Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, August 5, 2006

After previously having to change buses at Ambato on the way to Baņos, we were on our way for a while before the bus stopped again, this time in a huge traffic jam. After a while of waiting, it was clear that we weren't going anywhere, so we took turns to jump off the bus and investigate. There was a huge stream of mud pouring off the mountain nearby, and the police had blocked traffic off at the bridge. We wondered if it was from the volcano Tungurahua, right next to Baņos, that had recently become very active.

It was quite exciting, but also boring at the same time and after a couple of hours the road was opened again and we continued on to Baņos, all this time wondering if the volcano was again erupting as it had a few weeks before. We had a couple of more stops along the road before we finally got going. Upon arrival in Baņos, we were impressed by the surrounds - a small town in a little valley surrounded by beautiful green mountains. We walked into town to find our accommodation for the night and we settled on the second place we found. We were actually quite impressed, it was a nice place and the owners were really friendly (and Jason wasnīt too scared about our choice this time!).

After settling in we had a walk around the town. We noticed that there were little yellow arrows all over the streets, which we assumed were to show the cars what direction to drive on the road, none of which the cars were following leaving us totally confused. We went to the local waterfall and had a peek at the hot baths, but in reality there wasnīt all that much to do in the town itself (other than relax!). But of course the boys were having none of that and decided to visit some of the local tour agencies to see what they could get up to in the area.

We met a pretty strange bloke at one of the tour agencies. He went on and on about his tours of the area, but when we questioned the safety of going up the volcano due to the current activity and he told us not to worry because he was a volcanologist "in fact the whole town are volcanologists" Christie was ready to make tracks. But before we could leave, Glenn wanted to ask about his jungle trip, and yes, we were there for another hour, which included some strange conversations about shamans and Glenn getting to blow a replica poison dart into a painting in the office (Glenn loved that part, and Jason was spewing that he didnīt get to have a go). To Christieīs relief we didn't end up booking any activities through this guy.

For a nice end to the evening the boys treated us to a dinner that would rival the oily empanadas they had for breakfast in Latacunga this morning, including hot chips served in sealed plastic bags mmmmmmmm.... gotta love Latin American cuisine.

To work off the food from the day before we decided the next morning that we would do a trek up one of the mountains nearby. After a stop at a local bakery and the fruit market to stock up on supplies we were off up the mountain. Our first stop was at the "Statue of the Virgin", which overlooks the town. From here, we had the option of two paths - up or across. Neither was obvious as to the correct one, and of course the boys decided to go up.

After this we just kept heading up, and up, and up, until the track got so small, so steep and so muddy that we were questioning whether or not we had taken the right path. Jason decided to head up a bit further to see if the trek up was still worth it, and with the fog setting in we decided against it and chose another path further down the mountain. By this stage we were all a little worn out, but we decided to soldier on and attempt to make it to the "Mirador de Volcan" (Volcano Viewpoint).

The second path wasnīt too bad for a while as we weaved through farmland, saying hi to some local farmers (one telling Glenn that he wasnīt a gentleman because he should be carrying Christie up the hill!), and the best part about it was that this path actually had signs! Although, most of these signs were telling us that our destination was only 300 metres away, and we were walking for what seemed like hour after hour following these signs which all said the same thing - just 300m to go! (they must have bought too many of the one sign we thinks). By this stage it was raining, it was cold and foggy, the paths were so muddy, slippery and narrow, and we questioned whether or not it was worth it as the fog was sure to cloud the view of the volcano. At this point Christie told the boys to stop acting like girls - we had come this far and we were going to get to the top of this damn mountain! As she powered uphill the boys were questioning whether or not to just let her walk up on her own (we donīt know where she got her energy from that day!). But the boys powered on too and we finally made it to the viewpoint, all totally stuffed, and not able to see even a metre in front of us due to the fog!

After a bit of a rest, the boys had the most fun that they had all day by running down the muddy tracks on the way back, like skiing down with mud shoes. It was tops!

We eventually made it back into town and it was time for some warm showers and some food. After having trouble deciding where to eat, we finally settled on a place which was way too expensive for Glennīs liking, but we were hungry. In protest, Glenn ordered the cheapest bowl of soup on the menu. Our decision to eat here turned out to be a bad one as Jason would discover later that night.

Although, after dinner we did find the local supermarket after two days of searching for it and we were all wrapped, running through the aisles like little kids at Christmas.

Before heading back to the hotel, the boys booked a white water rafting trip for the next day.

In the wee hours of the morning, Jason was definitely not feeling too good, he got food poisoning from dinner which led to him (using Christieīs words) "redecorating the bathroom". Lucky he has a bro and sis who love him enough to do the clean up, but he wouldnīt be rafting that day.

Glenn took off for the rafting adventure on his own, while Christie stayed back to play nursemaid and catch up on some emails. On the way down to the river, the tour van stopped for an amazing view of the volcano Tungurahua, looking peaceful with its cap covered in snow.

As we approached the rafting point, we had to cross a suspension bridge. Next to this bridge was another bridge in a sad state of repair (many missing planks), and we wondered how safe it was to cross. We opted to get out and walk across the bridge, and were pretty impressed when the car made it safely across.

The rafting trip was a bit of fun, but not too extreme. There were some good rapids at times, with the raft at some very awkward angles, but everyone managed to stay in. Still, we needed the drenching that we all got, as it was quite hot and humid as we approached the region of secondary jungle. We made it back to Baņos by early afternoon.

