- Do not carry large denominations of notes. Anything more than $20 notes will be difficult to use, especially in smaller towns like Banos. Use dollar notes/coins and $10 notes wherever possible. If you have large bank notes, simply visit one of the larger banks, Banco Pacifico or Pichincha and exchange it for something smaller.
- Always give exact fares to taxi drivers. They hate giving change!
- Carry sunblock at all times. And use it liberally or YOU WILL get burned quite badly!
- Always carry plenty of water and drink as often and as much as possible.
- Always wear a cap or hat!
- Temperatures are quite comfortable ranging between 15 degrees at night to 32 degrees at midday. Carry a light jersey for after sunset but usually you can get away with a long sleeved shirt. There is very little wind to speak of but it can get quite gusty higher up in the mountains.
- Agree on the amount BEFORE using the taxi in order to avoid being ripped off.
- Beware of the dog ‘landmines’ which can be found on the outskirts of town.
- The month of October is a festival month when Banos residents pay homage to the Virgin Mary. It’s a great time to visit but beware. The festivities kicks off at around 5am with loud firecrackers (really loud!!!!) which makes you think you are in a warzone at times. This lasts all day and only stops at around 9pm. So if you want a quiet, peaceful time, do not visit in October!!! If however you want to see plenty of dancing, music and merriment then October is probably the ideal time to visit.
Mi nombre es Shawn Berry… if you thought that the rest of the post would be in Spanish, then unfortunately you would be dead wrong! As a semi gringo, ‘mi nombre es’ was probably the only Spanish I knew before embarking on this adventure. Having only just relocated to Ecuador and setting up shop in Guayaquil, and with my partner having to spend two weeks in the USA, I decided that now was as good a time as any to get to know the country that had been so welcoming and accepting of this semi gringo. Why only a semi gringo I hear you ask? Well, I am South African, with my original home being Cape Town. I am of mixed heritage which means that I quite closely resemble a Latino male. This is all quite confusing when speaking to an Ecuadorian as they automatically assume that I am a local. Needless to say, after a few garbled Spanish words explaining that ‘mi no hablar Espanol’ in my very fluent Ecuadorian accent, the conversation usually takes on the familiar course of ‘are you sure?’ ‘but you look like one of us?’. After the first couple dozen of these conversations I realized that Ecuadorians, probably more than most, are quite accommodating to those who do not speak Spanish, and even more so once they realize that your native tongue is English. They really are fascinated by the English language and the sheer number of English language schools bears testimony to this. There are also plenty of places who offer Spanish lessons and their rates are quite reasonable, starting at around $15 per hour, one usually needs around 6-10 lessons to understand some of the basics of the language. The best advice I can give though is probably to purchase ‘an Idiots guide to Spanish’ a couple of weeks before embarking on your trip which will probably be as useful as your Spanish lessons. Anyway, back to my trip to Banos.
Day 1: Guayaquil to Banos (20 October 2014).
I am a firm believer in the philosophy that if you really want to know the country and its people that you have to travel around it as a local. Although there are a host of travel and tour companies, these usually operate on set schedules and budgets that mere mortals can only dream of. Although travelling around the country using public transport is fun and exciting, if you are working on a limited time or you are not interested in getting lost, frustrated or having to wait hours between connections, the safest and most convenient way to travel is by using a shuttle service such as Pacific Shuttles who will not only collect you at the airport, but will be able to transport you to almost any destination within the country. They can even arrange tour packages that makes sure you get the best out of your holiday. Please forgive the shameless advertising, I recently started the company and just could not help myself there, but in case you missed it, visit www.pacificshuttles.com :-D) For those on a shoestring budget who likes the added adventure, the public transportation system is definitely the way to go.
In Guayaquil, I went to the ‘Terminal Terrestri’ which is this huge bus terminus taking up at least 5 decent sized blocks. Fortunately for the directionally challenged, it only has two entrances named, funnily enough, Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. And even more conveniently, the place to purchase the bus tickets to Banos is smack bang in the center, just off the food court. If you cannot make any sense of the many numbers and letters on the information boards, don’t worry, simply look for counter number 76. You should see a Sweet and Coffee (local coffee shop) and a letter ‘B’ indicating the terminal. (note: take care of personal belongings and do not display jewelry or money in public). This rule should be followed everywhere and in any country you visit. If you are lost or need help in the terminal, approach one of the security officers. They are the uniformed men armed with fully automatic rifles, you can’t miss them.
