The other cool thing about Baños is that the name of the town literally means “baths” in Spanish, and indeed there were thermal baths in town. Popular among the locals and internation travelers alike, the facilities open at 4:30 am and are crowded by 7 am.
Today we got up and moving after a crappy night in a crappy bed. We couldn’t figure out how to get the hot water to work for the shower either… but later i realized that the propane tank hooked up to a water heater mechanism sitting right outside the bathroom might have something to do with that.
The plan for the day: ride 70 km on bicycle to the nearest big town in the jungle called Puyo. The ride would be mostly downhill following the same river valley we were rafting down yesterday. There were a handful of very pretty waterfalls along the way and lush green trees covering the steep mountains. We had to go through a tunnel and under a small waterfall on the way down.
As we got closer to the selva it started to rain… reiterating the fact that it is indeed called a rain forest *for a reason. The ride was about 6 hours and our asses were really sore by the time we got to Puyo. We ate *chaulafan especial at a chifa, which is the ecuadorian way of saying “shrimp, pork, and chicken fried rice at a Chinese restaurant”. It was tasty but nothing like the chinese buffets in US! After a filling meal, we wandered around for a few minutes in Puyo and with nothing to see and tired haunches, we loaded the bikes into the cargo compartment and hopped on a bus back up the mountain from whence we came.
The perfect end to the day had to be to head out to the thermal baths to soak our aching arses. We got there 30 minutes before close at 11 pm and we were the last people in the baths as they drained the water out of the cement pool, to be refilled tomorrow morning. I tried not to think about the fact that people had been soaking in this murky water all day long… dead skin… peeing in the pool… errr, uh, yeah. Anyway, we went out to bars after that and had a few beers with the guides from our rafting trip the previous day and the nightlife was even more dead than Sunday night.
We arrived in Baños de Ambato which is uniquely situated at the foot of the Volcán Tungurahua in a steep and very long valley where Río Pastaza and a few others converge to connect the sierra to the selva (the mountains to the jungle). The place has really grown up around the tourist industry as a jumping off place for jungle tours, volcano viewing tours, rafting, canyoning, rock climbing, and mountaineering trips. There is a hostel on every corner, right next to the adventure tour agency, right next to the taffy store?? go figure. Apparently, before the town became a bustling tourist hub, it was known for a unique taffy called melcocha made from the brown blocks of raw cane sugar called panela.
We got to town late and so we just took the first hostel we could get to, which was a nice one, but Sunday we got up and went in search of a better deal. We found a couple nicer ones for the same price, but settled with Pension Patty at a whopping three dollars per person, a double with shared bath at the end of the hall. It was my turn to get the flimsy bed, so yes I tossed and turned all night. The truth is that every place we have stayed thus far, one bed is good and one bed is horrible; and, often we don’t figure that out until the next morning.
Around noon we moved our stuff over to the new hotel and went in search of a rafting tour for later that afternoon. We finally found one after checking about 3 or 4 tour agencies. So we tagged along with a group of gringos that were volunteering at an elementary school some ways away and were here for the weekend vacationing. A couple Brits, two Americanas from Cali, and a German we were nine in all and the group took two rafts. The waters were low (Class 2-3 only) and there wasn’t much adrenaline rush for me but it was fun none-the-less and the clouds rolled away for excellent views of the smoking Tungurahua. One of the girls had a digi cam and took pictures of the trip and I’m awaiting her reply with some pics attached and I’ll get them on here asap.
After the trip everyone met up at a local bar, and I wasn’t really interested in drinking so i went across the street and attempted the rock wall that was just erected in place of what looked like a pile of rubble from some previous attempt to construct a building. The top-roped route was actually quite difficult with a decent overhang and only small nubs near the top. After everyone from that group left the town was fairly dead for a Sunday night so we crashed out early.