Maybe it wasn’t my best idea to visit Banos a couple days after its volcano reached red alert status.
On approach, the angry volcano, spewing dark gray smoke into the sky, came into focus. I became nauseous, unsure whether to attribute my urge to puke to the windy mountain road or the image of myself being swallowed alive by molten lava.
The townspeople are rather blasé about the whole thing. After having a dream about running on rooftops trying to escape the lava like a chase scene in I Know What You Did Last Summer, I shared my story with my coffee vendor. He laughed at me and confirmed, like everyone else in town I’ve talked to, “No pasa nada.”
Aside from the nightmares and the occasional ash blowing into my eyes and blinding me, Baños is a great little town set at the bottom of a valley with mountains on all four sides. At the edge of town is a waterfall, which you can admire from the hot springs called Las Piscinas de la Virgen.
Banos is a hot spot on the gringo trail, and the people (population under 20,000) have catered to the tourist mass by opening up some 280 hotels and hostels in Banos. I’ve been staying at Backpacker Banios Hostel, which is an addictive little place with lots of crazy art on the ceilings that’s been encouraging a lot of lounging and un-productivity on my part (Note Feb 2011: hostel no longer exists).
It seems like every place I’ve visited in Ecuador so far is throwing huge week-long celebrations – or maybe they’re just happy to see me?
Yesterday there was parade that lasted about four days and showcased practically everyone living in Ecuador. Aside from beauty queens, dancing teens, and the cutest kids you’ve ever seen (sorry about the rhyme), there were students of the police academy wearing furry chaps… I’m not sure how effective they would be during a drug bust, but they could certainly entertain even the most hardened criminals with their dancing skills.
Five days later, I’m still alive (yeay!). The volcanic clouds still peer out from behind the mountain tops to haunt me, but I have faith I’ll make it out alive.