“Ama La Vida” is a very fitting slogan for Ecuador, because it means “Love Life”.
This phrase is plastered in rainbow colors over every surface here, including buses, bridges, t-shirts, hats, street signs, bags, and building walls. But I’ve found that this slogan is more than just words; it embodies itself in the landscape and the atmosphere of the country itself. Ecuador is incredibly diverse and has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty and culture, so it’s impossible not to enjoy every second of exploring this country. Ecuadorians live simply, and they exude a sort of relaxed energy that makes you want to slow down and simply appreciate every little thing about the present moment.
I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve thought to myself, “Wow, I love life” while being in Ecuador. Whether I’m trekking alone in the wilderness or eating dinner in the company of many friendly, open-minded people from different countries, I’m always aware of how lucky I am to be experiencing this amazing country.
Twice in the last two days I’ve had particularly wonderful experiences where I actually screamed “I LOVE LIFE” at the top of my lungs because I couldn’t contain my happiness. I’m currently in Baños, a lovely town known as the “gateway to the Amazon” and also the “adventure capital of Ecuador”. This quaint, small town is humble yet charismatic, and is overflowing with gorgeous little parks and unique artisan gift shops.
So my first fabulous life experience happened during an adventurous day of biking along the Ruta de Cascadas, or road to the waterfalls. After renting a mountain bike for 5 dollars, I embarked on a scenic and thrilling 20km ride along with eight other travelers. Zipping along the winding roads with the sun shining, the cool wind swirling around me, and the consistent view of massive green hills was so much fun, and we hadn’t even reached the best part yet.
The first highlight was Pailon Del Diablo, an infamous waterfall in Baños. We parked our bikes in the small village of Rio Verde, ate some cheap and delicious Ecuadorian food at a small cafe, then hiked through the woods to the waterfall. After crossing a long, rickety bridge, the glory of Pailon Del Diablo revealed itself in all its glory. This was definitely the largest waterfall I’ve ever seen up close, and I could feel every surface trembling from the raw, aggressive, power of the cascading water. The thundering sound of the falls echoed around me and made me feel slightly terrified yet completely consumed by awe. I’ve never felt so intimidated by the sheer strength of water before and it was phenomenal.
After Pailon Del Diablo we rode to our final stop, another waterfall called Machay. This location was completely devoid of tourists, and the waterfall emptied into a small pool where we could swim. The water was freezing and the current from the cascade was strong but the serenity of immersing yourself in the fresh, natural water was intoxicatingly blissful. After swimming, we sunbathed on the surrounding rocks and enjoyed the company of wonderful people who were complete strangers a few hours ago. It was in this moment that we all just agreed on how in love we are with nature, with Ecuador, with traveling, and with life itself.
When we returned our bikes in Baños at the end of the day, we were greeted by a parade celebrating the Festival of the Virgin. The main street came to life with the presence of colorful dancers, musicians, and bulls pulling bunches of grass and trees. This event caught us by surprise, but it was the perfect conclusion to a perfect day.
My second unforgettable experience was hiking to La Casa Del Arbol. This iconic wooden treehouse is one of the world’s most famous photography sites, where travelers come to swing off the edge of a cliff over the jungle. After admiring photographs of this spot so many times, it felt slightly surreal to finally see the treehouse right in front of me. But the main reason why I was so thrilled to reach the treehouse was that the hike was extremely difficult. Baños resides in a small valley, with huge mountains surrounding the village on all sides. So I basically had to climb up and over one of those mountains to reach La Casa Del Arbol, and I chose to take the steepest, most direct, and most ambitious route. After climbing for two hours up an unbelievably steep, narrow, dirt path in the woods, I arrived at the treehouse drained of energy, drenched in sweat, and overwhelmed with happiness.
I was quite impressed with the swings themselves, as they were actually much bigger than pictures had led me to believe. I carried the swing up a large wooden ramp, which allowed me to propel myself off the edge of the cliff and fly into the open air. It was here, while soaring on the swing, heart pumping with adrenaline, that I could not stop yelling “I LOVE LIFE” as breathtaking views surrounded me and exhilaration mixed with pure joy flooded my soul.
In two short days, I have dived headfirst into some of the natural wonders of Baños, while meeting some genuine and entertaining friends along the way. I wish I had more time in this town, but I feel blessed to have had such an amazing month in Ecuador. This country has given me beautiful memories of natural beauty, an appreciation for a new culture, and most importantly, an unconditional love for life.