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.
Early on in our ride to Puyo this morning, Patrick and I encountered the famous "bridge jumping" that you can do, just out of Baños. Bridge jumping is basically like bungee jumping: except that it's generally not as high; and that it's done off a proper road bridge, instead of off a rickety walking bridge, or off a special platform. I don't care what people say about it: I think it's just as insane as bungee jumping; and things don't get more insane than that. I was too chicken to do the jump, but Patrick took the plunge. Check out the photos and video.
Baños may be a tiny little town, but it's party time down here, 7 nights a week. And of all the places to party on "bar street" (the street that we're staying in), the Leprechaun Bar has gotta be the most kicking. Patrick and I came here for the first time last night (after our Tungurahua tour), and we scored the customary free shots of Flaming Bob Marleys. Tonight, there were so many hopeless gringos trying to dance salsa, that we ended up virtually having a salsa class right there on the dance floor!
Terry's a retired, somewhat chubby, somewhat balding old chap from Florida, who's been down here in Baños for over three weeks. He's a real character: he's teaching English to a (very good-looking) young lady who runs a tour agency in town, and you can see him hanging round her office any time during the day; while you're also guaranteed to see him sitting at the bar, chatting to some random stranger over a large Pilsener beer, if you wander past the Mocambo Bar (the one with the best music in town), any time during the evening. Always ready to strike up a conversation, and apparently here indefinitely.
I've done some pretty crazy and exciting adventure activities during my trip — but never before have I done anything quite like canyoning. Canyoning is a sport that basically involves abseiling down through waterfalls. Baños, with its verdant hills and its roaring waterfalls surrounding it in abundance, is an ideal place to do it. This afternoon, Patrick and I spent over 2 hours at the Río Pastaza — just 10 minutes out of town — trying out the falls there. Quite scary, quite cold, and quite wet. But very fun, and the experience is simply spectacular.
This evening, Patrick and I went on the popular night tour up to Tungurahua, the volcano that looms over Baños. Tungurahua was erupting last week, and we heard first-hand reports from people who'd seen lava coming out of it. Very cool! Although a bit crazy, since a large eruption is fully capable of destroying the entire town of Baños. Sadly, we didn't see any eruption tonight: but we still got a great birds-eye view of the town, lit up at night; and we had fun drinking a very strong distilled sugar-cane spirit, and watching some top-class fire-juggling up on the mountain. And a fun ride on the roof of the tourist truck, too.
Took it easy for my first day in the land of Ecuador today. Apart from eating, sleeping, and blogging, Patrick and I just did some laid-back exploring of the town of Baños, and checked out what's on offer activity- and tour-wise around here. Baños is a beautiful little town: only 12,000 people — but I'd say it could accommodate that many people again, in tourist numbers. It's also in a beautiful part of the world — lush green, jungle-covered mountains and waterfalls all around — and it seems that there's no shortage whatsoever, of things to keep oneself busy around here. Don't know when I'll be able to tear myself away from this place, but it won't be anytime soon.
Another solo traveller, like myself, who's off to see the world for 12 months. Patrick's a master's graduate of Economics and Politics, he's a Belgian, he's an ace soccer player, and he's quite the ladies' man. First met him in Máncora last week, and I'm planning to spend the rest of the week here in Baños with him, going on recreational adventures by day, and on bar-bound adventures by night.
It's rather lacking in hot water, plush rooms, or any other bells and whistles. But Patty is cheap, it's always got space, and it's right in the middle of everything. Unfortunately, no dorms — just rooms with 2 or 3 beds — but that's OK if you've got someone to share the crash pad with, and for this week I'm crashing with Patrick. If it's a really busy week, if you're feeling a bit tight for money, or if you're just not too fussed about where you stay, then Patty is the place to go.