Banos and around

Trip Start Sep 02, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  , Tungurahua,
Friday, September 25, 2009

So on Sunday, after the alarm going off about 14 hours earlier, we arrived in Banos. For those who havenīt heard of Banos (I certainly hadnīt until a few weeks ago), it is a town in the Andes about 3 hours south of Quito. It is in a valley about 1000metres lower than other local towns, sitting at around 1,800m. All of this makes for hugely impressive views out of a bus window as we first rose up into the mountains before riding down into Banos and residing between hills and waterfalls. The other notable thing is the active Volcano rumbling above in the sky. It last properly kicked off in 2006, so fingers crossed.

After settling into our perfectly pleasant hostel on Sunday evening, Alex and myself went along on Monday morning to what can only be described as having the appearance of a torture chamber. In our swim-wear we entered the "stocks" with just our heads visible. Inside, our trapped bodies were heated up in the eucalyptus flavoured furnace. Just before passing out we were pulled out and wiped with cold damp towels. This carry-on continues a couple of times before Alex was told to sit in a cold bath whilst I got taken to another room with my own bath. You can imagine my fears when I heard screams from the original torture chamber that Alex was still in (obviously concerned for my girlfriend (but also, what the hell was coming my way)). As it turned out the torture chief came and lugged yet further cold water on me whilst I was told to rub my tummy clockwise (good for the bowels apparently)
. I was then reunited with Alex in the furnace before a bucket of cold water was chucked over our heads and then one last furnace before the fire-hose was pulled out to finish us off. Somehow we survived and thought this was a marvelous experience. The afternoon was taken up by us setting off on a river walk but seeing little of the river for most of the time. It got a lot better when we went off the beaten track later on, and actually saw a bit of the river.

The following day involved Alex and myself embarking on a 1000m climb. The first bit involved a 654 step staircase to a statue of the Virgin Mary. The plans for the day seemed a bit silly after 350 steps when I thought I was going to have a heart attack and the rain mist was drifting across us. Somehow we made it to the top of this first section before catching back my breath and composure and embarking on much more pleasant paths as the views got better and better and the skies cleared. To our surprise we came across a high class hotel complex on top of the hill. We went into get some hydration, but walked out having had various coffees, an incredible chocolate mousse and ice cream. Our ongoing progress to our goal was slower after this. We eventually reached our destination of the small settlement of Runtin with the Volcano lurking above us. Runtin, like everywhere we have seen in South America that has any signs of civilization, had it's mandatory Catholic Church and Football court. Our descent was easier with just the occasional slide and hold up with cute kids posing for photos with dogs- slightly surreal.  After this we thoroughly deserved our visit to the thermal baths-Roman baths essentially, which were jam packed with the locals and their kids. They open at 6 in the evening and it seems to be their equivalent of popping to the pub after work for a quick pint.

Next day the adrenaline sport started with a half day rafting. It was good value with the local comedian acting as our guide. He took particular joy in winding up Lucy and Alex. In addition the rapids were good fun too. Afterwards however we got taken to a proper dodgy restaurant and undoubtedly had our worst meal yet. Some people appeared to be served pig skin, which I luckily avoided. The evening saw us head to "zones de bares" and ended up in a place called Jack Rock. It played decent English rock music, had Stones, Led Zep and Clash posters on the wall, and had a decent pool table, it almost felt like home. An additional bonus was we successfully hustled the owner's son from the pool table before Alex played a local who seemed to play by completely inexplicable rules. I thought when the black went down that the game was over, but evidently not. We even got to a stage when there were no balls left on the table, not even the white, but the chap still thought the game was still on. Thankfully Alex had had enough and that was that.

Anyway, after our successful day rafting we were looking forward to our next adventure- Canyoning. Canyoning is apparently abseiling down waterfalls. Sounds great doesn't it? The problem was our guide didn't speak any English except constantly saying "no problem". In addition safety checks were not considered as important as other places I have been. After a couple of small drops we headed towards the 50 meter drop. Now, only 2 out of the 4 of us did this. Chief went first and was then followed by me. My facial expressions, apparently along the lines of "It is too late for me, but you can still save yourself", ensured no one else went down. A few things made this a scary experience. 1. To get to the ledge to go down was very slippy and we could not work out where the hell the safety rope was "No Problem, No Problem" 2. Once you got to the ledge it was a bloody long drop- again, "No Problem, No Problem". 3. We thought we were going to abseil, but there was nowhere to put your feet so... 4. Having gone over the edge we were essentially dangling 45meters above the valley floor by a piece of string (others may say rope, but let’s not be pedantic).

After surviving all this we went back to the posh complex we had found a few days earlier, except this time for dinner via a taxi. We treated ourselves and had the first properly good meal that we have had for a while with fine wine and great views. If you have just won the lottery look up Luna Runtin on google and treat yourself and the other half to a proper delight up in the Mountains.  After a lovely evening we headed back down to the real world of packing before our 0730 bus to Cuenca tomorrow morning. It is supposed to be Ecuador s nicest city and as we have been quite shielded so far, it should be quite interesting. Overall it has been a lovely stay in Banos and I would definitely recommend it, including the Santa Cruz hostel, the Baths, the walks and the rafting. Canyoning I think I may enjoy more somewhere else.
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