Monday, April 26, 2010

Banos Ecuador

Currency - US $'s
Bus Quito to Banos - $3.50
Hostel Banos - $8.50 per night

The South bus terminal (Quitombe) in Quito is very nice. The Trolebus drops you right off at the terminal (it is the last stop on the line), you walk over to the building, up the ramp to the 2nd floor where all the tickets are sold. The ticket offices are grouped together so all the companies that sell tickets to Banos are in one area and they all yell out their destinations so it is hard to miss. Unlike Colombia the bus companies in Ecuador post their routes and the times, a much better system. There are tons of companies that go to Banos, a bus leaves pretty much every hour and they are all about the same price so just check and see which one is leaving 1st an buy a ticket. I caught the 4pm bus, but I would recommend catching an earlier one if you can (I couldn't as I had a Spanish lesson that day), the ride takes about 4 hours you don't have to change buses but they do stop alot to pick up people.

The bus routes take you through the avenue of volcanoes, I have never seen anything like it, truly a spectacular sight. I have no pictures as I have found that trying to take pictures from a bus doing 90km around corners rarely turn out so I didn't even try, just sat back and enjoyed the view, Ecuador has a lot of volcanoes. I did miss out on some of the scenery as it gets dark at 6pm, not a problem I got to see it when I left Banos and the night version was pretty nice, volcanoes and stars a pretty good show.

Banos is a very small town nestled in a valley between volcanoes, very pretty and cozy, however one of the volcanoes is very active, Tungurahua Volcano erupted in 1999, 2006 and in 2008. There are signs all over town pointing to evacuation routes should it go again. The signs gave me a giggle and I used one on my facebook profile during my time there, very well done and they are clear and get the point across but kind of funny. After the 1999 eruption the residence of Banos were evacuated and only 1/2 of the them chose to return. From what I could see the town was packed with locals and the smaller villages on the side of the volcano have people living in them so some of them must have changed their minds. Banos is named for the thermal baths that are located there, they are heated by the volcano Tugurahua and the mineral water comes from the river running down it, so not such a bad thing having a live volcano in the hood. In the 4 days that I was there I only got a clear view of it once when I hiked up the mountain across from it, you can see it in the top picture of this post, it is the one in the back behind the town

I had found Hostal Chimenea on and had directions to it so I decided to walk rather than take a cab, it was about a 5 minute walk. The hostel like most in smaller towns in Ecuador is more like a hotel. For $8.50 a night I got my own room with a bathroom and free WIFI. There is a kitchen upstairs that you can use anytime after 11am as it is used as a restaurant and they serve breakfast. The top deck has a great view of the town waterfall La Virgin and I could hear it from in my room. It was a very soothing sound to go to sleep to although I think I made 2 extra bathroom trips during the night because of it.

Banos is a town that is defiantly geared for tourists, tons of shops, markets, and restaurants most of which seem to serve Italian food, pizza, lasagna etc. There are tons of cheap burger and chicken places as well. A local dish in Ecuador is Guinea pig, up until I hit Banos I had not seen any but right by the artisan market just up from the church there are 2 food stalls that serve it. Not something I would ever try, I don't like my food looking at me while I eat it, I can't even do fish if it still has the head on it but I was curious about the preparation. It seems there is very little, take the fur off an roast they look like crispy bald guinea pigs. Feel free to use the pictures to traumatize your children into taking care of their pet guinea pig. Some of the backpackers were giving it a go, much braver folks than I. They also make a kind of toffee there called melcochas, it is made of sugar cane and they pull it off of the door stops of their shops. There is a wooden hook kind of like a coat hook that they wrap it on and pull. I did buy some but haven't tried it yet if I open the package I don't think it will last and there is a lot of it, so guess what everyone I go camping with this summer is going to get to try until it is all gone? No not the guinea pig, the toffee.

I did indulge in the local thermal baths, for about $2.00 (I forgot how much it was but it wasn't over 2) you can soak in any or all of the 3 baths that very in temperature from luke warm to really hot. I gave them all a go and liked the medium one best, it was a cloudy rainy day when I went so a good time to just soak, if I was going to get wet anyway I was going to be warm doing it.

