Published: June 9th 2012June 9th 2012 Day 235 Saturday 2nd June
Just hanging in Banos
This is a nice hostal with a great shower with plenty of hot water and we wished we had not booked the other one, but they have our bags so we need to go back. After breakfast we went back to the room to get ready and at 9.30am as we were packing we heard a woman saying “No, no, no”. We had earlier seen a woman in the hostel having an argument with her young child and just assumed that once again she was fighting with him, but the “no, no, no” persisted and got louder. By the time we realised the yelling was coming from outside and we made it to the window, we just caught the aftermath of a mugging. From our window we only had a limited view but could see a young American woman we had noticed on our bus yesterday and was staying in our hostel with another woman. She was in the street in tears picking up a smashed mobile phone as people came running out of everywhere wielding clubs and sticks. A siren sounded at the each end of the street, which we guessed was to put
out a warning. Within seconds a huge crowd had gathered out the front of our hostel so we didn’t bother going down so we are unsure what the muggers took or if they caught them. The street we are staying in is so lovely and quiet you couldn’t imagine a mugging happening especially in broad daylight but the Mariscal district is filled with the largest number of dodgy people we have ever seen. Over the next couple of days we would hear those sirens go off several times and it would make you stop and think “another one mugged”. In the old town of Quito there are two policemen on every corner and a few in between, but in the backpacker Mariscal area they tend to just drive around in the traffic or storm through in groups of thirty or more. Spoke to a few locals over the weekend about the crime problem and they suggested that the police were too lazy to do anything about the crime and didn’t care less. One guy told of a classic story of how one night they bought the army in to help with the problem and they marched in, in full army
uniforms complete with machine guns and camouflage. They then proceeded to just mill around the central Foch Plaza with all the other police watching a football game on the big screen. As the local said no crimes are committed in the Foch Plaza but one block back it is like wild kingdom.
It had been a sobering experience seeing the tail end of the mugging and we suddenly felt a bit more vulnerable walking the streets of the Mariscal, but we had to do it so we slung on our bags and checked out of our lovely hostel and walked the three blocks to our dive. It was only 11 by this stage and so we couldn’t book in because our room wasn’t ready and so we left our day packs there and headed down to Foch Plaza to get a coffee. The Juan Valdez coffee shops are a chain coffee shop like “starbucks” and “Gloria Jean” and are throughout South America and unlike those other coffee shops make a really good coffee. We had a coffee and cake and went back to our hotel at 12, to discover our room still wasn’t ready and had to wait another
Foch Plaza at night
30 minutes till it was.
When we finally got into our room we spent the afternoon putting our blog together before hitting the town for a roaring night of partying. There must be well over a hundred bars, clubs and restaurants in the Mariscal area and at night the place is bedlam the traffic comes to a standstill. Tonight was made worse by the fact that Ecuador was playing Argentina in a world cup qualifier, and every single place was televising the game. Nearly every place was packed with revellers and we had trouble finding anywhere till we stumbled into a place called “Rock and Bar” (or something like that). Because they only had one TV and it was in the back we were able to get a table easily, but as the night went on it got more and more packed. Unfortunately there was only one waiter for about a hundred people so as it got more crowded the service got worse. We were soon having to ask for things three times before we got them, especially me (Scott) and one time it took over 30 minutes to get a beer, and my meal arrived just as Shelley
Bye to Cotopaxi
was finishing hers. I started getting a complex that I was invisible and it would stick with me through tomorrow. It wasn’t a bad sort of place, but the owner was at the next table and we both got the distinct feeling that he was doing dodgy deals or night. Saw nothing specific so I guess we shouldn’t throw stones but it was just a gut feeling.
As the night went on the service just got worse so we thought it was time to move on and check out some of the other bars. Hopped around to a few and along the way we ended up at one that had great music blaring out the front but when we got inside discovered that all we could hear was crappy Karaoke. Sat through one girl murdering a song in Spanish while we worked out what we wanted, but when a guy came on that was even worse we knew maybe it was time to go home. Day 236 Sunday 3rd June
If we had known we were arriving back in town a night early we would probably be moving on today but as we had the
View from our balcony
room booked we stayed. Had a bit of a sleep in and surprisingly neither of us had a hangover, but that may have been a result of the slow service at the bar last night. At the time I was annoyed at it but now I was happy as it saved me from a filthy hangover. Had a slow start to the day before heading down to the coffee shop once again and then onto The English Bookstore. This is such a great place to pick up books and Mark the guy who runs it is such a nice guy and is full of great information about Quito and Ecuador. This was to be our fourth and final visit so we ended up chatting to him for nearly 2 hours and walked away with 2 more books to read, could easily have picked up 4 or 5, but didn’t really want to be carrying a full library.
