High Expectations

When fellow travelers would talk about Baños, I had a vision of a little quaint town with a handful of tour companies and a few eateries.

Baños is a town of almost 20,000 people; far from the small town I was expecting!!  What else had I not been expecting???

For the last four years, Captain and I have been on a serious adventure; moving to a new city every six months, experiencing the beauty throughout the United States.   Blessed with a path that has allowed us this awesome opportunity, we don’t waste any time!  We see more in 6 months than most locals do in a lifetime.   Much adventure is to be had but my ulterior motive has recently been relaxation.  With all of our adventuring, I have come to highly appreciate good ole’ R&R!

Our time in Baños was time to be free of worry.  No worries about our property.  No worries about finding a builder for our place.  No worries about constructing our dream. No worries…

We decided on a few activities that would be both chill and adventurous.  First I wanted to sit next to the town’s waterfall I heard everyone talk about.  Riding on the bike trail past the 14 waterfalls would surely be magical as well.  Next, I wanted to soak in the healing waters of the local hot springs.  Maybe a float down the river would be fun too!

I never expect to get a good nights sleep in new lodging.  Exhausted from the long day of traveling, I fell asleep quickly and began dreaming of a magical place surrounded by rainbows, waterfalls and butterflies. I could hear the beating of a drum. Dum! Dum! Dum! Dum!

“What? Who? Huh? What’s going on out there?”  It was Captain, waking me from my slumber.  The sound of my dreams were present in my wake state…the beat of the base drum was echoing through the streets below.  “What it is?” I asked.  Captain was peering out side our third story window.  “This is worth getting out of bed to see,” he said.

My eyes hadn’t quite adjusted to the light and peering into the streets my eyes were pained by the brilliant neon lights below.  There before my eyes I witnessed the ultimate school-turned-party bus.  The party people all had drinks in hand and bouncing to the techno beat being blasted from the gigantic speakers.  The bus was crawling with raging drunk people; some hopping on board, others hopping off.  I hadn’t expected that…

It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when I was awoken by the beating of another drum.  It was only eight o’clock in the morning and the middle school band was marching through the streets of Baños.  They were practicing for the parade tomorrow.  Another parade?  We discovered Baños was celebrating its anniversary over the weekend and it was going to get a whole lot louder before it was going to quiet down. I should have known the street side hostel would not be conducive to sleeping in!

Over breakfast we discussed the plan for the day.  First we decided to check out the waterfall.  Perhaps we would find a new place to stay for the next few nights in Baños.  What better way to fall asleep than to the sound of falling water.  I could imagine the most beautiful waterfall along the side of the mountain, falling as I lay sleeping…

Magical Landscapes in Oregon

Captain and I spent a whole year traveling in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington are definitely our favorite states as they are the land of rainbows, waterfalls and fairies.  Ecuador’s terrain reminds me  of the Pacific  NW and one of the main reasons I fell in love with Ecuador.  I have explored many waterfalls in my day, from Niagara Falls in the east and Puff Falls in the west, to Krause Springs in the Deep South.  I haven’t met one I didn’t like…falling water has a mystical property that I cannot deny.  But after all the talk about the epic waterfall in town, I had been expecting a grander falls…

Banos

Although the falls did not meet my expectations, I was dearly inspired with the mosaic work at the bed of the falls.  This was a first.  Captain and I climbed the natural stairs and had an elevated view of town.

Next on the to-do list?  Hot springs!  The first time I ever experienced a hot spring, “hot-tubbing” became one of my all-time favorite activities.  In all of our travels we have been blessed with the opportunity to visit several hot springs in the most secluded parts of the United States.  When I heard about the hot springs in Baños, of course, this was on the top of my to-do list.  Again I had very high expectations with grandiose images of the Baños hot springs…

Natural Riverside Tubs in Oregon

I was incredibly disappointed when Captain pointed to what I thought was the community pool and said, “There’s the hot springs!”  Was he being serious?  I didn’t believe him so we climbed down the stairs and a gringo woman passing by confirmed these were the notorious Baños hot springs.  The spring water was fed into a man-made pool that at this hour was packed full of bodies.  “You have to get there real early if you want a little quiet time.”

Community Hot Tub

The spring water surely retains its healing properties, but the magic is lost with screaming children and people floating on inner tubes.  I had been expecting…something A LOT different!

Lunchtime was quickly approaching so Captain and I made our way through town.  So far our experience of Baños had been less than amazing so I was hoping to find the perfect eatery; healthy, hip and happy!  Could Baños deliver?

