Things have been hopping in Baños! Lots of excitement!
We decided that we needed to check out the thermal baths, so we went to the private ones up the hill from town. Of course, everything is on the side of Volcan Tungurahua, so there are volcano zone and volcano eruption evacuation signs all over the place!
At the baths, there were various pools with volcanic heated water - one was bubbling with steaming hot mineral water flowing in, others were medium to cool, and one was freezing cold! We changed into our swimsuits, and were told (in Spanish) that we both had to wear swim caps, which we rented. Then we had to shower, and then we could relax in the hot water. The hottest water was 54C, so roughly 138-140F - HOT! Most people went from the hottest to the icy cold pool, back and forth - I put a foot in the cold one and no way was I jumping in! Brrr! So we rotated to the lukewarm and medium warm pools, soaking in the warm water and relaxing, and smiling at the other people also hanging out. It was a very mellow experience, especially with the green hills towering over us. The worst part was when the sky clouded up and the breeze turned into a fairly chilly wind - and of course this was about an hour into our time there, just about when we were ready to go dry off and leave. Another Brrrrr! But we survived, and drove back into town.
On our way through town, we saw a crowd of people posing for photos with a small statue wrapped in magenta or fuchsia robes - we figured this must be the representation of Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa, Our Lady of the Holy Water here in Baños. We had to detour around the crowd, but eventually parked at our hotel.
Not too much later we went to lunch, and discovered the statue (which kind of looked like a big doll) on a chair in a truck, heading in the direction back to the basilica, followed by a crowd of people. We have no idea if there was some kind of procession when she came out, nor what was going on with the posing. But apparently it was a big thing, as well as the return to the basilica.
We went out to lunch, enjoying a sidewalk café. Traffic was back to normal. And then, we heard music playing, and looked up the street - here was a school parade, each class carrying a sign with the name of a country; then a girl in a fancy dress, sometimes with an escort; and what looked like the rest of the class in sort of futbol (soccer) clothes in the colors of that country! It was absolutely adorable with the youngest classes, looking like maybe four year olds, with tons of parents for supervision.
They worked their way from the youngest up to the older grades, each group acting like normal kids of that age. I especially liked the middle grades, where the girl would be walking by herself, and the escort was nowhere to be seen. Or the teens, with the boy and girl clinging together, and the others waving to friends, chatting, doing all the usual peer socializing.
This continued throughout the day. Not the school parade, but the sort of impromptu, pop-up parades. We're hear music, and either run outside or look out the hall window, to see what was happening. Often, it would be a small brass ensemble either in the back of a pickup, or marching down the street, with the horns playing music that was somewhere between Latin jazz and salsa, accompanied by a drum or two.
But late in the afternoon, there was a group of dancers, young women in bright skirts and shawls twirling their way down the street, dancing with young men in furry chaps or leggings or something. No idea who they were, but they had their own brass band marching in front, and they were followed by people carrying flowers, all heading toward the basilica.
The random pop-up bands and episodic fireworks continued all evening and on into the night. Some of the fireworks had the wonderful colorful explosions, but some were only noise-makers, not as much fun.
Saturday we decided to drive to Puyo, a town in the Amazon basin, on the east side of the Andes. There's an animal rescue center there, and we thought that would be an interesting place to visit.
Well, it was a longer drive than we thought, because the highway is really a single lane in each direction, with numerous tunnels through the mountains, and the road wound around mountains and foothills, until we were dizzy and had no idea in which direction we were heading. The point of the compass no longer had any relevance - the only issue was whether we were heading uphill or downhill, and how close were we to the edge of the cliff. Or were there actually two lanes - at one point, our side of the road was just gone, the side of the mountain was gone - the markers pointed us into the lane of oncoming traffic, who then were forced to drive on the shoulder.
It was a bit of a hairy ride! Beautiful scenery, gorgeous waterfalls, crazy people in gondolas or zip lines over riverbeds and gorges - but a nail-biting kind of road experience!
We reached Puyo in time for lunch, and the tropical rainstorm. We both noticed that the temperature was a good ten or so degrees warmer than in Baños, which is warmer than Quito. The air was humid. Definitely more tropical! And then the rain, with thunder and lightning, absolutely drenching heavy pouring rain pounding on the tin roof of the little restaurant where we ate. Rain flooding the street and pouring onto the sidewalk. Yeah, this is tropical Amazon rain!
Eventually it let up enough for us to run back to the car, and continue on our way.
The monkey rescue center, Paseo del Monos, is outside Puyo - here's their website: http://www.losmonos.org/Inicio/pagina-en
They focus on monkeys, but have other animals as well. The organization takes in injured animals, but also animals that were raised as pets and are now too large or rambunctious to be kept as pets. So many of the animals are in cages where they are being essentially un-socialized. The monkeys or coatis or whatever are with their own species, and contact with humans is limited, so that the animals will lose their pet mentality and be able to be returned to the wild. I know, I'd rather not see animals behind fences. On the other hand, I understand that this is part of re-educating the animals so they can return to their natural environments.
But of course, there is human contact. The workers and volunteers clean the cages, feed the animals, make sure they have play time, or activity time, or whatever. And there are visitors, like me, who wander through, and talk to the animals as if they can understand.
I was the only visitor, which was nice. Some animals, like the coatis, came over to see if I was a food person. Others, like the parrots, talked to me - one said "Ola!" several times, another gave me a wolf whistle! (These are the behaviors the center is trying to get them to forget. Really, a jaguar would eat a parrot who gave it that kind of a whistle!)
Most of the woolly monkeys ignored me, though one or two came over to see if I had food. The white capuchins were curious, but they were keeping an eye on the staff who were cutting down a tree that had fallen over. And, because of the tree, I couldn't go check out the squirrel monkeys, who are the cutest.
I wandered down to the river - I'm not sure, but I'm guessing this might run all the way to join the Amazon, which starts somewhere in this giant basin. The vegetation was decidedly tropical jungle; I even got caught in some sticky, prickly, thorny vines, and had to gently pull them off myself.
It was a wonderful experience, and I'm really glad I went. But the thunder had started up again, so I didn't stay long - Richard was waiting patiently in the car. Our drive back wasn't as long, somehow.
Today, Sunday, there seemed to be more activity around the basilica - again, random bands, maybe a parade, I think the Señora statue made another round of town.
People were in their Sunday best, going to church, buying items from the vendors around the basilica, but also Ecuadoreans who came to Baños for the day. Town seemed more crowded than usual, though some people said it wasn't bad.
Last photo will be a map with the route we've taken thus far. You can see how the Andes split the country almost in half, with the Amazon basin on the east and the coastal plain leading to the beaches on the left.
And you know we'll be heading there soon!