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ĄHola South America!

South of Quito

Saturday - 23 Mar 2002
Avenue of Volcanoes - Ecuador

Getting there is half the fun

Baņos is a small "resort" town (we use this term very loosely) about 3.5 hours south of Quito. Getting there required our first foray into the land of Ecuadorian busses. We found the bus station and purchased tickets for the 1:30 express bus to Baņos. Much easier than in SE Asia, we were thinking...whatīs the catch?

So 1:30 came and went, but no bus appeared in the designated spot to take us south. Hmmm...the ticket vendor put on his best perplexed face and disappeared for a few minutes, and then returned, now wearing his best sorry face, and indicated that the bus had a flat tire so wouldnīt be heading south. What about the 2:00? No, that one was full. The 2:30?, not unless the tire is fixed (which of course makes no sense since that bus certainly wasnīt going to make the 7 hour round-trip if it had left on time at 1:30, to get back in time to make the 2:30 run, but I digress). Me-thinks this smacks of a Rembrandt-eque issue---not enough passengers! Not to bother though, we got a refund and found another express bus south, this one to Ambato, where we were to change busses to get to Baņos.

Now for a vocabulary lesson: Express bus=suicidal driver. Donīt let anyone tell you differently. No one told us this, however, so we thought we would take the front two seats and take in the great views. On busses in Ecuador the door is behind the first row of seats, so if you are in the first two seats you are nose to windsheld. Which would have worked out great, had we not had our eyes clenched shut in abject terror. This guy was comletely out of his mind! The Pan-American highway is designed to be four lanes, which in North America means two in each direction, but apparently here it means four wide in either direction, and god help the poor sucker coming the other way. We careened along steep ravines and screeched around hairpin turns, all the while thinking, "does anyone back home know were our wills are?!" Somehow, we arrived in Ambato in one piece, and were even brave enough to board another bus to Baņos...non-express please!


Our non-express bus dropped us on the edge of town around 6:00, which is bordering on breaking the cardinal rule of never arriving in a new location after sundown. We had 30 minutes to find a place to stay for the night before it would be completely dark and we would be staggering around a strange city, at the mercy of the thugs and miscreants that come out at night...

OK, maybe not. We were aiming to stay at the south edge of town, and we were on the north side. We reached our hotel about 7 minutes later, realizing that Baņos is a Small (with a capital S) Town. Six thirty at night, and the only other people out were small children playing in the deserted streets. Bring on the quiet!!

Since there wasnīt a lot to do in town, we decided (OK, Sarah decided, and Gary reluctantly agreed) to rent horses and ride up to Volcan Tungurahua, an active volcano flanking the south side of Baņos. Sarah, demonstrating her oh-so-strong spanish, told the tour agent that she would like "two gentlemen to ride for the day". Who thought it was a good idea to make "gentlemen" and "horses" so close sounding--caballos, caballeros...

After determining that we werenīt deviants, the agent produced three horses and our guide for the afternoon, Jaime. Keep in mind, now, that Gary has never been on a horse before, so we are guaranteed at least one good mishap for the day! He swung up in the saddle like a pro, though, and grabbed the reins with the utmost authority. Just his luck--his horse, Amadeus, likes to be in the lead, so the rookie was leading the pack.

We walked and trotted through several nearby pueblos, and then headed up the side of the volcano...just as the rain started. Jaime (wearing only a thin shirt) apparently thought weīd get back faster if we galloped, so he tsk-tsked, and off we went! Sarah was holding onto the saddle for dear life, since her stirrups were a little long, and Gary was laughing his head off at the insanity of this whole experience. Only one issue: remember, Amadeus likes to be in the lead, which we discovered the hard way. At a full gallop, Sarah and her steed came up on the right for the pass...Amadeus, without breaking stride, veered right and took a bite out of both Sarahīs leg and her horse...ouch!! Fortunately, no one was maimed permanently, but we gave Amadeus wide berth after that.

