Oh Baños, I had such high hopes for you. Everyone said I would love you, Lonely Planet raved about you and I was ready to embrace you. My bus from Tena arrived in Baños at around 6pm and I walked approximately 15 minutes (5 minutes longer than needed as I went the long way round) to my accommodation, Great Hostels Backpackers where I had booked 3 nights through Hostelworld for $8 USD per night, including breakfast but excluding VAT so it cost me about $28 USD in total. I checked into my 12 bed dorm and then went out to wander round the town and grab some food, heading into a locally-run restaurant for $5 Chaulafan, a mix of meat, prawns and egg with rice, so basically egg fried rice. In the pub across from me hoards of locals were cheering on a football game, which Ecuador were playing, and as I walked back through the town it had quite a lovely feel for a fairly small cobbled town.
The next morning I felt sluggish and in the mood for physical activity. Casa del Arbol is a house on the edge of one of the mountains next to the Tungurahua Volcano that has a swing over the “edge of the earth”, which you can go on for $1, and you can up up to it via bus, taxi or you can hike. Advised as to the route by my hostel and told it would take around 3 hours, at the very last minute Orla (a girl from my hostel whom also happened to stay at the same hostel as me in Medellin, Colombia) decided to go with me. We left the hostel just after 10am and stopped to pick up rain ponchos and water on our way before walking to the end of Maldonado and trying to locate the path up the mountain. It’s not very clear and we had to go back on ourselves to check with a local that it was the right path before continuing on.
It was quite a steep gradient uphill at first, with various rocks making it more of a climb than a walk, and it weaved round offering viewpoints along the way. I had been told that Bellavista, the white-cross lookout over Baños, wasn’t worth it and to take the pathway on the right before reaching the cross and after spotting a set of steps to the right we decided to take that path. Although trekking together, Orla and I had slightly different paces I ended up walking about 20-30 metres ahead of her, coming across a narrow pathway surrounded by trees and plants. At one point I looked up and saw up ahead of me, maybe about 50 metres, a local Ecuadorian woman waving at me.
Assuming she was being friendly I waved back but all of a sudden I could hear the loudest bark as a dog charged at me from up above, darting and snapping at my leg before making contact and nipping at my right leg. Well, it felt like a nip, but when I looked down I could see an open wound by my knee with blood literally POURING out of my leg and, to my absolute horror, chunks of flesh falling out. I have never actually seen raw flesh before or really thought about what it looked like, but I hadn’t expected it to be so mushy and lumpy and for it to just pour out like that. Similarly, when I’d had my 3 rabies jabs prior to travelling in the unlikely event of being bitten by a stray dog I had focused on the potentially getting rabies part, thinking more in terms of a human bite and the contact with blood, rather than focusing on the getting bitten part and it actually being a chunk of flesh being gouged out of your body. As soon as I looked down and realised what had happened – and discovered that there were two wounds from the upper and lower teeth – I literally began screaming bloody murder. I had a big water bottle with me and managed to douse the wounds with water as I simultaneously screamed help in both English and Spanish, with the Ecuadorian owner of the dog stood completely still staring at me the whole time.
Soon I saw Orla racing up the mountain, white face and sweaty, kindly stripping off her white t-shirt and tying it tightly around my knee to bind the wound, getting completely soaked with blood in the process, as we desperately tried to figure out what to do whilst both shaking in terror. We made the decision to go down the mountain together, Orla helping me down the steep parts as I held on tightly to the tshirt around my knee, before reaching our halfway point (maybe 15 minutes) for her to run on ahead and try to get a cab to meet me at the bottom as I continued to desperately hobble down as I clutched onto my knee. At one point a male and female Ecuadorian walked up the hill past me, not saying a single word but staring straight at me – a white girl white a blood-stained tshirt wrapped around her knee; turns out Orla had passed them on her way down and had desperately asked them to help me, but apparently they had absolutely no interest in doing so. As I was almost at the bottom an old, Ecuadorian man came racing up the mountain to help me down, Orla having made it to the bottom and asked for help. Orla soon joined us, relaying that an ambulance had been called, and the three of us stumbled down to the bottom before taking a seat on the kerb and waiting for the ambulance. It was here that I noticed a chunk of flesh resting in my walking boot, which I picked out and left on the side of the pavement; my gift to Baños after its gift to me.
