The French know how to cook

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Ecuador’s beautiful and the people rock, but after the Galapagos I got pretty sick, …pretty damn sick. I suspect a bad flu but possibly a mild case of dengue, as 3 weeks later I’m still recovering. Combined with rainy season, my mood hasn’t been the best, and honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit home sick. I hate to write about bad experiences, and I can’t emphasize enough that positive brings positive, and negative brings negative, so being in a bad mood is no way to travel. It’s also why I’ve been so reluctant to update the blog, but now that I’m feeling much stronger and things have been looking up, I feel it’s ok to post the bad with the good.

I found myself in Banos, a hipster party town about 2 hours from Quito, after dead-ending numerous times in various cow pastures and dirt roads that I was hopping would lead me to Tena (a city about 200km NE of Banos). All the locals said the road didn’t exist but both my paper maps showed it and they even had a number assigned to it “#104” so I was determined to find a way. It was a beautiful 3 hours of riding, that got me nowhere, but worth every minute, …but eventually I accepted defeat and heading back to the main highway.  Yup, a short spurt on the PooAmericana.

The dead end in the cow pasture that finally turned me around

As always the rain picked up and by the time I pulled into Banos at 3:30, I was soaked and decided not to go any further. It happened to be Saturday, and as it turns out the town is packed on weekends, as it’s a local get away. After checking about 10 different hostals, I was ready to give up and keep riding to Puya in the rain but gave one hotel, one last chance. A fancy place that would normally have been way above my price range, but they offered me a room for the hostal price (a quarter their normal rate) so I accepted and ended up staying two nights.

Banos is famous for it’s thermals and got me thinking of an ex-girlfriend’s solution to the blues or being sick. A spa day, of course. Hmmm, I could go for a massage and spa, …not a bad idea at all, …and shortly afterwards found myself looking into spa options. After my first spa inquiry I spotted a day trip that involved canyoning, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting, all for substantially less. Huh, screw the spa day, “Opcion dos, por favor”.

All three activities were advertised as extreme but they turned out to be disappointing tourist intros to the sports, with a lot of cold, wet, waiting around (I should have gone with option one) time. Not exactly what I had hopped for, for improving my health and mood. And to boot, they didn’t have their papers in order as we got busted on the way back by a random police stop, which made us back track, park the van, and take a public bus, getting us back in town about 2 hours later than we were supposed to (this was actually pretty cool, and for me was a highlight of the day and the biggest adventure of the tour. While the other tourists were all complaining, I was secretly laughing that this is happening to someone else, the people that sugar coated the trip and over charged me).  Like diving in the Galapagos, I was the only gringo, but to boot it was a huge group with fifteen 20 year old Argentinians who like totally just wanted to party (I’m like not totaly sure how to say “like” in Espanol but I’m like so working on it) and a really cool Chilean family of three that took pity on my and sparked up 3 year old conversations whenever they could. All in all it was a long, cold, and disappointing day that did nothing to improve my mood until…

We finally arrived back in Banos; dark, still raining, wet and cold, and at the bus station on the other side of town from my hotel,. I started walking in it’s general direction looking for a place to eat. Just out of the bus station, I spotted a run down sign for a French restaurant and directions, also on the other side of town. From the looks of the sign, I didn’t hold up much hope that it was still in existence but with fondue savoyarde advertised on the sign, I felt it worthy of searching it out, all the while keeping my eyes open for anything alternative if I needed to backtrack. Using all my bushman tracking skills, to my surprise, I found it, …and it was open, …and the menu looked great, …and it was reasonable priced so I’m thinking “F’  street food tonight!” BAM!

The fondue was for a minimum of two but there were plenty of other options for gluttony. I went all out and started with a French onion soup, followed by foie de volaille, followed by tagine de poulet Moroccaine, all with a good bottle of rouge. Enjoy the little things I say, …or in this case the big things, …but seriously this was a really big ticket to improving my mood. I chatted small talk with the owner and chef afterwards in my broken Spanish, French and English as we finished off the wine. I could tell they were having a really hard time deciding where I was from but thankfully never asked, and the discussion remained strictly about the food.

Gracias for a great meal Petite Auberge de Banos.

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