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December 13, 2005 – A journey to Banos, Ecuador in South America

Ecuadorian Baths & Colonial Towns

We took the three hours bus ride from Quito to Banos. Banos, meaning "Baths" in Spanish, is a quaint little town right smack in a valley surrounded by both dry, brown and lush, green mountains - an active volcano being one of them (last eruption was in 1999). Banos is also known for melcocha or local taffy, which actually chews better than other taffy I've tasted. Walking through the little town from the bus station gave me a sigh of relief. Relief from the traffic congestion and constantly being alert and cautious when walking around (especially in the evening) in Quito.

I enjoyed the little town of Banos. We took a 17 kilometer bike ride from the village to one of the main waterfalls. Along the way, we saw incredible views of the mountains and other waterfalls. Wide roads and not a lot of crazy traffic too, like it is in the States on some roads. We passed through a scattering of small towns and farmhouses.

After the ride, we made a visit to the local public bathhouse. The waters in the public bathhouse is generated from the hot springs source from the active volcano. Taking a dip at the bathhouse is definitely not the same as taking a dip in an onsen in Japan. Though a similar thing to note is that people have to be scrubbed clean before entering the baths, as it is done in Japan. It can be quite crowded at times with families, and bathing suits are actually allowed. The hot spring waters are a reddish brown color and do not smell like sulphur, but of battery acid for some reason. Nevertheless, the waters were soothing to the skin.

a street and lush, green mountains in Banos

We took the seven hours bus journey to Cuena from Banos. We passed through tropical-forested mountains, dry-dirt towering mountains, country, farmland, and foggy moorish-looking hills to get there. In midst of this journey, a small family of indigenous Incans sat before Rick and I. Two of the little girls smiled and shyly stared at Rick the entire way like a television. Guess, they probably have never seen an Asian before. I wanted to take a picture of them but the mother said no.

We dropped into the town of Cuenca, a city known for narrow cobblestone roads and colonial architecture. The city is lined with colonial buildings, similar to Old Town Quito. The markets are not as extensive as the Otavalo market. Much of the handicrafts are made of plastic and clay. The fruit market was a great place to try local fruits though. Mangoes were sumptiously sweet.

Tried the comida China there, otherwise known as Ecuadorian-Chinese food. A nice thing to note is that the owner-chef fed us lunch for free. I wanted to pay but Rick said if I did, I'd make him lose face because he kept on insisting the lunch was on him. I didn't really get that, but Rick did say that the owner-chef said we can pay him back if fate has us meet again some day (a Chinese saying, translated). Sometimes, I feel that the Chinese and Chinese culture are quite tragically dramatic (i.e., hardly a historical Chinese movie has a happy ending).

Cuenca is a great place to stroll around and look at old colonial architecture and people-watch. Or even to watch a thunderstorm take place, which Rick and I did from the shelter of a supermarket.

old colonial buildings at night in Cuenca

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