Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Starting All Over...In Ecuador

Starting All Over...In Ecuador
By Suzan Haskins
In Ecuador, every day is a memory maker. But some more than others...
Like the time three of us stayed at a friend's beachfront house in Olón, with a bamboo bar overlooking the ocean. We dubbed it the "Sand Bar," for its sand floor. (The owner paid just $50,000 for this house, by the way.) Long into the night, the guys played guitars and sang, accompanied by the crashing surf and a few nosy neighborhood cows, silhouetted in the moonlight.
Under this same reliable moon, another night found eight of us hiking the Ecuadorian rainforest in search of nighttime critters. We found few (as surely they noticed us first), but we had fun comparing notes back aboard our cozy "flotel"— the Manatee Amazon Explorer that had ferried us down the Rio Napo.
Daytime found us in dugout canoes exploring the river and hiking to indigenous villages where locals were happy to share their traditions (blowguns, anyone?) and chichi—their fermented and slightly alcoholic drink.
We've ridden horses through the valley of Vilcabamba, and survived a treacherous downhill bike ride from the town of Baños to Rio Verde where we hiked to the stunning Paílón del Diablo waterfall.
Baños means "baths," and this is another attraction of this sweet town, (also known for its hand-pulled sugar cane taffy). Hot water springs are plentiful here and there's no better way to soothe aching muscles than with a long, steamy soak). If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the fireworks that occasionally belch from the mouth of the nearby Tungurahua Volcano.
There are many thermal water "hot spots" in Ecuador and I'll find any excuse to make my way to any one of them. We've spent nights soaking under the stars at Papallacta (where I had the best massage of my life for only $10) and days jumping between the hot and icy pools at Chichimbiro, not far from where we live now.
But perhaps my favorite memory was planted on New Year's Eve of 2001. We had ushered in 2002 at the rowdy Reina Victoria Pub in Quito's La Mariscal neighborhood. Then, at midnight, the crowd staggered outside for the Año Viejo ("Old Year") bonfires.
The tradition is to make effigies of something you want to be rid of. Politicians are favorite targets, but some create their own likenesses, with symbols of bad luck that has plagued them, or bad habits or characteristics they dislike most about themselves. As the clock strikes midnight, the effigies are set ablaze with gusto...out with the old and in with the new.
As we walked home in the wee hours of that first morning of 2002, and stepped over the smoldering piles of cinder, I thought about what an extraordinary thing we'd done by walking away from our old lives and embracing the magic of this new world. Out with the old and in with the new..