Baños, Ecuador – The Tungurahua burps

A hundreds of metres high plume of smoke leaks from its pit. Dense smoke soars up into the atmosphere. We watch the remarkably active Tungurahua with mixed feelings, but consider ourselves to be safe on the other side of the deep Pastaza gorge, which does not only secure a magnificent lookout for us, but hopefully maintains a sufficient distance between us and the volcano. Just in case… The 5,016 m / 16,460 ft high Tungurahua belongs to the very active volcanoes of Ecuador. Its most violent eruption occurred in 1777, but even in the recent past it became a talking point: In 1999 Baños was forced to evacuate for several months, and 2006, 2007 and 2008 some villages at the foot of the volcano were run over by hot mud and scree avalanches. Just since some days the Tungurahua draws again attention. Besides smoke it spits occasionally lava and glowing talus, what might be seen with clear sky.

But the view to the volcano is a bit tricky. The hot and in the meantime snow-less peak is permanently surrounded by clouds that get caught in the peak or steam that’s self-produced. After our hike at the Chimborazo we drive to Baños, the town at volcano Tungurahua’s feet, Ecuadorian backpackers’ paradise. We don’t come for the hustle and bustle, but because of hoping to get pictures. The tourist information in town distributes city maps and information about the best viewpoints. The closest look you can get is at Casa del Arból midway up the mountain. We don’t think it’s best for photos, and we are already in the middle of the volcano-clouds. On the other side of the deep river valley, in the safety zone, we go up instead to the mountain Las Antenas at 2,600 m / 8,530 ft. The road is freshly made with pavement stones, but big rigs might have problems in the steep and narrow hairpin bends.

At Mirador Ojos del Volcán there is a restaurant (not open every day), and in the hairpin bend a kind of lay-by on grass. The hamlet seems to be deserted, and only after a long search I find an inhabitant who immediately offers to stay on his plot instead. The man just has to climb two poles to remove the volleyball net for Arminius to fit in and park (S 01°23’02.1’’ W 78°26’14.1’’). The view to the ogre is perfect. Leniently it shows itself for a few minutes between swirling wafts of mist. We don’t get to see it again in this night, but we can hear it. The volcano discharges a loud burp into the darkness, a threat, a thunder like from a mighty fireworks, and then peace reigns again.

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