Pictures of the erupting Tungurahua Volcano that towers above the town of Baños, Ecuador, made me envious. I wanted to be the photographer who took those shots. My answer? - A photo expedition of my own. A 09:00 AM departure would get us there during the noon hour.
Car packed and loaded; I was just about to jump in when I noticed a nail in the front tire. At the garage, two more were discovered. Fortunately, repairs were done without delay, and we headed off, again. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an omen of things to come.
The highway South, like virtually all main highways in Ecuador, is excellent, and we arrived in Baños about 1:30 PM under heavy, overcast sky. At this time of year, winter in the Andes, cloud covered mountains and volcanoes are more often the norm than not. I knew from the outset that I may not see the top of Tungurahua, but enthusiasm overwhelmed reason and probability.
As the day passed, more cloud and then rain. Despite that, we kept hopes up and ventured out to the Mirador del Volcan, a restaurant with a tree house, purportedly giving view to the volcano. It was early evening and, as the car climbed up and up, darkness fell. We missed where we were have stopped because the only signage was one which said not to drop your garbage.
Fortunately (?). A woman by the side of the road directed us to park our car alongside and climb the steep, mountainous pasture where we were to find the Mirador del Volcan. Climbing past a grazing cow, slipping and sliding on the grass and muddy spots, we went; stopping to recover our breath from time to time; hoping to be heading toward the restaurant and tree house. The cow ignored our struggle. At the top, we discovered the door to the tree house was locked, and the restaurant was closed. More foreshadowing? Darkness and low cloud blocked prevented any view of the volcano. I should have known ! Soon, we were joined by two Canadian motorcyclists and their companion, a girl from Paris, France. The bikers were riding from Vancouver, Canada to Santiago, Chile, sight-seeing along the way. After a few moments exchanging pleasantries, we gropped our way down the treacherous descent in the dark. Shoes and pant-legs covered in mud; we headed to the hostel for the night. We were still not disappointed because it was an adventure and hope remained for the next day.
Local residents told us that there were two periods of the day when there was the greatest probability of the sky clearing above the volcano; just after 6:00 AM and during the period between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM.
6:00 AM greeted us with continued cloud. We headed East to see a waterfall. The highway passed through several tunnels dug through mountains. The interiors were rough, not fully covered, and water dropped from the ceilings.
Coming upon a pair of waterfalls, we stopped and paid $ 1.00 each to a man operating a car motor used to move a basket on a cable across a valley and over the falls, stopping to allow for photographs. The water came from one mountain stream which split just before cascading over the precipice. His wife operated a restaurant, by rural Ecuador standards, on the far side.
Now, mid-afternoon, we then took a long, narrow, brick road to a high point on the mountain directly across from our desired target, Tungurahua Volcano. Clouds over the volcano continued to be thick and apparently unmoving. Those immediately in front and below us were thin and passing very quickly. Hungry, we took refuge in a small restaurant called, Ojos del Volcano, Eyes of the Volcano, operated by a local tour and climbing guide and his wife. Inside, he wife busied herself with making our dinner and he, enthusiastically, showed a video of the climb he made to the top and into the volcano only three days before it recently erupted. It was spectacular!
4:00 PM - Refusing to feel foolish, we stood on the restaurant terrace watching the clouds, hoping for a miracle. As if choreographed by the local tourist association, the sky suddenly cleared and we saw the top of Tungurahua, peaking at 5 km (3.1 mi) altitude. The scene appeared and disappeared quickly, teasing, provoking just enough excitement to make us want to go back for more. As if to acknowledge our presence, Tungurahua burped a dirty cloud. Then, as quickly as they cleared, it was again hidden by nature’s thick blanket.
My hope for a future trip, when the volcano has a dormant spell : – To climb to Tungurahua’s rim and see into it’s crater. Despite all that constitutes the modern world, few things excite one more than the splendor and power of nature.
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