I spent my first 10 days in Ecuador living near 10,000 feet above sea level. I enjoyed the mountains, but it was time to get lower. I made my way to the bus station and used my broken Spanish to buy a one way ticket to Baños de Agua Santa, the adventure capital of Ecuador.
Four hours later I arrived and grabbed my pack from under the bus. I don’t have cell service in South America, so before I travel I take screen shots of Google Maps and hope for the best. I followed my prescribed directions and eventually ended up at the Great Hostels Backpackers. I checked in, found my bunk, and grabbed a beer. Welcome to Baños!
Some friends in Quito told me that their favorite part about Baños was renting bikes and riding 61 km (38 miles) from Baños to Puyo, the gateway to the Amazonian Basin. Well, I didn’t really feel like spending $10 renting a bike…so…I decided to run it. I ate breakfast at the hostel, filled my water, and took off on foot. I ran through tunnels, dodged buses full of tourists, got rained on for hours, and got to see some incredible waterfalls. Around mile 30 I stopped at a gas station to buy a beer. The attendant was blasting Kenny G, which I didn’t even know was possible!
An incredibly beautiful, and very long, 8 hours later I arrived in Puyo, found the main terminal, and hopped on a bus back to Baños. The next day I was pretty sore so I hung around the hostel, worked on my laptop, and hit up the thermal hot springs to rejuvenate my legs in the afternoon.
From Baños I grabbed a bus to Tena, a small town in the Amazon rain forest. I found an eco-hostel and spent a few days exploring the jungle. I didn’t go very deep into the Amazon, but it was still a different world. One afternoon I ran 20 km from Tena to Puerto Misahuallí where monkeys hang out in the town square and steal tourists sunglasses. It was a long hot run in the humid Amazonian afternoon sun, but I made it to town, grabbed a coke, and sat in the square watching a monkey scavenge for food. After a bit I walked down the river and jumped in to cool off. When I caught a bus back to Tena I was dropped off right in the middle of a very festive Carnival parade, so I stuck around for the fiesta!
I spent most of my last day in Tena sitting on the porch of the hostel, listening to the pounding rain, working on my laptop. I loaded my backpack again, said goodbye to my new friends, and walked to the bus terminal in the early morning hours.
I bought a bus ticket back to Baños, and then another on to Guayaquil. In Baños I had 2 hours to kill, so I walked around town, meandered into another festive Carnival parade, ran into a guy I had dinner with in Tena, and then caught my next bus. I sat looking through the window watching the landscape change from Amazon jungle, to steep rugged canyons with terrifying cliffs next to the road, to sprawling green lush valleys that reminded me of Central California.
We passed through quaint villages with locals celebrating Carnival and guinea pigs roasting on spits. Kids of all ages were celebrating Carnival chasing each other with water guns and small fire extinguishers filled with foam. I was sprayed a few times and after each town our bus left with multicolored foam splattered across the windows. I was heading to the Pacific Ocean, but between me and the salt water was nearly 16 hours of South American bus travel, and adventure in and of itself!