Sunday, May 23, 2004

Baños Ecuador

After months of planing I finally arrived in Baños on the 26th of April Since this is my first visit to Ecuador, and I had done a fair amount of research, I was still amazed at the natural beauty of the country. My first impression of Quito after descending through the clouds was a series of canyons carved by the various streams and rivers leaving numerous mesas with almost vertical drops to the canyons below. On top of these mesas were homes and buildings that seemed isolated one from the other although they were obviously connected by bridges. Where, I thought, are they going to find a large enough mesa for an airport. Upon arrival I was picked up and given a whirlwind tour of Quito, (15 minutes) and then headed for Ambato. I am going to return to Quito as soon as I can because I am sure it is worth several days, not 15 minutes.

After a night in Ambato at the hotel Florida, it was sinking in as to just how inexpensive Ecuador is compared to Mexico. The hotel was nice, clean and with an accommodating staff,...Cost $20.00 including breakfast, 12% tax and 10 % service.

Arrived Baños de Agua Santa the following afternoon. Baños has a history of 500 or more years and is situated on a shelf or ledge, surrounded on three sides by vertical drops of a 100 meters or more, and perched on the side of the Tungurahua volcano, which has been huffing and puffing for about four years. The town is about 1,700 meters elevation and the volcano is 5,016.. In the canyons below the town flows the Pastazo River that ultimately empties into the largest river in the world....The Amazon..

So this is my new home....a place of incredible beauty. It is going to be an adventure.

Baños de Agua Santa, the city.

It took a week or so before I really knew my way around. I walked the city daily and although the city is small it is surrounded by mountains. When I thought I was walking north I would be going south or east or ever west. Sometimes when I went to return to a place I was earlier in the day, I would swear that they moved the location.

Every where you look you see green, green, green. It is without a doubt the greenest place I have ever seen. The months from April to August are the rainy months, I am told, and it rains a lot. Not all day, but almost every day or night for an hour or more. The weather changes by the minute. One minute it is sunny and warm. The next it is cloudy and maybe with a little rain and twenty minutes later it is sunny. The clouds passing over the valley are always moving from east to west. Of course this is fall and almost winter in this hemisphere.. What it is like the other seasons... I will have to wait to find out.


There are only seven streets running east to west and nine from north to south. On this small ledge lives around 12,000 persons, away from the city proper in the surrounding areas are another 4,000.

The currency in use here is the US Dollar, including the coins. Ecuador has also minted coins of their own that are the same value and size as the US coins and even the pennies do have value.

All of the streets are paved and the total city is very clean, with very little dust, and very quiet. In the past, bicycles were the way to see the city quickly. One dollar per hour or $5 per day. Now the moped, four-wheelers and motorcycles are the most popular at $5 to $10 per hour....a lot more noise and there are many accidents.. Reason...no experience necessary.

During the week there are a few tourist mostly from other countries, however on the weekends the town fills up with nationals mostly from Ambato and Quito. Baños for generations has been a weekend retreat for the larger cities.

Almost every day in the night and early in the morning there are numerous explosions that will awaken you in the morning if you are a light sleeper. The first morning I was here I thought that it was Tungurahua sounding off. I dressed and left for a vantage point of the volcano to see at least the smoke and gas. It was then that I learned about the fireworks. They are set off for every saints day and fiesta....which takes care of most days.. That is one explanation,

The city is named for the hot mineral baths that are located at the south side of the city. Baños de Agua Santa. About 70 years ago the public pools were built at the base of the waterfalls. There are several pools of different temperatures where the water from the springs are mixed with the cool water of the falls so you have a choice of fresh, hot and hotter. The pools are open daily from 0430 in the morning to 1700 and from 1800 to 2200. The cost is $1.00 during the day and $1.50 in the night. The water is the color of pea soup but has no smell. You must bath with soap before entering the pool and the water is changed twice a day. I read in a newspaper article where 45,000 bodies bathed in the pools over the four day Easter Holiday, where a normal weekend would have 1,200 to 1,500 per day.

One day after I had been patronizing the saintly waters for a week or two, when I went to pay my dollar, the cashier gave me $0.50 back....what is this for I asked. She said it was because I was over 60. Now how did that secret get out.

There are about 116 hostels and small hotels. The price ranges from $2.00 per bed to forty or fifty dollars per room.. The hostels are used almost exclusively by the younger travelers who are just looking for a place to crash and move on in a day or two.

Besides the places to sleep there are two other major tourist industries, travel agencies and restaurants. The travel agencies, (about 90), are mostly for the adventurous....Raft trips on the various rivers, hikes to waterfall of which there are many, horseback riding, and of course the treks to the various volcanoes and trips into the jungle. I don’t know how many restaurants but there are a lot. The price for the average breakfast, eggs, rolls, juice, coffee, $1.50. The service is basic...the waiter will take your order, bring it to your table and that is the last you will see of him or her until you want to pay. I asked at the tourist office if tips were expected.. I was told that tips are not expected and even if you left a tip the service would remain the same. Lunch or dinner...soup, salad, chicken, roll, French fries and glass of soda... $1.50. The most expensive dish on any meal on any menu that I have found has been $5.00.

You have a sense of security within the city.. Young children roam the streets freely and walk to school without escorts. When talking to one taxi driver on the subject of security he told me there was no problem with crime here. One reason is that it is very difficult to escape the area and if they catch a thief they cut his throat and throw him into the Pastaza. That is pretty severe , however he seemed serious. There is one supper market and just inside the door is a security guard with a shotgun at the ready. He also doubles as the package checker if you bring something into the store and cart retriever.

There is a public market in the center of town and a good place to buy fruits and vegetables as well as lunch at reasonable prices. On Sundays and Wednesdays the larger farmers market is held where prices are more or less the same but the maybe a little fresher.

