Monday, June 23th, 2003 – Day 125 to Wednesday, June 25th, 2003 – Day 127

Monday, June 23th, 2003 – Day 125

I felt lazy this morning. Too many early mornings have caught up with me. I was up at 9.30am and I packed to leave town. Ok place, Latcunga, to base yourself to visit the various markets in the region. By the way, the last two night cost me 13 US (normal price was 16 but discount for longer stay). I walked to the bus station and got a one dollar bus to Amato.

Ambato is a nice town to amble around surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges all reachable for hiking and walking. Most hotels & restaurants are close to the center as are one or two parks well covered with fauna, flowers and fountains though traffic congestion is heavy in the center and should be avoided. The main Bus station is 2 km north of the center on Av. Colombia and Paraguay.

I got a .17 US ticket to centro. Monday is market day here. I enjoyed walking around (I put my bag into storage at the station). Not a pretty town but it was very busy with many big markets with clothes and produce. Found another “Witches Market” and a place which sold great cowboy hats for 7 US. No room I am afraid. Stayed until 3.00pm and got a bus back to the main bus station called “Terminal”. I got a bus to Banos (they go every 15 minutes) for .80 US and took 45 minutes. It is a small town and it is only a 2 minute walk from the bus station into town.

Banos is nestled between the Rio Pastaza and the Tungurahua volcano, 8 km from its crater. It is a four hour journey from Quito by bus. Banos is a small town always full of bustling tourists looking for a nice temperate weather, exciting trips and expeditions around the area. There is an abundance of cafes, restaurants and hotels; most of them centrally located. It is an easy place to get around with several attractions and activities such as: hotsprings, trekking, horseback riding, climbing, mountain biking, rafting, etc.

Please note: This town has always been threatened by the Tunguragua volcano so, ask around before visiting this area. It was vary active last week with lots of ash and fire, but none this week… just smoke.

I did very little for the rest of the day. Booked into the Marianne Hostal in the town centre for 4.50US per night with private bath and balcony. I walked around town. A tourist town like San Pedro in Chile. Felt a bit out of place having been off the tourist circuit for a while. Nice to have plenty of NET access and got to save my camera images to disk. It was full to the brim with 1,050 images (only 122 MB with low resolution because I need to post them here!. Anyway called into a few operators to inquire about rafting, paragliding, horse riding. It seems that there are too many operators in town and not enough tourists. Its hard to get the minimum of two people together to do any activity. Spent a few hours on the NET catching up and writing the blog. I never saw so many agents and tour operators selling bike rentals, jungle trips etc. Rained heavy from 10.30pm onwards. Was in bed by 11.30pm. Hope its dry tomorrow.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Banos – Ecuador (23-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it??´s original size

Banos – Ecuador (23-06-2003)

Tuesday, June 24th, 2003 – Day 126

It rained all night long. I had my alarm set at 6.30am but due to the continuing rain and dark skies, stayed in bed until 9.00am. It was nice to be in a small town with little traffic to keep you awake. I had a nice room with a bed bed and nice pillows. I slept well for the first time in a while. Maybe the rain kept people off the streets. In Latacunga, the church bells went off every morning (I was there for four mornings) at 6.30am. I would wake every morning with them. I had decided to take it easy in Banos. Nearly five months on the road and I had not taken any substantial amount of time off (even 2 days) to relax and DO NOTHING. It would be hard as this is a tourist spot with plenty of activities from rafting to paragliding, biking, climbing, treking et. but the heavy rain would help and the weekend was over. I also had about five days of blog and pictures to write and upload not to mention the general website updates.

The baths (as the name suggests) in banos are famous in this country. Thanks to the mighty Volcan Tungurahua, the town of Banos is blessed with several spots where you can soak in hot springs. Las Piscinas de la Virgen at the end of Montvalo in the town (about five minutes walk from my hostel) are the baths closest to the center of town. They contain sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate. Unfortunately, the baths are poorly maintained and not terribly appealing. The El Salado Baths are bigger and a bit more enticing. They are located about a mile outside of town. I took a bus (.20 cent) there and it took about 6 minutes. I brought my towel, shorts, goggles, flipflops and hope. I walked in (they are all outside baths) and paid the “Foreigner” price of US2.00. They were changing rooms, a shower room and a bar. You had to have a shower before trying the different pools. They had three pools of various temperatures. After checking them, I went to the hottest one. There were about 10 people in there. The water was bubbling hot and very brown. Indeed so brown when you got out, you were full of brown streaks. There was also a normal temperature swimming pool (outside). As in all these baths, you jump from the hot bath to the cold pool a few times. I did this and it felt good. There wee no other tourists present. The place must be good as there were people on crutches and wheelchair’s knocking about been helped in and out of the pools. They be must be good. Still, the baths wee not a patch on the RUDAS baths in Budapest which I had the pleasure of visiting two years ago. They were magnificent (but men only). The baths are believed to have been built in the 1550s and rebuilt by Pasha Sokol Mustafa in 1566. The centre of the present Rudas Baths, the Turkish bath, was formed during the Turkish occupation. It has an octagonal pool under a 10m-span dome supported by eight columns and surrounded by a barrel-vaulted corridor. It exists today almost in its original form and is the core of the present baths. What’s more, the baths feel particularly atmospheric when sunlight, filtering through the windows of the domed roof, hits the rising steam of the main pool. See here for more on real baths.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Banos – Ecuador – The El Salado Baths (24-06-2003)

I stayed there for 2 hours and after another shower took a bus back to town. Throughout my visit to the baths, it was raining heavily with no sign of a let up. I had intended to walk/climb to a mountain overlooking the town to get good views but with the rain and heavy mist, decided against it. It was time for some R&R, but more specifically, update this BOG. I had fallen behind and it would take most of the day to update. I also wanted to catch up with world news. I see thousands of miners in Bolivia have spent a second day (today) of protest blocking major roads across the country.

