Friday, December 21, 2012

Buses and Baños

Piedra de Aqua, Baños
Written by Karen.
Except for two taxi rides that we took early into our visit to Cuenca, we have preferred to take the local bus to our destination.  This might seem to be an odd preference, particularly since a taxi costs less than $5.00 USD, but where would the fun be in that?  

We have travelled throughout the Azuay region by local bus and each time we have a different experience: different style of driving, different quality of buses and seats, different approach towards the passengers, and that's just with the buses and bus drivers!  The passengers are another interesting lot.  All of which adds up to some very dynamic and not-to-be missed bus rides!

We have observed some routine events that occur while riding on a local bus.  Before the bus pulls out of the bus station, vendors will take turns making an impassioned pitch to the onboard bus passengers.  After all, the vendors have a captive audience.  They will extol the virtues of whatever they are selling: fresh coconut milk in plastic bags, mangos, boxes of Chicklets, homemade ice cream, cookies or candy, or DVD's of current movies.  The vendors will then walk down the bus aisle and hand out their wares for the passengers to more closely examine.  As they walk back up towards the front, the passengers can ask additional questions before deciding whether to make a purchase.  If the passenger decides not to purchase the ware, they simply hand it back to the vendor.  It's all very low-key and polite.  

The vendors don't stop, however, when the bus is driving toward its destination.  Musicians, individuals, and other vendors will jump onboard and try to make sales or receive donations before the bus stops at its next stop and they have to get off.  It is a great opportunity to purchase a snack or drink on the go.

Bus drivers have their own personalities and styles. The driver that we had today did something that I had not seen before.  He stood on his seat at the bus stops and directed the standing passengers to, "Siga, siga, por favor.  Señor, siga, caminar, Señora, siga, siga," and move towards the back.  He also directed certain people to give up their seats for others.  Only when he was satisfied would he start to drive again, grinding gears and flying down the road trying to make up for lost time.  

Buses will usually stop at the side of the road whenever a potential passenger flags them down regardless if there is a bus stop.  So, the further the onboard passengers move towards the back of the bus, the more passengers can jump aboard at the front of the bus.

The bus passengers complied and cooperated with the bus driver's requests and directions, despite the large boxes being held or the bags of animals being transported. The bus windows that would not open for whatever reason resulted in the driver keeping the front and back doors open when he drove.  No one could have fallen out of the bus even with the crazy starts, stops, and go arounds, as we were jammed in to the gills.  But still we heard the resounding cry, "Siga, siga, por favor!"

Another interesting custom that we have noticed is that the bus passengers make their own change.  It's completely on the honor system.  Today, the bus ride to Baños cost .25 cents USD each way.  If a passenger doesn't have a quarter, but had a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, they would insert the dollar coin into the bus coin slot, and ask the next three passengers for their quarters.  No one objects to this arrangement, and without question hands over their bus fare to another individual instead of putting their fare into the bus meter.  

Why do we prefer riding buses to cabs?  It's more difficult, crowded, hot, crazy, and absolutely a slice of life! 

We traveled back to Baños today and pampered ourselves a bit in the mineral baths that the town is known for.  We chose the Piedra de Agua facility and paid our $10.00 USD each plus another $2.00 USD for a towel to spend the afternoon soaking between the medium (roughly 77 degrees fahrenheit) and the hot (roughly 100 degrees fahrenheit) mineral baths and finishing off with a mineral steam bath that smelled of earth and eucalyptus.  We left feeling completely relaxed and rejuvenated at the end of the day.  We kept that feeling of relaxation and rejuvenation even with the crazy bus ride home.  Siga por favor.  Siga!  
Baños Cathedral
One of the prettiest churches that I've seen yet.  High ceilings with beautifully painted arches and domes.  
A picture of the town of Baños in the foreground with Cuenca off in the distance.
An alley off the main road as we walked to the mineral baths.
A tiny food stand tucked up against the red rocks of Baños.
 A disturbing headless get-together on a porch of a home that we passed on the way to the mineral baths.  
A simple trio of dips: sliced red chili peppers in olive oil, chopped onions and parsley in olive oil, and homemade ketchup.  The chips were made from a local purple and yellow potato.  The pepper dip was outstanding. 
Pepper steak, salad and french fries.  The pepper steak did not knock the Warsaw, Poland pepper steak out of the first place box.  The salad was an interesting combination of lettuce, julienned green, red and yellow bell peppers and chopped green olives with balsamic vinegar.  A very tasty lunch.
Apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and berries
Piedra de Agua.  The facility where we hung out for most of the afternoon in the mineral baths.  The round structures are showers that feed water directly from the underground.  We chose the regular shower.  
This was another set of mineral bathing pools.  The green water is caused from the minerals in the water - we were told that this water comes directly from the underground and has healing properties.  This set of pools was called the Japanese pools due to the incredibly hot water in one of the pools.  We stuck one toe in this incredibly hot water and decided that we were good with the other set of pools!
These were the three sets of mineral bathing pools that we hung out in.  The pool on the left is the frigid pool.  We avoided that one!  The pool in the middle was hot and the larger pool was very warm.  We alternated between the hot and the warm pools.  We mostly had the pools to ourselves.  It was peaceful and very relaxing.
A picture of the hills surrounding the town of Baños as we walked down the hill to catch the bus back to Cuenca.   


Anonymous said...

The mineral baths must have been so relaxing with such beautiful scenery surrounding it. The pictures of the town are nice. I like their use of colors with the buildings and the meaningful decorations in the church. The blues and reds are cheerful. I think my eyes get used to the grays and browns. Maybe there are more colors, and I just need to slow down to see and enjoy them too!

Observers of Life said...

Hi Janet!

You would have loved the baths - just sitting and taking the time to relax - was wonderful! A simple spa day! :)