A Drive through the Andes

Friday, March 18

Today was another travel day, so we woke at 7 am, packed up, then went down to breakfast. Our bowl of fruit this morning was delicious pineapple, very white in colour compared to what we get at home, and incredibly sweet. This was followed by scrambled eggs, a croissant, and passion fruit juice.

We didn’t have long to wait for our driver, Miguel. Our route north went along the Pan-American highway which would take us back to Canada if there weren’t a gap in Panama. Miguel’s English was very good, as he had lived in New York for a number of years. His family is still there, but they are planning to move back to Ecuador soon. Compared to yesterday’s driver, Miguel was very cautious.

The scenery was interesting and varied as we went through agricultural areas, over mountains, and down into valleys. We saw people doing laundry, making concrete statues, working in the fields, and doing all kinds of things. We were almost never out of sight of human habitations, except when we passed through a desert area around Palmira. Cattle were often tethered at the roadside, nibbling away at whatever they could find, and sometimes people had pigs tethered there too. And the agricultural fields extended right to the tops of the mountains beside the road, even though there didn’t appear to be road access to them. We stopped once to buy juice and water, then later for a bathroom break. After a while the volcano Chimborazo came into view; the top was in cloud but we could see snow on the sides, and we stopped to photograph it.

Chimborazo

Andean agriculture

The original plan was that Miguel would drive us to Ambato, and that we would take a bus from there to Baños, our destination for the day. But he was surprised that we wanted to go to Ambato, when Riobamba was closer and also had buses going to Baños. But that hadn’t been our idea; the people who had arranged the trip for us had told us we should go to Ambato and we had taken their advice. So we opted for Riobamba instead. This meant that we had to negotiate our way through the town, looking for the “Terminal Oriental” from which the Baños buses departed. After asking four or five different people at the side of the road we finally arrived there. Miguel found out which was the correct bus, pointed out where to buy tickets ($2 each), and then waited until we were safely on board.

After about 10 minutes the bus left, so our timing was great. The bus ride to Baños took about an hour and three quarters, winding its way through fertile farming areas. Baños is at a much lower elevation than the towns on the Pan-American, so we descended a long way, passing the Tungurahua volcano shortly before arriving there. It was a bit cloudy and we couldn’t see the volcano at all. At the Baños bus terminal we collected our bags then walked across the town for about ten minutes to our hostel, Posada del Arte. The town is quite small so the place was easy to find.

Waterfall at the hot springs

Upon arrival we were shown to our room, Roja 2, which was on the second floor of the “Blue House”. This was to be our home for the next two nights. We unpacked a bit, had showers, and relaxed for a while. We could have gone to the adjacent spa to have a massage ($25 for 60 minutes), according to a brochure in our room, but we didn’t.

Cane sugar vendor

After we were all refreshed, we headed out to explore the town. Not far from our hostel was one of the town’s hot baths. We walked over there and had a look at the waterfall which comes down the cliff behind them. Continuing our walk, we went by a whole row of stalls selling sugar cane, either in the form of squeezed juice or cut slices. You could also buy pre-packaged pieces of the sugar cane. Along another street were several shops making taffy. They stood in their shop doors, pulling and stretching long ropes of the taffy and then looping it over a hook and starting the process all over. Presumably they pull and stretch it to the desired consistency and then roll it and cut it into pieces.

Baños church

We made our way to the central square, where there was the basilica and a small park. On one side of the park were numerous stalls selling mass-produced souvenirs and blow-up animals. None of that appealed to us, so we walked a bit farther along to the city hall with its clock tower, then headed back for dinner.

We had decided to eat at our hostel tonight and maybe go somewhere else tomorrow. As we sat down, the young girl who was our waitress told us that our meal might be a bit late, as there was a tour group just being served. It looked like there was about eight people in the group but we didn’t mind waiting, so we sat down. We ordered empanadas for a starter, stuffed with spinach and mushrooms. This didn’t take too long to arrive but our main meal took longer. All of our meals were very tasty so the wait was fine.

After we were done we put the bill onto the room tab and headed upstairs to our room. Within minutes it started to rain, at first only a bit but before long it was pouring down onto the metal roof over our heads. We finally went to bed at 10 pm with the rain lulling us to sleep.

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