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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
I find a minor road to carry me south to Baños and quickly become interested in a lake shown on my map, Laguna Pisayambo, for no other reason than it’s there. I drive up seemingly endless tiny gravel roads and am continually told “more up” whenever I ask for directions. It’s quite a shock when I find myself at the entrance of Parque National Llanganates. It turns out the lake sits in an enormous wilderness area described as “stunning and mighty difficult to reach”.
I pay $5 for entry and am told I can go anywhere I like, for as long as I like, hiking and camping my little heart out. Sweet. Upon arrival at Laguna Pisayambo I find it fenced and guarded, apparently because it’s an important hydro-electric generating station. My Spanish is clearly getting better as I not only convince the guard to let me in without a permit, I soon find myself hanging out in the guard shack chatting away. The two guards are posted here for five days at a time and obviously enjoy the distraction I provide. Over the next two days we go hiking and fishing, cook together, watch movies and talk for hours about all kinds of varied topics.
My arrival in Baños is on a beautiful sunny Sunday, the first time I can remember seeing sun worthy of shorts and flip-flops in more than two weeks. The town itself is absolutely packed with Ecuadorian tourists and I have a blast walking around checking out all the stalls and people watching for a few hours. After getting the scoop from the tourist information center I head up into the mountains directly behind town to find Casa Del Arból, a beautiful grassy area with a stunning view where I setup camp for a few days. Tons of Ecuadorians visit throughout the afternoon and I have a great time chatting to some university students, they speak English and I Spanish.
I head off the next morning for the the scenic drive down to Puyo, on the edge of the Amazon jungle. The road winds along a huge gorge carved by the Rio Pastaza in spectacular fashion – there is an enormous waterfall every few hundred meters dropping to the river far below. In about five places huge tunnels, up to 900 meters long, have been carved into the rock for the highway to pass through. Trying to get the best views of the river and waterfalls I take the much narrower track perched literally on the edge of the gorge. At one point I drive directly through a sizable waterfall which drops directly onto this track. The town of Puyo brings back memories of coastal Colombia and Panama – extremely hot, busy, and in various states of decay.
I have half a mind to hike a good way up the now very active Volcán Tungurahua, which caused the evacuation of 20,000 residents in 1999 and has been on Yellow Alert ever since. After going only a short distance I am quickly deterred when I discover there really is no trail up my side and the thick clouds prevent any kind of views. Instead I hike down into Baños from my high camping perch and am rewarded with beautiful views of the town completely surrounded by huge mountains.
I crawl out of my tent at sunrise each morning and am not disappointed by the spectacular views of the nearby volcano. On a couple of days fresh snow is clearly visible and I get my fill before the clouds soon close in. Cooking breakfast each morning with stunning views in all directions I wake up to the realization of exactly where I am; throughly in the Andes, camping, hiking and checking out every square inch and peaks my interest.
This is what I dreamed about for all those months
Baños is famous for hot springs and I of course make a visit early one morning. It’s a concrete pool affair for $2, complete with three pools; very hot, perfect soaking temperature and freezing cold.
If you hadn’t already guessed, I really like it here.