This quant little town in Ecuador serves as the perfect entrance to the larger tourist site of Baños, a place known for its hot springs and water falls. Right under the staggering Mt. Chimborazo, one of the highest peaks in the vicinity, the view from any window in Ríobamba will be worth the stay.
The town itself is very quiet, though it definitely has all the amenities of a regular city. There are several supermarkets and restaurants and even a few discotecas. However, shadowed by the overwhelming popularity of Baños and Quito, Ríobamba remains relatively hidden. In turn, it makes for a great place to meet locals and escape the rampant tourism of larger places.
Reborn in the Amazon or How Claire Finally Used Her Headlamp
Tena, Ecuador. What a place.
On Friday morning at 6 am, James, Sarah, and I embarked on another journey; this time headed east to the Amazon. Tena is the capitol of the Napo Province and the largest city in Ecuador’s part of the Amazon rainforest. We arrived midday and immediately found lodging so that we could drop our bags and head out for some high adventuring.
That afternoon we took a 15-minute cab ride outside of town to the caves of Jumandy. When we arrived there were no tourists in sight. A woman at the gate collected a small entrance fee and we hired a guide, Christian, for $5. After stripping down to our bathing suits, we were given headlamps (I brought my own) and we headed barefoot into the caverns.
Within the first 30 paces I was already second guessing the decision to head into such a dark, damp, bat-infested space. There was a river running through the cave and as we entered I could hear a waterfall ahead. We walked upstream, skipping over the river rocks and heading deeper into the darkness. It wasn’t long before all traces of natural light had vanished and we were left with just the beams from our headlamps. Initially, I could only look down at my feet; partly because the rocks were slippery and partly because I had no interest in seeing the bats hanging ten feet above my head.
Eventually, the river became too deep and we swam. We climbed up a waterfall and reached a series of stalactites and stalagmites that took various comical forms: broccoli, cauliflower, and one very large penis. We squeezed through impossibly narrow passage ways, taking care not to place our hands on the cave spiders which were of a comparable size. We soon reached the mineral rich clay tunnels where the guide showed us how to scrape the sediment off the walls, mix it with water and use it for a nice spa treatment.
In the middle of covering each other in clay, the guide asked if we wanted to take a bath. We figured that would be a good idea given how dirty we had gotten each other. He led us up and down little cliffs of slippery clay and mud. We used our fingers to help clamber up the steep and impossibly slick pathway by pressing them into the soft sides of the clay tunnels.
Finally, we arrived at the “bath”. The path made a vertical drop of about 5 feet that we descended on our butts and into a mud pit up to our knees. As we walked on, the pit grew to be as deep as my hips. The guide told us to sit up on the walls as he took globs of the clay and poured it over us. I have never been so dirty ever.
Then, the guide asked us to turn off our headlamps. We sat in complete darkness for about a minute. No one spoke. It seemed appropriate to remain totally silent in the total darkness.
We turned our headlamps on and trekked back through the clay tunnels and into the main part of the cave with the river. We came to another waterfall where the guide showed us how to climb in and sit in the waterfall to wash the dirt off our bodies. I only stayed in the falls for a few seconds because I was horrified that the force of the water would push me down into the 14-foot hole below. Luckily, I made it out alive and somewhat clean.
We followed the guide up and up over rocks until we began to see light and greenery. As we climbed, the ground became hard and rocky. Scrambling over roots and sticks and vegetation, we emerged into the sunlight on top of a hill overlooking the lush green rainforest and a big orange sun setting behind a thin veil of clouds. I had to stop a minute. I was out of breath partly from the climb but mostly because of the view. Neither words nor pictures could do justice to the sight that my eyes beheld in that instant. Mountains, flowers, trees, blue sky, perfect clouds and a setting sun made for one of the most memorable moments thus far during my trip.
The entire experience was like being reborn as a child of the Earth. Our need for high adventure had been awakened.
The next morning we made an early start and took off for an all-day whitewater-rafting trip on the Jatunyacu River. Our guide, Ben, took us to a small tributary first. We jumped off 20-foot rocks and into the cool blue pools. The water was clear and very cold but we didn’t mind. We walked up stream to a series of rapids and “natural slides” that we floated down on our butts; although the word “float” is a little light. It might be more appropriate to say I was carried by rushing water careening over rocks and into a deep pool where I ingested lots of water via my nose.
