Riding into the tourist town of Banos on Friday, we look out our windows to see a loud, overflowing open-air bus lean its way around a winding cliff on its way up a mountain. We American girls exchange glances that ask, “Are people just insane here?” and the next afternoon we find ourselves paying 6 dollars to ride the same bus. And so goes the story of Ecuador.
We arrived in Banos a day later than we had planned, which is studying abroad in a nutshell. After trekking into Quito from our cozy suburb of Cumbaya on Thursday, we learned at the bus station that the road to Banos was closed for the rest of the day for Easter processions. We let out a really big pouty sigh and returned home only to come back the next morning at 6 a.m. for Take 2. We arrived in Banos at around 1 on Friday afternoon, put our stuff in our hostel, and started looking for potential life experiences.
We came across a little stand that led guided tours up the trails of Banos’ eerily close active volcano, Tungurahua, on horseback. We said “si, por favor” and walked a couple blocks to the field that housed our transportation. I was given a horse named “Whiskey” and I felt about as close to Kentucky as I could be. Whiskey and I, as well as Meg, Rachel, and their horses, spent the next three hours riding up Tungurahua (which means “throat of fire”) and taking absurd amounts of pictures of the incredible view. We passed cows and waterfalls and rivers, washed our faces in a mineral spring at the top of the mountain, stole a few volcanic rocks, and were incredibly sore by the time we very timidly kissed our horses goodbye. We (very conveniently) found a spa deal where you could sit in a hot tub, hang out in a sauna, and sit in these weird barrels with your head sticking out that sweat out all your soreness for only 10 dollars. It was perfect and so was our first day.
Saturday in Banos was a day of extremes. Extreme excitement, fear, adrenaline, exhaustion. We pushed ourselves over a cliff at the “Swing at the End of the World” (El Columpio al Fin del Mundo), took a “Chiva tour” to insane waterfalls (on the aforementioned bus), soared over a canyon in a cable basket, and walked across a suspended bridge in the jungle (El Pailon del Diablo). We took taxis up the mountain on several occasions and, to be honest, these rides could often be as scary as the crazy places they were taking us.
That being said, I feel like I learned a lot about travel, and—just wait for it—maybe life in general. I learned that trust is imperative to having a worthwhile experience. You have to trust other people—the man who called for your taxi, the man who directed you to the man who called your taxi, the taxi driver that you’re now riding out of town with. You have to trust that, when he pulls off a main road onto a dirt path, that he’s only taking you to an overlook. You have to trust that when he pulls out a knife, it’s to slice the bananas you bought to feed the monkeys. You have to trust that it’s not all the worst-case scenarios it could be.
Similarly, you have to trust yourself. You have to trust your own “healthy hesitation,” as it’s been called so far. That you have exercised enough caution and checked for the license plates that tell you this taxi is a legitimate mode of transportation and not the rides you’ve read about that lead to robbery, rape, or worse. You have to believe that you’ve made good decisions while also understanding your anxiety is coming from a sensible place.
And just like that, you think, wait…this is totally what traveling abroad is all about. You push yourself, move past fear, learn that you’re more independent and more capable than you thought, lean back in your seat, and enjoy the cab ride to the monkey reserve.
I mean…should I be on a brochure somewhere?