Our time in South America has come to an end. After our incredible experience in the Galapagos Islands, we flew to Quito to spend our final week exploring more of Ecuador. We soon learned that there is more to the country than just Blue-Footed Boobies.
Yes, “Baños” means bathrooms in Spanish. But there’s nothing stinky about this town. Approximately 3 hours South of Quito, Baños is a quaint mountainous town at the edge of the Amazon jungle filled with adventure sports, volcanoes, taffy, and spas. We actually didn’t get to see the volcanoes for ourselves due to the constant clouds, but we did partake in some adrenaline pumping activity and taffy. And I visited a spa for a much-enjoyed facial.
Baños is a playground for adventure sports lovers. White-water rafting, canyoning, zip-lining, mountain biking, hiking, bridge-jumping – this town pretty much has it all. Secretly, I was kind of hoping we wouldn’t have time to hit Baños. We’ve done most of these sports before but Bryan was adamant that we try canyoning for the first time. Rappelling down a tall, slippery waterfall didn’t appeal to me, to say the least. I’d heard it was scary and disorienting. Some of the waterfalls were 125 feet tall! That’s the height of a 12-story building. Do I really trust my life to South American rappelling equipment? But I decided to just go for it. To my surprise, I loved canyoning! And I think I may have even been better at it than Bryan. 😉 It wasn’t that scary because you go down backwards so you don’t stare down the heights the whole time and freak yourself out. The company we went with was professional and their equipment seemed up to par. I highly recommend trying canyoning if you get the opportunity – even if you’re klutzy and nervous like me. It’s the best feeling in the world when you face something you’re afraid of and then actually enjoy it. I’m looking forward to some more adventure sports in Africa next winter.
Everywhere you go in Baños there are rows and rows of taffy stores and stalls. I have no idea how they all stay in business. Many have the taffy-makers, which are all strong men, beating and twisting the taffy in the front of the shop. The local children line up for samples of the hot taffy on their way home from school. We bought several packages of taffy for ourselves and our family. It was a little nerve-wracking gnawing on the tough taffy without dental insurance, but it was tasty enough to take the risk. In case that isn’t enough sugar for you, there are plenty of other sugar cane products for sale at the stalls. You can even purchase cups of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with lime for 60 cents. We watched the man take long stalks of sugar cane and crush them through a machine to make the juice. It was delicious, refreshing, and surprisingly not overly sweet. A good business to open in that town would be a dentist office. My teeth could definitely use a good cleaning after just two days in Baños.
It’s hard to believe this is our last South American city. Quito’s a perfect mix of old, colonial beauty and modern comforts. There are 40 churches in the colonial area of the city alone. We’ve probably walked through almost 100 churches during the last six months, but we still visited Quito’s own. Their beauty and exquisite detail still hasn’t gotten tiresome. The most impressive church was the La Compañía de Jesús, a baroque-style church. The elaborate floor-to-ceiling gold covered church took over 160 years to complete. Unfortunately, like quite a few old churches, photography was prohibited. This church was stricter than most. We saw a guy who thought he was slick sneaking some pictures. He was escorted out a few minutes later. Another sight we enjoyed was the Ecuador Presidential Palace, where you can take a free, up-close tour of where Ecuador’s President works.
With little extra space in our small packs, we haven’t been able to pick up many souvenirs over the last six months. But now that we are at our final destination – it was time to load up on souvenirs for family and ourselves. Hopefully someday we will have a house again with a travel room to display them. We spent quite a bit of time browsing the local artisan markets throughout Quito, shopping for some last minute items. Shopping – Bryan’s favorite! Even I was worn out from shopping. If one more woman at the market yells “amiga!” at me, I’m going to flip.
The country of Ecuador, as you may have guessed, gets its name from the equator that passes through. The equator circles the entire globe of course, but mostly in the ocean or in remote land areas of the jungle or desert. The equatorial line in Ecuador is where scientists and others were able to perform their research. That’s why the spot where the equator hits in Ecuador is special. A little outside of Quito, you can visit the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) where the monument stands. It’s a little disappointing to hear that this isn’t actually the Equator you’re standing on. Back in the early 1980’s, when the monument was constructed the technology to plot location wasn’t as accurate as it is today. With current GPS mapping, the real 0º 0′ 0” latitude actually lies a few hundred feet north of the monument. There are some touristy museums on the actual equator that you can visit and witness experiments to show the “gravitational differences” on the equator. Real or fake? You decide. I was pretty convinced by the demonstration of water swirling down the drain in opposite directions on either side of the Equator, and then flowing straight down when on the Equator.
We’ve mentioned before that guinea pig (“cuy”) is a staple in some South American cuisine. According to some “Last Supper” paintings, even Jesus enjoyed guinea pig. Bryan has been saying he was going to try it during our whole trip but he just hadn’t gotten around to it. I don’t think you ever really crave guinea pig. On our last night we were down to the wire so we went to a traditional Ecuadorian restaurant. The guinea pig was $25! We were out of time and options so Bryan sucked it up and spent the money. I think guinea pigs are adorable (especially their “weet-weet” noises) so I stuck with chicken. I’m glad I did. Bryan said the guinea pig was terrible. It had barely any meat and was just fried skin, bones, and tiny teeth. It was probably the worst $25 we’ve ever spent. My advice would be to save your money, leave guinea pigs as pets, and stick with chicken. Have any other travelers had a positive guinea pig-eating experience? Maybe they are better grilled.
It’s hard to believe our time in South America is over. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling. There are so many things we will miss (not guinea pig), but we are excited to see our friends and family and eat some familiar food! Stay tuned for our “South America Round-up” and details for “World Trip – Leg #2”!