Monday, May 10, 2010

Centro Historico to Hot Springs

Walking Through the Centro Historico

I have been agonizing about how best to bring Emily's five day Ecuador adventure to a resounding close, and had mentioned a day soaking in the hot springs at 11000 feet, which sounded better and better to us both, especially after waking up today with sore knees and aching thighs as a result of our obstacle laden hike yesterday morning. We met Eric's father Jeff, his wife Sherry and their five friends at the Hilton Colon near Ejido Park and took them on the Ecovia to La Marin. We walked up slowly to the Plaza Grande, toured through the Compania Church and wandered through Plaza San Fransisco, ate at 'Hasta la Vuelta SeƱor' and shopped for a while at the Artesanal Market. It was essentially the same tour I took Emily on Friday, but she did not seem to mind. The experience walking through the old town is never the same, with new views and new insights each time. I admired Jeff's photographing skills. He carries his camera down low, shoots blindly knowing that many attempts will be discarded, but that some of his photos will be incredible. Unfortunately I hold my camera at eye level, and find myself too concerned about offending my subjects, so I shoot them from behind or from the side.

It was clearly too late to leave at 5 PM when we finally started our journey to Papallata, but we left anyway. We took the Ecovia northward to the bus terminal at Rio Coca, caught a second bus to Cumbaya, and then waited at the bustop in front of Supermaxi as bus after green bus came by. We stopped one bus indicating 'Lago Agrio', but were told to wait for another bus. An hour later, we finally boarded a bus that did not have any indication in the front window as to its destination. I was not sure where it was going, but we were told that Papallacta would be on the way, so in desperation, we got on and hoped we would reach our destination. The bus was mostly empty, but a few more passengers boarded as we stopped along the way to Pifo. Shortly after Pifo, the bus began to ascend, but by now, it was dark and we saw less and less. I did finally see a sign to Papallacta, so I was relieved that we were going in the right direction. I did worry however, that at some point we would find ourselves at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, not knowing which way to turn, without any possibility to get anywhere. My imagination ran wild.

The last time I was on this route was during our ride home from Lago Agrio after our trip to Cuyabeno. I remember the long hours in the bus, and how terrifying it was to look out of the window and see the edge of the road and the valley hundreds of feet down, and even more terrifying when we could see nothing at all. The trip was far longer than anticipated because the bus suddenly stopped in a small pueblo and everyone climbed out. I stayed with Maya because she was asleep on my shoulder, but when she awoke we got out of the bus as well. I found the two busdrivers (one rested while the other drove) sitting eating a three course dinner very calmly and slowly. The rest of the passengers were milling around, some eating, some buying snacks, many using the facilities. The bus did not leave until the drivers finished their food and paid their bill. I am unsure how it was that everyone knew to return to the bus before it left, but it appeared that we did not leave anyone behind. After that ride, one or two hours is easy, except that seeing nothing was just as worrisome. I was concerned that I would not recognize our stop, at the bottom of the hill below the town of Papallacta. I kept peering out of the side of the bus, seeing brush and trees at times, but nothing recognizable.

I finally saw the "Guitig' sign next to the Virgin Maria in a chapel at the pass (about 13000 feet) so I knew we were near the town. However, when I looked outside the fog was so thick you could not see more than a couple of feet in any direction. It made sense that the bus driver was moving awfully slowly. I went up front to the barrier separating the passengers from the driver and his assistant and asked to be warned when we arrived at our destination, and in fact I actually recognized the shacks near the bustop and we clambered off. There were no taxis waiting for us ( I had called the hotel and was told that there would be several between 7 and 8 PM when I expected to arrive), so we waited in puzzlement for a while, until a young German couple alighted from the next bus coming from the direction of Lago Agrio. They had just spent four days in Cuyabeno, and asked to join us in a taxi to their hostel. An enterprising man kept looking at us expectantly, and after a while approached us asking us if we needed a ride, led us to his red pick up truck and drove us uphill three kilometers to our destination. He stopped at the Hostal Antisana a few feet from the Hotel Termas de Papallacta, and waited to be sure the young couple got in safely before dropping us off. It was dark and cold and foggy and drizzling as we clambered out of the truck and straggled into the hotel lobby.

Eric thought we were crazy to take the bus to Papallacta at night, without being certain where to catch it, how long it would take, if we were safe etc. I never actually thought of any of the dire possibilities, but I was pleased to be in our lovely room, eating a delicious dinner and then soaking in the hot springs in the rain. There are several pools, with cold, tepid, hot and hotter pools, all fed by underwater springs. I like the hottest ones, but they are exhausting, and it is difficult to do much other than fall asleep after a soak.

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