Ecuador – Day Seven: Thermal Pools, The Blue City, Urbina Climbing Lodge & A Lava Rock Dinner

A trip to Baños without experiencing the thermal pools would be like a trip to Italy without trying the pizza…unless you’ve got an upset tummy; then you may just have to live vicariously through your travel mates. Prior to departing Baños this afternoon for Riobamba, we took a 10 minute walk through downtown to Monte Selva Hotel & Spa to experience the volcanic thermal pool. Complete with volcanic ash masks and chocolate moisturizing masks, it was a treat for the group. For me, I listened to a few chapters of my audio book between photo/video duty in the shade alongside this pretty pool.

Everyone seemed rejuvenated for our 2pm departure to Riobamba. I’m happy to report that my tummy is feeling better, knock on wood! And my cold is starting to clear up as well. All my over-the-counter meds have come in handy.

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There were a few stops along our way to Riobamba. The first was the Salasaca Market, a small market run by the Salasaca Indian people who make their living from agriculture and tapestry weaving. We were there just long enough for Mike to buy another alpaca sweater and for my bargaining for an alpaca blanket to go awry. I walked away empty handed, while Mike walked away wearing his new sweater. I think I just need to give him my shopping list and some cash. He’s obviously much more successful at the negotiation strategy.

Our next stop was Pelileo, known as the Blue City because of its booming jeans industry. Every town in Ecuador seems to be known for a different product. They have knock offs for every brand of jeans you can imagine and they’re all $15. It was fascinating to walk through this town. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen quite so many mannequins in my life at one time.

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In the small, rural town of Urbina lives a mountain climber named Rodrigo. He owns a base camp climbing lodge and hosts hundreds of climbers each year from all over the world who have come to Ecuador to climb the Chimborazo Volcano. His lodge sits at 11,800 feet and is a base camp for climbers to acclimate to the elevation slowly before taking on Chimborazo, whose peak reaches 20,547 feet. He was a gracious host serving us Ecuadorian hot toddies made with Canelazo tea spiked with Puro (an Ecuadorian moonshine). It was delicious! Along with the tea we had Chola, a bread filled with brown sugar and cinnamon. Add in a roaring fire on a cold, wet day and it was pretty close to heaven on earth.

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In addition to all these wonderful things on Rodrigo’s property, they also hand craft jewelry and other pieces of art out of the Tagua nut, which are seeds of the palm tree fruit. They call the Tagua nut “vegetable ivory” for its resemblance to animal ivory.

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From Rodrigo’s house, it was only a 10 minute ride to the beautiful Andaluza Hosteria, a 16th Century Hacienda with more history than we could absorb in our 10 minute tour. The grounds were lush with giant succulents, Calla Lilies, and blossoming other greenery. We had a special dinner here in a formal dining room designed for a Spanish Don.

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Our dinner was served still searing on a scorching hot lava rock. There were pieces of pork, beef, chicken, chorizo, shrimp, and pineapple. While it sizzled, we flipped it occasionally for a few minutes until it was cooked to our liking. Alongside the sizzling meats were steamed vegetables, potatoes, a salad, and two sauces (chimichurri and traditional Ecuadorian hot sauce – the group’s favorite). It was a fabulous meal and the unique experience took it over the top.

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By 8pm we finally made it to Riobamba. I have no idea what the city looks like yet. We’ll have the next two days to explore it. But if the looks of our hotel is any indication of what the city is like, then I’m excited to see it. We’re staying at the Casa Real Hotel and it’s the most elegant of our accommodations thus far. So goodnight! I’m signing off to enjoy some rest in this beautiful place.

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Tomorrow…Riobamba!

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