Archive for September, 2010

Puente-ing (aka Bridge-ing) in Baños

No mom, this is not us.  But it is happening all around us in Ecuador’s adventure capital, Banos.  Sort of a Queenstown, NZ vibe, but without the lake and with a little aggressive Latin American charm.  There are more tour operators here per square meter than i’ve ever seen in my life, and they all have more staff on the street encouraging you in their shop than people working within.  Banos is arguably more of an Ecuadorian tourist town than one aimed towards foreigners, popular with families and individuals from both the sierra and the coast.  Once you get past the heckling, Banos is a fun town with great activities and a beautiful setting.

Ok, back to the bridge jumping.  Baneros like to claim that they’ve invented a new adventure sport – puente-ing (or bridge-ing in English).  Kind of a mix between a bungee jump and a canyon swing – a bridge swing.  You jump off one side of the bridge, your rope is connected to the other side, and after a short freefall, you swing around to the other side.  Fun.  Not sure how safe.

After soaking in the thermal springs the town was named after, we rented some mountain bikes and cruised down a mix of trail and road leading towards the Amazon town of Puyo along a tour of spectacular waterfalls.  The largest, known as the Devils’ Cauldron, allowed for a behind-the-falls view of it’s powerful descent.

A short hike up the trail leaving town provided some awesome views of Banos as well as the 16,456 ft Tungurahua Volcano, which threatened serious eruption in 1999, evacuating residents and closing the town for months.  Banos is definitely worth a visit if you’re into medium-sized adventure sport-focused towns surrounded by mountains.  Obviously, we fit right in.

Picture of the Week

Salkantay Glacier -20,574 ft

Ecuador´s Most Popular Sport

Soccer, right?  Well maybe, but equally as popular as the world´s game is an Ecuadorian version of volleyball: EcuaVolley.  And it is everywhere in this country.  Courts are in every park, in every town – way more prevelant than soccer fields.   It´s similar to volleyball as we know it, but with a few important differences:

  • Generally played on cement courts with a soccer ball
  • 3 on 3
  • Higher nets, preventing most players from spiking the ball (Ecuadorians aren’t the tallest people)
  • A much more liberal touch time for each contact with the ball

When we first witnessed the game, I thought everyone was cheating – you can’t palm the ball in volleyball!  Well, in EcuaVolley, you can.  There are some talented players down here, and games we witnessed got competitive and heated.


Ceviche on the beach!  Who´d of thought you could get semi-raw seafood out of a tricycle cart while sunbathing.


Nothing Cheers Me Up Like the Beach

I think it was lucky that we were headed to the beach when our stuff got stolen, because though I was bummed to have been the victim of theft, we were thankfully in a relaxing, beautiful environment to get our minds off the frustration.

Courtney, a friend of mine from my triathlon training group in Boulder, is currently living with her husband Jed in Montañita, Ecuador for several months. Courtney and Jed are also on a bit of one-year sabbatical themselves posting up for three months at a time in four different locations around the globe. They were conveniently in Ecuador where we were and they were nice enough to invite us to visit.

They´ve got a great pad within blocks of the down-town area and the beach. Montañita is a tiny little town that caters to tourists – both local and not-so local. There are lots of different languages being spoken, lots of fruity cocktails to drink and lots of dreadlocks. Though very different than the rest of our Ecuador experience, I have to say that it was quite a treat – almost like a vacation from a vacation.

We ate delicious and inexpensive seafood every night. Courtney and Jed got us out on surf boards and shared some tips. We enjoyed several of the fancy drinks they make there with our favorite being the hard to pronounce capiroska (vodka, sugar, lime juice and limes). They make a similar drink with sugarcane alcohol but Courtney recommended the vodka version!

Ted and I were also lucky enough to take a whale watching tour. We were told that we were nearing the end of the season so it might be hard to find the whales. Also, if we did find them they might not be breeching or as exciting as they are in July and August when they are trying to attract mates. However, we not only saw LOTS of whale, we saw them close up, we saw them far away, we saw them jumping, the whole works!

A huge thank you to Courtney and Jed for their hospitality! I should also thank Courtney for her help with the police report because her Spanish is fantastic and came in SUPER handy.  It was such a treat to visit your little paradise and I hope we can rendez-vous again with you on your next stop in Argentina!

We´re a Statistic

On one of our most recent bus trips to Montanita (along the coast) to visit some Boulder pals, Ted and I got robbed. Well, robbed is the wrong word as nothing was taken by force – I guess you would say we were burglarized. No matter what you call it, it sucks!

When it was all said and done, the creeps got away with an iPod, Ted´s sunglasses, $40 cash oh, and our COMPUTER. Yep, they scored big.

