One of the wonderful aspects of the UBECI volunteer program is the opportunity to travel over three-day weekends. For our first weekend, we chose the tourist-heavy mountain town of Baños.
A three hour bus ride deposits travelers from Quito into the center of a modest town, but dozens of hostels can be found within a few blocks. Many restaurants and cafés also betray the heavy foreign influence in the town. The first restaurant we visited, Café Hood, is almost certainly ex-pat owned, and offers everything from Ecuadorean to Thai cuisine in both English and Spanish.
Our bike path followed this gorgeous river.
Baños is best known by thrill-seekers for the numerous activities located in and around the town, such as zip-lining, canyoning, rafting, biking, hiking, bridge jumping, and more. As soon as we finished lunch, Kim and I joined a few other volunteers for a bike ride along the river. Since this isn’t the United States, we were not offered helmets or waivers, despite the fact that the majority of our ride was on the shoulder of a main road. The ride was both beautiful and exhilarating. The Andes mountains are steep and lush, and our ride featured both majestic waterfalls and stream crossings.
About ten miles along the road, we came across two bridges with equipment for bridge jumping. I was immediately intrigued, as we had previously heard about the Baños style of bungee jumping. After watching another man safely jump from one bridge, I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it out. Another volunteer, Alyssa, and I decided to jump together and strapped in. Standing on the ledge, I couldn’t even look down, but seconds later we were swinging like a pendulum beneath the bridge and over a river. It was a blast, and an experience that was enhanced by the spontaneity and gorgeous area. 🙂
At the end of our bike ride, we retraced our path along the road standing in the tailgate of a pickup truck. We watched the miles race by in the chilly mountain air, laughing and taking pictures.
The next morning, I accompanied two other girls to the local zoo. A mere $2.50 granted us access to the area, where we encountered countless birds and turtles, as well as a handful of… more interesting animals, such as monkeys, a jaguar, and a bear. However, the best part of the zoo was easily the stunning views. Of course, this was the one time we had neglected to bring a rain jacket, so for a majority of our visit, it rained. If I had a jacket, I wouldn’t have minded; the rain was gentle and the sun shone through the clouds. However, the humidity in Ecuador keeps clothing from drying quickly.
After the zoo, we grabbed coffee at, yet another, foreigner owned café and explored the markets. Unsurprisingly, many of the booths offered the same trinkets and souvenirs. One unique item offered in Baños was the taffy. Many shops featured local men looping taffy over a hook on the wall and pulling it down, over and over. When we walked past they pulled off pieces and handed them to us to try. The candy was sweet and, while warm, soft, but hardened as it cooled. Many of the other volunteers brought some back with them, but I wasn’t especially fond of it.
For dinner we took a trip to a small restaurant called Café en la Cielo, or Cafe in the Sky. From our table we could look over the town of Baños. The view was wonderful, but the service was mediocre. The entire time we were in Baños we felt ignored by the wait staff, probably on account of our broken Spanish. It bothers me that Americans are often negatively stereotyped in other countries, but I continue to try to be understanding and respectful of the local culture and customs.
Our final morning in Baños we took an early taxi to Casa de Arbol, a tiny tree house with a swing on the edge of the mountain. The swing is also known by travelers as the “swing off the end of the world.” Unfortunately for us, during our drive up, it began to rain… a lot. We knew we had to pay for the cab either way, so we braved the weather, sliding through the mud. We stuck around long enough to take a few pictures, then made our way back to the hostel for one last hot shower before catching a bus to Quito.