February 8, 2006
Luck was on our side, and we woke up to a clear and sunny day in Banos. After breakfast, we hiked up the south side of the Rio Pastaza canyon, hoping for a glimpse of Tungarahua, the active volcano that looms over Banos. At just over 5000 meters (That's 18,500 or so feet), her presence is not to be taken lightly.
After walking a few hundred feet up the road, we saw the summit, covered in snow. I estatically took a few photos, and as I was putting my camera away, a small puff of ash appeared above the cone, then grew into a bigger cloud of ash right before our eyes (see photos above). It was exciting to see, yet left me feeling quite small and vulnerable as I stood and watched the volcano do her thing. Was this normal?, I asked some locals who trundled by. They hadn't even noticed the ash cloud, and answered us with a poliite "Si", when "Por supuesto [of course], stupid gringos" was what the really wanted to say.
Once the mini-eruption appeared to be over, we switch backed our way up the steep road, admiring the scenery. Dotted with small farms, the slopes of the Andes are steep and green, growing much of the produce for the region in the ideal temperate climate of the Pastaza Valley. The Market in Banos is simply rockin'; in my mind, it can't be beat!
Having gained some elevation, we were able to see what a beheamoth Tungarahua really is, as she towers over the surrounding peaks. No small feat in the Andes, where all of the mountains seem ridiculously huge. Seeing Banos in her shadow, one couldn't help but think that Tungarahua could blow her top someday and obliterate the town. The complacency of the locals reminded me of the "Cry wolf" stories we all heard as children: should her warnings be shrugged off as they are? Will the day come that her occasional spewing of harmless ash will be more than just a friendly reminder? We can never know, but I'll bet that she does.