They were able to easily access our precious cargo because we conveniently had it stored above our seats on the bus. We had been very cautious of our things and carried our day packs on our laps for all of our previous bus rides. Seriously, this day was the first day we had ever stored our bags up above. Obviously, we should not have done this and that is why it is so incredibly frustrating to have learned the lesson we already knew!

However, to our credit, the bus we were riding on was an “executivo” style bus that requires passengers to have pre-purchased tickets and only makes select stops. It had air-conditioning, showed a movie (Pistol Whipped starring Steven Seagal, seriously) and was less than half full. We were a short distance from our final destination and I guess you could say we just got falsely comfortable/confident. The other buses we have ridden on have been packed with people, standing and sitting, and there is so much coming and going it would be silly to abandon our bags up above. But not on the fancy executivo bus, right? WRONG!

The bright side of this story is that we had the experience of riding in an Ecuadorian police car, visiting several Ecuadorian police stations, and submitting a police report (for travel insurance purposes) that was typed in front of our eyes by a stoic Ecuadorian police detective on a TYPEWRITER. Yes, it was quite the experience.

So, the moral of the story (that we already knew) is that you should not store your stuff above you on the bus and there is no such thing as being too vigilant.

Oh, and also that you can´t let the little things get you down. The stuff that was taken from us was just stuff. We were super-bummed that it happened but at the same time, there was absolutely nothing we could do at that point to change the outcome.

So take that you f-ing thieves! I hope you can´t figure out how to access our password-protected computer, that you hate bluegrass and jamband music, and that Ted´s big head makes the sunglasses worthless to you!


Door lock (in rural Ecuador)

Hiking Fools

We’ve managed to get in quite a few amazing hikes so far on our trip. They can conveniently be divided into two different types – hikes that require a machete and rubber boots (aka hiking in a cloud forest), and hikes that do not require a machete and rubber boots (aka hiking along the rims of volcanic crater lakes).

Our cloud forest hikes occured while we were living with a family and going to Spanish school in Pucara. The family lived in a beautiful area surrounded by a dramatic landscape of steep cliffs and flat mesas. They were also blessed with spectacular cloud forests (where they hadn’t already been chopped down or burned for farming).

Our friend Peter took us on our first hike down the side of one of the cliffs to the river on the valley floor. He also arranged for us to go on our second hike with a guide named Milton (seen to the right here) who is intimately involved in protecting and reforesting a nearby cloud forest reserve. Milton was a great guide and you could tell that he was passionate about his work with the preserve. After our first two hikes, I was under the impression that all hikes were led by guides wearing knee-high rubber boots and carrying machetes, as both Peter and Milton sported that uniform. It is quite entertaining to hike behind machete-wielding trailblazers, but much needed as the cloud forests are quite dense and the plants grow quickly covering the trails.

Our third hike was lead by Peter’s friend and best guide, Jose (seen left here).  Jose was with us for 3 days as we visited different communities so we had a chance to get to know him well and also to learn that his English is better than he’d led us to believe!

Jose took us on a spectacular hike around Lake Cuicocha. It was a lake that formed after the Cotacachi Volcano exploded 3100 years ago. Though it’s not a particularly big lake (only 2 miles across), it’s extremely deep – nearly 650 ft. Because of it’s high sulfur content and the continued volcanic activity below, there is little to no life in the lake. We hiked around the nearly the whole thing (~7 miles) and had the place almost to ourselves – only passing one other group along the way. Jose teased us that only foreigners like to walk around the whole thing so that probably explains it!

Our second crater lake walk was around Lake Quilotoa at the top of the Quilotoa Volcano. The locals claim that this lake is bottomless (though geologists say that it is actually about 900 feet deep). We hired a truck with 3 other Americans that we met while staying at the Black Sheep Inn. The five of us and a guide rode in the back of the truck for an hour up to the top of the volcano. We were quite high in elevation at that point (12,800+ ft.) and it was extremely cold and windy up there – but the incredible view was well worth it. We then walked around a ¼ of the lake before descending down the edge and walking back to the Inn through beautiful Andean scenery and small towns.


Venga pescado!  Venga pescado!  Yup, that’s right, this truck is driving around selling fish.  Direct to your door (or just passing you walking down the street).  There is a megaphone on top of the truck, a cooler in the back, and all the trucha (trout, farm raised) that you could possibly want.

This one has a bit larger variety.  He’s got fruit, snack food, soda, and…fish!  These guys drive around rural villages, blaring their inventory over the megaphone.  Considering most people have to travel 1-4 hours by bus to make it to the local market to purchase food, it’s a pretty brilliant business model.  I continue to be impressed by the entrepreneurship of the Ecuadorians.

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