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Published: March 15th 2009
Canyoning in Baños
Down the third and largest falls of our canyoning adventure.
From Manta, we had originally intended to continue north to Canoa, a sleepy beach town along Ecuador´s coast, but after learning that buses don´t run from Canoa to Quito and already having stayed in Manta longer than intended, we decided to head into Ecuador´s highlands - back to the Andes. Anya, a local friend we met in Manta, convinced us to make a stop in Cuenca, one of Ecuador´s colonial cities, to break up the trip to Baños (what would be our next stop). A further convincing factor was that Lisa was heading to Cuenca as well, so it was settled, and Drew, Lisa and I made our way from Manta to Cuenca. Our bus steadily climbed Ecuador´s verdant slopes until we found ourselves back in the crisp, cool, refreshing air of another high altitude Andean city. The three of us then followed the customary post-full-day-of-traveling routine. We quickly checked into a hostel, stopped in the first restaurant we could find, and then bought a three dollar bottle of rum for dessert.
The following day we set off to catch the vibe of the city since none of us had much time. (Drew and I had decided to leave that
Tucked away in the mountains...
night for Baños and Lisa was leaving the morning thereafter.) Along with Anke, a German girl staying in our dorm room, we wandered somewhat aimlessly through Cuenca. Though we only spent 24 hours here, it was evident that Cuenca was a city flourishing with character. Its beautiful cobble stone streets and elegant colonial architecture declared the city´s long history. As with all the colonial cities we´ve seen along the way, Cuenca had its beautiful cathedrals and churches scattered around its central city plaza. In only a few hours, we had seen the basic sites, taken our photos, and gotten a feel for the place. The time had come for bigger adventures... for example, the Panama Hat Museum.
If you looked at the photos of the prior blog entry, you´ll have seen a sample of the famous Panama Hat. Though the name ¨Panama Hat¨ stuck simply because these straw hats were made famous by people who wore and sold them in and around the Panama Canal, they are indeed an Ecuadorian creation. We attempted to learn the history of the process by which these hats are hand woven into beautiful final products, but throughout our tour, we were all far
Shrouded Volcán Tunguruhua
The volcano is currently closed to hikers due to dangerous volcanic activity.
too distracted trying on Panama Hats of all shapes, sizes, and colors to have retained any information we may have heard. It was great fun.
Having sampled all (and not purchased any) of the hats in the Panama Hat Museum, we continued on for an incredible Indian dinner (how do I live without Indian food on Kauai?!) (Drew's Edit: While the Indian restaurant here was damn good, I still have to argue with Eric that the tastyness factor still doesn't hold a candle to the famous "Star of India" in La Paz.. He argues that it's just that we hadn't eaten Indian in the months prior to Star of India which made it so great, which has some truth to it, but how does that explain me eating there 5 times over the course of the trip? That's right, because it is better.) before saying our farewells and catching yet another night bus... this one to Baños. One inevitable ´bad´ that comes with the ´good´ of traveling are the goodbyes.
Another night, another night bus, and another town. We were now in Baños. Surrounded by many volcanoes and rivers, Baños is an epicenter for adventure activities ranging from
canyoning to mountain climbing to jungle treks to rafting and is named Baños (baths) for the many thermal baths in and around town. After checking in to our hostel we threw down our packs, dug out our swimsuits, and went for an early morning soak in one of the thermal baths. Though we didn´t quite ¨beat the crowd¨ (as we shared the baths with nearly 100 other locals and tourists who shared the same genius idea to start the day), its always wonderful to soak in some hot water. (Drew's Edit: It should be mentioned that while the thermal baths themselves left a little to be desired, or even a lot, the scenery surrounding more than made up for the lack of quality and obscene amount of people as it's located right at the base of a couple hundred foot waterfall, splashing down into a shower for the hot soaked masses beneath. The city of Baños, surrounded by misty mountains and volcanoes, is one of the more beautiful tourist spots on the map.) The rest of our days in Baños were far less relaxing. We woke up early the next morning to go rafting down the beautiful (yet heavily polluted)
Colonial city of Cuenca
Ecuador´s third largest city
Pastaza River. The Pastaza is generally home to class 3 and 4 rapids, but once again we lucked out with the weather. While we slept during the night prior to our rafting excursion, rains dumped down all night long. The river was higher, and with significantly larger rapids, than usual on the morning of our rafting excursion. Our extremely professional guide navigated us (a crew of five Americans and one Swiss) safely through rapids as big as SUVs. A second guide in a kayak, there for safety in case anybody fell out of the boat, was constantly surfing his small boat down sizable standing waves, gliding back and forth until our raft threatened to plow him over if he didn´t get out of our way. According to our guide, the rapids were consistently class 4 to 4+ with a few class 5 sections. It was definitely one of the most exhilarating experiences of the trip. The following day entailed more water sports. This time, canyoning. Essentially, canyoning equates to abseiling or repelling down a waterfall. Though not nearly the adrenaline rush of the rafting, the experience was filled with just as many laughs and smiles. We started on a tiny
