The next stop along the way to Peru is a funny little town of extremes. Either you are GoPro filming as you fly across kilometer wide canyons from tiny wires on your way to white water rafting on four-wheelers and mountain bikes, down a volcano road of doom & excitement while piercing your body with indigenous folks in the jungle…or you’ve just relaxed in a bath of hot volcano water and entered a 20 minute steam box session to further relax your body prior to a 1 hour shiatsu hot stone massage/reflexology treatment. It’s quite a perplexing and polarizing destination to visit. Either way you will never be bored in Baños! There are basically 4 types of shops spread out over 30 square blocks. Extreme Tours, Shiny Things, Massage Parlors and Food. It is essentially a Backpackers Disneyland.
We did a pretty good job of mixing them all up into a jumble of activities that worked well for us and our bruised budget. But first, the bus ride!
We had been staying at The Secret Garden – Cotopaxi the previous few days and headed out from there in a two truck convoy to the nearby village of Machachi. Our driver Arturo (who was so dang nice!) gave all 11 of us directions to the bus stop from where he dropped us off and indicated which buses we should all be taking.
Well, the first of our buses came and 8 of 11 travelers said farewell, boarded and went on their way. Which left Rachel, myself and Donata (sp? Sorry!) one of our friendly horse riding buddies standing clueless together at the side of a 6 lane highway. We hoped to see the correct bus fly by and flag it down in time. Sure enough, just as our wonder was about to turn worry Arturo appeared again out of nowhere to help us navigate the 97 buses that where cruising down the road. All of which were kind of slowing down as they yelled stops that we didn’t recognize at us. Arturo shewed them all away as they were just trying to fill their buses and would’ve let us board whether they were going to Baños or not! Thanks Arturo 🙂 Anywho, he finally saw the right bus and flagged it down.
As we boarded it became clear that we were not going to be sitting together, or maybe not at all. It’s only a 3 hour bus ride…no worries right? Well we grabbed what seats we could, Rae grabbing the first one we saw and I snagged the last seat in the back next to the poop room. But don’t worry, nobody actually uses it. And that’s real lucky too! Because our travel companion Donata didn’t have a spot. Beside me in that back row, between my seat and the poop room was a plastic stool. (No. Not a pun…) Rae noticed Donata had no seat and immediately gave up hers to come join me in Stool Row (Yes. That’s a pun) She wouldn’t even let me switch with her. Not half-way there or nothin’. What a sweetheart. As it turns out this was the best move Rachel could have made. All along the way our bus was adding passengers. If you are willing to stand you are welcome aboard! And somewhere between an hour and half to an hour left in the journey our bus was full. Like, shoulder-to-shoulder, Happy Hour at Spring Break, if the bus slammed on the breaks nobody would move, full. And there was poor Donata making friends with some ridiculous old lady’s armpit. Because of course if you are standing you have to hold the railing above. Being crammed with a bunch of people is one thing. But this lady ate her lunch over Donata’s head. She unlayered herself a little bit and after making nice with the stinky pits, she proceeded to slowly work her way in behind our friend until she was basically sitting behind Donata, who was now being forced to share her seat…kinda. It was terrible and hilarious and terrible all over again. This was of course on top of being charged $10 for a $3 bus ride because the ticket guy had no change. (once there was room again in the aisle she did get her change! But Rae and I both had our Spanish phrases ready to give him a what-fer if she didn’t.)
*Hot Tip – Bring exact change, or have change available if your planning to ride the buses! You will likely get your change by the end of the ride, but it just makes your life easier. As for a Hot Pits Top Tip…I’ve got nothing. Be a dick and push an old lady I guess? Or just lean forward, grin and bear it!
We wound up and then down again almost 2kms in elevation and finally made it to Baños. After spending 3 hours next to the bathroom that nobody uses I really had to pee. I was dancing in a circle like MC Hammer and we were in the middle of town so I couldn’t just go at the side of the road. I’m sure the irony of searching for a sign that said baños in a town called Baños is not lost on you. But like Tucan Sam I just followed my nose! We were of course at a bus station and if you don’t know that smell, well I guess use your imagination. Luckily I got to pay .10¢ to use the bathroom I could smell from the street. It’s a wonderful town though, I swear!
We wandered a little with Donata as we all got our bearings and then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I really hope things got better for her, she really deserves it! (If you read our last post, about the horse ride? She was also the poor lady who was lost for half an hour in the middle of Cotopaxi National Park!)
