Saturday, March 19
We heard heavy rain on our roof at 4:30 am, and hoped that would not foretell a rainy day. We finally got up some time after 8 am and went down for breakfast. We were sitting on the outdoor patio by the street, and just as we finished eating, a man came in from the street and showed us a collection of paintings on sheep-skin. We had seen these brightly-coloured depictions of indigenous themes before, but this seemed like the right place to buy one. The man was very pleased when Paul said “thank you” to him in Kichwa, the language of most of Ecuador’s indigenous people. Then we decided to head out for a walk. By now the rain had lessened to a drizzle, so we hoped we wouldn’t get too wet.
“The Blue House”, where we stayed
Our original plan was to walk up to the Bellavista viewpoint and then along a trail which would lead us to the statue of the Virgin which was above the end of Baños. But when we looked up the hill we decided to forego our plan and just look around town. We headed west on Juan Montalvo street and saw the sign for the trail up to Mirador del Virgen, so we decided to at least do that part. The trail consisted of 654 concrete steps (or so we were told) complete with concrete railings, which climbed steeply up a ridge. Along the way were five relief pictures of Jesus showing the various trials he went through, such as the crown of thorns.
Chickens at the start of the Mirador trail
The steps of the Mirador trail
Abutilon flower (?)
The climb was very steep and Rosemary’s blood pressure was off-kilter, so it took us quite a while to finally get to the statue. This route was popular with the locals as well or at least with Ecuadorian tourists, and they seemed to have difficulty with the climb as well. By now the clouds were down and the drizzle had turned back into rain, but we carried on. At the top was a statue of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus and a lot of graffiti.
When we were halfway back down the clouds cleared and we got some good views over Baños. At the bottom of the path we went to look at the town cemetery, which was nearby. This was very similar to others which we had seen elsewhere, with family mausoleums where there were often ornate displays dedicated to the deceased person. One feature we hadn’t seen before was a large mausoleum dedicated to members of the union of “choferes” (which we thought probably meant taxi drivers). While wandering through there we saw what looked like a very large rat scamper away, but it turned out to be an opossum.
By now it was close to lunch time so we found a bakery and bought chocolate-filled buns and sodas, then continued our meandering. We were on our way to the bus station to research out departure times for tomorrow morning. Along the way we walked past a shop selling products made from tagua nuts. We went in and the owner demonstrated the carving of the items by making a button on his little lathe. The shop had necklaces, bracelets, and small sculptures of birds and animals. We bought a necklace and a small statue of a parrot. There were a lot more shops, but most of them seemed to have only mass-produced souvenirs. At the bus station we found there were four bus companies going to Quito with service about every half-hour, which was all we needed to know.
The rain was still coming down, so we went back past the hot springs, the Baños del Virgen, before heading back to our hostel to rest and dry off. Later we went to a nearby shop that we had walked by yesterday. It carried all kinds of hand-woven tapestries, most of which were on Ecuadorian, or at least Latin American, themes. We looked at numerous tapestries of various sizes, and eventually settled on one each. The prices were so good that we didn’t even think to barter. And on our way out the owner enticed us to buy an alpaca shawl for only ten dollars.
Fruit and vegetable market
We returned to our room to put away our purchases, and then since it had stopped raining, we walked over to the Rio Pastaza to look at the waterfalls. While we there we also watched people doing bridge-swinging, which is like bungee-jumping except that you swing to and fro instead of just plunging straight down. Under the new high-level bridge was the old pedestrian bridge, so we walked down to look at it more closely. Upon closer inspection we could see that the suspension of the bridge was in good shape, but some of the boards in the bridge deck had holes in them or were just missing.
We stood there discussing whether we should go across, and next to us an Ecuadorian family was obviously having the same discussion. At this point another man walked across without plunging to his death, so Rosemary followed him across. Next Matthew started out, and the mother from the Ecuadorian family jumped up and grabbed on to his arm for safety. Her husband had already crossed and was standing on the other side laughing, she was laughing, and her daughters were also laughing hilariously at her holding onto this tall stranger for moral support.
Old suspension bridge
From the far side there was supposedly a trail which led to a view of more waterfalls. Matthew and Paul followed it down to the river where, if you walked across some slippery-looking rocks which sloped towards the rushing water, you might possibly have seen a glimpse of another waterfall. So we climbed the hill back up to the new bridge and crossed back to the town.
By now we could see a bit of snow on the slopes of Tungurahua, so we headed west hoping for the clouds to rise some more. We were rewarded with a better view – we even convinced ourselves that we could make out the top of the volcano – and got several photos. Matthew took several photos of the signs warning us that we were in a volcano threat area and the road markings telling you which way to go in case of an eruption.
On the way back we checked out several restaurants, but eventually decided to eat at our hostel. It was called “Hostel del Arte” and our dinners were an example of the culinary arts – well presented and very tasty. After dinner we walked back to our volcano viewing spot, hoping that the clouds had blown away and the full moon was illuminating the snow on the summit, but no such luck.