I can’t help but still feel stunned that I’m finally here, meeting such wonderful people, and participating in adventures I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
Before I talk about the week and my weekend in Banos, here are some pictures from my weekend in Mindo that missed the cut last time:
Here was the old grandpa horse that I got to ride for my first experience.
And here is a shot of me making my way down a 135 foot waterfall. The picture probably speaks for itself, but I was sufficiently drenched.
The rest of last week went wonderfully. I had some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had at a place called Crepes and Waffles. Since then we have already returned for delicious crepes, and a chocolate fondue plate that would probably cost like $35 in the US. $11 here seemed more than doable.
This weekend we took a 4 hour bus ride to the city of Banos. Much like the rest of Ecuador, the city is surrounded by massive mountains that seem to go directly upwards no matter where you turn.
Banos is one of Ecuador’s destinations for extreme sports. After having 3 exhausting weeks, we decided to take advantage of the more relaxing aspects of the area, but kept a look out for the activities we wanted to do when we return.
In Banos you can get an hour long Swedish massage for about $30, and a pedicure or manicure for $10. These are also the more expensive prices for such offers. I was a party-pooper and didn’t end up getting either, but I doubt I’ll leave this place without doing something of that nature.
This town definitely has a sweet tooth. Candy shops on every corner. Here you can watch vendors hang massive chunks of naturally flavored taffy, then pull and spin them out until soft and smooth. After that, you watch them twist the taffy into different shapes which you can buy packaged up.
Here is a guy doing the spinning of the taffy. The taste is delicious, and it’s better to turn a blind eye when it comes to the hand hygiene of the person making your sweets. (What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?)
There’s also beautiful scenery that you can hike around. And if you’re real adventurous, you can look at that scenery while jumping off of a 10 story bridge with a single rope harnessed around your waste. We decided to pass on that. However, on the way to a fun hike called El Pailon Del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), our cab driver stopped along the way to show off 7 of Banos’ most famous waterfalls. Now don’t repeat this, but Oregon definitely has Ecuador beat in this department. I had to keep my mouth shut as tourists from around the world “ooo’d” and “aww’d” at waterfalls (cascadas) that don’t even begin to compare to those we see just a short drive from Eugene or Portland.
However, the Devil’s Cauldron was spectacular. A short but steep hike takes you to a peek above an incredibly large and strong waterfall that gushes around and down into a canyon, making water spray up in every direction. From here you can take a slippery stairwell down into the center of the canyon and get your shower for the day, or you can crawl up through a dark canal to a higher lookout point, or you can take a slightly sketchy draw bridge across the cauldron and get a bird’s eye view.
I really enjoy touristy towns for multiple reasons, but one of them is the fantastic vegetarian food offered that is no where to be found in Quito. Here in Banos they even offered pasta with tofu and quinoa burgers. Not to mention the fantastic freshly squeezed juice or smoothies you get all over Ecuador for about $0.75. With that price, it’s really difficult not to get one every day.
The greenery in this country feels like home in Oregon. Although the mountains are crazier than I’ve ever seen back in the states, the constant vegetation is incredibly comforting.
In Banos you can go to the Casa Del Arbol (house of the tree) and swing from a spot called “The Swing at the Edge of the Earth.” So of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. After securing yourself into a swing attached to a tree house, you pick your feet up from a ramp and swing out over the side of a mountain. For the majority of the experience you’re truly flying through air, with nothing below you for hundreds of feet.
While waiting your turn on the unregulated swing, you could also try and balance on some random pieces of wood that remind me a lot of the kid’s jungle gyms at the preschool.
Banos was fun and interesting, but it was nice to make it back home on Sunday to relax, get some dinner, and prepare for the upcoming week that is currently my last with the kiddos.
