Monday, January 24, 2011

Today Is All About Livin'

Kids consume the world around them like it’s a hotdog-eating contest. When you see parents looking frantic, it’s often not from a list of things to do or appointments to keep; it’s from running out of "hotdogs" and desperately trying to think of where to get more before the choruses of “Mom, mom, mom, mom…Mom, mom, mom...Daaad?...where’s mom...I’m bored!” result in the terrible and untimely deaths of our precious children.

So what did we think when we thought it would be great to spend more time with the kids, that hotdogs would rain from the sky? It has been great to spend more time with the kids; don’t get me wrong. But it continues to be a great deal of mental work to keep them busy and engaged. We are some of those white people you’ve heard about who don’t have TV at home, and while we’re sure the kids would still stare at a television no matter what language comes out, we haven’t yet turned the TV on. So after exasperated expressions of “Enough of this walking business!” (Piper), yawns at museums and cathedrals, and several occasions of nonviolent protest (body slackened, refusing to go anywhere), we have got to find more hotdogs!

Every (living) parent has their own reserve stash of hotdogs when all else fails. One of our best is swimming. The offer is never declined, eyes never roll, the kids know the preparation drill and perform it like it’s an air raid. And so to discover that the only pools in Cuenca are athletic pools (not for playing) is to discover, when you pull the cord, that you strapped on your backpack instead of your parachute.

After asking around like begging for alms, “Do you know of any swimming pools?” we finally decided it was time to visit the suburb of Cuenca called Baños (not to be confused with a more famous resort town of the same name). It hadn’t occurred to us, since it is an area of natural thermal springs and so presumably more therapeutic resort than playground. And it’s also on the edge of Cuenca.

But we forget that recreational hot springs exist everywhere. Glenwood Springs, just down the road from Vail, is a famous one, and it’s just a frothing vat of ebullient, sloshing humanity. And we have still been getting used to the scale of the city. Despite knowing rationally how small Cuenca is, Baños is just off the map, giving us the sense that it’s...well, off the map. But it is still just a 30-minute, 50-cent bus ride.

Showers -- not actual volcanoes

So we took the plunge, and the first of the many pools we came to was the one most highly recommended for quality. At $30 for the family, Piedre de Agua is a pretty pricey hotdog, particularly for Ecuador. But every parent knows those times when you’re willing to simply hand over your wallet and say take what you need, just give us hotdogs.

After discovering this place, we now know where Mommy and Daddy are coming for a date afternoon, and upon further walking around Baños we discovered the places better for the kids (no need to buy a fancy kielbasa for a hotdog aficionado) at $8 or less for the whole family.

Besides wet play for the kids, the water in Baños is milky white from dissolved minerals, and soothing for grown-ups. And Piedre de Agua is an exception to a general sense of deterioration or half-finished state of much of Ecuador, which itself provides some mental comfort.

After a relaxing Sunday afternoon being softened into jelly by hot mineral water, no one was much use for cooking. The downside of taking starving kids out to eat here, however (the hotdogs are only metaphorical, after all), is that they have not much taken to the food yet. We were fortunate enough, though, to chance upon a pizza place that had good pizza and a little play place for the kids (this combination is indeed rare and a very lucky find). The pizza deal also included apple soda, another luxury we typically deny our poor children.

Sitting back in her chair, chewing on a slice, looking at the pizza in one hand and apple soda in the other, and presumably reliving the day at the pool in her mind, Piper says to no one in particular, “Yeah, this is livin’ baby!”

The restaurant

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