Cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas

Cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas

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.

Banos looking peaceful. Who would guess that one of those mountains is a very active volcano

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.

peeping out from behind the waterfall

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 worst in the chiva bus

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.

down at the bottom of the ravine

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.

it stopped drizziling and made rainbows in the 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.

another fear conquered

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.

The impressive Pailon del Diablo

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.

don’t be fooled by the force of that water

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 picture doesn’t do this place justice with the waterfall crashing down in the background

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.

The swing over the End of the World

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.








Beyond the Edge of the World

Our chiva

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.


At least there was a wall at this point

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.

zip lining madness

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.

no way was I getting in this

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.

swing over the edge of the earth

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. P1040681


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