Termas de la Virgen-Hot Springs of the Virgin

Baños is most known for its Termas de la Virgen hot springs. So of course we had to go there. The original facility has several heated pools which are yellow-green from the chemicals in the water. In January, they added a second facility which has two hot pools with the yellow green water and several cold pools and 3 water slides. People think of it as more of a water park which it is. We chose to go to that one because we had heard that the dressing rooms were better.

I guess 3rs. edad means seniors because that is what we paid

We paid a whopping $3 per head (how much is Trimble outside of Durango?) and rented cloth bathing caps for $1 each; they are required to keep the water cleaner.

The changing rooms, restrooms, and free lockers are nice and new but I think they could have invested a few hundred dollars more and put seats on the commodes and some hooks to hang things. Unlike Colombia where toilet seats are rare in public places, they are the norm in Ecuador. Except for a couple of bus stations, all commodes have had seats so I was quite surprised (and disappointed) to not see them here.

The heated pools were very hot even though we were told that they are hotter in the original facility. Dan went down the water slides twice but I had injured myself on the one in Durango so I opted not to go. Besides, the water on the slides and the pool where you land is cold. I was enjoying the hot water too much.

The view of the waterfall and mountain was outstanding from the pools. A nice way to end the afternoon that started with the waterfall tour in the morning.

After we changed we walked several blocks to the grocery store. Somewhere along the way my water shoes fell off my backpack (I guess I hadn’t secured the Velcro well enough. We back tracked but they were long gone. Someone got an almost new pair of shoes; I hope they like them more than I did. I never found them to be that comfortable anyway.


Lindie strumming statue’s guitar in the park.

Baños de Agua Santa is a clean town with not much special in the way of design/architecture. Established in 1693, its altitude is 5971 feet.

It is clean and safe and we enjoyed walking around it. There are some hills in the town but the main part is fairly flat.


These statues seem so random and out of place on this side street.

I especially enjoyed seeing these statues, just placed on the curb on a hill into downtown.

It was also interesting that there are 30 stations for washing clothes by hand in front of the Termales. The water is cold but they are clean and convenient for many people. The slanted part is where the water flows into the station and they wet or rinse the clothes, the flat part to the side is where they scrub the clothes. Sadly, I assume the dirty water goes directly into the river.Ever wonder how larger trees got pruned? At least here they just use a ladder.

OK you just have to trust me on this one. I wasn’t quick enough to get the actual picture I wanted. There was a medium sized dog behind the last horse pulling on the horse’s tail as they all walked down the street. Sorry I missed it.

Monument to Colonials

Compliments of TripAdvisor.com

This is a late post about an incredible monument to the people who colonized the Manizales area of Colombia. The bronze monument is huge and you can’t get it in a single photo. Mine are pathetic so take a look at these from TripAdvisor.com postings.

The monument portrays the hardship of traveling in the area. It is truly a work of art. Note the baby held in the air, the person pulling the ox that is mired in the mud, the wind blowing clothing, and more.

Old Town Quito

View of Quito from Basilica del Voto Nacional

The current city of Quito was developed over the ruins of indigenous people. This was known previously and when they started excavation for the subway, they had to temporarily halt construction while they retrieved relics.

According to WIKI, The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Quito and Kraków, Poland, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO, in 1978. On March 28, 1541, Quito was declared a city and on February 23, 1556, was given the title Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito (“Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito”).

In 1884, Basílica del Voto Nacional church construction was begun and Pope John Paul II celebrated the first mass there in 1985. While largely completed, if you look, it is subtle but there are missing statues and probably other things that have never been finished. Starting in 1895, there was a  tax paid by Quito citizens for its construction. It was 3 cent or per cent (not sure) tax on salt to help defray the cost of this structure. (The currency at that time was a “sucre”and $1 was 25,000 sucre at today’s rates. That tax is no longer in effect but imagine having to pay tax on a church building if you aren’t of that religion (although at the time the country was largely Catholic). If you are interested, there is more info on the Quito churches and pictures here.

For a couple of dollars we could tour the church and go up across the inside part of the roof and then outside. Dan who loves heights was in his element and he went up the open stairs to the top viewing area while I stayed on the lower level; I was outside and quite high up and not comfortable but I was there.

The view from either place was beautiful. You could get a feel for how large Quito is. People have started cutting down trees and building up the mountain. Across one area, you can see a hill called the Panecillo. That area has always been a poor area because when the Spaniards came they made the poor servants/slaves live up the hill and they settled the flat areas which were easier to navigate. I’m sure someday these shacks will become valuable and developed by the wealthy.