An aerial view of Banos
Although I purchased my ticket a day in advance in order to avoid a rush, one can usually walk up to a counter at the last minute and purchase a ticket if you wish (and as I discovered the next day). However, these are all subject to availability therefore I would suggest getting the ticket sooner rather than later. A single ticket costs $9. Make sure that you bring your passport, cedula, or any other legal proof of identification such as a driver’s license. The bus to Banos usually departs at 11pm from level 4, number 101. You have to arrive at the ticket counter 30 minutes before departure in order to pay a tax of 25c and to receive your ticket. All the information you need regarding your departure such as gate and time is on there. Make sure you hold on to your ticket because it has to be scanned in order for you to gain access to the bus terminal. So, having checked the availability of my hostel, checked the weather and packed and repacked my bags, I was ready to leave for the Terminal Terrestri when my two year old decided that she needed me to help her fall asleep…long story short, I eventually called one of the local ‘executiva’ or private taxi companies ($5) which took me to the terminal. After a frantic drive, which is not uncommon in Ecuador, and a mad dash to pay my 25c tax, I rushed up to the bus, number 101, only to see its tail lights disappear around the bend just as I arrived at the turnstile. Now at this stage any run of the mill gringo would simply just shrug his shoulders and try again the next day, but as a recently legalized Ecuadorian who considered himself every bit as local as any born and bred Ecuadorian, even though I had only been in the country for a grand total of 3 days, I dashed down to the ticket office and bought a ticket to the nearest town to Banos, Ambato, which set me back $7.50. This bus was scheduled to leave at 11:15, which gave me around 5 minutes to run back up and get the bus at terminal 108. By sheer coincidence 108 was the number of my apartment back in Cape Town, but I digress. Well, I handed my luggage to the bus driver, at least I hoped he was; and leapt on to the bus a few short minutes before departure. At the time I thought it would be seconds but this driver was apparently not as much a stickler for punctuality as the one that drove the bus to Banos was.
So, at 11:20 pm we left the terminal in Guayaquil and made our way to Ambato via Duran, which is a stop just outside Guayaquil. The trip is rather uneventful and usually the bus is quite empty. On my trip there were about 10 people on a 50 seater, so I found a seat near the front and made myself comfortable. There is one ‘convenience’ stop around halfway in to the trip where you can use the bathroom and buy water, snacks and the like.
Around 5 hours into the trip and just on the outskirts of Ambato, we actually passed the bus that left for Banos from Guayaquil and I started thinking of stopping our bus and then waving down the one that was on route to Banos. It would most certainly have added some extra excitement to the trip and would no doubt have added an extra paragraph or four to this blog, but in the end sanity prevailed and at 4 in the morning, in the middle of the Ecuadorian Highlands, it somehow did not seem like the right time or place.
As it turned out, the decision not to abandon ship proved to be the smart choice as a few minutes later the bus driver announced that those who wanted to get a connecting bus to Banos should disembark at the petrol station instead of going to the local Terminal Terrestri. At least that is what I assumed because I heard the words ‘Banos’ and ‘bus’ and after some hand gestures I figured I was at least partially correct and since I was now only an hour away from my destination anyway, I could always use one of the many taxis that was stationed there at the time. So I disembarked and ambled in the general direction of the taxis when I heard the word ‘Banos’ and saw an ancient looking man pointing towards his even more ancient looking car. I looked inside and saw a couple of passengers and assumed that this was the local way of moving between towns whereby they make use of ‘private’, we would call them ‘rogue’ taxi drivers who charges significantly less than the registered, yellow cabs. And at a rate of only $1 for a 45 minute trip to Banos who was I to refuse? Well, obviously I had to use the rogue driver and quite frankly I never felt threatened by either the driver or his two passengers in the slightest because their combined age was probably well over 200, so what harm could they really do? A word of caution though, as a rule, DO NOT use rogue taxi drivers. Always make sure that they display their registration details, especially in the larger cities because until a few years ago there was a spate of robberies whereby thieves would impersonate taxi drivers only to rob the passengers. So be very wary of choosing the correct taxi.
A view from my room.
