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The International Writers Magazine: Ecuador

Teased by Baños
Tyrel Nelson

February 4, 2008 "Baños…it’s 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 father’s 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.

"What time 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.
"It’s 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.
"We’re going to Baños. We’re 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.
"We’re from the United States. I’m from New York and he’s from Minnesota. However, we teach English in Ecuador. I live in Loja," said Andrew, concisely getting the fellow caught up to speed.
The gentleman then looked at me.
"I live in Cuenca," I told the man in the aisle.
"You don’t sing like a Cuencan," the Ecuadorian joked, referring to the very distinct and melodious way people speak in my town.
"No, but I’ve 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 city’s cobblestone walkways. The activeness and aesthetics of this valley community definitely emitted a fun vibe.

The 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.

Nevertheless, our 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.

There 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 I’ve seen in Ecuador," Andrew said while admiring the centuries-old paintings that skirted the far-reaching, delicately decorated nave.

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 shrine’s 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 church’s 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.

Set 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 didn’t 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 didn’t know what we’d 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.
"We’re 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.
"I’m afraid that I have bad news, my friend," the burly fellow said while looking up from his plan.
"We’re 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. I’m sorry, but I have to be honest…the actual path is much more vertical," the hiker told us. "However, it’s worth it. The view is amazing."
"Yeah, just go slowly and rest a lot," added the long-haired, brunette girl.
"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 weren’t climbing any higher; there just wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 restaurant’s 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.

Tyrel Nelson March 8th 2008
A Very Good Day
Tyrel Nelson in Ecuador
During 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 couldn’t refuse

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