Although I’m starting to get used to life in Quito, visiting the small town of Banios (I’m spelling it the phonetic way because I can’t remember how to find the “n” with the squiggle above it on this keyboard) made me realize there are places in Ecuador that are - well, chill. No dealing wth cranky cab drivers. No risking armed robbery everytime I step outside after nightfall. No feverent paranoia everytime I visited the ATM. I even had the luxury of keeping valuables in my pocket and purse instead of my bra and shoe.
About a three and a half hour bus ride from Quito, Banios is known as a spa town, surrounded by green mountains dripping with waterfulls that run down them into hotsprings. I guess it isn’t that small, but after Quito it seemed so - you couldn’t even get lost for long. Other than the hotsprings (despite a knee injury from last weekend’s adventures, I stayed out of them after seeing the hordes of people crammed into the green, murky water) Banios was home to a lot of hippie cafes and a lot of candy stalls, both of which immensely added to its appeal. A cafe con leche purchased here is .80 as opposed to 1.75 in Quito, and, purchased in funky little restaurants with murals and dred-locked patrons reading poetry, came with better atmosphere as well (a matter of opinion, of course, but I am from Asheville). I never quite got why Banios was famous for taffy, but each cobbled street was lined with stores with huge hooks in the doorways from which candy makers would pull huge, colored masses of the candy (with one eye on the soccor game on TV, usually.) Aside from the taffy, these sweet shops also sold delicious milk, coconut, and fruit candies, as well as raw sugar cane, samples of which were passed out for free. For those who are interested, I can report that sugar cane (which is chewed, not eaten) is suprisingly juicy.
I also had some of the best food in Banios that I’d tasted since coming to Ecuador. Most of the girls I traveled with had been there before, so they brought us to a couple of restaurants serving up the sort of cuisine that would have cost upwards for $15 in the states (it was around $4 - 5 here). I don’t know when I will get a trout filet in lemon cream sauce or pad thai again, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.
Banios was definetly the sort of place I could get comfortable in. Not only was our hostel, The Princesa Maria, clean and charming, it cost us only $6 a night for a room with a private bathroom; the bar we went to didn’t charge a cover, also a plus - and we walked home after midnight afterwards, an action unheard of in Quito. I know everyone isn’t as interested as I am in hostel prices and street safety - I guess working for a travel guide book has me looking at everything in terms of price and quality. Anyway, I would definetly recommend Banios to anyone traveling to Ecuador.
Things have been busy in Quito since we got back. Almost everyone in the office is planning to leave in late October/early November, so there has been a flurry of despididas (good-bye parties), as well as extra effort at trying to get duties finished up at the office. I am leaving for Colombia next week and have been trying to organize that trip, even though I feel like I have hardly any time to do it. Anyway, I’m assuming that once I am there (with absolutely no job or plans in particular) I will have plenty of time to blog