We spent about an hour at the slides and pools before we headed down the road to our put-in site. We rafted all day and in between class III rapids and playing in the freezing river, I had to pinch myself. I was RAFTING in the AMAZON.
That night, we got some dinner and planned to go to the club near our hostel. We were sitting around the room, waiting for the appropriate moment to head out for the night. Next thing we knew, we were waking up an hour later, fully dressed with our shoed feet dangling off the ends of our beds. Guess you can’t do it all. That night we slept like babies. We woke up on Sunday long enough to arrange a bus ride back to Riobamba. I slept most of the 5-hour trip. What an exhausting, amazing weekend. It was just what I needed to make me fall back in love with Ecuador.
Since I’ve been feeling better, I’ve wasted no time getting to know my new home in central Ecuador. Riobamba is a little city, the capital the Chimborazo Province which, from what I’ve deduced, is mostly farm land and small pueblos. Riobamba is great for a lot of reasons: it’s small, quaint, safe, and has outstanding views of the surrounding mountains. What I really love most about Riobamba so far are the people. Everyone is really friendly and helpful. My host family is extensive and very close knit. They have been really great, welcoming me and showing me around the community this past week.
On Wednesday, my host mom dropped me and the other Riobamba volunteers off in a nearby town called Guano to explore for the day. Guano is known for approximately three things: leather shops, a sweet bun called chola, and a fried pork dish called fritada. We had no plans there so we just wandered down a pretty cobbled road for about an hour and a half enjoying the scenery. Eventually we came upon Santa Teresita, an even smaller town that we were told had thermal hot springs and a market. We stopped for some coconut ice cream and headed back up the road to Guano for lunch.
After nearly 3 hours of walking we worked up quite an appetite. We picked this seedy place called Don Jorge’s Restaurante. The whole family was in the kitchen cooking, including their puppy who emerged frequently to prance around the restaurant showing off the bone he had acquired. This was unsettling at best but we were starving and ate the food anyway: a stew of mystery meat and a pile of rice. Drowsy from the big meal, we decided to pick up some cholas for our host families and head back. We had to rest up before our early morning departure to Baños the next day. I’ll have to go back for the fritada, what could be better than fried pork?
Thursday morning we convened at James’ host family’s house. They served us coffee and explained that they had gone ahead and booked us a hostel in Baños so we could begin our adventures as soon as we arrived. The bus ride was just under two hours. We got off and took in the scenery. This town is clearly a tourist hotspot; filled with hostels, outfitting companies for eco-tourism, spas, restaurants, and bars. Baños is surrounded by lush mountains on every side with cascading waterfalls and a river running just outside the town itself. Also important is the highly active volcano, Tungurahua, looming just outside the city. On a clear day you can see the plumes of smoke at its peak.
After dropping our things off at the hostel and a quick lunch, we embarked on a little hike up the mountainside in search of good views of the city. Well, little did we know, we were actually on our way up a flight of about, oh I don’t know, 1000 stairs. We got to the top, admired the vista for a few minutes and carried on down a zig-zagging path to the foot of the mountain. The descent was the real gem of the hike; we saw a huge amount of exotic flowers and came across a wild avocado tree. It took all of my self-discipline not to fill my backpack with avocados and make a pile of guac for dinner. I’m still kind of regretting the decision not to.
That night, we headed to the Piscinas de la Virgen for a dip in the hot springs. These were the hottest springs I have ever been in. There was a large round tub with water that was maybe one degree below excruciating and then a much smaller tub next to it that was perhaps one degree above ice. We spent about two hours alternating between the two tubs. Afterward, we grabbed dinner and drinks and got to bed relatively early in order to get to the next set of baths before sunrise.
We woke up at 5:30 am the next morning to head to another set of baths. We got to the El Salado tubs just around 6 am. We were the only gringos in sight; it was magnificent. Watching the sun come up over the mountain was unforgettable. Afterwards we went back to the hostel, ate some breakfast and fell asleep for nearly 3 hours.
Around noon we all headed out to various activities: James to a massage while Sarah and I rented bikes for the day and took off down a road heading to the jungle town of Puyo in search of the famous waterfall El Pailón del Diablo (the devil’s cauldron). Now, if you know me at all you know I am reluctant to do anything involving bicycles. So, this next account should be a bit of a shock for you and I assure you that had I known what I was getting into there is nearly no way that I would have gone through with it.
