Baños de Agua Santa

Our exciting weekend began by having to wake up around 4am, packing up the old Chevy Blazer, and then starting the 5-6hr drive to Baños de Agua Santa.  Of course, because it was so early, Brooks, Kelly and I all fell asleep.  At one point during the drive, I woke up to the sound of “Hotel California,” by the Eagles, on the radio, while the sun was starting to rise.  The sky lit up light pink and gold, and I had to wake Brooks up so that he could see it too.  The rest of the drive consisted of either going through a town or driving along farmlands and seeing hundreds of cows.

Once we arrived in Baños, 5hr later, we had breakfast at a local restaurant and then headed over to our hostel afterwards.  Brooks and I were lucky enough to not only have our stay paid for by David and Kelly, but also get our own rooms.  Brooks and I were both on the top floor and had a great view of the town.  After we got situated in our separate rooms, we all met up downstairs, headed out into the town of Baños and began our excursions.

First stop was at one of the many waterfalls, where we rode in a “tarabitas,” or a cable car.  This tarabitas took us over the river and to the other side of the waterfall.  There, we walked across a cable bridge that went over the width of the waterfall.  About 20min later, we made it back to the other side of the river and hopped in the car to go to the next stop.  The roads in Baños are all cobblestone, hug the sides of the mountains, and are narrow two way roads.  The mountains are coated with bright green trees and cascading waterfalls, some even falling onto the roads.

Our second stop lead to a “canopy” stop.  There we were able to zip-line down a steep cable overlooking a river and few small waterfalls.  Here, the zip-lining was set up differently, unlike when we were in Mindo.  Our harnesses were placed on us backwards, so instead of sitting up straight, we had our stomachs facing down and our backs hooked into the cable.  On top of that, our legs were also strapped in, giving us no movement in our body, other than our arms.  There were two cables set up side by side, so Brooks and I were able to go together.  The minute he and I were let go, he flew passed me and soared down the cable super fast.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t heavy enough to go as fast as he did, which led me to stop 3/4 of the way down.  One of the workers had to hike down and hop across a river in order to help me.  He had to throw me a rope to grab onto, so that he could pull me back to the end.  It was very scary, I kept thinking I would fall down and crush my face against the rocks in the river beneath me.

After going canopying, we were driving alongside the mountain and saw some locals on the side of the road that were doing bungee jumping.  Brooks and I wanted to go bungee jumping very badly, so we stopped on the side of the road and did it with Kelly.  David was too afraid to do it, so he watched us from another bridge across from us and took pictures.  Brooks went first, then Kelly, and then I went last.  The most difficult thing about it, was probably having to be able to climb up onto the ledge and stand up straight.  I was worried I would slip and somehow hurt myself with the bungee cord while falling.  Luckily I made it up perfectly, and jumped without any problems at all.  It was by far one of the craziest things I have ever done.  Even once I climbed back up to the side of the road, my legs and arms were shaking.

Our last stop before lunch was to a waterfall called, “Pailon del Diablo.”  To get to this waterfall, there was a hike downhill that took about 15-20min to get to.  There we went up a staircase and got up alongside the waterfall.  Thankfully, Brooks and I had our rain jackets on, but Kelly and David got super soaked.  We then walked around to a cable bridge that was in front of the waterfall, and after a few minutes we headed back up.  The hike up seemed to be three times as long as the hike down, it was super tiring and very humid.

Soon after getting all sweaty and smelly, we drove back into town and went out to eat lunch.  After lunch, David gave us 2hr to relax and free time to do whatever we wanted.  During those two hours, I walked around town alone and was browsing through different stores.  I don’t exactly know what I was looking for, but I really enjoyed being able to take free time to be by myself.  I eventually found a café and ordered a cappuccino and a cup of stracciatella ice cream.  I sat outside the café, while listening to the local radio blast from inside and just people watched.  I saw tons of tourists walking through town, along with some locals selling fruit or making taffy, as one of the stores did across the street.  About an hour and a half into my alone time, I took my time to walk back to the hostel and couldn’t have felt more at ease.  I had no worries and was so happy to be in a beautiful town, surrounded by gorgeous green mountains and waterfalls.  Once I got back to my room, I found a channel on the TV that was only playing music videos and laid in my bed those last 30min before heading back downstairs for adventure number four.