We rode a ridge high above Baņos, feeling on top of the world, until we realized that what goes up, must go down. The horses were even less pleased with this situation than we were. We turned onto a very steep and narrow rocky trail, at which point all three horses put on the brakes. A good five minutes and 20 whacks to their butts later, they finally started gingerly down the trail, doggedly trying to avoid the slippery rocks as they went. Allīs well that ends well-we made it back to town with no further mishaps, and no real injuries. (Unless, of course, you count the crippling muscle pain that we felt for the next three day, but that, as they say, is a story for another day.)

Snowball Fights!

Since Baņos had enough adventure to entertain for, oh, about 2 days, and Volcan Tungurahua wasnīt cooperating by erupting and delivering us amazing photos, we decided to head north to Volcan Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in Ecuador (5800 meters). As an aside, itīs also the highest point on earth (as measured from the center of the earth, that is...promise. Gary told me.)

Since weīre pros at the bus system by now, we boarded a non-express bus north (see, we can be trained!), and had the driver drop us off on the side of the highway, near the park entrance. We caught a ride in the back of a pickup truck the 3 km to "Cuella de Luna", the hacienda that we were staying at. ("Cuella de Luna" means "neck of the moon"...can anyone else make sense of this, because we canīt...)

Cuella de Luna is a delightful farm, complete with cows, alpacas, sheep, and...PUPPIES! Four of them. Gary again thinks that he didnīt ever have to go farther than the Franklin Park Zoo to amuse Sarah. Early to bed for us, since we wanted to hike into the park and up the volcano in the morning.

We arose early, collected our box lunches, and set out toward the National Park--on foot, since we certainly werenīt going to pay the inexplicable $50 that the hacienda wanted to charge us to get there. Fortunately for us, a free lance tour operator happened upon us, and belly-laughed when he realized that we were planning on hiking to the park...which was 35 km away. (Word of advice: donīt believe the scales on maps!) Luis became our inpromptu guide for the day, and he was great!

First mission: hike to the refuge, about 4800 meters up the side of Cotopaxi. We drove about 30 km down a non-existent road, all the while extolling the virtues of 4WD vehicles. We finally parked on the side of the volcano, and Luis went about the business of outfitting us for the hike: Gary in a tuk, Sarah with a scarf and gloves, both of us with walking sticks...what is this all about?! He then sets out at a snailīs pace, which we soon learned was for our own good: thereīs almost no air up this high, and what air there is is bloody cold!!

We hiked for about an hour, stopping first at one of the glaciers that ring the volcano. Who knew it was possible to have a snowball fight 60km from the equator?! We slipped our way onto the glacier, and took a ridiculous amount of pictures (donīt worry, weīll torture you with those when we get home :o)

On to the refuge, another 20 minutes or so up. Reaching it was simply I understand what drives people to climb mountains. The views were insane...the whole valley before us, alternately shining in the sun and totally obscured by clouds. (This is the ultimate in "donīt like the weather? Wait five minutes"). Gary and the trusty GPS determined that we were at 16,017 feet above sea level at our highest point. After a short rest, we headed down...a lot easier than the way up! Eight minutes straight down to the truck..too bad we didnīt have skiis with us...

Back at the hacienda, we enjoyed a bottle of wine that we bought along the way, played Eucher with some other guests, and of course tortured the puppies...who are too big to fit into our bag, not that weīd know that for certain or anything, really...

Sur de Quito En Espanol
  Gary and Sarah Girotti/Jones - Bio and Journals
  ĄHola South America! - Intro Average Rating of 7 Viewers
Chapters of ĄHola South America!
  Quito en Espanol
  Galapagos Islands
  Islas de Galapagos En Espanol
  South of Quito
  Sur de Quito En Espanol
  Camp Kapawi
  Acampe Kapawi En Espaņol
  Cuzco and the Inca Trail
  Cuzco y Rastro de Inca-En Espaņol
  Lake Titicaca
  Lago Titicaca En Espaņol
  Desert Ramblings
  Los Cuentos de Deserte En Espaņol
  The Final Stop
  La Parada Final


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