Wow! Things have been eventful for me the past few weeks. I have met so many wonderful people in Baños....which include other travelers and locals.
My friends from Alaska, Natura and Migo, came back to hang in Baños for a few days. They also brought another friend, Alan, with them. Natura and Migo had an awesome opportunity to stay at this very posh hotel in town because Migo´s mom had a time share there. This hotel is at the top of the mountain and overlooks the town of Baños. I have hiked passed it many times and watched the "rich" people swim in the spas and pools and always wanted to go check it out. Alan was staying with me in the dorm room in town and one day we hiked up to the pools to "pretend" we were guests as well. We all swam together and enjoyed the spas overlooking the town. It was lovely! After a few hours though, the manager came up to me and started asking me questions on whether or not I was a guest...at first I made up a room number, but it was clear that he did not believe me. That was when I did the old "no hablo español" line ....quickly grabbed my things and headed down the hill. I was happy to have gotten a few hours in at the pool before I got kicked out.
My alaskan friends are extremly adventurous.....I like to think I am adventurous as well, but come to find out...I am actually a very big scaredy cat.
They all wanted to go river rafting one day and needed 4 people to get on a raft. They asked me to go, but I just wasn´t sure how much I would like it. Ever since my segway accident (if you don´t know the story I will tell you about that later) I feel better with both feet on the ground. Anyways, after a little persuasion and a promise that we would do a category 3 trip, I decided to go with them. We all hopped in this van and headed out with the tour guide to the river about 45 minutes away. The guides had an ipod in the van and jammed out to all the classic songs like "Sweet Home Alabama" etc. We all sang at the top of our lungs and laughed the entire way to the river. I am sure they do that for all the gringos....they must think we are all crazy.
It hadn´t really hit me what we were about to do. I went rafting with my mom when I was younger, but don´t really remember the experience too well. Right before we got to the river, the guide asked us if we wanted to bump up our trip to category 4 and 5 rapids...he spoke really fast and I wasn´t sure what he was talking about, but the Alaskans quickly said "Yes!". Oh lord, I thought....what the hell have I gotten myself into?
We got out of the van and the guide gave us a few lessons. He explained what to do in certain situations such as if you fall out of the raft, if the raft flips, if you are going down the river and hit a rock, etc.....that was about the time that my stomach starting hurting really bad and I became extremely nervous. It became clear at this moment in my life that I am not much of an adrenaline person. We got in the boat and practiced rowing......I also didn´t realize that we had to put work and effort into the trip. I was laughing so hard because I was nervous....here I was in the middle of Ecuador about to go down some Amazonian river with out signing any contract with some people I hardly knew. All I could do was laugh....and I laughed a lot.
We got in the boat and headed down the river....Alan and Migo were howling in the wind and I just sat there staring at my death ahead of me. Natura asked me if I was ok....she said I had the most horrific expression on my face.
As the guide yelled to us the direction to row we headed into the first rapid. I gripped my feet into the loops as hard as I could and we started hitting the huge waves and crashing all over the place. I remember seeing this big ass rock in the middle of the river and I just thought to myself....dear God....please...let´s not hit the rock. About 5 seconds later we crashed into the rock and the raft slid up and we are hanging sideways about to flip....I screamed at the top of my lungs....everyone screamed! I am not sure how, but we managed to get the raft off the rock and back into the river and down more rapids. Once we got through and were in a calm part I glanced over to Natura and we both looked at each other with the same expression...."What the "F" have we gotten ourselves into". I was shaking uncontrollably and was petrified....I wanted to get out of the raft. The guide could sense that I was scared so he pulled the raft over and gave me a pep talk. He explained that he went rafting twice a day and if I did happen to fall out that I just needed to remain calm with my feet in front of me and he would save me....everything would be fine. Everyone calmed me down and I decided to change my attitude about it. We were all in this together and needed to work as a team, we would take care of each other if something bad were to happen.
