Quitumbe, the bus terminal in the south of Quito, sends buses all over Ecuador. For $3.50, five girls and I took a three-hour bus ride on Friday afternoon to a town called los Baños. Named after its famous thermal baths, heated to 118 degrees by the active volcano Tungarahua, Baños subsists on tourism. The six of us contributed our share this past weekend. We stayed at Hotel Chimenea for $6.50 a night a piece. We ate stacks of fruit, yogurt and honey-covered pancakes with jugo de mora (blackberry juice) for roughly $3.00 each. On Saturday, we contracted guides from one of dozens of adventuring agencies to give us wetsuits and take us canyoning: rappelling down 30 foot waterfalls amidst lush green foliage, $25.
With unlimited finances, we could have zip-lined through the jungle, gone bungee/bridge-jumping, rented ATVs or bikes, or tackled Class 4 rapids. Descending a fifty-foot waterfall, however, was sufficient for me. Saturday afternoon we walked around the town a bit, sampling malcocha- Baños’ signature taffy that is pulled and twisted on pegs in a shop’s doorway- and sugar cane, which is pressed through machines to yield sugar cane juice. Here is a video of the taffy-making process on YouTube (30 secs). We also signed up for a chiva bus tour promising a view of the volcano, complete with visible lava on a clear night. Although we saw no lava, we did hear the rumbling and had the added pleasure of riding in the chiva- a rickety open-air bus with bench seats and painted sides, lit up with lights and music, as it hurtles around mountainous curves. On Sunday morning, I attended mass at The Basilica of the Virgin of the Holy Water. Although the spires of the church are fluorescent blue in the night (highly reminiscent of the Disney castle), in the day, it holds almost hourly masses, typically packed with devout Baños residents. The interior of the basilica holds several large paintings depicting miracles that have been attributed to the holy waters of los Baños. All in all, a beautiful get-away. Now back to classes!