Although they can be incredibly aggravating, they can be even more sweet. I’m going to miss getting tackled by 30 little bodies every morning yelling “Buenos Dias Profesora McKenzie!” And having to wash my hands a million times because they pick their nose then hold my hand. They also love to “wash” their hands and then shove them straight in my face because they think I need to smell the antibacterial soap.
The letters “McK” and “McC” never appear together in the Spanish language (too my knowledge). This makes my name exceptionally difficult for most adults here to pronounce. So it’s pretty adorable listening to the little ones try so hard to call me by my name. They end up pronouncing it: “MAH-KHAN-SY.” Close enough 🙂
Some other random but interesting pieces of the culture:
-Even if you pay for a non-stop bus ride, you have to be prepared for multiple stops on what seem to be random highways to pick up hitch hikers that wave money to show they’re willing to pay the bus driver. If there are no seats available, they’ll be invited to sit up front with the driver. Most bus drivers also allow street vendors to climb on the bus and shove products in your face while you’re trying to sleep. Obviously I’m not much of a fan of that.
-Ecuador, and I’m assuming the majority of Latin America, has a very beautiful appreciation and acceptance for the human body. You’re likely to find murals and sculptures in almost any town of pregnant women captured as Mother Earth, couples dancing, and even just poses of the naked body. Even the women here seem to be accepted for all their shapes and sizes much more than you would ever see in the United States. There’s definitely a sensual vibe to the majority of the artwork, but I think it’s pretty beautiful. They have even found preserved pottery and paintings from the Incas and early humans in South America the capture the vulnerability of the human body and sexual poses in a very matter-of-fact way. I think it’s somewhat ridiculous that the United States is so obsessed when it comes to sex in pornographic ways, but so prude when it comes to appreciating the human body without over-sexualizing it or accepting it in its natural forms.
-Movies here are absolutely all North American films. Then you either have the choice of Spanish subtitles, OR Spanish voices dubbed over the English speaking actors. Sometimes that means the same voice for every character in the movie, no madder the age or gender.
-Every hostel we have been to here has had some sort of pet roaming the halls and entertainment areas. I LOVE it. I miss my kitties a lot, so it feels nice to snuggle up to an animal once in a while. Even if that animal’s name is Tarzan and wants nothing to do with you.
-For being the very religious, and what I would consider conservative, country that Ecuador is, there are a decent amount of actions and laws that surprise me. Here, both prostitution and marijuana are legal. I’m not fully up to date on the rules that it entails, or whether or not this is seen as progressive by anyone, but it’s not what I would typically expect. The bathrooms in the school that I’m working at are also gender-neutral. One big bathroom shared by all kids without the unnecessary emphasis on gender roles and expectations. I love it. (I also worked with the 5 year olds today on the human body. I was so happy to see the teacher speak about genitalia just as casually as you would an arm or a leg. It’s totally unnecessary to add all this explicit adult content to a body part to make the child get the impression it is somehow dirty or wrong. So way to go public schools in Ecuador for just teaching it how it is).
-The sidewalks in Quito desperately need some attention. If I’m not constantly looking down at my feet, I’m rolling an ankle. I wear my calf-high boots when walking longer distances to try and protect myself from breaking something (knock on wood).
(that’s a sidewalk)
-After beginning my research about health in the United States and Ecuador, I wanted to share a few statistics that hopefully remind us back in the US how lucky the majority of us truly are: Ecuador’s childhood mortality rate is 24 in 1000 kids, over three times higher than the US. Over 92% of children in the United States have access to a measles vaccines while less than 65% of kids in Ecuador have that opportunity. Ecuador’s maternal mortality rate is over 5 times higher than the US’s, and while very few deaths have been due to tuberculosis in the US, the numbers in Ecuador are over 35 times higher.
Many of you may know by now, but I have recently purchased plane tickets to Cusco, Peru in December to cross Machu Picchu off my bucket list. Traveling with me is my Aunt Anna and friend Blake. It will be so nice to travel with some familiar faces.
Alright, that’s it for now! Chao from Quito!