Baños de Agua Santa, Tungurahua, Ecuador

By Bob Orchard
This post is part of a series called Ecuador, 2014

This was without a doubt one of the best parts of our trip. We stayed at a little bed and breakfast called Magic Stone (read our Tripadvisor review)for a week while we explored the city and surrounding area. This is a small place run by a lovely couple, Ove and Aase, originally from Denmark. There’s only two suites at this place, and except for a few nights we were the only guests. If requested the night before, they’ll provide a breakfast ready-to-order (which we took advantage of each morning) in their dining room overlooking the city. There’s fresh danish bread, scrambled eggs, a cheese plate that’s amazing and fresh orange juice and coffee. My favorite was the danish bread and, well, Sarah’s a fan of the coffee.

Places to Eat

There are some amazing restaurants in town, and one in particular that we enjoyed was El Cedro. It’s owned by a great guy named Roberto (coincidence?) whom we met while walking around one night and stopping in to see if we could get a table. We found out that the entire restaurant was booked and we should come back tomorrow. We did exactly that and I can’t tell you how happy we were. They’ve got a small outside seating area that wraps one side of a rather large fish pond. Inside, the building is built around a large tree encircled by a staircase. It’s one of the most unique places in town, with food prices around 1/3rd of what we’d expect in the US.

Horseback Riding

Our hosts for this part of the trip arranged for us to go horseback riding up the side of the volcano and true to their word, horses appeared around the corner from us. Our trip took us up through the city and up the side of the mountain to the start of the stream coming down. There we explored a bit and headed back down. I had noticed a side trail on our way up that seemed to lead nowhere in particular, and on the way back down this is the trail we took. Riding the horses as far as we could, we tied them up and continued on, stopping at a ravine the river had slowly cut out. Strung between the two sides was a pair of cables and rusty baskets. For a person who has a strong fear of the “what ifs” of mechanical failure, I managed to jump on and ride across. After a short walk we arrived at a cafe, in the middle of the mountains, between two volcanos, and in the last place I thought I’d see a foosball table.

New Years Eve

We spent several days just exploring the city. This was a type of place I had never been before and I was absolutely fascinated. Not only was there no apparent “slums”, but we felt extremely safe the entire trip. I went down constantly paranoid that someone would bump against me and steal my wallet only to find that the locals were polite, helpful and most importantly just enjoyed themselves. There were kids all over, and preparations were being made for what we found out was their New Years celebration. Combine the United States’ 4th of July, St. Patricks Day, Halloween, and New Years into one single night of awesome.

The locals have a tradition of burning their vices instead of our tradition of making promises we can’t keep. Every family makes a papier-mâché figure of one sort or another, meant to represent some vice in their life that they’re putting behind themselves. As we explored, I came to realize that those that have more, do more, and those that have less, get by with what they have. Some families used refuse to create their vice and some went all out with 20′ figurines and crazy displays.

On this night, however, every kid had fun. Children dressed up as whatever they wanted and stopped traffic with ropes across the road. In exchange for the ropes being dropped and traffic to be let through, they collected spare change or small candies. Costumes varied widely, from a group of Egyptians and pyramids to (and I kid you not) the stereotypical “Hollywood Indian” complete with headband and single feather.

In a world away from home where we were foreigners, there was celebration unlike anything I’ve seen before. At the stroke of midnight, everyone burned their vices and the new year began.

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Bob Orchard

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