Baños & Quito
Baños or bathroom in Spanish was not the toilet I expected it to be. It was a refreshing mountain town surrounded by steep mountains, Tungurahua, the active volcano and beautiful waterfalls.
We stayed at a back packer hostel with a roof terrace that served average breakfasts.
The first day after our arrival we climbed up to the bella vista for a view over the town. We continued to walk up on a dry river bed to to reach our goal. Casa del arbol or tree house, perched on the side of a hill is a massive tree house complete with a swing that launches you out over the edge. It is a great place to take some pictures with the active volcano in the background spurting out brown ash. As we walked down we got a better view of the volcano from a view point and heard the volcano erupting. It was like thunder under the ground a truly awesome sight and sound. Further down we reached a spa hotel where we ate lunch with spectacular views over he whole of Baños. We got a taxi back down as the walk had been quite tiring.
Day 2 was canyoning which involved donning a wetsuit harness and helmet and abseiling down a range of waterfalls along a river ranging from 10 to 30 metres high. There were 4 gringos and 4 guides so we felt very safe. The girl with us, Cat, was from Orpington and went to Newstead Wood. Her brother went to my school and it turns out we had previously met when I was in the school play Barnum. Small world! We had a great time getting pummelled by the cascading water, jumping and sliding down the river. We all went out that night with the guide to a local nightclub where we had flaming shots and were treated like VIP's.
After a bit of persuading we got Sam to come with us white water rafting. We had tried white water rafting before in Arequipa but that was like a swimming pool compared to this. We got put with all the other gringos and into the "extreme" boat. This meant that at any opportunity the guide would say "left", we would all throw ourselves to the left thinking this was a safety drill, then he would flip the boat over. The eddies and rapids were big and it was exhilarating getting thrown into the water. The trip was over too soon and we were heading off for a well needed lunch. We did the tours with Geotours and can't recommend them highly enough. We ate that night at casa hood a restaurant with a diverse menu and tasty curry!
Day 4 we hired mad max style dune buggies and drove along the streets out of town to see the huge waterfalls lining the side of the valley. We reached the town of Puerto Verde where here was access to the truly spectacular El Diablo waterfalls. Not as impressive as iguazu but still thrilling and worth a visit. We got back and went to the main reason for people visiting Baños, the natural hot springs heated from the volcano looming over the city. A highlight of the hot and cold pools was having to wear silly swimming hats.
We got the bus the following morning to quito.
We checked into to the secret garden hostel, a hip place where Facebook was not allowed after 6 to encourage people to get to know each other. We met up with Pep and Melinda who had got back from the Galapagos and made us jealous with all their amazing photos.
Dinner the first night was an up market oriental inspired restaurant called Zao. The food was amazing if a bit pricey, but the real story is in how we got there. The taxi driver I think was a bit simple. We gave him the address and directions, he drove around asking 4 people on the street where to go, even got a flier with a map on it for the restaurant but after an hour of driving aimlessly we jumped out of the cab hailed another and were there in 2 mins. The simple taxi driver was waiting for us outside he restaurant when we finished. We paid him a couple of dollars unsure if we had a Travis Bickle on our hands.
The free walking tour arranged through Community hostel down the road was really good. We saw the food market; the flower market (Ecuador exports roses all over the world and a bunch of 6 only costs a dollar); spectacular churches with graphic depictions of Christ's crucifixion; sweet shops with local delicacies; and some interesting stories of quito's history.
Sam arrived at the hostel and we all got a taxi to Mitad del Mundo or the middle of the earth. At the equator there are two sites. The first is the commercial centre where wrongly, French scientists thought the latitude was 0 back in 1700's when trying to prove the earth is round. This site has a large statue and lots of tourist tat shops. By far more interesting and according to native peoples the real equator (proved correct by GPS) is the Inti museum 100 metres north of the monument. We got shown around some exhibits on local culture then were guided to the official line. They showed us some experiments involving watching water go down a plug whole clockwise and anti clockwise either side of the line thus proving the coreollis effect. Also balancing an egg on a nail as gravity is less at the equator. I was slightly dubious of these "science" experiments and need to ask someone in the know if these are real or just fun tricks. As we were about to leave I got the honour of pouring ice water over an English chap doing his ice bucket challenge on the equator.
I looked on my google maps and found both sites to be wrong and the actual equator point was in the middle of the road outside the museum, I got a picture whilst dodging traffic.
We spent only 9 days in Ecuador, missing out climbing Cotopaxi and of course the Galapagos. We will return. We left the following day via plane flying to Cali in Colombia.