Forty five minutes and a rather harrowing drive later whereby I questioned the wisdom of my choice to use a geriatric with cataracts, Alzheimers and all sorts of ailments that affect us as we get older, I finally, and much to my relief, arrived in the town of Banos. The driver dropped me off in the center of town at the 16 December taxi rank whereupon I did the walk of the hopelessly lost to the nearest hostel in order to seek directions to the Hostel Llanovientos in Luiz A Martinez street. After getting said directions from a puffy eyed receptionist I started the trek up to my hostel. As luck would have it, fate conspired against me and two things happened almost simultaneously. There was a huge downpour and a yellow taxi was flashing me. Well, I hopped in and 3 minutes and $1.25 later I found myself at my destination having arrived there at around 05:15.
Day 2: Cycling the river route (21 October 2014).
After a shower and a short nap, I was up at 8am (due to loud blasts) and ready for my first day of Banos. I sauntered towards the kitchen area and had my breakfast which consisted of two hard rolls, cold eggs and bad coffee which at $3 is a rip off of note to say the least. I figured that probably explained why the breakfast area was deserted when I arrived there. Apart from the bad breakfast though, the rest of the hostel, is actually not too bad. It is a hostel after all, therefore one cannot compare it to hotels. But at $13 per night I was quite happy with my room which contained a single and double bed, my own bathroom and free WiFi. The staff, especially Mayra, Maria, Daniel and Gandhy were also quite helpful and friendly and were willing to help wherever they could. My room and bathroom was cleaned daily and they did my laundry at a cost of $1 per kg which was a nice touch. The hostel is situated on the outskirts of town near the top of a rather steep hill but this was offset by my nice room (#8) which afforded me a great view of the town.
Augustine, before his ill fated accident.
After breakfast I took a leisurely stroll down the hill towards a rather impressive looking waterfall. I later discovered that this was the Cascada Y Termas De La Virgin (Virgin Waterfalls) which is situated below La Cruz, Casa Del Arbol, in the shadows of Volcan Tungurahua. There you will find a public baths that opens around 6am until 4:30 and then again at around 6pm to 9pm. I suggest you go early in order to avoid sitting in someone else’s bath water. Unless of course you are in to that sort of thing in which case by all means go as late as possible. I then worked my way towards the center of town which is not that difficult considering that it consists of around 7 main streets, each around 3 km long running from East to West. You could easily walk around the town in an hour or two, which you probably should. The center of town, and where most of its activities takes place, is around the two parks on 16 December, although 12 Novembre also has some nice pubs and eateries. There are plenty of tour operators and hostels in town therefore I won’t even bother with a description, but there are hotels such as Luna Runtun which is an amazing spa and hotel with rates for basic rooms starting at around $90 p/p in the off season to the more basic Hostels with rates as low as $12. You can literally walk in off the street and book a room in most places and the facilities, although basic in many of the hostels, are good and with so many of them littered around town, the entire place is a WiFi zone which means you can stay connected wherever you are. As for the tour operators, I suggest you shop around because I paid $8 to rent a bicycle for the day only to see two blocks down that they were renting them for $5. All the tour companies offer the same services though and they all make use of the same transportation companies, usually taxis, busses or chivas, which ferries people to their respective destinations.
As I mentioned earlier, after breakfast I decided that I would go for a cycle and get to see as much of Banos as possible. As luck would have it, I chose the most expensive operator in Banos who overcharged me for the rental of the bicycle. I did however score a good map from him and it showed that there was a 22km cycle route, all downhill and very convenient!!! The cherry on top though was the fact that it ended at a rather nice restaurant which happens to be the place where weary, or lazy cyclists such as myself can load their bicycles on to a bus, for $3, that will take you back all the way back to the town Centre. If you are fit enough, you should try this route as it passes a number of really impressive looking waterfalls where one can stop, have a swim, hike up into the hills or just admire from afar. For the more adventurous, there are also a number of zip-line companies along the route and for a nominal fee of $10 you can do the 800m across the valley 200 m below, towards the waterfall. For $15 you can enjoy the zip-line on the way back as well, however the cable car ride back is equally impressive so you won’t miss out on the adrenalin rush. I suggest you take your own pictures here because even though you can buy one, the quality is rather poor and you are not offered the alternative of a digital copy. Although it started off on a serene note, the bicycle trip was quite noteworthy for two incidents. The first one was me meeting a rather nice Rastafarian street juggler from Argentina named Augustine who I cycled with for a short distance until he made an ‘emergency’ stop for a smoke break. The second incident was me coming across a condor chicklet that had fallen out of its nest and ripped its left wing right off. The little guy was really happy to have me pick him up and he made a beeline up my arm towards some shade. He was actually in remarkable shape considering all the pain he must have been in. for. After mulling over what to do with him, a toss-up between leaving him near water and allow nature to take its course or the more humane thing of killing him, which I just could not do, I was lucky enough to come across a couple in a car and after explaining what had happened, they offered to take him to the national park service which was close by. As for Augustine, my Rastafarian friend, I bumped in to him a couple of days later and he was looking in a sorry state. He explained that after his smoke break, he was feeling one with nature and went for a swim in one of the rivers. After the swim he was so invigorated that he went speeding downhill, had a speed wobble and wiped out at around 80 km/h. Luckily for him, our bicycles came with a safety helmet, but the grazed skin on his forearms, legs and chin will surely serve as a souvenir of the time he spent in Ecuador long after he has left.
