Baños de Agua Santa is the last of our options to present. It is a small tourist town known for its adventure sports, access to the jungle, oh- and that it’s built at the base of one of the most active volcanos in Ecuador, Volcan Tungurahua. Here’s an excerpt I read from About.com before we headed there:
“In spite of the volcanic activity from Tungurahua that forced an evacuation from Baños (photo) during 1999/2000, the town is a popular tourist area with both Ecuadorian and foreign visitors. They come for the Basilica, the famous hot springs, the scenery and the accessability to the jungle via Puyo and Misahuallí.
Tungurahua, also known as “The Black Giant,” is the largest volcano in Ecuador yet the most easily climbed, since Baños is already set on its hillside. Periodic drills keep residents and visitors aware of the potential risks. Be aware of activity before going to Baños.”
So, I was a little nervous. However, the draw of a small mountain tourist-driven town that values its abundant natural resources, and enjoys taking on extreme sports… well, you CBers reading this no doubt understand our interest. Fortunately, the boys and I slept through the one minor earthquake that happened while we were there (Bo wisely only telling me later) and having a trip completely sans eruptions, we all had a great time.
Here’s the smoking volcano as seen from the bus as we neared the town.
Baños also has a number of good Spanish schools, a couple viable schooling options for the boys, and enough resources at hand to make finding an apartment to rent somewhat less stressful than in other spots we’ve checked. On the flip side, it is in a narrow and tight canyon, not much sky or sunlight from my perspective. There are So Many tourists that the town has really adapted to accommodate that, which means good restaurants and activities (fun but hard on the budget) and also means it’s pretty darn easy to not HAVE to speak Spanish while you’re there. Which could put a damper on the kind of language learning we may have somewhere else where maybe the school isn’t as fancy but we have to speak it for every single interaction.
A couple views of Baños from a hike Bo took with the boys:
Volcano on one side, steep cliff with waterfalls on the other, kinda magical really.
TAFFY! Baños is also famous for its taffy, this man is whipping it around and around that post until it’s soft and warm and then he breaks off a piece at the end for you to eat. It. Is. Crazy. Good.
A street statue performer that really caught Luke’s attention.
Walking around one of Baños’s two squares.
Cuy! No, we didn’t try it out yet.
Pros: Coolness of living next to an active volcano, access to the jungle, abundant schools, good restaurants and lots of activities, hot springs
Cons: Fear of living next to an active volcano, tight and sometimes crowded or dark-feeling valley, easy to get away with just speaking English, long and harrowing bus ride from the nearest airport in Quito
P.S. A note about the ‘Also-Rans’ of Cuenca, Loja, and Vilcabamba– we are drawing our search to a close here for a number of reasons. Unless you’ve done it, I just don’t think I have to words to explain how completely opposite a scouting trip is from a vacation or sabbatical experience. A month of scouting with young kids is plenty. This is a precious and unique time for our family, we want the chance to focus on that and not the logistics of scouting. Bo and I have seen Cuenca before and know it to be a big city with a beautiful cathedral that is really worth seeing. It’s also not a very walkable downtown for us (which is part of what we’re looking for) because the noise and traffic and smog make doing so not much fun. It has super friendly people and a lot of expat resources, but for the sake of just a few months of intensive language learning and cultural immersion, we felt we could do that better elsewhere. Loja, we’ve heard nice things about this city, but have seen, visited, and driven through enough Ecuadorian cities to have a sense that a shangri-la it would not be. And it’s at the opposite end of the country – getting there is not easy. Vilcabamaba, also heard great things but, no school for the boys, so trekking all the way down there would be somewhat pointless given what we’re looking for.