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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Return to Baños - Part IV of IV

As I said when I last signed off, I headed back to Cuenca (from Baños) via a different route than that I had driven so many times before.  This time, it was along the edges of the Amazon.  I had NO clue what the route might be like.  It was a brand-spankin new adventure.

This leg was a bit of a rarity in that so much of my driving here in EC is in the Andes mountains, which means curve after curve after CURVE!!!  Now I was in the flatlands and I could make good speed.  Or so I thought.

The road obviously had major restoration work in recent times.  It was nice and smooth.  But, it was blatantly clear they allotted TOO much in the budget for signage.  Signage was waaaaay overkill, to the point of being ridiculously funny.   This particular highway had very little development along the way...only a handful of towns, no roadside stops, gas stations, etc.  As such, there was very little commercial traffic.  In fact, very little traffic at all!  But, I SWEAR, every 2 kilometers the same cycle of signs would be repeated.   'Take care of the environment, don't throw garbage'.  'The trees purify the air'.   'Take care of the environment, don't throw garbage'.  'The trees purify the air'.   'Take care of the environment, don't throw garbage'.  'The trees purify the air'.   'Take care of the environment, don't throw garbage'.  'The trees purify the air'.


I also had to laugh at the fact that they never removed (from the backs) the bluish plastic film that protects the signs during shipment.   I'm going to digress a bit here.   There's a new (well, 6 months ago now) sign down the road from me, installed and everything.  But, still in its shrinkwrap.    I've noticed a pattern about this particular product.   Over and over and over again, I notice that few people remove this film.   Chrome-like TP holders with a flap that 'hides' the toilet paper still have their white plastic film cover on them in soooo many peoples houses!!!   Peel it off for cripes sake!   You paid to have a nice shiny metal holder, why not see it???  In my house, the idiots who installed the metal framed windows never took the white protective film cover off the frames.  Then came along the next idiot who installed tiles, grout, wall mud, etc right up to it, causing half of the metal frame to be 'buried' which made it impossible to peel off without it tearing into small pieces.   In one of my rental apartments, whoever installed the exhaust fan above the stove never bothered to peel off the blueish protective film from the stainless steel BEFORE installation.  I was able to peel off the stuff that was easily accessible, but when strips ran to the back or areas secured against the cabinet, it would just tear.   GRRRRRR!!!    

Ok, back on topic.  

The other repeatedly comical aspect of this highway was their overuse of rumble strips.   You known, those bumps they lay out in a line, perpendicular to your car, like a series of small speed bumps just a foot or two apart?   They had these out in the middle of nowhere!!   I didn't know the area, so I didn't know what may be coming up.   But, here were these rumble strips and I expected to see some populated area where they wanted me to slow down.   But....nada.   Oh, maybe a house or two.   Maybe.   And, when there was a couple of houses (shacks) they would have pedestrian crossing signs.   Excuse me, but I highly doubt those two families walk down to THAT point in the highway to cross.  They cross whenever and wherever they feel like it.

Rumble strips versus speed bumps.   It seems the road agencies are leaning in favor of rumble strips to effectively slow traffic down.  Couldn't be more the opposite.   With speed bumps, you HAVE to slow down or go get your alignment reset after every trip.  If you don't slow down, any passengers not wearing their seatbelts will leave skull imprints in the roof of your car.  However, those that have a functioning brain KNOW that it's better to drive FASTER over and through the series of rumble strips because the tires will not have a chance drop in and out of each crevice.   The slower you go, the more nuts and bolts fall off your car, not to mention rattle your brain.   The faster you go, the smoother it is and nothing more than BDDDDDD.  Kinda defeats the purpose, no?

I rest my case, no further questions Your Honor.

Another comical favorite on this segment of my trip was playing the game 'Which is it?  Rumble strip or Speed bump??'   There would be two signs...one showing the image of a rumble strip, then another sign 20 feet beyond that showing the image of a speed bump!!  SO WHICH IS IT????   If you're going to put a new sign IN, take the old one OUT!!!

