There was a fire in our room that night. After our grueling hike, more for Matt than anyone, through the rainforest, we all climbed back into the bus. Our small group had chosen the very back of the bus as there was an entire bench for us to occupy and we could spread our things out and have space. We fell into our seats, drained from the long hike and the warm air.
After everyone was aboard, Carlos, the bus driver, started the engine while Antonio told us what was on the agenda for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We were headed up a mountain to some natural hot springs that we could swim in. It sounded so relaxing after the excruciating morning we had just had. Carlos took off and the breeze through the window rustled my hair in the most comfortable way possible.
About an hour into the trip, the roads became very narrow and steep, with straight drop offs on either side of us. I couldn’t have driven a small car up these roads, more or less a 25-passenger bus. At one point, Antonio even told us to shut our eyes if we were afraid of heights. I did for a brief moment but couldn’t bear missing the beautiful scenery. Carlos did such an excellent job driving too, and that comforted my uneasiness. Antonio pointed out a very small building at the top of a mountain and informed us that it was our final destination for the night. It looked miles away. But twenty minutes later we arrived.
As soon as we got off of the bus, everyone commented on how thin the air was. We were about 11,000 feet in the air, and the oxygen was sparse. Matt pointed this out after just a few seconds of helping me up the small hill to the main lodge. He was breathing heavy trying to get as much oxygen as possible. Antonio informed us that there was a doctor on site with oxygen tanks in the event anyone felt they would need them, and to come to the main lodge during the night if an emergency came up.
After we received our room keys and dinner instructions, we grabbed our bags from the bus and headed to our rooms to rest for a while before dinner. Just as we were getting ready to crawl under the blankets, which were much needed in the cool, brisk, mountain air, we heard loud screaming and commotion outside our door.
The rooms were set up in a U shape with a large grassy area in the middle. Antonio and Carlos were running and screaming at the top of their lungs, “Volcano! Volcano! Come quick! The volcano is erupting!”
We jumped up and ran outside, across the large grassy area, and through the main lodge onto another large grassy area. I’m not sure how I managed to get there so quickly. There were two steps to get out of my room and two more to get into the main lodge. And of course the rough grass to get across. All this with the high altitude made for a bit of a struggle I’m sure. But somehow the adrenaline propelled me along the path to a perfect view of the volcano.
I had always thought a volcano eruption had red-hot lava, just shooting in the air. I was surprised to see and learn that this was not the case. While the volcano that we were viewing was an active volcano, it only erupted smoke and ash, never red lava.
The smoke shooting up created a cloud bigger than the mountain, higher than the clouds. I wondered if an airplane would have to go around the smoke plume?! We sat there for about an hour, watching continuous eruptions and learning about this specific volcano. We learned that we were quite lucky, as most tours don’t ever see an active volcano.
After dinner, we put our bathing suits on so we could hop in the hot springs. The hot springs were much different than I had pictured. They looked like swimming pools that The States would have at a hotel or resort. The difference with these though, was that the water was natural. And warm! A perfect warm temperature for our sore muscles. We sat in the hot springs for a little while that evening, drinking Pilsner, the official Ecuadorian beer, out of half liter bottles and enjoying the view of the mountains and the serene lodge surrounding us.
The sun was setting over the mountains when we decided to change clothes and move to some seating nearby. We quickly grabbed our towels and rushed to our rooms. It was cold up on this mountain! When we got into our rooms, we were excited to see that the staff had lit fires in the fireplaces for us and our rooms were nice and toasty. This was the only heat we would have for the night. It was such a cool experience to have only the heat of the burning wood and a blanket keeping us warm on the top of a mountain that night. And we all slept wonderfully!
The next morning we were up bright and early for our trip to the Middle of the World. We were traveling to the exact spot that the equator runs along. We arrived and had some time to enjoy the monument. We straddled the equator, placing ourselves in both the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. I had only traveled to the southern hemisphere once before, in Africa, so this was very neat. It was also very accessible, being completely cement paved, so it was a nice change of pace from our previous day’s adventures. Before we left, we were able to have our passports stamped with “The Middle of the World.” And anybody that travels will understand the value of that one extra stamp! In Ecuador, on the equator, it costs just $1.
After our trip to the southern hemisphere, and back several times in a matter of minutes, we headed to a local market. Ecuador is famous for their grilled guinea pigs. We had discussed whether we would be trying it or not and had finally concluded that we had to at least have a bite each. So we got to the market and were on a mission to find guinea pig. We had assumed it would be cooked similar to a steak or chicken, just the meat with all the other “parts” removed. We quickly discovered that we were wrong when we found the guinea pig booth and the rotating guinea pigs, eyes, teeth, and smiles all staring directly at us. We couldn’t do it. The teeth are what put me over the edge, the eyes for my brother, and the crates of live guinea pigs near the back of the booth for my sister. We grabbed a few quick pictures and went on our way. What can I say?! I just can’t eat things that still have their teeth!