The hand-carved “Vegetarian Cuisine” sign first caught my eye.  As I came closer I was drawn in…

Everything about the place reminded me of what I envisioned for our future; compassionate cooking and a friendly, laid back vibe.  And, oh, the delightfully healthy food choices; quinoa veggie burgers, dark leafy green salads and sweet potato fries!  The place even served my favorite drink—fresh brewed kombucha!  I loved everything about this little eatery.  Again, I was deeply inspired as I was taking notes for our future restaurant.

This place was vibrating at an incredibly high frequency which allowed for the free flow of synchronicity.  First of all, our server was from Chicago; of all the places in the world this chic could have been from, she was from the US city Captain and I were most recently stationed.  Next thing I know, a familiar faced walks by as we were being served lunch.  It was weeks ago when we last saw this woman in our coastal village.  She discovered our town and fell in love as quickly as we had.  What were the odds to have seen her once again in this dainty little restaurant?  Expect magic.

Her morning was spent getting a massage that she said was hands down the best she had ever experienced.  I was putting this on my To-Do List…

After lunch, we further explored the big city of Baños.  In “Central Tourist Station”, the blocks were lined with tour guide companies.  Bike excursions!  Waterfall tours!  Rafting trips!  What was the more difficult choice: what to do or who to go with?!?

White water rafting is another one of our favorite activities.  We had thought this may be fun in Baños but decided against it.  Firstly, Captain is a guide himself and prefers to be the driver.  (It is much less paddling in the back of the boat so he tells me!)  Maybe we would just wait for an opportunity to meet local rafters and then float down the river with friends!  I told you Captain and I don’t make very good tourists…many times we wait for the Universe to present us with an experience versus just paying for it!

This is precisely what happened with our last rafting experience.  Captain was working with a rafting company in Washington State and he was given the opportunity to guide the raft carrying the supplies for a 4 day excursion down the Snake River.  What would a been a three thousand dollar investment become a trip of a lifetime, all in exchange for setting up camp and cooking for the group…

I was pretty sure our rafting experience in Banos was not going to top our trip down Hell’s Canyon so we opted out of rafting while we were still on top.  All the activities on our Baños To-Do List were being marked off quickly…

Captain and I walked around town for a while longer contemplating our next move.  We found ourselves in front of a tour company with a familiar name.  “Isn’t this the company the lady on bus was talking about last night?”  Sure enough, the lady that helped us to the hostel last night had told us about this place.  Her boyfriend had started it up with some friends and business was flourishing…the thought of entrepreneurial endeavours gets me excited!

It was only right to go inside and check it out.

We walked in and Captain right away started asking questions putting the guys to work.  They were giving us maps and talking about all the fun things to do in Baños.  “You wanna hike to the waterfall?  How about see monkeys in the jungle?  What about the tree house at the top of the mountain?”  “Tree house?  Of course, I want to go to the tree house,” I shouted like a little child!

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live in a tree house.  Maybe it was because I never had one as a child.  Perhaps because they are just that freaking awesome!  Or maybe I am truly destined to live with the monkeys in the trees…I imagined the most immaculate tree home tucked away in the trees over looked the flowing waters of Baños.

My Future Home

We were told it would be a $15 cab ride up to visit the tree house.  Captain hesitated for a moment but with the vision of the tree house burned into my brain, for me it was worth the fifteen bucks to be inspired.

Thus far we hadn’t spent any money on Baños adventuring so it was easy to convince Captain to spend the cash.  As if by magic, the moment we agreed to call the ride, a group of six crazy chicas came bursting in the door.  One of them was the girl from the bus who told us about this place!  “He will be here any minute!” the girl exclaimed.  I caught her eye and she squealed, “We are going to the tree house!  Are you coming?”  I looked at Captain and said, “Of course!”  A truck was on his way to pick up the girls and drive them up the mountainside to the infamous tree house.  I couldn’t contain myself; my excitement  was amped up by theirs and when the truck pulled up, I was the first one in!

The fare: $1 per person.  Captain and I are really mastering the art of letting tourist activities come to us…

Riding in the back of the pickup brought me back to feeling as though I was in Ecuador.    My hair was blowing in the wind; I was like a little child running to play with my gang in our tree fort.

Wind Blown

When I came back to the present reality I noticed the several bikers riding along the winding road.  One of the girls pointed out this was the waterfall biking trail.  What?

On top of looking very dangerous riding along the busy, winding road, for every vehicle that passed, each cyclist would get a face-full of exhaust fumes; the truck was whizzing by missing each of the bikers by inches.  One female cyclist was pushed by the draft of the truck, ran off the road and laying in the brush…

Captain and I looked at each other and without saying a word knew what the other was thinking; we would NOT be doing this either!  Instead, we enjoyed the waterfall tour from the back of a pickup…unexpected and much less work than biking to see the falls!