A police car arrived (the ambulance and police service are closely linked here) and Orla and I were driven the short distance to the hospital where I was dropped off and Orla taken back to our hostel to pick up all my documents. I was taken straight through emergency and put on a bed where I was made to lay down as the unwrapped the tshirt from my leg and began fussing round me; it was so incredibly overwhelming having numerous doctors and nurses wander in and out, staring at my wounds and talking in Spanish, while I had absolutely no idea what was going on and was all alone. At one point a male worker came in, looked st my leg and took an in-breath through his teeth as he pulled a face of disgust. In a mixture of English and Spanish I had a go at him and questioned why so many people were coming in just to make comments and expressions, at which point he was ushered away. A male nurse was making notes and asking me what happened, which I tried to explain in very simple, broken Spanish, and then ask me what type of dog it was. I managed to communicate it was a medium sized dog and when they asked what coat it had, I paused to think and could only come up with “Amarillo”; I don’t know about you but I have never actually come across a yellow dog, other than Spot the Dog, but I had no idea how to say beige and I have no clue when it comes to breeds of dog.
The female nurse taking care of me then came at me with a needle and it was at this point I started asking questions (“que es esta??”) and asked if anyone spoke English. Fortunately Orla arrived with my stuff and a male Doctor, Nikolas, whom spoke English came in to see to me. Whilst injecting me with shit loads of anaesthetic around the edge of the wounds (I even insisted on more) we managed to establish I’d had rabies jabs, that it wasn’t a stray dog, there wasn’t a risk of rabies, and in their opinion it wasn’t “that bad”. It turns out dog bites are quite common in Baños (where in Vietnam if you see any bandages or injuries you know it’s from a moped accident, in Baños it seems to be dog bites), which no one happened to tell me, and mine was “very good” considering. Amongst all the adrenaline and anaesthetic I managed to ask that if they needed to take any flesh for my wound then to please take it from my stomach; Nikolas laughed and then relayed it to the non-English speaking staff, whom followed suit, before telling me it wouldn’t be necessary (boo). Whilst receiving my stitches (only 4, which surprised me) Nikolas told me about the aftercare; returning for 5 days to have the wound cleaned, being on antibiotics and rabies-preventative drugs for 7 and 3 days respectively, sleeping with my leg elevated on ice on the wound, needing to have the stitches out in 8 days and not being able to drink alcohol or eat certain foods in the meantime. I’m sorry, what?! Not only am I completely traumatised and in pain but I can’t even drink through it or comfort myself with certain foods??
It turns out, he said, that I couldn’t have any pork, the local delicacy of cuy (guinea pig) that I had so badly wanted to try, chocolate, cream, avocado, anything fried (most food in Ecuador) or basically anything with high fat. I was devastated and my horror was clearly amusing, and perhaps a bit of a surprise, to them. I insisted he write me a list of things I couldn’t have and things I could have (“you can have fruit!” “Oh, YUM”) and when he returned with a yellow slip of paper that, under the “no” section, listed mayonnaise, I threw myself back down on the bed and wailed “noooooooooo!” I couldn’t believe it – all of life’s pleasures were being taken away from me. I mean, while it’s true that eating is a huge enjoyment for me and a huge blow to have restrictions, especially when I’ve gone through something so terrifying and traumatic, but I also think it was a distraction from what was happening to me. With flashbacks of when I cracked my head open on a pebble-dashed wall at the age of six and needing 3 stitches, plus generally being terrible with blood and injections, I needed to not focus on what they were doing to my knee. Orla filmed the cleaning and stitching process, a video I have now watched numerous times, where they actually cleaned in THROUGH one wound and out of the other. Almost like they were flossing. Gross. I couldn’t upload the video on here but I did manage to take screenshots of the video, which are below, so look away if you’re squeamish.
