Baños and Basketball as Drug

Our first full day in Baños was an interesting one. It started out happily enough with the first sunshine I have seen since arriving in Ecuador a week ago. The waterfall that is visible from my room shimmered in the morning light. It looked promising. I went to breakfast at a little cafe not far from the hostel. I ordered the deseyuno completo: fried eggs, bread, butter, cheese, jam, coffee, juice. Feeling satisfied, I returned to the hostel in search of my traveling companions. To my dismay, they were not in their rooms, but I found a note on my door explaining that they were out to breakfast and would return in a bit.

I decided to go for a walk. I brought my camera. Baños–literally “baths”–is a small tourist town south of Quito. As the name implies, there are various public baths that are heated by volcanic activity in the surrounding hillsides. As I walked the narrow, potholed streets and cobbled sidewalks, I passed many resaurants, which offered everything from pizza to curry, from tex-mex to traditional meat-and-rice plates. There were also countless hostels and gift shops, more than I had seen in any other town so far. This was clearly a tourist hub, not only for foreigners, but also for well-off Ecuadorians who were escaping from the cities in search of rafting trips, waterfall tours, ATV rides, and hot springs. Still, with its enormous church lit-up purple like the Disney castle, its Enchanted Valley setting, and its sunshine, I could see why people liked the place.

Later that afternoon, Tyler, Nuria and I scoured the town for a comioneta to take us to Tungarahua the next day. One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Tungarahua is a popular tourist attraction. Normally, people hike to the refugio at about 4000meters and view, from there, the spewing crater. Tyler and I, however, wanted to do something a little different. (More elaboration in later posts, hopefully.) Besides Tungarahua, we were also in search of a guide to take us through the Llunganati and up the remote mountain of Cerro Hermoso. Four to five days trekking through the muddy, wet, bite-filled jungle makes Cerro Hermoso a rarely visited peak, but the views that this face-shaped summit supposedly offer equal those of any of the highest volcanos in the country. By Tyler´s reckoning, if it´s going to be raining on us the whole time that we are here anyway, we might as well embrace it, or as he says, “I don´t even fucking care. I hope we have the worst rain storm in the history of Ecuador. Then we´ll at least get it over with.” After three weeks of rain, he is getting a bit edgy.

At this point, I´m of the same mind, and Cerro Hermoso sounds like the trip of a lifetime, through the mysterious Llunganati, where Atahualpa´s legendary gold is hidden, to a beautiful 4000 meter summit, which very few people and even fewer gringos have visited. Who´s the man to take us there? According to the guide book, the man is Segundo Rodriguez.

For a moment at least, it seems that fate is on our side. We randomly ask some Ecuadorian men hanging around a bus stop if they know the man. To our complete suprise, they tell us that we are actually standing right next to a shop that is owned by his daughter. We go inside and explain our ambitions and have a long conversation with his daughter and her husband. It seems like we will be able to work it out, that even though Segundo is older than 70 he will be willing to guide us, that he has made over 200 trips into the Llunganati, has guided Marines and Air Force personel, that he has the best stories and the most experience of anyone. We tell them we will come back tomorrow and work out more details. We shake hands and feel good about everything.

Then, fate turns its ugly head and snarls and snarls and snarls and snarls and FUCK! I roll my ankle playing basketball with Tyler and some Ecuadorian men later that night. The first few games went fine and it was SO fun and I was just dominating because I am taller than probably 99.999% of the population and Tyler hasn´t played in years and he is loving it and everyone is having a good time and the local men are embracing us and high-fiving us and saying “Bien Hecho”–well done–and I´m sucking wind becasue I haven´t played basketball in a while and we are at 6000ft and this is SO awesome and then BAM! I roll my ankle coming down from a shot block. Fuck! Bitch! Puta madre! Mierda!

It rains heavily the next day. Heavily! There was no way we would have made it up Tungarahua anyway. We go and talk to Segundo´s daughter and we finally meet Segundo beacuse he is in town, and it doesn´t sound so good anymore. His face is a dark almond. His mustache is mostly salt and a little pepper. He doesn´t think he can take us to the summit and back in four days. He thinks it will take more like six with him guiding us, which means we would have to buy more food, and we don´t have that much time anyway. We are totally disheartened, beaten, pissed off. And its raining again. I thought I came here to get away from this type of weather. I mean can we please get some fucking sunshine, just to lift our spirits. Arrrrgh!

Just as we´re about to part ways with Segundo and begin drinking, we have a breakthrough. If his son-in-law comes with us, we can probably do it in four days, but his son-in-law cannot leave until the day after tomorrow. Well that´s ok. Tyler and Nuria can bike down to Puyol and take pictures of waterfalls so Tyler doesn´t feel absolutely useless and bored, which is his nature, and I can rest my ankle for another day. From the ashes rises a phoenix.

We go to the hot baths that night and soak. We cycle from the hottest pool to the freezing cold one. We do this about eight times. The pools are filled with Ecuadorians and foreigners, chatting and laughing. I´m taller than everyone. I get lots of looks. My ankle is feeling better. I´ve been doing everything right: rest, ice, compression, elevation. The swelling is almost gone. We buy botas de gaucho–mud boots–and ponchos. We buy a lot of ramen noodles and some more salami. We buy choclate. At dinner we don´t order beers, have vegetarian pizza. We leave early tomorrow morning. Into the Llunganati, in search of the worst rain storm in history.

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