Sunday, April 23, 2017

Baños Day 2: Big Waterfall

Hey, I figured out how to type ñ! Call me gadget girl.

For our big tourist day in Baños, we chose to rent horrible mountain bikes and ride the waterfall route.  Lots of people do this. So many that the country should make a proper bike path along side the road so somebody doesn't get run over by giant trucks using this same route to move goods between the Amazon Basin and the western part of the country. But that's just my rich American infrastructure habits talking. It was fine; we didn't get run over.

Essentially, the Rio Pastaza flows through a deep canyon of volcanic rocks, most from Tunguragua, the volcano behind town, to the Amazon Basin. Along the way it flows over various more resistant lava flows to create spectacular waterfalls. The Ecuadorians have capitalized on the falls with a variety of tourist attractions.

Twin waterfalls of the Rio Pastaza. The green scaffold is one end of a zip line.

The rental bikes.

You can see the waterfall eroding the base of the fall back under the resistant layer.
 About 4 or 5 of these waterfalls viewed from the road, we made it to the big tourist attraction, Cascada de Paílón del Diablo, or Waterfall of Devil's Cauldron. 

After checking out the other falls on the route, I was a little bit skeptical that this one would live up to all the hype I had read on Trip Advisor.  I needn't have worried. It was AMAZING.

We locked up the bikes at the entrance station on a rack with about 100 other rental bikes, paid our entrance fee, and headed down. Of course there was a myriad of booths and shops selling tourist trinkets and ice cream near the top.  There were also a lot of other people hiking to the falls, mostly Latino family groups.  The path was really steep and very wet and slippery in some places, but very young children and grandparents equally were navigating the trail.  This in not something you would see in America!  

After about 20 minutes of walking, we reached the most elaborate and rock steep viewing platform imaginable.
The viewing platform. I kept wondering how many workers plunged to their deaths making this incredible construct of stone and mortar.

Part of the waterfall.  It was loud and very misty on the platform.

When amazing waterfalls are part of your country's geography, tall, white Americans become the tourist attraction!  The adults were getting their picture taken with Drew before I snapped this picture. 

Carved into the cliff is a passageway to the waterfall that small people can negotiate without much difficulty. Large Americans have more trouble.


But it's so worth it!  What a funky trip.  It smelled like pee in one spot (GROSS!) but totally understandable as there are no facilities anywhere and there is a giant waterfall next to you.

A small passageway for a 6'3" guy!

Holy columnar jointing!
After the wet and misty viewing platform and the slippery low crawl to the passage behind the waterfall, we took the drier view across a swinging bridge.

I love this picture because not only can you see the size and power of the waterfall, but the truely spectacular columnar jointing in the lava flows above.
 Damp and thrilled we decided to save our lungs from inhaling diesel fumes and pay a few bucks for a ride in a big truck back up the road to Baños.

All that scrambling made us hungry.  We went to the #4 rated restaurant in Baños on the east side of town called Cafe Hood. It was one of the best meals we had of the trip.  Super vegetarian options and good coffee.

I don't remember the dish I had, but it was super fresh and delicious

We checked out where the hot springs are so we could return later after returning the bikes.
Then explored town a little bit.
Not really a doughnut.

We didn't take a camera in to the hot springs because there was really not a place to lock things up well. It cost more than I thought necessary given that the place is run down and pretty industrial, but we had to try it.  The best pool had just been drained for cleaning, so we were forced into either a sort of warm pool packed nearly shoulder to shoulder or a scalding hot pool with about three people in it and 50 people around it.  We did both. At the later, I worked up to having ONE FOOT in the water; meanwhile, Drew went all the way up to his shoulders. He was a lobster when he came out!!  I don't know how he could stand it.

We splurged a little for our last official dinner of the trip on a patio of a good restaurant.

All in all, Baños and it's big waterfalls made for an splendid last fun day of vacation. The next day would be making our way back to Quito to fly out the following day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tulum Day 2: ruins part II and the rest of Tulum vacay

Tulum Day 2 was all about Mayan Ruins.  I learned a lot from reading the signs, and I took pictures of the signs so I can remember the stuff I learned. But at the present moment, I don't remember much, so I'm just gonna post some cool ruins pics.


We started out "vacation early" in our rental car for Cobá, which is about an hours drive on a very nice highway through the middle of crazy thick jungle from Tulum.

Can't do a day-long road trip without Day of the Dead bread. Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead in Spanish) is made only for the November 2 celebration known as the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  Hey, if we had to miss our own Halloween festivites in Utah, we might as well celebrate with the locals and eat their yummy bread.

