Baños : getting there is half the fun!

Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

For Carnival weekend, Bill and I escaped the bustle of Quito for Banos, a little town known for its namesake thermal baths, as well as its location at the base of Volcan Tunguahua. Just about every possible aspect of this trip was a memorable experience in and of itself.

Getting there is half the fun...
Our journey began at the central bus terminal in Quito, which was in the spirit of Carnival weekend - cacophonous, congested, crazy! Buses, taxis, and trucks weaved around a maze of roundabouts in slow but non-stop motion. The only thing more consistent than the flow of people from one moving vehicle to another was the blare of horns as each driver jockeyed for position in the Pinwheel Peligroso.

We were relieved to learn that we could catch our bus in the big terminal. This sense of relief quavered a bit when we saw the mass of humanity filling the terminal. There must have been about a hundred different counters, and each company seems to have a barker who yells the destination(s) of their bus at you. Fortunately, our friends Mariam and Andreas had already scoped out the whole thing, so we didnīt have to guess which of the hollering guys represented a reputable, well insured company with excellent maintenance history. : )

After paying a somewhat mysterious 0.20 security fee to walk through a turnstile, we got loaded and had a chance to assess our conveyance. The bus was actually just fine...only about ū full, plush seats that recline, luggage racks above, and windows that you could open. Then, we pulled out of the terminal for our very our tour of the Pinwheel Peligroso, and learned why we had seen so many people moving in and out the moving buses. First of all, the drivers will pick up additional passengers to fill their seats both just outside the terminal as well as at a few stops along the way. Second, vendors jump on and off the bus selling water, soda, ice cream, chips, you name it. Itīs not unlike your favourite airline.

Traffic moved at a crawl out of town, and was also pretty slow once on the highway. Because of the holiday weekend, there were Policia Transito all along the highway (many with traffic control shotguns). At one point, they even had closed the oncoming lanes of traffic to allow outbound traffic all four lanes. We were puzzled by this at first, but then realized that given the winding roads and constant overtaking of slower vehicles, this was probably a brilliant safety precaution to ward off head-on collisions.

We were graced by our first glimpses of some of the local volcanoes along the way...the broad while shoulders of Cotopaxi, the rocky twin Ilinizas, and Tunguahua with its towering plumes of ash.

Another rather surprising sight along the way was a bike race in one of the smaller towns, Saquilisi. It looked to be a criterium. As we passed through the town, we saw many riders (all guys) heading out of town to warm up on a variety of bikes (probably due in part to economic constraints, and in part due to the constraints of cobblestone streets). But there was plenty of spandex! While the guys headed out of town to warm up, several religious processions seemed to simultaneously be heading into town. Each procession consisted of about 20 people following a small litter bearing an ornately dressed baby Jesus. Given how scary criteriums are in general, and the unique challenge cobblestone streets and errant dogs, a few baby Jesuses would probably be useful in the crowd.

We arrived in Ambato without incident, and the adventure continued. Our plan was to spend some time in this town en route to Banos, to take in their famous Fiesta de Floras y Frutas. Upon arrival, we realized that Ambato is BIG and that we probably didnīt have time to FIND the Fiesta, let alone check it out. So we parted ways with our friends and set out to find the bus to Banos. That was an adventure in itself, as no two people could agree on the location of the Banos bus. We decided to go on the advice of a bus driver who said that his city bus would get us to a Banos bus. After a long circuitous tour of the city, we were told to get off at a wide sidewalk on the edge of town. We were a little sceptical, but two teenage boys confirmed that one could indeed catch a bus to Banos there. Sure enough, within about 10 minutes, a bus pulled up with a guy yelling BANOS BANOS BANOS hanging out the door. Yehaw!
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