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Immersing myself in Ecuador

Roller Coaster times in Banos, Ecuador.

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 5 February 2013 | Views [745]

It has been an interesting week.  Last Sunday I went with my host family (Liz and her children Luigi and Analei) on a short road trip.  We followed a route known as the Ruta de las Cascadas ( the route of the waterfalls).  Tourists usually rent a bicycle and bike down this road from the mountain terrain of Banos down to the jungle atmosphere of Puyo.  On the way you see many waterfalls as well as many adventure experiences.  Some people elect to jump off a bridge bungee style.  Others opt for the cable car across a canyon over a river to view waterfalls up close.  We chose to stop at an infamous waterfall called Pailon.  This massively powerful waterfall is reached by a hike through jungle terrain with steps carved into the hillside.  The climate changes on the way down and becomes humid.  You can pay $1.50 to walk up to the waterfall and then back down and across a rope hung bridge for another view.  We walked to a scenic point but did not go all the way to the top of the waterfall.  To get there you must crawl through a very narrow tunnel and you are soaked by the time you get back.  Unfortunately I didn't think to carry my waterproof camera and Liz is claustrophobic.  Next time I will be more prepared and I will go to the top!!


I settled in for another week of learning spanish.  Spoiled is an understatement.  My bed made for me everyday.  Breakfast and lunch waiting for me when I woke up and returned home from school.  I still felt discouraged about my spanish.  It is a roller coaster of sentiment when immersing yourself in another language.  I would feel so giddy and proud when I was able to get my point across and understand someone in a restaurant or store.  Then inevitably I would find myself unable to understand a thing a person was saying and would come away so confused and ashamed.  It's embarrassing and ego-bruising.  


I decided that 2 weeks in Banos would be my cut off and then I would head to a city.  We planned my trip to Cuenca and I looked forward to my new school and new family in a more urban setting.


Fate intervened that week and 2 girls that I had met the day before I left Montanita at my school there came to Banos with 2 other friends of theirs.  I got to hang out with them for a couple of nights.  It was fun to have people to go out with that were travelers like me and understand how hard it is to do this.  Life is a vacation at the moment but my head is so easily exhausted from attempting to translate constantly that I feel drained and too tired to venture out much.  Speaking English for a while made me feel like cheating but it felt so wonderful.  I read a blog by another traveler who seemed to be writing my story.  http://sotcblog.com/2013/02/01/lost-in-the-barrier-of-language-life-as-a-monoglot-in-colombia/  She spoke about how lonely it can be even when surrounded by so many people because of the language barrier.  I keep waiting for the day when it just all makes sense to me.  1 month of training and I feel like I should be a rock star spanish-speaking gringo but that is pretty ridiculous.  Yet, not ONCE have I ever thought of throwing in the towel and giving up.  I AM GOING TO CONQUER THIS.  


I decided to have my last full day in Banos be an adventure tour day.  GeoTours was recommended to me.  http://www.geotoursbanios.com/index_ingles.html I chose to do rafting in the morning and canyoning in the afternoon.  I had no idea what I was signing up for but I figured, why not??  


My morning was great.  The guides took the 6 us to the river and after a safety talk we got on our raft and went down the river for about an hour.  We hit class 3+ and 4 rapids and it was exhilarating for a beginner.  I absolutely loved it.  I never experienced any fear during the whole trip.  Our guide was calm and fun and knew the river well.  This company also has a safety kayaker with each group.  At one point one of the girls in the group popped out of the raft but we got her back in the raft in no time.  I was sad when the trip was over.  We watched other groups coming down the last rapids and it was a tangled mass of rafts with no safety kayakers.  If you want to do something for the first time I highly suggest doing it the safest way, it makes it so much more enjoyable and you more apt to want to do it again!  We were brought to a local restaurant and fed traditional food and then it was back to town.


I had the other tour at 2pm so I ran home, changed into dry clothes and headed straight back for the canyoning adventure.  Another set of guides took us to another location up in the mountains.  Our driver was a sweet older gentlemen who picked some flowers for me.  We changed into our gear and headed up to where we would be repelling down waterfalls into a canyon.  The walk up just about killed me but I made it and I'm so glad I did.  After another safety lesson and quick instruction on what to do they basically just make you repel down a mountain!!  I had no fear at all!!  Probably because my guides were like Spiderman and made it look so simple and were so relaxed and fun.  The longest repel was 30 meters down a waterfall.  At the end you slide on your behind (they are guiding you with the rope) down a natural water slide.  Best day ever.


