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Arriving in Baños
After leaving Canoa I made a quick stop in Quito to drop off a bag and enjoy the most delicious Hare Krishna lunch before heading to catch a bus bound for Baños. I had heard that Baños was a cool adventure town in the mountains of Ecuador but I had no idea how awesome it would be.
Canoa is a very poor town. There’s one paved road, chickens and dogs run the streets, and a lot of the street vendors push their carts because they are too poor to afford a bike chain. After living in that environment for a month I was quite surprised to be walking the streets of Baños and see dune buggies cruising the streets, kids on brakeless BMX bikes, and several-thousand dollar mountain bikes leaning against the wall in restaurants. The town is nestled in a river valley with a volcano towering above its streets and majestic waterfalls throughout the neighboring mountains. The name comes from the hot springs, or “baths,” along the edge of town.
The Bike Ride
Baños is a great place to meet people because everyone is about to go do something cool. The first night I ran into Manuela and Carmen, two Swiss girls I had met in Quito. We rented bikes Sunday morning and rode along the river checking out the numerous waterfalls along the way. After seeing about 6 waterfalls and rain starting to fall on us the girls hopped a bus and I started riding back. The sprinkling rain felt great so I explored a side road that wound up a valley. It was beautiful and green and secluded – just what I was looking for. I know I’m not in the kind of race shape I used to be, but the road was so steep I spent an hour and a half in the granny gear until three large dogs halted my progress. I rode back into town and returned the bike just as the rain picked up.
On Monday I rented a 250cc dirt bike for 3 hours and took off. First I tried to find a dirt road I had seen the day before but apparently it was private property w/ a gate and guards. I turned around and, crossing the bungee jump bridge, headed towards some radio antennas. The rental company had shown me a map and told me it should take 2 hours round trip but 25 minutes of wide open throttle and counter steered corners later I was parked at the top. I followed the road as it summited the mountain and entered an agricultural valley. Taking every side path possible, I splashed through puddles, reved out climbing jeep roads, and got lost in single track cow paths. I was completely alone in the back woods of the Andes. The bike wouldn’t shift into neutral if it was running and none of the gauges worked (including gas) but I figured that was just part of the adventure.
There are a few miradors (lookouts) on the mountain that borders town so I decided to hike to them when I got back. The first and lowest of the lookouts is 698 concrete steps straight up. From there the path turns to dirt and climbs about another couple hundred meters of elevation to the Mirador del Volcan. The path winds along cliff sides, through tomato farms, and into back yards filled with chickens and laundry. The clouds broke just as I got to the top and offered a great view of the volcano while I was there. On the way down I took random paths, followed a few signs, and asked a little kid of about 8 for directions until I found the right trail.
The trail was so steep it was difficult to walk at times, yet there was a single Maxxis Holy Roller tire impression the whole way down. I couldn’t believe this awesome trail was just outside of town with the perfect road to shuttle and I couldn’t help but think maybe Mike W. should move to Baños. (Sorry to all the non cycling nerds, you probably don’t understand any of that.) The trail even finishes a block and a half from the hospital, how convenient is that?
A moto, a jeep, and a few crazy kids
Tuesday morning I went to find an Ecuadorian I had met the day before for a horse ride but instead rounded up a group of 6 people to rent a 4×4 Jeep and a moto. Our crew consisted of 2 Germans – Armin and Daniel – I met in the hostel, and 3 Brits I had met in Canoa – Mel, Vicky, and Jennie. We took a side road just outside town and after a short hike found a beautiful waterfall. A lot of the falls are commercialized with people and zip lines and vendors. This one involved hiking through an old man’s fish farm whom we asked for directions. After following a trail that was more an indentation in the grass, we let the sound of crashing water be our guide until a waterfall opened in front of us. It was beautiful with a 15 meter drop, a small pool at the bottom, and most importantly, no one around.
After a quick stop at the Runtun, we headed for the Refuge at 3800 meters. I drove the jeep for a bit trying to understand how a vehicle in such disrepair was still on the road. The brakes were terrifying, the suspension was rock solid, and the steering wheel had a full half rotation before it affected the wheels at all, but it ran and it got 4 of us up the mountain on cobble stones and dirt so that’s all the counts. For some reason, after I almost jumped the jeep over a speed bump, the girls decided they trusted me on a motorcycle. I had to keep the speeds a little lower than the day before as they all took a turn sitting on the back. The views at the lower elevations were incredible looking down onto the town and as we got higher everything was silenced as we rode into a cloud and the views were murky and serene. It was a great adventure with a great group of people.
That night involved enough alcohol for karaoke to seem like a good idea, and in the morning I decided I needed to leave before I spent all my money on bicycles, and kayaks, and motorcycles, and jeeps. I took a beautiful, although painful, 9 hour bus ride to Cuenca.