In the afternoon we once again got into our best dancing shoes and headed out. The difference between yesterday and today is incredible, yesterday you couldn’t move because of the number of people around, today there was no one on the streets
View from the rooftop cafe
other than the mandatory dodgy characters on every corner. As you would approach them you could see them sizing you up and checking who else was around and you could almost see the little cogs spinning in their brains working out if they would rob you or not. Thankfully for us the answer must have always came up “no” but just knew they were trying to work it out. We only ever took out a bit of cash with us as it just wasn’t worth the risk. Hardly anything was open and so we found ourselves back at the Irish pub Finn McCools where we settled in for a few farewell beers to Quito. As nothing much looked open we stayed for dinner and discovered my invisibility was still intact when my meal arrived well after Shelley had finished hers. Shelley had also switched to Mojitos, while I stuck to beer and through most of the night I would need to repeat my request for a beer…oh well I guess they were just looking after me.
Met some Americans in the bar who had moved to Quito and once again it was great being able to speak to people
View to the church
about what is good and bad living in this corner of the world. The good apparently is the low tax and cost of services. We were told an average monthly power bill is $6 and water and land tax is the same, sounds good but we certainly will be moving on. I am unsure what time we left the bar but I know we were the last to leave and we picked up some pub T-shirts with the last of our money. On the walk home even the muggers were gone…..thankfully. Day 237 Monday 4th June
Went to bed feeling crook and woke up even worse. Moving on today so having a bender the night before a bus trip isn’t very smart but somehow I managed to get my stuff together. Shelley was feeling fine so we decided to have our small breakfast at the hotel before pushing on. Luckily the bus trip to Banos today is only a short 3 hours so there was no need (or in my case ability) to rush. Booked out of our hotel at 10.15 and hailed a taxi that took about 50 minutes to get us to the Quitombo
Overview of town
bus Terminal south of Quito. The taxi took us a long roundabout way to the terminal and at one point I thought he was driving us to Banos.
We had already done our research and knew which bus company to use and when the bus was going to leave. We had less than ten minutes so we rushed over to the ticket window where a sour faced woman sold us our tickets gave us the wrong change and then walked off. Tip for anyone out there do not use “Banos Transport” as they are crooks. The woman ripped us off $2.50, not a lot of money but it was annoying how she did it. Raced out to the back of the terminal to get our bus, found it, had our bags stowed on board and then the bus driver refused to let us on. The bus driver and the baggage handler had an argument and phone calls were made but in the end we were left on the platform confused as to what was happening. When the bus pulled out without us the destination on the window had been changed from Banos to Amabato which is a town an
The sign in our hostel's cafe
hour this side of Banos. Although this bus should have been going to Banos we just guessed the driver didn’t want to go that far today and so changed it to Ambato. Our baggage handler kept indicating to us not to panic and just wait, but we only had a ticket for a bus that just left. After 15 minutes another bus turned up from a different bus company and when we again made enquiries we were allowed to exchange bus tickets and board, thank God.
We were underway at 11.40 and travelling down the highway through what they call the Valley of the Volcanoes to the town of Banos. The scenery as would be expected with a title like that was spectacular, although the vast majority of the larger mountain peaks were shrouded in cloud. By the time we got to pass Cotopaxi it was completely whited in along with a few of the other large volcanos but the countryside was truly incredible, and I didn’t bother with reading but was happy to watch it pass by our window. Got to Banos around 3 and I was still feeling ill and in fact felt like I was getting worse, which was very unlike me if it was a hangover. Nothing I could do about it but we had to hoist our bags and walk the one kilometre through town to the hotel we wanted. Booked into the Hostal Chimenea without any dramas and the room seems nice and we have plenty of steaming hot water and a room with a balcony overlooking the town’s waterfall, all for $17.
As we got ready to look over the town I started to feel worse and worse till I was soon burning up and running for the toilet. Soon realised what I have is no hangover but a full blown stomach bug and was glad we had made it to the hostel when we did. As the evening went on I just got worse till I just couldn’t leave the bed other than running to the toilet and so Shelley had to head out to get a feed by herself. After being at the Mariscal we were worried about her walking around by herself but Banos seemed a lot nicer and safer, and besides me collapsed on the footpath wouldn’t help her. Luckily Shelley was able to pick up some supplies from a supermarket and bought them back to our room. She was able to make herself a great avocado and ham sandwich and I would have loved to have joined her but as even water was bouncing with me there was no way I was going to try. Day 238 Tuesday 5th June
Woke feeling like I had been hit by a truck, but it was at least a better feeling than when I had gone to bed last night. Shelley thankfully was well and fit as a fiddle so at least whatever had hit me had left her unscathed - this is very lucky because I (Shelley) would not like to be fighting Scott for the toilet. I wasn’t the best but knew I should get a bite to eat and so we headed up to the terrace café for breakfast. As we are only paying $17 a night you cannot expect breakfast to be thrown in, but what was actually great about paying for your breakfast is you could actually choose what you wanted. The café had a great selection and we settled for pancakes and hot chocolate, which although I struggled to eat was really good.