On the return to Banos we were taken to another restaurant and served sandwiches and hot drinks.  Once you do something like that in a group you all feel connected.  We sat and talked and decided to meet up for drinks later.  


After a day like that and wearing 2 different sets of stinky wetsuits all you really want to do is shower in hot water and relax and look at the pictures to prove what a bad-ass you were that day.  Unfortunately I had to pack and even more unfortunately that was the day we had no hot water.  The water was not just cool, it was freezing cold but I had to shower.  That woke me up though and I packed and met up with my new friends later that night.  I had such a great time I was almost wanting to stay in Banos.  That's how it always is though.  I just get comfortable and want to stay but I know I need to move on and learn more and see whatever I can while I am here in this amazing country.


The next morning I woke early to leave for the bus station in Ambato.  My host mommy had to go there anyways for a conference and that is where I could get a direct bus to Cuenca.  I basically did not have to do a thing.  Once in Ambato they brought me directly to the ticket counter.  I bought my ticket and waited for the bus in their car.  When the bus arrived Liz got on the bus and actually picked my seat for me and gave me my tenth lecture on what to do with my bags and how to stay safe before she left.  Earlier she had given me her sister's cell # (her sister owns the spanish school in Cuenca that I am going to) and I was supposed to call her when I was 30 minutes away for my host family to come and pick me up at my bus.  The bus ride was the same route that I had taken there so I leaned my seat back and slept for about 2 hours.  Around 3 hours into the 7 hour trip there was an awful exploding sound and everyone screamed.  We kept driving for another 30 minutes without any difficulty.  Then we stopped in the middle of nowhere at this remote service station and the bus was dead.  The next 2 hours was a very confusing time.  People getting off the bus and demanding their money back.  Walking away to I didn't know where.  Other people sitting around hoping the bus would be fixed.  This whole time I had no cell service.  The driver was able to use a land line to call requesting another bus but from what I understood that was going to be another 3 hours away.  I decided that the next bus that came around I would try to get on and wherever I ended up as long as I had cell service and their was a hostel to sleep at I would be fine.  Fate intervened again and a bus to Cuenca appeared.  I pushed my way in the crowd of people and shamelessly flirted with my eyes with the driver and they let me on.  I even got to ride up front with them and they insisted I stretch my legs on the dashboard.  Best view on the bus!!  It is the start of Carneval in Ecuador and the culture is to celebrate by throwing water at each other.  The driver and his money handler would open the windows and dump water on all the cute girls walking on the road.  They told me they only did it to the cute ones.  I arrived in Cuenca 2 hours late and very tired but overall pleased with myself for using my charms (and a little wit) to make it there.  


My host dad and his daughter found me at the station and we headed to his friend's house to eat a massive pizza while their children ran around and I spoke in very broken spanish to my new host mom and her friend.  Once in my new home I showered and got on the computer.  I had forgotten about the Super Bowl and tuned in on my computer just in time for the power outage at the Super Dome.  I fell asleep after the game and woke up feeling much better about life but very sore from my adventures 2 days ago.  Muscles I haven't used in a while are screaming right now!!


Monica (my host mom) drove me to school after breakfast with her mother.  She had to take this crazy route around to the school and kept giving me directions back home in very rapid Spanish.  I understood enough to know how to get to the general area but after school I got to the corner and couldn't find the house.  My poor host brother had to ride his bike in the rain and come get me.  So embarrassing.  After lunch I practiced the route again and now I know where to go.  


I will write more about Cuenca when I have been here longer and have more to share about it.  Just wanted my friends and family to know I am safe and well.  Please leave me comments if you want to know more (I'm sure I left a lot of details out but I feel like I keep blathering on and know one is really interested in all this…) or if you want me to go and have an experience  in and write about it later, let me know and I'll see if I'm up to the challenge!!  


I hope this finds everyone healthy, happy, safe and warm! 


Links to my pics on FaceBook:  





Tags: banos, buses in ecuador, canyoning, geotours, language barrier, loneliness, pailon, rafting

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