The main highways between La Paz, Oruro, los Yungas, Cochabamba, and Potosi have been cut off. Reports say protestors may also have taken control of the railway system in the south of the country. I want to travel back via La Paz and Potosi in about two weeks. I hope things settle down there soon. One protestor was killed by police.

I also see the Malaysian PM accused Europeans of being very greedy and liking to take forcibly the territories and rights of other people. I didn’t see this speech reported any place except AFP. See more here.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003 – Day 127

Decided to go “canyoning” today. I had enquired at “Cordova Tours” yesterday in the town. A full day (including practice on a climbing wall) was 3o US. Expensive, but I had never tried it before. The relatively new sport of canyoning was largely unknown until the 1990s. Even now, it’s more popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, than in the USA.

What is canyoning?

It’s Adventure Travel with a capital A! In a nutshell, canyoning simply consists of hiking, climbing, or rappelling to the bottom of a river canyon, then following that canyon to a logical exit point, often a spot at which it’s easy to hike back out. Canyoning includes walking, sliding down rock faces, jumping and swimming-descending some of the water falls requires ropes.

I was up at 8.30am to have breakfast. I had already met one of the guys I was going Canoying with – a dentist from Romania. He said an Irish guy was also going. I had breakfast and went to the operators office at 9.15am. We were joined by the Irish guy (living in Seattle) and two Dutch girls. We left in a 4X4 at 9.30am with our two guides and all the gear. We travelled for 20 minutes to get to a “Pratice” climbing wall. It was harder to get up the homemade ladder to the staging point that to abseil down. We were all given a harness and told how to position our bodies when climbing down. The two guides had Englishish so one of te Dutch girls translated. The Romanian, the Irish guy and one of the Dutch girls had abseiled before so I was at a disadvantage. We had two tries each. After that we drove 20 minutes to our staging off point. We changed into wet suits in the open hair. Instead of boots we wore Wellingtons. It was cold and raining.

We were happy to start walking. it took over an hour to get to our main staging off point. As I was wearing no socks, or T-shirt, I felt cold and didnt know what to expect. Basically we started at a point in the jungle and we had to travel down a canon, throught 15 waterfalls (a cascade of 15 on one route). We would not be walking on land until the finish. Immedially we staryted on the ropes. Indeed we repelled or abseiled down 10 of the 15 waterfalls beacuse they were too large. We climbed down or slided down the others. The last three waterfalls were 45, 53 and 65 metres respectivally. These were large and steep made all the more difficult by the thundering water falling on you. it has been raining here for the last 4 days and the rivers are very swollen. Some of the agencies were not taking people up, but the lure of five paying gringos was too much for Cordova.

The first few waterfalls were OK and were good practice. Indeed I grew in confidence with each one but without gloves we all got friction burns on our hands. The two girls were tour leaders (in Costa Rica and had Spanish) were unhappy with the service. Only two guides and they didnt have communication equipment and they cared little for their own safety going close to steep inclines etc. Slip down a waterfall without being haressed in and your finished. We also only used a second safety rope on one descent. In many tours this is manatory. With the noise of the water you can not hear shouts from people and with overhangs you can not see much above or below at times, especially with the water. After each waterfall, I had to empthy my wellingtons of water beacuse they were full. Everyone received cuts and bruises from the day which was very long. We had only one 5 minute break to eat some rice from a bowl. Otherwise, it was go, go, go. The difficult parts were swinging from one part of the waterfall to the other to get a better line. We only finished the last and biggest waterfall at 6.00pm. Indeed such a sight we were, that people from the main road where we finished stopped their cars and buses to look at the crazy gringos. From the top, you could only see small people below looking up. It was certaintly an exciting day but a little too adventereous and dangereous for me. I was happy to reach terra firma. Had friction burns from the Wellingtons as well.

We changed and had hot tea and an apple at the finishing point. We changed and it took us about 20 minutes to get back to town. i met the two lads laster for dinner and a drink. The two girls were going straight to Riobamba tonight. I was in bed by 11.30pm, exhausted from a hard day. It was raining from 10.00pm onwards again. I am sick of this rain.

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Banos – Ecuador – canyoning. This is me coming down one of the easier watefalls. The top part was 3 metres which was fine but then there was an overhang, so you had to become nearly horizontal and then jump, swinging down undernreath the rocka nd letting yourself down aanother 7 metres with water pouring down on top of you the whole time. (25-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Banos – Ecuador – canyoning. Yep, thats me coming down the last waterfall. There were two ropes for two people at a time. There was no additional safety rope. Its all up to you. (25-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Banos – Ecuador – canyoning. Yeah I know, a very attractive bunch. With the wetsuit, harness and wellingtons we were a sight. (25-06-2003)