We took the Blazer about 30min up the mountain to a place called, “La Casa del Arbol,” where the swing to the end of the world is located.  The drive up was on another cobblestone path, passing by different farms and a couple dozen cows.  During this time, the sun was just about to set, so once we did reach the top we were able to see that happen.  The four of us waited our turn for the swing, took photos, and climbed up into the treehouse.  From the top of this mountain, we got a great view of Tungurahua Volcano, which had actually spewed lava and volcanic ash just the week before.  We all enjoyed the view for a little while before we left for dinner.

Dinner was decided earlier on in the day, after I shared how much I was in the mood for pizza.  We went to a recommended restaurant and it couldn’t have been any better.  After pizza, I treated everyone to dessert at the same café I went to earlier.  Once we stuffed our bellies even more, we walked back to the hostel, for another hour long break and some time to digest our food.  David, Brooks and I met downstairs for the last time that night and headed out for some Karaoke.  We were all pretty stoked to sing, but once we walked inside, Brooks and I immediately decided we didn’t want to sing.  I guess we both felt like we would get a bit embarrassed.  It was funny though, because inside the Karaoke bar were multiple booths filled with drunk people in there mid 30s to mid 40s.  Once we saw that, we couldn’t help but laugh and seize the moment to belt out our favorite songs.  After we each sang one song, we then left and walked the two blocks back to the hostel.

The next morning, breakfast was being held at 8am for those staying in the hostel.  I woke up and showered, just in time to be down and ready for breakfast.  Turns out I was the only one in the group ready at that time.  Thankfully I knew enough Spanish to ask the woman at the front desk where breakfast was.  She walked me outside, across the plaza, and down a side street to a tiny restaurant where I got free breakfast.  At that time it was a bit misty out, but was nice to spend some more alone time.  I ate a small roll of bread with a side of butter, blackberry jelly, some scrambled eggs, blackberry juice and some hot milk with coffee.  On my walk back in the rain, I ran into Brooks, David and Kelly, and just told them I’ll meet them again once they finish breakfast.  When they finished, Brooks knocked on my door, and said I should start packing up and be ready in the next 20min.

About 20min later, we were on the road again.  David told us how we practically did everything you could do in Baños in just one day, so we headed back home to Minas early.  Before you knew it, we all passed out in the car once again.  A few hours later, we stopped in a town neighboring Quito for some lunch.  While eating lunch, a street car race started going on in the center of town.  Every few moments, you would just see a race car or police on motorcycles speed down the street passed the restaurant.  Right after we finished, we ran across the street to start the last hour of the trip.  While driving the last hour to San José de Minas, all the windows were rolled down, the radio was blasting, we were all eating mandarins and were taking turns spitting the seeds out the window.  Even David was peeling and eating mandarins while driving, and all while going down a steep and narrow road.  This road was very similar to the one to and from Otavalo, but instead was a two way road, so lots of caution was needed to be taken after every turn.

After that last stressful hour of being in the car driving back, we made it back to San José de Minas safely.  Brooks and I dropped off our things and then headed over the the PL’s house.  We hung out for a bit and got notified that there won’t be any seminar tomorrow because a large portion of the group is heading to Quito to go to the doctor.  So now I practically have my entire day free tomorrow after teaching.  And as of right now Vanessa and I have planned to meet up after lunch. 🙂

Photographs – 8

Stereotypes

Right now, it’s raining in Minas and has only generally started raining recently.  When we first arrived the area was very dry and farmlands were struggling, now within the past week, these farmlands have been flourishing.  All the mountains have gradually been turning more and more green.

