My stay in Baños, Ecuador was scattered with the regular sound of marching bands and deafening fireworks; 6:00 am wake-ups from drums and trumpets, heart stopping bangs. The town was celebrating the month long October festival of Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa (Virgin of the Holy Waters) where local musicians gathered at any opportune moment, passing families stopped to watch and dance, and teenagers set off rockets in the middle of the street.
For a solo female traveller, Baños felt incredibly safe. I wandered around after dark without feeling the need to hug my bag in close, without needing to constantly look over my shoulder. It has a small town feel, it is easy to navigate and it has a whole lot more life than some of the other smaller places I’ve visited. Yes, it’s a tourist town, but not just for us gringos. This place is seriously popular with Ecuadorians taking a long weekend or holiday away from normal life to come and enjoy the spas and the thermal baths (which, when I tried to visit, were so full to the brim that I decided against sardining it with a load of strangers).
Baños is lovely to stroll around, the central market particularly appealing with smells that hit your nose and start the salivating process in earnest. (Less appealing for some is the Ecuadorian delicacy of cuy – guinea pig – roasted up with teeth bared and eyes staring out). The town is full of lovely places to eat and relax, including many Italian restaurants. Ecuadorians, it seems, love their pizza. Although it can’t be considered particularly Ecuadorian, I returned to Casa Hood on a few occasions for its good food, daily film screening, book exchange and chilled atmosphere. Both Casa Hood and my friendly, social hostel, Hostal Transilvania, were comfortable places to relax whilst I got my strength and energy back.
Although not the most interesting or important of topics, bus stations will now get their mention on this blog! Baños bus station, although not significantly different to other bus stations in Ecuador, is a good example of the fun and chaos of these places.
Opposite the main building is a stretch of shacks selling all sorts of tasty and tooth-rotting snacks including the famous melcocha – a toffee like sweet (in town you can see it being stretched and slapped before being chopped and packaged and sold). When a bus turns up, a manic, high-pitched and piercing chorus of predominantly women starts up: ‘papitas’, ‘humitas’, ‘chifles’, ‘cola’ they shout out with a well-rehearsed and imitable melody. This starts to calm as money is handed down through bus windows and exchanged for the treats. The men take over: ‘Riobamba’, ‘Quito’, ‘Puyo’, they shout repeatedly, a lower tone but again with a learned tune. They approach and try to quickly usher any person standing around onto buses. Baños usually only has one bus at a time to any destination but in other bus stations it becomes competitive: three or four different men trying to get you onto their bus. And good luck to you getting on the right one. A few porkie pies have been told in order to get you on board… direct bus?… of course (not)!
So, I’m here at the bus station ready to leave for Puyo. I’ve got a little bag of cooked corn and potato in a smooth, sweet/savoury sauce from the street sellers. I’ve grown fond of Baños. I could probably live here for a little while. There’s a load to do, it’s a sweet little town with friendly people and enough life to keep things interesting.
But I’m moving on. Bye bye Baños. After two weeks here, I won’t mourn the illness, the parasites, and I certainly won’t miss the fireworks. But the hospitality and atmosphere, yes, I’ll miss that for sure.