Everywhere in this region of mountains, lush green valleys, and rainforest vegetation, people show this same resilience and, like Proaño and Guevara, refuse to leave their land—even those whose land was ravaged by Tungurahua.
That’s the case for Gloria Alguiar, 36, and her family. Their ramshackle house stands along the only highway leading out of Baños, a road closed multiple times by tremors and mudslides. Alguiar says their few animals were killed by the lava and heat, and a storage building collapsed under weighty boulders and debris. What was once green pasture is now a moonlike landscape of black rock. Their harvest: lava rocks, which Alguiar sells to tourists.
Maybe her family would be better off far from Tungurahua, she says, but they’re staying put. She doesn’t have the means to leave. Plus, she says, “This is our land.” Her family makes a meager living selling the volcanic rocks as well as drinks and other items to people en route to Baños.
Just three miles north of Tungurahua, Baños is a sacred site. “People come to ask the Virgin for healing,” says Proaño. The pilgrims travel to the church in town and, when their favors are granted, return to thank the Virgin and make a donation. Paintings lining the basilica walls depict some of the miracles, along with Tungurahua’s antics over the centuries.
But life is not all about the Virgin Mary and Mama Tungurahua. Baños, of course, means “baths,” and the town is a relaxing tourist spot. Two local pools are fed by thermal springs, which burble from the base of Tungurahua. When in Baños, do like the Baneños and head for the pools in the early morning, when the sun’s first rays hit the steam over the water.
Here, immersed in these hazy waters, a visitor can easily comprehend why the people living in the shadow of the giant volcano don’t want to live anywhere else. The same wild and unruly Throat of Fire that puts them in danger also gives generously: volcanic ash for fertile soil, restorative thermal springs, spectacular views, and a constant outpouring of puffy smoke that puts on a good show, day and night.
You may also like: Hiking with the locals.>>