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.
After Baños it was back on the bus for the six hour journey north to Ibarra. Or it was sold to us as a six hour journey but obviously it was always going to take nearly eight. We got off to a bad start when the bus dropped us at a deserted petrol station in the dark in the middle of nowhere rather than at the terminal. We looked sad and pathetic and asked a lady if we could share the only cab with her to our hostel as we didn’t fancy standing around on the deserted dark streets. Luckily she agreed because as we drove down silent back streets behind the market I was getting a little worried – and these worries escalated as our chosen hostel appeared – cloaked in darkness.
the modern interior of the Fevilamir
Our cab driver waited whilst we rang the bell and eventually a man appeared to let us in. Climbing the tiled staircase with its stainless steel handrails we speculated why there was no indication from outside that the place was open or occupied. To be fair there was a whopping great big illuminated sign spelling out ‘hostel’ but a little lamp inside the door would have helped. I was just relieved to have M with me and the lady waiting in the cab.
The next day the Fevilamir hostel luckily redeemed itself. The gentleman who had opened the door to us the previous evening introduced himself as Geovanny and couldn’t be nicer, and we also met and chatted to Maria who cooked us some good eggs for breakfast and made us juice.
There was an airy dining room at the top of the building. Breakfast wasn’t included in the price but it was very reasonable and it was tasty and filling. We stayed two nights at the Hostal Fevilamir which was a heap of contradictions. Arriving at night it looked run down and empty. The prices were very very reasonable for a room for the night indicating that perhaps we should not expect great surroundings or service. However, once inside, the place was immaculate, nicely decorated and with real modern touches like the staircases and the decorations in the dining room. Geovanny showed me around many of the rooms and was meticulous in his presentation of them, squaring tables off and tweaking cushions in order to give a good impression.
The Fevilamir’s dining room
We had stopped off at Ibarra to break our journey to the Colombian border and although we didn’t expect too much of the town it wasn’t too bad at all. We tracked down the tourist information place and picked up a good map with all the places of interest marked on it; but bizarrely the place that we found the most fascinating – the museum which contained some excellent exhibits inside the by now, expected colonial building – didn’t get a mention or a pin point on the map at all!
Whilst at the museum we happened upon a presentation of poetry by local school children and we got chatting to one of the teachers. He then introduced us to other teachers and soon we were having our photos taken by them all. We were introduced as almost-celebrities but we were more fascinated by the female teachers clothes and were dying to get our own photographs of them.
The other draw at Ibarra was the park. This new park is very much still work in progress but it was a lovely place to wander around. It is the most unusual shape resembling a tennis racquet with a large area at once end and with a very long thin ‘handle’. And it was long – stretching way off into the distance. When we arrived they were in the process of removing giant sculptures of hummingbirds from packing cases and positioning them around the string end of the tennis racquet. The birds were all decorated in different ways and were really very beautiful. It seemed that they had been sponsored and represented different things from the local area. Some unusual types of water features and fountains were dotted around, there were sports pitches, a Japanese garden (planted with cactus) and a couple of long slender footbridges. The strange shape was eventually explained when we discovered that the site was originally the airport. I would expect that the majority of local governments would have sold the land for housing and I think that it is a very progressive, socially acceptable thing to turn such a large space into parkland.
We took a bus to the nearby Laguna Yahuarcocha. The lake is also known as Blood Lake due to a massive battle which took place here centuries ago and in which the lake turned red from the number of corpses floating in it. It was a nice lake but nothing special although I suspect in high season it is crowded with tourists on the little boats. We stopped for a while to eat some fresh fish cooked in a pan outside one of the little cabins whilst trying to avoid the sinister dogs which were roaming around. Ever since we got attacked by a horrible dog in Cajabamba, me and M are very nervous around some of these street dogs.
And I can’t finish writing about Ibarra and not mention the helada de paila. This is ice-cream to die for and originated in this region. It is made by stirring fruit puree inside large bowls which sit inside even larger bowls containing ice. Gradually the fruit mixture freezes and sugar is sometimes added and egg whites but nothing else. It is an almost sorbet and an almost ice cream – but the explosion of fresh fruit flavours makes it stand out from the rest. The best places make it in front of you – not in a pretentious way, but simply because that is where and how they make it and we found what was supposed to be the cafe in which it was originally was invented, so of course, we had to try a flavour or three.
Would I recommend the Hostal Fevilair? Yes, and please don’t be put off if you arrive at night when the streets are deserted – just ask the cabbie to hang around while you gain entry. During the day the streets are a hive of activity with the overspill of the nearby market stalls. There are some suites with their own private outdoor patio areas and some family rooms as well as the usual twins and doubles. If you want some modern comfort at very reasonable almost hostel prices go along and check out the Fevilamir.
one of the suites
Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Hostal Fevilamir this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay