Hola, Baños!

Elena:  Hello from this gem of a city…BAÑOS!  Today marks about a week into our time here in Baños, as well as our 27th day into our amazing South American adventure. ¡Que chevere!
The culture of Baños is of a religious and touristy nature. People come to visit this little city from all around the world, and can be spotted incoming every day by the giant packs on their backs and frazzled looks on their faces. Many tourists come for the religion component (a fanastic Catholic church with services several times a day), but others come to explore the natural beauty of Baños. Hiking, Rope Swinging, Horseback Riding, Kayaking, Rafting, and Puenting are all popular passtimes. The people who live here seem to enjoy the continuous, masive influx of tourists, as the economy of Baños resides on their interest and participation in the various activities. It is very common to greet everyone, even strangers in Ecuador, so one may be saying “Buenos Dias” to an Ecuadorian woman selling corn on the street and later “Buenos Tardes” to a tourist from Aleman.
The SAM grupo is staying with homestays once again, and how grand they have treated us thus far! Compared to rural Achupallas, the living situation in Baños is absolutely a life of luxury. Hot showers, carpeted floors, refrigerators, filtered water, filling and nutritious meals three times a day… it´s more than anyone could wish for. In addition to the material comforts is the overflowing love and interest of our host families. Emma and I are staying with the fantastic family of Julio and Rubi; a family of five (not including their two pet cats and a dog!) They are notorious hosties, welcoming more than 10 foreigners into their home every year. After the first couple of days, Lorena, the Raices Spanish School instructor, let us in on a little secret: Rubi is by far the best chef of the homestay bunch. Ay, and que rico the food has been! Almuerzos consisting of Cordon Bleu, ceviche, grilled fish, creamy potatoes, and tortillas de plantanos could not make two American chicas happier. 
So far, the time spent outside of our fabulous homes (most of the day), has been jam packed with activities. We start every weekday at 9am at Raices Spanish School, and continue there until 1pm. I sincerely thought my brain was going to start leaking ser and estar conditions the first couple days from so much time learning, studying, remembering, and being tested on español. However, it ends up that 1pm is a good time to take a pausa, as this is the time for every family member (yes, we are considered part of the fam bam!) to return home for the largest meal of the day: almuerzo. I could talk about the delicious food for pages, but I´ll restrain myself…. After a potential 20-30 minute siesta, meaning time taken to relax and digest the awesome meal, the grupo returns to school. At 3pm, each carpe student is either teaching ingles to a class of middle to high school age students, teaching basketball to a school of girls, or directing a theater class to energetic elementary schoolers. In our group discussions, we all agree that these niños are the most ambitious, intelligent, and pleasant kids around. It´s so fun to take 2 hours out of our day to help them in such a simple way. After the chicos leave, the carpe kids stick around for a group meeting. This week, we have been presenting our life maps (how we got to where we are in this point of our lives), and partaking in activities about sharing and exploring new perspectives. If this time has not brought the group closer together, than the casual meetups after dinner, enjoying the natural hot springs or abundance of cafes, definitely have. 

I think the best part of our stay in Baños has been the quest for the perfect chocolate… 65% or 70%?! Dark or milk?? Bar or liquid? Too many options, you have to try them all! Besides enjoying ourselves in that sense, we have also explored a couple of fruit markets, hiked up the lush, green mountains to the Virgin de Agua Santa and then the Cross, swam in waterfalls, attended church, walked in the parade of Octubre, hoped on touring rhino carts, hoped off touring rhino carts, gotten dreads, river rafted, gone horseback riding, watched Ecuador crush Chile in the futbol game, and smiled at this beautiful time and place, living in the moment. 

The people are great, the place is gorgeous, and we are happy and healthy. 

Thanks for reading and checking in! 

With love for now,