Hola from Ecuador!

I am back with my people. Mi familia – the unique personalities that comprise #ComptonsConquer awesomeness. Despite my generally independent spirit, now that I am reunited with the gang, I feel a little more whole.

I did not spend more than twenty four hours in Charleston before I was back at the airport, suitcase repacked, departing for our annual family vacation. This year’s destination: Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador.

We spent thirteen hours on Saturday just making our way to Baños. We flew from Miami to the capital of Quito. There is no such thing as a private van here, so we then snagged the blue city bus to the terminal, a ride we assumed would take fifteen minutes and ended up being two hours, all technically in the same city. From Quito to Quito. Ha. We scarfed down our first Ecuadorian dinner in the food court, where each of the eleven kiosks seemed to be selling identical meals. On to the next public charter bus, a five and a half hour ride to the city center. Mama knew Spanish thirty years ago, so we get around with a few words and a lot of body language. Hoffa tends to just speak louder, assuming the increase in volume will somehow make the locals understand him better. Despite our poor communication skills, we caught our first taxi to the house in the neighborhood of Aquacatal, which literally means “avocado.” The grandeur of the towering, terraced Andes Mountains is stunning, and as our days here stretch on, the natural beauty of this place has not worn off.

I referred to the annual family “vacation.” Perhaps, that is not the most accurate word for this trip. The Air BNB house we rented is glamorous by first- or third-world standards, but our entire neighborhood has been without water for almost forty eight hours. So yes, some of us have pooped in bags, our hair is getting pretty greasy, and dishes are piling up. Rather than renting a car, we walk along narrow, littered sidewalks, passing stray dogs and countless identical jugo di caña street vendors. Sometimes the six of us (yes, ALL six, two up in the passenger’s seat) pile into a taxi and pay a $2 fare. There have been rumors (valid, I think) that the active volcano just a few kilometers from town has been erupting the last few days, and today I noticed that mini landslides caused massive chunks of dirt and debris to block parts of the road. The healthy eaters unfortunately pushed the limits on a questionable salad; I woke up every other hour retching on both ends the following night from food poisoning.
It’s not that life is very rough; we may not be at a five star resort (nor do we want to be), but aside from various ailments and the inherent obstacles of a developing country, we are becoming expert relaxers. Our night’s rests continue to lengthen. We ease into the morning with eggs, bacon, yogurt and oats, and coffee filtered through a rudimentary canvas bag. Each day we are here, our mornings stretch a little closer to lunch time. Our dilly-dally pace used to drive my itinerary-prone personality crazy, but I have come to accept it as the family travel style. The last few years my family and I have compromised – I’ve loosened up on always wanting to be on the go, and they have improved at signing up for a few more activities. Our excursions tend toward the adventurous side, and the folks at Imagine Ecuador have coached us along each day with a new activity. Juan has a dry, surly personality, but we bring spunk to the office every time we stop by. If not for our personalities, they at least like us for excursion purchases.
First up: White water rafting. Our light-hearted guide Patricio, his long dark pony tail and Go-T making a bizarre resemblance of an Ecuadorian version of Jack Sparrow, led us down Class III rapids on the Rio Pastaza, which feeds straight into the Amazon River.
“Okay chicos, forward!”
“One, two. One, two!” Our paddles are not synchronized and certainly not in time with our counting, but we keep chanting anyway.
“Eh stop-eh stop!” Patricio never just told us to stop. Always ‘eh stop-eh stop.’
All the kids got a chance to be “cowboy” and hang on at the front of the raft. When massive rapids are about to wash over the whole boat, it is simultaneously exhilarating and quite frightening. We all fell out at least once.
The next day, we biked precariously along a share-the-road highway, a 17 kilometer route that passes by several waterfalls. The final one, Cascada el Pailon del Diablo, is 100 feet high, punctuated by a powerful vortex whirlpool at the bottom. Following a short hike, we paid $1.50 a head to ascend a stone stairwell on the precipice of the falls, where the sheer force of the water sprayed up in a constant mist over us. Part of the “path” was hobbit-like; crawling on all fours in the side of a mountain, it felt a lot more like cave spelunking.
After working some lactic acid up in our muscles, we also indulged in $25 hour-long massages and soaked in the natural hot springs just below the signature waterfall of this quaint backpacker’s paradise. But that’s the thing – hostels line every block of Baños. The cheap prices make it a haven for those tromping the world on a budgeted wallet. That goes for the Comptons, too; bills get expensive when multiplied by six. Here, where almuerzo tipica – the standard lunch of soup, rice, chicken, lentils, and fries – is $3, it really is more economical to eat out than fix our own meals. We are definitely off the beaten path of most – almost all – American tourists, and I can’t think of very many family friends who would choose these ten days in Ecuador as their “vacation.”
We’re killing it, though. Hoffa’s good friend Thomas advised him long ago to “follow the hippies.” They find great, cheap spots with good public transportation. We have found such a city. Soon we will be boarding an overnight bus to Lago Agrio, where we will begin a four day, three night expedition through the Cuyabeno Amazon jungle. The adventure level is about to spike, but most of all, the quality time with the Compton Clan has been incredible.

Biking the waterfall route

 

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