It’s not every day that starts out with a huge boom that shakes your windows…and it turns out to be a volcanic explosion. When we woke up yesterday, the town of Baños was covered in ash. People were out early on the streets wearing masks and sweeping the ash off of every surface in town. There were piles of ash and garbage bags filled with it everywhere! Baños lives in the shadow of the Tungurahua volcano which is one of 2 active volcanoes in the area. It has been erupting for the last 14 years, and had a huge eruption in 2006. Today we donned our masks and went in a taxi to a viewpoint where we could see the volcano belching out its smoke. No one here is worried. Usually the prevailing winds drive the ash elsewhere, and they think a lot of ongoing small explosions are better than one large one! Even listening to the volcano is interesting, as it lets out an ominous rumble with each explosion… a little like hearing a distant avalanche in the mountains.
Baños is a great town in the Andes with a nice combination of locals and tourists, but it is very much a tourist haven. The setting is spectacular, with steep mountain walls on all sides and a deep river canyon running through it. There are possibilities for all kinds of action activities… puenting (like bungee jumping off a bridge without the bungee), zip lining, white water rafting, cycling, hiking etc.
The town is very religious. In the name of the Virgin Mary, the month of October is filled with daily fireworks and frequent little processions and bands playing loud S. American music. The combination of volcanic noise and fireworks and bands made for a noisy experience!
We went on a slightly hair-raising, mostly downhill, bike trip (hair-raising because we shared the road with all the buses trucks and cars that pass through Baños on a narrow mountain road).
But we had a great time, because the route often deviated off the main road so we could ride along the top of the steep river canyon walls. Our day included zip-lining, riding a gondola across the canyon, and the piece de resistance which was a hike through the jungle to a huge waterfall called “Pilon del Diablo” (trough of the devil). Click here to see a 20 second video of the waterfall. Click here to see 7 seconds behind the waterfall. To see the waterfall we hiked straight down into the river canyon, then straight up along the waterfall, and crawled upwards underneath a section of low hanging rocks. At the top we stood behind the main force of the waterfall. It sounded like 1,000 fire hydrants going all at once, with amazing force (and wetness!). We decided that if Disney had tried to make a theme park that looks like a jungle waterfall, this would be what he would have created.
We ended the day drinking coffee at a little food stand at the top of the waterfall hike while we waited for a truck to take us back to Baños. Riding back in the truck felt somehow like being a character in a video game. We were loaded in the bed of a large pickup, which was covered, but had the back open. No surprise that there were no seat belts! We sat on benches that tipped at all the turns in the road. We had a tunnel vision view of cars behind us, as they came up very close behind us with the headlights shining into our truck in order to pass.
When we got back to Baños the taxi driver who’d taken us to see the smoke of the volcano that morning called to say it was a perfect time to see lava coming out of it. So the three of us drove back up the mountain to peer through the mist and fog for more than an hour. As we waited we listened to the rumble and the roar of the living mountain and practiced our Spanish with this patient taxi driver. Finally our patience was rewarded with a momentary clearing from our viewpoint across to the peak of 16,500 foot tall Tungurahua. Moments later we realized that we’d forgotten to eat lunch and we were mega hungry.