International Writers Magazine: Ecuador
February 4, 2008
its amazing! You have to go to there!
If you can only visit one place in Ecuador, it has to be Baños,"
Marcio said energetically from across the tiny glass table.
Four months later,
my animated host fathers suggestion from that late night conversation
in Quito still resonated in my head. Staring through the bus window
at the lush and mountainous terrain that surrounded us, I continued
to reflect on those many chats I had with Marcio in his dimly lit
kitchen. I realized that I missed my goodhearted host father.
is it," suddenly asked a man in broken English.
Snapping out of my daze, I turned away from the green hills southeast
of Ambato to see a middle-aged gentleman leaning over Andrew, waiting
for the answer.
"Its 2:05," I replied before my fellow English teacher
could get out a word.
Seeing that I wanted to speak Spanish, the Ecuadorian proceeded to ask
us questions in his native tongue.
"Where are you guys going," the man inquired.
"Were going to Baños. Were staying in Ambato
right now because we wanted to see their famous Carnival," I informed
our bus friend.
"Where are you from?" the Ecuadorian further pried.
"Were from the United States. Im from New York and
hes from Minnesota. However, we teach English in Ecuador. I live
in Loja," said Andrew, concisely getting the fellow caught up to
The gentleman then looked at me.
"I live in Cuenca," I told the man in the aisle.
"You dont sing like a Cuencan," the Ecuadorian joked,
referring to the very distinct and melodious way people speak in my
"No, but Ive only lived there for a few months. What do you
expect," I replied.
He just smiled.
A few minutes later, the bus pulled into the Baños terminal.
Not sure of where to go, Andrew and I quickly exited the vehicle and
wandered into the overcast afternoon. After Andrew asked a local boy
to point us in the right direction, we soon found ourselves at Baños
central park. As I stood in the Easter-colored plaza, I immediately
noticed that this bustling municipality had a fresh, hip atmosphere
to it. Everywhere I looked, I saw vibrantly painted buildings, flourishing
foliage, and camera-toting tourists meandering along the citys
cobblestone walkways. The activeness and aesthetics of this valley community
definitely emitted a fun vibe.
pleasant ambience of the Central Sierra town was deceiving, however.
Given that it was Carnival, Andrew and I had to grow eyes in the
back of our heads because almost every person we saw was armed with
a can of perfumed party foam. (To honor a long-standing Carnival
tradition, Ecuadorians of all ages drench each other with aluminum
canisters of sweet-smelling froth on foot and from automobiles).
While numerous ATVs carried tourists by us, we cautiously walked
a handful of blocks lined with endless craft stores and restaurants,
hoping not to get doused with the scented substance. Surprisingly,
the two of us arrived at Baños Basilica Park foam free.
lucky streak almost ended. As Andrew stood on a street corner near the
southeastern end of the park, it was clear that a lady leaning out of
the passenger side of an approaching car had drive-by on her mind. Moreover,
my friend had no idea that the middle-aged Ecuadorian was coming because
he was trying to take a picture. Luckily, I saw his would-be attacker
and yelled at Andrew just in time. While the old sedan crossed his path,
Andrew swiftly turned his back to the street and the woman loudly laughed,
releasing her finger from the trigger. Realizing his close call, Andrew
decided to follow me to holy ground.
were no spray cans to be found inside Baños spectacular
Church of Our Lady of the Holy Water. On the contrary, there were
countless impressive adornments dressing the yellow walls and columns
of the massive Dominican basilica. "This is probably the best
church Ive seen in Ecuador," Andrew said while admiring
the centuries-old paintings that skirted the far-reaching, delicately
The two of us then
quietly paced down the center aisle, maneuvering around various worshippers
who were in mid-prayer. Passing the packed pews at the front of the
cathedral, Andrew and I finally stopped at the elaborate red and gold
altar. While we did our best not to disturb the large group of devotees
at the flamboyant shrines base, the two of us took a few pictures
of the baroque reliquary.
