Ecuador Volcanos: Just a Puff of Smoke?

Ecuador has its fair share of volcanos and an even greater share of active ones. In our last blog, we saw Chimborazo and Tungurahua. Now we’re moving on to the hyperactive Volcán Reventador. On the way, we see some jungle critters, spot a rare bird, walk to some pretty cool waterfalls (yes… more waterfalls) and end up with Uncle Sam’s ‘Man in Quito’.
Ecuador volcanos

High-road or Low-road?

Our route from the ‘Swing at the End of the World’ is north from Baños to Quito. To get there we have a ‘high-road’ or ‘low road’ dilemma: stay up-high in the Andes on Ecuador’s main north-south super-highway? Or take a more leisurely, circuitous route: east down to the low-land, north around the edge of the Ecuadorian Amazon, then back west, up-high again into Quito?
That word ‘Amazon’ in the low-road option doesn’t exactly fill us with joy. We’ve done plenty, plenty Amazon jungle time already this year and aren’t too keen to head back to the heat and humidity for a little while. Buuuut… we know the high-road quite well. We drove it three times when we were in Ecuador last year. Lucky travellers on that route might see Volcán Cotopaxi sticking out the clouds, but there’s not much else to recommend on this route. Okay…. the Amazon low-road it is then!

The valley descending from Baños to the Amazon has more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. Pretty, but after a while they can all get a bit ‘same-y’. We have it on good recommendation that the Pailón del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) at Rio Verde is worth a small detour (which indeed it is), but other than that, we by-pass most of them and head on down to an animal rehabilitation centre for injured jungle wildlife near the town of Puyo.

The blurb is that visitors can learn about the threats to jungle wildlife and see how volunteers are working to nurse injured animals. Sounds interesting. Well actually… it’s really just a zoo! Generally, we choose on principle not to frequent places where animals are held captive for entertainment, but here at least they are held in natural surroundings and look well cared for. It’s disappointing not to see any evidence that the animals are being rehabilitated in any way. But at least we can say that they are all animals from the local jungle environment and therefore in a familiar climate and habitat (even if their freedom to roam was highly restricted).

A Rare Bird at the Falls

Moving on from the ‘zoo’ we reach Baeza and take a 70km detour from our route to Quito. Two reasons for the detour: first to reach yet another waterfall… allegedly a biggie. Hmmm. San Rafael is the highest waterfall in Ecuador, around 140m, and yes… we agree… even the most jaded, waterfall-weary traveller will find the detour worthwhile. What for us is even more thrilling than seeing the waterfall, is the birdie we spotted on the way.

Now… first I must clarify… we are not generally great bird-spotters. Normally we struggle to distinguish our albatross from our ostrich! Had it not been for the extraordinarily bright orange/yellow ‘Cock-of-the-Rock’ (no smutty jokes here, thank you 😊) being featured so heavily in the tourism material of ‘the Guyanas’, we would certainly be non-the-wiser regarding its existence. Like many tourists to the Guyanas, we spent our time there a few months ago, keeping our eyes open for the elusive old bird to no avail.

When we left the Amazon a few weeks ago, we thought we’d missed our chance with Mr Cock-of-the-Rock, but then…. on our way down the jungle path to the Falls, we spot one (well… I say ‘we’… it’s the eagle-eyed Marcus who always spots these things first 😊) high in the jungle foliage! Wow!! We’re not 100% sure at first, but we stay silent and still, watching it for a while until we’re convinced. We manage to get some pics with the zoom lens… ha hah! We have about 3-4 minutes with him before he flies off… marvellous. So it was worth seeing the Ecuador Amazon!

Just a puff of smoke?

The second reason for the 70km off our route to Quito is to see Volcán Reventador. Yes… we’ve seen plenty of volcanoes in the last few days, but this one’s different. It’s said to be of the most active in the world today. It blows-off frequently… that’s the difference!
Our hopes aren’t high as we arrive in the area: Reventador is nowhere to be seen! Had someone nicked it? 😊 The ranger assures us that it is indeed bubbling away just behind them-there dense clouds. Okay… we take her word for it and park-up for the night, hoping that the clouds will clear by morning.

We wake as the sun is rising and lift the shutter in the general direction of where we think Reventador should be. I think the modern phrase to describe the situation is probably “O-M-G!!!” An eruption is starting just as we’re looking out the window. In a panicky-flash, I grab the camera and hastily adjust the settings as the eruption-cloud puffs upwards. The grey-white cloud turns orange in the reflected sunrise as it rises and expands into the blue dawn sky. We’re about 5km away from the volcano and can’t believe how lucky we are to see this in such an amazing light. Eventually it dies down and two very satisfied travellers turn back onto our heading towards Quito!

Uncle Sam’s ‘Man-in-Quito’

As we drive into Quito and park-up in the same place as we did last year, we’re doing something that’s a bit of a novelty for us… planning ahead. We don’t do it much, but it’s been on our minds for a while that when we eventually reach the USA (probably in 2018 sometime), we’ll struggle to see everything that we want to see within the normal three-month visa period. A B2 Visa would allow us a 6 month stay each time, so we decide to ask Uncle Sam’s ‘Man in Quito’ if he’ll give us a B2.

First, we load-up the on-line forms. We expect a comprehensive process, but nothing quite prepares you for the tedium: on, and on and on it goes… page after page. Just the ‘inside leg measurement’ was missing off the form. Curiously, there are far more questions for Marcus than there is for me (a male/female thing? Maybe they have him down as a dodgy character 😊?) Eventually we’re done, pay our US$300 fee, click ‘Send’ and get an appointment at the Embassy in a week’s time. So far so good…

Our next mission is to guess what evidence they’ll want to see to prove we are worthy. The instructions explain that every case is different and they can’t provide a list of ‘required’ documents. We print-off some stuff which we hope will convince them and cross our fingers.

Interview day… we get there early and queue. Oh, they love a queue! No less than six separate, consecutive queues for paper-checks, security, finger-printing etc over around two hours, before we reach the nice Lady-in-Power. The interview takes five minutes. Questions about family, finances, previous trips to the US. Finally, the Embassy Lady… she say “Yes”! Mission accomplished 😊

Now we can get on with enjoying the rest of Ecuador.

Link to next blog: Ecuador Equator: Hummingbirds and Fiestas

Link to full South America Blog

Ecuador Volcanos – Photo Gallery