pants on the bus (thanks coffee) before the bus driver pulled over at a gas station, but we all made it.
All in all, it was a great week. Everything truly is better in Baños (except for maybe the famous taffy, which did not live up to the hype). During our bike ride, our friend Alex inspired us with this quote, which is fitting for the trip:
“There’s no growth in the comfort zone and there’s no comfort in the growth zone.”
Here’s to growth and no regrets for the rest of the semester!