waterfall to get our feet wet with proper repelling techniques. From there we progressed to a 13 meter waterfall, and then, onto a 48 meter waterfall. Though far smaller than the final repel, the second waterfall was my favorite as it flowed down a steep, slippery chute into a small swimhole. This topography allowed us to slide or jump the last few meters into the swimhole. Drew and I were also the only two on the tour so we were allowed to repel each course twice. Once again, another spectacular experience. (Drew's Edit: If you want a true canyoning experience, I recommend hopping on a plane and going to Interlaken, Switzerland! It's much more expensive, but the adrenaline rush is much greater as you leap over waterfalls and slide down 40 foot rock faces into tiny pools of water high in the Alps. Not to say that the $25 we spent here in Ecuador wasn't just as worth it. We had an awesome time!) We got back to Baños all laughed out, and decided to go on a few hour hike that provided views both overlooking the city and of nearby Tungurahua Volcano. While a beautiful hike with exquisite views,
we´re still sore from the nearly 2 hours of steep and relentless uphill climbing the trek required.
We were physically exhausted after several action packed days in Baños, but the timing of our exhaustion proved perfect, as early the following morning we set out to Quito and a day of luxury in a fancy hotel. Some of our awesome friends pitched in to get us a nice hotel room in Quito for a night so that we could escape backpacker life. This was a belated birthday present for our birthdays which fell within a few weeks of each other recently. We stayed in the Nuhouse Boutique Hotel in the heart of Quito´s New Town. The touristy parts of Quito are pretty much divided into New Town, home to all the clubs, shopping, restaurants, and hotels of the city, and Old Town, filled with historic churches, plazas, and characterized by colonial architecture and design. Also included with our stay was a meal at the hotel´s restaurant. I´d be lying if I said we saw much of the city during that 24 hour period. I think you all understand that we had to take full advantage of our hotel room. We
lounged all day watching tv and soaking into our comfortable beds in the classic robes the hotel provided. We walked downstairs to the Q-Bar restaurant for one of the best meals thus far on the trip. After dinner we walked not more than a block to one of the clubs (which began to play nothing but salsa once we entered... I love to dance but I have two left feet when it comes to salsa) down the street. The hotel life was a fantastic escape from our routine, but having a smelly dorm room and dirty bathroom certainly helps motivate you to get out and see your surroundings.
After checking out of our hotel, we made our way to Old Town for some culture. We walked around the weathered streets of Ecuador´s capital (I´ve never been to Austria, but Drew claims it reminds him of somewhere in Austria (Drew's Edit: It IS Austria! but every place I go seems to remind me of somewhere else... except those that don't..)) and stopped in one museum to view a photography exhibition. Quito reminded me of La Paz in the sense that the city was nestled amongst towering hills and mountains. Different
from La Paz however was that Quito was surrounded by the greenest of mountains (as green as those on Kauai), unlike the earth toned and snow capped mountains surrounding La Paz. From Old Town, we hopped a taxi to El Panecillo. The Panecillo is a big hill that sits in the middle of the city of Quito and upon which stands a 135 foot tall statue of the Virgin of Quito. The magnificence of both the giant statue and the 360º view of Quito and its surrounding mountains made El Panecillo a particularly breathtaking spot for me on that day. The absolutely perfect weather may have helped as well.
After a few more days in Quito of sightseeing and relaxing, we took off for Columbia. But on the way we decided to make a brief stop at Mitad del Mundo, site of Ecuador´s monument to the Equator. Ironically, the monument which was built before the advent of GPS, has recently been proven to be off target, nearly 1000 feet south of the true Equator. Nevertheless, we pretended that the painted line on the ground meant something and jumped back and forth between hemispheres with other kids on school trips.
Nuhouse Boutique Hotel
Right in the middle of new town.
Jumping a few feet across pavement over a meaningless line on the ground hasn´t been this fun since my hopscotch days back in the early 90´s.
As they say, all good things come to an end, and this was the case with our run in Ecuador (at least for this trip anyway). We hopped back on our bus and continued north. Its official - we are back in the Northern Hemisphere and comin´ at ya from Colombia. By the time I check-in next, I should have made some good contacts for the drug cartel that Drew and I are considering putting into operation. Just kidding... Love from Bogota.
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