Banos day 4, in which a peaceful day becomes an adventurous day

Oh wait, I’m not there yet. But there it is.

We woke up later this morning, not feeling very rested. Yesterday while all that was going on, we’d been debating trips into the jungle. We have enough time for 4 days, which would allow us to canoe, swim with piranhas, meet indigenous people, hike a lot, camp in the wilderness, maybe zip line, do some shaman drugs, get malaria (I’m kidding), etc. We couldn’t decide on the tour operator.

This morning we remembered that we’d discussed this sort of dilemma before we planned this trip, and we were definitely NOT going to adventure every day of this vacation. It is not the idea that you need a vacation when you’re done with vacation.

So this morning we decided to skip the jungle. It was both a relief and a disappointment. I’d convinced Matt that we’d probably kick ourselves later if we didn’t do it, and we were both so excited, but the new plan is to go to a somewhat posher hotel in Cuenca for a day or two, then make our way to the beach until the day we need to be in Guayaquil to fly to the Galapagos islands.

We decided to begin this new resolution by relaxing for as long as possible on the upstairs terrace over breakfast. However, all the noise and activity in town inspired me to pull out my telephoto lens, and this is what I saw, as crowds began to really pour into Banos for the Carnaval activities.

Vendors were selling everything from souvenirs to candles for offerings in the cathedral, to sugar cane for chewing or juice. We had to outside and check it out.

Over in the direction of the in-city baths, we found a big center of activity around the waterfall and the statue of the Virgin. That gate you see on the left of the next photo is the entrance to where the statue is, and we could hear a speech or presentation that sounded very much like an official opening ceremony with religious overtones. People were very respectful and quiet in this area, even if playing in the water or dressed in costumes for their own performances later on. Or their best event-worthy clothes.

After checking out that side of town, we headed into the main part again, where festivities were starting to liven up a little, that guy in the buggy has soap suds all over him from getting attacked by a kid as the drove past. Here in Ecuador, Carnaval is also a sort of water-festival, and a lot of the fun is dousing passers-by with water, in any form. We saw people attacked with water balloons, entire buckets of water, spray tubes of fruit-scented colorful soap, water guns, and later, even with shoes filled with water dipped from the river.

Still, it was our last day in town, and the parade that we’d seen scheduled for 09:00 hadn’t happened, or had been much smaller than expected, so we took Melissa’s suggestion and went for a bicycle ride for around 25 km of windy roads with gorgeous waterfalls. I’d wanted to do the route on motorcycles, but we’d been confused by the information at the only motorcycle rental place in town, and it was amazingly nice to be back on bicycles. (I guess we’re fully ingeburgerd now!)

The route was mostly downhill or flat, but there were occasional climbs. Fortunately the bikes had 28 gears. The scariest part was all the traffic on the route, especially because of the holiday, but the drivers were pretty considerate and I never felt too unsafe. We got sprayed by soap guns a few times, but because of wind and movement, they only grazed us.

This was the first waterfall that we came to, at Agoyan. There were huge crowds here, riding a flimsy-looking cable car or zip lining across the canyon. We just had to do it too.

Here’s the photo the official photographer took of us getting ready to go. It’s a little dark because I had to take a photo of the print to put it up here. The ride across was beautiful, and so peaceful. I felt like I was alone in the world, even though I could see Matt just ahead of me.

As we approached the far side, however, the kids at the end of the line started shaking the cable, presumably to slow us down, which was alarming. Then I could see Matt slow way down ahead of me, but I was still flying full speed ahead, directly at a rock wall to which the cable was attached. I panicked, screaming, “no no no no no no no no!!!!!” at the top of my lungs, to the vast amusement of the people waiting to head back via cable car. Most of them had just been where I was, so part of the laughter was sympathetic. My legs were a little weak as the little boy who’d stopped my ride helped me take off my gear. I was laughing too, but it was partially shock.

At Matt’s suggestion, we wandered around on that side for a few minutes before joining the line to go back. The wait was very long. At one point, the cable car coming towards us didn’t make it all the way, and slid back. Everyone waiting had a good laugh over that, as well as while watching the zip liners come in. No one screamed quite as much as I had while approaching the wall, but I had a few contenders.

I didn’t take pictures of all the waterfalls, but we saw many more zip line opportunities and cable cars, with shorter lines. However, I’m pretty happy with our choice. It was one of the prettier ones.

Here at this bridge, there are actually 2 bridges. The lower one is filled with spectators and traffic from the slower road beside that part of highway. The upper one is the main highway and is where a crowd was gathered for “puenting,” or bridge jumping. It’s a little difficult to see, but there’s a guy swinging under the bridge in this picture. We watched him jump, and I think he’s done it before, because he was pretty calm. The next guy had to be pushed, but it was a spectacular jump. First they buckled his knees, then as he began to fall, they flipped him upside down by grabbing his ankles, and he flew, screaming and waving his arms.

Eventually we reached Rio Verde, where Carnaval festivities were in full swing. We got sprayed pretty thoroughly by a tiny little girl just as we were pulling up, before we got our bearings. I got a picture of Matt, but then she started spraying directly AT my camera, so I put it away while my sunglasses were completely covered by fruity suds and her parents posed her and us for photos. I was a little confused, blinded and worried about my camera, but smiled and laughed and tried to play along.

