Micah: Unmitigated


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Posts Tagged ‘Baños’

Places In My Past

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

I want to try and milk this trip for as much content as I can, so the following is a list of the “Top Ten Places I Visited in South America”. They will be in order from #10 to #1 for dramatic effect, and some words may be repeated from previous posts. I hope you enjoy:

10. Volcán Puracé, Colombia



The scenery was stunning, but it is on here more for the climb. My most strenuous day, it took over 4 hrs to get to the top and the weather was unfriendly. Accomplishing something like that feels amazing and the Colombian hiking group that celebrated with me at the rim, made it even more memorable. The skies cleared for the descent and I strolled through an active sulfur mine. All things considered, one of my favorite days.

9. Puerto López – Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

The Isla was just OK and the town is not worth writing home about, but the stretch of ocean between the two seasonally contains some exciting mammals. The tour was expensive, but watching the whales jump in the air and splash around was one of the coolest things I have seen in my life.

8. Colca Canyon, Peru



The 2nd deepest canyon in the world. Basically just a great, strenuous hike with cool things to look at. On clear days, you can see the tops of the snowy peaks down 3,140 meters to the canyon floor. The Inca agricultural terracing and friendly locals make Colca my choice for #8.

7. Baños, Ecuador

A tourist ready town at the base of the active Volcán Tungurahua. The area has lots of hiking opportunities and even more extreme sport options, that I decided not to pay for. I just walked in search of eruption views. Occasionally, smoke would billow from the top and rumbles could be heard all over town. I found out later that the eruptions were rare, as not many other travelers reported seeing the impressive sight. As with a few other places I visited, I was there at the right time.

6. Isla del Sol, Bolivia

A high altitude island on Lake Titicaca. I could hike around all day and then rest my head for less than $3 per night. The ticket takers, with their greedy little hands, were annoying, but the weather was perfect and the wandering was boundary free.

5. Kuelap, Peru

good views

good views

An Inca fortress set on a hilltop, with great views of the surrounding valleys. I loved the site, but the fact that you can reach the place via a 3 hr hike from the town of Tingo, pushes it up my list.

4. Huaraz – Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Towering snow capped peaks, colorful mountain lakes, numerous hiking trails, this place is amazing. Just staring at the extreme heights of the place, containing 33 hunks of rock over 6,000 meters high, was cool. With more money and time, I could have explored the space better, but I was happy with my budget touring.

3. Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador

I wasn’t expecting much when I walked to the edge of the crater, but that first view made me say “Wow!”. Staying in a hostal, steps from the rim and at an elevation of over 4,000 meters, I enjoyed it all. A spectacular hike circles around the crater lake and the bus rides between nearby towns are guaranteed to be memorable. The freezing cold temps at night can easily be fought off with an open fire.

2. Salar de Uyuni – Far SW Bolivia

My love for this place has been well documented, with it’s unreal scenery and unique wildlife. Why is it not at the top of my list? Because – I had to use a tour and memories of being painfully cold are still fresh in my head.

1. Cabo de la Vela, Colombia



Why it’s #1: If I had to choose one place to go back to and spend a week, this would be it. Multiple quiet beaches, warm weather, hammocks, climbing hills, a salt flat, unbelievable sunsets, and very few tourists. I was able to wake up everyday and decide between just laying on the beach, hiking a rugged coastline, or doing both. Put this place on your list, but only if you can handle the 2 hr ride out in the back of a truck and live without a shower for a few days.


Sunday, July 11th, 2010

It is an amazing sight. From the abbreviated summit of the 16,500 ft high Volcan Tungruhua, a dark gray smoke billows into the sky and trails off into the distance. It is entertaining, it is humbling, it is momentary.

I caught my first glimpse on Monday, after a short hike with the American I met in Quilotoa (I’ll call him Guy) and a girl from Seattle we met on the old dusty trail. (She’s a former Underdog Sports participant, of the minigolf variety.) We sat at Bellavista for over an hour, talking and staring at the peak. Girl said it was the most action she had seen from the volcano during her 4 day stay.

blowing off some steam

blowing off some steam

Back in town, Guy and I parted ways with Girl, checked out a hanging bridge over Rio Pastaza, and tried some Curry Vindaloo at the local gringo joint. The curry with bananas was ok, but the roaming local band that stopped in to entertain us was better.

Guy headed off to Quito and a flight home the next day. It was good to talk with someone in my same age group and of similar interests. He studied Math in college as well and recently fell into a 6th grade Math teaching job in Nashville. Not his desired position after getting a Doctorate in Archeology, he is like me, still looking to get on a path.

Tuesday and Wednesday both revolved around World Cup soccer matches. Market lunches, short hikes, TV, and fast food dinners filled the hours.

Thursday: With no International sporting events on the magical picture box, I was free to roam the hills and try to get closer to the action. I wandered through the small farming village of Runtún and stumbled upon a viewpoint known as “La Casa del Arbol”. As the name implies, the property contains a tree house but more importantly a swing. I do love swings.

me on swing

me on swing

Clouds blocked views of the Volcano, but there was a 30 second window which was timed nicely with an exhale from the rock. A rumble was also heard and felt, reminding me of it’s proximity.

The highlight though was meeting the 3 American women who strolled up to the vista after their bus broke-down. A mother/daughter pair from Memphis and a friend from Atlanta. They arrived with the owner who upset them with his foul odor, firm hugs during photos, and free beer (they prefer cocktails). I showed my pics from the swing and convinced most of them it was safe. Then, I was handed cameras and given artistic freedom while they nervously relived their childhood.

With darkness looming, I joined them in the jaunt along the gravel roads back toward town. They were staying in a sweet hotel on the hill above Baños with the best views around. Finding it was a bit tricky though and required help from locals and a trusting walk down a dirt trail. I enjoyed listening to the teasing that can only be shared between close friends and family, something that is hard to find on the backpacker trail. It reminded me of home.

