16th - 28th October
16.10.2008 - 28.10.2008 22 °C
Our next destination after Mindo was Baños. Baños is a pleasant but quite touristy town which is surrounded by beautiful green mountains. There are quite a lot of things to keep people occupied there so we ended up staying for 5 nights.
Baños takes its name from the thermal baths that are scattered around the town and this was traditionally the main appeal of the place. Incidentally, 'baño' is also the word used for toilet in most of South America! The baths that we went to, on a couple of occasions, had four pools of varying temperatures that people would switch between. Probably the best thing to do was go from the hottest one into the cold plunge pool (or vice versa).
Another activity which is now popular in Baños is cycling from the town down to the village of Rio Verde. This route is more about the scenery than the cycling and takes you past a number of waterfalls on the way down. At one point on the route you can take a cable car over a gorge where there are particularly spectacular views of one of the waterfalls and surrounding mountains. When we reached Rio Verde we saw another waterfall called el Pailón del Diablo (the Devils´s Cauldron) then got a taxi back up the hill to Baños.
The hostel that we were staying in was quite a social place and had a roof terrace where people would meet in the evenings to drink, listen to music, play cards etc. The roof terrace also had amazing panoramic views of the town during the day. On quite a few of the nights that we were there we went into the town to go to some bars with the people from the hostel.
The hostel also had a steam bath which we visited on three of the mornings that we were there. It was quite a long process (each session took about 45 minutes) that largely involved sitting in a wooden box, with only your head poking out, whilst getting steamed for four minutes at a time. In between bouts of steaming you would encounter cold water in various ways. These included sitting in a pool of cold water, having it tipped over you from a bucket and getting sprayed with a hose.
On our final day in Baños we hired a buggy which is basically a large go-kart that has two seats. Quite unbelievably, they allow your to drive these things on the road with all the other traffic. We followed the same route as we did on the bikes a few days earlier. This was quite a fun activity, particularly for Mike who doesn't have a drivers licence and had never driven on roads before. At one stage, on the way back, we had to drive the buggy through a windy, dark and fairly long tunnel. A large bus ended up getting stuck behind us which actually turned out to be a bit of a blessing as the lights on the buggy weren't the strongest and we were struggling to see the road in the tunnel. Mike was driving at this point! We did make it back to Baños safely though and ended up going out for one of the best meals we've had the whole trip at a Swiss cafe.
From Baños we got a bus to Riobamba. Riombamba is a fairly nondescript town and the main reason that people go there is to go on the Nariz del Diablo (Devil´s Nose) train journey. The day after we arrived we had breakfast, with the majority of the guests in the hotel, at 5.30am in order to be at the train station in time to get a good spot on the roof of the train! Sitting on the roof of the slow moving train is the main appeal of the journey as it provides the perfect vantage point to take in the views. Of course the novelty of siting on the roof is also part of the attraction.
We returned to Riobamba by bus after the train ride and were up early the next morning to get a bus to Cuenca. This took longer than expected as a result of the bus repeatedly breaking down but we still arrived by mid-afternoon as the driver and other guys from the bus always managed to fix the problem(s).
Cuenca is a fairly large colonial city and probably has slightly more eye-catching churches and plazas than other similar places in Latin America. It is regarded as Ecuador´s finest city and has quite a European feel making it a pleasant place to spend a few days. We didn´t do a huge amount when were there though apart from take in the sites, do a bit of shopping and eat at a decent Mexican restaurant.
We left Cuenca on Saturday morning and got a bus to Vilcabamba so that we could stay at a hostel called Izhcayluma. Izhcayluma is quite high up in some beautiful mountains and is owned by the comically named German duo, Peter and Dieter. There was a really good crowd of people there at the same time as us so was a perfect place to spend Ellie´s birthday.
We were there for three days but didn´t really take advantage of any of the daytime activities. We just relaxed at the hostel and enjoyed the views. At night things got a bit more lively as they have a good bar in the hostel. On separate nights they organized pool, table tennis and poker tournaments. For the pool and table tennis tournaments there were bottles of rum up for grabs and they always came to our table! The staff at the hostel also gave our table a bottle of rum for Ellie´s birthday as well as baking her a cake and giving her various other free drinks!