We hung around our room for an hour or more before I had the strength to move and then we headed into town to have a small look about. Banos is a small town nestled at the foot of the very active volcano Tungurahua (throat of fire), which last erupted violently back in 1916-1925 but has persisted with rumblings on and off ever since. Back in December 1999 the town was evacuated but a month later the residents defied the authorities and returned. The volcano has continued to spew out ash and in fact over the last month has dusted some nearby towns. Because I am a complete nerd I have kept a watch on the activity of the South American volcanos during our travels on the Smithsonian Institute website and this one has always had me worried. Because of the high volume of tourists that flood this town and the fact the town has a history of defying the authorities I wanted to make sure we weren’t walking into a dangerous situation. Coming into town yesterday the top of the volcano was shrouded in cloud and from the reports it seems the ash emissions are short bursts and not prolonged outbursts. As much as I would love to see another billowing volcano this one is a little bit too close for comfort as the town of Banos sits right at the foot of the 5016 metre monster. The volcano apart from being an ever present danger is also the reason for the towns founding as it is the location of several large thermal springs, and for the town’s name of Banos which is Spanish for bathroom. Neither of us fancy sitting in a human stew so going to the springs are a very low priority, although they are supposed to be some of the best in the world.
Apart from the beautiful setting and the springs the major reason tourists flock to Banos is for the adrenalin sport activities, such as Bungy jumping, white water rafting, canyoning, etc, etc. The whole town is filled with endless tourist shops selling packages to do these activities, but we won’t be doing any and in fact I was lucky to do a circuit of the town before I had to return to the room. Whatever bug I had caught was nasty and just doesn’t want to leave me, so bungy jumping is definitely off the agenda for me. Couldn’t do much all day other than lay around and read. Late in the afternoon I was feeling marginally better and so headed off to an Italian restaurant in town and got a really horrible pizza. Thankfully I was able to keep it down but was back in bed by 8. Day 239 Wednesday 6th June
I woke up feeling a bit better so we walked down town had a look around before stopping for breakfast at a café. The town is quaint and tidy but not a lot here to keep your attention. We enquired about getting a bus down the valley of the waterfalls that run east from the town. It looks like a spectacular road filled with of course waterfalls but I still wasn’t quite up to a 3 hour trip on a bus so decided to leave it for tomorrow.
Despite feeling better the walk around town had exhausted me so we headed back to the road and to my (and Shelleys) complete surprise I fell asleep for 2 hours. I knew I couldn’t push it and so we spent the afternoon on the roof terrace reading. I probably couldn’t have picked a better place to be sick in as the views from the terrace are sensational and it was a great spot to kick back.
Late in the afternoon I was feeling better again and so we got ready and walked a couple of blocks to an Argentinian restaurant where we got a huge plate of meat for dinner. I probably over did it a bit but I was getting my appetite back and the food was incredibly good. I even had a beer, my first since Sunday so I was finally feeling better. Day 240 Thursday 7th June
Woke to the sound of torrential rain, which is lovely to hear when you are laying in bed but not if you are planning on going out in it. Our plans today was to get a tour down the valley of the waterfalls but we soon realised that would be a wash out. I was feeling a lot better this morning (finally) and so over breakfast we tried to work out exactly what we are doing from today on. We could hang around in Banos and see the things we wanted to while I had been sick but we both felt like we needed to move on. There were some other smaller towns nearby that sort of sounded interesting but we are thinking of pushing onto Riobamba tomorrow and hopefully we will see the Saturday markets.
After breakfast the rain continued and so for the third day in a row we were trapped in our room. Felt really frustrated that I was now feeling better and wanted to get out but was now stuck once again in the hotel. We spent most of the day in the rooftop café reading and short walks in between the rain. On one of our walks we went to Ponche Suizo Café which serves a drink by the same name that is like a cross between a milkshake and a mousse and sort of custardy, it is surprisingly nice.
For dinner we walked around and around before we settled on an Italian restaurant which was better than the one the other night. While sitting there 3 men walked by on stilts dressed as clowns just another random thing I am not sure where they came from or where they were going??