Ok, since I'm on a comical rant, I have more.

Coming into a village, signs were posted to reduce my speed.  For example, the first one would say 90 kph. But, less than 100 feet away it would be down to 70 kph, then another 100 feet 30 kph.  Could they not have said '30 kph zone, 500 feet ahead'?   And, 30 kph.....really?   That's 18 mph.  One of my favorites I see all the time, is a sign informing you it's now okay to increase your speed up to 100 kph, but then 200 feet down the road a sign to reduce it to 50 kph.   Why bother allowing up to 100 when you're gonna yank it away from me in 30 seconds?  And, there's always those lonnnnng stretches of highway with nothing in sight but straights (no gays) and some slight curves.  No population, no roadside activity.   50 kph.   HUH!!!!???  You expect me to drive the equivalent of 30 mph through this area?   I'll fall asleep!!   Everyone else is doing 100 kph (60 mph).

It's not like I'm spewing negativity here (as I was once informed by a reader).  It truly is funny.  NO ONE could drive down this highway and not notice the silliness of it all.

After Puyo, just 50 kms outside of Baños, the only significant towns along the way back to Cuenca were Macas, Sucua, and Mendez.   Macas, the largest town, is split by a river gorge with the downtown on one side and the rest of the town on the other.   Sucua was a very pleasant, clean, attractive, quiet town seemingly in the middle of flat nowhere.   But, I did like their welcome 'sign' etched out of ficus trees.  Mendez was a charming village with some colonial architecture not found in the others.  It is the point where you begin to climb back up into the Andes, back to the curves, curves, and more curves.

Back to stunning vistas, gorges, and more waterfalls than I've seen in my lifetime.  


I had heard the road was good in some places, and not so good in others (potholes, rough surface, etc).  What I didn't know is they were currently doing MAJOR work on the road.   Some of it was already completed.   I had just come from an over abundance of signage to miles and miles of NO signs, no guardrails, and NO lines!!   And, for some reason, it wasn't as if they had completed 10 miles and the remainder was still being worked on...it was 2 miles completed, a mile not started, then 5 miles completed, etc etc.

After MUCH winding and climbing I finally reached the summit where the Paute Dam is located.  It provides a large portion of electricity to EC.  I didn't get to see much of it because I had gone through a cloud layer.  Suddenly, the traffic was stopped.   I was about 5 back from the guarded barrier.  Everyone sat in silence for a long time.  Once in awhile a car or a truck would come from the other direction and the guard would lift the barrier.  I finally got out and asked why the backup.  The guard told me it was because there was only one lane ahead and they switched directions on the half hour (ie; 2:30, 3:30, 4:30).  Ugh.

After I waited about an hour, we were let through.  By that time there were only 4 or 5 more cars queued up behind me, which gives you an idea how little traffic there was on the road.  For THIRTEEN kilometers we drove on a one-lane, pothole-riddled road with numerous stops.  The truck in front of me apparently was the meal truck and stopped whenever they encountered a work crew to hand out rations.  There were areas where the ravine was straight down just a few feet away from our tire tracks.  It made me wonder just how long this road was going to hold up before a major slide.   In the other lane was freshly poured concrete, curing, and lined with large rocks hand-placed by the workers to let you know you were not supposed to drive there.  DUH.

This went on for what seemed like infinity.  However, the views were stunning.   The long, wide lake formed by the Paute Dam was beautiful.   Finally, after winding, and swerving, and passing, and dust, and mud, and racing dumptrucks, I arrived in familiar territory, the town of Paute....about 40 minutes outside Cuenca.  Home was in sight.  I drove past the point on the autopista where my car broke down the last time I returned from a trip to Baños and figured it was all a success.  Dog-tired and my head spinning, I got home about 7pm.

