I’ve been in Ecuador for a little over three weeks now and it’s amazing to think about the experiences I have already had and how they have changed me. I am still observing everything around me and am trying to make sense of cultural differences, but so far it has been an adventure that I’m thankful to be taking.
This weekend I traveled to Baños, Ecuador (yes, “baños” means “bathrooms” in Spanish, but I promise it’s an incredible place). My friends and I left on Friday morning to take a three hour bus ride to our destination. Baños is the last city in the mountains before reaching the Amazon and it sits in a scenic valley. The city is also a big attraction to tourists because it has a lot of adventurous activities available. Once we got to our hostel, we grabbed lunch and quickly proceeded to our first excursion of the weekend: La Casa del Arbol. La Casa del Arbol is a treehouse with a swing (known as the swing at the end of the world) that sits on the edge of a cliff. We took a bus to get there, then each of us took a turn on the swing. The views were beautiful as we looked into the valleys of the mountains through the clouds that continuously rolled in.
After the swing we decided to hike back to town. We were told that it would be an hour and a half hike down the mountain, but we accidentally took the hardest path possible back… This was by far the most challenging hike I have ever done because it was all a steep downhill path literally on the side of a mountain. Some people used the technique of sliding through the mud while others hoped and prayed they wouldn’t fall. Eventually we got separated into three separate groups based on our paces which made things even more interesting. My pal Adrien and I were by ourselves hiking at one point when we reached a fork in the road. We thought about which direction made more sense and turned, of course going the wrong way. On top of that, it started pouring, making the hike even more of a challenge. When we reached a dead end, we turned around and were headed in the right direction. Along the way we encountered a stray donkey, a cafe where we had to stop and get a brownie of course, and by the end we were reunited with the rest of our group. It was quite the three hour journey, but one that will be one of the most memorable parts of being in Ecuador.
Once we were done hiking, we went out to an Italian restaurant and then went back to the hostel to hangout and play some cards. On Saturday morning, a few people wanted to go bungee jumping because when in Baños… All of last week my friends were trying to convince me to go and as we walked to the bridge I decided that I would join in the madness and make the jump. I watched several people ahead of me take their turn and each time my heart dropped knowing mine was quickly approaching. Those who know me well know that this is completely out of character for me. But I did it. I got into the harness, let the guide attach me to the rope, stood out on the ledge, and fell forward, letting gravity to its thing. Standing on the ledge was the most terrifying on my life. I made the mistake of looking down at the rushing river below, making me hesitate briefly, but I followed through and am so glad that I did. It was exhilarating and something that pushed me out of my comfort zone like never before.
To recover from the adrenaline rush during bungee jumping, I went with five others to a coffee shop to relax for a bit. We then took a bus to Pailon del Diablo, a huge waterfall. We hiked around there for a while and took in the views of the gushing water before us. I didn’t really expect that I’d see so many waterfalls in Ecuador, but it has been the best surprise. After that we went back into town and then went to the hot springs, a big attraction in Baños. I had never been to hot springs before, but it sounded like it was going to be a pretty chill evening. I was wrong yet again. The hot springs were packed with locals of all ages and we all had to wear swim caps to protect the pools. We looked ridiculous as we crammed into these baths, but it was hilarious and was a new bonding moment for our group of friends.
Later after we went to the hostel to change, we went out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner and then made our way to a discoteca for some dancing. Sunday morning consisted of breakfast and hanging out at a cafe again until it was time to take the bus back to Quito. It was another weekend filled with memories that will last a life time and experiences that were different from the norm for me.
Throughout the weekend I felt challenged into taking leaps of faith, from the extremely difficult hike down the mountain (and especially in getting lost for a while) to bungee jumping to the discomfort of the hot springs and to opening myself up to cultural differences in random places. A lot of studying abroad in a new country with a different culture requires these leaps of faith. You have to be open to new things and to seeing the world with a new perspective. These leaps can be daunting, but in the end you will be so glad you took them and you will learn more about yourself/ the world than you ever have before.