Baños de Agua Santa is a town of only 15,000 inhabitants, but it is known as the adventure capital of Ecuador. The town is nestled in the foothills below the Tungurahua volcano, whose nearly constant activity kept us a bit uneasy watching the large plume of smoke fill part of the sky.

image

Smoke coming from the volcano was visible throughout the city

image

The Basilica de Agua Santa

image

Lisa in front of the waterfall Caballera de la Virgen

image

Kevin taking a break in front of the lower falls of Caballera de la Virgen

image

Baños had a variety of odd buildings scattered throughout town.  This one we believe was resendential but we weren’t sure if the spiraling structure you see behind the tower is a slide or something else.

image

In case of a volcanic eruption run that way ->, also the police school is about a mile that direction

 

We knew we only had a short time in Baños so we had to narrow down our adventure options from the myriad of choices available to us: biking, white water rafting, rappelling, paragliding, hiking, etc. After spending more than two weeks in the expensive Galapagos Islands, our wallets were a bit skinnier and we opted for a couple of the exciting but more economical options.

For our first full day in Baños we decided to try our hands at rappelling down a series of waterfalls in the mountains just outside of town. We had a blast bouncing down the face of the waterfalls and even water sliding down one of the smaller waterfalls. It only cost $20 per person and the tour company outfitted us with thick (and very well maintained) wetsuits, waterproof jackets, helmets, and shoes. It was just the two of us with a guide so we were able to go at our own speed and do a few more challenging descents than the larger group behind us were able to do. Unfortunately our guide was not the greatest photographer and the blurry photos and go-pro videos don’t capture what a truly amazing time we had.

DCIM113GOPRO

Posing as directed by our tour guide / photographer (this was sexy pose)

DCIM113GOPRO

At the base of the first waterfall we descended

DCIM113GOPRO

Kevin working his way down, Lisa cheering him on from below

DCIM113GOPRO

Lisa starting her descent

DCIM113GOPRO

This waterfall had a high flow rate, the guide constantly yelled at us legs apart, go slowly!

image

Looking up the river valley where we were biking

Our second adventure involved renting bikes and following the road as it leaves Baños and heads towards Puyo, 60km away. We only did the part of the route known as Ruta de las Cascadas since we were more interested in the waterfalls and scenery than finishing the whole path. We stopped along the way to take photos as well as ride a tarabita (a cross between a cable car and a zip line that propels you across the canyon towards the waterfall on the opposite side). We were expecting a gentle ride that slowly chugs along toward our destination, akin to something you would find at an amusement park used to give guests an overview of the park as they ride along. For this reason, we were a bit shocked (as were the three Ecuadorian couples riding with us) when we were slung at a pace that made all of us hang on so that we didn’t wind up in a heap on top of each other (or falling to the canyon below).

image

Lisa on the tarabita before we were fired over the waterfall

image

The view looking down as we flew over the waterfall

image

Where’s waldo (errr Lisa) hiding before the next group takes off?

image

A look at the group who took a ride on the tarabita after us

Our bike ride also included one torrential downpour. Luckily we found a small, dining facility with a sturdy roof on the side of the road. We were thankful for the shelter but disappointed that the place was closed as a hot beverage would have been welcome in our slightly soggy state.

image

The empty restaurant where we hid out during the worst or the rainstorm

We finished our ride at Pailón del Diablo, the spot on Rio Verde that signals the end of the Ruta de las Cascadas. The ride back was quite simple as there were multiple trucks parked on the side of the road, ready to pick up gringos with their bicycles and transport them back to Baños.

image

Some shots of Lisa on our ride down from Baños.  We decided for the well being of the camera (and Lisa) it was best if Lisa kept both hands on the handlebars at all times.

image

Taking a break to pose in front of the last waterfall on our ride (and yes, we always match while we travel)

image

The view of the hike to a waterfall at the end of the ride.  Unfortunately, we were in a rush to get back to Baños so that we could catch our bus to Alausi so we didn’t get to do this hike.

