Monday, June 18, 2012

Travel Tales: Cuenca to Banos, Ecuador

 Terry and I decided to go to Ecuador a couple of years ago to find out why so many people were considering leaving Mexico to live down there. A good friend and former travel buddy of ours had recently made the move to Cuenca, so we went to visit her.

My first impression was that the thin air at 8300 feet does not agree with my asthma-handicapped lungs. Even Terry complained that he was getting out of breath turning over in bed. I managed okay as long as no one expected me to walk very fast.

Second impression: it is really cold in Cuenca! Since the equator runs through Ecuador, we just never expected to to be that cold. Somehow, it hadn't registered in our heads that all the pictures that Regina posted online showed everyone wearing double layers, jackets, hats, and scarves. I bought a hat and gloves and then we got by wearing most of our clothes all at the same time!

Cuenca is a huge city and it has some very pretty scenery. My favorite place was the cathedral, just a few blocks from our hotel. We never got to go inside, but the architecture was wonderful from the outside. Every time we approached it from a new direction, I had my camera out again.

Even though I get to see markets overflowing with fresh produce every day in Mexico, I can never get enough of it. This market in Riobamba had multiple types of just about every kind of fruit and veggie. I can see six different kinds of bananas in this photo. The red ones at the center are fantastic! 

We were now at 9,023 feet, but I was getting just a tiny bit used to it.

When we left Riobamba, our bus took us over the flanks of the Volcano Cotopaxi, which was erupting right then. Because the lava was running over the usual road to Banos, the bus had to take a detour, but the scenery was so beautiful that we didn't even care.  (It was a little spooky, though, that the clouds were covering the top so we couldn't see what was going on so near.)

The volcanic soil is very fertile and the volcano gets lots of rain, so it looked just like a huge green patchwork quilt had been spread over it.

A bit further on, we saw farms that almost made me want to  move there to have one. One place in particular must have had 16 to 20 different fruit trees with vegetables planted in between. 

I could just picture walking out of my house and down the hill a bit to pick my fresh produce for the day. I came to my senses when I remembered that I would have to walk back up the hill to return to my house. Maybe I could hire an indigenous family to tend the crops and bring me a "variety box" every day. Wait a minute - I guess I could arrange that in Portland without having to buy the land or hire the family. 

Once we got around the volcano, we arrived in the town of Banos. At 5900', Banos isn't too much higher than my home in Chapala. It sits in a steep-sided valley with farms running up both sides. Most of these farms are so steep that they have to be worked by hand. I can't even imagine walking from my home in the valley to my field at the top of the hillside, let alone plowing or whatever while I was up there.

Banos is famous for its hot springs, so many people, both Ecuadoran and tourists, go there to enjoy the hot water. It also has many waterfalls falling down those steep mountains.

I really liked the built-in wash tubs just below one of the hot springs in Banos. Each "sink" has a pipe with running water and a drain in the bottom. They plugged the drains with rags or wads of paper and also stopped the water flow the same way. Unfortunately, they still have to carry the wet heavy clothes home to hang them up to dry.

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