Here's some statistics:
  • Kms driven = 1229 (780 miles)
  • Total cost of the 4-day trip = $283, which included:
    • $60 hotel room for 3 nights
    • $60 gas
    • $16 breakfasts
    • $25 lunches
    • $30 dinners
    • $14 snacks
    • $3 spa pools
    • $20 massage
    • $20 detox treatments (2)
    • $35 train ticket
Enjoy the photos!

PS....Thank you Mary for sharing with me the keyboard tricks for making Spanish puñctuation.


Take care of the environment, don't throw garbage.

Hmmm...speed bumps....because why??

Blue protective film still on the back side of signs.

The trees purify the air.

I love these signs, especially at night on curvy, dark, mountain roads.   The sign is two-sided, V-shaped with the other side telling the other direction of traffic there is a curve ahead for them, too.

Reduce your speed.   There must've been a hundred of these things....well, it FELT like it!!!

The bridge crossing the river to the town of Macas.

Ummmmm......60 kph = 30 mph.   Ummmmm....why?

MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!   Is there a rumble strip or a speed bump coming up ahead????

Notice the boat in the lower right.

Arriving in the town of Sucua, you're greeted with 'Bienvenidos a Sucua' (Welcome to Sucua) carved into the ficus trees.

Uhhh....scuze me.

The river that slices through the town of Mendez.

One of a zillion waterfalls on the mountain highway leading back to Cuenca.   They never get old to me.

Looking down from my highway.  I pulled off to take this pic.   The river is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down there.

Zoomed in.

Annnnd another one.

Ummmm...is this REALLY the highway to Cuenca?   REALLY?   Please tell me it's not like this the rest of the way!!!   (it wasn't)

Cool machine that took the raw cement, churned it up, and spit out the back a nice smooth lane of new road like buttuh.

What I drove on for 13 kms.  The 'lunch truck' in front of me.

Gee, had you not put the rocks there, I might have thought I could drive over those vertical pieces of rebar and drive on that nice new section of road!!!   

The Paute river backed up behind the dam creates a long, wide lake.   Is that an 'F' on the other side?

Hi, thisiz Gracie.  My Dad is hohm now aftr hiz long trip I thot you myt lik this piktur of me!!!
GRACIE!!!!   That's TACKY.  Now get outa my blog!!!

And now, a word from our Sponsor (me)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Return to Banos - Part III of IV

Geez, it's taking me a long time to tell my story of my trip to Banos izinit??  By the time I finish sharing all 4 parts, the town of Banos might well be obliterated!!   If you don't know, the Tungurahua volcano has been erupting a lot in the past few weeks, belching smoke high into the air, and even spewing rocks along with it...so high and so far some of the fallout has landed as far as 30 miles away, broken windshields, and killed a dog.  The town of Banos, if you haven't been paying attention, is situated at the bottom of the volcano on what is a former volcanic bed created by an eruption a long long time ago...about when Granny was born.  At this writing, the public warning level is set at Orange...one level from the one you don't want to see.

Ok, back to my trip.

On my second day there, I wanted to explore areas past Banos, beyond the points I had seen before.   I had heard bits and pieces about a town called Puyo about 50 kms from Banos.   Many adventure tour trips go there for river-rafting, rock climbing, and canyoning (rappelling down waterfalls).  And, it's one of gateways into the humongous Amazon region.   Ok, I decided to go there.

After going through 6 tunnels and passing a gajillion more waterfalls, I could see river after river merging into one another and the result getting larger and larger and more powerful.  Kinda like Bank of America.   The river began to sprawl the lower the elevation I went.

I arrived at Puyo, a relatively large town, in about an hour.  I could easily see there was nothing I wanted to stop and get out of the car for, so I proceeded North towards another town I heard of...Tena.  Tena is known as the 'cinnamon capital' of Ecuador and is located at the edge of the Amazon rainforest.  

The roads were in great condition.  Tena was far more attractive then Puyo.  It, too, had a river that sliced through the middle of town.  The river Tena joins the river Misahualli which joins the river Napo.  Napo is in effect the 9th largest tributary to the Amazon River.  On one side of the river was a nice park.  I got out and walked a bit.  I noticed a lot of younger travelers in the area that had the 'backpacker look'.  I explored some of the streets and just absorbed the feel of the place before heading back.

One of the strangers that belly'd up to the bar next to me at Stray Dog the night before, had been to this area and told me about 'the monkeys'.   Apparently there is a small hamlet where monkeys roam free.  They are bold and not afraid of people and may come right up to you eating at a table and race away with part of your food, or camera, sunglasses, or whatever may be dangling and available.

Along the way to Tena, I spotted a rudimentary sign referencing something about monkeys, so I drove back to it.  The hamlet, named Misahualli, was about 25 kms away and, though I was tired, I decided to check it out anyway.   It, too, is a popular starting point for jungle tours and canoe trips.  And, yep, there were the monkeys!

After a bit of exploring I headed back to my base in Banos.

The weather was gorgeous my entire stay.  When I arrived in town, I spotted someone that looked familiar, so I raced around the block to catch up to them.   Whaddayaknow...it was two of my guests who rented one of my apartments in Cuenca the week before!

I went out to dinner, then returned to the Magic Spa for another round of detox!

In the morning, after breakfast on the rooftop cafe...watching the others with their faces buried in their I-devices or endlessly texting with one finger on tiny phones....seemingly not noticing the waterfall outside the windows, the views, the mountains, etc....but I digress....I headed for home in Cuenca.

This time, though, I was returning home the 'back way'.  A route I had never taken before, along the edges of the Amazon and into Cuenca via the 'back door'.

All of which I will tell you about....next time.

Enjoy the photos!


A couple tunnels were probably more than 1,000 feet long.

My Dad was a logger and I found this truck loaded with FAT sections of trees interesting....because they were loaded sideways.

River after river merges into a wide gorge.  Notice the vertical cliffs in the distance.

You can see the highway from whence I came, just above the middle of the photo....a thin slice sloping downwards through the trees.

Waaaaaay down.  Notice the road on the left in the curve of the river.

This was cool waterfall because of the thick mist it created.

I don't know what this is, but I stopped along the side of the road and took shots of it.  They were about 100 feet below.  Maybe trout ponds?

Entering the Pastaza province was this over-the-road welcome structure.  Right side.

Left side.

The whole thing.  It says 'Welcome to Pastaza'.

I saw a sign that pointed the way down to the river.   Naturally, I took it!!!   At the bottom was some sort of construction base, coordinating a constant stream (get it?) of dumptrucks coming and going.   What was weird, though, was they had to drive across this lagoon on what is obviously a marked (by rocks) path.  Had no idea what they were doing or where they were going.

In Tena, in their central park, was this interesting setting depicting part of their historical culture.

Jungle tour boats (canoes) based on the river beach in Misahualli.

Locals enjoying an afternoon on the beach of the river where it merges with another.

A monkey!!   I kept following him trying to get a good shot.  I think he was annoyed with my paparazzi style.

One lane suspension bridge that crosses the river Napo in Misahualli.

Looking to the Right.

Annnnd to the Left.  You can see the beached tour canoes on the left side just above the middle of the photo.

Pretty plants along the roadside just outside Misahualli.   They look like ribs.

On the way back into Banos.  This river becomes an enormous waterfall that I shared in a past Banos post....where we walked down a trail and across suspension bridges to access it.

On the flip side of the previous photo, people playing in the river.  The highway is at the top of the photo.

In the same area, a charming resort enclave also includes a lagoon where people can paddle about in inflatable dinghies.

There's a few cutoffs from the highway that allow you to drive on a one-lane road made of hand-layed bricks and stones.  Look a the detail of the concrete fence that lines the road the entire way.  Some of these cutoffs give you a closer view of the waterfalls along the way.

Gracie....your TOYS go in there....not YOU!!!   Now get outa my blog!!!

And now, a word from our Sponsor (me)

About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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