Baños to Puyo

After our session of Performing and Poetry in the park, we jumped in an Uber and headed over to the bus terminal on the east side of Ambato. Destination: Return to Baños de Agua Santa

Sunrise in Ambato, Volcan Tungurahua in the distance

Our return trip to Baños involved two little lessons about the importance of careful accounting for one’s finances. The first occurred on the bus ride there from Ambato. Already knowing that the fare was $1.25 per person, we were prepared to hand $2.50 to the young man who walked down the aisle collecting. But after we did so, he turned away for a second and then turned back, showing us that he had only $1.50 in his hand, and demanding another dollar. It was obvious that he had simply transferred a dollar to his other hand, which held money he’d collected from other passengers. And it’s sad that anyone would sell their honesty for such a small sum. But the moral of the story is, don’t hand over payments in a lump. Count it out so nobody can challenge you. Fortunately, this lesson was learned with a very small amount instead of a big one.

The other incident involved our hostel, the same one we stayed at last weekend. After we left, we received a message from them saying that we had not paid. This, it turns out, was true. We’d paid a deposit of a couple of dollars upon booking online, with the rest to be paid by cash upon arrival (a common arrangement with hostels). Somehow we’d neglected to settle up, and they’d neglected to remind us to settle up — heck, it was quite a challenge even to find someone to check us in. After making a couple of unsuccessful attempts to pay them online during the past week, we finally sent them a message saying, hey, we’ll be back this coming weekend; we’ll just pay you then for both stays. So that’s what happened — although, astoundingly, we had to insist upon paying immediately on check-in rather than waiting until later and possibly missing the chance.

Since we got into town in the middle of the afternoon, there wasn’t much time for us to do anything on the same day. But we did hike to see another one of the area’s waterfalls, about 3 miles away. In order to get there, we had to walk down a little isolated dirt road, past someone’s house, where a woman came out to ask us if we were going to see the “cascada” (waterfall). When we answered yes, she informed us that the toll was one dollar per person, which we paid. Now we have no idea whether nor not she was really authorized to collect such a fee. The waterfall itself wasn’t on private property, and we doubt if the road leading to it was a private road. She probably charged people just because she could get them to pay for the privilege of passing her house en route. Hustling is a way of life in Latin America.

Cascade Ulba - Saturday January 29

The waterfall, by the way, was worth the buck and the short hike to get there. It’s not very big but it sure is a pretty thing. And it’s in an isolated area that we had all to ourselves. A great place to welcome the sunset, at least until the bugs start getting you.

On Sunday morning, we joined our students Lorena and Juan, and their 21-year-old nephew Mario (an intelligent and interesting young man who, it turns out, has a knack with a camera), who had driven from Ambato not only to spend the day with us, but to drive us around to see as many attractions as possible between Baños and our next destination, Puyo (another town that had been recommended for us to visit). It was a very full and memorable day indeed.

Casa del Arbol - January 30 (Photos by us and Mario)

First, we made our way up to the top of that mountain where Casa del Arbol is perched. It was the perfect time to go, on a Sunday morning before the long lines of people showed up. Although even then there was a “party bus” pulling in, laden with passengers who already seemed a sheet or two to the wind. Actually, they seemed to be headed for a bar next to the entrance. But then, after belting down another one, they’d be no doubt headed to the treehouse to take their turn on the swings, and make themselves even more giddy. Anyway, it was good that we were able to enjoy the attraction in relative peace and quiet. (And by the way, there is no way we would have been able to hike this far last weekend, so it’s just as well that we turned back when we did.)

Then we visited a little nature park just outside town along the Pastaza River, Baños Family Park, especially designed to appeal to the kids, but really quite pleasant for everyone. It featured a few small animals and quite a variety of flora, which especially delighted those of us who is a shutterbug.

Continuing the drive through the mountains, we stopped at just about every roadside photo op, including a giant hand and a giant heart with which you could frame yourself. But the most amazing was a three-for-one deal that included another bird’s nest you could sit in, a platform that, if you weren’t careful, you might plunge off of and tumble down the cliff, and — best of all — a giant swing that made the Casa del Arbol seem kindergarten level by comparison. You get harnessed into this swing, and swing out over a cliff with a drop of about 1000 feet below. And to make sure your get the point of how thrilling it is, a muscled attendant behind you will push you as far and high as he possibly can. One fellow working a swing on this day had an especially sadistic manner of literally putting himself into his work — climbing up onto some rocks and leaping off to grab the swing as it came back, and putting the full weight and momentum of his body into it to push you out. Those of us with a touch of acrophobia almost had a touch of heart attack.

Finally we came to Pailon del Diablo, which we’d seen briefly last week — or rather on Monday, which was sort of part of last weekend. This time we were able to take our time there, and explore areas we didn’t see before. This included the lower reaches, and even access to an area directly behind the waterfall, the backstage tour if you will, which we had to reach by crawling — or at least doing a low crouch — for about 50 feet.

Finishing our tour of the Pailon in mid-afternoon, we all were rather hungry, and so before driving on we decided to scout out some lunch across the street form the parking lot, where there were several unassuming (and rather unpromising) restaurants. Upon inquiry, we found one that served vegetarian food, or at least was willing to make a stab at it — basically, they just substituted an egg for the meat on a dish. Not gourmet fare, but filling enough and quite cheap.

And there was still another waterfall in our future, this one an extremely picturesque and haiku-able scene with the water being divided by the rocks in two as it fell, and then merging again at the bottom in a pool in which one was was tempted to swim. In fact, quite a few people were giving into that temptation, and we might have as well if we’d brought along bathing attire or a change of dry clothing. Instead we (except for Mario, who plunged right in) were content merely to wade in it — which we had to do anyway in order to get close enough to get a good glimpse of the cascada.

Going back out, we stopped at the entrance where the proprietors were giving out free samples of a type of tea they had for sale. Not bad. Oh, and they were also offering sample shots of some kind of liqueur. Out of curiosity, Dennis had to have a tiny sample. which he found to be unbelievably potent, with a flavor that only can be described as indescribable. (Maybe a cross between stump water and cough syrup.) When he asked what percentage of it was alcohol, he was told that it was about 85. Needless to say, we declined to buy a bottle. Not having the RV with us, there’s really nothing we could clean with it.

In late afternoon, we pulled into Puyo, and walked around a bit, even climbing to the top of an observation tower to do some observation. Then, after failing to find coffee anywhere to perk them up before they hit the road back to Ambato, Juan, Lorena and Mario dropped us off at our hostel and headed back to Ambato. What a day. And what a group of friends to spend it with. Thank you Lorena, Juan and Mario!

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