House formerly owned by one family. Sisters side is on the left of the picture, brothers on the right.

One unique building in the Old Town was originally owned by a single family. At one time, this two story, block long building was willed to a sister and brother. The sister remodeled her section and made it quite attractive while the brother kept his part very austere. You can see the differences today. In both areas, note how thick the walls are, about 3’, to keep the temperature comfortable in the building.

Later the church bought the building and now leases out various areas to vendors, restaurants, etc. Dan enjoyed having his picture taken with a mime totally covered in gold.

When the indigenous people built the town originally, they didn’t not use square or rectangle blocks. These skilled workers cut blocks to fit like a puzzle. Later the Spanish recut some of the blocks to exert their power and remove that reminder of the locals.

Not to be outdone however, there are subtle reminders of when the slaves were doing construction; they put their own subtle mark. There is one building with a row of cherubs on the top. If you look closely, you will see that all of the cherubs are draped except the end one who has quite an erection. But it isn’t something that is easy to notice, even when you are looking.

In the St. Francis church, instead of a statute of a slave holding up the pulpit on his back, you see that it is 3 Spaniards. No idea what happened to the artisans if/when their creativity was discovered but I doubt that they were praised by the Spaniards.


Street of the Seven Crosses

As would be expected, the churches are very ornate. There is one street informally called the street of 7 crosses; you can see a cross outside each church. We didn’t go into all of them but we did go into a couple. One, Compañía de Jesús (160 years in construction,beginning in 1605), is purported to have 7 tons of gold leaf on the walls. At $1300 per ounce, that is $291,000,000 in just gold! We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside (they think that the flash from cameras is oxidizing the gold) and we didn’t but this website states that I could have taken pictures since I was planning to write about it in our blog. They got permission and their pictures will give you a good idea of how it looks.

While the photo was snapped quickly and isn’t very good, I loved the name of one store. Maní is Spanish for peanut and one store was named “El Super Maní”, a play on “superman”. Cute

In a gift shop, Dan got a kick out of seeing a chess set. One set of players was Spanish conquistadors while the other side was indigenous people. (We don’t have room for such things so we just took photos instead of buying it.)

General Ibarra Information

Snow capped mountain view from our apartment

Ibarra is a moderate sized city of about 140,000 people in northern Ecuador. It felt “old” in most of the areas although we did go to a couple of new malls in the area.

Didn’t see wheelchair accessible buses despite these signs on all of the Ibarra buses

I continue to be impressed with how much buses are used in Latin America compared to most places I have been in the USA. Buses tend to be fairly clean and run frequently. In Ibarra, it was $0.15 per senior for a ride, $0.30 for others. My only issue is that despite having these signs about disabled people and people in wheelchairs, I didn’t see any wheelchair accessible buses. In fact, the buses are very high off the ground and if you aren’t getting on/off at a curb, it can be an issue for us shorties. Given the number of short Andean people, it is amazing.


Breast feeding is the norm in Ecuador as it really should be in all countries. In addition to a very prominent statue in honor of breast feeding, you will often see a woman breast feeding her child openly on the bus, sitting on a curb, or just about anywhere. Unlike American women who usually drape themselves, these women don’t cover up, at all. Way to go!!!


Shawl is useful for warmth as well as carrying things/babies
Necklaces are usually smaller but there are lots of them. Image compliments of Dreamstime.com
Andeans selling various beans or food. You can often see beans drying on the sidewalk or street

There were a lot of indigenous Andean people who are easily recognized by their stature and clothing. Women usually have on a hat and a shawl tied to one side, and lots of gold necklaces. Men are dressed in slacks and a white shirt and hat.

And they are often seen carrying large/heavy loads.

B/N at the bottom means blanco and negro (white and black)

We are so used to saying “black and white” photos and copies that it was surprising to see “blanco y negro” (white and black) signs advertised. Sometimes they said “b/n”.

Children don’t just learn their ABC’s in school. In Spanish, “ch” is a distinct letter even though it is pronounced the same as “ch” in English.

Trash is placed in neighborhood bins that are scattered around the area. Presumably the bins are exchanged for full ones although I didn’t actually see this.

Note the small opening in the middle of the door on the left as you face the picture.

It is not uncommon to see shops that have bars on the door with a small opening. I am sure that this cuts down on shoplifting but it also probably cuts down on impulse buying as well.

It was odd to hear dogs barking and not see any on the street because they were on the second floor looking out. Lots of dogs in the neighborhood where we stayed.

Goats for sale?

And don’t forget the goats. Here is a picture of some in the town and also others 2 blocks from where we stayed being herded by a young man.