About an hour later we picked up my medication and made our way out of the hospital, where a dog immediately approached us and hovered around my knee. This actually happened a number of times that time – while it is common for dogs to approach you, they literally came up right beside my knee, so I swear they could smell dog on me. I hadn’t been a huge fan of dogs anyway, but now I could definitely do with some space from them for a while; no such luck in South America! Orla and I must have looked like a right site hobbling round the streets of Baños, me bare foot with my walking boots tied to my backpack and a bloody, seeping-wound bandage wrapped around my knee, as locals would stare and ask “perro??” We found a coffee shop (Honey Coffee and Tea) so I could get wifi and let my family know, managing to FaceTime my mum and step dad right as they rare driving along the motorway, before heading back to our hostel.
Clearly running on some sort of shock/adrenaline rush I insisted that we still go to Casa del Arbol; partly not wanting the day to only be about the dog bite, partly wasting to achieve what I had set out to and partly knowing I would likely crash the next day and be able to do very little. Having missed the last public bus up the mountain, Orla, Cassie (another girl in our hostel) and I caught a taxi where we were completely ripped off. It was a longer journey than I expected, weaving up and around the mountain with amazing views of the surrounding Baños mountains and Tungurahua Volcano, but $15 USD for a 15 minute ride was a joke, but we hadn’t thought to discuss prices beforehand and were too exhausted to argue.
We then walked up the short hill to the entrance, where you pay $1 to enter and then wait your turn to sit in one of the 4 swings. Attached to a wooden hut, it is a box-like swing that you would imagine a toddler sitting in, but much bigger, and you unhook the front chain to sit in and then hook it back in place. I struggled to push myself up the slop with my dodgy right leg but I eventually managed to heave myself up before pushing off and swinging out, over the edge of the mountain.
The views were stunning and it was a pretty cool experience but it did make me feel dizzy; the combination of the anaesthetic, the antibiotics and the intensity of the day with altitude of the mountains and the swinging motion. On our bus journey down – which cost only $1 – I felt absolutely exhausted, but really proud that I did it despite everything.
The events of the day started to hit me that evening and whilst other people in the hostel tucked into pizza and beer night, I went for a walk round the town and grabbed dinner of rice, chicken and salad from a local restaurant for $2. I headed for bed early but struggled to sleep in a 12 bed dorm where I had to have my leg elevated and put ice over the wound; I was cold, wet, sore, emotional and tired. The following morning, with the adrenaline gone, I was left feeling lonely, emotional and exhausted, desperate for a room to myself and to be with loved ones. I first went back to the hospital for my check-up and clean where, much to my devastation, Nikolas no longer was and no other staff spoke English. I spent most of my time there crying, struggling to deal with it all myself in a completely foreign country, before managing to insist on some paperwork of my injury and after care so I could be seen to if I travelled to a different city in Ecuador or even if I went to Peru whilst still in recovery. I then headed back to my hostel and asked to move to a private room for my final night – which I had to pay more for but they gave me a discount – before deciding I needed to get some air and actually explore the town.
I visited the nearby waterfall next to the La Virgen hot springs – something I was told not to go to by my doctors due to potential infection of my leg, which is unfortunate as the waterfalls and thermal baths are what Baños (directly translated to mean bathroom) is known for – and wandered past the Iglesia in the main plaza. Baños is famous for its Melcocha (the toughest, chewyest taffy I have ever had, it is just pure sugar) so most market stalls sell various sweets and taffy, or the more tacky souvenir stalls seem to opt for necklaces and selfie sticks over magnets or shot glasses.