With my hostal another 45 minutes down the hill in Baños, I said goodbye to the friendly trio at their casa. Then made a quick stop at bellavista for one more view of some spewing ash, before racing darkness into town.

Friday: Slept most of the day under the influence of allergy medicine. Some places give me minor trouble, but not near as bad as back home.

Saturday: Crossed the bridge to hike up the other side of the valley. I had a high point in mind, but wasn’t sure how to get there. Luckily, the quiet road took me to a vista with benches. After 30 minutes of fog and rain at the top, sun and near perfect views of the volcano. The perspective from farther away was better than expected, allowing me to see the old lava path on the western slope and the full shape of the geological wonder.

taking in the view

taking in the view

Today: Watched the sloppy World Cup final after some market ceviche. I like the way they do this dish down here in Ecuador. They put fish in a bowl, pour in a tomato soup with onions, give you a lime to squeeze in, and a bowl of popcorn to put on top. Add condiments to reach your desired spice level and enjoy. More interesting but less filling than the standard market almuerzo: chicken soup, plate with beef or more boiled chicken, rice, salad with beets, and potato cakes (seems to be a Baños thing, which I love), and a glass of juice.

I am now in the process of booking Spanish classes in Manta, via email. Looking forward to living in the shared student apartment and cooking for myself. Tentative start date is July 26th.

Tomorrow, the plan is to arrive in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, and say goodbye to the Andes. Sun and beaches are next. Necesito mi bronceado vuelta

E = 56

Cool Blue Reason

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Laguna Quilotoa is pretty spectacular. It’s a 2 hour bus ride from Latacunga, that rises up 1,200 meters to 4,000 at the rim of the crater lake. The air is thin, the temperature is chilly, but the views are amazing.

Laguna Quilotoa

Laguna Quilotoa

I stayed 2 nights in a hostal a few steps from the rim, paying $10 a night for a warm bed, two meals, and a wood burning stove to sit around. All necessary after getting rained on my first afternoon of hiking down to the lake. The first night (Thursday), it was just me, a German guy, and the host family, drinking tea and hot chocolate by the fire.

Friday: I hiked around the rim, stopping often to catch my breath and take pictures. The weather was near perfect, with early views of a pair of snow capped peaks. I was unprepared for the sunshine though and subsequently burnt my nose for the umpteenth time this trip. The circular path takes about 5 hours, but I stetched it out to 7, sitting on the rim watching the afternoon clouds.

The Lake and I

The Lake and I

The white fluffy stuff would creep over the far side from the surrounding valleys, dissipating before it could reach the water. That night, I shared the fire with a funny couple from Finland and a Dutch couple.

I tried to compare this site with “Crater Lake” in Oregon though it has been a few years. Quilotoa is smaller, higher up, doesn’t have the cone in the middle, the water is not as clear, the rim is more well defined and better for hiking, it’s cheaper, and I would call the surrounding views about equal. So, it kind of depends on what you like.

more Laguna

more Laguna

Saturday: Looked at the lake some more before grabbing some lunch and meeting a guy from the US. He was a cool guy, originally from the Bay Area, who took pity on this long term vagabond and paid for my meal. We were both planning to be in the city of Baños on Sunday, and exchanged info in order to meet up. Thus, he will make another appearance in this blog.

I got a ride to the bus stop from the American and his guide, and was joined there by the Dutch couple from the previous night. Our next destination, the village of Chugchilán and some altitude relief. The thrilling ride measured only about 14 km, but lasted nearly 2 hours. Being market day, each stop of the crowded bus required multiple sacks to be unloaded and people to be squeezed out. The highlight was the old drunk man, sitting on a sack of potatoes in the aisle. He was the butt of constant jokes by nearby Ecuadorians, but also behaved inappropriately toward some women. The driver decided to kick him off the bus about 30 minutes before his desired destination. He was removed by a few men and placed on the ground, before clumsily attempting to chase down his departing transportation. I laughed, but only because I was confident he would be able to procur another ride shortly.

My accommodations in Chugchilán were in another comfortable mountain hostal, full of adventurous souls. Meal and drinks were had with the Dutch couple, a nice British couple, a young German man, and friendly older Canadian man. I was tempted by their tales and plans for hiking between villages, but felt like I had already done the signature trek and that an altitude related cold was imminent.

Sunday: I set my sights on getting back to civilization and down to the 1,800 meter high town of Baños. I completed the “Quilotoa Loop” by catching another crowded market day bus 1.5 hours north to Sigchos. There, transfered to a Latacunga bus and stood through 2 hours of hairpin turns. A young girl threw up in a plastic bag and a woman with a baby fainted in the aisle. Both would survive.

I arrived at my destination after 7 hours and 4 buses, but was still able to do some of my best hostal hunting. The Lonely Planet place wanted near $7 for a dorm, the next 2 places were cheaper but not that nice, then I found Hostal Carolina and the best value I have seen traveling. For $6, I get a private room and bath, 2 beds (1 for building a little fort), TV, door opens onto the 3rd floor patio with views, central location yet quiet, free wifi downstairs, and a complimentary bar of soap. All of that and it is right across the street from where the Yank I met in Quilotoa is staying.

Now: Despite the lack of empanadas, I plan to hang out here for a week or so. They have a nice food market for cheap lunches and green hills all around for hiking. Plus, as those I have allowed to be my friend on Facebook know, Volcán Tungurahua is active and close-by. My goal is to stick around until I see lava (from a distance) and/or find a cheap Spanish school in Ecuador via the interweb. I need to get a date and location locked down or scratch it all together, so that I can map out the rest of my time here. Por suerte, este volcán no requiere sacrificios.

E = 56