Something in the water? Baños, Ecuador

September 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm 2 comments

We didn’t really go straight from Cusco to Baños. First we spent a little time lying by a pool in scorching Mancora in Northern Peru with our three new friends – two of which, Darragh and Elaine from Dublin, we had stolen from Mark and one of which, Will from Ascot, had stumbled into our gang by mistake thinking for all the world that he was going straight to Columbia. We told him that he wasn’t. We reckoned we deserved a bit of down time after Colca Canyon and the Lares Trek although what really happened in/on that bar in Loki after a few too many rum squishies is a story for an entirely different blog.

What would fit in this blog was our next (very brief) stop at Cuenca in southern Ecuador. Cuenca was the town that gave us the first indication of just how great Ecuador was going to be. There we learned just how friendly Ecuadorians are, how fun it was to walk all day amongst tiny mafia Don lookalikes, and just how lovely low key colonial buildings could be. And get this, in Ecuador there is no gringo price – just the same reasonable charge everyone else is paying with a big old welcoming smile. Yep, Ecuador was going to be good.

The move from Cuenca to Baños was as good an example as any of how diverse this tiny country is. In a matter of hours we traded flat colonial splendour for a small, hotch-potch town plonked above the Amazon and surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. On a Sunday afternoon it was thronged with people. Women roasted guinea pigs on spits in streetside restaurants, kids clutched onto the strings of their Spiderman balloons, men in sweetshops expertly pulled taffy before a captive audience – hanging it off a wooden peg on the wall, stretching it and then casually looping it back on itself, a big sugary lasoo.

Baños had more to offer than just a seaside town atmosphere though. The list of adventure sports on offer was as long as your arm – ziplining, white water rafting, quad biking, canoeing, hiking and rock climbing to name but a few. We decided on one of the less adrenaline charged (and less expensive options), cycling. It was all downhill we were assured by the rental company. An easy cycle down into the depths of the dense cloud forest past waterfalls and across rivers and through some of the most beautiful scenery the area had to offer. It sounded just marvellous.

Now might be a good time to mention that we only hired four bikes. Having twisted his ankle two weeks ago Darragh was still on crutches – living proof that you should never go to a South American hospital unless completely necessary. Instead of an x-ray and a lollipop, the staff had insisted that Darragh stay overnight to rest his ankle, housing him in their most exclusive room, sticking a cast on his leg and furnishing him with a newly bought set of toiletries – all courtesy of his insurance of course. And the gang that removed the cast a week later weren’t a whole lot better, insisting that the antedote to his particular problem was an injection in the bum and some expensive drugs. So Darragh, good sport that he is, was resting his broken slightly twisted ankle in the lovely Plantos y Blanco hostel while we pedalled our way into the Amazon.

Well as it turns out, cloud forest is so called because it is constantly in the clouds, usually drizzly and always humid. Also, we were quickly learning that “all downhill” actually meant mostly uphill.

Never mind, the cycle was every inch as beautiful as we had been promised. The road, cut out of the mountain, was surrounded by thick foliage – short squat palm trees and Amazonian giants – and ran alongside a river that sometimes murmered far below us and sometimes thundered only feet away.

There were plenty of stops for our tired/unfit legs too. Every few kilometers we would come to a huge majestic valley where we would dismount and pay $1 to ride a cable car down to the valley floor and to the base of a huge waterfall. The best was Pailon Falls where we were able to climb in behind the roaring beast or face it head on on the splash deck. The further we cycled the less tourists we saw and the thicker the forest became. After one blessed twenty minute downhill spiral we found ourselves pedalling past a tiny clapboard village and into a huge open valley. Awestruck, it finally hit us. We really were in the Amazon. Unfortunately that was about as far as our legs would take us so after 40km and with 20km left before our intended end point, Puyo, we finally gave up and hailed a bus back to Baños.

The next morning we discovered another of Baños’s famous assets – the hot springs. The natural springs are the origin of the town’s name and the best hangover activity ever. In fact they were so good that we had to do them twice in one day. From our favourite spot in the hot pool we couldn’t see the town at all, just the patchwork mountains that surrounded us and the waterfall that crashed down only metres away, feeding the freezing showers and cold pool. If only we could ignore the octogenarians making out in the corner and the large man in the speedos who was inadvertently exposing himself it would have been almost romantic. There must be something in the water…

There are more pictures from Baños available in the gallery

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Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , .

The road to ruins. Lares to Machu Picchu, Peru Wonderful, forgetable Quito. Ecuador

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Karen  |  September 17, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Glad you enjoyed Cuenca and Banos. We live in Cuenca now and your blog was pulled up on my Google alerts, I will now be able to enjoy your trip as well!
    Continued good luck!

    Reply
    • 2. yearlongbreakup  |  September 19, 2010 at 1:44 am

      Hi. Thank you for your comment. We’re really glad that you are enjoying the blog. There will be a post about Quito coming soon so stay tuned! Gary

      Reply

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