The past few days have ben the same routine.  Monday through Friday Josie, Zach and I have gone to teach at Alejandro Larrea.  The school has continuously been somewhat wild and difficult to deal with; breaking up fights, kids hitting each other on monkey bars, and the constant abandonment of teachers, which leads to children going missing and leaving classrooms.  Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we’ve all gone to more seminars discussing the core focus of education.  The discussions this week have focused on whether or not teachers and students are equal, while touching on the book Teaching to Transgress.  Also discussing how race, gender, class, and sexual orientation affect our participation, how we engage, and what’s actually taught.  Yesterday’s seminar was another “Who Am I?,”  which are seminars mainly directed at our thoughts and how we identify ourselves.  Our central topic we evaluated were stereotypes.  This was a much more personal seminar because most of us became vulnerable after the exercise we all participated in.  Throughout our entire seminar room, there were labels posted on each of the walls (Rich, Poor, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Fat, Muslim, Black People, White People, Asian, Latino, Democrats, Republicans, Gay, Transgender, Lesbian, etc.).  We were required to go about the room in silence and write down the first word that comes to mind when we think of these groups.  It was amazing to see what some people wrote in the groups that I categorized myself in.  Some I believed were true, but majority seemed to be false.  At the end we all talked about how stereotyping are almost always revolved around negative opinions and tend to not be true.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are now filled with two hour Spanish classes, instead of the previous three hour Spanish classes.

The rest of the group just left for Otavalo after seminar today, leaving the program leaders and Brooks and I.  Brooks and I heard from our host brother David, who’s in Quito at the moment and won’t arrive in San José de Minas until much later.  He let us know that we will be leaving for Baños de Agua Santa between 3-4am, and will head out on a 4.5 hour drive.  We’re leaving with David and Kelly, our host siblings, and we can not wait for this weekend.  Baños is apparently one of the places you must visit when you come to Ecuador, and we could not be any luckier to be going with our host family.

Otavalo

Friday morning, the group was ready to leave for Otavalo, a largely indigenous town about an hour bus ride from San José de Minas.  We were off to a late start because Zach and Edoardo thought we needed to meet in the town square at 7:30am, rather than 6:45am.  Once we got moving, the bus got crowded pretty quickly.  We continued to make stops along the way, and then our one hour trip quickly turned into a two hour journey.  Once we got dropped off in Otavalo, it took about 30min of wondering around before we found our hostel.  Quickly after we all dropped our bags off in our rooms, we left for lunch.  Lunch was in a beautiful pure white café with a view of the market.  Each of us had either turkey sandwiches, caprese paninis, or bagels, all with free drinks; it was quite a luxury for all of us.

Once lunch ended, the majority of us left for a hike that passed over a large hill overlooking Otavalo and giving a breathtaking view of Imbabura volcano and San Pablo lake.  While hiking over the ridge, in the distance all you could see were acres of farmland, grazing cows and some purple alpine flowers blooming.  No photo could ever give such a beautiful view justice.

After about a few group photos, hours of hiking and nagging from Chris later, we were finally about to see the Birds of Prey show at Condor Park.  At this show, there was a great “bird’s eye view” of Otavalo and Imbabura.  We got to see a couple large and small birds.  Throughout the entire show, Nick couldn’t stay put.  He kept saying he wanted to volunteer and get selected to hold one of the birds.  Before we knew it, he was running to the back of the line in order to do so.  All of us got a good laugh, especially because of his new purchase of purple sunglasses he had been wearing the entire time.

Soon after the show ended, we began our second small journey to El Lechero, a 1,000 year old tree.  Reaching the tree, the clouds started to lower and the sky began to glow gold.  After walking up a small steep mound, I saw El Lechero, the sacred old tree, overlooking San Pablo, Imbabura, and Otavalo.  Just moments after I saw this amazing view, I dropped my backpack and could not help but start to cry.  Everywhere I looked and everything I saw made me so speechless.  There were sweet crisp smells in the air, cool gusts of wind and pure silence; truly heaven on Earth.  The legend of El Lechero says that the tree on top of the mountain and the lake were once two souls in love, but were kept from each other because of their families, so they decided to escape to be together.  In their attempt to escape, they were cursed and turned into a lake and a tree.  According to other stories, El Lechero is also said to have magical powers.

After leaving the safe haven of El Lechero, we divided up into two pick up trucks and were driven back into town.  All of us had cravings for pizza, so a little bit of research later, we found a restaurant that supposedly had the best pizza in Otavalo.  The pizza was fresh, thin, and very tasty.  We split up after dinner for our nightly ice cream routine and bought Magnum bars.  At the hostel we went upstairs to the balcony and had toasted bread with Nutella, while having small conversations with each other.  I quickly went to bed after it started getting late and too cold to sit outside.