Early afternoon I wandered into the Mercado; a classic Ecuadorian market filled with food and drink stalls selling cheap almuerzos, most popular being the hornado (whole roasted pig) and cuy (guinea pig), neither of which I could have, plus local favourites such as avocado, fried plantain and llapingachos (fried potato and cheese discs) were also off limits for me, which most meals come with. So I begrudgingly settled on Encebollado; a brother seafood and onion soup poured over yuca (similar to potato) and served with a bowl of banana chips and popcorn, all for $2.50 USD with a glass of jugo (juice) included. There is a small market street alongside the Mercado so afterwards I picked up my magnet for Ecuador (NOT with a dog on it) and then headed to Casa Hood, a popular place for eating at any time of the day, so that I could have a cup of coffee and FaceTime my mum. I actually ended up ordering a coffee frappe and a decent slab of delicious carrot and coconut cake. My doctor didn’t list cake as a no-go and you’ve got to find your moments of joy somewhere.
With a private room waiting for me at the hostel I made my way back; it was equally wonderful and slightly depressing to walk into a double room by myself, but I could move about with ease, shower and re-dress my wound and go to bed at the hour of my choice. Despite having to change position and negotiate the melting ice on my leg, I got a decent sleep and woke up feeling better than I had the day before. After bumping into Orla over breakfast we decided to visit one of the famous waterfalls, Cascada Pailon del Diablo. It actually forms part of the Ruta de las Cascadas, which is a route taking by cyclists along the main road, stopping off at various waterfalls along the way and usually ending at Machay, before then getting a taxi back with your bike. This is something I would have loved – really enjoying cycling as well as the physical challenge – but I was advised it can take between 3 and 5 hours; not only would is be extremely tough on my wound but also on my low energy levels. We therefore decided to take the local bus instead, paying $0.50 for the 30/45 minute journey directly to the beginning of the waterfall walk.
We actually felt the altitude here – I have felt the altitude in Ecuador more than anywhere else so far – and because of my knee we took the walk through the forest and down to the waterfall fairly slowly, passing hoards of local Ecuadorians on our way. It seems that Baños is a tourist hotspot for the people of Ecuador, too, and I definitely felt this in Baños; the market stalls, the restaurants, the bus service and hoards of taxis, the popularity and busy-ness of the waterfalls and thermal baths, it all feels very geared around tourists that I found it difficult to identify the character of Baños, or the REAL Baños. True I couldn’t do a lot of the things people come to Baños to do, but it felt very tailored to those activities and to the tourists. My most “real” experience of Baños was probably being bitten by a local dog and spending time in the hospital with the local workers! I digress, but basically the waterfall was nice but nothing breathtaking for me. I mean, I have seen a LOT of waterfalls, including the enormous Iguassu Falls, but I just found it quite average.
After walking back up and getting the bus back into Baños, I headed back to the hospital for my second clean. Again they were happy with the wound and confirmed it wasn’t infected, so it was just cleaned and then (badly) re-bandaged so it had to nip to the toilets and re-do it myself again, purely to prevent it from unravelling as I walked. I then went for a stroll to the Sunday market, which is similar to the Mercado in terms of the cooked food on offer but also has hundreds of fresh fruit stalls. As fruit is something I CAN have, I went wild and bought a whole Babaco (a fruit local to Baños that has yellow skin but is soft and white on the inside, similar to lychee in texture and sweetness but different in flavour) and devoured most of it on one of the plastic chairs.
I then walked over to Honey Coffee and Tea where I stumbled across Orla, and there we sat for a couple of hours drinking chai latte, using the wifi and chatting intermittently. Hungry (as always), we went to Casa Hood where Orla had a Thai chicken curry that she really enjoyed and I had a Thai noodle dish that was disappointingly average at best. I miss Asia! On our way back to the hostel we picked up some sweets from the supermarket and then settled down to watch All Good Things and The Notebook (a Ryan Gosling fest) in the common area, only managing to make it halfway through the after before I had to walk to the bus terminal to catch my 10pm bus to Cuenca, which cost me $10. Bizarrely I hopped on the bus and sat right in front of a couple I met in a hostel in Tayrona Park in Colombia, so I entertained them with the story of my dog bite before trying to sleep on a freezing cold bus. We arrived in Cuenca at 4:45am, which wasn’t the best, but I was ready to put Baños behind me…