Goats grazing 2 blocks from our apartment
Boy in the middle is squirting the bus with a yellow squirtgun

Lastly, there was a 4 day holiday while we were in Ibarra. That was an excuse for kids to spray people with a foam soap. Or even better, use a squirt gun with a back pack reservoir to spray the bus as it goes by.

First Thoughts on Ecuador

We’ve been in Ecuador for a couple of weeks now, almost a week of that without much internet for different reasons. We now have very good internet so I am pushing to get caught up. Below are some first thoughts about this country:

  • Going from Colombia to Ecuador was extremely easy except for the long  lines (apparently related to masses of people immigrating from Venezuela-fortunately being “mayores” (seniors) we went to a relatively short line). They don’t inspect your luggage when you enter the country…in fact you are required to leave it outside the building when you get your passport stamped. Since we didn’t want to pay a stranger to watch our things, we took turns standing in line while the other person waited with the luggage. It meant an extra 45 minutes or an hour but Dan got lucky and they opened a new line so he got through faster than he would have otherwise.
  • They use US dollars/coins in Ecuador, especially one dollar coins (presidential series usually). We knew that going in but had disposed of all of our American money back in Panama so we didn’t have any. And we had little Colombian money because we didn’t want to change it at the boarder but that was actually a mistake. From now on, we will make sure that we have enough cash from the exiting country to cover any taxes, initial buses/taxis, getting new cell phone chips/service, and a meal. We had trouble with the first ATMs in the bus station and didn’t have enough cash. That meant going to the local internet cafe which wouldn’t let me use my laptop where I have a secure banking browser so that I could log in and make sure that my main debit/credit cards knew I was in Ecuador. (The problem probably was the first ATM machine and not that the banks didn’t know we were here but that reminds us to be sure to keep that up to date BEFORE we go to the next country.)
  • This lady in the foreground is almost next to Dan but you can see she is MUCH shorter. Theory is that because of the thinner air at the high altitudes the people developed shorter to lessen the body’s oxygen needs.

    I love being in the Andes because I am not the short person here. We have seen many, many Andean men and women several inches shorter than me. I try to stand discreetly by them to savor a feeling I seldom have in the States.

  • Paved street in the foreground, cobblestones on side street.

    Because earthquakes are common here (and probably other reasons as well), pavement is not used much, especially outside the large cities. Instead they use paving stones which can be removed and reused if road work is necessary. On less traveled streets in small towns/cities, they often use cobble stones instead of the pavers.

  • People are generally very nice. We enjoyed the hospitality of our new friends in Ibarra, our first stay in Ecuador. Clarita and Alfonso went out of their way several times to help us. Since he is a forensic pathologist, he wrote me prescriptions for X Rays on my arthritic thumbs (I want a second opinion on my options) and lab tests.
  • Hand washing clothes can get them much cleaner than using a washing machine. I don’t do a good job hand washing but we paid the neighbor $1.50 for 12 pieces and my socks and white hoodie haven’t looked that good since they were new. She even turned the socks inside out and washed them on both sides.
  • I could tell we were in the big city of Quito (capitol, population over 1,600,000) when I heard long car horns express their discontent with whatever was happening with traffic. In smaller cities, horns are used a lot but they are one or two short taps to say thanks or to warn oncoming traffic.
  • Prices are generally good although much better if you go to the market. Even in the large grocery stores, you can get 3 large beautiful red bell peppers for about $1.65. In Ibarra, we got 3 avocados for $1, a package of fresh basil for under $1, and I saw 2 pineapples for $1! The bus in Quito was $0.12 cents each for seniors.
  • Stoves have ovens in this country. I don’t remember seeing a single oven in Colombian homes.
  • Many tour and store hours are posted in 24 hour time (1600, no 4:00) although I do see both.
  • Use of commas and decimals in pricing and numbers seems mixed. Often, but not always even on the same sign, you will see a comma where we would put a decimal point.


  1. Depending on who you talk with, the former president Rafael Correa was great or horrible. In any case, as I understand it, he improved some roads and promoted tourism in select depressed areas such as Salinas (the one near Ibarra, not the beach Salinas).

This town was established in the early 1600’s and was home primarily to Afro-Ecuadorians. Apparently it was very depressed but there was a train track that ran to it from Ibarra, less than 18 miles away. I’m not sure how good the track was and what the town was like then.

Now there are several new buildings including an area by the train track where a number of young women perform native dances balancing a wine bottle with a little fluid (probably water) on their head. There is a fresh area where native crafts are sold, an area where you can buy chocolate or pina colada (we bought both), an interesting area explaining the production of salt, and a dining room.

