We spent three days in Banos, a great little town that´s about 4 hours (by bus) south of Quito, and which is nestled between several steep mountains. It´s also only 8km from Volcan Tungurahua, which a couple of months ago began to be unusually active.
There were a few strange sights in town:
In town they sell a local specialty, a type of taffy. We didn´t try any, but it was mildly entertaining to watch the taffy pullers in action.
The Termas, or Hot Mineral Springs
Banos is famous for its natural hot mineral springs, which are heated by the nearby volcano. It´s also the adventure capital of Ecuador, as evidenced by the fact that 3 out of every 5 shops offered bike and ATV rentals and canyoning, river rafting, bridge jumping, and jungle adventures. I don´t know how a small town can support so many tour companies and bike rentals, but somehow it does.
The hostel we stayed in was a remarkable bargain - only $7 a night per person with a large clean room, 24/7 hot water (trust me, that´s a HUGE luxury here), a private bathroom, a private balcony with views of a nearby waterfall, free internet and honor-system beers available upstairs in the cafeteria. And it was merely a 3 minute walk from the hot springs.
We loved the hot springs so much that we went both Tuesday night and this morning, when it was much less crowded and we could relax, watching the waterfall above as the sun rose. A person could get used to these hot springs! And they only cost us about $1.75 to visit.
On Monday we rented a couple of bikes and rode off along the road from Banos to Puyo. The landscape we rode through was beautiful. The steep mountain sides were lush and green, and there were many natural waterfalls along the way.
The most impressive waterfall was in the small town of Rio Verde. There we locked our bikes up and hiked 20 minutes down into the forest to see the Pailon Del Diablo, or "Devil's Cauldron," an awesome waterfall that roars and crashes down into the rocks below. We walked across a wobbly foot bridge to the other side of the waterfall, where we enjoyed drinks and lunch at a restaurant called El Otro Lado ("The Other Side"). After lunch we paid $1 each to walk up to several viewing balconies where you can feel the spray from this powerful (and deafening) waterfall. We hiked back up and continued down the road on our bikes.
We rode on past a town called Rio Negro, intending to ride all the way to Puyo. But the daily afternoon downpour began and we found ourselves struggling up some pretty steep hills. All in all, we rode for 30km before the hills and pouring rain wore us out.
Now what!?! We weren´t near a town, but I finally managed to flag down a couple of locals in their pickup truck. In our broken Spanish we managed to ask for a ride back to Banos, and they were nice enough to oblige...but not without a surprise in store...
[TO BE CONTINUED]