Quito and Banos
03.05.2010 - 10.05.2010 20 °C
After arriving back in Quito from the Galapagos Islands we decided to spend the our last five days in South America in Ecuador rather than travelling further a field. We were going to head to the coast, or a journey south to Guayaquil, but settled on exploring Quito and a couple of nearby towns.
The next day we went to the Equator which is 20km outside of Quito. Instead of getting on the tour bus at USD26 we decided to take public transport. It was a simple journey, but involved changing buses at the other end of town. When we got off the first bus we were surprised to find a burning rubber smell and the air burnt the back of our throats. We then walked up a few blocks, finding people along the way covering their mouths and noses. As we turned a corner we were confronted by at least 60 motorcycle policemen with tear gas canister launchers. At this point we realised that we had walked into the middle of a riot, which had obviously cleared only 10 minutes before. Whoops. We weren't sure what the students were complaining about - as it was a all in Spanish.
Unfortunately the riot had resulted in the re-routing of all the buses from the area of the city that had been shut down. After half an hour of walking we finally made our way onto the bus that we needed to get to the Equator. On the bus the guy came around to sell the tickets. He only spoke Spanish and when he told us how much it was we thought he said $8, which was not that bad. When trying to hand him a $10 note he looked pained, and repeated what he had said and reached for one of the $1 coins I also had in my other hand. It turned out it was 80c not $8. As Ecuador uses USD some things are incredibly cheap, like public buses.
Arriving at the Equator we found a large monument and tourist village that had been built on the equator line. It was obviously built in the 70s or 80s and had not had much work done on it since. The whole place was a bit tired and given the number of people there it was clear that the Equator had lost its tourist pulling power some years before.
After walking around for a while and looking at the shops we starting asking about the museum that had fun experiments you could do on the equatorial line. We assumed it had to be on the line of the equator so walked around the village, on the line trying to find it, with no luck. A few explanations later we discovered it was outside the walls of the Equator Fun Park. It turns out that they had built the monument on what they thought was the Equator, but after checking it with a GPS system (only 20 years ago) the equator was actually 200m down the road! So a new museum and landmark was developed.
This museum was much more fun, it had lots of experiments you can do on the Equator, like balancing an egg on the head of a nail, which Seth managed. There was also a sink of water that showed the water going down clockwise and anti-clockwise on either side of the Equator and straight down when right on it. You are also lighter and stronger on the Equator too! It was actually quite amazing that you didn’t have to be too far off the Equator to notice the differences in the gravitational pull. After the obligatory handicrafts market we headed back to Quito on our 80c bus ride.
The few days we spent in Quito weren’t too exciting as the weather was quite miserable and made the city look quite dull, but the view from the panoramic restaurant was quite spectacular during the day or night.
We then headed South from Quito, with our plan to head to Banos and then Riobamba, where we would get the Devils Nose train, as the last of our adventures. But, we found out the train wasn’t running and decided to just spend our last days in Banos, which had lovely weather compared to Quito and has an active volcano, Tungurahua. The volcano isn‘t spewing out lava at the moment, only a little bit of smoke, which was a little disppointing. We quickly planned 3 days of adventure; quad-biking, mountain biking and volcano walking.
On our first evening in Banos, Sarah headed to the thermal baths, which is obviously the most popular evening activity in Banos, as it was packed! There would have been about 200 people in 2 large pools; locals, Ecuadorian holiday makers, backpackers - all out for a very social chat and bathe. It was a very nice way to spend the evening, chatting to locals and trying to withstand the heat of the hottest pool.
The next day we headed up one of the hills on the outskirts of Banos on quad bikes, it was very luscious and green and we had been promised views over the volcano from the top. We rumbled up to the Casa Del Arbol (tree house), which is a tree house built on the edge of the hill, hanging over the valley. As we pulled up a local man came running out and told us where to park and promised to ‘look after’ our quad bikes, we told him it wasn’t necessary, but agreed when we saw the large machete he was holding - unsure whether it was to be used as a deterrent to thieves or to make sure we paid for his services when we returned.
The view from the Casa Del Arbol was nice, but not too dramatic, as the cloud had closed in and we couldn’t see the volcano at all. But even in the closed-in weather the rope swing which swung out over the valley was still too scary for Sarah.
After pulling up to the 4 star resort on the hillside on our quad bikes for a spot of lunch, we headed back to town, as the weather seemed to be getting worse.
The next day we picked up our mountain bikes and headed out on the Ruta de las Cascadas - which is a road that wiggles through the valley and has a load of nice waterfalls along the way. The route follows the ‘old road’ which is reserved in parts for bikes only, tunnels have been built through the mountain side for cars etc. It was very picturesque, but quite touristy, all along the road people had set up cable cars that swung out over the valley, they were pretty ricketty looking things, with old tractor engines pulling the cars, but we paid our dollar and ventured out on one.
There was also the opportunity to do some weird bungy-jumping type thing off one of the bridges, but it looked crazy! We stopped to watch one tour group jump, and it looked awful - especially as it was the biggest guy in the group, jumping in a tandem with the biggest girl… at least the rope looked strong!
There were some nice little walks out to waterfall lookout spots and the most famous is the Pailon del Diablo, Devils cauldron. There were loads of signs to it, and we had to do a couple of walks until you actually got the correct one - it was a bit sneaky really, people just sticking up a sign and then charging you a dollar to enter a viewpoint where you can’t really see anything. When we finally got to the correct viewpoint, it was great as it was tucked right into waterfall and you got quite wet (nothing on Iguazu falls, but impressive none-the-less). They had also built a cave, which you had to crawl through, but it went up the side of the waterfall and you came out right under the falls, it was cool to be so close to such a large body of water, Seth didn’t make it up there, as he was worried he would get stuck in the cave!
If the weather was better we could have stopped to swim in the rivers and natural pools, but it was a bit chilly for that. So we just had lunch and then waited for the bus back into Banos, which never materialised, but a ute stopped and the guy chucked our bikes in the back and took us into town (for $3 each), he picked up others on the way, so obviously the bus quite often doesn’t really run.
That night we had booked a steam bath in the hostel that we were staying in. They had been built by the owner and with eucalyptus leaves in them and steam pouring in from a water heater in the next room. We had a relaxing steam which involved getting hot, then cold by wiping yourself with cold water flannels in the direction of blood flow and then getting back in the steam - over and over again.
Our third adventure was the volcano trek, but we awoke to solid rain, so we arranged to postpone the trip for a day and just hung out in the town. But unfortunately the rain was even worse the next day, so we abandoned our volcano trek and headed back to Quito. Weather runined our volcano walking in Chile and now here too! Bummer.
Sarah did go on a walk up the hill to the Virgin lookout, which is seen as a pilgrimage to a lot of people, with many religous carvings and pictures along the way... after looking at the photo of the 500 stairs Seth was glad he hadn't bothered.
Back in Quito, Seth decided to get a haircut before we headed to the UK and we had seen a whole road of hairdressers - all advertising haircuts for $1, so we ventured in and pointed to a style on the wall and off she went. Unfortunately Seth also decided to get a cut-throat razor shave, which ended up being a little more ‘cut-throat’ than it should have been. Not sure that the woman is used to dealing with that much hair and she seemed a little reluctant to use too many blades! Ouch.
In Quito that day, the weather was lovely, so after patching up Seth’s razor wounds, we headed to the new part of town and wandered through some markets, it was a public holiday, so the parks were busy with families and Quito looked like a different place to the dreary city we had seen before. We had a pleasant last afternoon in Ecuador, as the next day we headed to the UK.