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January 2, 2012

Picking Patty's Brain

Woke up disoriented because I kept not seeing daylight through the windows even though it seemed it should be late enough. Realized when I did get up that the windows were covered with metal shutters because the room was on street level in the busy part of town. Doh! Decided to switch rooms to try to find something upstairs.

First things first: I was too wired to be hungry so I went to get a cell phone (whew--amazing what a relief that silly little piece of technology was. Communication. Don't get me started) and went to the bank and the grocery store.

[The local cock fighting ring, apparently no longer in use.]

When I got back, I decided I was settled enough to have breakfast. And my disappointment in the hostel melted away in a single moment like the salted butter that would soon be spread on the homemade bread they serve with their omelets. Their balcony and breakfast are... well, un pedacito del cielo, or a slice of heaven, as they like to say. Yep, that confirmed it. This would be my home.

[Jen on the terrace, later in the day.]

I met Patty Mothes and Jen Connor, the daughter of a colleague of Patty's who was touring Ecuador and had spent the night at the observatory, for a little afternoon adventure. We went up to Loma Grande, a hill across the valley from Banos, to check on the progress of a new equipment shed. Data from the volcano is repeated back to the observatory via Loma Grande. Loma Grande, as in "big hill". Aptly named.

[Jen and the volcano at one of several stops on the way up.]

[Banos, nestled in between two high ridges at the volcano's base.]

[Tungurahua. The gray areas at the base and to the right are pyroclastic flow and lahar deposits. Banos is off the picture to the left.]

[Patty chats with the contractor up at the equipment hut on Loma Grande.]

Patty knows everyone in the entire region. She knows everyone because she stops to talk to everyone, and she gives out whatever she's stocked up on. Today it was bread and mandarines.

[Patty can't help but share some bread with the dogs, too.]

The road we traveled is the escape route from Banos should lahars or pyroclastic flows or landslides or avalanches shut off the main route. Patty said it was in poor repair until recently. For now, it's great.

[Cliff of lava to the left, river to the right, volcano straight ahead.]

I picked Patty's brain the whole way. On our way back, she pointed out massive lava flows and we stopped for lunch by a constriction in the river called the Key Hole, where tourist pay to cross the canyon on a tarabita, or cable car, and where we ate delicious chicken ceviche.

[The Key Hole.]

Patty's the best.

And she knows so, so much.

She dropped Jen and me back in Banos and went on her way to the observatory to continue working. Jen and I checked into a six-bed dorm room on the third floor of the hostel where the windows were never shuttered and we had a bathroom in the room and a view of the virgin statue on the hill above the west side of town and we dropped our things to go for a hike.

It had not even occurred to me to hike from Banos. It had not occurred to me, either, to bring my guidebook, since I was not there as a tourist. But Jen had a guidebook that told her there were hiking trails leaving right from town so we took one of them. We got a little lost finding the trailhead and were assisted by two very helpful young men who were keen on joining us on the hike until we said no, thank you, that we weren't interested in smoking weed with them, and then somehow and fortunately they immediately changed their mind.

[A break on the way up.]

[beer koke water.]

The hike was great. Steep and steep and up and up and lovely and we kept following signs past a couple lookouts toward Runtun, until the signs seemed to contradict themselves and we asked someone how to get to Runtun and she said we were there. Oh. I had one of those tourist moments. But Runtun is just a town? What's there to see? What's there to do?

[Puppies in Runtun.]

[A brief almost-view of the volcano from Runtun just before turning back to town.]

We could have continued up, but dusk was just stepping in. So we headed back down, lost our way and found our way and ended up unintentionally on a different path to Banos and were a little uneasy until we came upon a substantial structure that felt like a reentry from the wilds and then came upon a group of Europeans soaking in a rooftop hot tub in that structure who looked down on us, literally, with what might have been some pity as we walked by. Yes, we were definitely back from the wilds.

[Prominent lights: Virgin statue on the hill to the left, church towers on the bottom right.]

And just in time. We arrived back to town at dark. Went to our hostel, made some new friends in our dorm room, and went to dinner with them at what would become one of my two favorite spots. We almost turned away from it, seeing all white folks inside, but decided we were hungry and done looking around and why deny what we were, anyway, so we went in and had a slow but delicious meal. Casa Hood lasagna = I love you. I do.

After dinner, Catharine, a nursing student at Emery, opted for bed, but Jen and Simeon and I tried for a drink. Somehow, the town was as quiet tonight as it was busy the night before. Turns out there's a law in Ecuador prohibiting the sale of alcohol in bars on Sundays, but since Monday was a holiday they'd switched it to Monday, at the very least unofficially, so everything was closed. But Simeon had remembered seeing a brew pub, probably a German brew pub, on his way back from his bike trip that afternoon and was determined to find it. From my journal: Jen and Simeon and I went all over town looking for a brew pub Simeon had seen earlier and it turned out to 1) exist and 2) be the only bar open.

The brew pub was not German. It was not even run by a Belgian, as Simeon had later decided (I think based on the brewmaster's last name as posted next to a picture on the wall). No, the German was wishfully thinking the brew pub he had seen, tired and thirsty at the end of this bike ride, was a product of his homeland. As it turns out, it's run by a couple U.S. ex-pats from Chicago. Jen and I had a drink at the bar after Simeon left and chatted with the bartenders and I decided that probably every night of my stay I would be there for a nightcap of tequila and fresh maricuya (passionfruit) juice.

I went back once more, two nights before leaving Banos.

Posted by beth at January 2, 2012 8:45 PM

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