As sad as it was to depart from the serene seclusion of ecovillage life, we packed up our bags once again and headed for Tenas to catch a bus on to our next destination.
Baños is a relatively small town in the mountains, right next to the Tungurahua Volcano. We went there for the hot springs, glad to be getting away from the sweltering jungle for a bit. It was unbelievable how many bug bites we all got, all on our last night at Wisdom Forest. Two days with hardly any, and then our ankles and legs were covered.
Baños was a nice little town, and since we hadn’t booked a hotel yet, we went for the first one we could see from the bus station. This, we would later learn, was a mistake. It was decently priced, but there were no outside windows (just windows to other parts of the hotel, and to a light shaft in the middle of the building, which gave very little light) and the noise from the streets was pretty loud. That night we would learn that our neighbors were also loud, banging around and talking loudly until two or three in the morning. Eventually Laura went to try to close a little window near the ceiling in the bathroom, only to pull the whole thing out of its sill, making a huge ruckus that scared the neighbors into quieting down.
But I get ahead of myself. While walking the streets, were accosted from all sides by people trying to get us to sign up for these tours. There are many attractions in the area, and the method of choice for ferrying tourists about is in big flat beds that have been rigged with benches and a canopy. They call them Chivas. They all feature neon lights and loud sound systems for blasting Latin electronic music. We were sold on the treehouse tour, where there are some kiddy zip lines and giant swings going out over a ravine looking onto the Volcano.
The ride out there was uncomfortable, as the benches were too small and the music too loud, but we had beautiful views the whole way, until we got into the clouds, at least. We were glad for our hats and jackets, as the temperature dropped substantially.
The park with all the swings was cool, if a bit over crowded. Dozens of these Chivas bring full loads of tourists up as many times a day as they can pack them, and so the line for the best swing, under the tree house, was some half an hour long. We took turns waiting in it while the others went around using the other swings and zip lines. Lila wanted to do the kiddy zip line swing, and to my surprise, they let her. She sat up there without fear and zipped away, saying she wanted to do it again, though I had to go get back in line for the big swing.
The swing was really fun, going way out over a ravine, and the clouds cleared long enough for me to get a view of the volcano. With so many people waiting, we couldn’t have a very long turn, but we all got to go on it, at least, except Lila, who was most displeased at the exclusion.
That night we went to the hot springs, which were in a really cool location. There were actually several locations, some of them spas and others big pools, but we went to the one with the hottest water, right underneath a tall but thin waterfall that was lit up with green and blue lights.
There were two main hot springs pools, one being too hot for the girls to even get in, much to their chagrin. The other was just a smidge cooler than one really wants for a good hot soak, but still they enjoyed it. Lila especially, as it was just shallow enough for her to stand. Both pools were extremely crowded, but it was still nice to soak. I went back and forth between the hot, cold and mild tubs several times that night.
Gaia made a friend in the water, with whom she couldn’t really speak, but as we were leaving her friend followed us to where we were getting our stuff together and I translated a bunch of questions she wanted to ask. She was fascinated, as are so many people down here, by Gaia and Lila’s hair.
I remember taking a “how privileged are you” quiz not too long ago (a rather absurd set of questions mostly pertaining to race, gender and sexuality, with far too little emphasis on financial class status), wherein one of the questions was “has anyone ever asked you to touch your hair,” as if by having hair that interests other people makes you oppressed. I guess my world traveling children are one point less privileged now for their blond hair…
We also got pastries that night, as yet another celebration of Lila and Gaia’s birthdays. It was actually Lila’s birthday that day, though we celebrated both hers and Gaia’s in Texas and in Florida. We let the girls watch a movie and went to bed early, only to be awakened around midnight when the revelers returned and the story I told earlier unfolded.
The next day we went on another tour, called seven waterfalls. I have to say, we got ripped off on this one. We paid seven bucks a person (excluding Lila) to get ferried up into the mountains again, expecting to stop at several waterfalls where we could get out and hike around. I was sold on this one by the guy at the front desk of the hotel, who showed me pictures on the computer. He also showed me pictures of a cable car taking people by a waterfall and zip line out over the canyon. What he didn’t mention was that these were stops on the bus tour, and that if we didn’t want to do them (they cost extra of course) then we would just have to sit around and wait while everyone else did. The cable car tour we decided to go on, though it was less enjoyable for being so crammed full of people that we could barely move, but the zip lines were twelve bucks a person, and they simply didn’t look worth it to me. Thus, we sat at a tourist trap food stand with three girls whining that they wanted food and that they were bored, for over half an hour.
We also stopped at an overhang cliff where we could supposedly see the face of Jesus in the rocks. I’ve seen clearer faces of Jesus in my tortillas, and I didn’t find this supposed formation to be worth the twenty minutes we spent there.
When we finally got to the big waterfall, the Devil’s something or another, we had to pay to get in, and we had to basically wait in a long line to get down the stairs to stand underneath it. The girls, particularly Eva, were all in bad moods and complaining that the whole day was boring, and even though the waterfall was really awesome, it was hard to enjoy it with her continually falling behind and refusing to walk.
Still, what an amazing waterfall. We took two wobbly cable bridges and a winding staircase carved into a cliff to get to it, and we were able to stand right underneath it, close enough to stick a hand in the roaring column of water that dropped some two hundred feet into a frothy pool below.
I later learned that we could have taken a cab directly to this one waterfall (the only real attraction on this tour) for twenty dollars, eight less than we paid to be driven in an overcrowded Chiva with a bench so small that my butt kept sliding off on the downhill ride. Live and learn, I suppose.
Our bathing suits were still not dry from hanging in the bathroom, so I went out and found a laundry service place with a machine dryer. The guy said they’d be open until seven, which gave us time, I thought, to go eat. We went to a restaurant we’d seen over by the hot springs, called Café Hood. It was really good food, and we managed to have a dinner relatively free of drama, a welcomed respite after so much whining and complaining.
We got a cab back towards our hotel at fifteen till seven. It was five till when I showed up at the laundry place, but they were already closed. I asked somebody nearby when they thought it would open again in the morning, because we had to catch an 8:45 bus to Cuenca. He told me 8, but the next morning when I went over, they were not open. There was a phone number on their sign, so I went around trying to find a phone that I could use to call. The phone/internet places weren’t open yet, and as time ticked away I started to get nervous. We couldn’t leave without our bathing suits and our one towel, but we couldn’t miss our bus to Cuenca either. There was only one bus per day, and we were ready to move on.
At the end, with only about twenty minutes left before we had to get on the bus, I started banging on the doors and yelling up at the windows. Eventually a lady poked her head out and I explained my situation. She grudgingly came down and got my clothes for me, and I ran to get the girls and our stuff and get us on the bus, just in the nick of time.
The bus ride to Cuenca was long, but thankfully they stopped for a bathroom break about half way. When we arrived in Cuenca, we got a hotel in the old town area, which was beautiful and European looking. Cuenca was to be our favorite city in Ecuador, by far. It was beautiful, clean, and full of interesting places to visit. We really didn’t have enough time there, but such is the nature of a whirlwind tour like World Tour 17. After eating some really good pizza, we went to a park across the river that was clean, well lit, and full of people with kids. The playground equipment was new and nice, and there was a whole bunch of exercise equipment and a three lane running track all the way around the park. It was so much nicer than any park we had been to yet, and Gaia made another friend while Eva had another fit, about something or another.
The next day we took a double decker bus tour of the city, which took us by all of the interesting architecture of the old town, founded in the 1590s. I enjoyed going into the main Cathedral, and I paid two dollars to go up onto the roof to get a view of the city.
After the tour we took a cab out to the city zoo, only to find that it was closed on Mondays. The only day of the week they were closed was the day we took an expensive cab right out to visit. Instead we went to a museum back in town, which well made up for the closed zoo. The museum was free and it was very interesting. It had a huge back area where there were some Incan ruins surrounded by an amazing food forest and garden demonstrating the Incan food system. There were also some llamas tethered back there, in which the girls took great interest. Inside the museum was an anthropological history of Ecuador and some very interesting art. One exhibit was about the temporary nature of human endeavors and the futility of materialistic culture. Rather philosophical for a publicly funded museum.
I’m no fan of taxation, but if we are going to have publicly funded projects, such things as museums and archeological preservation well merit the effort it takes to pool our resources to pay for them. We just need to make sure that all collection of such revenue is done consensually.
We ate at a Columbian restaurant that night, which was quite tasty, and then we went back to the room to take it easy for a while before bed. Once again, we could have used several more days in Cuenca, as we liked the feel of the city very much, but we were already getting past the number of days we allocated for Ecuador, and we hadn’t yet gotten to the place that first attracted us to Ecuador to begin with – Vilcabamba. It was yet another long bus ride away, and so the next morning we ate breakfast and bid farewell to the really nice couple who ran the hostel before heading to the bus terminal once again.