|Gone Walkabout||Journeys around the world by Sean Connolly|
Masters of the Dance
III. Take a Bath[ Back to Chapter 2 | Table of Contents | On to Chapter 4 ]
Time to move on. After packing up, paying our bills (170k for bed + 6 beers + water), and checking out, the five of us walked to the corner and hailed down a couple cabs to the bus station. It was a long ride down to the old city, costing us 20k for the fare, plus a charge to enter the station. We easily found our gate and bought tickets on the slightly more comfortable bus. 18k each for a four-hour trip, not bad at all.
Wow, it was an incredible trip. Driving through the beautiful Ecuador landscape, I saw Cotopaxi to one side, looking like Mt. Fuji, a perfect cone. Watching the horizon, I saw what looked like a huge black cloud rise up out of the earth. It was a volcano eruption! Thankfully, it was too distant to do any damage to us, but still impressive.
o o o
We reached Banos easily and found Hostal Plantas y Blanco, a great place with clean rooms and hot showers. Upstairs, there was a comfy roof with both enclosed and outside areas to sit and read, with snacks and drinks on the honor system. Banos itself appeared rather touristy, but it was in a gorgeous setting in the hills, with hot springs, waterfalls, and nature on all sides. From the roof, we could look down over the town, right across to the church, which looked like a large Lego building.
There were plenty of places to eat, and we generally found the food to be tasty. Unfortunately, I encountered my first taste of food poisoning ever on Christmas Eve (I was careless, and ate a veggie burger with fresh lettuce and tomatoes). So while the rest of the group went white water rafting, I was riding the waves of the porcelain altar. :-( Ugh. It wasn't all bad, though. I later found out that one of the agencies in Banos were not the most reliable. The previous year, an entire group rafting the river were swept under and drowned. This made me feel slightly better about missing the trip, even though it turned out fine, and they all had fun.
I tried to go out that evening with the group, but I didn't feel up for much. I left them at a bar at one point to go watch midnight mass at the church. What a strange sight that was. The cross was all lit up in neon and bright colored Christmas lights. Instead of traditional carols, pop music was pumped out of a keyboard synthesizer, and in many other small ways, it was very different from the usual Catholic mass I was used to from childhood.
Luckily, my food poisoning passed in one day, and I was back on the streets by Christmas day. Lucky for Michele as well. Christmas morning, she woke up with something in her eye again. Maybe the same thing as the first day I met her. She was in agony. It felt like a piece of glass in her eye. The girls were out on the town, and Daniel didn't know what to do, so I tried to help her. First, we flushed her eye out with saline, but that didn't seem to help. Next, I almost carried her to the nearby hospital to find help. By this time, her eye was swollen shut, and she was in so much pain, she could barely walk. At the hospital, we couldn't find anyone until we heard a noise in one room, and realized someone was in there. Dying in there, as it turns out. Or so we thought. A couple older folks came out and were talking quietly. I heard muerte (death), and they kept looking back at the doorway. Michele got me to interrupt, and in my extremely broken Spanish (no one in the hospital spoke English), I explained what was wrong and asked for help. Mucho dolor, ojo, aqui. Por favor. A few minutes later, the doctor came to the door and asked us in.
Over on the side of the room, and half-naked man lay on his side on a gurney, his eyes closed and his body curled into fetal position. I thought this must be the dying man. At the sight of the blonde haired British woman entering the room, though, he sat up from the dead and gave her a good looking over. Then curled up and closed his eyes again. *chuckle* It must have been a miracle.
The doctor asked Michele to lie down on the bed and brought out a magnifying glass to look at her eye. Not finding anything, she then brought out a rather large syringe. Michele started to panic, telling me to ask the doctor what she was going to do with it. She understood, and showed us what she was doing. First, she drew some "anestésico" from a vial, then broke off the needle. She then squirted this directly onto Michele's eye, and bandaged it up. There was nothing more she could do for us, but she told me there was an eye clinic in nearby Ambato. I asked her to call and make sure someone would be there for us to see, and she did so, then gave us the number and name of the doctor there.
I took Michele back to the hostel and asked the man working there (I truly wish I could find his name, he was a true saint on this day) for help. He was leaving work in a few minutes, and offered to take us there. His family was in Ambato, and he was going home for Christmas. We jumped in a taxi and took the long, winding road back down out of the hills. In Ambato, the taxi driver dropped us off, and the three of us went upstairs to the clinic. Clinico del San Francisco, or something close to that. The doctor wasn't there, so the man from the hostel got on the phone (thank god he was along to translate for us!) and found out the doctor was on his way.
