Hot springs, drunks, and…is that feces?
Wow. It reeks here. Cigarettes and some sort of feces, I would guess dog, but circumstantial evidence indicates otherwise. We sure know how to pick a hostel.
Papallacta was a beautiful surprise of lush foliage in high altitude misty valley, walks along a cold rushing stream before extended soaks in thermal water just a hair shy of searing. Still not high season and not a weekend, we were nearly the only people there, and had the baths to ourselves. Peace and quiet.
(Nearly the only time there were other people there was two sets of new parents, bringing their toddlers out from Quito. I bonded with the fathers after their machismo made them follow me into the cold plunge. “Muy bueno por el corazon, no?)
But shivers. Around sunset the first night we learned how cold it gets at 3,300 meter above sea level, there were no heaters and only a couple thin blankets at our first hostel, reputedly the cheapest in town.
We asked the expressionless manager if there was any vegetarian food available. “No.”
“A portion of rice and some vegetables?”
“Just plain rice?”
The impasse lasted a moment until he told us about a place up the road with vegetarian food. Great! We walked up there, marveling that even after so long in Quito we still got out of breath so quickly, and found…another place with no vegetarian food on the menu.
I asked the proprietress and she said “sure, I can make you something, I’m vegetarian, it’s just not on the menu.” Excellent! The plate of rice and veggies was just was K was looking for. (I had the regional specialty, trout.) Papallacta is just a wee town, so I got the feeling we would be eating most of our meals there. And it’s a hostel too? We asked, but the price was too high for us budget folk.
“Where are you staying?” Asked our vegetarian gastronomic savior.
“Chozo de Don Wilson” we answered, awkward as always when mentioning the competition.
“Oh. My dad. He’s out of town right now, but did you see an old lady?”
“Yeah, peeling off corn kernels and watching a novela.”
“That’s my mom. I’ll give you the same rate here as you have there if you want.”
We’d already looked in a room and seen the much nicer rooms, complete with (gasp!) fireplace. Como se dice “hell yes”?
A hike through the valley, pleasant day of soaking, and evening by our fire later, it was time to say goodbye to Papallacta. We bused back to Quito, staying in town for a grand total of about 3 minutes before the bus to Banos left.
(There should of course be a ~ tilde over that “n” but I can’t find it on this anglocentric keyboard/font, and did I mention it smells like feces where I’m sitting?)
Banos quickly presented itself as a great town, and we found a place for $6 where we expected to stay a few days. It had a central spiral stairway and tile floors everywhere. Pretty cool architecture, though lots and lots of echoes… That night as we got ready for bed we heard the voices. Loud conversation, laughter, and the clink of glass bottles on tiles. The television AND the radio both on, both blasting.
Who has their party in the cavernous stairway of their hotel?!? Who is that utterly lacking in empathy and manners towards the others in the building? I’ve had a lot of drunk backpackers, but this was a new low. As the clock moved past midnight, this quandary became even more aggravating. When it hit 1:30 AM I had moved past anger into pure bafflement. I went out to talk to them.
Claiming to be a writer trying to understand (only the title was a stretch), I asked them what they were doing, where they were from, and in my passive-aggressive Western way tried to shame them into realizing they were acting like complete assholes.
They were just so friendly. Drunk and noisy as a damn rodeo, but friendly too. An elderly man with bloodshot eyes looked up at me and said (in Spanish) “it’s a tradition. One night. Then, no more.”
I barely restrained myself from saying “being a huge pain in the ass in a hotel is the worst tradition I’ve ever heard of” (though it’s not, not by a long shot) and went back to bed, kinda liking them despite myself.
By 3:00 though I didn’t like them anymore. I went back out.
All new people except one dude, who was now sitting on the bench, bent over at the waist, head hanging down, elbows on his knees, drunk past communication. The two women had gone to bed, as had the older man, but four younger guys had shown up and were ably carrying the raucous torch.
Upon seeing me they all burst into apologies, saying they would move upstairs downstairs to the roof. “Where you from? California! We love California! We want to be like you! You have the…what’s it?..the…Governator! Yeah, you guys have the Governator! Great!”
I politely thanked them for their interest in my state’s political situation, then tried, repeatedly, to remind them of the idea of relocating. They eventually picked up their plastic lawn chairs and plastic 2 liter bottles that bore little chemical resemblance to their original contents, and moved downstairs. One floor. In the spiral stairwell and tile hallways.
It would have been quieter to have them in our room.
I put my ear plugs in and managed to sail away on a stream of consciousness. Around 4:30 I took out the ear plugs and heard…nothing. Blessed silence. I sighed contentedly, put the ear plugs on the table, and rolled over.
And heard the first rooster. I fucking hate roosters.
So the next day we moved to a new hotel, run by a family who clearly took pride in the place and is hoping to turn the top floor into a community center of sorts, with art exhibitions and music. Wifi, a pool table upstairs, and a pretty building with a large open central courtyard like a Moroccan riad. The floor sloped noticeably downwards, which we found kind of endearing. Plus we bargained him down from $10 to $8.
Happy with our new accommodation we spent the day in the charismatic town of Banos before returning that night to find that the space on the ground floor, which was shuttered up that morning, was a hookah bar. Along with the thick smell of smoke came blasting bass and a soundtrack of four pop anthems. On loop. For hours.
Better than shouted conversation, but still not super conducive to a good night’s sleep, so after two nights we moved again. This one is $8 and includes breakfast, and it’s clean enough. And there’s a bunny hopping around the little yard. But, unable to sleep, I came out here to type this up and found myself sitting on a torn leather couch, trying to ignore the stink of cigarette and feces (can rabbit crap possibly smell that bad?), which I managed to do until reminding myself of them just now.
So I’m going to bed. Good night.