Friday, August 5, 2016

Our Ecuador Adventure Begins! First Stop: Banos

I can't believe our Ecuador adventure is now over! It was years in the making and was so amazing!
It began when I found out the summer Olympics would be in Rio for 2016. Brazil has always interested me and the summer Olympics are my very favorite, so I made a goal to be able to take our family and saved a portion from each photo shoot for the trip (it also helped keep me motivated to truck through all the working!). Last summer when it was finally close enough to be able to look for plane tickets I found prices for tickets to Brazil had increased from around $1500/ticket to over $4000/ticket. What?!?! Even if we had been willing to spend that much, it would have blown the budget anyway so we started talking about other options. It came down to Ecuador or Costa Rica. Mike and I went to Costa Rica a few years ago and loved it but Ecuador won! It was my very first international experience and sparked my love for travel and I thought it would be cool for it to also be my own kids' first big trip as well. Also, none of us had been to the Galapagos Islands and it's always been on my wish list.
I did some research about what I wanted to be sure to do on the trip and then contacted SATO, who we used for part of our Peru trip a couple years ago, and had them help me plan it. Since we were traveling with the kids I wanted to be sure we weren't stressed trying to figure out bus schedules, etc. like Mike and I would do if it was just the two of us. We ended up with Marco as our travel companion and it was so perfect! He drove us everywhere we went, gave us the history of the country as we traveled, knew about the plant and animal life as well, adjusted our stops as we changed our mind about things, never got annoyed by our kids, and we could just relax and go along for the ride.
There will be many posts to come, but this one definitely has the most pictures and videos I think :-).

We headed out for the airport the afternoon of Monday, July 25th. From the time we arrived at the airport it felt like we were in a developing country already. The line to check in our bags with Avianca (an airline I will try to avoid in the future) took TWO hours. Luckily the flights themselves were fine. We had two three hour flights (switching planes in El Salvador on the way). We arrived very tired after midnight in Quito (no time change to Ecuador which was a bonus!), were picked up by Marco and then dropped off at our hotel for a short night's sleep. The hotel was super nice and we knew we would be there again for our final two nights of the trip which was fun to look forward to...especially once we got up in the morning and discovered how absolutely amazing their breakfast buffet was!
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two kids sleeping on my lap and all the dinner trays piled on my tray :-)
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I love how Preston still wants to hold my hand all the time
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Tuesday morning (26th) Marco picked us up at the hotel and the real adventure began as we headed to Banos, our first stop of the trip! It was our first real views of the city since it was the middle of the night when we came in and the mountains and all the colors of the buildings were beautiful! There is nothing more exciting than taking in the scenery of a new place!
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We had a little pit stop in the town of Salasaca to try the ice cream they are known for. It was pretty good and the streets were literally lined with little shops all selling the same thing which was funny.
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When we arrived in Banos our first stop was ziplining! It was gorgeous and I couldn't wait! The whole drive to the zipline the kids couldn't wait either but when they saw how high it was and that they had to go in "superman" position they all had a freak out moment :-). In the end they all did it though and of course loved it! The zipline place took some pictures and videos for us (they charged $15 for all three sets of us...everything was such a good deal!) so I have lots to share...
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Once we finished the zipline we headed down the mountain a little bit to take a cable car down to the base of the valley to check out the big waterfall up close. The cable ride itself was pretty cool and the kids loved it. No door so Marco blocked it so they wouldn't fall out haha! Then we headed back up the line again and ate lunch in their little restaurant.
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This kids were cracking up over that parrot eating the limes someone left on the table :-).
From there we headed to see the Cascada El Pailon Del Diablo (the waterfall of the Devil's Cauldron). The kids were pretty exhausted by this point after a short night's sleep and a busy day already so there was definitely some complaining on the hike to the falls. It was pretty magnificent once we made it there though! Preston even braved crawling through the little cave to go higher up the falls with Marco (once again we were thankful to have him with us haha!). If you look carefully in the video you can see Preston waving to me up on the little lookout balcony.
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We were all looking forward to settling into our hotel for the night. It had been an amazing first day!!!
When we were almost to our hotel we had to stop as a funeral procession passed in front of us. Everyone was carrying flowers, there was music being played and they actually walked in front of us carrying the casket. So interesting to see their traditions in action!
The hotel, La Floresta, was adorable and in a great location. The kids were thrilled to have bunk beds AND a hammock in their room and Mike and I had a room that overlooked the courtyard gardens.
We had really been hoping to fit in a trip to the hot springs in Banos but then were kind of feeling tired and debated whether we should go or not. Addie REALLY wanted to do it though so we walked over and I am so glad we did. It is still one of my favorite memories of the trip! It was required to wear these silly little bathing caps which were amazing, we were surrounded by beautiful mountains and a waterfall and it was mostly local people there which was fun.
(also, one of the best purchases I made for this trip was a waterproof case for my phone so I could get pictures of anything I wanted without worrying!)
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some cool old fountains outside the hot springs
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We ended the day walking into town to get a little dinner before heading back to the hotel for bed. The kids were really hoping for some pizza and we found some that they liked at La Cocina de Dulcelina.
Their version of nachos with guacomole are on the bottom left ;-).
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Quite a first day that had me even more excited for the rest of the days to come!

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