image

Another shot from the lookout at the end of the ride

image

This was the only waterfall that we had to ride uphill to get to, but the view was well worth the effort

image

We worked hard to get there, 2 photos are warranted in the blog

Baños gets in name from the thermal springs that surround the town. As it only cost $3 to lounge in the pools of hot water we figured it would make an appropriate addition to our muscle straining days. The water has a high iron content but I don’t think we were quite prepared for just how brown and almost opaque the water would look. We also don’t think we were anticipating how crowded the pools would be. It was like sitting in a murky, pool sized hot tub with dozens of people and a total lack of personal space. The water was warm and relaxing but the constant shuffle to avoid anyone encroaching onto our laps meant that we lasted less than an hour in the various pools.

image

A view of the sunset on our bus ride to Alausi

image

One of the quaint squares we encountered our first night wandering around town

We were sad to leave Baños as there were many more activities that we would have loved to try, but we knew we needed to get moving again. We took a bus down to Riobamba and then a second bus to the small town of Alausi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image

The evening we arrived we went for a walk to see what downtown Alausi had to offer

image

We were too tired to go back out to the main square at 10 pm and see why they were blaring music, luckily we still had a great view of the fireworks show from our balcony

image

Next to the train station is a public square proudly proclaiming the town’s name

image

A train parked at Alausi station

On the backpackers circuit, Alausi has one claim to fame: it is home of the Devil’s Nose Train. The train is a 12 km ride down from Alausi into the valley below.  When they train route was built it was the first motorized means of transportation connecting Guayaquil on the Pacific lowlands to Quito in the Andes Mountains.  A trip that took 25-30 days with cargo was now reduced to under 48 hours.  The mountainside is so steep that the train has to do a series of zigzags, changing directions each time, to get down to the valley floor. Historically you could ride on the roof of the train as it snaked its way down the track. Unfortunately, due to a tragic accident a few years ago, riding on the roof is no longer permitted.

image

At every switchback there was a sign letting us know of the upcoming change of direction on the steep mountainside

image

Between each train car there was an operator that had to manually work the breaks as we descended down the mountain

image

A view looking over the edge of the train and into the valley below

image

The river valley as seen from the valley floor

image

We stopped for a brief photo opt with the train and the devil’s nose mountain.  We felt like the stairs might have been slightly misaligned for disembarking the train.

image

Kevin trying his hand at the breaks

On the valley floor there was a small train station and cultural center. It seemed a bit oddly placed as this train line was not currently connected to the rest of the rail infrastructure, so the train just brought tourist down into the valley and then back up to Alausi. The cultural station had a small one room museum, a cafe, and a small open air market with a few vendors selling traditional items. There were several people, dressed in traditional clothing, who put on an exhibition of cultural dances. It was interesting how many of the dances mirrored life activities such as washing clothing, taking care of babies, or tending crops. One of the dances was similar to a maypole demonstration with all of the dancers weaving in and out around a pole with brightly colored ribbons. At the end of the performance the dancers chose audience members to join in the dancing. Kevin resisted but Lisa was lured in. Lisa is not tall but felt like a giant as she danced with one of the Ecuadorian men who was quite a few inches shorter.

image

Lisa learning the ins and outs of the local dance, no this is not a perspective shot, she really is that much taller

imageimage

image

A few shots from the cultural dances performed while we waited to head back up to Alausi

After around an hour at the cultural center it was time to board the train again and head back up to Alausi. The ride was beautiful but we couldn’t help but thinking that the whole experience was a bit overpriced for backpacker standards. Many of the buses we have ridden on so far in our trip have provided us equally spectacular views (and often adrenaline jolts as you look out the window and straight down a cliff or pass another vehicle on a blind turn of a 2 lane road) for a fraction of the price.image

We we are off for another bus ride now, through the mountains to Cuenca.  Cuenca is a town we have looked forward to visiting since we started our trip.

Advertisements