Well, after my rather eventful afternoon, my long journey from Guayaquil and lack of sleep finally caught up with me and after a couple of cervesas (beers) it was time to call it a day at around 7pm. I reasoned that the famed nightlife of Banos could survive without me around.
Day 3: Hiking towards Casa de Arbol (22 October 2014).
Today I had a nice long lie-in, well, until 7 am because that is when the fireworks and the construction work woke me up. I was also kept awake by the sound of a cat that could not find its way back inside and its incessant cries had me thinking of all sorts of ways that I could assist it in using up one of its nine lives. However with the break of dawn all those murderous thoughts took a back seat and I was up and ready to take on one of the many mountains around Banos. I decided to give the local kitchen a wide berth and opted instead for a hostel directly opposite the December 16 park that happens to have a restaurant, called, Meztizort, which offered me a great view of the town as it woke up from its slumber in preparation for another perfect day. My choice of restaurant certainly paid off since, at the modest price of $4 I managed to get two scrambled eggs, a croissant, jam, coffee, fruit juice and plantain. This proved to be the perfect breakfast in preparation for my hike up Volcan Tungurahua. So it was at around 10am, after a rather leisurely and filling breakfast, that I found myself at the start of the hike up the mountain. If you intend to undertake this hike. Make sure you have plenty of water and some snacks for the road. Although I never ate anything on my hike up and there is a restaurant at the casa del arbol, I did have a quite substantial breakfast. Carry a couple of liters of water because the humidity results in quite a high percentage of water loss through perspiration and the chances of dehydration is quite high.
A swing at the Casa del Arbol.
The hike starts at the Sendero Bellavista sign and the first 30min of it consists of a fairly steep incline. The humidity and high altitude, coupled with the exertions of the previous day and my general lack of fitness all combined like the perfect storm and my jelly-like legs just about carried me to my first stop at the Virgin del Rosario de Agua Santa. The 30min hike took me 45 min to complete but the views of the town are quite spectacular and certainly worth it.
After a short break and a couple of pictures of the town, I was ready for the 2000m hike up to my final destination. The hike was breathtaking and the route went up, over and under some rather dense vegetation. There was also a light drizzle but the heat and humidity resulted in it having a minimal effect. Although it did add to the overall experience of the hike and the light rain certainly helped in cooling me down. After approximately 2 hours of arduous hiking and stopping to help Muhammad, a young American who had lost a bolt on his quad bike which caused him to lose steering and his dignity, I made it to Casa de Arbol. I have to be honest and admit that I completely ignored the greenhouse and made a bee line to the restaurant adjacent to it where I promptly ordered a Pilsner cervesa (beer) and watched the American tourists taking turns on the swing while enjoying my icy cold $1 beer. After they had left I took a couple of swings, got some great pics, enjoyed another cervesa and started the trek downhill back to Banos. This was infinitely easier, probably in no small part due to the beers, but the view down was equally breathtaking. Around five hours after starting my journey, I finally made it back to Banos, and not a moment sooner because the weather was taking a turn for the worse and it had become rather gusty in the upper regions of the mountain. The hike ended at the cemetery on the Eastern side of town, which rather luckily happened to be just a few blocks away from my hostel. My aching legs and blistered feet just about carried me back and after a nice hot shower it was time for a nap.
At 7pm I went to one of the restaurants in town and discovered a quaint little bookshop/coffee shop that was run by a Belgian woman and her partner. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the place, but they are situated one block away from the Park, directly behind the clock tower. They make the most amazing cappuccinos using locally grown products and water. And the company was not bad either. After dinner, coffee and a nice conversation, it was time to call it a day and make the long trek up back to my hostel.
