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.

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.

Hikes in the Jungle

Overlook, river in distance on the left

We did a night hike and a day hike in the jungle. Couldn’t see much during the night hike but we did hear two owls that only sing when the moon is out (partial moon that night) and heard what we were told were a couple of poisonous tree snake which made a clicking sound. CREEEPY!

The day hike was supposed to be in primary growth jungle which we expected to have such thick growth as to be almost dark. While it was interesting, it wasn’t that dark and no thicker than the rain forests we have seen.

We didn’t take a lot of pictures because it was just a mass of trees, vines, and bushes. We did climb to an overlook and rested awhile. And had to walk through a creek (in rubberboots) part of the way.

We did taste “lemon ants” which taste lemony and didn’t bite when we ate it

It seemed to me much longer than the 2 1/2 hours we were promised. In reality, it was more like 3 hours so just a bit longer. We were all very happy to take showers before going to lunch almost an hour late.

Cochasquí Archeological Park

Pyramid with long ramp, compliments of http://www.larevista.ec

The Cochasquí Archeological Park is a short drive (19 miles) from Quito. This is a fascinating area where the pre-Colombian and pre-Incan natives built pyramids that were built with much precision. The location is about 9,970 feet above sea level with a 240 degree view. The park is 84 hectares (210 acres) and has 15 pyramids and 21 burial mounds.

Partial view from one of pyramids

The pyramids are a bit different from Egyptian pyramids. They have been covered with dirt to hide them and 9 of them have a ramp going up the face of the pyramid. They are thought to be ceremonial and astronomical in nature. There are indications that they created a 13 month, 28 day calendar using the sun and the moon. (That’s 364 days which is pretty close to accurate!)

The pyramids were built by alternating layers of stone and a mixture similar to adobe.

It was a beautiful day to tour the site. The park guide spoke slow clear Spanish and our English guide also translated for us. We could understand a lot of the Spanish without translation.

There are over 150 llamas and alpacas that roam freely in the park. These gentle animals were comfortable approaching us.

If you are ever in Ecuador, I highly recommend visiting this park. I’m always amazed at the scientific knowledge that theses ancients had. (I still think that they were helped by aliens but that is a different blog that I probably won’t write.)

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is located a few miles from La Mitad del Mundo. It contains the Pululahua volcano which has a crater or  caldera that offers a beautiful view. People actually live in the crater which is very rare!

Would have been nice to hike it but it would have been a long climb back up.

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.)


El Panecillo hill, 9895 feet altitude, topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Houses on the hill are shacks.

Quito is the capital of Ecuador and a city of over 2,00,000 people and at 9350 feet altitude, the second highest capital city in the world (La Paz Bolivia is much higher). I could tell we were in a big city when on the first day I heard a long, loud car horn honk in complaint. Not like the short warning taps or thank you taps that we usually hear. I never heard another long honk but it definitely has a big city feel.

The weather is slightly cool and rain is common.

Quito is working on a subway but in the meantime they have a very good bus system. There was a stop ½ block from our apartment that went into downtown/old town. Some of the bus routes (like this one) have bus stations that are about 3’ off the ground and the bus has a small ramp that goes down when the door is opened so people can get on/off and it is wheelchair accessible. Other buses are the typical ones that may be a climb to get into or out of.

Buses are used extensively. We often entered extremely crowded buses. One time I didn’t think Dan would make it on it was so crowded. Standing room only although the riders will often give up their seat to someone with a baby or who is older. I welcomed it the several times a nice person gave me their seat.

Our guide said that people can’t wait to get cars so they don’t have to ride the bus. I didn’t like the crowds but I liked the price ($0.12 for seniors) and I like having a smaller carbon footprint than a car gives. Plus parking is limited and not cheap…our guide paid $0.75 per hour which wasn’t too bad except it added up to $3.00 by the time we got the car back.

Traffic in Quito wasn’t too bad. Heavy at times but it kept moving.

Two car bus
3 car bus

We were usually on a 2 car bus (connected in the middle by an accordion type connection) but they also had 3 car buses. I was amazed watching the 3 car bus turn a corner with no problem.

Black Panther was released while we were inQuito. We were going to see the English version with Spanish subtitles but there were only about a half dozen seats left and they were in the front row so we passed. Never got around to it after that. My guess is that all theaters had costumed actors to promote it but I could be wrong. Fun to see them anyway.


  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.

Pasto and Ipiales, Colombia

Mopa Mopa Vase. Each strand of color was individually added. The process looks like making taffy with the plant sap being stretched and pulled. Once it is the right consistency, color is added. Then it is rolled into thin sheets where it is cut into strips and each piece is pressed into place with a hand tool.

One of our last stops in Colombia was the small town of Pasto, less than 2 hours from Ecuador. We were only there a few days and we saw a few interesting things.

Below are a couple of pictures from a night parade right outside the gate of our apartment. It was church related; can’t tell you anything more than that. Here are a man and a woman on stilts and below that a float.


We took a walk one day and there were cows grazing on the meadow by this large apartment building. In Colombia you can tell small towns by medium sized ones when apartment building like this show up. This one is on the edge of Pasto, about two blocks from where buildings are built side-by-side.

Beautiful view of the area. Many Andean mountain cities and towns are like this, where the city suddenly ends and fields appear.There was a place on the river close to where we stayed where a number of people hand washed their laundry on the river. I took a quick picture of them but can’t find it. We were surprised because it was inside the city limits. We heard about a business where a washing machine is delivered for under $5 and then carted to the next place.

We went to a house built in 1623. This is the oldest restored structure in the town. It was especially interesting to Dan with his construction/restoration background but I enjoyed seeing the old tools and the newly made wooden sculptures, boxes, and wall hangings. One thing they talked about was Mopa Mopa art. The best way I can describe it is that they make something akin to vinyl from resin which is  colored and cut into shapes and then applied to almost anything (wood, metal, ceramics) as a decoration. More pictures below when we went to the local store where they actually do this.

The Blacks and Whites Carnival is held every year in early January. We missed seeing it but we went to the museum where they house a lot of the old floats. These floats are not flower decorated floats…they are made of a paper mache base with fiberglass applied and then painted. Each float can be up to 50 x 60 feet in size and intricately designed and painted. They take about 4 months each to make and their is stiff competition for the first place prize money. Keep in mind how big these floats are when you look at the gallery.

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Mopa Mopa Art is amazing! Watching the gentleman apply to filmy color and looking at some of his art work it is hard to believe it is done by hand. Here is more info on the process although you will have to use a translate program if your Spanish isn’t up to par.

Las Lajas Sanctuary in nearby Ipiales was built on the location where  in 1754 a young deaf girl reported seeing the Virgin Mary and the girl spoke for the first time. The bridge for the Sanctuary crosses a river and is incredibly beautiful. The cathedral itself is stunning. All along the path to the cathedral and past it people have added various plaques, probably thousands of them!

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At the Sanctuary we met Juan who is from Bogota Colombia and traveling by bicycle to the tip of South America. He has pretty good English and we bumped into him the next day at the bus terminal in Ibarra as well.

From the Sanctuary we took the cable car up the steep hill and caught a taxi. We paid the driver to take us to the cemetery which is across the border into Ecuador. More on that in another posting but here are a few pics from the cable car.




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.