Pan de Muertos at a Tulum bakery. Unfortunately, all the small sizes were sold out, so we had to settle for some other tasty pastries.
Then off through the jungle to Cobá. Cobá (pronounced cō-bǝ) is an ancient Mayan with a large network of stone causeways built around 600 to 900 AD. You can read more about this place on the Wikipedia entry.

Our guide, Roberto, tells Drew that the "winner" of the game played on these walls would die.  Drew, don't play!

Bicycle taxis were the best way to get around, although we chose to walk to get some exercise.  I think we probably walked 3 or 4 miles.

Impressive ruin.

Another impressive ruin.

And this impressive ruin is a big reason why people come to Coba.  They actually still let you climb up this irreplaceable artifact of history!

So of course I did!

There were no guard rails on the top. One wrong step and aperson would face certain serious injury.  That's one of the reasons I love to travel to foreign counties - you can still do cool stuff as long as your are not stupid.

Coba was steeper than it looks.
 Cobá was pretty cool and we got some exercise.  Now we were primed for the big one.


I just have to interject a bit about the lunch we had.  We stopped at a roadside eatery outside of Cobá and had the most delicious torte things and Mexi-coke.  Truly delicious. Probably my favorite meal of the trip.

Chitzen Itza

What trip to the Yucatan would be complete without a tour of Chictzen Itza?  Because of our walking and lollygagging (picture taking) at Cobá, and the hour drive from Cobá to Chitzen Itza, we hit the latter at 4:45 pm. The site closed at 5:30.   It was $32 USD per person. We hesitated a moment, but forked over the dough to run in and see one of the seven wonders of the world.  I'm so glad we did.

The main temple, El Castillo ("the castle") was huge (98 feet high), beautiful, and awesome, and that's "awesome" in the true sense of the word. 

El Castillo
Serpent heads at the base of El Castillo

Impressive ruin

Merchants were hawking a mind-boggling array of trinkets along every path and along the edge of every courtyard inside the site. We found it quite distracting. There must have been 200 or more merchants. As the place was closing, we witnessed each merchant pack all their trinkets into carts and haul them all out the main entrance.  The economics of this system blew my mind.

There were hundreds of columns like these and larger that would have held up a roof structure. 
 About 50,000 Mayans are estimated to have lived in Chichen Itza.  The time frame is similar to that of Coba, but Chichen Itza is much more elaborate and varied in architecture. You can read more about the site on the Wikipedia entry.


The jungle is never far away from taking back civilization.
In fact, this is how El Castillo looked in 1892

Some stone carvings on a temple.

This was my favorite structure, the Osario pyramid and the Platform of Venus. These and other structures near them are aligned to the nearby sacred cenote. Temples, a female goddess, and water; what's not to love.

A huge temple

Intricate carvings
We stayed long after the official closing, and by walking quickly throughout the site, I think we got to see all the main areas, with a bonus that most visitors had gone home.  The authorities finally shooed us and the rest of the hangers-on out of their sacred temple so the Mayan gods could come back and rest for the night. 
Parting shot of El Castillo

The only thing bad about getting a leisurely start and hitting two major archaeological sites with 4 hours of driving in between in one day, is that "we" (Drew) had to drive at dusk on a lonely highway through the jungle.  At one point I saw a large snake coiled on the side of the road. I told Drew we were not walking to safety if the car broke down. 

We also got hungry and thirsty on our big day, so we picked up some dinner at the grocery store when we got back to Tulum.  Lucky lucky for me, the grocery store had Pan de Muertos.  A quiet dinner of heavy snacks, beer, and the yummy bread for dinner by our pool.

A girl can live on bread and beer.


Day 2 Mayan ruins conquered!

Day 3 and 4

As is my custom, I planned to do a separate post for Day 3 and any highlights from the trip home, but in looking through my pictures I found only these.
Most of day 3.
 I did convince Drew to go to the beach with me for a few hours, but we didn't take a camera. The pictures would have been of a pretty beach, and a topless woman.  She was pretty proud.

This Kiwi couple was staying at our 8-room hotel so we got to know them a little and kept running into them in town.  We shared some beers a couple of times.  Nice kids.

Drew loves peanut M&Ms so this character at the airport could not have been more to his likeness.

