At more than 16,000 feet, Tungurahua is an active volcano that looms over this valley town.
The volcano’s disruptive reputation proceeded our month-long visit to the Tungurahua Tea Room organic garden.
Our plan — which was devised in February — was to spend July here. But spewing lava and trembling Earth forced part of this city to evacuate in March and again in late May and early June.
It also made our itinerary tentative at best. We didn’t know if we would have to find a new farm at the last minute, like we did before going to El Bolson, Argentina.
Thankfully, the volcano quieted enough for us to come as planned. What we didn’t plan for was to arrive the same day the town praises Virgin Maria, the goddess who protects them from the volcano.
In 1999, Tungurahua startled Banos. The “throat of fire,” as it’s known in the local indigenous language, disrupted normal life. With lava and ash threatening the town, residents were forced to flee. Other evacuations came in 2006, 2008 and earlier this year.
Banenos showed their gratitude for how each evacuation has been a false alarm with many festivities last Friday night.
Parade participants, with candles flickering in the night, walked the same road that is painted with arrows and the words “via de evacuacion.” A car with two megaphones mounted on the roof blasted prayers.
The parade gave way to fireworks, a marching band, dancing ladies and singing soldiers in front of the city’s main church.
Segundo, a part-time Tea Room volunteer and elderly Banos resident, said the festivities have been an annual tradition since 1999.
“Are you scared when the volcano erupts?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” he replied.
Carol, a Canadian who owns the five-acre garden, said that in 2006 the lava stopped about a mile away.
“It was mesmerizing,” she said. “I couldn’t stop looking at it.”
She said that neighbors with strong nerves camped out in ’06 to watch the volcano’s speaking and spitting.
“You can get used to it,” she added. “You know that it’s not going to wipe you out in two or three seconds. It’s a process.”
Carol was traveling in Canada during the latest activity, but Christine of Germany was volunteering at the garden and expressed the same amazement but more nerves.
“It was like fireworks … orange and red … amazing,” she said. “We couldn’t sleep. It was loud and the earth was shaking.”
Adam, another volunteer, took a thousand photos. He posted this one in the garden with the caption: “Tanguruhua doing it’s thing.”
Christine spent two nights in the city center during the slight evacuations of the rural area that includes the garden. Still, she snuck a peek.
“We knew it was dangerous, but it was something we had to see,” she added.
Carol said that every rumble causes uncertainty.
“Should I go? Where should I go? Then it goes to sleep like this,” she said on a peacefully quiet July 4.
As I dozed off in our tent in the garden the next night, the volcano was not sleeping. It began speaking faintly with sounds similar to a truck speeding over gravel. It increased to thunder or a cannon booming. It lasted about two minutes and ended suddenly.
The activity produced ash that spread into the gorge and the town the next day. A thin layer covered the plants. We went to some tourist spots in a nearby city to minimize our inhalation of the ash.
Carol said the ash should clear or settle by the end of Tuesday. That night, the volcano spoke again.
Wearing my baby blue and white Lionel Messi jersey, Pessa and I watched the World Cup match between Argentina and Germany in a black hole of negativity.
After partaking in the madness of futbol in Argentina, I needed to follow my new favorite team. I scoped out a restaurant with a flat screen TV the night before the game. That was all that I needed.
Germany scored in the third minute and I immediately knew I needed more. Of all the places I picked, we went to Hotel Dusseldorf (as in Dusseldorf, Germany). Nearly every patron was wearing Deutchland black or cheering for them.
Pessa, who has become as futbol crazed as I, wanted to leave, citing the “negative energy.”
When Argentina’s goal to tie the game was called off due to offsides, the German owner said “Ha! Ha!” as if he was Nelson from “The Simpson.”
Then when an Argentine player complained about a non foul call, the majority of the restaurant joined in the mockery.
The replay showed that it was a foul. I hastily replied, “Watch the replay before you laugh.”
The negative energy was certainly spreading.
I tried to find a more positive spot to watch the game at halftime. No place had a nice TV or a good table. Plus, I wanted to be there to have the last laugh.
We returned to the black hole for the second half. The game then turned to a blackout — 4-0 Alemania.
We quietly exited as the final second ticked off.
The owner, who we just tipped, said, “Bye, Messi.”
The negative energy remains. After Germany was knocked out Wednesday by Spain I had an urge to go to Hotel Dusseldorf and say, “Espana! Ha! Ha!”
Coming back from Argentina, the customs official in the Quito airport told me I had 31 days remaining in this country.
Startled, confused, and without the vocabulary to articulate my dumbfoundedness, I slinked off with my stamped passport in hand.
Another traveler, Pete from Canada, clued us in when we got to Banos. Apparently, a new law says that tourists can only spend 90 days in the country for every 365 days.
Using the U.S. State Department, we thought that the only limitation was up to 90 consecutive days. We thought our first 59 days in the country would be reset to zero when we went to Argentina.
Nope. And the penalty is steep. The fine could be anywhere from $200 to $2,000 dollars, and they could deny your entry in to the country ever again.
Our departure date is August 17, which is weeks after the 90-day cutoff. We panicked, but Pete calmed us.
With$60, about 15 copies of passports, proof of departure, proof of credit card and a trip to Quito, we can have it taken care of if the proper guy is at some Ecuadorian office.
Pete, taking his learning lumps, was making his fourth trip from Banos to Quito to get everything lined up and the documents in the hands of the right official.
With his help, we hope to take care of it in only one trip. BUT this has the potential to be a serious setback.