Located a few hours south of Quito — in Ecuador's central Andean highlands — Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador, as well as 100% backpacker's central. You can do everything here, from downhill mountain-biking to rapid river-rafting, and from waterfall canyoning to snow-capped mountain-peak climbing. Also a charming town, surrounded by some really beautiful jungle-covered mountains, and filled with great places to stay and to eat. I spent some time here in Baños, relaxing a bit, but mainly doing a lot of crazy activities.
Main square of Baños, with mountains and waterfalls overlooking.
Yesterday morning, my friend Patrick left Baños for the town of Tena, which is about 5 hours east. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I walked into a bar in Baños this evening, to find him sitting down and waving at me! "Patrick?" I said, puzzled. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you went to Tena!" Well, he said that he came back: they're only offering easy rafting trips in Tena (due to the weather, same as here in Baños), and the road from Tena to Quito is currently flooded — meaning that there was nowhere else for him to come, except back here to Baños. Anyway, I think that when I saw him, I looked like I'd just seen a ghost. Big shock!
For my final full day in Baños, I decided to try out what the town has to offer, in terms of river rafting. Sadly, due to the excessive amount of recent rain, the water levels are currently too high to do the full-day, Class IV-V rafting that I'd like to do. However, half-day Class III-IV rafting is still being offered. So I signed up for this package (with one of the many rafting agencies in town), and this morning I headed off to the Río Pastaza for two hours of rafting fun. Not the greatest of my three rafting trips to date (the ones that I did in Cusco were better), but better than nothing.
After the party night last night, today was positively dead. I said farewell to Patrick this morning: he's going to Tena ahead of me, as he has less time than me. As it was raining all day, and as I was tired and bored (just like everyone else in town), today was a good day to catch up on ye 'ol blogging, to read a book, and to sleep. Not the most exciting day of my trip; but after the non-stop adventuring and partying of the past week, I did kinda need a break. And there's no day like Sunday for resting.
Do I really need to write this blog post? Considering what it was already like in the afternoon, I think it's pretty obvious what was going down in Baños tonight, and what Patrick and I got up to. Every place in "bar street" was open, and it was open all night long. Local girls. Copious drinking. Vigorous dancing. Pumping music. Get the picture? It was big — biggest night I've had in quite a while. Baños is the place to be, and this was the night to be here.
Grabbed one of these snacks on the side of the street this afternoon, in Baños. It's fairly simple — a deep-fried banana, with a slit cut down the middle, and some highland cheese stuffed inside — but it tastes great. You really can do anything with bananas — batter them, fry them, boil them, bake them, grill them, or whatever else — and they're still sensational pieces of fruit. Recommended if you're ever somewhere in Ecuador, and craving something light yet filling for an afternoon feed.
Baños ain't got the name for nothing, you know: the place is surrounded by hot thermal baths. This afternoon, Patrick and I decided to check some of them out. Unfortunately, we didn't end up having a dip after all. First, we got a bus which dropped us off at the wrong baths (cold and dirty ones), which we weren't too keen on hopping into. Then, when we finally reached the only baths in town worth going to (called Piscina de la Virgen), it turned out that they were closed for the afternoon (for cleaning, I think), and wouldn't open again until later in the evening. Bit of a pain. Ah well, maybe I'll try them another day.
Having just gotten back here this morning, it seems that Baños is totally packed this weekend! Apparently it's a long weekend holiday all over Ecuador, so hundreds of domestic tourists (most from Quito) have flocked down here to have a party weekend. Luckily, the very basic Patty still had space for us; but I'd say that most places are fully booked until Monday. The streets are full of expensive cars; the sidewalks are chockers with rich young Ecuadorian couples and families; and the beer is overflowing at the bars, even in the middle of the day. Gonna be a big one tonight.
Marcelo is the friendly owner of Jack Rock Café, one of the great places to enjoy the nightlife in "bar street" of Baños. Considering that his bar is home to pumping music and wild dancing, he's a very quiet and dignified man. He also loves chess: Patrick gave him a few games last night; and tonight, I decided to challenge the old fella as well. With a few hints from Patrick (who's better than me), I managed to score a victory. If you're up for a game yourself, just head into the bar mid-week, and ask for Marcelo.
I really love cycling, and I haven't done nearly enough of it on this trip. Since the 60km stretch of road from Baños to Puyo is considered the best and the most popular bike ride in Ecuador, there's no way that I was going to miss out on it. Along with Patrick, I rented a bike in Baños this morning (usual $5 for-the-day deal, from one of the tour agencies in town), and we were on the road by about 10am. Beautiful scenery, great stops along the way, relatively easy riding (downhill most of the time), and reasonable weather. And, of course, the great feeling of being back on a bike all day long.
Following the crazy bridge jumping, the other major stop on today's ride to Puyo was the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall (lit: "The Devil's Cauldron"). The waterfall that I canyoned through yesterday was big and impressive; but this one was the fiercest and the most concentrated stream of water that I've seen in my entire life. The name couldn't be more fitting: if the underworld had mountainous jungles and crystal-clear waterfalls, this is what they'd look like. The waterfall is so fierce, that the air is filled with misty spray for about 50m in all directions; and where it hits the pool at the bottom, it looks like a volcano spouting white lava. This is why my nickname for the Pailon Del Diablo is: "Christmas in hell".