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Banos, Ecuador

I arrived in Banos late afternoon and couldn't catch a taxi at first so I started to walk towards my hostel in this small mountain town where people were looking at me like I was crazy carrying all these bags. It certainly looked like a tourist mountain destination, but there weren't that many people or taxis out and about, maybe because it was a cloudy day. I finally found a taxi after walking the wrong direction and arrived at my hostel exhausted. My room was on the street side and I was at first hesitant as I wanted some peace and quiet but I found myself (as I've come to realize) to not judge the room right away and give it some time. After speaking to the receptionist and planning out the next couple of days to do a bike tour, I felt better. Then I went to get dinner next door and had the soup of the day which was this chicken soup and tried the tea with ice cream (Ecuadorian artisanal drink). It was everything I wanted and more! Then I went to my room to do some computer things and went to bed. Lately on bus rides, I was either trying to learn Spanish, uploading Instagram, or sleeping - depending on the ride and mood I was in.

The next morning I rented a bike and went on this waterfall self-guided bike tour. The breakfast was really yummy in the hostel and the receptionist was super helpful with helping me navigate where to go since I was on my own! Breakfast included pancakes with strawberries, chocolate, orange juice, bread, eggs and some fruit. I had a map to use to figure out where to go but it wasn't very straight forward so I had to stop and figure out where to go at certain times. Though in the beginning, I ran into this French couple who seemed to be on the same path and we stopped at the first few waterfalls together to take pictures and then they wanted to do bungee jumping and I didn't want to wait around so I just went on my own. I also ran into another couple (American) who were from California. The bike tour was on this busy road and thankfully there were bike trails outside of the tunnels. At the last waterfall I had recognized this guy from another waterfall and he was parking his bike next to mine and we started talking. Turns out he's from Israel and also traveling solo so we walked to the last waterfall together (the biggest one) and got to know one another along the way. It was the most powerful waterfall I had seen that close up and it was really nice talking to this guy as we went from one viewpoint to another (getting soaked along the way). We got in a truck afterwards to take our bikes back to town and went to get lunch since we were starving (it was almost 2pm). We stumbled upon this cute cafe/restaurant and both ordered fish, tried different drinks and an apple pie. Then we walked around the town and went to get some drinks (tried Michelada which is this South American drink with beer and tabasco sauce and salt around the rim). It wasn't that great but we both drank it and then got daiquiris (not frozen). He was taking the night bus to Montanita (a coastal town) that night so we said our goodbyes (though I was heading there the next day so we planned to meet up again). I organized my things and did some computer work and then passed out, it was a long day.

The next morning, I left for the day tour I had previously booked to the Amazon around 8:30am since that was when they told me to be there. I had to wait 30 minutes so I asked the lady to pay for my coffee because I was fed up with how long it was taking and I could have been sleeping haha. Finally we left around 9:15am but then drove around the town to pick up more people and various things and I could tell the guide was disorganized. It took us 3 hours to get there instead of 1.5 and he mostly spoke in Spanish so I couldn't completely understand him. I could tell this was going to be an off-day because the people weren't that great on the tour as well which makes a huge difference. There was this Belgian couple who were the only ones I wanted to talk to other than these two Peruvian women in their late 30s. A family from Colorado (son, parents and wife) got on the bus halfway there and the dad started talking to me about how they are working on water projects in Ecuador for the school they all teach at and that this is their fun time after the projects are over. They were very old-school Americans (wearing clothes like you would in the 90s) and couldn't believe I had been drinking the tap water here and there (also seemed a bit clueless about certain traveler necessities, but not judging). Once we arrived, we changed into water boots and hiked to a waterfall but had to stop and wait for everyone at times which was very frustrating for me. I tried enjoying the nature of the Amazon forest and started to separate myself from the group. We sat down to eat lunch around 2pm and then went to this swing up high on this mountain top and swung very far which was one of the highlights of the day as you could really see the Amazon up high and in the distance. Then we went to this indigenous village near the Amazonian river and I felt like it was a tourist trap. The indigenous locals performed a show with their costumes and had animals such as monkeys, boa snakes, parrots, and many different animal jewelry hanging from them...and I got to hold a boa snake around my neck which was a bit scary at first and intimidating seeing as though I couldn’t communicate with the guy holding the snake very well because of the language barrier! Not to mention we were no where near civilization, still can't believe I did that. They also painted our faces with this orange/red from this fruit looking thing called Ochre. It was fun for a little but just too touristy for me. Then we went on a canoe down Rio Verde for about 20 minutes which was actually really cool being in a wooden boat down these rapids overlooking the vast trees and birds in the distance. I was a little nervous getting in the canoe at first because the water was so high (and I had had a bad white-water rafting experience with strangers years ago), but it ended up being fine. The highlight was definitely swinging the big swing and boa constrictor wrapping around my neck.

As the day was nearing dusk, I was getting nervous because I needed to take a bus that night and wasn't sure when we were going to be back since it was already almost 6pm. We got back at 8pm and I changed quickly, got my bus ticket, and dinner and got on the first night bus available for the first time (which actually wasn't too bad for a night bus). I started watching a comedy show and there were movies being played pretty loud so I didn't go to sleep until 1am. I was in and out of sleep - had the two chairs to myself halfway through and then someone came the other half. I felt pretty claustrophobic but tried to sleep and then got woken up around 7:45am. Arrived at Santa Elena and then caught another bus quickly to Montanita. When I was putting my big backpack on the bus to Montanita, I noticed one of my Chacos was missing so I freaked out and tried to go see if the other bus was still there and I didn't see it so I asked around. I saw that the bus I was supposed to be leaving on was trying to leave so I had to give up and go. But then as we were pulling away, I saw the prior bus I was on starting to pull away next to us and asked the new bus driver if I could go look for my "zapatos" real quick on the other bus (trying my best to speak Spanish so he could understand). To my surprise, he let me go look and it was in there! I couldn't have been more happy, I'm so grateful I made the whole bus stop so I could get my Chacos because I still have them to this day! I slept for another hour and arrived in Montanita around 9am.

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