Baños, Ecuador: 23rd to 27th December, 2012
As I write this we are still in Baños, Ecuador where we spent Christmas. Today is our last day in Baños and it has been raining for most of the morning and so I decided to write this Christmas special now, to allow you to know all about our exciting Christmas adventures while they are still fresh in our minds and as we are still about a month behind on the blog we thought that it would be a nice “Live Update” of where we are currently.
When we arrived in Baños we were greeted by rain. Not a good start. For some reason we decided that walking to our hostel in the rain would be fine because it was close, but really walking in the rain is never fine because you end up getting wet and that is what happened to us. Once we had dried off and the rain had stopped we walked into town to book a rafting trip for the next day with Geotours who had been recommended to us. That done we followed up on another recommendation and went to the Stray Dog, a microbrewery pub that did some great IPA. After that we headed over to Casa Hood to eat yummy Pad Thai and Burrito’s! That done it was back to the hostel for an early night in preparation for Christmas Eve rafting!
As rafting didn’t leave until 9am we had plenty of time to enjoy a breakfast of pancakes and fruit on the Terrace cafe before heading over to the meeting point where we met a couple from Australia, Lotus and Harry, who were also going to be in our raft. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the company provided us with wet-suits helmets and shoes and after a bit of faffing around we were soon on our way to the river. Once there we got changed and were given all the instruction that was required and met our guide, Andres. The final pair in our raft of six were a lovely mum and daughter from Juno, Alaska.
Once on the water it quickly became apparent that our guide was the best of the three because we were the first raft down because Andres was showing the other two the best lines to take through the various rapids. We were soon getting soaked by the rapids and Andres was also providing information about the river and the different features of the rapids. During the course of the time on the water we all swapped positions in the raft so that everyone had the opportunity to captain at the front and get the most wet. We stopped off for a break at one point where we were able to walk to another river and dive into a pool of water and then bomb into it again from higher up. Sadly the water level wasn’t high enough to allow us to jump in from the road bridge that went over the pool, but it looked pretty high so we were actually quite glad to be spared from having to decide whether to jump from there or not. During the later stages Andres decided that we should have some fun and took us down one rapids while rotating the raft in circles and another one backwards. All excellent fun! With our time in the water ended we dried off and changed and went back to the bus to be taken to the restaurant where we were to have a nice lunch before returning to Baños with beaming smiles on our faces and slightly tired bodies. Happily the driver of the minibus had volunteered to take pictures of us at various points on the way down the river using Sarah’s camera so we had some good pics to remember the day by.
That afternoon I decided that I should go and get my hair cut ready for Christmas as it was starting to get a bit messy and I was fed up with it. I managed to find a friendly Ecuadorean barber to cut my hair and give me a cut throat razor shave which was fantastic and I felt much better afterwards. That evening we had decided to meet up with Lotus and Harry and their other two friends who were arriving that afternoon. We starting in the Terrace Cafe at the hostel, where we managed to get Brent, a friendly American guy, to join us in our celebrations, before all moving on to the Stray Dog for some food and the lovely microbrews. Then we rushed off to catch a bus to take us all up to a viewpoint that looked over the city and from where we were hoping to see the nearby (active) volcano, Tungurahua. The bus was very strange as it was open sided, had florescent lighting and played loud party music. We arrived at the top to be greeted by heavy cloud which prevented us from seeing anything. It did lift enough to allow us to see Baños, but any hopes of seeing lava spewing from the volcano’s crater were dashed. So it was back into the party bus to return to Baños and have a couple more Christmas Eve drinks in the bars of the town.
Christmas Day we awoke to pretty nice sunny skies and at about 11.30am bumped into Brent. We went to knock on everyone else’s doors to see who wanted to do something, but everyone else wanted to stay in bed longer. So, the three of us set out with the intention of hiring bikes to allow us to cycle out of town to see the many waterfalls in the area. However, upon reaching the gates of the hostel and looking in the intended direction it looked cloudy, while the mountains in front looked sunny. This prompted us to change our plans and go and hire dirt bikes for Brent and I and a quad bike for Sarah which would allow us to go up into the mountains and follow a trial that Brent had followed previously and which he had raved about on the previous night, getting us all very excited!
The first part of the ride was tarmac road out of town, before turning onto a nice tight and twisty tarmac road which was a lot of fun and allowed us to reach some good speeds on the bikes, but sadly the quad wasn’t quite so quick, but allowed Sarah some time to get used to the gears on the quad. We then ascended into the mountains on a dirt road, crossing rivers and fords that afforded us some spectacular views of the fields and valleys of the area.
