Epic Epitomized

banos swing final

I finally discovered the true meaning of the word ‘chevere’. My friends and I (but mostly me) started seriously overusing the phrase Ecuadorians exclaim to mean “awesome” or “excellent”. How did the guinea pig taste? “chevere.” How was the beach? “chevere”. How is your twelve page paper coming along? “chevere”.

But Baños, Ecuador, epitomizes the true meaning of the word ‘chevere’: Crazy. Awesome. Epic. Baños is a lively town of twenty-thousand, lying in the shadow of Mt. ‘Tungurahua’ – literally “throat of fire” in the ancient Incan language of Quechua. Erupting off-and-on since 1999, the cone-shaped volcano erupted towering columns of ash by day and spurted lava by night during our stay. Volcanic activity can’t put a damper on the scene in town, though. Jumping down from the bus in the middle of town, the energy immediately overwhelms you. You are swarmed by enthusiastic vendors selling tours. It is hard to make up your mind. As the aroma of mouthwatering street food lures you towards the city market, salesmen are telling you to hurry and book your tour before it is too late!

Friday

The three-hour bus ride passes quickly as I drift in-and-out of a sleepy trance. After getting a hostel by the city plaza, and wolfing down a pile of rice for lunch, we set-off on a ten-km hike straight uphill to the famed “Swing at the End of the Earth”. A popular destination for travelers across the globe, the wooden swing swings out from a rickety tree house over a lush gaping valley. 

I’m not sure where else you can swing over a tropical valley while a snow-capped volcano erupts behind you.

The hike down isn’t so chevere after darkness descended. The Ecuadorians usually so willing to offer us an “aventon” in the back of their pickup are no where to be found, while lightning flashes and fireflies twinkle like stars on the roadside.

When we finally make it to town, we celebrate with pizza. This time I stick to margherita – the banana pizza we tried at the beach wasn’t quite my style. Exhausted and anticipating a long day tomorrow, we retire early to bed.

Saturday

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Canyoning! That is the name they give to something more aptly-called “rappelling off 150-foot waterfalls”. 

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Lunch consisted of guinea pig. They call it cuy and it tastes like chicken. You can rarely tell if vendors are actually giving you what they claim to be selling, but the whole roasting guinea pigs out front and the tiny guinea pig foot seem proof enough. We try oo-qui, which is a crunchy smoke-flavored flying ant.

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Following lunch we set off for the spiraling staircase that rises to the Virgen del Santa Agua. We hiked it hurriedly, in time to catch the late evening sunlight over the city:

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Dinner of rice and chicken from a quiet family restaurant left us few minutes to spare before our nighttime volcano tour. It gets dark by 6:30 here on the equator. We cram onto a “chiva” – a window-less party – bus that takes us up to a dark mountainside above the city. As the clouds drift apart we notice a glowing red cone in the night sky. Tungurahua is angrily bleeding. 

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Sunday

A distant ringing of alarm clocks slowly rouses me. Who the heck set my alarm for six AM on a Sunday? I roll over before recalling we were in Baños. Seconds later I am standing on the balcony, lacing my running shoes, gazing at the waterfall so elegantly lit by the early morning rays of sun. Our route is familiar – the 2800 vertical feet uphill to the Swing on the Edge of the Earth – except this time we will run it. Running uphill at high elevation is a sufficiently-bad idea, but a few minutes to the hour we are dangerously close and got the worse idea in our heads that we had to make it by seven. Thus is the life of runner like me. Dizzy and exhausted, my legs feel weighted and it takes an immense effort before collapsing under the tree house with two minutes to spare. An instant later I am on my feet again. The volcano has started erupting again, shooting a slowly billowing tower of ash high into the clear cool morning sky. A french couple who arrive a little while later are kind enough to take our picture back-dropped by the erupting volcano and offered to email it to us. (Still waiting for the email…) Merci! We have only a few minutes to rest, perched at our lookout, before beginning our slow jog down. We are high in spirits from the adrenaline still pumping through us, and this direction take time to enjoy the ruggedly-carved canyons and lush green ridges with steep spines that drop below the cobblestone road upon which we descend.

I am ready to eat and relax, but we already agreed to bike the waterfall route with our friends, so after breakfast of coffee, fruit, eggs, and toast, we saddle the bikes we had rented for five dollars and pedal rapidly out of the Andes along a winding mountain road above a canyon ringed with waterfalls. The calm sunny day passes quickly. Wind to our faces, we pedal eagerly down down to our lunch destination, where we snack on exotic fruits brought up from the amazon and enjoy ice cream cones. It was midday by then, and time to catch a ride in the balde of another pickup trip that would drive us back up to town.

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SUNDAY NIGHT

Five hours coming home. The rain is a recipe for accidents and stopped traffic along road. I study vocabulary, so it is all okay. One of the words is ‘chevere’. Yep, I know what that means.

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One thought on “Epic Epitomized

  1. My words couldn’t begin to compare with what you experienced–thanks for sharing it!
    The only time I had ever heard chevere was at the beginning of a Stevie Wonder song. I figured it was some LA chicano street slang. Now it has a new meaning for me!

    Like

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