After, it occurred to me that I had probably best try to avoid the suds, since the foaming was likely caused by the ingredient that is the bane of my existence, cocamidopropyl betaine. My allergy to it is very strong and usually causes blisters which become easily infected. So I left Matt with the bicycles and went down to the river to wash the suds off.

There were lots of kids in the water, having water fights, so I found a spot where I’d be easily able to retaliate when necessary. Sure enough, it didn’t take long before a couple of boys started sneaking up behind me to my right, and a girl behind me to my left. A group of adults nearby, including that woman in the green trousers on the rock, were watching with eager anticipation. It came from the boys first, a light splashing. With no hesitation, not even looking, I reached into the river and started scooping it back at them, as fast as I could.

Everyone was laughing pretty hard as the boys continued their attack, using a shoe to scoop more water at me. The girl backed off, probably because she’d have ended up on the side the boys were attacking. It was good fun, and after a few minutes I headed back to shore, while the green-trouser woman instructed me, “more water, more, more!” to which I replied I only had 2 hands.

Matt saw none of this, but I took a picture of the scene, without half the participants, when I got back to my camera.

Beside the river was a tiny man-made lake, where people were renting huge rubber rafts and paddling about. One family of 3 was swimming, and one kid was rolling around in a floating hamster ball. Water fights between the boats were happening, but far more on shore.

We ate there, at the food stands. I had more cevichochos and Matt had fresh-caught grilled trout. I also had a small fried empanada of plantain and queso fresco, yum.

Then we headed over to the entrance to walk to the last, and biggest, waterfall, Pailon del Diablo. First you walk quite a ways down a steep path, then back up to approach behind the waterfall itself. The steps at that final approach were very crowded.

We took turns standing under the waterfall, which was really great. Not everyone did it, so that part wasn’t crowded. To get there, there were some carved tunnels with fences to keep you from falling. We were on our hands and knees for part, and frog-walking at others. Matt helped a young mother and her small daughter through some of the more difficult parts, where you had to climb from crouching to a high shelf. Matt lifted the daughter from above while her mother stabilized her from below.

Here is the view from the bridge you can see in one of those earlier photos, after we had come back up.

As you can see, it was getting dark as we finished. We suddenly remembered we were supposed to bring the bikes back by 19:00. Checking the clock, we saw that it was already 18:00. We still had to climb back up the steep path!

It’s a good thing that we have been hiking up and down hills so much already on this trip. We walked really fast up the path, doing it in about 20 minutes, which is faster than we’d gone down. The other people on the path thought we were insane, and laughed a lot at us, admonishing us to slow down and take it easier. Nearing the top, I was reminded of going running all that time with Annemette, and how she’d always say that no, I didn’t need a break, I could do it if I just kept concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and not on how far away the destination seemed. I was really proud of myself.

Unfortunately, all that amazing speed amounted to nothing. At the top, it was full disk and all the other bicycles were gone. All of the tricks for transporting bicycles back to Banos were gone. Most of the festivities and festival-goers were gone. With no lights, and mostly uphill the entire way along busy highways, there was no way we could bicycle the 25 or so km back to Banos. And certainly not before 19:00.

I started asking everyone if they knew how we could get back to Banos. Everywhere the answer was no. It was getting even darker, and I was getting worried. We called the bicycle rental place. They suggested that we walk back up to the highway and try to flag down a Chivas bus, colorful open buses filled with local party-goers. We had seen many of these earlier, but not for quite a while. There weren’t many people left now in the parking lot at all.

Luckily for us, however, all the asking-around had notified pretty much everyone of our plight. A middle-aged man approached us wearing a very carefully pressed white shirt and grey slack, and offered us a ride to Banos. He led us to his truck, where his family was heading home from a day’s festivities in Rio Verde to their home in Latacunga, which shelters under the beautiful volcano Cotopaxi.

We were loaded with our bikes into the back with their three children, Emily, Santiago, and Diego. I think Emily may have been lying about her name, as the boys both giggled a lot when she said it. Diego was the biggest joker, and asked us more questions than we could possibly answer. When we didn’t understand the question, he’d repeat it faster and louder until sometimes Emily would jump in and clarify in simpler Spanish and gestures. There was a lot of laughing and goofing off, until the kids fell asleep, wrapped up in blankets on their mattress.

The ride was much longer than I could have expected, especially with a solid traffic jam along the way. It also rained, so with the great company and the cover of a tarp over a bamboo pole, we were really grateful that this family had taken us along.

They dropped us right outside the GeoTours office where we had rented our bikes, and continued to crawl along the traffic jam that was Banos city center. We returned the bikes then Matt had a heart-attack: his mobile phone was not in his backpack! He pulled the whole thing apart but it wasn’t there. We thought it may have fallen out when I took out my camera during the ride, to take the above pictures. I pointed out that it couldn’t have got far, so Matt chased after them while I paid for the bikes and repacked the backpack.

Luckily, it occurred to me that he might have put it inside the case that held the lock and chain, in order to protect it further from water bombarding. Indeed it was! Hurray! So I thanked the rental operators and ran off after Matt and our friendly locals. We thanked them too, as they drove off, and as we continued walking back to our hotel, they passed us again, Diego sticking his head out the top front and waving at us. We waved and shouted “Adios, Adios, Ciao, Ciao!!” back at them as we ultimately parted ways.

We were so tired and grimy by this point that we showered and didn’t even go looking for dinner, only eating what we’d had in the room and sitting on our balcony watching the winding down of the day’s parties.

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