Exploring Ecuador's central highlands; Baños, Alausi, Guaranda, Salinas de Guaranda

By Ombi and Alex - June 10, 2016

Swinging at the end of the world!
Soon enough we were off to Baños de Agua Santa, or Baños, as it's more commonly known. The area around the small town has to be the jewel in Ecuador's jewel-encrusted crown! This tourist-happy town is the gateway to the Amazon. The town itself isn't a bomb of excitement, and in peak season it can feel garish and overcrowded with backpackers and tour operators trying to lure you into the den of mountain-biking, rafting, hiking, bungee jumping and partying. Having said that, nobody leaves without some great stories and a big whopping smile across their face! Luckily for us, it was low season, and we were able to hang out and do our thing. You can sometimes see the nearby Volcan Tungurahua erupting.  Saw it erupting in 1999, no such luck this time!

Around Baños.
We had seen and done so much in the last few months that all we wanted to do was chill out! We found a great place to stay called Hostal Leon.  It was super-clean, run by friendly people, close to the market and had a little kitchen upstairs on the balcony overlooking the town.  What more could we ask for? We enjoyed a lovely few days here relaxing, cooking, eating, going for walks and visiting natural  hot water pools.  The infamous swing at the end of the world at the 'Treehouse' was, although touristy, a spectacle to behold! Close to the centre of town and overlooking the beautiful area of Baños it truly makes you feel like you are on top of the world. We'd done most of the 'tourist stuff' over the years, so this time it was all about rest and relaxation.

Yep, the place that marks the 'marriage proposal' spot!
Banos holds a very special place in my heart. It was July 1999, and I had only just met Alex. A week later he took me to Banos where he asked me to marry him.  The gal who was supposedly never going to get married turned around and said, "I will, one day!" That day came in April of 2002, and I have never looked back!




We were most definitely getting closer to Quito, but we still had a couple of things to do and tick off the bucket list! Next was Alausi. A small town in Chimborazo province in Ecuador's Andes. Apart from its quaint architecture and old colonial houses, its real
Alausi.
claim to fame is that it's the starting-off point for the Nariz del Diablo, or Devil's Nose train ride. The engineering work is amongst the most audacious of projects realised in the Andean mountain range, and the switchbacks are mind boggling! Sadly, the Devil's Nose was the tomb of many Jamaican slaves contracted to dynamite the mountain. This would be my fourth attempt at riding this train since 1999; mudslides, broken engines and the likes had always stopped me.  On our last attempt in 2007 (and my first with Alex) we even got to sit on the roof-top, and the train actually took off ... only to have to turn around half an hour later due to both a landslide and a damaged engine!

Finally, fourth time lucky!
These days there are no rides on the top!  It's all closed up and it's a very formal and safety conscious affair. The ride, although spectacular, I must admit was a little anti-climactic. Not sure if it was because we had seen and done so much in the last months or if taking out that 'rough and rugged' wind blowing through my hair option on the roof top took the edge off for me.  Alack and alas, impressive it was.

A visit to the Alausi archives.

We also met some great people in this tiny town, and Isabel ended up inviting us to where she worked, a place where they kept all the
archives and history of the town.  This was
really amazing, and a golden opportunity. Alex and I sat in a small room and flicked through archives and photos that were hundreds of years old.


Guaranda Carnaval procession.

We'd heard about another place called Guaranda, in the central Ecuadorian Andes, known for having one of the best Carnavals in Ecuador. We were a tad early for the big event, but got to see a lot of the pre-Carnaval stuff, including amazing parades, street parties, outdoor concerts and people bombing each other with water.  We got to meet the Taita (Father) Carnaval and the Mayor, who welcomed the 'gringos' with open arms.  The vibe was great and it was fun to be a part of the hubbub.

There isn't a Carnaval without a devil, or two or three!
Ticket to ride!
We found a cosy colonial place to stay, close to the town centre, Hostal de las Flores.  It had great staff, a kitchen, a local market around the corner and a huge open outdoor market  (which sold just about everything!) just up the hill. We went for walks in the spectacular countryside surrounding the town, made friends with the locals and generally had a fantastic time.  We did not want to leave!



Chilli flavoured chocolate!
It was in Guaranda that we heard about Salinas de Guaranda only 30 kilometres away. Beautiful, quaint, small, gorgeous windswept Salinas, as its called by the locals. It's only a short ride away from Guaranda on the back of a pick up, and oh what views.  We stayed at a cosy place called La Minga Hostal, and spent the next few days chilling out and sampling its country famous chocolates and cheeses. In fact, what makes this place so special is its all-embracing community spirit and the creativity and productivity of the several cooperative businesses which call the little town home.


Ombi



Note : Veryitchyfeet has been on the road now for almost 22 months, and in the last year I have not been writing on this blog nearly as much as I would like to. If you are interested in seeing where we have been and what we have been up to, please take a look at our public page on Facebook.  As it is a public page you do not have to have an account with FB to view it.  If you do have an account with FB, however, and you would like to continue to follow us, just 'like it'!




Next: Watch this space!


Banos.


Alausi.
 

The humans and animals of Alausi.

Romanesco broccoli, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.

The famous bridge at Baños.

Bungee jumping off  Baños  bridge.


The thermal waters of Baños.


Baños street art.


Baños train... the most difficult in the world?

Ecuador is life! Alausi.



On the Baños train.



Vicente the Ecuadorian who speaks excellent 'Strayan!  He lived in Perth!

It's time for Carnaval, Guaranda.

'Cuys' (guinea pigs) for sale at the market in Guaranda ... to eat!

'Ecuador, land of traditions'. Guaranda.

The mayor gets soaked as part of Carnaval festivities.

Alex with some of the Guaranda boys.

Carnaval procession in Guaranda.

With the mayor (L) and Father Carnaval (R) during celebrations, Guaranda.


Alausi train ride.


Central square, Salinas de Guaranda.


Salinas de Guaranda.

The landscape around Salinas de Guaranda.

The church in the central square of Salinas de Guaranda.

The landscape around Salinas de Guaranda.



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