The following day was Jasonīs last day with us, so even though he still wasnīt feeling one hundred percent Glenn revved him up enough to agree to go out on a boys day of adventure.

We decided to hire mountain bikes and ride them from Baņos to the main waterfall "El Pailón del Diablo" (the Devil's Cauldron), on the road to Puyo. This was not a technical ride, but a great way to get out and enjoy the scenery - and of course to have a bit of fun!

We set off on the "Ruta de las Cascadas", aptly named for the amount of waterfalls you pass on the way down to the village of Rio Verde. The road follows a gorge with mountains on both sides, and it great to stop along the way and see the waterfalls.

The ride was mostly on the road, although there were some interesting dirt detours so we didnīt have to go through tunnels that were pitch black. We even rode straight through a small waterfall at one stage, which was a lot of fun.

At one of the waterfalls across the gorge, the "Manto de la Novia", there was a box on a cable across the river (The best way to describe it). It was driven by a truck engine (the poor operator sucking in the fumes) and we decided to take it across the gorge for a close up view of the falls. They were quite impressive and the car passed right over the top of the falls.

Continuing the ride, we made it to the village of Rio Verde and found the path down to the "Pailón del Diablo". There was a place at the front to leave your bike, and Glenn pulled up, only to watch Jason keep going - only pausing slightly and then riding down stairs that go to the waterfall. A local stall keeper yelled out to him, we think probably saying that it was a walking path!

He returned to the top only to convince Glenn to join him and off we went, riding down the walking path. It was a great path - lots of fun, adding a technical side to the otherwise easy ride, but all the people walking it made it a little more interesting, especially when they jumped out of the way to the sound of screeching brakes!

After getting part of the way down and seeing the rest of the path (and how long we would have to carry our bikes back up), we dumped them behind a little hut and continued to walk down, all the while discussing how much fun it would have been to ride it all the way down!

The path wound its way down through beautiful forest and continued up to a suspension bridge, where we caught our first views of the El Pailón del Diablo waterfall. It was stunning! Such a beautiful waterfall, with the water screaming past us below.

We then walked the path right up to the falls. The sound was thunderous and the power of the falls was intense. The water fell with such force that water spray was thrown into the air way above the height of the falls. We were getting soaked just at the top lookout. The path continues down to just above the water level, where you feel you are almost close enough to touch the waterfall, but get soaking wet from the spray.

After marvelling at the sight (it was a very impressive waterfall) we climbed back up, where we noticed a ladder. There was a guy with a camera who was taking shots for tourists and would climb the ladder to get the right angle. When he wasnīt looking, Glenn climbed up it and got a quick shot! hehehe

We went back to the bridge and soaked up the atmosphere before making the climb back up to bikes (now glad we didnīt ride them all the way down). Dragging the bikes back up the last part of the hill, we looked at each other and decided we werenīt quite ready to go back just yet. Peddling around for a bit, we rode back into Rio Verde town where we had seen a nice looking river (with rapids) flowing past town. We decided it was a good time for a swim! So we checked out where it was deep enough for a decent paddle, but there wasnīt many spots. So instead, we decided to ride the rapids!

Glenn went in first and realised how shallow the rapids were, however they were powerful and after a wild ride, Jason was convinced to brave the freezing waters and have a go! Of course, he had to go a little further and had a wild ride, but made it look easy. So next up, Glenn had to go a bit further (brotherly competition!), but this time was thrown around everywhere, hit many rocks and came out with watch missing and a decent chunk out of his leg, let alone half drowned!

We decided that it was probably a good time to stop, Glenn keeping his leg in the freezing water help to settle the decent bruise that was trying to surface on his leg. Still, it was a hell of an adventure and a great finish to a boys day of adventure (with scars to remember it by)!

We had to get transport back to town, as Jason wasnīt well enough for the uphill ride back. We caught a truck with some other locals after giving up negotiating with the mini buses waiting nearby.

Getting back to tell Christie of our adventures, she wasnīt as impressed as us at the war wounds. (Glennīs pants got ripped to shreds from the ride down the rapids as well).

We thought about taking a trip at night to see the volcano, hoping to see some activity, but by the time night came around we were all too tired.

Jason left us the next morning :( bound for Guayaquil where he would take a flight to Lima to start his tour in Peru. Our time with him was great but so short, we wish that we had him with us for longer.

That day we took it easy, sulking at the departure of our little bro, and went out for what we thought at the time was a treat of a lunch. We went to a cafe run by a crazy dutch woman who told us all about the competition between local businesses, and how there was a glut in tourism in South America due solely to the world cup in Germany (huh?). After reluctantly listening to this for over an hour we decided to leave and see a bit more of the town, including the local church. In the evening Christie was regretting her lunch decision and it was her turn to redecorate the bathroom. She was sick for two days. Glenn put on the nursemaid outfit.

On our last evening in Baņos, we walked over to the San Francisco bridge, which is meant to have the best views in town of the volcano spitting lava (when the weather is clear). Unfortunately we didnīt get to see the volcano that night, but we did find out what those little yellow arrows were for all over town - they are to show the pedestrian escape route if the volcano erupts!

As a side note to this entry, the volcano near Baņos (Tungurahua) erupted again only one week after we had left the town. Here is a link to the news story
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