I also went for a couple of hikes, 1 up the mountain across from town and 1 up the ravine leading up to the volcano, both were free. At the start of the trail to the volcano there is a monument made of lava rock. I also hiked up to La Virgen Mirador, after the ravine, there was a trail that said it was 20 minutes up, you can also take the million stairs route up. I was disappointed, all that effort and all that was up there was a statue, if you are really ambitious you can continue hiking another 2.5km to La Virgin waterfall. I wasn't, I had already done about 8km that day. I rented a bicycle one day as well $5,00 for the day and you get a map of the area, lock, air pump and helmet. There is a bike ride you can do that will take you around to all of the waterfalls in the area. The entire route is 60km but I did the 20km one. Most of the route is down hill and the scenery is beautiful, I saw 5 waterfalls. There is some car, truck, bus traffic on the roads and there are tunnels, you only have to go through 1 of them the rest have bike paths to the right of them that you use instead. In most cases if you want to get close up the the falls you will need to do a little hiking, there is also the option at a couple of them of doing the bucket across the ravine, okay not really a bucket more of baskets. As far as I know no one bikes back to Banos, Once you have had enough you find a bus stop on the other side of the road and take the bus back, they put the bike on the roof. I got picked up by a tourist bus, it was going by saw me and stopped, they put my bike on the roof and off we went back to Banos at a cost of $2.00. A lovely trip with a bunch of Ecuadorian tourists who thought it was pretty funny that anyone would want to bike when there is a perfectly good bus to take. Gringo's we are a stupid bunch.

I paid a visit to the local church, Basilica de Nuestra SeƱora de Agua Santa it is right by the hotel I stayed at and has a museum attached. They have some weird pictures there, disasters, car wrecks, horse and buggy accidents etc. All of the people in the events were saved (miracles) by The Virgin of the water, all of the pictures have the story printed under them. From what I could figure out they think the Virgin Mary is the guardian of the waterfall and the town.

I did make it out to a couple of bars while I was there, 1 in particular was different, it is called the Leprechaun, 2 floors and an open air back yard that they have 2 bars and a bonfire in. Very nice slurping girlie blender drinks in front of a fire. If you are there you can't miss it, most of the bars are on 1 street and there is road signage on the street with a little cocktail glass and an arrow pointing the way.

On the way down from my hike down from La Virgin statue I got a view of the town cemetery and I noticed that it looked like a little town. There were streets and the crypts all looked like buildings, there was the nice ones and then there was the apartment building ghetto section. I have never seen a cemetery like it, not that I hang out in them much except on full moons when a sacrifice needs to be made :-)

I met some more nice folks while I was here, a couple of Brit's and a few Germans, one of which owns a hostel in a beach town on the Pacific Coast, I think he is in Manglaralto, Peter if you see this feel free to post info in the comments section. He and his friend Alvin were pretty darned amusing, German humor :-)

At the bus depot on my way out of town I was asked to do a survey on my time in Banos, what I liked, how was my hotel, the people etc.. I totally enjoyed my time in Banos, the people were great, even the tourist agency folks they told me the cheapest and best way to see the sites. They have rafting, bungy etc as well which I passed on but the bike trip was because of the tourist guy, he said not to take the bus tour and bike it instead it was a better trip. One of the cheaper stops I have made on this trip. My one comment to the guy doing the survey was not to sell out to the tourists, I don't think he understood what I meant and my Spanish is not good enough that I could explain it. The town is already pretty touristy, I don't think they need to do anything more to cater to us. Nothing will wreck a perfectly good place like a bunch of tourists.

I have been writing a little more descriptions lately in my blogs as well as putting links to more info. My Aunt and Uncle who are the nicest people I know are printing these off for my Grandfather to read so he does not have access to the links for more info. He is 95 years old and legally blind so it takes him a long time to read these. In the 1930's he rode the rails during the depression and I grew up listening to his stories. Just before I left Panama for Colombia his wife died (my Step Grandmother), they had been together for over 30 years. Rest in peace Roseanne. I hope these stories of my adventures are keeping you entertained Pops, I am not 1/2 as good at story telling as you are. Love You!

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