For less than $50 per person (even less for us seniors), we had the round trip from Ibarra, the performance, the tours, and lunch. The track goes through 7 tunnels that were all hand carved. The area becomes drier as you approach Salinas, an area famous for the production of salt.

On the way, we stopped at one tiny depot that sold hand made ice cream. I had something fruity, I think it was passion fruit, and the other scoop was avocado. The avocado taste was very mild, not my favorite but ok.

How the salt was made was very interesting. Starting with putting dirt in a raised area and adding water, letting evaporation occur, eventually getting salt with lots of minerals, especially iodine which was so prevalent that it was removed (look at your salt container, iodine is added to most salt today, albeit in smaller amounts). The finished product tastes like salt that is a milder amount of saltiness. Long ago, salt was used as a type of currency.

This train is quite different from the Durango Silverton train. Instead of just getting off in Silverton and wandering around shops and eating, I enjoyed that there were planned activities (dancing, tour, food). Also, train crossings were secured not just by railroad arms. There were a number of people on motorcycles that raced from crossing to crossing to make sure that no cars passed when the train was approaching. Given that this was only days after the train wreck with the Senators in the USA, it didn’t seem so much like overkill as it might have. nn

The day was quite enjoyable and worth every penny. I even joined in the dancing as you can see in gallery below.


Textured tiles are cues for the visually impaired

Sidewalks in Latin America generally fall into one of a few categories:

  • New or excellent condition with/without tactile cues for the visually impaired like above
  • Very good condition with decorative tiles/design
  • Very poor, uneven, drop offs, steps, obstacles, deteriorating

I don’t have pictures of the poor ones although I could get them in a heartbeat but I have seen many that had decorative designs. It is a pleasure to see that someone took the time/expense/creativity to install a decorative (usually tile or brick) sidewalk. Here are just a few examples:

Earning a Living in Central and South America

Jewelry and food are very common items sold on the streets.

Earning a living in Latin  America can be very tough. Work is hard and long hours and pay very low. Retirement payments are extremely low, as low as $50 per month in Ecuador.

Many people earn their living by selling things. On streets, in the plazas, boarding buses briefly, and walking between lanes of traffic. You can buy almost anything from shoe laces and plain shoe inserts (I am not talking the Dr. Scholl gel inserts, I’m talking plain inserts like you take out of your shoes if you put in the Dr. Scholl inserts), sun glasses, all kinds of fresh or cooked foods, toys, corn kernels for pigeons, bubble blowers, shoe shines, candy or cigarettes, and the list is endless.

Compliments of AlpacaMall

In Ecuador I saw a man with no shoes because his feet were clubbed or deformed, walking on his knees, selling the Andean ponchos. I didn’t take a picture of him but here is the type of poncho I mean.

I saw another man who sat on a skateboard and went up and down between lanes of traffic selling something. Brave soul.

We generally don’t buy from the vendors because we don’t know how the food is handled but lots of people do buy there. I guess prices are good and they are convenient. Below are pictures from Colombia and Ecuador but you could find similar pictures in any of the countries we have been in so far and I suspect most of the ones we plan to visit in the future.

To the left of the red car is vendor sitting on a skate board.

Cathedral Basilic De Manizales Church Tour

See that round doughnut looking area about 3/4 of the way up the steeple? That is where we went after climbing the circular stairs!

I don’t like heights; Dan does. He heard about a tour of one of the churches in Manizales and it sounded interesting. I didn’t realize most of the tour was going to be outside…on the roof and steeple!

We went on the tour in the evening because that is when the next one was. There were 20-30 people in the tour which was in Spanish. They talked about the history of the church. I had previously commented to Dan about how many stained glass windows there were but I was way off on the count. There are actually somewhere around 150 windows (I forget the exact number and couldn’t find it on the internet. The church took 11 years to build, largely because of needing materials. The steeple is 106 meters (347 feet) tall and we were almost at the top when we were out on the small area that surrounds the steeple. It is the tallest church tower in Colombia.

After viewing the inside of the church we went upstairs and could look down on the service that was being conducted. Then we watched a short video about the church and then the “fun” began.

Daytime picture of people on tour outside on roof. Picture from Nomadicniko.com

We went up some stairs that were lit but not always well. Then we went outside along the roof in an area that was caged in but still scary, especially since it was night. I was ready to quit but when I saw the stairs below I could see that they were not really hard to climb, just lots of them.

Lots and lots of stairs but it was a very sturdy metal staircase that was installed a few years ago.
View from the observation deck.

The view was beautiful once we got out to the observation area. There were enough people in the tour that we circled the steeple and had to wait while each person/group took pictures so we were out there at least 15 minutes.