Monday, March 14, 2011

Carnaval - Baños

It is a tourist town, after all
Two more bus hours up the road from Riobamba is the tourist town of Baños, not to be confused with the Cuenca suburb of the same name. This one is a true tourist town, despite being nestled at the base of the 5,000 meter active volcano, Tungurahua. For those of you who e-mailed in December to ask if the erupting volcano affected us, this was the one (and Cuenca's too far from any volcano to be affected). But if you're not one to get all worked up over the occasional lava flow, that volcanic activity also makes for some soothing thermal waters.

Cascada Cabellera de la Virgen
Dominating short people after 30 years on the bench
Our kids, of course, are as interested in "soothing" as they are in quiet walks in the park and candlelit dinners with Barry White playing in the background. So it worked out pretty well for them, as soothing is not really the Ecuadorian way, particularly on Carnaval weekend, where fun proved to be the Ecuadorian at all costs.

Over it
In Baños on Carnaval, one doesn't leave one's house or hotel in clothes one cares much for. And I am surprised that sunglasses or other eye protection are not worn more by those armed for the fight. Carrying a can of spuma, as with all kinds of weapons, merely invites the attack you are armed to prevent. The kids found far less joy in giant cans of shaving cream with a license to spew than we'd have imagined. "You carry it," shoving the can to us with one hand and wiping foam from the face with the other. Who is surprised that I'm raising natural-born pacifists?
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Chocolate soup
Beyond pictures, there are three highlights of Baños I'll point out. Having been such an ingracious guest and disparaging Ecuadorian cuisine as I have, it is my pleasure to note that this town has perhaps the best concentration of good food in Ecuador. Jardin de Mariane was the highlight, which even got Piper's vote with the heavy influence of what was essentially chocolate soup for dessert.

Jorge's perch at Casa Amarilla
A wholly unexpected highlight was Casa Amarilla, that we discovered partway up a hiking trail. It is such an island in the stream that we wondered how it had even got there. It's an entire guesthouse (though, granted, with only four rooms), with restaurant/bar, jacuzzi, garden, and plenty of space to relax far from the madding crowds. You get there by foot from town, and your luggage either by horse or by sherpa. And Jorge would almost certainly be there to greet you with the same grin you see here, seemingly painted on from the inside. And since he's got a website, I don't need to say more than these pictures here.

The final noteworthy spot was El Pailón del Diablo--the Devil's Cauldron waterfall. It's a 15-minute bus ride and then 20-minute walk down from Baños in the small, though still resorty, town of Rio Verde. And I'll just shut up and show some pictures.
The cauldron

As kids and the words "soothing and relaxing" are only ever found together as a study in contrast, we sent mommy back to Baños early for a $25 one-hour massage at our hotel (just flowers and dinner to go). We met her back at the hotel and stayed in the rest of our last night there, ending up in a long conversation with the Australian owner about how Ecuador so excels at teaching we first-worlders to unwind. Indeed, it is impossible to remain both wound up and sane at the same time in Ecuador.
Di and Pip behind Devil's Cauldron

Humans shown actual size under the rock top right
The next day we were to catch an 8:45 direct bus back to Cuenca. As we dropped our luggage at 8:15, another bus hawker tried to convince us to take his departing immediately, though we'd have to switch in Ambato. They both promised only a 7-hour trip, which we've been here too long to have believed anyway. But we still thought it easiest to take the direct 8:45 bus with no transfer. At 9:15 we had the first signs of having missed an opportunity when our bus didn't pull into its bay at the station, but instead just along the street outside. Sure enough, at Riobamba we were booted off, repaid the Riobamba to Cuenca portion of our fare and sent in to find another bus...which was leaving promptly for Cuenca in two and a half hours.

So, whaddya gonna do? We found a KFC a block away with an inside playground, safe place to keep the luggage, and chicken that's "para chuparse los dedos".

And the whole way back you could see the string unwinding behind us.

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