Banos and Rainy Day Reflections

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Thursday, February 24, 2005

I woke up this morning thinking about Toronto. Back home, from the moment my eyes see the first light of day, the subconscious questions begin. Is there enough low-fat food in the refrigerator to make my breakfast? Will I get hit by a car on the way to the cafe? What about on the way home? Will one of "America's Most Wanted" somehow sneak through the television screen and do something bad to me while I sleep?

Ellen and I are in the lush green valley town of Baņos, three hours south of Quito. Baņos sits at the base of Tungurahua volcano. Tungurahua has been in a constant state of activity since 1999. If and when it erupts, it's estimated that the inhabitants of Baņos will have five minutes to evacuate. The British foreign embassy recommends that its citizens do not stay in Baņos overnight - a warning that has been in effect since 2000. I can't help but wonder how staying the night or not staying overnight could change an Englishman's circumstance if he only had five minutes to escape a cataclysmic eruption. Doomish thoughts aside you would expect to find a ghost-like town when you get here. Not so. It's just the opposite. Baņos is the most touristed location in all of Ecuador - a virtual third world amusement park.

As if we weren't close enough to the volcano, Ellen and I and our Dutch travel mates Thom and Margaret, all piled into a little truck and traveled up another treacherous road to see the volcano at night. Our guide, Luis, animatedly described the explosions and light show of the volcano. After the tour, I asked Thom if he had heard or seen anything.
"No", he said.
"Thank God, I thought I'd gone deaf and blind" I replied.

Yesterday, we took a chicken bus to a scenic gorge about 15 km from town. While we waited for a return bus a pickup truck, its back filled with standing locals, stopped and asked if we wanted a lift back.
Ellen shook her head, "No".
I said, "You must be kidding. It's just like Guatemala. Come on!"
Before I climbed up onto the truck bed, Ellen was there ahead of me with an excited smile on her face. She had remembered these nutty, fun ways of traveling in Guatemala too. Next thing, we were hurtling back down the mountain side, bugs bouncing off our teeth.

You can't leave Baņos (baths) without a steam bath. This morning Ellen and I sat side by side in tiny wooden boxes, eucalyptus leaves around our feet, only our head exposed. Our bath attendant, Jose, gave us a Spanish lesson. We conjugated verbs as our bodies poached in the steam-filled enclosures. At the end, after an ice cold shower, our skins turned a dimpled strawberry red.

Most of the travelers in Baņos and all of Ecuador for that matter, are European and in their mid-twenties to early thirties. There're lots of Australians and Canadians too. There are almost no Americans. Everyone speaks English, except the French.

Ecuador is a pretty primitive land. One hundred kilometres of travel might take two hours or it might take two days - you can never be sure. You don't ever think about low-fat food. You worry more about falling out of a car than being hit by one. And "America's Most Wanted" live in least that's what Jose and most of the other folks here seem to think.

There was a sign in front of a travel agency in Quito that read:
Last Minute Jungle and Galapagos Tours
We speak English, Spanish and Australian.
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