Time to change our luck for the better, Banos what have you got? We had high hopes that Banos would serve up some good Ecuadorian hospitality and convince us of Ecuador’s charm. Only 4 hours by bus from Quito it was a breeze to make it there meaning we had more time to relax and take in our surroundings on day 1.
Baños is not a toilet
The town of Banos holds around 9,500 Ecuadorian’s but fills up with plenty more during weekends and holidays. It’s a drawcard for locals who want to get away from the bustle of Quito and relax in one of the thermal pools or feast on toffee, guinea pig or any other type of cuisine produced by the hundreds of restaurants in the town. Baños in most other places in Central and South America refers to the toilets – not so in Ecuador, they call the toilets ‘Servicios Hygienicos’ , so the town can hold it’s own and not be seen as the bog of the nation. We stayed in Hostel Chimenea, just down the road from the thermal baths which are overly popular with the locals. We didn’t get to them but we saw the queues of people lined up outside ready to overcrowd the small heated pools. (We later chatted to a mate who said that you pretty much just have to squeeze in next to the locals and not worry about the colour of the water!)
We hung about Banos for a few days, there are plenty of things to do including hiking, white water rafting, bring jumps, horse riding, canyoning etc. We decided to take on the hiking aspect and made our way to the top of the cliffs that look down on the town of Banos. While it was only a 1.5 hour trip up and down, we again left it until the end of the day creating a need for us to scramble up and down pretty quickly. Taking safety concerns pretty seriously, I decided I’d look more imposing if I carried a rock on the track with me – in case it got really dark and I needed to start hurling rocks at people!?
The Food Experience
It’s no secret that food is definitely an important part of the trip for Cel and I. It’s fair to say that the local food of Latin America doesn’t quite match the dizzying heights of SE Asia but there are definitely some amazing restaurants where you can order your favourites and some locally inspired fusion plates. It’s also no secret that Cel is gluten free. It was a combination of gluten and a great restauarant that served up an entertaining experience for us both. The restaurant is called Casa Hood, it’s run by a foreigner (as many of the good restaurants are out here) and serves up loads of international favourites cooked well and to the style you’d expect. We ate here a couple of times because it was so good. It was on our second visit that Cel decided she wanted Pad Thai (it looked good on other peoples plates). Cel hadn’t been feeling too good in Banos (something dodgy from Quito) but she wanted something good so ordered the pad thai with a fillet of what she thought was local fish.
It came out and we couldn’t see too much fish on the plate, actually none, however there was plenty of tofu. Now you’ll probably read this and think we’re idiots, but the fish Cel was supposed to get was called, wait for it…’Gluten’. The menu read ‘Gluten fillet’, I’d admired Cel for taking the plunge to try a new fish with her Pad Thai. We obviously started to doubt the fact that it was actually a fish once the tofu came out. Nonetheless Cel polished off the meal and was content with her meal choice. It wasn’t until we were back at the hostel on Wikipedia that we found out that gluten, in it’s most pure form, is actually a substitute for tofu. This meant Cel, the gluten-free girl, had just chowed down on a plate of pure gluten! Not much else to do but laugh about it and try to avoid the word gluten from then on!
Our other food experiences were less of an unknown but one of them was more of an experiment. Guinea pig (Cuy in Spanish) is a local delicacy and they really do think it is the bees knees. Wandering through a market we saw a lady with the little critters on the end of a pole, toasting them over some hot coals. I took a look and while they didn’t look overly appealing, I thought I’d better give them a try just for the sake of it. They served me up a leg of it with rice and salad and I can honestly say that it tasted pretty good, bit like chicken and a bit like rabbit.
The final and least riskiest of our food experiences was toffee. Banos is famous for making toffee, in fact there are so many stalls of toffee I don’t think you could really visit the place without trying some. We watched one of the ‘toffee slingers’ (a name I’ve made up for them) at work, stretching and slinging the long thread of toffee. The finished product comes in bars, rolls, mixed with nuts, coloured and any other way you could imagine. It’s sweet and easy to eat, we tried some while walking the streets as well as stashing some away in our bag for those long bus journeys.
Our Ecuador trip had taken a turn for the better, Banos had resurected our faith in the country. Our whirlwind tour had to continue thought, with 4 nights down and 2 remaining, we headed to the much loved bus station to find our next coach. While we were there we bumped into Tony, a kiwi guy from Tapanui who is travelling solo through Latin America. We had a good chat and he let us know about a 24hr bus that can get you from Ecuador to Lima, while sounding awful it was actually quite appealing given the ground we had to cover. He was getting the bis in a couple of days and I had a feeling we might just have to take the same one. Once on our bus we headed south for Cuenca, pronounced Kwengka (yep sounds like a name you might call someone you don’t like).
To finish off, a couple more random pics from Banos: