Monday, March 16, 2015

Tres Autobuses Son el Encanto

Another transition day, we are leaving Alausí for Baños de Agua Santa or commonly called just Baños. In fact, we had planned to visit here two years ago, when in Ecuador, but there was a volcano eruption, so cancelled out. 

From what we understand, there are no direct buses. We
were told we have to go to Riobamba and then change buses there for Baños.  A long day of bus riding ahead convinced us we should get out, walk around some and have breakfast. 

As soon as we hit the street, we were shocked at the number
of people milling around the streets, the square and even side streets. They all looked like locals with a heavy mix of the Cañari people. These are one of the indigenous ethnic groups in the country. Most of them had goods spread out on blankets for sale. Suddenly overnight, the entire town turned into a giant flea market. It was fascinating and at the same time, it made me regret we were leaving. 

We could hear music coming from the park at the far end,
where the mosaics decorated the walls. By the time we made our way there, it was over. 

We finally boarded the 11:30am bus heading to Riobamba. We had assigned seats and for $3 total, with books in hand, we were set for our three-hour ride. This particular bus had every single seat covered in plastic. Not even the magazine holder from the seat in front of us was accessible. This made the seats extra hot on a warm and humid day. Once we started out, the window breeze saved us.

When we reached Riobamba, we looked in vain for the bus to Baños. There were not any. We had to go to Ambato first and then get the bus to Baños. Bad news…the Ambato bus does not stop at the bus station, but on the
street. We stood on the street for a half hour, before we found so many buses with Ambato signs just passing us by. 

Well, actually the stop was two blocks and one highway crossing away. As soon as we reached it, another Ambato bus pulled up. There was one seat available, so Ron took it. The driver’s aide gave me his jump seat. Every long haul bus has a driver and an aide who collects tickets, money from the ticketless, and announces the bus route with the door open and he is hanging out. I was grateful. This leg of our trip ran us $2.50 for both of us. The trip took 1 ½ hours.

At Ambato, we were able to get a bus immediately to Baños. Another $2 and one hour later, we arrived at the Baños bus station. 

Baños is a rather funny name for a town. This Spanish word also refers to ‘bathroom’ and the full name Baños de Agua Santa is Baths of the Sacred Waters. However, here in Baños they use S.S.H.H. for bathroom signs. Baños is located in the Andean highlands; it sits at the base of the volcano Tungurahua, a still active volcano. This is the hub for many extreme sport activities including bungee jumping, and cable car rides across the river. These are in rickety metal cages packed with people riding on thin metal lines, river rafting, and Amazon tours. So why the hell are we here?
In addition to being known for its thermals, Baños, like Budapest, has a number of thermal spas around the town. Ron who rarely visits the thermals in Budapest any longer is longing to visit the thermal here. One is named after the Virgin of the Holy Water (Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa). I will take a pass on this one. 

Apparently, there was a vision of Mary in the local waterfalls, so Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa is the name of the local church. Inside the church are a series of paintings showing the different supposed miracles the Virgin performed in the town. Ecuador seems to have more than their fair share of Virgin stories. In Loja, it was the Virgin of the Swan.

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