The juice is also used in a local taffy, pulled by hand off large wooden hooks in many doorways lining the streets. It's impressive to watch the human taffy pulls - it's hard work! The taffy is sampled off the hook to passersby and packaged and sold to you as you watch. Probably not the cleanest candy...but Geoff was so impressed that the lady working with taffy accepted our dime on the top of her hand, keeping the side working with the candy "clean" that it allowed him the excuse to buy MORE. We at a lot of taffy and can recommend the beautiful shimmering white coco-pina (coconut/pineapple) variety. YUM.
When we first arrived into town we noticed two sounds immediately. The rumblings of the volcano and the terrified screams of youth plumetting of bridges. Though both deserved immediate attention we headed to the bridge first. Around the corner from the bus the bridge soared HIGH above the valley (photo left) that runs through Banos and where over-sugared college age youth were being tied by the feet with rope and jumping off.
Now, I've bungee jumped before, but this was not the same. My bungee gave a little when I reached the end of my slack while these crazies were tied with rope that did NOT give much, if at all. For this reason they were cautioned not to just dive straight down, as you do when bungee jumping, but they had to jump OUT horizontally in an effort to create a swinging motion when they began to fall. That was the idea at least. We watched a girl jump and her body convulsed violently as she hit the end of the slack. I don't care how far OUT you try to jump, with that length of rope, you go straight down. It looked painful and she didn't appear to have any fun. Too much sugar liquor encouraged a line at this torture drop; they only charge a few bucks for their self-inflicted torture after all. We admired the view from the bridge but decided NOT to add bridge-jumping to our to-do list.
Wide eyed we escaped the crowd of crazied Saturday night locals clamoring into the contraption and rethought our need to see the waterfalls. We determined to go back the next morning, thinking surely on a Sunday morning it would be far better. Wrong. The next day we found the courage to get on the thing, going way beyond our social comfort zones, only because we knew it was a "cultural experience" and quite frankly we didn't want to be prissy American tourists who needed a private taxi escort. We wanted to see it the way the locals did - we thought. Music blaring out the sides, holding on for dear life, we flew down the highway in the circus truck in search of waterfalls.
After two nights in Banos we escaped further away from the volcano to Riobamba. We drove through towns and streets covered in ash from the volcano. The rural farmers we passed wore masks or other coverings on their faces, and we followed suit. A thick layer of ash was blown to the sides of the road by traffic, the pedestrians footfalls making clouds as though walking on the moon. It was eerie to see the blankets of ash covering the countryside. Cattle were grazing in these fields and I wondered if their beef was sold as "pre-smoked!"
We arrived at our hostal in Riobamba and the owner anxiously waved us down the street saying, "Volcan! Erupcion!" we weren't sure if this was typical tourist information, as the volcano regularly spits steam, or if it really was erupting. From what we determined it was a bit of both. From Riobamba you have a great panorama of the Volcano as opposed to in Banos, which sits on the flanks of the volcano, too close for a good view. We were able to find a lookout point in Riobamba and watched the Volcano grow increasingly active...from a safe distance. They began evacuating villages near the base of the volcano the next day as increased ash and molten rocks continued to billow out of the crater. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to be so close to such a display of power in God's continuing Creation. Here's a link to the volcano in the news for better pictures than I could get, the one with Banos in lights at the base is a little intimidating...we were sleeping there 2 nights before that photo! A few of mine showing the ash and panorama are below.