Sunday, February 7, 2010

Family Travails...uh, Travels :)

My parents arrived in Ecuador on January 20 for their long-awaited visit. They missed my birthday by a day, but hey, better than by a month! We spent the night after their flight in Guayaquil, and then jumped on a bus to Riobamba the next morning.

We had hoped to ride the train down the Nariz del Diablo on Friday, but found out before we left that they were all sold out for the month. No matter, we headed to Riobamba anyway where I got to enjoy pizza and beer for my birthday (a nice change from the chicken/tuna and rice diet we have at home), and then got to visit with another woman from our department who is doing her research down here too.

The hotel we stayed at had colonial charm and probably colonial comfort as well. The pillows were lumpy and the beds were small, but otherwise things were basically clean. The elevation in Riobamba hit me hard (I guess after Cuenca I’m more susceptible, and my cold was hanging on in my lungs), I was dehydrated after the journey, and I think I was having an allergic reaction to the ash that Tungurahua was spewing. I woke up in the morning with a migraine, and spent the whole time sniffling and with watering eyes. I don’t think Riobamba made my return-to list, but maybe I should, just to see if all of that was a fluke.

Tungurahua spewing

We left Riobamba the next day and took a bus to Guaranda. Though BG and I were passed out for most of the ride I did get to see some views of Chimborazo, though the summit was covered in clouds.

Guaranda was small and charming, and I was feeling enough better that we I enjoyed the little walk around the town. Near our hotel were the Parque Bolivar and the cathedral, as well as some nicely refurbished colonial buildings. Our main reason for going to Guaranda was as a jumping-off point for a visit to Salinas de Guaranda – home to cheese, chocolate, and salami. Salinas was very charming, and we got to try all kinds of goodies (including some fabulous soy-flour cookies), and buy some for our continued travels. We also gave in and bought some fabulous sheep and alpalca wool sweaters (which we promptly sent home with my parents, and look forward to wearing in about 8 months time).

From Salinas we headed back to Guaranda and caught a bus going to Ambato, transfer point for our final destination of Baños. The road to Ambato goes over 12,000 feet in some points, and you could feel how thin the oxygen was. Since I have a tendency to fall asleep in any moving vehicle, I can’t say for sure, but I think I passed out from oxygen deprivation.

We switched buses in Ambato and made it to Baños around 7pm. The hotel we stayed in, La Casa Verde, was fantastic! It’s outside of downtown Baños (which was perfect for us-less noise), but still just a short taxi ride away from everything. It’s right along the river too, so there are stunning views. It’s run by an Aussie/NZ couple with a little boy just a month older than BG. They’ve set it up to be eco-friendly, and actually do more than lip service to the concept. The rooms are big, bright, and airy, and the water pressure in the showers is amazing. The breakfasts that they provide are huge, with fresh fruit, homemade yogurt, and fresh baked bread (made by the owners), among other things. I haven’t plugged a business like this on here before, but seriously, if you go to Baños, stay with these guy!

We spent a good portion of our time in Baños just chilling out in the hotel. After all our bus travels I think we needed it. We finally got geared up to go into the town around lunchtime on our first day. We ate at an amazing restaurant, the Swiss Bistro, where I had steak tenderloin in a mustard sauce. Sooooo yummy! We wandered around the town and did the tourist thing, bought some stuff, and then picked up a few pizzas to take back to the hotel for dinner. The Italian restaurant where we got them was run by a Guayaquileño, Fernando, who ended up in Baños via Miami. He was able to talk to my family in English, and he and I chatted in Spanish. He paid me one of the biggest compliments when he told me my Spanish was so good he thought I was a Latina, and said that my coastal accent felt like home to him. We commiserated over the odd, mushy Spanish that many people in the area spoke (incomprehensible to me at times). He and his wife fussed over BG and loved her hair. Fernando just about melted when BG gave him the usual goodbye peck on the cheek. Good luck to him and his wife as they attempt to expand their family!

Our second day in Baños we headed east out of town to the Manto de la Novia waterfall. We took a cable car across the river, which was quite exciting, and then hiked a little backed down to the river and crossed on a suspension bridge. BG rode in the kid carrier on Steve’s back, and was passed out for most of the hike, but woke up in time for our accent of the cliff via a second cable car.

The Manto and it's cable car.

Steve and I holding BG in the swaying cable car

We hopped on another bus and traveled a few more km to Rio Verde and the Pailon del Diablo. That was quite the experience! After a nice little hike on a well maintained trail we got up close and personal with the waterfall. The owners of the property had constructed viewing balconies that got you within about 100ft of the roiling water under the falls. Steve and I left BG with her Nana and Thor and followed a path that scrambled over rocks and through a cave to get right behind the waterfall. We got soaked, but it was very cool!

Dennis (Thor) at the Pailon

Mom (Nana) and BG bonding during our trip to the falls.

Unfortunately that was it for our time in Baños. We caught a bus the next morning heading (eventually) to Guayaquil. We got in to our hotel in time for dinner, and then spent a relaxing night in. The next morning saw us on yet another bus (I’ve lost count at this point, really) to get us out on the coast and show my parents where we live. My mom had some real issues that first night, adjusting to the heat and humidity. They’ll take mountains and snow over beach and sun any day. Because of that we didn’t do a whole heck of a lot, but I did get to show them my site on Thursday. It was great being able to share that with them, and show them what I do, and I think they got a kick out of it too.

On Friday I took Mom to a friend’s shop where she picked up a few handmade crafts, and then we headed into Montañita for lunch and too see them off to Guayaquil. We almost ran into trouble, as the direct bus was entirely sold out for the day, but when one came in at 3pm there were a few open seats, so they were on their way. They got home on Saturday, with relatively little excitement.

Saying goodbye was hard, but the visit was so much fun. BG got some good quality time with her grandparents, and I got to see Mom and Dennis. In some ways I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until they were here, but it reminded me how much I enjoy spending time with them. Hopefully, when all is said and done, we can end up a little closer to home, but who knows how many years away that is!

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