So that's our New Orleans and Tulum combined vacation.   Thinking about it now makes me want to book another trip somewhere warm.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tulum Day 1: cenotes and ruins, part 1

We got a slightly late start because, well, we wanted to. But after breakfast and a dip in the pool to cool off because it's 85 degrees and humid by 10 a.m., we drove to our first activity, snorkeling in Cenote LabnaHa just a few kilometers north of town.  The GoPro waterproof camera was one of the things I forgot to pack (along with sunscreen and Jean Luc Picard) so we have no pictures to share, but I'll try to paint a picture for you.

What is a cenote? 

The Yucatan Peninsula is composed of fairly young limestone. Limestone is fairly porous. The limestone dissolves as the copious amounts of rain the Yucatan gets infiltrates into the limestone. This creates pockets and caverns geologists call karst. Sinkholes are pockets that have collapsed. A cenote is one of these pockets at about the level of the groundwater table with a small to medium sized opening to the surface. Many of the cenotes are connected by passages under, at, or above the water table, so you can scuba, float, or spelunk through them, respectively.

Who owns the cenote? 

A lot of the cenotes around Tulum are on Mayan land. Emilio spoke to the gate keeper in Mayan, a language that sounded more like American Indian than Spanish. Emilio said most people in this region learn Mayan at home and Spanish at school. The developer has an agreement with the Mayan landowner to use the cenote.

What do you do in a cenote? 

So this particular cenote was only discovered about 20 years ago. The guy that discovered it and has developed it for tourists to enjoy is still there doing it. After paying $47 USD per person, he handed us off to Emilio, who drove us in a Jeep Cherokee that had 130,000 miles on it and absolutely no struts down a very rough bedrock road through some Mayan houses to the cenote. We put on life jackets and grabbed a snorkel mask and flashlight and went down a non-OSHA approved wooden staircase about 20 steps to a platform in a cavern about 40 feet across with clear water in it. It was almost dark except of the beams of sunlight coming through the 10 foot diameter hole we had descended through.  We were instructed to jump in. Brrrrrr! The water is about 77 degrees*. Once in, we followed Emilio through a series of passages and rooms of various sizes looking at different things above and below the water with our flashlights.   It's really dark and nearly sterile down there. Stalactites and stalagmites grow from the roof and floor. There are some pockets on the roof where bats roost. We saw one big family of 12 or so big and little guys. Other life included spiders up to 3 inches in diameter, strings of what looked by spider silk made by filamentous worms so thin they looked like part of the silk, and lots of blind minnow-sized fish and a small white catfish. Emilio said the fish eat minerals. I'm not a biologist, but that seems like a hard living for a fish.  Huge roots from the trees above also protruded from the ceiling but stopped at the water surface.

*By comparison, groundwater in the valleys of Utah is at about 56 degrees, which is the mean average annual air temperature. Now that would be really chilly to swim in!
We swam around into different rooms, bumping into stalactites here and there. At one point we all turned our flashlights off to total pitch darkness. I would not do well as a blind fish.  After about 40 minutes we made our way back to the platform and the heat of the jungle above. It was the only time we would be chilled in 10 days of vacation.


Activity #2 for the day was the Tulum Mayan ruins on the coast a few kilometers from Tulum town. The parking was a rip off and they make it hard to get to the entrance without passing shop after shop of tourist trinkets, but once inside the ruins ($65 pesos or about $4 USD entrance fee) the ruins are quite nice. The complex is small, about the size of a wide football field, and not all the buildings are well restored, but the beautiful setting on the coast made us understand why they Mayans would build a fort here to occupy between 1200 A.D. up until disease brought by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s wiped out the population.    
Temple at Tulum Ruins
Temple to the wind God
Detail of the temple to the wind God. The god is upside down.
The Caribbean Sea from the Tulum ruins

Coming through the barrier wall that served as protection from enemies and a separator between the privileged class and commoners.
The grass behind us was where people lived in huts made of perishable materials.
We stayed until they closed the place down. At 5 pm sharp, archaeologists came in start restoration work. They get to climb in and around the buildings. So lucky!
Detail of the building being restored
No people live in these ruins anymore, but iguanas like the rocky sunshine.
Ringtails and feral cats feed off human trash in the vendor area.
I don't take the most graceful animal photographs!
After we had had enough ruins, we popped down for the first look at the beach up close.

The rocky part of the beach

  It's a nice beach, with warm water, soft white beautiful sand, and barrier reef and gentle slope that make it perfect for swimming.

 Then back to clean up and head back into town for some delicious fish and shrimp for dinner at El Camillo Jr. Restaurant. Day 1 success!