So this weekend I jumped off a bridge and ate a guinea pig…Quito, Spring 2011

What I really mean to say is that Baños de Agua Santa, a little city squeezed into a valley about 3.5 hours southeast of Quito, is just about the greatest place on earth. The city is great for outdoor enthusiasts, as it is surrounded by millions of adrenaline-pumping activities. After an early morning busride on Friday, I arrived in Baños, scouted out a cute hostel, rented a bike, and began the 65 kilometer descent from the mountains of Baños to a little town called Puyo, perched on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. The entire way provided amazing scenery--lush green cliffs, long waterfalls, white rivers, and an occasional downpour. The road to Puyo didn't really have a shoulder, so it was always a bit of a scare when busloads of people whizzed right by my face. I arrived in Puyo soaking wet and hungry for some sugar cane and cane juice (very popular over there), and amazed by the beauty of the ride. I can't wait for this weekend--IES is taking all of us deep into the Amazon to visit some bats and birds and fish and the like. After a 2 hour busride back to Baños, I hit up some thermal baths fed by volcanic springs at the base of the Tungarahua volcano. Hot but delicious. Saturday was adrenaline day: woke up early, ate a light breakfast, and suited up for puenting (in other words, jumping off the 120 meter high San Francisco Bridge--just like bungeee jumping, except instead of bouncing up and down, you swing back and forth after you jump). Standing on the bridge all harnessed up and looking at the river 500 feet below, I couldn't stop shaking (I'm shaking now just thinking about it), and when I stood on the platform ready to jump, I kept telling the guide "no puedo no puedo no puedo no puedo" ("I can't do it"). But once you're all strapped in, they don't really take no for an answer, so somehow I found myself at the edge of the platform, arms outstretched, leaning into the abyss. I don't think I'll be able to work up the nerve to do it again for a very long time--it took me about an hour to stop shaking after the fall! But I'm glad I did it, just to be able to say I did. Which is also my reasoning for trying some cuy (guinea pig) for lunch. The waitress brought out a nice fat slab of guinea pig (little leg included) and after taking a few pictures I dug into the fatty haunches of the beast. Tasted like chicken, but I don't think I'd order it again. Saturday afternoon we went whitewater rafting on the river. We rode there in a chiva, a colorful little Ecuadorian party truck that blasts music as you ride. The water was freezing, but the rapids were excellent. At night we rode in a chiva up to a lookout above the city and drank canelazo (a fruity, hot and optionally alcoholic beverage) as we enjoyed the night view of Baños. We capped off a wonderful trip with a horseback ride up the volcano on Sunday morning. I'm definitely looking forward to coming back to Baños sometime in the next 3 months.
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