We first realized something was wrong on our bus ride back to Baños, when everyone flocked to the window and began taking pictures with their cellphones. We craned our heads down to see what the fuss was about, and saw a huge column of black smoke rising from beyond the mountains, where we knew Baños was located. The man next to us, assuming we didn´t speak Spanish, made a dramatic signal with his hands which confirmed our suspicion.
The volcano Tungurahua was erupting.
Luckily for us and for the puppy, who had been keeping it together like a champ considering it was her first bus ride and she was on a serious dose of anti-parasitic medication, Baños had not been quarantined from this direction.
When we arrived, everyone appeared nonplussed. The only difference we noticed was that the tour operators were all in the streets and were being uncharacteristically pushy in their effort to drum up business. Most of the tourists had fled at the sign of smoke, but for the locals this was not uncommon. We had heard stories of similar volcanic activity from Tungurahua in recent past, mainly lots smoke and small tremors.
What is uncommon, however, is that for the last 30 hours there has been a steady downpur of volcanic ash that has completely covered everything and has saturated the atmosphere. When we woke up the next morning, it was if it had snowed, but the coating was a deep, unsettling grey instead. High winds pushed clouds of suffocating smoke around the city. Everyone was wearing masks and protective glasses. Every thirty seconds you can hear and feel the growl of Tungurahua, threatening worse.
We have spent the day trying to stay on track and get our errands done while shielding ourselves from the seriously harmful quantities of ash being kicked up by cars and pushed around by the high wind. Our surgical masks and glasses filter some but not all of the cloud. The inside of our heads hurt and itch from the residue.
We are leaving tomorrow morning for the High Sierra, in the province Cotopaxi. We were offered free room, board, and tour guides (an +/- $100 a day value) in exchange for our program in the community we are visiting, but because they have a no pets policy we have spent more than 10 hours on the internet combing the community, which has no web presence, for a random citizen who will rent us a room instead where we can stay with our puppy. By calling friends of friends of hotel owners, we found the name of a taxi driver named Armando, who told me over the phone to call him when I got into town and he could help us find a place. We´ll let you know how it goes.
Sucks that we´re going to miss out on our one chance at high luxury, but seriously, could you put this puppy in a kennel?