Resting within a valley surrounded by giant green mountains with an active volcano nearby, is the hippie locale Banos. It’s quiet, extremely remote and relaxed. Bohemian in nature, vegetarian taverns, Hindu culture and native tribalism combine to form a spiritual wanderlust for those backpackers wishing to breakaway from the hustle and bustle of Quito.
A constant in Latin America has been the quality of the street art. Graffiti artists make the latter noun in that title genuine. Entire books could be published showcasing the phenomenal pieces from Chile to Ecuador! Unlike New York City and Melbourne, there are virtually no tags (shitty scribbles that make everything look horrible) and none of those typical, indecipherable word pieces which make entire cities look like crap. I’m unsure of the graffiti culture here, but in Melbourne it’s very cliquey, and rival crews get a rise out of painting over somebody else’s piece. Around the Americas, that’s not the case.
It’s seriously relaxing here. Thermal springs and waterfalls are found throughout the city (in fact, our balcony at Chiminea Hostel has a mountain view, and on the mountain directly in front of us is a huge waterfall, and at the base of that waterfall? Hot springs)! Small massage parlours are dotted throughout the town, as well as handicraft stores, shopkeepers slinging toffee around wooden pegs and stretching it, and little huts making and selling sugarcane juice (the merchants slice up sugarcane and feed it into a manual steel machine which crushes it, extracting the raw juice). It’s high in vitamins and minerals, but also sugar, and is therefore high in calories. It gives you a major sugar high that leaves Redbull dead in its tracks! There are also fresh food markets with food stalls selling cheap eats, so it’s certainly a budget-friendly town.
There’s an active volcano here which tends to smoke up and explode with lava every other month. It’s called Tungurahua, and it can be frightening (after all, how many people elect to hike up the side of an active volcano, which constantly erupts?), but there aren’t too many places in the world where you can get up and close with a live volcano. So in an ironic twist, the relaxing hippie town of Banos has the potential – quite often – to be not so relaxing (at least for those close to Tungurahua during an eruption).
It’s difficult to explain the serenity here. There aren’t many places I’ve been to around the world where one can feel truly isolated. Banos also has a great Spanish tavern whose name escapes me, but it was run by a big jolly man from Malaga, who in typical Mediterranean fashion, made us feel like family as soon as we entered. As the night went on in the tavern, he was having a dinner party with his Colombian wife and friends at the next table over. Drunkenly, he came over and started pouring us shots and served us more wine. On the way out, he and his wife implored us to visit Colombia which we never did, regrettably, since so many backpackers told us it was the best country in South America!
In a couple of days we will go to a place far, far away, and witness for ourselves what life on Earth looks like in Mother Nature’s exact vision, sheltered away from natural predators and evolution: Galápagos Islands!