As Jo and Colin were heading to Baños the same day as us, the 4 of us travelled together. Fortunately it was Sunday and since extra buses run on Sundays we were able to catch a 9am bus to Latacunga rather than the usual 4.30am bus.
To get from there to Baños we had to catch a bus to Ambato, then change buses. What no one told us was that the Baños buses left from a different terminal from where we were dropped off. After asking several people where to go and getting through the confusion that we needed the bus to the town of Baños, not the bus company called Baños, we caught a taxi to the other terminal, turning up just as a bus was leaving.
Our hostel was only 1 block from the terminal and two blocks from the main square. As we wandered the streets that afternoon we found people making sweets in every second shop. The local treat is a chewy sweet called melcocha made by sticking the sugar mixture to a stick and stretching it out then repeating, over and over. The result is quite delicious though the hygiene is questionable and one's dentist would likely not approve.
Not far from the centre of town is the San Francisco Bridge, which spans the Rio Pastaza at a fair height. From this bridge you can do bridge jumping, similar to bungee jumping but with a rope attached to a cylinder that we assume has a good amount of stretch and a body harness. Unfortunately no one was jumping when we were there, and there was no way we were going to attempt that one without full knowledge of Ecuadorian safety standards.
We met Jo and Colin for some dinner that night and had a good chat, until the restaurant signalled we should think about leaving by presenting us with our bill.
Baños sits at the base of Volcano Tungurahua, though with mountainous terrain in front you are unable to see it from town. Despite there being a few clouds around, we hoped a walk to the volcano lookout might offer a glimpse. The town maps show a path that leads to the lookout, one way via the Virgin Mary Lookout, and the other via the Bella Vista Lookout. We decided to do a loop past the Virgin Mary on the way up and Bella Vista on the way back. We might have read it somewhere but we set off with the impression the loop would take 3 hours.
Starting by the cemetery we climbed up quite a few stairs until we reached the virgin, a crumbling statue of Mary, holding Jesus in her arms sitting on a throne. There were two trail options from there, one leading to Ventanas which wasn't on our map, so we took the other unmarked trail.
We eventually found a sign indicating the direction of the volcano lookout, 800 metres. "Brilliant!" we thought, not far to go. After walking what felt like about 800m further, we saw another sign, 300m. Then another sign, 600m, then another 300m. We decided the signs gave no indication whatsoever of how far to go, but instead the distance to the next sign!
It ended up being quite a walk, through farms with huge greenhouses made from wooden structures with plastic covering, most of which was torn from the wind. Eventually we made it to the lookout, at a place called the tree house. There was a tree house built there, with a big swing you could swing on out over the edge of the hill. The only thing missing was the volcano! With even more cloud cover at that level, we had absolutely no visibility of Tungurahua at all.
A little deflated, we left the tree house to make our way back to town. The pathway leading back down was really steep but quite nice surrounded by a lot of vegetation. We followed it down to Bella Vista, a lookout over Baños which has a rather ugly cross on it that they light up at night. We finally made it back to town a lot later than expected after 12km and 5 hours.
With aching bodies we decided that we'd earned a soak in the hot baths, though we had to wait a while until they reopened after being cleaned. Knowing that the water was fresh was nice as we plunged in with our compulsory shower caps on (another hygiene requirement?!?). We'd opted for the outdoor pool, not the hot indoor one, with the view of the waterfall all lit up now that it was dark. Although the cooler of the pools it was incredibly hot and we could only stay under the water for a few minutes at a time. The waterfall showers were a wonderfully freezing cool off between submersions in the pool.
The following day we hired some bikes, to head out of town and checkout the cascadas. As the cascadas are into a canyon that the road follows there are also a lot of flying foxes and cable cars. We stopped at the first one and watched for a while. Although one of the safer looking set ups we decided that the flying foxes were still not up to our standards, however we thought we'd try out the cable car. It appeared to free wheel for the start and once it stopped, about ½ way, you wait a while before it jerks into motion and chugs the rest of the way across.
We jumped off the other side and checked out a nearby suspension bridge. We then watched a few more of the crazies on the flying fox, before waiting for the cable car. It seems that once you've paid your money and have taken it across they aren't to concerned with getting you back! We waited quite a while and when it finally did come across it was full and didn't even stop at our end. When it finally stopped quite a crowd had gathered and there were even some people already on it. With no one there to help us on we all piled into it and back we went. Never at any point was there someone checking to ensure that we hadn't overloaded it, or secured the door correctly. Nice and safe!
Back on the bikes we rode out to all the waterfalls, the 2nd last being Pailon del Diablo, where we had to walk down to it. Once we got there we paid the $3 entry fee and when seeing the falls we now understood why so many who'd passed us on the way up were wet, you could stand behind the falls! It wasn't easy to do, as you had to climb through on your hands and knees, but it was pretty cool (no pun intended) to stand in the spray of the water as it crashed down in front of you.
From there we continued to the last waterfall, wondering why locals were suggesting we head back from where we were. Once we arrived we, once again, bumped into Colin and Jo. They'd been up to the last fall and suggested that it wasn't really worth the effort. So we decided to head back with them. As the road had been downhill the entire way we'd decided to get the bus back, as recommended. They're meant to be very regular, however we waited quite a while and now understood why the locals had suggested we return earlier. When we were seriously contemplating riding back to Pailon del Diablo a 'taxi' (a ute so you can throw the bikes in the back) finally showed up.
After the ride we decided we required another soaking in the hot springs, though this time we'd try the more picturesque ones. Slightly out of town Fergus suggested we ride there. Not a great idea as it was uphill and through a gully where he ended up having to carry both bikes up it. The picturesque baths weren't as good as we'd hoped, not that great a view and not as hot as the other baths. So we didn't stay too long. But at least on the way home we could simply free wheel on the bikes!
We ended our day with a nice dinner with Colin and Jo and a friend of theirs (Russ) that they'd met along the way.