The next day I woke up at around 7am, got dressed and headed down to a free breakfast being held in our hostel.  Definitely one of the best breakfasts so far.  After we finished eating Paulina, Leah and I cleaned out our room and checked out.  We left our bags downstairs at the hostel and started our day at the market.  The market was very colorful, filled with many locals and only a few tourists.  The streets were packed with vendors and stalls selling different things like sweaters, foods, paintings, linens and bags.  It was great because every one of us were able to haggle down prices and bargain with the vendors.  Just about everyone in the group bought alpaca sweaters, some bought paintings, others got pipes, bracelets and other trinkets.

When leaving Otavalo around 4pm, we had our own private bus.  It was nice to have more space and room for all of our newly bought souvenirs.  While on the drive back to San José de Minas, the clouds lowered very quickly and driving seemed to be getting very difficult, especially being on a cobblestone road.  Looking out the front window, you could barely see five feet in front of the bus, let alone see down the cliff to the left of us that we were driving on.  Our driver was going so fast, with every turn he made, some of us would grab onto seats, onto each other, shout, or even feel like vomiting.  This all went on for a little less than an hour long.  Luckily we made it back to town safe and sound.

Photographs – 7

Laying Low

The past few days have been quite laid back.  We´ve gone to school, had another seminar (What role does culture play in my identity?), and had Spanish classes.  Our seminar from yesterday was interesting because we first started off by answering ¨What is culture?¨ in the beginning of the class.  We all had different thoughts and ideas on the subject.  Afterwards, we were all paired up with someone else, and were given an idex card with a word and its definition.  Some of these words included: ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, assimilation, acculturation, marginalization and intersectionality.  It was a great exercise for us to group together with other pairs and listen to everyone´s opinion on the words they were given.

Today was probably one of the sunniest days since we´ve been in San Jose de Minas.  In school today I had to supervise physical education all day.  Then we went to Spanish class and then a whole bunch of us played a game of fútbol with the locals.  Right now we´re about to head over to the PL´s house and watch a movie.

Tomorrow we leave for Otavalo around noon.  There we´re all staying in a hostel in town and going to the market.

Family First

This morning we were finally able to sleep in and enjoy a late afternoon.  Little did I know, Brooks woke up at around 8:00am and came into my room to wake me at around 9:00am.  He told me that breakfast was ready, so we ate together with David.  Brooks heated water for tea and served me a bowl of fruit too!  There was also a side of bread from the local bakery.

At around 9:30am, Vanessa and Annie knocked on our door and asked us if we wanted to go horseback riding with Trevor and Nick’s uncle’s horse.  Both Brooks and I got ready and we all met up with Josie also along the way.  We ran into both Trevor and Nick on our way to meet them.  Nick was on the horse and his uncle was nearby.  Their adorable family dog, Pinocho, came along for the ride too.  We all took turns riding on the horse, and headed up to la cruz (“the cross”).  It was on top of the large mountain overlooking the town San José de Minas.  It was a very simple yet difficult hike up to la cruz, mainly because of the altitude.  Once we reached the top, it was worth it all and so beautiful.

After about 15min of being on top of the mountain, we headed back down and all split ways and headed home.  In just a matter of hours though, one by one everyone from the group came over to our house to hang out.  I had already planned to have Trevor and Nick come over after lunch to start working on our media project.  It was nice to get a head start and brainstorm on what we’d like to accomplish for our media project.  A little while later, we all began talking about movies and planned to go to the PL’s place to use the projector and watch a movie.  We watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, which must’ve been my sixth or seventh time watching it.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the movie which was nice.

After the movie, we all went home and I got ready for dinner.  David, Kelly and Veronica joined Brooks and I for dinner and they invited us to go to Baños de Agua Santa, which translates to “Baths of Sacred Water.”  They will be taking us one weekend from Friday night to Sunday night.  Veronica shared with us how much she enjoys having us stay in her home, especially since David and Kelly don’t live at home anymore.  Brooks and I couldn’t have appreciated it more hearing that from her.  We both ran to our rooms to get our gifts for the family.  They were very happy to receive them and told us we are welcome back into their home whenever we please, and with whoever.  After dinner we all moved to living room and they showed Brooks and I family photo albums; Sebastian and Victor joined us as well.  It was a wonderful bonding moment for all of us.