M does like a nice waterfall and in Banos there is a road that runs for about thirty kilometres along what is known as the Ruta de las Cascadas so this was a must for us to do. Many people choose to hire bikes and they freewheel down the road and then later they catch a bus back up to the top of the hill with the bike loaded on the roof. However, the day that we planned to do this route it was raining hard and I allowed myself to be persuaded by M to take a trip in a Chiva bus instead. As we boarded the open sided truck I wondered if I was making the right decision as the driver turned the music right up VERY LOUD and we boomed and thumped our way out of the town.
To begin with it was all very nice. We drove over the top of a very high dam where the water charging down the mountain was harnessed and powered a hydro-electric plant. Clouds of misty spray and rainbows filled the air and the truck vibrated with the force of the water plunging down. We soon came to the mouth of a tunnel which was cut into the mountainside …but our chiva negotiated a little slip road to avoid the tunnel and followed a teeny tiny track around the outside. It was at this point that it dawned on me that the Spanish for chiva is goat; and goats, especially the mountain kinds, have a fondness for bouncing around on the sides of mountains.
The Yank behind us started jumping around screeching ‘Holy Sh*t’ over and over and I tell you, if I could have unpeeled my clenched hands from off the bar in front of me I would cheerfully have clenched them around her throat – and I wish that I had done when we reached our first pit stop.
If somebody was as afraid of heights as she was making out they would not be first in the queue to launch themselves across a wide deep ravine on a zip wire. And certainly not face down, trusting themselves to a single saggy cable. Actually our party in the truck were an adventurous lot with the majority giving the zip wire a go, including a twelve year old girl. Of course, I decided to stay on firm ground and watch from the relative safety of a rickety old bridge.
Back in the chiva we continued to slowly pick our way down the track, inching below overhanging rocks and pausing under waterfalls which clattered onto the roof of the truck. I next considered strangling M for subjecting me to this torture but all my energy was focused into not hysterically breaking down. At least on the bike I could have clung to the inside edge of the track and gone as carefully as I liked. I had believed that my fear of heights was almost cured, but this trip was proving different.
We rattled over a bridge which appeared to be made of loose planks and continued to our next optional addition – another of those cage baskets which traverse ravines. I hadn’t climbed into the one in Mindo and I certainly wasn’t going to get in one now. Obviously our Yank friend had a go and she travelled over to the other side for a closer look at the waterfall. We could see the cascada perfectly well from our side of the river and I was quite happy doing just that so I stayed firmly put and took more photographs.
The final straw was a stop at what was to be the best waterfall of all, but we were then told that we would have to cross two rickety plank and rope bridges. My nerves gave out completely at this point so I plonked myself down on a rock and ate a bag of cheesy puffs after asking M to take some photos so that she could show me what I was missing. All of our group returned safely and it was time to head back to Banos. By now it was beginning to get dark so the truck turned on disco lights inside and out to go with the thumping music and we headed back up the mountain.
The next morning having recovered from my terrors, me and M shared a cab with H and L and we drove up the mountain to the “swing over the edge of the earth”. Hanging from the branch of a tree hung a swing. It was nothing swanky, just a little wooden seat and a sort of seat belt which was a mere nod at Health and Safety and up in the tree above was a cute little wooden tree house. The idea was that you swang (or should that be swung) out over nothingness. Well, obviously there was something below but it was a long way down. I wasn’t sure if I would try it but I did eventually give it a go, swinging out into the low clouds. It was beginning to drizzle by now so we didn’t hang about too long and we went back to our waiting cab. Me and M checked out of the Santa Cruz hostel, got the bus to Ibarra and then checked in to the Hotel Fevilamir.