Day 4. A tour of the town (23 October 2014)
Thursday started off in typical fashion with loud blasts and the distant sound of trumpets and percussion instruments in the background. After testing out my still aching body, I decided that it would probably be best if I took a break and just spend it idling away my time in town by taking in some of the in-town activities and by writing a blog about my experiences thus far. On my way in to town I came across a very beautiful procession of dancers, preceded by the customary band and fireworks that started at the top of the hill, near the cemetery and worked its way all the way to the Cathedral about 2km away. Although the dancing and fireworks were great to watch and hear, I found particular joy in watching the recently arrived tourists flinch at every deafening blast. By now I had become rather accustomed to the blasts, at two to five minute intervals, but the recently arrived tourists gave me a glimpse of what I must have looked like when I first arrived. It was also at around this time that I realized that I was no longer a tourist in Ecuador, but a tourist OF Ecuador since I had emigrated here the previous Saturday. Even though I had only been here a few days, it nevertheless gave me great comfort in knowing that I could again visit this beautiful town nestled in a valley, in the shadows of one of the few active volcanoes on our planet.
After this fleeting moment of introspection, my stomach reminded me with a loud growl that I had missed breakfast and that no amount of gawking, smirking or ogling would fill me up. I then sidled down one of the side streets and found my way to a nice panadenier (I probably misspelt It quite horribly) well, it’s a coffee shop/bakery which is situated in Oriente street where I had a rather substantial breakfast of two eggs, toast, the healthy breakfast that included fruit and yoghurt and a rather nice cappuccino. I also bought a couple of bags of Ecuadorian coffee at around $7.50 each.
Battle of the Bands in front of the Basilica.
After brunch, the rest of the afternoon was spent at the Parque de Basilica listening to four bands battling it out in front of the Basilica in honor of the Virgin Mary. As can be expected, there were lots of merriment, and a substantial amount of drinking, that no doubt added to the raucousness of the occasion, by the men, of a clear looking substance that could not have tasted too good judging by the look of anguish on the faces of those who were offered the drink. While the men were displaying their machismo, the women and children were drinking a homemade fruit juice that had an altogether more sobering effect than their male counterparts.
After whiling away the hours in the park, I felt that my body had recovered sufficiently enough for me to try some mountaineering. Well, not sufficiently enough to do it today, but I went off to my booking agent who arranged for me to do one at 1pm the following day. With the activities for the next day safely planned, I went for dinner at a great little Mexican restaurant, A Lo Mero Metro, situated in Alfaro street. For only $6 I enjoyed huge enchilada and a tall Pilsner. They have tables outside on the sidewalk and it is a great place to just sit and people watch as this is a rather popular street with a number of pubs and clubs that are frequented by tourists and locals alike. It was a great way to end what was a nice, relaxing day during which I got to learn a bit more about the festivities during the month of October in honor of the Virgin.
Day 5: Zip-line, bridge walk and mountaineering (24 October 2014).
After my breakfast, which consisted of a chocolate pan and cappuccino at $3.50, and a walk to the ‘Terminal Terrestri’ to purchase my bus ticket back to Guayaquil which cost $8, I once again went towards my booking agent at around 12:30 and at 1pm he flagged down a local taxi which took me to the San Martin canopy zip lining route. Here I met up with 6 other tourists and after a weigh in, we were handed our safety gear and then proceeded towards the first of two zip-lines. As the heaviest in the group (note to self: drink less beers!!!) I had to do all the activities last, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I felt no pressure to hurry along and I could therefore enjoy the spectacular views of the rather angry river in the arid looking canyon below. Finally my turn arrived and the 850m literally flew by at a speed approaching 120km/h. We were warned to keep our arms tucked behind our backs because at one point during the zip-line, one passes quite close to the walls of the cliff and those with longer than normal arms are certainly in danger of losing them!
At the completion of the first zip-line, which comes to a rather abrupt end on the other side by means of a rapid deceleration, the next part of the tour is a rather intimidating bridge walk of approximately 250m across a pliant and bouncy bridge. We were given a safety talk and shown how to use our safety clips which we had to attach to the safety line at all times. The bridge walk was probably the scariest and most exciting part of the tour for me as it went directly across the river and because I was last, I had more than enough time to marvel at the spectacular surroundings while the rest of the party were inching their way across to the other side.
