It's about 3 1/2 hours southeast from Quito to the small tourist town of Banos de Agua Santos or just Banos as it's known in Ecuador. But believe it or not, to make things complicated, there's another one, also. The ride down with a private driver that the Hotel Reina Isabella arranged for me was spectacular.
During the drive, he practiced his English and I attempted to communicate in Spanish.
It was 3 1/2 hours of communication frustration. But we enjoyed ourselves. On the Panamerican Highway, from Quito, the road is practically brand new. There are lights and small towns every 10 miles/15 Kilometers. At each small town, there are women (only) waiving flags or plastic images of various fruit for travellers to stop, buy and enjoy.
One thing about Ecuadoran food, it's amazing and I'll devote an entire Blog Entry all about that, later. (I hate when people say or write that and then forget). I had never had Ecuador's famous forms of Helado. The flavors are out of this world and explode in your mouth. Their fish soups are incredible -- and I hate fish!
When we got closer to Banos, the driver pulled over so I could see the famous Ambato Laguna (or Lake Ambato). People from all over make sure they pull over and take pictures of this beautiful (but tiny tiny) lake down in a quaint and bright green valley.
On each side of the road are miles of completely vertical mountains. And on those beautiful and imposing mountains are little farms or fincas. Each grows something different. But one amazing image was that of Hot Houses growing flowers or other forms of fruits and vegetables that need stable sunlight without being affected by Ecuador's daily lashing of rain from constant storms coming from every direction. I mean, these plastic covered houses are literally vertical. And they're way up these mountains where there are no roads! I asked the driver, Hernando, how the workers or the owners of the farms get up these steep hills. He looked at me like some kind of imbecile and said "Ecuadorianos are hard working people and we're proud of are farms and what they produce. They walk up the hills and down the hills every day".
I've hiked a few times in my life. And I can tell you that there's no freaking way I would do that every day. It's seriously a mile up in the sky! I'd be exhausted after 100 yards.
When we reached Banos, we found my hotel: El Molino Blanco. We rang the bell and no one was there. We yelled and no one responded. We even called the owner a few times on different phones and only got voicemail. After almost 4 hours in the car, this was not a result that I could calmly accept.
So, my driver, sensing my anger, said "Amigo, let me call another hotel". Well I had researched for months all the hotels in that town, because there are about 100. And they're all packed into the center of Banos.
The only possibly decent hotel other than the one I chose (At $35 a night for 3 nights) was the Sangay. And the Sangay, I knew, was about $200 a night with tax. It's beautiful with an amazing Spa and it's right next to Banos' famous waterfalls and their incredibly hot dipping pools. The pools of water start at about 118 degress and gradually as you go down the path, from pool to pool, the temperature ends at 102.
I looked at him and said, I don't think so. Maybe you better just leave me here and I'll walk around and find a Hostel. He laughed at me. Hernando literally laughed at me and said "Amigo, there are Gringo Prices and then there's Ecuadoriano prices". He said $80 a night. and I looked despondent. This was, with Taxes 3 times my budget. He then said for me to wait and he walked down to the hotel (about a block) and came back and said $60 a night amigo, with breakfast, taxes and use of the Spa (about $20 a night/day in savings off the original quote PLUS FREE SPA and Food!. I tipped Hernando about as much as I saved and we put my 60lb packpack back into the limo.
I smiled and he dropped me off at the Hotel. I immediately took a nap for about 2 hours.
When I woke up, I decided to take a walk around the town. As I got to the beautifully lit square in front of their MASSIVE Catholic Church, sitting imposingly above the entire central town square, I tried to take a picture. I kept backing up until: WHAM! I fell back against a set of Marble Steps with sharp edges and cut up my palm. But in the process, I knocked down a display of the largest Lollipops I think I ever saw.
I didn't have enough money to pay the super inflated cost that they said I owed. So, I begged them to wait a second so I could run to the hotel. I left my precious phone with the owner and asked, as I was leaving " How much do you need for this" She then started counting every possibly broken or cracked (I didn't see any cracks in several) and she said "Thirty" In my mind I thought "Are you kidding me!". But I knew she had me. The worst thing I needed was to go to the police station and plead my case for being a lost in my own world moron.
I ran to my hotel, hand bleeding and then up the 3 flights of steps to my room. Grabbed $40 and ran back to their candy shop. When I got there, she had somehow found 5 more Large Lollipops with some type of flaw. And I said "NO. No way. You said $30 and it's $30". Then after I had paid and gotten $10 back in change. I started to walk away relieved that I wasn't going to Jail for the next 10 years. But then it ocurred to me, why not give the kids of Banos a bunch of cavity creating candy? So, we sat there for 10 minutes (the word spreads fast in small towns) and handed out pieces of the lollipops to every kid that came running (and I mean sprinting) to the shop.
And the best part was that I don't have any pimples, but I do have a lacerated left hand that has impinged my typing.
The Hotel became me Remote Health site as I got great attention and very clean bandages!
Travel Insurance Covers you for what you don't expect to happen.