Volcanoes, Go-Carts, & Canadians

Baños, Ecuador

Volcanos rock. More on that in a minute…

I slept well at my adopted friends house in Quito after being fed some soup and posting my last quick update. While I was writing it, there were about ten people crowded around the computer and sounding out all the words I typed in English with such a heavy Spanish accent it was impossible to understand what they were saying without reading along.

I left early the next morning around seven, after eating some tasty bread and coffee. I was very glad to get out of Quito, as it seemed very exhust-choked and I was not feeling to well after leaving. I got my first ride after about fifteen minutes with a couple of military guys who were about my age to the next town over. I was dropped off near the center, though it was such a small village that it didn’t really matter. Apparently, I was in a heavy bus zone, and every single bus that passed me stopped and said “Guyaquil?” hopefully. This got quite old after awhile, as taxi’s were doing the same thing, pulling over and then acting surprised when I told them I didn’t have any money.

In Ecuador, half of the taxi cabs out there are camouflaged. Some are pickup trucks or old cars, and they have no markings on them whatsoever that distinguish them as taxis. I try not to thumb the cabs because sometimes, like I said, they pull over anyways. When I see these incognito ones, I try and flag them down, thinking they’re just a normal car. Oftentimes, we’ve been driving for a good hundred yards before they tell me they are a taxi. Get a sign, people!

Finally, I got so frustrated with all the taxis stopping that I made a sign that said “¡NO TAXI! ¡NO TENGO PLATA!” I got a ride within minutes. Excellent. The fellow was nice, and told me all about the part of Ecuador that we were driving through, including stories about Cotopaxi, a massive stratovolcano in the area visible all the way from Quito, and Corozòn, an old eroded volcano known as the “heart” of Ecuador. All the peaks were snow capped, which again surprised me since we were smack dab on the Equator. I guess altitude doesn’t discriminate against latitude.

He drove me to the town of Latacunga, and bought me some sandwiches. I was actually feeling a bit under the weather at this point, and decided to find a nice place to take an afternoon nap, since it was but one o’clock. I found a place near a small stream than went through a cow pasture. There was an old swimming pool nearby that hadn’t seen any action since the forties or earlier, and Mother Nature had fully reclaimed it. I made a nice camp there and slept.

When I awoke, it was nearly dark, so I decided that I would just stay the night here. I went back up into the town to get something to drink and a cigarette. I stopped at a restaurant for a bit of water, and the owner was awesome! He gave me some beer, a meal, and his son offered me a place to stay for the evening. This was fortunate because it was a bit chilly, I still didn’t feel well at all, and I needed some warmth for the evening.

So I crashed with that guy and fell asleep watching Live Free or Die Hard (great movie, by the way.) The next day I got up, took a shower, got some coffee and bread, and headed out.

I flagged a ride to the next town over, Salcedo, in short notice. I got to the town and noticed that there was a whole lot of traffic for such a small place. I walked to the outskirts and found University students protesting! They had blocked off the Pan American Highway with large boulders, sticks, and tire fires. Thousands were sitting in the road, playing cards, eating ice cream, or just generally bullshitting. I talked to a few of them and they called it a “manifestation” and that they were protesting for more funding. Good for them, though I didn’t want to be around when the police cleared the road and started using the tear gas…

The protest had backed up traffic for a good three miles, and I saw scores of policeman trying valiantly with trucks to move the large boulders the students had somehow managed to plunk in the middle of the road. I walked for a few hours, and finally made it to the end of the traffic. I grabbed a ride to the next town quickly, and arrived to Ambato in about twenty minutes.

Ambato is pretty large, and I walked for a long time. As I was walking, I ran into a guy who spoke excellent English. He was Damion, and he had lived in Germany for a long time growing up. His English even had a German accent, which was king of strange. He was tall, with thin hair and sallow skin. He told me that he wanted to go to Baños, which was a little town at the base of a notoriously active volcano. I told him I was hitch hiking south to Baños, and he thought that was cool and hitched it with me.

The church in Baños; Catholic, of course

Upon our arrival, we went to see some of his friends, as he used to live in Baños. We got some crazy strong alcohol that cost fifty cents for a half a coke bottle full; it was basically sugar cane moonshine, and it was the strongest stuff I think I’ve ever drank.

We stopped and visited one of the local waterfalls, as there are many in the area. The one we visited was known as the Virgin Waterfall, and is supposedly Holy Water. The logic behind this is that one year, in the mid-ninteenth century, the water stopped flowing. The locals tried and tried for weeks to get it to flow again, but to no avail. Then, one day, they had the celebration for the Virgin Mary, and the water flowed again. Hence, the Virgin Waterfall.

La Cascada de la Virgin. A very beautiful little waterfall

Close up of the falls

If you go up these stairs, you will be pleasantly misted by the falls

Damion left that evening, promising to return the next day. I just hung out with some new friends I had made for a bit after he left. Soon, I met a guy from Ohio named Larry (Baños is a popular tourist destination) who talked up a storm. I got to hear all about his mother dying, his junkie brothers, and his suspicious neighbors (what’s he building in there?)