After the bridge crossing, the next phase consisted of a vertical climb up the face of the cliff. Once again we were given a thorough safety talk after which we made our way up the cliff face with the aide of wrought iron bars that had been bolted not the side of the cliff and which acted as a ladder. The ladder certainly came in handy and assisted us novice climbers in negotiating what proved to be a rather tricky ascent. This added to the sense of adventure though and by the end of the climb I wished it had been a bit longer simply because I had just mastered the art of moving the safety clips along the safety line at 3m intervals.
Zip-lining at the Canopy St Martin.
The final section of the tour consisted of another zip-line, at around 500m long, back to the place where we started. We all negotiated this without any difficulty and this time we were encouraged to open our arms which naturally we all did. At the end of this zip-line was a photographer who captured the moment and we were given the option of purchasing it at $2, with a digital copy being made available on their Facebook page. Overall it was quite an exciting experience and at a cost of around $25 I would highly recommend it, even to those who are moderately fit, such as myself.
After all the excitement of the day I was rather famished and went hunting for some food that would slay the savage hunger pangs that were emanating from my now viciously growling stomach. I thought I had found just such a place when I stumbled in to Comics, burger place in Oriente street, however, in spite of the good burger, the poor service and rudeness from the manageress left a rather poor taste in my mouth. I hate complaining about places as many times it is simply down to a lack of communication or different ways of doing things, but to be given a burger simply wrapped in a foil take away container when one is sitting at a table is ridiculous. Add to this the fact that there is no plate, no cutlery or even a table cloth while at the very next table, where people are just having a coke that they bought at an outside shop, not even at the restaurant, they have all the condiments and cutlery present. Well. I made a mental note to write a bad review about the place and here it is. I certainly gave it a wide berth during the rest of my stay there and quite frankly there are many other places in Banos that not only has better food, but also treats its patrons with a bit more respect. Anyway, enough of the rant. I certainly did not allow that one bad experience to spoil my night and after dinner, as I ambled back to my hostel, I came across an impromptu street party a couple of blocks from my accommodation and I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the live band that was entertaining the rather raucous crowd.
Day 6: River rafting (25 October 2014)
After a very hearty breakfast I was off to book a river rafting tour. This proved to be the best spent $30 ever and the adrenalin rush certainly was ratcheted up a few notches during this wild and often tumultuous ride that lasted around two hours. Like all the other tours, one can walk in to any of the tour operators and make the booking and the prices are fairly similar regardless of which operator one uses. However, by now I had built up quite a good relationship with my operator and we had managed to work out quite an elaborate communication technique involving hand gestures, facial expressions and all sorts of other body language techniques which certainly made communicating with each other easier than if I had moved to someone else. Besides, he was giving me a good service at a reasonable price and I like to show loyalty if it is reciprocated by good customer service.
White River rafting down the Rio Blanca.
I met up with two other members of the group, two brothers from India, one a shrimp farmer who had been at a conference in Guayaquil who was accompanied by his brother, a chili farmer who owned a 45 hectare farm back home. Being from India, the two brothers and I soon got to talking about all things cricket and we hit it off immediately. When we were informed that we would be delayed by a few minutes while waiting for the rest of the group, they used the opportunity to go zip lining. Twenty minutes later and the rest of the group arrived which meant that we could make our way down to the river. Once at our destination we were all asked to change into our ‘wet’ gear which consisted of booties, a 3mm wetsuit, a safety helmet and life vest. After our very thorough safety talk during which we were explained the various scenarios by which we could return to the boat in the very likely event of being thrown clear or a capsize event, our party of seven took to the waters.
It took us all of thirty seconds before we hit a rock and almost capsized and all thoughts of a nice gentle cruise downstream were immediately wrenched from our minds. After this first scare we were all on our guard and for the rest of the journey downstream during which we negotiated class three and four rapids, we managed to acquit ourselves rather well for a bunch of novices. This is not to say that we never had any incidents. On the contrary, we just about missed wiping out against a bridge, almost got swamped and capsized when we entered a rapid at the wrong angle and one of us just about managed to hold on to the safety rope or he would have been washed overboard. At around the halfway mark we stopped at a small village and joined the local villagers in bathing on the banks of the river. It was a nice and unexpected extra and something that was the cherry on top of the entire day. At the end of the trip we stopped off for lunch consisting of chicken, rice, salads and some cervesas after which we returned to Banos. Thus came to an end the best and probably most exciting experience I have had on my entire trip.
