October 3rd - 4th 2003
Continuing down through Ecuador we arrived at Baños on the slopes of the Volcano Tungurahua and only 8km from its crater. It is famous for its hot sulphur springs as well as its active volcano. The town was evacuated in 1998 when the volcano was placed on orange alert (90% chance of a major eruption over the coming weeks and minor eruptions could occur at any time). There have been no eruptions large enough to cause substantial damage since that time but it does blow up ash on a regular basis and the volcano is still on orange alert today. The volcano is closed to climbers as a result. All the guidebooks recommend that visitors avoid spending the night in Baños itself just in case it does erupt. Although still in the so-called "danger zone" we stayed further up the valley from Baños, just outside Rio Verde on the road to Puyo and the upper Amazon Basin as it gave us the chance to camp.
The drive from Baños to Rio Verde was spectacular, following the Río Pastaza canyon along narrow, winding roads and steep drops into the canyon below. There are numerous waterfalls in the region and we stopped off at the largest, the Pailón del Diablo waterfall. It is a steep path down from the road and then across a springy suspension bridge (only five people are allowed on the bridge at any one time) to get the full impact of the waterfall.
We stayed a short way out of Rio Verde at Pequeño Paraíso, a hostal run by two Swiss, Nina and Franco. By a really strange coincidence, we had met them before at a gas station on our way from Guayaquil to Quito.We had just exchanged "Hola's" in passing.. They remembered the Landy and we recognised them. We had a couple of beers and then by another strange coincidence two Swiss girls we had met at the Spanish School in Quito cycled in for a quick drink before heading back to Baños. Definitely a small world!
We camped on the grounds with the use of a toilet and hot shower for $3 a night. It was without doubt the friendliest place we have stayed at so far in Ecuador. Nina and Franco have built the place up from scratch with a number of brick built cabins and a great bar-come-dining room. All the facilities are really clean and tidy and it is a great place to relax - so much so that we stayed on for another day. They made us feel so welcome, letting us have free run of the place, as if it were our own home, using the kitchen facilities and so on. Nina bakes excellent bread and Franco runs canyoning and rock climbing trips. We would recommend this place to anyone. Although you can't see the volcano from there, Franco said that sometimes you can see smoke and ash being thrown up. If you plan on visiting Pequeño Paraíso from the UK, take a can or two of Heinz Baked Beans and Salad Cream for that extra special welcome!
Sue in the Kitchen
There are a number of waterfalls you can walk to in the cloud forest nearby, and we managed to walk to a couple, although it was fairly humid and the steep tracks were pretty muddy from the heavy rainfall during the night and early morning.