We have particularly fond memories of our time in Quito and Baños due to the company we kept for those few days. A few Australians from Perth ended up sharing the same hostel room as us and we kicked it off right away. We stayed in the beautiful town of Quito for a few days and then decided to take a bus together to the Ecuadorian adventure town called Baños, which ended up being one of our favorite towns of the entire trip. Crazy adventures soon ensued, including climbing a mountain, celebrating Australia Day, ice skating, hot springs, and waterfall visits. We even decided to make a little trip to the Amazon Rainforest...
Having gone to bed super early on our first night in Quito, we woke up early and grabbed breakfast with our new German friend, Marvin. We hadn't done much research about Quito and activities in the area, but Marvin suggested that we take the cable-car up to the Ruta del Rucu Pichincha, a mountain on the outskirts of Quito. Just as we were heading out, we asked our hostel roommate, Shannon, if she'd like to join us. "As long as I don't have to climb a lot," she said, "I just did a huge hike the other day." After the previous day's exhausting bike ride, we agreed that a casual ride up a in a cable-car would be a sufficient amount of work for us as well, so we took off in a taxi to the base of the mountain.
The ride up the mountain was breathtaking as the gigantic city of Quito slowly shrunk in the distance. Suddenly though, we entered into a forest of clouds and the city below completely disappeared under the dense fog. We exited the cable-car in disappointment that the fog blocked out the spectacular views, but Marvin shrugged it off and said, "Well, we do have a three-hour hike up the mountain to finish. The fog will clear away by then..." WHAT?!? We were totally unaware that this trip required a three hour hike UP the mountain. Despite being completely unprepared for this, we decided to set forth on the challenge and began our hike.
Cole and I completely underestimated the effects that altitude could have on one's body. It seemed that after about 10 minutes of climbing, the four of us got exhausted and needed to take a break. Physically, it may have been one of the hardest things that we've ever done. We were constantly out of breath and Cole even found that the higher we climbed, the more his knees began to hurt. After about two hours of climbing, both Shannon and Cole decided to take a break while Marvin and Adam continued to the top of the mountain.
After our long day of hiking, we all ate a huge dinner and got some ice-cream for dessert while we discussed our options for night entertainment. Shannon informed us that it was Australia Day, which usually includes an excessive amount of drinking and nearly the entire country collectively listening to the Triple J Hottest 100 songs of the year. Despite being absolutely exhausted, a bunch of Australians at the hostel convinced us to go out with them and celebrate the holiday.
We were very lucky to have gone out that night because it allowed us to bond with the folks who would become our closest friends from our trip. Shannon was travelling through South America with her two friends, Mitchell and Daniel. The three of them are from Perth, Australia, which is very close to the town where Cole studied abroad, so the four of them had a lot in common (which also included a peculiar and random interest in the Minnesota Timberwolves). Rounding our new friend group was Billie, a woman from Bristol, England who had also been travelling in South America for a while. Together, we all had a great night out on the town while the Aussies helped us practice our Australian accents in an attempt to fake an Australian citizenship so that we could get free shots from the Aussie bar. Of course, we were successful in these attempts and we all had a great night.
On the following morning, Cole and I wondered around Quito for a few hours. Both of us really enjoyed the city as it has a very unique feel to it, partly due to its European-influenced architecture and its rich history. One of our favorite aspects of many South American cities is how they close off some city streets to cars so that families can walk and bike comfortably through the city. Thousands of people were out and about on this Sunday and it sure was a beautiful sight. Later that night, a bunch of people from our hostel went out to the Quito mall to try ice-skating (that's right, there was an ice-skating rink in the city mall), and later we went to see "The Wolf of Wall Street" which provided us with a nice night of perceived normalcy.
Somewhat spontaneously, we decided with Billie and the Aussies that we would leave Quito and travel together to Baños, an Ecuadorian city most famous for its stunning beauty and the existence of numerous adventure sports. On our first day in the city, we rented little road buggies and drove them down the Ruta de Cascadas (waterfall route) to visit the huge waterfall called Pailon de Diablo. We also spent a morning visiting the thermal baths in the town and we made a big dinner nearly every night. Another highlight of the trip was visiting the Casa del Arbol (the Treehouse), which provided us with some pretty spectacular views. It felt almost like a family vacation as we all enjoyed each other's company in this amazing city.
Once again, we made a somewhat spontaneous decision that we would all go visit the Amazon Rainforest. We booked our adventure through a company in Baños and then made the long journey on an overnight bus to Northeastern Ecuador, then crowded into a tiny pickup truck to the outskirts of the jungle, and then took a two-hour boat ride into the depths of the Amazon Rainforest. We were far away from the closest city and none of us had any idea of what to expect.
We quickly realized that the Rainforest was in the midst of its dry season and that the water levels of the river were incredibly low. This meant that we had to do a lot of walking through muddy paths rather than simply taking a boat to and from various locations. We spent three nights in huts made of wood and grass and we were given a tour of both the river basin and the jungle. The nighttime was especially cool because the sounds of bugs and monkeys and other wildlife completely surrounded us while we stayed up late playing cards and telling stories. Cole and I truly feel like we couldn't have done this trip with a better group of people.
One of the coolest parts of the Amazon was visiting the river basin at night and seeing the red eyes of DOZENS of caimans relaxing on the water's edge. Unexpectedly, one of our tour guides approached the water without warning and quickly grabbed a small caiman out of the water. It was absolutely insane to see all of these things up so close and it will be a night that we'll never forget. The next day, we also went fishing for piranhas and spent more time exploring the jungle. Overall, it was an incredible trip and exposed us to a lot of new things. We'd definitely recommend a similar jungle trip, but it'd be better to go during the rainy season when you'll see more wildlife and not have to struggle through fields of mud. Sadly, our Amazon trip soon came to an end as we had to sadly say goodbyes to our new close friends as they returned to Quito. With heavy hearts, we returned to Baños for our next adventure...