Last spotted in San Francisco, USA on March 28, 2003, 1:23 pm
Who is he? Where is he going? Where has he been? David Barrett / Quinthar
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Located high in the Andes mountains surrounded by cloud forest sits Banos, a peaceful city sits under constant threat of destruction by Volcan Tungurahua. Named for its nutrient-rich hot springs, tapped by many public bath houses sprinkled throughout the city, Banos is a tourist haven for locals and foreigners alike.

I arrived in Banos after another overnight bus ride, this time with someone experimenting with a cell phone ringer for much of the trip. Not only did this not seem to bother anyone else, but the ring on which she eventually settled (and had to try a thousand times) is the exact same ring that I had on my cell phone for a number of years. Beep........ beep beep........ beep-a-deep-a-deep........ beep-eep. Arrg.

I step off the bus and walk into the local tourist agency to figure out what to do with myself. It turns out there's quite a lot to do, actually, ranging from relaxing in the baths of natural spring water to horse-back riding on an active volcano. After consulting with the woman there and several other people I find throughout town, I decide bike riding through the waterfalls is adventurous enough for me. For the moment, though, after wandering to a big waterfall I see pouring directly into the city and then to a panoramic restaurant halfway up the mountain, I pick out a hotel and head to bed.

Now, one strange thing about the economics of Banos and its demographic of travelers is that there are no real "hotels". Everything is called a "hostel", even though in reality it's a hotel. Hostels throughout the rest of the world, as far as I can tell, are places where travelers get a dormitory-style matress, often without sheets and with virtually no privacy, for peanuts a night. Seeing as how they're so much cheaper than hotels, I never even consider the hotels that I see around me with the assumption that they're too expensive. Well, I'm guessing that most travelers to Banos are on a tight budget and skip the hotels in favor of hostels, thus leaving all the hotels without customers. The solution? Call yourself a "hostel", and travelers again flock to your door. Normally this wouldn't fly, but hotels are so cheap in Banos that they get away with it.

After trying a couple different "hostels", I eventually settle on one that is a bit more expensive than the others but has a great rooftop restaurant and lots of services. "Blanco and Plantas", or something like that ("White and Plants" is the translation, as bizarre as that sounds). One night I even managed to join another guest in watching "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". After hearing the opening theme and just can't resist.

Most of my stay in Banos, however, is rather uneventful. My repeated attempts to find a pena (live folk music bar) with local Andean music are met with nothing but CD music, the Internet is incredibly slow and expensive, and I am feeling a bit worn out after my jungle excitement and just want to sleep. However, I do manage to bike ride to the waterfalls, and that's exciting enough to make up for all.

Set half-way up a mountain overlooking the town of Banos, Bella Vista is a tiny restaurant with an incredible view. On my first day I see the colorful building surrounded by leafy terrain on all sides: no road can be seen leading to its door. I wander around to what seem the most likely areas for a road or path leading up the mountain, to no avail. Eventually I find someone that has directions comprehensible to my feeble espanol, and find a small trail at the end of an innocuous road. I trudge up the road to find beautiful sights, one after another. The road, actually more of a muddy path, skirts across the mountain more horizontally than vertically (hence my trouble finding it originally) and eventually leads to an iron gate bearing the resturant's name.

Through the gate is a fantastic garden of flora and fauna, flowers of all description interspersed with dogs, cats, chickens, and mule. As I take in the panoramic view I'm met by the owner of the estate, a middle-aged mother of two wi... [more]
Remember those cool taffy machines you always see in carnivals and tourist towns? Ever wonder how they made it before a mechanized solution was found? Well, now you know: a wooden peg is hung from a wall and the stretchy solution is pulled and whipped in an endless cycle of preparation. It actually looks like quite a workout and could be the basis for a whole new kind of excercise machine, at the end of which you are rewarded with a sweet treat.
Under Banos runs the Rio Pastaza, over which hangs a tiny swinging bridge. A short trek with local pack-mules over this bridge leads up a path with a beautiful view of the river and city. The grassy knoll in the foreground is a terribly comfortable spot to sit with a notebook and write away the afternoon, meeting and talking with travelers along the trail. Note the waterfalls emerging from the city plateau -- just a few of the countless cascades to be found in the valley.

Copyright 2021 - David Barrett -