The pickup pulled off the main road and began trucking along another winding road; this time the truck was climbing up the side of the mountain.  After the 30 minute ride, the truck pulled off to the side and each of us paid our dollar.  The driver said he would be back in a few hours so us kids had plenty of time to play!

The view from the top was spectacular…

Spectacular Pano

The eccentric grounds keeper charged another dollar to view the property.  He showed us his repertoire of newspaper clippings with interviews and photos of UFO sightings.  I could really appreciate that even in Ecuador people believe in extraterrestrials!

Jose lived on the top of the hill and was the one who alerted the town when the volcano was going to blow.  When asked where he found shelter, he crept to the lone tree standing.  It’s trunk was naturally hollowed out and this was his hiding place.  Really?  Really.  I had not been expecting that either…

There before me, built atop the hollowed out tree, was the tree house.  Why had I been envisioning an immaculate tree house over-looking the lands of Ecuador?  Perhaps it was everyone’s excitement that created the high expectations.  “Isn’t this so cool?!?” one of the girls exclaimed.  Of course, just not at all what I had been envisioning.

A giant rickety stair case led to the tree “shanty”.  It was constructed with rusty nails and scrap wood of all lengths.   The sign read “The House of the Tree, 2660 meters”.  A smaller sign below warned: 4 person maximum.  Jose was definitely not hosting any family get-togethers at his place!

La Casa del Arbol

Captain and I climbed to the top.  The stair case creaked with each step and when we entered the casa it began swaying to and fro.  I wouldn’t have been comfortable inviting two more bodies in.  Captain, with his fear of heights dared not to look down!

Don't Look Down!

Of course the view was epic; any view from this elevation is magnificent.   Jose is truly on top of the world here in Ecuador!  I was admiring the view from the top of the mountain when I noticed the groundskeeper scurrying up the shanty and dropping something out of the window…

A tree swing!  Of course, no tree house is complete without a swing!  But this was no regular ole’ tree swing.  A 15 foot flimsy PVC pipe was jammed into the side of the tree house and resting out onto two larger branches.  Nowhere did I see the pipe safely secured.  The swing easily hung down 15 feet and swung out of over the edge of a steep cliff.  I let a few of the other girls test it before I got on! Despite the flimsy flop of the PVC piping, the swing held fast for the first few girls so I took my turn.

I was still a bit weary; feeling as though I was going to be launched off the edge of the mountain but as I let go of the fear, I felt like an eagle soaring above great heights.  Perhaps I set my expectations too high for the tree house on top of the world but this was a high I had not been expecting…

Soaring

While sitting on the hillside, waiting for our ride back down to Baños, I noticed a young woman walking by.  She looked up at us and hesitated for a moment.  I gave her a friendly wave and she returned one.  She climbed the hill and asked if this was where she could find the tree house.  “I have hiked this whole hillside all day.  I don’t know how I expected to find this place on my own!”

Our ride was going to be arriving any minute and the lady wanted to ride along as she been walking for hours in the hot sun.  I took her up to tour the tree house, she got a few pictures on the swing and we left just as our ride arrived.  On the ride down the mountain I discovered this woman was a fellow Midwesterner from Michigan.  Within six hours, I met two people from neighboring states of my hometown.  I suppose this is something to expect when you are on the Gringo Trail!

Midwest told us about the jungle tour in Puyo where we could learn about the ways of ancient tribes and the use of medical plants from the Amazon Rainforest-something I anticipate doing in years to come…

Baños is definitely a hip town and the adventure capital of Ecuador, just not what Captain and I were looking for.  Had I been with a group of girlfriends expecting a fun-filled vacation of partying and excitement, Baños is the destination.  We decided to spend another night in Baños but our plan for the following day was to skip town and find a quiet place to chill.

One thing was for sure; there was one to-do that I was doing before I left…a blissful massage.   The ultimate relaxing experience.

The ambiance of the room set the mood; soft music, dim lighting, the scent of rose petals filled the air.  Laying down on the massage table, the soft cotton sheets soothed my skin as I slipped under the covers.  I heard the door open and a strong presence entered the room.  Not a word was spoken.  Two sets of hands began gently massaging my feet working their way to the top of my head and back down again.  These women knew what they were doing.  Their movements were in sync; as if they were the conductors of my body’s great symphony; I was in a state of pure bliss for the whole hour.

Thankfully, more wonderous than I expected…

My expectations often result in an experience like nothing I anticipated and the unexpected surprises are more than I could have ever imagined!  How will my incredible imagination create our future and what unforeseen wonders will I experience along this unbelievable journey?

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