In Banos I decided to go exploring. I took a bus to Rio Verde, got off and asked to be directed to the Paillon del Diablo—a waterfall called the Devil’s Cauldron. The guidebook said it was a 15-minute walk. For me it was a 30-minute up and down (mostly down) climb. The waterfall was well worth it and with a little more climbing I had a perfect viewing spot.
I also viewed the falls from a rickety hanging bridge over the rushing river with a sign saying no more than five people could be on it at once! There were two young men on it with me and of course they had to jump and swing on it until I yelled at them. Afterwards it was a 40-minute climb back up to the bus stop for me.
I flagged down another bus—they blink their lights at you acknowledging your wave, signaling that they’re going to stop—and went to the town of Puyo. There were several pretty waterfalls along the road that I could see from the bus.
I found Puyo to be a very uncharming town. This is sugar cane country and I had been meaning to try the aguardiente (sugar cane fire water) so I asked for a sample. She only gave me a bit in a tiny cup but I couldn’t finish it. It tasted like pure alcohol, and I really couldn’t detect any interesting flavor. OK, now I’ve tried aguardiente! I had a wonderful lunch, though—pork from a whole roasted pig, plus trimmings. That was really good!
After a walk around Puyo I flagged down a bus to go back to Banos, which said ‘Ambato’ on the window, but when I yelled “Banos?” the conductor said “Si” and I jumped on. All the buses to Banos go to the terminal but people always ask to be let off at different places. They let the bus driver know when they want to stop by calling “Gracias”—(thank you) to the bus driver. We stopped a number of times in Banos, but not at the terminal and pretty soon we were completely through Banos and headed to Ambato. By the time I realized this and made my way to the front of the bus and called ‘Gracias’, we were in a construction zone and he couldn’t stop. Finally he let me off and I quickly was able to flag down a bus going back to Banos. Well, all’s well that ends well!
Monday I got a bus to Ambato, a non-touristy but pleasant town of 200,000+. Many of the people wear Indian dress and yet it’s quite a sophisticated town. Their big hero is the 1800’s writer, Juan Montalvo, whom I had never heard of. The main plaza is named after him, and his house (interesting) and mausoleum (gigantic) are across the street.
The market was especially clean and pretty. One day I sat down at a counter there to a local special dish for lunch, called clapinggaucho Ambateno. It had lettuce, tomato, sausage, fried potato patties, a section of avocado, cold beets, and was topped with a fried egg. Got that? It really was good, as was the atmosphere. By the way, the dish, along with a strange drink that she dipped out of a big pot on the burner, cost $1.
I visited the natural history museum, which was a conglomeration of stuff—dead stuffed local animals and birds, old pottery, native dance costumes, freaks of nature like two-headed calves and a big meteorite. I always like museums, even the strange, funky ones.
I walked quite a ways out of town to La Quinta de Juan Leon Mera (former home of another local, much revered writer), which was a pretty country place with old architecture that had escaped the big earthquake of 1949.
Both evenings Roberto came over from Salasaca and we had dinner together.
Wednesday it was already time to say goodbye to Ecuador. I took a seven-hour bus ride to Guayaquil, which included loading on seven wire mesh crates of baby bunnies on to the roof along the way. The conductor and two other guys did the loading and then jumped up on the roof when the bus took off down the road. During this time they were apparently rearranging the crates and (hopefully) covering them as it was quite chilly in the mountains and the bus tore along briskly. After 10 km when we stopped again, the three guys climbed down and jumped back on the bus as it was again rolling away. When we finally arrived in Guayaquil, they climbed up and unloaded the crates. The bunnies seemed all right—none the worse for wear from their scenic mountainous bus ride.
Upon arriving in Guayaquil and getting to the airport, I was anticipating two flights quickly home but alas, I got involved in a canceled flight, a big mess of incompetent staff, goofy hotel room, late strange breakfast, more chaos, an extra flight to Quito, and finally arrived in Minneapolis 12 hours late.
This trip seemed to end so suddenly as it was only one month long, plus it was sort of chopped up into three sections, all of which were enjoyable. Until next time—