Later, Barry, a few locals, and I went and got some dinner and afterward, smoked a bowl. Afterwards, I told my friend goodbye and headed back to the town. The locals that had come with us were super cool people, and one of them paid three dollars for a hotel room for yours truly.

Larry had given me a tiny bit of weed, only enough for a few bowls, so I went to the bars to try and find someone to smoke it with. I found a cool British guy named Fred (who is the same age as me) and we went back to my small room and burned it. It looked, smelled, and tasted like dirt, but it got the job done. I went to bed shortly afterward.

The next morning I woke up around ten and went to the place that Damion had told me to meet him at. However, he didn’t show, so I went off to find something else to do, planning on returning again in a few hours to check again.

I bummed a cigarette from a guy standing near me, and he turned out to be a cool dude. His name was Luis, a tall, lanky fellow of about twenty-two years of age with a pencil-thin moustache. He told me he was going to grab a beer, and would I like to come? I told him that sounded fantastic, and off we went.

Luis wasn’t from Baños, so I had to show him where all the bars were. We drank a few brews, and then I left to check and see if Damion had arrived. He hadn’t, so I returned to the bar and drank some more.

While we were chillin’, a guy came up to us and offered us cocaine. I said no, since I didn’t have any money. Luis also turned down the offer. After the guy left, Luis pulled out his wallet and showed me an ID card.

Huh. Policìa National de Ecuador. He’s a cop. Good thing I didn’t buy anything…

We slammed back a few more beers, and then went to go kill a bit more time, since Luis had to leave around eight and go back to Ambato, where he lived. He decided to rent a go-cart.

Ten minutes later, we were speeding down the highway on our way to the volcano. Called Tungurhaua, this is one of the most active volcanos in South America, having major eruptions with pyroclastic flows as recently as 2001, 2006, and 2008.

Soo, we arrived to the slope, and spent the next few hours speeding precariously over dense, dusty volcanic soil. Muy divertido!

Later, Luis had to leave, so I told him goodbye and went to find a way to kill the rest of the evening. I was wandering around with my pack when I spotted a few guys leaning against a car and smoking. I went to go and try to get a cigarette off them. One of them was the owner of the Transylvania Hostel, which we were standing in front of. He told me that I should stay there for the night, but I told him I only had four dollars. Turns out, he was cool about it and only charged me two dollars a night! Plus the place had free Internet and breakfast! Nice!

I checked in and soon after, went to bed. The next morning I got up early, not wanting to miss my free breakfast. While I was waiting, I met a Canadian couple from British Colombia who were on a six month surfing vacation in South and Central America. They were super cool, and I hung out with them for a good long while, and even ate my super delicious free pancakes with them. They were coming form the south, and told me all about Perù, Chile, and Argentina. In fact, they were in Santiago a mere week before the earthquake hit it. Lucky…

After my breakfast, I went to go to the Western Union, since my good friend from New York had sent me $100 for my birthday (thanks Huggins family!) However, the Western Union in Baños was closed for some reason, so I needed to go to Ambato, forty-five minutes to the west. So, not knowing what else to do, I hitchhiked there.

A fairly easy trip, it took me about an hour. Upon arrival to Ambato, I searched out a Western Union that was open (no easy task…it was, after all, the lunch hour.) I finally found one in operation, got my money, and purchaced some tasty lunch myself, which consisted of two juicy hamburgers and some French fries. Then, I hitched it back to Baños.

When I arrived to Baños, I went shopping. I got a nice leather hat for $7, some new socks, a shirt with a graphic of El Che and the words “Hasta la Victoria Siempre!” (To victory, always!) and some underwear. I wanted to get some boots and a jacket, but my Canadian friends told me that Perù has really cheap and really warm Al Packa jackets and insulated boots that would cost twice as much here in Ecuador. So I decided to wait until I get to Lima to get that.

After my shopping excursion, I went back to the hostel, took a shower, and changed into my new Che shirt (which kicks ass.) I was working on this note on the computer when my two Canadian friends asked me if I wanted to go up on the mountian with them; they were taking a tour bus, and it was only three dollars. I figured, why the hell not, and came along.

We rode on the bus up to the top of one of the side mountians (not the actual volcano.) It was a nice view; you could see the whole town of Baños, all lit up for Saturday night. There were also fire twirlers there (woot, Daniel) who had some pretty serious skills. There was also free tea spiked with sugar cane moonshine there, which I took advantage of.

After we got back to town, my Kanuk friends went back to the hostel to get some rest. I decided to go have a beer at one of the bars, since they were only seventy-five cents for a huge bottle. I drank my beer and then went back to the hostel and went to bed. ªº

The next day I just lounged around the hostel and did nothing.  Headed for Perù tomorrow. Wish me luck, friends!

The Modern Nomad

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