When we reached the top the sun was still shining, the road turned to cobbles and we were amazed to be inside and then above the clouds. It was at one stop along the way to take pictures of the clouds that Sarah screamed in delight that we could see the volcano. I jokingly said that it was erupting too, just as it decided to emit a fresh cloud of ash into the sky. Needless to say we were all stunned by the sight, it was truly breathtaking and we continued to enjoy better and better views as we continued the ride across the top and eventually descended down the dirt and then paved roads back into Baños.
Once we had returned the bikes we were dizzy with our success and wanted to continue our winning streak, so it was straight off to the Stray Dog where we knew they were serving Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Upon arrival we were happy to find out that we hadn’t missed out as the Chef was just collecting the (huge) turkey from where it was being cooked (the oven in the Dog not being big enough) while we waited we had a celebratory drink and some crab-cakes to start us off, which were delicious. Then we got our Christmas dinner of turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, asparagus, green beans, cranberry sauce, caramelised onions and gravy all of which was scrumptious and soon disappeared, Wiltur, behind the bar was even kind enough to provide straws so that we could suck up all the gravy and ensure that nothing went to waste. It was that good. As tradition dictates you must eat a ridiculous amount on Christmas Day and not having had any lunch we were up to the task, so for our next course we had some of the extremely tender filet of beef that had also been prepared as an alternative to turkey. This arrived served on a bed of asparagus and chips, covered in gravy with onion on top and was also super tasty. I decided to skip the next course, but Brent went ahead and had another plate of turkey and gravy but then I joined in again for the dessert which was pumpkin pie. After that I was full, but Brent still had room to squeeze in an artichoke, he must have hollow legs!
Feeling fully satisfied, but a little achy from the days activities we decided to take a trip to the thermal baths in town to help us relax. So we headed back to the hostel to grab our swimwear and headed to the baths for a late night dip. Arriving at about 8.30pm allowed us plenty of time to relax in the hot bath which was lovely and hot and we all managed a few cycles in the cold pool next to it which made the hot pool feel even hotter when you went back into that. Feeling fully relaxed and refreshed we showered off in the water diverted from the nearby waterfall which was a refreshing and reviving end to the time at the baths. On the way back to the hostel we went to the tiny funfair that was next door and went on the huge swing ride (like the pirates ship ride from most theme parks) where you could stand in a cage at the end of the boat and get a feeling of weightlessness at the top of the arc. Sadly for me my winning streak came to an end here as I managed to get a bit too much air and bang my head on the cage roof! Ouch!
For Boxing Day we had arranged to meet up at around 11am and head out to hire cycles and actually see the waterfalls that we had turned our backs on the day before. We set off in glorious sunshine and made good time to the first fall and then enjoyed a cable car ride over the valley and to the viewpoint that allowed us great views of the fall. Upon crossing back we set off again and likewise took a cable car down to the next waterfall. Sadly this one was guarded by a woman who had a house and gardens that you could pay to enter to get a bit closer to the fall, but she got a bit angry when Brent asked her if we could actually stand underneath it, saying that it was too dangerous and so we retreated back up the cable car and carried on our way, stopping at various points to view some of the smaller falls that are along the valley. Finally we came to the village of Rio Verde and made our way down to see the Diablo fall. There was another fall that we saw on the way down which was very impressive but then dwarfed by the Diablo, which happily you could walk down to and stand behind and even reach out to put your arm into with the result of getting very wet (thankfully we had all taken measures to ensure that this wasn’t a problem, be that rain coats or swimwear) which was very enjoyable. Sadly it started to rain heavily at that point so we trudged back up to where we had left our bikes, getting very wet in the process and took shelter for a while hoping that the rain would clear. When it eased off we made our way to the town and took a truck back to Baños, where we dropped off the bikes and then made our way back to the hostel for a hot shower and some dry clothes.
Feeling suitably refreshed but incredibly hungry we headed out to get some food. Sadly the restaurants that Brent had recommended were both closed and so we went back to Casa Hood to get some tasty food before heading back to have an early night, feeling exhausted from the days endeavours.
While we missed our friends and family we enjoyed our first Christmas away from home (and Sarah and I’s first Christmas together) very much thanks to the new friends that we met and the fun activities that we were able to do. It was exhilarating to see an active volcano and it was weird that pretty much everywhere was open as usual on Christmas Day unlike at home where most things close down forcing you to stay in and watch bad TV, or if you’re lucky a new TV boxset!
We hope that you all had amazing Christmas’ too and wish you all well for the new year!