Baños isn’t actually a bathroom; named for its hotsprings, it is a small Andean town on the verge of being wiped out by one of South America’s most active volcano. The volcano – Tunguragua – lies kilometers south of town, and at night glows red. Oh, Baños also has some of the best rafting, canyoning, biking, horse-back riding, running, and cuisine in the word, AND it has the swing at the world’s end.
It’s Friday. We pass through beautiful green farmland and cross a rushing river of chocolate. The canyon narrows, and soon we see the volcano looming to our south. By noon, we’re in Baños. We find a quaint room in a small hostel overlooking one of the town’s many waterfalls, then set off to explore.
We step out the door and the adventure has already begun. Vendors shout out names of exotic foods, while excited men at every street corner rattle of lists of trips that are “about to leave, hurry, hurry”: volcano tours, rafting, canyoning, puenting (bungee jumping)… instead we head to Casa de Arbol. It’s 2:00pm but the hike should only take three hours.
The trail is rarely used and the steep, long ascent takes longer than expected as we scramble up old creekbeds, hop over barbed wire fences, and wearily dodge between cows, dogs, and confused chickens. The views are beautiful, though, with the volcano to our left and a deep green valley pointing east towards the Amazon, flanked by national parks, to our right.
We continue through the mosaic of of farmland, hedgerows, and grazed fields interspersed with patches of jungle. Farmers kindly salute us as we pass, though their puzzled looks tell us that few tourists endure this hike. We are on the road for a while, and several “taxis” pass with tourists. Taxis here consist of anything from pickup trucks to small buses to tiny cars.
Finally, after passing a “3 km” sign, hiking 3 km, and passing another “3 km” sign, we come across a sign saying “2 km”. We know there’s only a few miles left. Sure enough, about 4 km later we arrive at Casa De Arbol.
Casa de Arbol is an infamous swing overlooking a giant valley running off the northern flank of Volcan Tunguragua. Actually, overlooking is the wrong word. This swing literally hangs over the edge of this valley, and is dubbed swing at the world’s end. Needless to say we take many photos; it’s amongst the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
Me in Casa de Arbol.
While I was on the swing, the volcano came out of the clouds and we could see a puff of ashes coming out.
Now it’s getting dark and we descend the small, muddy hill to the road. There are no taxis to take us home, so we decide to walk.
The stars come out, fireflies twinkle past in the pastures, and our worries grow. Lighting flashing to our east is moves closer, the thunder louder. The cool evening turns to cold night, and we trudge onward, down switchback after switchback of narrow mountainous road. Finally we come across a taxi, who takes us home for only $4. He’s friendly and we enjoy talking with him in Spanish, but mostly enjoyed the warm luxury of a vehicle.
Saturday, our canyoning adventure meets at 9am. Along with tourists from Brazil and Ecuador, we don our water-proof suits and pile into taxis.
Over the course of two hours we rappel and slide down six waterfalls. The first one, pictured here, is far smaller than the last, a huge vertical drop that made my heart stop for most of the twenty-second descent.
Wet, tired, cold, and hungry, we had just finished what would normally be considered an adventure but really was just the beginning. For example, we ate cuy – guinea pig – at the local market:
Went on more beautiful hikes:
Tasted more interesting food:
And concluded the day with a chiva (hybrid between a bus and a giant pickup truck) ride to a vantage point overlooking Baños and Volcan Tunguragua, where we could see bright red lava flowing down the volcano’s flanks, and tasted local foods and canelazo.
Our last day, though short, proved to be equally crazy. First, Christopher and I woke up at 6:00 to run to Casa de Arbol, or if you remember, the swing at the the world’s end. The 10km, 2800′-gain climb seemed easy at first, but we climbed higher. As the air thinned and my legs started to complain, I realized how close we were. A glance at my watch showed that I had seven minutes left to get up there in under an hour. Five brutal minutes later, Christopher and I stumbled to our final destination! I still don’t have a photo, since we’re waiting for the french couple we met there to send us it. Nevertheless, this had to have been one of the most epic runs ever. At the swing, we stared at the volcano as it spewed even more ash than it had the day before.
The finish up our trip, we rented bikes and biked to some of Ecaudor’s most beautiful waterfalls, downriver from Baños.
If there’s one place I go back to in Ecuador, this might have to be it!