Back in town the adrenalin was still coursing through my veins and I decided to hire a quad bike at $15 per hour. With the bike I was given a map and off I went for a ride around the hillside surrounding the town. After a couple of hours I returned, had a nice supper and by this time the adrenalin had worn off and a combination of sunburn and the exertions of the day meant that after my shower I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Day 7. A visit to the market (26 October 2014).
On Sunday morning I awoke and was planning on taking a stroll in to town for what had become my daily routine of two eggs, coffee and the healthy breakfast option when I came across the Sunday market just one street down from the hostel. Once again I seemed to be the only tourist there and the big rucksack on my back singled me out as an outsider which meant that almost every hawker who had something to peddle virtually shoved it down my throat. Not that I was complaining, because with all the food samples that I was being handed I virtually had a free breakfast. The hustle and bustle of the market was a real pleasure and I spent a good few hours just soaking up the great atmosphere of a traditional Ecuadorian market in the foothills of the Andes. After some naranja juice and breakfast, courtesy of all the hawkers, I walked down the hill on the general direction of the Virgin de Agua where my week had started. On my first visit there I had seen that one can collect some water in a plastic container which I wanted to take back home for my partners mother who is a staunch Roman Catholic.
The Virgin de Agua Waterfall.
Once at the waterfall I purchased the container at a cost of 0.50c and then proceeded to fill it up with the water. The local inhabitants were enjoying the water and I drank some of it which was really rich in minerals, slightly aerated and really sweet. It was great! Legend has it that the water causes those who drink from it to live a long life, and by the looks of all the geriatrics around town, there seemed to be some truth to that legend.
After the falls, I proceeded to walk along the pavilion which passes a pool, football pitch and an indoor arena. Along the way I sampled some plantain and cheese for $1, which I really enjoyed and then when I reached the park in front of the Cathedral I noticed all the locals eating from small yellow, plastic bags and upon further inspection I came across a lady with a cart who was selling pork belly and various kinds of corn, in yellow plastic bags. Obviously I had to sample it and after paying the $1 I went in search of a pub where I could purchase a cervesa with which to wash down the food. This I promptly found at a place called ‘Mama Fanny’s’ which had some very comfortable looking chairs outside under an umbrella which came in real handy as a couple of minutes later it started raining. I then proceeded to enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon in the sunshine with a light rain, watching everyone go about their business. After a few beers I went back to the local football field and watched some rather awkward looking teenagers trying to play the beautiful game but with little success. When it became too much to bare, and just as it felt my eyes would bleed from the pain of watching football being desecrated in such an awful manner, I started on a winding course back to my hostel whereupon I ended the day by enjoying the great view from my room.
Day 8. Banos to Guayaquil (27 October 2014).
Monday morning I left quite early in order to have a quick breakfast in town ahead of my anticipated 7 hour journey back to Guayaquil. With my bus leaving Banos at 9am, I figured that I could have a nice, relaxing and filling breakfast at one of the many restaurants in town, little did I know that they were all late openers and by 8 am I was still searching when I came across one of the local drifters who had a distinct whiff of weed about him. He promptly directed me to the nearest open restaurant who was open at that hour. Sure enough, his recommendation proved correct and why wouldn’t it as he would be as good a person as any to know where one could satisfy the ‘munchies’ that early on a Monday morning! After a nice breakfast of coffee, two scrambled eggs and bolon with cheese, I trudged to the Terminal Terrestri where I, together with a couple of other hapless souls waited for the bus to Guayaquil to arrive. A little after 9 am, the woman who sold me the ticket directed us to cross the road where we boarded the bus. Where the trip to Banos was relatively straightforward and without too many stops, this one proved to be the complete opposite. Not only did it not have air conditioning, but the driver made sure that he stopped as often as possible which meant that instead of the anticipated 7 hours, the journey back to 9 hours instead! Having done the journey both ways, I would highly recommend travelling at night because not only is the journey faster, it will also be much more bearable since you won’t be cooked alive in the hot Ecuadorian sun while packed like sardines in a tin can.
Nine hours came and went and after a quick stop in Duran, we finally arrived at our destination in Guayaquil which brought to an end a very exciting, painful and above all, memorable journey in Banos, Ecuador.