We chose to visit Baños, less than an hour away from Ambato, or at least we thought that. The roads were packed, with several detours ( the road was being worked on). I was disappointed that I could not see the volcano Tungurahua, which was entirely obscured by clouds when we arrived, until later in the day, when the clouds finally disappeared and the mountain began spewing out puffs of smoke. As the clouds cleared, the mountain looked more and more magnificent. Baños is constantly on the alert, ready to evacuate. It has been destroyed several times, and people have lost their lives as a result of eruptions over the years. Just two weeks ago there was a mudslide and several houses and people were buried in a valley near Baños; I am not sure if this was caused by the volcano and its activity or due to rains or other phenomenon.
Baños is known for its healing hot springs. the city is in fact is called Baños de los Agua Santo, and worships a famous Virgen of the Agua Santa. We visited the main cathedral, which is relatively new, after several disastrous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions leveled the town repeatedly over the years. The virgin is venerated because it is believed that she has saved the town and many devout individuals over the years, and there are huge paintings in the church to show the many instances when her appearance or presence has prevented a death or a disaster. There is a yearly procession and fiesta in her honor, and pilgrims arrive regularly to pray to her and light candles and pay their respects. She is housed in a separate shrine alongside the cathedral. People were praying both in the church and in front of her statue.
Baños is an entertaining town, with dozens of cafes and restaurants, an artisanal market, entertainment on the streets and tour operators at every corner offering river rafting, bungee jumping, canyoneering trips, chiva tours to the waterfalls, jungle tours to nearby Puyo, and horsebackriding. We decided to explore the mountain on horseback, and climbed up the base of the volcano, reaching a small zipline hidden in the mountain. We were all unsure about climbing into the metal seat and swinging across the canyon, especially when our Columbian Guide Rodolfo chose to stay with the horses instead of joining us. Weighing the risks momentarily, we all chose to take the plunge and zip across. Our host lived with his family in a tiny A Frame shack with a corrugated roof. He had fashioned a pool of freezing mountain water near the river, and offered drinks and snacks at his charming cafe/bar.
Of course, being Carnaval weekend, the streets of Baños were full of vacationers, families, children, (mostly Ecuadorian tourists). Music was everywhere, with musicians offering traditional Ecuadorian music, such as pasillos and pasacalles. My impression is that this holiday is not at all an indigenous one, at least in Ambato and Baños, where the music and dancing is either pop/dance or colonial music, although this evening there was another huge parade in the south of Ambato, which we did not see other than glimpses on the television, and there appeared to be much more of a celebration of the indigenous Tungurahuan as well as nearby traditional groups.
Carioca MomentWe ran into several detours on our bumper to bumper drive back, and arrived in Ambato too exhausted after our day in Banõs, so we missed out on the huge parade happening in the south of the city. The celebrations for Carnaval continue through today and tomorrow, so our hotel room was again in the midst of the action. We were regaled with music and activity all night long. Ambateños like to celebrate until the sun rises.
I have no idea how Maya and Eric were able to sleep, with all the noise and music and dancing and smells of cooking food wafting up from the street. I looked out my window and couples and families and children were still strolling along Cevallos and participating in the events until the morning. Huge speakers just under our window offered a steady dose of Ecuadorian pop music, and not too far down the road, a massive stage with monster speakers offers a venue for local artists and their version of modern music. Both at Baños and Ambato, the spraying of family friends and strangers delights everyone. We were foamed constantly and both adults and children were covered with foam and running after others to foam them. Everyone seemed to be laughing about it. I have been reading many opinion pieces in the papers complaining bitterly about the tradition of throwing water bombs and spraying with water, which is the tradition in many towns including Quito, but no one is complaining about the spuma; everyone appears to find it charming in some way. I wonder where the tradition comes from and what the significance is. It is certainly entertaining for both the participants and the onlookers.