Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mt Tunguruhua

Banos/Tungurahua; 2/13,14,15&19,20/2007

After coming down from Illiniza Sur, we headed south to the tourist town of Los Banos. Yes, really the name of the town is Los Banos. It’s called that because it has several natural mineral springs, both cold and hot, in town and in the general area. Los Banos sits halfway up the side of the massive and very active, Volcan Tungurahua. In 1999, Tungurahua blew its top big time. It sent a huge mud/ash slide down to the side of Los Banos that burned and covered (still covers) everything in its way (houses, forest, the road, etc). It sent molten pumice and ash into the sky that was carried to other near by peaks covering their glaciers with dust and gravel. The town of Los Banos was evacuated for months, but now, despite the occasional mild eruption, bustles with activity and tourism. Our original intention was to climb Tungurahua, but because of the eruptions, we would need gas masks and fire-retarding clothing, so that idea is out. Instead, we spent a few days relaxing, hot-springing, and prepping for an attempt at mount Chimborazo.

Chimborazo and Tungurahua are integrally linked in the legends. Chimborazo was in love with Tungurahua (she’s hot!), but some other mountains were courting her too. Mt. Altar and Mt. Carihuairazo each also wanted Tungurahua as his wife. It seems Chimborazo was a big brute because he went and beat up his rivals, he really thrashed them. Then he and Tungurahua got married. Tungurahua is known to the Quichua people as Mama Tungurahua, or Mother Tungurahua, and is a very sacred site.

From the 16th to the 18th we left Los Banos to climb Chimborazo (see the Chimborazo blog entry), then returned to Los Banos just in time for the last two days of the Los Banos Carnival! This is the whole regions big blow out party before lent starts. The town was flooded with folks from all the surrounding area, even Quito, and every hotel room in the town was booked. The streets had live music, outdoor cafes and booths selling all sorts of tasty specialties and treats, booths selling goods ranging from alpaca sweaters to oil paintings to the newest non-stick cookware. It was crowded, loud, at times out of control, and fun! The most common ruckus was the way too popular activity of spraying each other with cans of shaving cream. At times a cloud of shaving cream mist made it hard to see more than 10 feet, or shaving cream landed in your beer while sitting at an outdoor café, or you just got half your body covered with pink foam as you walked along.

The best part of the Carnival was on the last night. There was a fun band with a big brass section playing in the big square in front of the church. Lots of people were dancing and hanging out. Then, some fireworks started going off from the roof of the church. These also included some really cool colorful hot air balloons in the shape of stars or spheres that they would send up by setting a small fire in the basket at the bottom. We would watch them slowly float up into the stars and disappear. This all was great, until the real fireworks started. There was a small platform in the middle of the square (a square that was crowded with people) that was about 5 feet above the rest of the square. They set up a fireworks launch right there! These were not the kind of fireworks you set off on the 4th of July; they are the kind Disneyland sets off on the 4th of July… the big stuff. They would light up the firework, then run frantically to the other end of the little platform, sometimes reaching a safe distance before the explosion on the ground sent the firework into the air. We were right there, everyone was! The explosion launching the little rockets was almost as big, and certainly as loud, as the firework itself. To watch these guys try to run away from the explosions, have the explosion happen right in front of you, have some of the rockets misfire and send flaming balls onto the rooftops, and get a great fireworks show on top of that made it just about the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen!

I guess when you live on the side of an erupting volcano, some big ‘ol fireworks aren’t a big deal.

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