Cool and professional, the doctor examined Michele's eye through a standard eye-scope instrument after putting in some drops. He called me over to see. I was surprised, but curious. My god, it looked like one of those scratched plexi-glass windows on an airplane. Her entire iris was scratched up. The doctor couldn't find what had caused the damage, but decided that either we had flushed out the object this morning with the saline, or somewhere during the day, she had cried it out. He prescribed some medicine for her to drop in her eye and an antibiotic. I ran out to get this, and my Spanish got another booster shot as I tried to find my way around the city to the one open pharmacy and bought what was needed.
As a final gesture of goodwill, the man from the hostel (I think his last name was something like Riofrio - cold river) already over two hours late to his Christmas dinner, got us a taxi and haggled the rate for us back to the hostel. A good person.
In the days that followed, we all went our own ways. Daniel and I went for a long bike ride into the hills. Absolutely incredible scenery. It was relatively easy riding, though the bikes weren't much to look at. I was enjoying myself thoroughly, though. Until my tire suddenly burst many miles from town and I was left with a bike with no patch kit and no spare. It was much too far to consider walking my bike all the way home, so I looked around for alternatives. A mile or so back, we had passed a tire repair shop. No one was around except a small boy. I pointed out my flat tire to him, and he grinned and said no problem! He took off the tire and went into the back of the building. Much banging, hammering, and sawing then ensued, making me nervous. But sure enough, maybe a half hour later, out he came with the tire all patched up and full of air. I decided to trust his handiwork, and Daniel and I pedaled back up the road to Banos. Just as we came into town, my chain broke, and I hauled the piece of junk back to the shop and dumped it.
The next day, Daniel and I hiked into the hills above Banos. It was an easy enough hike, but we were soon high above the town and looking out over the valley from the Cross at Bellavista. Beautiful view is right.
Evenings were spent in the many small bars and clubs around Banos. Sarah and Lesley found one small place with live Andean music being played and no tourists around. I think it was named Pana, or something like that. Once they told us about it, maybe half our time was spent there chatting with people and listening to the great music. Both Sarah and Lesley hit it off with local guys, and they would regularly disappear with them. Oh, the scandal of it all.
I made one of my very infrequent purchases. A beautiful hand-made carpet that I haggled hard for, and bought for a song. It was big, but my pack could barely handle it, and I figured I'd just ship it from Quito when I got back.
It was almost New Years, and Michele, Daniel and I wanted to spend it in Quito. Sarah and Lesley were going deep into the Amazon with their boys to celebrate with their families. The rest of us didn't like this, thinking this would be the last we'd see of them, but they were confident they'd be fine, so we said our reluctant good-byes, and caught the bus back to Quito.
We got a room at El Cafecito in the New City on the evening of the 29th. The next two days, we took day trips out to Ibarra - an interesting town north of Quito - and Mitad del Mundo, a large monument directly on the equator. I have now crossed the equator dozens of times. That is, if you can count hopping from foot to foot.
New Years Eve was a scene. The entire town was full of people. The streets were packed. Straw dummies of people were everywhere - for what, I never learned. Music, food, parties everywhere. But so strange to see, right before midnight, the streets emptied, the nightclubs were quiet, and no one was seen on the streets except for visitors. People spent New Years with their family. And then minutes later, everything was going again. It was quite a party.
A couple days later, Daniel had to go home, so it was just Michele and myself again. I was planning to climb Illiniza Norte, a 5,126m extinct volcano south of Quito, so I had to get some more acclimatization before I made the attempt. I considered a few of the lower mountains around the area, but decided to be both lazy and splurge a little. The two of us went north to Hacienda Guachala, one of the oldest Hacienda's in the country and at a higher elevation than Quito. For a reasonable amount per day, we got a huge room with two big beds, a fireplace, high raftered ceilings, and a view out on fields with horses running by, heads high and tails flying. The food was downright delicious, and the area beautiful. We spent a few days there hiking in the hills, eating (I had to store up a fat reserve for the mountain, you know!), and exploring the Hacienda's old chapel/museum and the area.
Back in Quito, we got a room at Loro Verde and I prepared my gear for the climb. It was only going to take two days to get up and back from the summit, so I didn't need much except warm clothes.
[This is where my journals begin again for a time.]
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