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Santa Barbara, Ca

I'm a full-time rambler and contract designer with as many skill sets in my quiver as there are plane tickets in my passbook. I've worked in ornamental iron, jigsaw puzzle design, bookmaking, glass engraving, and a variety of other mediums. I'm currently living out of a backpack as I trek my way around the world.


11 Simple Steps on How Not to Have a Nature Tour in Ecuador

Zak Erving

Female argus pheasants are known to try and mate with the Chiva bus
Female argus pheasants are known to try and mate with the Chiva bus

I'm a bit like Belgium when it comes to the There's No Wrong Way to Travel debate (to each his own, right?), but when I cross paths with something that stands so contrary to my Traveler M.O., I can't help but to piss upstream of the old swimming hole a little.

Here's a quick guide on how not to have a nature tour in Baños, Ecuador:

Step 1:  Get your posse together and pay the reasonable $5 for a ticket from one of the adventure providers in downtown Baños. While you wait for the bus to pick you up, there's an excellent chance you'll actually hear it coming long before you see it, despite being as brightly colored as a horny argus pheasant. This is for two reasons: first, the frame of the truck resembles a troop transport from WWII, and it has a diesel engine (sans-muffler) to match. Secondly, the director of marketing for Chiva Bus Tours, Inc., thought it wise to mount an entire forward-facing PA system at the back of the main cabin through which to blast electro-house for the entire duration of the "nature tour."

Step 2: Climb into the bus and let your ears acclimate to the heavy bass beats of Latin American dance music. Be prepared to comprehend about one word in every ten that's shouted from the tour operator's megaphone, because he's yelling rapidly enough to be almost incomprehensible, next to the roar of the deisel engine and steady beat of the music. Begin assessing exit strategies, should the driver succumb to techno-induced seizures and send the whole tour bus careening off the edge of a cliff.

Step 3: Do not begin to wish for your five dollars back. This is how you're supposed to see all of the beautiful nature in Ecuador!

You think this is cool? Imagine it under flashing neon and blaring techno music

You think this is cool? Imagine it under flashing neon and blaring techno music

Step 4: As the bus leaves Baños, begin to see a glimmer of hope that the tour will be pretty fun after all. Get out at one of the prearanged stops overlooking the first waterfall. Most of your fellow tourists are young famililes and the elderly, so don't wander more than ten fet from the bus, lest you be left behind. Even if you do wander, though, there's a good chance you'll make it back in time after hearing the engine ignite and the same repetitive music obliterate any possibility of solace and tranquility in this remote stretch of wilderness at the edge of the Amazon.

Step 5: Wonder aloud to your friend/seatmate if the wildlife here has developed a nervous twitch, on account of the music played day in and day out from the migrating buses. 

Step 6: Don't think about the difference of a few dollars it would have cost you to rent a bicycle to see all of this at your own pace, and with no dubstep remixes played at volume 11 to give you arrhythmia of the heart. Laugh quietly to yourself when you recall reading somewhere that Dubstep isn't music, it's just the sound of Transformers having sex.

Step 7: Pay the extra fees associated with cable cars across the gorge and nature walks to the foot of the falls. Like the first prearranged stop, these are all on a timer, so you'd better hurry! No lollygagging around the pools too long, so don't even think about bringing a picnic. The cable cars are exciting, but don't waste your time trying to get the perfect picture from above the falls, becuase you'll be moving much too fast. Just flip your camera into automatic mode, hold down the shutter button, and spray and pray! You might get one good one out of the batch. Maybe.

Step 8: Omit "altitude factor" from your quick self-assessment of personal fitness. Race all of the elderly people uphill from the pools to the bus. Feel embarrassingly accomplished when you arrive first, and out of breath, while others in your group are still far below, suffering mild cardiac arrest.

Step 9: If you booked an afternoon tour, it's likely sundown by now. To complement the thump of the heavy electro-house, you discover that the aforementioned director of marketing for Chiva Bus Tours, Inc., has installed strips of sequenced LEDs inside the cab of the bus that pulse and flicker with the music. Everyone else on the road--and all the critters in the valley, too--can see the brilliant strobes coloring the dark landscape to the sound of a steady bass drum beat.

Step 10: Arrive back in Baños slightly deaf. Realize that you didn't really just have a nature tour, but more of a cut-and-gut postcard survey. At least you got to see a vague outline of what appears to be (to the faithful and/or superstitious) the Virgin Mary in an actual rock face, and not a slice of toast.

Step 11: Don't wonder what else $5 and some change could have bought you.