It seemed to be a walk for lovers, a steep thirty minute ascent out of Baños past holy shrines speckled with ‘te amo’ grafitti – divine love alongside ‘I-want-you-right-now’ love – and up to the Virgin Mary statue protected by heavy metal poles and wire fencing. She is a bit elusive; difficult to see and near impossible to photograph. But the virgin is barely the point of all this, she’s more of a destination and a viewpoint marker. It’s the walk up and the views out and beyond that make it worth trudging up all those hundreds of steps.
It’s peaceful on the way up. I pass only a handful of people – a few tourists, an Ecuadorian family and some teenage lovers entwined on a sunny, grassy patch just below the virgin’s gaze. Noise from the town wafts upwards: car radio pop music, a marching band, voices singing ‘glory glory hallelujah’ – but the main sounds comes from gusts of wind rustling the dry grasses and tough shrubs.
Another teenage couple turn up as I’m sitting on the steps taking in a birdseye view of Baños and writing in my notebook. Of all the places they could choose, they decide to hang out right next to me, blasting out music, – a female warbling about ‘mi corazon’. The mountains look lush and mighty and the clouds are coming in. I’ve had my fill. Time to go back down and leave the lovers to their business of engraving the trees and grafitting the post with more ‘te amo’ messages.