We found our Hostel, the one with the giant arrow above ↑, dropped off our crap and found some pizza! This, as it turns out would not be hard. As we found out later, half of the restaurants are “pizzarias”. Weird. It’s like they know mostly 20 something, beer drinking, action junkies like pizza. The shop we found was dandy enough and we ate our $5 pizza outside and watched the street go by.
The next day we wanted to see what kind of trips or treks might fit in our budget and figure out how to book said adventures without speaking much Spanish. We checked out a few places until we found a spot we liked with a lady inside who was super awesome. We gave her card away to some other travelers, but is was creatively called Motorentals Pro or something like that. She was right around the corner from the very popular MTS Adventure shop if you ever want to find her.
We booked ourselves a dune buggy for a few hours, decided to tool around the town and then check out the Devil’s Pillar. A GIANT waterfall at the end of stretch of four pretty big waterfalls and it was one of the coolest things we’ve done so far. I can’t really describe the size and power of this thing, but I hope some of what we captured gives you at least a little taste of what we saw. The water just blasts off this thing and moves soo fast. We were definitely not jumping off any of these bad boys!
We spent so much time enjoying the waterfall that we had lost track of time. We only had 15 minutes left on our rental and a 45 minute drive back to town! Then we started to wonder how safe our dune buggy was parked all by itself at the top of the waterfall…but when we finally made it back to the top, it was still there! So I ran over, started it up and flew back to pick up Rachel. I made it to the entrance just in time for the engine to stall. Then, it wouldn’t start! Did someone siphon our gas? Ack! We’re not sure what was going on, but it finally started again and we were off! Good thing too because there was not a single place to get gas on our route home. Phew!
The next day we chose to take the relaxing route of Baños. We got up über early to beat the tourists and join the locals in the Hot Volcano Water baths to rejuvenate our bodies. There was a list of 20 or 25 different minerals and whatnot but we were far too busy relaxing to take a photo. Soo your guess is as good as mine as to what was in the water. Either way it sure felt great!
We spent the rest of the day taking it easy and exploring this quirky little town. There are some really cool shops, hostels and restaurants full of all kinds of character. Our small goal for the day was to figure out how the heck we were going to get to Puerto Lopez the next morning. It’s a dusty little surf town that we chose to visit so we could get a few days at a beach before we left the country. As it turns out it was a little practice run for long haul bus rides as well. The journey from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Cusco, Peru was going to be about 50 hours on two separate buses over two days. The 12 hour trip to Puerto Lopez should be easy as pie!
We had done some research and asked around for tips, but the booking was pretty painless. We looked for a booking agent with a posted departure time that we liked, paid for our tickets for the following morning and we were all set! Easy, as, pie.
To celebrate we found a place that was recommended in the ol’ Lonely Planet book and ordered ourselves a couple drinks. As you might be able to guess, Rae got a giant beer and I asked for a glass of whiskey. I can’t drink too much beer these days and have grown quite a fondness for that sweet brown liquid. Cafe Hood came pretty well recommended. It’s a really mellow little joint with nice staff, really cool artwork, a pleasant environment and most importantly … drinks!
Now I do not claim to be any kind of whiskey aficionado, and we are on a budget so we made sure to order the low end version. But immediately upon my first sip I knew this was no cheap drink. It was delicious! Rachel had made certain to order the cheap glass and pointed right to it on the menu to avoid language issues. But it was really quite good. I had even mentioned our friend Dave (who is a bit of an aficionado) would really enjoy it, especially for a budget blend.
Sure enough however there was much dispute with our waitress about the bill. It was almost double what we were expecting, as they were charging us for the premium. The owners eventually came out and we learned I had received a tall glass of Johnny Walker Black, which is perched on beautiful wooden shelf above the bar. I had not received the unknown budget blend that was neatly tucked away in the kitchen. The owners were nice enough though, believed us and chuckled at the waitress for giving us a hard time. Bonus!
I know I have gone on long enough about the damn whiskey, but after the buggy and the bath we didn’t really do to much but wander, relax and do a little planning. It was quite nice.
I suppose I should mention that I got my first real sunburn in Baños as well. Dummy in a tanktop without sunscreen. Needless to say, I began applying it daily once we reached the beach. Damn this getting old stuff sucks! And I can blame the equator a little I suppose as well.
So, that was our short little visit to Baños and we would definitely go again!
*Special hello to Mr. McComb’s class from Cusco, Peru!