Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ecuador – Baños! or Ducha?

The Baños theme: rubber
duckies & palm trees
Baños means bathroom in English, but don't worry... we didn't spend 4 nights in a bathroom. Although,we spent much more time indoors than we wanted to. More about that story a bit later.

Baños also stands for thermal baths - hot springs! The town is well known by locals as a place to soak tired bones in the various hot springs facilities. Admittedly, it's Gringolandia too, but we've been on the Gringo trail ever since crossing over from Peru. Since we have less than 3 weeks time to explore Ecuador this means we need to focus on the highlight which also means the more touristic places. :-(

May I introduce: The central
plaza with mister rain
Our trip from Riobamba is accompanied by thick clouds, and when we descend down to the valley that hosts Baños, we see more clouds than anything else. From the bus terminal, we head straight to a guesthouse called "Princessa Maria". Sounds great, and is great! We like the place and the super friendly family that owns it. A good thing: we will spend many hours here. Baños turns into a "ducha" (shower) as soon as we arrive; the mighty rain goods are full at work (even working overtime!). everyday, almost all day. We came here with the plan to do some hiking, river rafting, and hot spring soaking. All of these activities are particularly a lot of fun in the rain, right?

Instead of outdoor activities, we used "Princessa Maria" as our base to read, catch up on the Blog and of course pursue our Ecuador theme: Eat great food!

The best description for good French food:
"Fine cooking is when the things
you have cooked taste as they are"

We did manage to explore the town during the short intervals when the rain-gods had to refill the water supply, but we also got rained on quite a bit. Enough to completely eliminate our desire for any kind of outdoor activity.

But despite the bad weather we did stay for 3 days in Baños. Probably because we liked our guesthouse and the top-notch restaurants in town. Especially the authentic French cuisine at "Mariane" and the Ecuadorian interpretation of a Pad Thai at "Cafe Hood" will be remembered by our taste buds for some time to come.

Add a motor to 4 wheels and
a man will turn into a kid agian
One of the highlights in Baños is to watch the Ecuadorian tourists as they flood the town from Friday night until Sunday evening. Sleepy little Gringolandia turns into a gigantic amusement park: Shops pop up everywhere selling everything from rubber duckies to religious artifacts. The streets get crowded with two seater motorized toys that are a cross between a go-cart and a dune buggy.

Careful when the Disneyland
train is zipping by.
And amongst all that crazy go-cart traffic comes a 15 meter (50ft) joy-ride disguised as a dinosaur blaring loud mariachi music. Disneyland Baños style. We've also never seen so many "Chicken al Brasso" restaurants. Note that this is the number one food in South America, but Baños on a weekend gets the undisputed record of number of birds blasted in the roaster. So if you are a chicken or an animal activist avoid Baños on a weekend.

Cuy: Rodent on a stick.
Looks tasty, doesn't it?
Baños is also a good place to try Cuy (Guinea Pig). They appear to be much better fed here than their relatives in Peru – where they had so little meat on their bones that we suspected that they died of starvation. Maybe eating Cuy in Ecuador would have been a better experience than our two attempts in Peru; but we passed – too much good Gringo food in town to waste our appetites on a grilled rodent.

And if you don't like rodents
there's taffy too.
Besides Chicken and Cuy, the locals also need their sweets and seem to stuff themselves full of taffy which is made fresh in uncountable small shops. They have many flavors and someone is actively pulling the gooey sugar to lure in customers. Julane can't resist the sweet temptation and buys a bag with 5 different flavors, for future bus snacks.

Want to take a "relaxing"
bath with the locals?
On Sunday, during a short pause in the daily showers, we wanted to finally try the hot springs... Until we got there and saw the crowds. No, thank you! This was almost as bad as the hot spring fiesta in Gracias.
There are so many people
that a "Baño traffic control
tower" is needed.
Instead, we went to the big Sunday fruit market (which really is only "big" in the words of our guide book) and bought all the exotic fruit that we haven't seen or tasted yet. Back at our guesthouse, we spent the afternoon dissecting, photographing and tasting the fruit. Much to the amusement of the father of the house who has an interest in plants and also starts to show Julane other herbs and leaves from his garden. The language barrier seems to be no problem in their communication (they seem to speak "plant language" together quite well). Julane even teaches him about her latest Peru discovery called maca which she had hoped to buy again in Ecuador. He was also very helpful explaining the names, genus and uses of the various fruit. You'll need to be patient and wait for this Sunday fruit bonanza on an upcoming Blog post,

We are leaving Baños on Monday for Quito. And guess what: the rain has stopped and we see some blue patches in the sky. Thank you dear Ducha Gods of Baños!