Besides the severe weather, it also turns out that Volcano Tungurahua near the town of Baños is active again. There was a huge eruption in 1999, and they had to evacuate for 4 months. It has been active on and off since then, which has greatly affected the tourism in this fairly touristy little town. We didn't know if we would be able go, but finally got reports that it was safe. We stared in awe while the bus wound past the smoking mountain as we pulled into this adorable town smacked between the steepest hillsides you've ever seen. It's also much warmer here. Not hot, but really pleasant and without the bone chill of Quito.
It's called Baños for all the geothermal pools there, some which are hot, some warm, some said to have healing properties. Now they are all public bath houses, and we went for a night-time hot soak at one that is at the base of a waterfall. There is also this great little hippie cafe that feels like it could be in Ballard or something, with good vegerian and vegan food, a book exchange, and movie nights. I had sweet and sour papaya chicken, and this morning the gringo grill, which is the best hangover breakfast- fried eggs, beans with cheese, potatoes, avocado, fresh tomatoe, and sauteed red peppers. Fabulous coffee too.
I went on the best bike ride ever. We rode 20 kilometers down from the town and toward the Amazon basin. The two lane road follows a deep river canyon of dark chocolate brown water. There are 3 different waterfalls along the route. On the road we also passed cows, pigs, donkeys, chickens, orchids, wild bromeliads, bright bouganvillea bursting over fences, fruit stalls where oranges hung in skinny bags like large beads on a string, and kids catching fresh water crabs in a box. We ate grilled plantains with fresh white cheese inside, and roasted corn kernals with tomato and onion. At the end we had tamarind popsicles and then caught a ride in the back of a truck back up the big hill to Baños.
The next day was a trip into the jungle! We left early in the morning to head east to the edge of the Amazon. It was definitely like another world. The loud buzzing of insects and the sweet earthy smell is overwhelming. Here in this jungle ants taste like lemon (yep, I had to try them), trees have roots above ground and can walk, and the dragon blood tree bleeds black sap. We had a pretty knowledgeable guide who told us the names of various plants in Quechua and their traditional medicinal uses. Lunch consisted of fresh talapia fish that we watched a guy catch hours before, fried, along with rice, avocado, boiled yucca, and vegetable soup. We also went on a downriver canoe ride and swam in a... you guessed it, another waterfall.
Somehow, after the long day, we managed to still go out at midnight, which is when the hoppin' nightlife in this little town gets going. These local boys are amazing salsa dancers, and dance we did until the wee hours.