We went down a few more rapids and I was slowly starting to enjoy it. It was a gorgeous river with mountains all around us. We pulled over to this bridge where we all got out and the guide took us over to some jumping spots. We jumped off the first two spots which were not very high....then 3rd spot was a bit higher. Everyone was doing dives and flips into the water.... then I suddenly remember that I was also scared of heights. I sat up there looking down and just could not get myself to jump off the ledge....I felt like a wuss. I was just so overwhelmed with everything....I am just this simple girl from Austin, TX.....these people were crazy Alaskan adventure people. The anxious feeling began to overwhelm me and I suddenly just wanted to be back in the raft. I am not sure why, but the fear of the height made me lose the fear of the rapids.....I was ready to take on the river again and not be anywhere high.
Once we got back into the raft I felt much better....and I even started howling into the waves as well and was really starting to enjoy the experience. When we were finished rafting I looked back at the past hour and realized how amazing it was. I am really glad that I went rafting.....I can´t believe how scared I was, but it was an awesome adventure.
After spending a few more days in Baños, a group of people in my hostel all decided to go travel to Quilotoa loop. Quilotoa is a small village next to a big crater lake. You can hike to the lake and then hike to varios towns around the area. We decided to go hike around the area for about 3 days. The group consisted of my girlfriends Tamara, Marina, and Erin. And then my friend Alan. We hopped on a bus and headed out of town. The bus ride was insane! There was one part where the bus decided to drag race another bus through this town. We all sat there staring out the window at the other bus and gripping each other....somehow we did not crash. I decided just to close my eyes and pretend I was somewhere else for a few hours.
The crater lake was so beautiful....I had never seen anything like it before. It is also very big....it takes about 5 hours to hike around the circumference of the crater. We hiked down into the lake and met a local fellow who asked us if we wanted to go Kayaking in the water. We were planning on hiking to the town of Chiculan, which was about 6 hours away. He said if we crossed the crater lake by boat we would save an extra hour. We decided to do it...thinking it was a good idea at the time. He confirmed over and over again that the path out of the crater was easy and safe. But for some reason I just could not see a path across the way. By the time we arrived we all got out...hesitantly...as we stared at this mammoth mountain in front of us with no clear path. Now...I love hiking and all. I can hike for days. Mountain climbing on the other hand is not my cup of tea. of course, Alan (The Alaskan mountain man) was smiling ear to ear....he loved this sort of stuff. We started hiking up the mountain and came to a very steep ridge that we needed to get up. The earth was this sort of sandy muddy stuff and some parts would crumble when you stood on them. Alan scaled the area and struggled a little bit, but managed to get up the pass. Erin went behind him...Erin is from Whistler, Canada and has a little more outdoor experience as well. She seemed a bit nervous, but managed to get up the passage as well. Then Marina started to climb the area....she is a bit like me when it comes to hiking...not a big fan of the heights. She became very nervous and started praying...I was right behind her. I was slowly working my way up the steep passage hoping that the places I stepped would not crumble. I looked down below me and just saw the water about 300 feet below....if I fell....it would be really bad. I started to freak out again and became very anxious. Marina was praying for both of us.... It was extremely scary but somehow we both managed to make it up this steep passage way. Fortunetaly, this was the only tretorous part of the hike...the rest was sloping hills and nothing too steep.
The hike was awesome...we walked through small indigenous villages and saw shepards and sheep and rolling lush hills. We all shared stories and chatted the entire way. It was really neat to learn about the people I was traveling with...where they came from and the type of families that they had. I really enjoyed the company. Alan was awesome as well. He would scope out the trails and had a great sense of direction....we made a good hiking team.
We arrived to Chiculan several hours later....ate a good meal and then hit the sack. Alan left the next morning to join up with the other Alaskans. Tamara had an upset stomach so decided to take a bus to the next town. Erin, Marina, and I decided to hike to the other town. We didn´t know much about the hike, but I figured it would not be that hard. I asked the hostal owner if she had a map and she pulled out this sketchy looking drawing and said a few things quickly in spanish. Then she handed me a bag of candy and told us to just ask the villagers how to get to Insinlivi and give them a piece of candy in return for the directions. Since we were not coming back to Chichulan...we had to carry all of our belongings with us. Still, we all figured it would not be that hard.
