I was dithering around and thinking about what to do when I left Cuenca because I had a few days before I was due to go into the jungle. Should I continue south to Vilcabamba or go up to Riobamba and ride the Devil’s Nose Railway? My mind was made up when Daniel told me that he was off to Baños to cycle the Rutas de las Cascadas and he invited me to join him. You can remind yourself of my previous visit to Baños by clicking here and find out how I did NOT enjoy that little outing along the cliff top the last time and how I had regretted not cycling it, so that decided things – I would go east with Daniel and give it a go.
Together we caught the night bus which deposited us in Baños at 3am. Waking the night receptionist at our hostel we were very generously allowed to sleep on the floor with him – or at least on the giant bean bags in a corner of the bar until the morning rather than paying for a bed for what was left of the night. The three of us and a cute little American Pit Bull puppy soon dozed off – waking just a few hours later to the wonderful sight of the mountains which encircle Baños and the waterfall thundering down the cliff outside.
Despite very little sleep we were very soon up and out and off to hire a couple of bikes. And then it began to drizzle. But undaunted, we swooped off down the main road which I have to admit was a bit scary with some monster trucks whirling past rather too close for comfort. We went past the hydro-electric dam which disappointingly wasn’t operating this time around and then we were peddalling like mad through the first tunnel. On our bikes we then swung off the main road and onto the tiny track which clung to the side of the mountain and which had so terrified me the last time.
It was a thousand times better travelling under my own steam. I could relax and appreciate the view. We stopped at the rickety bridge to watch some crazy soul leap over the edge with what looked like just a velcro strap tied to his ankles and we oohed and aahed at the waterfalls which splashed down the cliff opposite.
There is something about the majesty and the only-just-contained power about a waterfall. There is no mystery about them – lots of water makes a river, river meets a cliff, water tumbles over the edge – but people flock from all over the world to wonder at them and stand, faces upturned into the light spray.
Parking our bikes at the top, Daniel and I trekked down to the bottom of a couple of the falls. The sun had now come out and miniature rainbows were sparkling and dancing in the droplets of water which were suspended in the air. Everything was accompanied by the thunderous roar as the cascades crashed onto the rocks in the river beds below. I don’t know if it was because the morning had started off damp but we also met very few people along the route.
The spectacular finale to the morning was the trek down to the Pailon del Diablo. Translated as something to do with the devil we clambered down steep steps and at one point reached out and we could touch the water as it roared past. We crossed a couple of rolling rickety rope and wood bridges to get deeper into the chasm as the noise richocheted around inside our chests and we could physically feel the beating of nature’s drum in our bodies.
I had not visited this cascada previously when travelling with M and I had sat at the top eating my cheesy puffs but I am so glad that I finally got down there. By now, after nearly a year of travelling in Latin America I was no longer quite so terrified of trip trapping across ricketty wooden bridges or charging down the long track which precariously clung to the side of the ravine on my bike. I had been striding outside of my comfort zone and pushing those boundaries way back into touch.
Our initial plan had been to cycle the sixty one kilometres all the way to the jungle town of Puyo but the road had begun to creep uphill and we were told by a local that it was uphill for the rest of the way. Lack of sleep and the exhertion of the climbs up and down to the river had taken their toll so we flopped at a bus stop and we waited for a ride to take us and our bikes back up to the town again.
Later that evening, a crowd of us decided that we should visit the thermal baths. I had been to these on my previous visit but I do enjoy a hot bath. I was missing my luxury of a bubble bath and while these didn’t do candles and music and a glass of red wine, they did do floodlights, a waterfall splashing down alongside and some very funny local people. Our little band of happy travellers was expanding and Daniel and I were joined by Laura from the UK, Ashley from the US and Inigo from Spain among others.
The next day was another repeat adventure for me when we hired a cab to take us to the Casa del Arbol and the Swing at the End of the World. This time the cloud was a little higher and the sun was out although disappointingly we were still unable to see the smoking glowing crater of the active Tungurahua volcano. But swing we did and I went ever higher this time over the edge of the mountain. In a fit of fitness and much to Laura;s disgust we decided to let the cab go and walk back down to the town. It was a long way but at least it was all downhill and we took a short cut which accidentally but luckily brought us out at the mirador and the cross high above the town where we paused to catch our breath and wonder at the view below.
We hung about in the large bar of our hostel that night which did free dinners a few times a week and was an excellent marketing ploy as it ensured that the bar was busy. Early the next day I said goodbye to Daniel and Laura and I yomped with my rucksack through the town to the bus station for my bus to Quito and my usual hostel when in that city. Here, without checking in, I swapped my stuff around between my bags so that I could leave the big one behind because I had a night bus back out late that night to the jungle town of Lago Agrio and a really exciting four days ahead.