The bathrooms of Ecuador

Banos Travel Blog

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We departed Otavalo for Baños just in time, as we were told in no uncertain terms that national protests were going to start that night, and last time they had blocked the major roads for a few days.

There did not seem to be any buses direct from Otavalo to Baños so we had to go back to Quito to change buses. The bus from Otavalo to Quito was again very quiet, and we took up the back row and watched a dubbed version of Vin Diesel's opus "XXX". There were no subtitles so we got Sam to explain the plot in advance, and then sat back and marveled at how bad-ass Vin Diesel is. It says it all to say that we didn't really care that the movie didn't finish before we arrived in Quito.

We arrived back at the Terminal Carcelen at the north end of Quito and had to taxi to Terminal Quitumbe at the far south to get the service to Baños. We managed to find one that would turn his meter on and took the huge trek across Quito. It took probably about 45-60 minutes but only came to about $10 thanks to the meter. Terminal Quitumbe is really new and almost feels like an airport, but as soon as our bus left the fortress station it was back to the same old routine of picking up and dropping off passengers at random locations on the road, with lots of detours as part of the route. Along the way we got an unbelievable view of Volcan Cotopaxi from my side of the bus. It is HUGE and just dominates the landscape in a way that leaves no wonder why the Incans and pre-Incans considered the big volcanos as gods. The bus to Baños took about 4 hours all up.

We had pre-booked at Hostel Transilvania (their spelling) so we dropped our bags off and did a quick check of our email. To our surprise we had an email from our friend Ruth, who is going to be doing the Inca Trail with us in October, saying she had just 20 minutes earlier got to another hostel in Baños. We walked the couple of blocks down and found her to much mutual rejoice. So far this is the closest I have had to one of those "small world huh" moments, but I hope to top it some time in the next year as we kind of knew she would be somewhat around that area anyway.

Baños is not a big place - it is clearly centred around tourism and otherwise it would be just another town. It sits at the bottom of a very steep valley, with huge mountain sides all around, and a glimpse of the mighty Volcan Tungurahua that is both very tall and very active. For I think a month or so Baños was evacuated in 2003 because a major eruption seemed imminent. It didn't blow but it did have two minor eruptions over the last few years and it often starts letting off smoke. The surrounding geography means there are lots of things to do, like white water rafting, climbing, mountain biking, volcano watching and hot springs.

The hot springs are what gives Baños its name. We went to one just outside of town which seems to be less popular than the one in town so there were only a few locals around. At first glance it almost looks dingy, but it is simple because it is literally concrete pools built around the hot springs rising up from the ground. The hot pools are distinguished from the cold pools by the muddy appearance from the minerals and other ground coming up. This first one had what we thought was a really hot main hot spring pool. We stayed in there a while and then myself, Ryan and Sam ran down to a small frigid-cold river about 25 metres away and dunked ourselves in. Awesome.

The next day we went to the one in town right at the base of a waterfall that comes down the mountain side. This one was really popular, to the point that the second hottest pool was packed with locals and some gringos. The hottest pool was less popular because it is steaming hot - I think I heard it was around 50 degrees Celsius. The locals laughed at us getting in because you get a rude shock as your foot goes in and realise it's scorching. But like a really hot shower you quickly adapt and we got in. I guess the best I can describe it is it was like a sauna but with water instead of steam. None of us could stay in more than about five minutes before getting out to cool down.

Unfortunately I was still getting over travel sickness for most of my time in Baños so I couldn't keep up with what the rest of the group were doing. One day we were scaling the main mountain side that looks down on the town but I couldn't keep going and had to go back. Then the next day we did the famed bike ride from Baños to Puyo but the small uphill parts were too much for my weakened body so again I had to go back early. In retrospect my problem was that I tried to let the travel sickness just get fought off naturally, and my body just wasn't winning. I eventually took some anti-biotics that I had from my travel doctor back home and within about 12 hours I was back to normal "digestive-wise" (read between the lines people), though it took a couple of days of solid eating to get back to normal energy levels.

On our last day in Baños we decided to go check out the local zoo. We walked up there which took maybe 20-30 minutes and paid the cheap entry. I didn't expect much but the zoo turned out to have an impressive array of animals. Notable ones included a tucan, macaws, a jaguar, pumas, lots of different monkeys, Andean bears, some really old Galapagos turtles and capybaras. I had never even heard of capybaras before so that was the animal that shocked me the most. For the uninitiated they are giant rodents, much bigger than any other I have heard of.
Laurrra says:
The new bus station is up in Quito? Wow. I am impressed. I was living in Quito until June of last year and I had no clue when they would be done. I would love to go back and see it!
Posted on: Feb 08, 2010
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photo by: timbo