The architecture is a mixture of nothing special with a few exceptions. The Basilica is the notable exception. There are several parks and plazas that are always clean.. .

To the south is Tungurahua, however it is only visible from a few places within the city itself. If you go west on Martinez to its end you will find one of the best places to view the peak, if it is clear of clouds. Most of the time if you are patient, the clouds will clear and you will get a excellent view of the North slope. Since the crater is off center and opens to the southwest you cannot see it from the Baños. but because of that fact the town of Baños has been saved from destruction many times. Geologists have determined that at least for the past 1,000 years all of the eruptions have been to the southwest.

Since there is always a chance of a new crater being created on the south side, there is an evacuation route set up that hopefully get most of the people to safety, the people here live with a peace of mind. The last time the volcano posed a serious threat was in September of 1999. The town was evacuated and a few months later the townspeople returned. Nothing happened in Baños so the people are pretty blaze about Tungurahua.

Tungurahua has been sleeping fitfully for the last few months, however awoke with a start on Wednesday the 12th of May around 0830. This was the biggest explosion in a long time however only a few people in Baños took any note of it. But, I went to my favorite lookout point and saw nothing but clouds that surrounded the mountain.

The Miss Universe contestants were planing to visit the area to see the Volcano but their trip was concealed due to the eruption. There is no immediate danger of layhars or lava but the alert was raised in the area to the south to orange and here in Baños to yellow.

On Friday the 14th I walked to the end of Martinez Street at a section called “The Old Road of the Illusions” at about 1400 hours. There I leaned against a telephone pole and did not move for more than two hours.

The people that live in that area go about there business as usual but I was spellbound. I tired after an hour or so but although I wanted to leave I could not. From this vantage point, facing South, the volcano is about seven kilometers away and the winds almost always are to the southwest. Here I am close enough to see clearly the top of the mountain, but not the crater itself as it is on the northwest slope very near the top, I watched as it belched out tons of ash, smoke and gas, thousands of feet into the air. This continued for hours. Each time I thought the show was over it started again. A few kilometers away the people who live in the area to the Southwest have a clean-up job ahead, here in Baños you didn’t even need a dust cloth.

A few, have doubted the sanity of living in this area but at this time I feel the danger to life and limb is minimal. Living in Los Angeles, California waiting for the next earthquake to happen would be more terrifying in my opinion, and look at how many people live with that possibility every day.

Internet service, when I first arrived, was great. Fast, modern equipment and reasonable...$2.00 per hour. I would estimate there are about 12 different locations around town. Then on May 1st the high speed service was out. Since all the companies used the same supplier they were effectively out of business. Some reopened using telephone lines but the service is slow. At times really slow. As of today the 20th of May the satellite service has not been restored. Isn’t it funny how we become accustomed to a better service and complain about the service that we were ecstatic with just a few years ago.

Telephone service is great. There are many places to make a telephone cal and depending where you are calling it can be quite inexpensive. Step into the booth, dial the country code, area code and the number. They charge by the second, so if you get a wrong number or an answering machine the cost is only a few pennies. The per minute rate to the USA is $0.25 and to Mexico is $0.60, Cuba $1.32. The country you call determines the rate.


THE PEOPLE OF BANOS.

I am not a pushy person. I like to get to know people little by little. When I first arrived, I offered a Good Morning to everyone, and few acknowledged. After almost a month of walking these streets some of the people offer a greeting first. I am sure that more than a few people are curious who this old guy is who has invaded their town, but little by little I have struck up conversations with different people and my list of potential friends is getting longer every day. What I had thought was a rather cold reception I was getting, was just caution. They see new faces everyday, and 99% are gone in two days.

For all of my Mexican friends out there you may find this fact humorous. I have not heard one “Chingada Mandre” in the month I have been here. The people here seem to be able to express themselves without the use of gross words, or they have their own, and I do not know them. The Americans as well seem to have a more refined vocabulary. In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico the natives and the gringos could not carry on a conversation without using these words. Now don’t get me wrong, I was in the US Navy for four years in the early 50’s and I know all of the words in the book and am not shocked by them. I just have grown to appreciate words that give a clearer meaning to what you have to say. Now, if you really wanted to curse or insult someone what words would you use? You would have to invent new ones because all of the old ones have lost their meaning due to overuse. One thing that is the same is the popularity of the English rap CD’s.. The words are in English and mean nothing to most, just a catchy beat.

Some of the indigenous poor come in from the hills to beg. Not a lot but enough to make you feel like helping. and I have always longed to be a philanthropist. However I lack the one ingredient for this noble profession. Everyday I see how I could dispose of many hundreds or thousands of dollars in a good cause. But there are some things that we all can do. For example “shoe shines”, I wish I had more pairs of shoes. There are shoe shine stands in the park operated by mostly older women and appear to do a pretty good business at $0.30 cents a shine. And I presume are legitimate businesses. The independents are a different story. These are young and old men who are trying to make a few bucks, are out day and night looking for a pair of shoes to shine. They are not offensive but they look at your shoes and if they need shining they just look at you and point. The knee-jerk reaction is to say “no thank you.”. But come on., more often than not they do need shinning and where else can you get a shine for 30 cents.

Automobiles do seem to have the right-of-way. If you are crossing the street the driver honks and you better move because he will most likely not slow down, There have been several times that I have almost got my heels clipped. I’ll learn.

My reason for this site is to entice you to visit Baños. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to respond.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Roberto,
    I am enjoying your tales of Ecuador. I am researching places to retire to or at least spend winters in when we retire. Thanks for posting this information. It does sound beautiful there. I can't wait to find out what the dry season is like for you there.

    Joella

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello, Do you get lonely and miss your kids and family living there? It sounds like you're having a good time

    ReplyDelete