Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Baños (the wet volcanic kind)

After volunteering at the chocolate farm, we decided to head straight to Baños for some R & R. This small town is an adventure capital consisting of approx. 14,000 inhabitants (and an additional 5,000 or so gringos!). Its name is deriven from the baños or volcanic ¨baths¨ in the area. Because of the name, it was very hard to express ourselves when we were looking for a bathroom, which is also called a ¨baño¨, as people would stare at us and say ¨you are in Baños¨ or they would point us to the nearest pool complex.... This got very frustrating and kind of embarrassing when we would then desperately try to describe needing to go to the bathroom with charade gestures...

Other than that little mix-up, we found this town full of very friendly people and extremely beautiful views, as it is completely surrounded by mountains - including one very large and still active volcano! Below is a picture of the main town square.

Our first day in Baños, we decided to tour the town in style on a buggy! It wasn´t quite as fun as it sounds, however, since the other drivers in Ecuador are crazy and we pretty much feared for our lives the whole time! But we were able to check out some amazing sites and look pretty cool doing it, too!

Lydia´s dorky model pose:

Tyrone´s bad-ass biker model pose:

The beautiful waterfall in the background doing its model pose:

We took a zip-line cart ride across to the mouth of the waterfall!

We also snapped a couple of drive-by photos during our journey, including this one of a nice church outside of town.

And we happened upon some pretty cute little monsters who were dressed up in hope of getting some candy or a coin to ring in the coming new year! It is Halloween during pretty much every holiday in South America, or so we have noticed so far!

On New Year´s Eve, Tyrone decided he wanted to do something crazy... So he got strapped-in to jump off of Baños´ highest bridge!

Don´t worry, Holly, I was assured that there were two ropes and two harnesses ¨just in case¨, so your son was completely safe... and you can tell by the sound in my voice on the video that I was 100% confident in this... sort of.

We met another Canadian, Shawn from Alberta, who was also crazy enough to walk the plank after he saw Tyrone do it.

The view from the bridge:

After Tyrone jumped, we came across this Willie Nelson look-alike crossing the bridge with his bad-ass dog, Helga, and modded motorbike-camper! He even had a kitchen set-up on the back and a hammock that apparently ¨sleeps two¨... him and Helga!

On our walk back into town, we found every other shop setting up a paper mache creature or effigy of some kind. We were told that they would all be burnt at midnight!

The biggest New Year´s offering was this giant King-Kong. He was equipped with electronically moving arms and even had a sound system complete with roars and screams!

We decided that since we were on such an adrenaline rush from the bridge-jump (well, Tyrone was... I was a big chicken and refused to go!), we would attempt parapenting (paragliding) that afternoon! So we drove an hour up one of the mountain sides and waited for the wind to reach the optimum speed for take-off!

Whilst waiting, we got a little giddy... So we practiced our best fake-falling poses!

The weather was so beautiful that day and we had a clear view of the smoking volcano.

Finally, the wind had died down enough for Tyrone and his tandem guide to run off the side of the mountain and into the air. Shawn, the other Canadian, also joined us, and is pictured below.

Tyrone got some pretty remarkable views and photos whilst gliding through the air in his parachute!

Proof that his feet are actually off the ground!

Tyrone´s thoughts and sights whilst up in the air:

And here is a picture of the freshly-plowed farm on the hillside where Tyrone and his guide crashed moments later! Apparently the wind died down too much for them to return to the take-off spot, so they had to make an emergency exit about 2 km down the road. Due to the recent plowing, however, they had a very soft landing in the soil! Because they crashed so far away and the wind wasn´t stable, I didn´t get to go... but I felt it better to be safe than sorry!

Later that night we went out for a nice New Year´s Eve dinner with some new friends (Baños is full of tons of amazing restaurants), then we headed out to check out the festivities. Many of the locals brought their paper-mache dolls (lots of Supermans and Homer Simpsons for some odd reason) and burned them in the main square, together with the giant King-Kong, which I believe is in the flames off in the distance to the left!
The tradition on New Years is for pretty much everyone to dress up, just like Halloween! Tyrone found some cool videogame character who must shoot some sort of fire ball out of his hands... (Tyrone Correction - this is not a video game character, but a super sayan transformed Goku from Dragon Ball Z..... obviously..... SHEEESH). Because we weren´t dressed up, we had some locals come up to us in groups and hug one of us (usually me), refusing to let us go, until one of our friends posted $0.50 bail!

A couple days after recovering from our New Year´s hangovers (and the worst champagne any of us has ever tasted!), we decided to do a horseback tour of the surrounding waterfalls.
Lydia is riding ¨Michael Jackson¨and Tyrone is riding ¨Whisky¨. Both horses were pretty lazy and uncooperative, but liked to take off running sporatically!
horse-riding shout-out to our homies...
After riding to the first waterfall, we got off our horses and hiked to the top. When we got back down to the bottom of the waterfall, our guide realized that all of our horses took off! He found them munching on someone´s garden a five minute walk up the hill!

We had some pretty fantastic views along the way, including this one of the volcano venting some steam.

We also made our way down to a bridge that crossed ¨chocolate milk¨water.

A couple of days later, we were coaxed into going ¨canyoning¨, which is rapelling down waterfalls. It was fun, but a little scary at times when you lose your footing!

As you can tell by the look on my face, this was my favourite one! We didn´t have to walk down ourselves, but we were lowered down to the pool below like a water-slide.

We stayed at a nice, but noisy hostel that had a huge avacado tree just outside our window. Unfortunately, they were all just slightly out of reach.

Next to the main thermal baths in town (which can get so crowded that you cannot even see the water through the swarms of people), is a beautiful waterfall that helps fuel the cold water pools.

I caught my first cold of the whole trip, so after dropping me off for a nice aromatic eucalyptus massage,Tyrone took a hike up to one of the highest peaks over-looking the town.

We also went river-rafting whilst in Baños, but didn´t dare take the camera. It was probably the most fun activity we did whilst in Baños, as we crossed mostly class 4 (but were told there were also class 5 and 6 rapids) during our run!

All in all, Baños is a wonderful little Ecuadorian town with tons of fun to be had and activities to do! It was was one of the noisier places we had been to, and had tons of tourists, but it also had that nice ¨small town¨ feel to it and was a great place to meet other travellers to discuss journeys, travel tips, and future plans over a beer. Plus, it was full of cheap spas and thermal baths... need I say more?!

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