After the cold nights in Cotopaxi, the town of Baños is back at a more reasonable altitude. We headed for a campsite on the outskirts, called Abby’s Hideaway. It looked like a nice spot to stop and as it happened to be another England game in the World Cup, we would be needing Wi-Fi. A few people had noted that the entrance was quite steep and so I walked down to make sure that if we went in, we could come back out again. It was indeed a rough, and also steep, track but nothing that Ruby couldn’t manage. At the bottom I met one of the owners and after assuring her that we would be able to make it out again, I walked back of the rather steep hill to tell Lee. This was another one of those time walkie talkies would have been good.

We crept down the track to the bottom where it opened out into a field. A few tent campers were there, but we were the only vehicle. We drove across and tucked ourselves away in their orchard surrounded by lemon and avocado trees. Apparently you could pick the fruit too if you wanted.

We got the wifi password and the tour, before setting up our table and chairs with a nice view of the river. We decided we would spend the weekend here, preferring to visit the town in the week. Aimee jumped right into the business of relaxing.

It was a nice setting amongst the fruit trees and by the river and we enjoyed it for a few minutes before it began to rain heavily and we ended up back inside. In fact, the weather wasn’t on our side much of the next day either and Lee was tearing his hair out over the slow Wi-Fi and the juddering footage of the football. I decided to have a nice shower at least, apparently there was hot water an everything. I got into a slightly tepid shower for long enough to get my hair covered in shampoo before the gas ran out and left me with absolutely freezing cold water. One day, I told myself, in my campground, we won’t have any of this rubbish.

After that refreshing experience, we did at least get a bit of sun, where I could warm myself up again. We met the other owner Abby, who to my disappointment asked us not to pick any avocados, the trees around us were bursting with them too. We could help ourselves to the lemons and limes however and we scooped up the windfalls around us. Despite the fact that the campsite was a little lacking in places, we enjoyed our two nights next to the roaring of the river.

When Monday morning came, we paid up and powered our way up the hill to the main road and set off to explore Baños.

Driving out to the main road into Banos

This is a popular tourist destination, famous for its swings. I’m not sure how that came about, but some reason there are a lot of them. Perhaps it’s due to the geography of the place, Baños nestles in a very steep sided valley. From the ridge behind the town there is an enormous swing which swings out over the edge with what must be some great views. There are other smaller swings too, like those of Casa del Arbol where we planned to stop later.

Firstly, we had a little drive around thinking we might get some lunch. We decided that we would definitely be getting lunch when we saw what looked like an awesome Indian restaurant. Normally not what I’d eat for lunch but you gotta grab them when you see them here. The vegetarian menu was about three pages long and we agonised for some time over what to have. We weren’t disappointed either, it was a damn good curry and while we probably should have taken the rest with us we ate it all.

This is my excited curry face

Now that we were incredibly full, we decided that we definitely needed a walk around town. We wandered through the streets, with some interesting graffiti until we came to the waterfall at the other end.

With our food settled a little, we decided to walk back to the van and drive up to where we planned to spend the night.

This was a steep road that climbed about 800m up behind the town to reach La Casa del Arbol (that’s treehouse in English). We were ushered in the car parking lot by two men competing for our business. They wanted $5 to stay overnight which is perhaps on the higher end of things for somewhere with no facilities but it was quiet, convenient and they did have a nice place to sit.

We decided we would head up to the swings for sunset, hoping to get a good view to the volcano and out across the valley. It’s a further $1 per person to enter the place, climbing a short way up the hill to the opposite side of us. On the way up we got offered some rather good free samples of blackberry liquor too. The place itself is a little park. There’s the cutesy benches and sculptures for you to take selfies with as well as the swings which it is the most famous for, and a zip line. This all sits in a well manicured garden.

It wasn’t particularly busy, so we wandered around getting some pictures and trying out the swings. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a swing with a seatbelt, and after watching some of the staff pushing other people I can see why! While not as big as the monster swings that can be seen from the town, they are still a good size as you swing out over the edge, the volcano as a backdrop behind you.

After a quiet night, we decided that we would go for a nice hike of the surrounding area. Despite the fact that we sat in a lightly drizzling cloud, we hoped the weather would lift. It seemed like it had been some time since we did a proper hike and so instead of easing ourselves back in, we picked the hardest one in the area. We packed up our things, and set off. The start of the trail was only a few minutes from where we were parked anyway so it was easy enough to leave the cats and the van where they were.

The path would take us along several different viewpoints and started off at what looked like it had been another swing park before. Now the swings hung rusty and abandoned and the whole place was overgrown with weeds. We walked through and picked up a footpath that would head steeply down the hill and into the town. We had decided the pick this way round to hike. A steep descent with a steadier climb back up. It was a long way down and we picked our way down the hill slowly. Still surrounded by cloud we passed through plantations of tomate de arbol and passed the first viewpoint which awarded us nothing but grey.

Tomate de Arbol, which tastes nothing like a tomato

As we descended further though, the views started. We had come out of the cloud and could now see the town of Baños spread out below us, we still had a long way to go.

We kept on going until we arrived at the statue of the Virgin Mary, which marked the last viewpoint on the route to the town. We were still far above the town and after already over an hour of very steep descent, my jelly legs were not happy to be faced with endless sets of stairs on the final section, even if we were going down. I wondered how I would manage to go back up again too, but that was a problem for later. Now we headed into the town to get a drink and a snack before contemplating the ascent.

We stopped in a coffee shop and had a small bite to eat. After the last ginormous meal we had eaten here before had left me immobilised, we settled for something small. 800 metres of ascent waited for us and would not be good if we ate too much.

The path climbs out of the back of the town, heading towards another viewpoint on the opposite side. A sign at the bottom told us it would take an hour and a half to climb this and we could believe that as we started off. It was a steep track, but nevertheless we made it in about an hour and stopped to catch our breath and have a drink under the cross that now looked out at Baños from the East. The clouds of the morning had burned away and we now contemplated whether we had enough water and how sunburnt we were going to get as we set off once again, uphill.

The entire route back is an ascent. Some short sections are on the road, with the majority being a footpath that cuts across the hairpins of the paved road in favour of a steep and more direct route. Instead of following the suggested path that would involve us walking along the road for the last part, we followed a footpath shown on our map. Happily, it was a straightforward route to find, it was just a question of whether our lungs and legs would hold out. After an hour or so, we saw the giant swing coming up on a level with us and knew that we were getting there.

The entire loop took 5 hours and we crawled back up the last section to Ruby. It’s the hardest hike we have done in a long time and while we had made it back in once piece, I was fairly sure that tomorrow I would be a cripple. We had at least got our value for money with the car parking, as by the time we had packed up and recovered our errant cats from a maze of sweetcorn, it was late afternoon. Although we were tired, not wanting to pay again, we headed for the next stop. A short 40 minute drive would bring us to Rio Verde, where something truly spectacular awaited us the following day.

For now, the drive itself was beautiful enough.

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