We're into our second week, 51 to go. The first week in Quito was super stressful. It's the capital city and airport hub for Ecuador, and we stayed at a hotel in a heavy tourist and entertainment area called Mariscal, so the crime and danger level was up, the pace was hectic, and people we're generally very invasive. Essentially, everything there was focused on tourist dollars. The hostel was very friendly and safe, thankfully, so we had a safe-house base of operations. It was actually a great hostel to get acclimated in, and we explored a bit of the city. We also met lots of travelers, got good advice, and even met a few again when we traveled to another city, Banos, after our 6'th day.
Banos is great, relaxing and safe. It's small, but robust. Tourism centers around river rafting and hiking tours, and other adventure stuff. A huge focus on spa, hot baths and massage as Banos is in the valley of an active Volcano. So active it spewed ash a few months ago and closed the town down. So active that it nearly wiped out the population in '95. But totally gorgeous as of our stay. There's thermal baths all around town. We spend hours in these developed tubs going from hot to cold and hot to cold, all under rainforest cliffs with a huge waterfall within arms reach. There's a huge Basilica in Banos that worships and celebrates the Virgen's miracles in the face of Volcanic disaster. The Cascada (waterfall) is considered holy water, and drunk by the locals regularly. The baths are fed by it.
Food is good or poor, it's hit or miss when you first arrive anywhere. The fresh juice is great. Local fruit is gorgeous. Nearly every Ecuadorian meal: desayuno, almuerzo, cena, is rice and chicken and soup and jugo (juice) for $2 or $2.50. There's options, but the typical and cheapest path is as described with minor variations. Oh, and the bread is really good. Potatoes of any kind are great. Lots of banana and plantain. Crap beer. Good cheap Chilean table wine. Fantastic local cane alcohol made into a drink much like a rich hot toddy.
I'm really enjoying the hostel scene. There's this flow of people and shared space, lots to exchange and learn, people to travel with. We exchange email with good odds of meeting again across the continent. And, you know my gregarious tendencies to talk with strangers, it's serving us well here as it helps learn about the area and get recommendations. My Spanish is doing great, it's helping all of our needs, navigating conversations, learning quickly. I try to share that experience so we can all learn, but I get excited and quickly take over. I'll be fairly fluent by the time our year is up. Hopefully, we'll all practice it when we return and not lose the opportunity.
So, we're in Banos now, 4hrs South of Quito. It's been 4 nights, and we're leaving this afternoon for a small farm town 2-3 hours North of Quito called Gonzales Suarez, 1/2hr North of Cayambe and just South of a beautiful city called Otavalo. Our hands were held on the bus to Banos by a friend and her family (thus the next jump to the farm town). This will be our first solo bus adventure. Harder still, it's a really small stop, which, from what we saw on the way, people almost literally jump on and off the slowing bus. We'll be lucky if we get off at the right place with no hassles. This isn't the Chicken Bus idea we may all have in our heads. And not quite the Super-Sleepers for 24-48hr rides. But still a large tour style bus with reclining seats and a movie playing at the front. We watched some Hollywood crime cool guy film in Spanish dubbing on the way here. It stops often, it's bumpy, and we feel like we need to keep our eyes on the bags when the bus stops, but I suspect they're OK with locks. Typically, no one opens the luggage compartments on the small, incessant stops.
I'm writing in a journal a lot. It's been natural, unlike Blogging or Facebook, or frankly, even email. I'm considering taking macro pictures of the pages and send those out or post them. In fact, that's what I intend. Lots of pictures. Probably too many.
Gotta run. We're navigating toward lunch, leaving our Hostel in Banos, and getting ready for a 6-7hr bus adventure at 2:30.
buenos suertes por todos