Baños, Ecuador

Latitude 1.39855°S Longitude 78.42077°W

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

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Baños was a lovely town south of Quito, nestled in a valley by the Río Pastaza and at the foot of the towering Volcán Tungurahua. Despite activity in 1999 which raised the status of the volcano to red alert and resulted in the evacuation of the town, at the time of our visit it seemed that life in the tiny village had returned to normal.

We spent several beautiful days here enjoying the town, relaxing, visiting the Baños de la Virgen natural thermal baths by the beautiful waterfall Manto de la Virgen at dawn and dusk, and hiking up thousands of feet to the village of Runtún in the surrounding mountains for dramatic views of the volcano and Baños far below. If our schedule had not been constrained by impending FedEx deliveries back in Quito we would have stayed here a week or more. Baños was a hub for a multitude of outdoor activities: white water rafting, amazon jungle river tours, horse riding, hiking, cycling, canyoning, climbing, and mountaineering to some of the greatest Ecuadorian peaks such as Tungurahua (5016m), El Altar (5319m), Cotopaxi (5897m) and Chimborazo (6310m). If we had more time we would have certainly indulged.

We also met some great new friends while in Baños. On our first evening, as we researched the Galápagos in an Internet Cafe, we met Martin and Angelika, a couple from Switzerland on an extended holiday of South America. We spent a happy evening together trading notes and travel stories over dinner, and while we did not see them again in Baños, our paths did cross again in Otavalo several days later.

Another chance encounter occured high on a lonely windswept mountain ridge at Mirador del Volcán near Runtún, which we reached after a strenuous six hour hike from Baños hoping to catch a glimpse of Volcán Tungurahua's formidable crater peak. We were pleasantly surprised to find another solitary hiker at that same spot with intentions identical to ours. We sat and waited patiently for the roiling clouds obscuring the crater to clear long enough for a photo opportunity, and in time we were rewarded twice; we got the photos and became good friends with Craig Faris, an avid hiker from Illinois. Craig used to work in the field of global oil exploration for a major oil company, but had since left the corporate life behind for more entrepreneurial persuits. We hiked back to Baños together along the "shortcut" trail that Craig had used to ascend, a breathtakingly steep goat track going straight down the nose of the ridge with more spectacular views. On the way down we had lively discussions on everything from careers to family to politics to aspirations and future opportunities, all making for a highly enjoyable hike. Because our schedules were incompatible we would probably not see Craig again before his vacation came to an end, but as he visited South America frequently we vowed to stay in touch so we could meet again on a future trip.

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