We all 3 walked briskly and enjoyed the natural surroundings. We shared more laughs and stories and managed to figure out the first half of the hike by talking to a few villagers and passing out candy. We walked down deep into this canyon....then realized that we were going to somehow have to get out of the canyon. We hoped that the pathway would be clear and easy as it did not look like there were any villages around. Our womanly instincts must have been low this particular day because we got lost.....lost for about 2 hours. We walked up and down the side of this mountain, carrying all of our belongings. We were not chipper and happy anymore...we were exhausted. We had been walking for about 4 hours already...If we did not find out way out of the canyon soon then we would need to head back to Chichulan before the sun set. We all missed Alan on this hike....he kept our spirits up and had a good sense of direction. Marina decided that she would climb this really sketchy area up the hill to see if she could see a pathway on the other side. She was gone for about 15 minutes and I was beginning to get worried. Then all of a sudden we heard other people talking....other hikers that Marina had run into. They were hiking the opposite direction then us. They told us how to get out of the canyon, but that the next 3 hours were going to be all uphill and challenging. The hike was really challenging especially carrying all of our belongings. By the time we arrived to the other town we were barely moving....just sorta scuffling our feet inch by inch and hardly saying a word. It looked like we had been lost in the mountains for days...but it was only one afternoon.
The next morning Erin and Tamara headed off to the big city, Quito, to take care of some things and Marina and I decided to go check out the Cotopaxi National Park. Once again....we did not research anything about it. We figured we would take a bus to the park and then just walk around and view the 19,000 ft volcano. Turns out the volcano is like 40 kilometers into the park. There was no way we were prepared to walk that far. We decided to hire a guide. We hopped in the guide´s jeep and headed into the park. From the past few days of trekking we were both sore and tired and dehydrated. We also forgot that Cotopaxi National Park is at a very high altitude. After about 30 minutes of driving we both started to feel really ill. I was getting dizzy and could hardly keep my eyes open...Marina was feeling the same. I could hardly even talk or pay attention to what the guide was saying. He kept trying to get us to get out of the jeep to hike around some areas and we just told him we didn´t want to walk. At the time, I was so out of it from the atlitude sickness and dehydration....but now that I think about it, the guide must have thought we were both crazy. He was very sweet and tried to be enthusiastic and here we were barely able to stay awake on the jeep ride. Basically, we paid him money to drive us around in a jeep in this beautiful park so we could sleep the whole time. He seemed a little worried about us. When the tour was over he drove us to the road where we were supposed to catch our bus and he waited with us...He was a very sweet guy and I wish we did not get sick so we could have enjoyed the tour more.
On our way back into Baños I looked out the window and saw the volcano that sits right behind the town. Smoke was coming out of it. Turns out the volcano became active while we were out traveling.
When I was previously in Baños, I met this chef at one of the restaurants. He is this awesome Irish lad that travels and cooks along the way. He lived in Austin in the 70s so we totally hit it off. On Christmas Eve he prepared this awesome turkey dinner for about 20 travelers. I had a great time chatting with people from all over the world and the food was amazing! We drank egg nog and wine and I ate the best bread and butter pudding in my life. After the dinner we all walked up this hill a little ways and watched the lava spewing out of the volcano. I had never seen a volcano before so it was a site to see for me. Here I was with 20 other travelers in the middle of Ecuador watching fire and lava spit out of a volcano. FELIZ NAVIDAD!!!!!!!!!!! It was a Christmas I will never forget.
As I am writing this blog it is Christmas Day. I called my family on skype and enjoyed hearing their voices. I miss all my friends and family, but I am not homesick yet. It helps that I have friends here in Baños and I am glad that I am able to be with them during the holidays. I have decided to stay here through New Years. I am waiting for a package to arrive so hopefully it is here by then. After New Years, it will be hard to say goodbye to all of my friends and my favorite town in Ecuador. But I must move on.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season...