According to the guidebook, La Ruta de las Cascadas is a leisurely 7 kilometer ride downhill on a paved path with amazing views of many waterfalls. I thought, great! So we headed out of Baños assuming we would eventually follow signs to a tranquil pathway. False. We rode our bikes along a busy two-lane highway sharing the road with cars, trucks, and buses. Nearly the entire road skirts along a cliff into the Rio Verde; thus a tiny error could easily turn into a really, really big one. I was pretty uptight as you might imagine. Now, the terror of the “Ruta de las Cascadas” is one thing.
I shan’t leave out the other misleading fact our trusty guidebook included: the ride to El Pailón is not 7 km. When we finally saw signs for our destination, we dismounted and walked our bikes to a parking lot. It was around 2 ‘o clock and we were famished. We ate and embarked on a hike to the falls (which we were not expecting). After viewing the absolutely breathtaking waterfall, we hopped into a truck that took us and our bikes back to Baños. We got to the bike rental shop and noted on a map of La Ruta that we had actually biked 20 km, about a third of the way to Puyo. I felt much more justified in complaining about the bruises on my butt.
So we left Baños at about 5:30 pm on a bus headed for Ambato to meet a group of volunteers gathered there for the 22nd birthday of our dear friend Ethan. Sarah and I arrived around 6:30, having been ditched by James whom we had told we would be back from our bike ride at around 2:30 pm. We met everyone at an awesome Italian restaurant and I used my Spanish to secretly order Ethan and special birthday tiramisu (rather proud of this). Afterward we stopped by a liquor store and headed back to the hotel for a little pre-game. It was so fun seeing the other volunteers, even if it had only been a week since we had last been in Quito all together. We headed to a club and danced all night, taking over the VIP section.
Now I’m back in Riobamba. I’ve still got a month before my classes begin. There is so much to do and learn here; I feel so lucky to have found this program, this country, and this town to host me for a year. Hope you are all enjoying my entries as much as I enjoy writing them. Keep exploring!
I left Baños on Sunday, bound for Guaranda, a small colonial town overlooking Volcan Chimborazo. Guaranda was quaint and beautiful, but more than that, the journey there was worth the overpriced hotel room and drizzling rain and head cold. The road from Baños to Guaranda cuts through tufts of paramo grass and vast hills that rise to soft peaks like fresh whipped meringue and plunge fantastically into sharp crevices. The colors take on a certain Van Gogh treatment–post-impressionistic splashes of electric lime, patches of gold and nutmeg and all the possible hues of green, dotted here and there with the grazing forms of cows and vicuña. It is spectacular.
Monday morning I caught an early truck to the small Andean village of Salinas, where I had planned to stay the night–were it not for the heavy rains and the desolate sort of feeling I encountered as soon as I arrived. Salinas is tiny–population 1,000 tiny. There’s one road in, and while staggeringly beautiful, it’s also staggeringly high, at 3550m above elevation. The view alone was worth the trip, but aside from all that, I found no desire to stay. I knew there wouldn’t be much to do in Salinas before I set out, and I had resigned myself to writing and working–but as I attempted to settle in, I realized I was far more comfortable being alone in a big city than being alone in a cold, wet mountain village. The fog set in thick and low, and I felt increasingly like I had just been dropped into Wuthering Heights, moors and all. I spent some time hiking around the paths through the hills, drinking the local coffee, and doing some meandering, but after a few hours I decided to catch a ride back to Guaranda. From there, I continued onward to Ambato, and then immediately to Riobamba.
Tomorrow: Cuenca, Ingapirca, and other wonderments.
Revisaba los álbumes de mi PC, y encontré fotos memorables de cuando viaje a la ciudad en la que mi padre se crió. El clima durante esos días, era sin dudar, un clima ideal para mi, muy ventoso y frío. Lo amé. Deseo regresar. Amé esa ciudad y ya es casi un año de lo que estuve ahí.
In the night i planing to travel to Quito capital of Ecuador for a little visit, the weather is very nice in that city rather than Guayaquil i think im losing weight with everything I’ve sweated.
Im carrying my camera so we cant take some photos at the second shelter in the Chimborazo montain, is the biggest in Ecuador, people is trying to scary us with that but i don´t think we´re gonna die so i will keep in touch with the media to show you what is like to be so far.