Dazzling waterfalls and erupting volcano

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October 27th 2013
Published: October 28th 2013
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Our next destination, Baños, was supposed to be one of the most beautiful towns in Ecuador. It is also on the slope of Tungurahua, an active volcano, which currently is having small eruptions several times a day. As we had never visited a volcano we googled for hours on volcano safety, on how the current eruption cycle was progressing and generally on whether or not we would put ourselves in danger by going to Baños. Our hosts in Guayaquil thought we were overreacting, "The volcano has been erupting for 14 years and the town is still there", and as everything we found on the net told the same story we decided to take our chances with the wrath of Tungurahua.

When we got to Baños it was like arriving to another country after our days in Guayaquil.Baños is in a valley at almost 2000 m height between green mountains. The air was cooler than in Guayaquil, but it was not cold, and the weather was mostly sunny. The town was clean, had a few nice parks, helpful people and generally felt much safer than Guayaquil. It was also filled with tourists, both from Ecuador and from the rest of the world, and this meant it has got shops and services covering every need of the traveller. As a small bonus a month long festival of the virgin was ongoing, so there were several small marching bands playing around the city and a lot of fireworks, both starting early morning and continuing until late in the evening.

The next day we set out exploring the volcano. The top of the volcano can't be seen from Baños as there is a smaller hill in between, so we had to climb maybe 700 meters in order to get a view of the top. The path went steeply upwards through lush vegetation, and we didn't see many other people during the climb. After a few hours of following signs sometimes promising longer, sometimes shorter distances to the volcano viewing point we finally arrived only to discover the top was hidden in clouds. We waited for maybe an hour enjoying the sun, but the clouds persisted. Maybe five minutes after we gave up and started to walk down we heard a rumbling; through the vegetation we could see an almost cloudfree volcano with an ashcloud forming above it. I tried to run back to the viewing point for some pictures, the clouds had however reclaimed the top once I arrived there.

Disappointed we continued downward and quite quickly found a nice little restaurant offering lunch. The restaurant had a big lawn with three lamas keeping the grass well trimmed, and a lot of flowers, making it a very idyllic place for the meal. When we sat down we realized the restaurant also offered a great view of the volcano, and now the top was finally cloudfree. So we kept a close watch while emptying our soup bowls, and after maybe 10 minutes Tungurahua rewarded us with a small eruption that we eagerly documented with our cameras. We also got a second eruption during our lunch, but at that point the clouds had already returned, so we only saw part of the show.

After we had descended we decided to try out another of the treats Baños has to offer; thermal baths. There are several baths around the town, so we took our swimming gear and headed for one of them. There were several pools from ice cold to scalding hot, we however missed the more extreme pools that were hidden downstairs and instead found places in a crowded pool with muddy water with a great view of a waterfall coming down the hillside 10 meters from the bath. We hadn't thought of bringing a water bottle with us so after a while we started to feel really hot and thirsty and decided to retire for the night.

The day after our volcano viewing we didn't feel like exercising too much, so we looked up a few nice looking cafés on Tripadvisor, and went to explore the town itself. Our plan turned out to be harder to implement than we thought, the cafés were just too difficult to find. The problem is the nonexistent address system in Baños, all addresses are given as street crossings, and most are outdated, so eventually we gave up and just went to a random café to sit. While walking around looking for coffee we had also noticed that all kind of beauty treatments were really cheap, so Johanna went for a session later in the afternoon. I also went for a beauty session of my own, building my beer stomach at a local microbrewery.

Baños is also know for one of the best bicycle routes in Ecuador. It is a relatively easy route as it mostly goes downhill, and it goes past several beautyful waterfalls. Our hostel rented bikes, so for our last day in town we decided to take a ride. There were a few hills to ascend on the road, but mostly we just rolled through a scenic river valley covered in green vegetation. There were several spots along the road offering different kinds of adrenalin rushes, e.g. ziplining and bungyjumping from a bridge, we weren't that interested so we continued our way towards the biggest waterfalls near the town of Rio Verde. As we got nearer the cloud darkened and it started to rain. When the rain got more intence we decided to stop for lunch and rain cover at a small restaurant we found when entering Rio Verde. We didn't really understand what food they were offering, but as we didn't want to go back into the rain we decided to take a soup and some kind of rice dish. A horrible choise! This was our first really bad food experience on this trip. The soup turned out to be a watery soup with kidney, liver and tripe (i.e. cows stomach), and the rice dish was plain with rice with tripe. We ate what we could stomach, and left the rest. The only bright side of the lunch was that the rain stopped so that we could continue our way towards the waterfalls.

We quickly arrived to the place were we had to leave our bikes in order to see the first of the waterfalls our host had recommended. All the waterfalls we had seen this far were along the slopes of the river valley, this one was along the river so it was also much larger, maybe not in height but definitely in water volume. This also meant we had to climb down to the river before seeing anything. There were balconies built next to the falls meaning you are able to get close to the roaring water mass, an impressive (and wet) sight. After a cup of coffee at a restaurant next to the falls we continued our journey uphills, first walking back to our bikes, then cycing 10 minutes, to the second recommended waterfall. We found a small café selling tickets to go down to view the fall and the "natural jacuzzis", so we bought tickets and started to walk down, first through flowering bushes the owners had planted next to the stairs, later through the jungle like forrest. Eventually we found the "natural jacuzzis", two small pools, without any bubbles, next to the river. The water was also quite cold, so we rested our legs for a while adoring the view along the river before continuing our climb.

As we wanted to get to the waterfall that we had seen earlier we crossed a hanging bridge just above the pools, but the path just disappeared after 20 meters so we quickly turned back. Halfway up we found another hanging bridge and got to the waterfall, and this view alone was worth coming to Baños. The waterfall was dazzling, definitely the most beautyful waterfall I have ever seen. The water was crashing down maybe 50 m ending in a small pool were you could have bathed if the water would have been warmer. With the evening sun shining behind our backs there was a perfect rainbow in the mist created by the falls. The air was full of water, and when I climbed down to the pools it was like standing in a shower coming horisontally at you. Luckily for me I had enough foresight to take of my shirt and empty my pockets before going down for a closer view, but all the clothes I had left on were completely drenched. As the sun was now shining from an almost cloudfree sky this was no problem, I dried quite quickly in the warm sunshine. When we got up to the road again the sun was already quite low, so we biked back to Rio Verde and caught a truck back to Baños.

For family, friends and other fans eagerly awaiting our next blog: Our next destination is Misahualli in the Oriente, and from there we plan to go on a jungle tour, so we will be unreachable for the next few days. So it will probably be at least a week before we will publish anything again. Now the hammock is calling, so over and out from the tropical sun!

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