We took a lovely hike alongside a canyon on a trail called "La Contrabandista." The main trail was one of many in a network of trails and caves in which the old-time bootleggers and moonshiners would move their wares and hide them when necessary. Today only small portions of the trail see much use from "los gringos" and we didn't see a soul.
At the end of the hike we found ourselves once again at the waterfall called "El Manto de la Novia" or Bridal Veil Falls (see 1-1-10 post). Near the top of the falls in the small community of Chinchin we met a family who was building a hotel with pristine views of the creek and, of course, we played with some puppies. We also relaxed in the courtyard of a lovely family who cooks up treats for the scattered people who ride the cable car over to the top of the falls.
It was a beautiful day and it was nice to reacquaint ourselves with some of the small communities around Baños.
Sadly, only two days after our visit to Chinchin the town was devastated by a mudslide. We visited the site from across the canyon and the difference between before and after were incredible. Most of the village was wiped out including the new hotel we had visited and a hotel with gardens beneath the falls. The families of the village, and every village for that matter, put everything they have into their homes and enterprises and they simply do not have access to such niceties as insurance. The only access to this village is a three hour hike on the Contrabandista Trail, a hanging suspension bridge, or the cable car. When we arrived emergency crews had organized a feeding station and were risking themselves on the damaged cable car in order to carry supplies across to help dig people out. At that time five villagers were missing and the suspension bridge was damaged beyond use. It was horrible. The families we spoke with said that even in their great-grandfathers time no one could remember the creek swelling to that degree. Compare the before and after photos of the waterfall and the bridge.
The mudslide wiped out and buried many houses and part of the slide was directed far from the original creekbed creating an island above the falls. Below the falls a hotel and all of its cabañas were completely swept away.
These were taken at about the same angle. All of the gardens surrounding the hotel below the falls are gone.
The suspension bridge is no longer functioning. The end along the other side of the river was torn apart and half of it is gone. We were afraid to venture much further than a short way from the undamaged side.
The people from the village who had been rescued were dazed. We spoke with one woman who had lost everything and was gathering weeds to burn a fire for warmth and she began to cry. All we could do was hug her and cry with her.
This photo was taken just one month earlier. We were directly under the falls in the gardens surrounding the former hotel.
We visited the devastated site for hours, well into the night. Slowly various family members arrived by car or bus with clean clothes, warm blankets, and hot drinks and shuffled brothers and cousins and grandmothers and friends onto the bus or into the back of trucks to take them home. Family members were arriving from all over Ecuador to take in those who had lost everything and one by one or in small groups of two and three the members of the village were slowly disappearing from the huddled mass at the side of the highway. We were touched to the core with the love and hope we saw that day.
We thought of Haiti and the devastation there and how the arms of the world had opened wide to help those in need, and we realized that natural disasters occur all over the globe which are never mentioned. The damage from this small mudslide in Ecuador was just as catastrophic to these people as any other disaster one might see on television. Our love for our brothers and sisters on this earth swallowed us that evening and we were reminded once again that we are all equal and beautiful members of the same family living together on this small planet.
The next couple of weeks in Baños was spent getting to know the people of the community and making friends. We also took several hikes, studied vigorously, and cooked fresh meals together from all of the wonderful local produce at the the market. Nearly every evening we hiked to the other end of town and partway up the mountain on the other side to try to catch a glimpse of the erupting volcano at night. It took several tries because of the cloud cover which would sweep down to the peak at dusk--but we were finally successful. Wow! Fire on the mountain.
Carnaval came around and every hotel in Baños skyrocketed their prices so we decided to leave for greener pastures. Those adventures come next...........
But, first I'll leave you with a photo of the Ecuadorian Vice President, Lenin Moreno Garces, who was visiting Baños on the day we left. We were all loaded up with our backpacks and heading toward the bus station--sad that we were leaving, but excited for our next fortune--when we saw a bit of a crowd around the library and quite a few men in uniforms and suits. We asked a passerby what was going on and they said that the Vice President was giving a speech inside. We both wanted to go in for a glimpse but were SURE we wouldn't be able to, so of course we decided to go for it anyway. Mark took off his backpack to increase his chances of getting through the door and grabbed the camera while I stayed outside guarding our gear. With only a nod to the guards Mark waltzed right in and took a photo of the Vice President from mere meters away. We both felt pretty cool after that. So, without further ado... May I present the VP of Ecuador.