Just walk beside me and be my friend."
While celebrating the Ecuadorian defeat of Spanish forces on the Pichincha volcano almost 200 years ago, Lynsey and I decided to venture east of Quito for our holiday to support a good friend, John, in a kickboxing showdown. After the battle, we were glad to find that the area was home to wonders ranging from the biggest waterfall in Ecuador to the freakiest birds we've ever seen in a cave. Two overnight buses back and forth to Quito allowed us to stretch this weekend just long enough to again appreciate how small, diverse, and vast this country truly is.
John had no idea who he would fight, and it turned out he was placed up against a shorter and stouter Ecuadorian who moved pretty well. As for me, I found myself literally in John's corner as his make-shift trainer, and did my best to muster up some motivational sayings for the time between the rounds (though John helped me formulate them before the fight!). Either way, it was pretty damn exciting be that close to the action, and left me with a full, new appreciation for the training, dedication, and toughness that goes into competing in the ring. Both John and his competitor were in top shape, and just before the fight started we were amused to hear over the loud speaker that the fight had turned into "international combat" and the announcer was getting the locals fired up. Then, the action started.
In the end, John lost on points, but I was nonetheless in full awe. Regardless of the outcome, he had put himself through a training regime that required the most intense discipline - and grew stronger for it. To see John's personal blog post about the experience,click here.
First we headed to San Rafael waterfall (“cascada” en español), which happens to be the largest waterfall in Ecuador. It's part of the Cayambe-Coca National Park, yet another beautiful reserve and keeper of the country's biodiversity. A highlight of this reserve is the presence of Andean bears (or spectacled bears...click to learn more), named for the white rings around their eyes. Like most bears, these guys are extremely difficult to spot and it'd be your lucky day if you did. All the same, I always feel a deep satisfaction just knowing such an incredible creature is roaming freely in the same vicinity as myself. I think it's a sign we're doing something right.
The walk to the falls was a brief mile or so, and we ended at more of a viewpoint than at the base of the cascade. Still, though, the scene was dramatic as the waterfall roared over a precipice surrounded my dark rock and semi-tropical vegetation, floated down peacefully, and pounded the valley bottom with misty violence.
The grotto itself was a narrow channel of water that carved a cave-like passage through the rock. We waded forward slowly into the grotto and against the current until a demon-like scream from a few feet away made us jump! We had startled two young tayos birds, not yet flying, who were huddled on a rocky ledge just above the water (oilbirds are called one of the "world's loudest animals" by National Geographic). . These strange birds hold local lore for their sinister call and less than attractive appearance, let alone the fact that they live in darkness. We heard the swooping of larger adults above along with the continual screams; our guide told us late afternoon was a very active time for them. Like vampires, they were waiting for the darkness.
We stayed another night in El Chaco and laboriously (bus travel on a holiday Sunday is brutal in Ecuador) made our way to Papallacta the next day to visit its famous hot springs. Though they turned out to be very plush and full of rich Quiteños, the pools were indispensible in warming our cold, shivering limbs (shoes still wet from the stream-crossings the day before), and the green mountains around made for quite a nice scene.