Andrew and I also discovered a fountain of holy water at the end of
a foyer just left of the churchs abdomen. We stared in awe, snapping
various photos of the droves of followers lining up to get their holy
water fix. Many believers ran handfuls of the divine liquid through
their hair amid others who filled water bottles, buckets, and other
large receptacles with the hallowed juice. I had never seen such a sacred
spring before; it was intriguing.
on scenery, Andrew and I subsequently left the church and braved
the frothy battlefield once again. We hustled southward along the
crowded sidewalks and eventually discovered the entrance to the
Bellavista Trail without sustaining any foam-inflicted injuries.
A large map posted next to the entry point showed a trail leading
to a large cross resting on a small plot of land, which overlooked
the Baños valley. The path didnt look all that difficult
on the drawing, so the two of us began our uphill battle.
After several minutes
of sweating, dodging horse crap, and trudging vertically on the muddy
route, Andrew and I agreed that we didnt know what wed gotten
ourselves into. Furthermore, a descending couple informed us that there
was much more ahead.
"Do we have a long way to go," I asked the big, bearded Latin
wearing a black and red poncho.
"Where are you going," he inquired.
"Were headed for the cross at the top of the hill,"
I answered the dark-haired man, who appeared to be close to my age.
"This is the Bellavista Trail, right," he asked while pulling
out a large map of Baños.
Andrew and I both nodded.
For the next few seconds, the passerby and his tiny, olive-skinned companion
scanned their grid.
"Im afraid that I have bad news, my friend," the burly
fellow said while looking up from his plan.
"Were here and you guys have to go all the way up there,"
the man explained while indicating the route on the map.
"Plus, this drawing is deceiving. Im sorry, but I have to
the actual path is much more vertical," the hiker
told us. "However, its worth it. The view is amazing."
"Yeah, just go slowly and rest a lot," added the long-haired,
"Thanks a lot," Andrew and I simultaneously said to our helpers
and continued the upward trek.
A few minutes later, we found the first resting point, which consisted
of a small, open-aired hut that housed a picnic table overtaken by carved-out
initials. Having already planned to return to Ambato for its nighttime
Carnival parade, the two of us decided that we werent climbing
any higher; there just wasnt enough time. Furthermore, Andrew
and I were satisfied with our view of Baños from that small ledge.
And so, we took numerous panoramas of the thriving valley that surrounded
the colorful pueblo.
Disappointed because we didnt reach our main goal of the afternoon,
Andrew and I found solace in capturing more snapshots of Baños
as we reentered the resort town. In addition, we still had enough time
to grab a bite to eat, which was great because we were both starving.
Hardly hit with any foam, the two of us eventually agreed on an establishment
in the heart of the municipality.
While Andrew and I devoured our steaks, we watched the madness take
place in the sudsy streets from our table next to the restaurants
front window. The two of us were in a fish bowl, observing the rowdy
outside world engage in unending spray foam warfare. I also felt good
because it was one of the few times that I had froth immunity; restaurants
and other businesses proved to be havens.
With a hot cup of black coffee now in front of me, I reflected on the
adventurous day with Andrew, shortly before we had to catch our bus.
On one hand, we thought that the forty-five minute journey from Ambato
was more than worthwhile. Baños was beautiful and we did get
to see some incredible sites during an interesting time of the year.
On the other hand, the two of us agreed that there was much more to
be seen. We saw a plethora of tour agencies that advertised mountain
biking, horseback riding, rafting and kayaking, as well as trips to
the thermal springs in the nearby hills. The widespread propaganda gave
Andrew and me just a minuscule hint of what we had missed; we believed
Baños deserved a future visit.
I´m sure Marcio would agree.
Nelson March 8th 2008
Very Good Day
Tyrel Nelson in Ecuador
the few days leading up to our first Christmas in Ecuador, my next-door
neighbor, Juan José asked us to fish with him in El Cajas National
Park, we couldnt refuse
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