Baños, Cuenca, and Las Cajas National Park

After Cotopaxi and its high-altitude hikes and cold nights, we were both ready for a shower, a good beer, and some warmer temperatures. Our plan was to spend the next week making our way South visiting the towns of Banos and Puyo then driving throuth the National Park Sangay eventually making our way to Cuenca. But as we got reception for the first time in four days, we realized we had a message from Nick and Megan of The Long Cruise saying they were hoping to get a house together with us and South by Syncro in Cuenca starting in two days. So, in true Pawley fashion we changed our plans! Big surprise!

We spent two nights in the town of Baños (yes in Spanish Baños is bathroom but in this case it’s more about the bath part as the town is situated on natural volcanic hot springs) at an awesome backpacker’s hostel with a perfect backyard for camping. We avoided hostels at the beginning of our trip because we don’t tend to have a lot in common with the gap-year, front-backpack, wanna-be hippie crowd that frequent hostels, but luckily for us we’ve decided to get over ourselves and embrace that we are not better than anyone else making their way around the world and now we really enjoy the amenities, and occasionally even the company, they offer. At $6 a person with a good breakfast, we were happy campers!

Our first night we caught up with friends Anne and Rudy who we had met in Puerto Lopez while diving and we all had a great dinner together followed by a night of bar hopping, meeting up with more couples, and playing Cambio in a dive bar until they literally ran out of beer! It was a night well spent. We staggered home at 2am and woke up the next morning with a nice hangover to start off Valentine’s Day. KP got me some really cute sweet treats from town and then he spent the rest of the day spoiling me with an aimless wander around town, a visit to the fruit and veggie market for an incredibly good $4 lunch, and then a shared banana split at a little ice cream shop. We even went out to a nice steak dinner that night and shared a great bottle of wine and a second dessert. It was a great Valentine’s Day with my Valentine.

We got up early the next morning to start the trek to Cuenca. A 5 hour drive turned into almost 7 because of fog and twisty mountain roads, but I finished the hat I’d been working on so at least my head was warm. : ) We beat everyone else to the house by hours. Apparently they had all had even longer days than us, Tim and Liz waiting for a surf board to be finished in Mantañita before even starting the drive, and Megan and Nick waiting around at the shop that would be fixing the suspension on their trailer. Eventually we all arrived, got settled in and so began a week of group chats, podcast recordings (that hopefully never air), bowling and escape rooms, group crochet lessons for the ladies and 3-D modeling for the guys, endless and fruitless searches for needed parts, and more alcohol consumed than any of us would like to admit! We didn’t get a lot of pictures while we were together, but that is probably for the best.

After we parted ways those guys headed toward the North coast of Peru for some sun and surf and we heading to the mountains for a couple days of hiking. We had to wait in the Cuenca area for a few more days while a much needed truck part was shipped from the states, but luckily this is a great area to kill some time. Just outside Cuenca is the beautiful Parque Nacional Cajas full of beautiful mountain lakes and incredible hiking! We spent our first day there hiking up what turned out to be more of a mountain climbing route than an actually trail, but it was beautiful nonetheless. See the video below for our (unsuccessful) adventure.

The next day we drove to the refugio at 13,000 feet and planned to make a few more hikes in the following days. Unfortunately, that night both KP and I ended up with crazy weird fevers and after almost no sleep woke up feeling even worse. KP made an attempt at a hike that ended up being a terrible idea. He came back after 2 hours drenched in sweat and immediately crawled back in bed. At least he got some great pictures! The only thing we managed to for the rest of the weekend, was pack up, drive back down to a lower altitude and try to heal up.

We felt a bit better on Monday, so we headed back into Cuenca to get the part we were waiting for, a new front driver’s side wheel bearing. In Ecuador, they have crazy import laws, so to get our $240 part we paid $130 in shipping to ship it from Tennessee and then $160 for “importation” more than 50% of its value! There is a reason Ecuadoran people pay friends, family, and even strangers to bring in items made outside the country rather than ordering them through normal channels!

We got our part, and spent another day visiting the beautiful Centro Historico, the Panama Hat museum (if you didn't know they make these hats in Ecuador), and a couple of the breweries we had come to love, before finally pulling ourselves away from this town and back to the road. Cuenca is a city full of Expats and we understand why. The natural beauty that surrounds it, plus the abundance of good food, beer, and services, make Cuenca another place in Ecuador we could see ourselves settling!