White water and steam boxes

Trip Start Aug 07, 2008
Trip End Dec 10, 2009

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, May 25, 2009

After the indigenous, cold and remote Quilatoa region, i decided to head to Banos - which is a bit warmer and utterly utterly touristy. But nice all the same, nestled in a lush valley beneath an active volcano with lots of things to do.

Rainforestur grabbed me on the way from the station and tried to talk me into going white-water rafting the next morning for $35. I tried to pry them down to $30, and, despite their protests that they couldn'tt do this for a IV trip, just the III, they eventually let me have the discount. I suspected that id gotten a bit of a deal, even compared to two guys in the hostel whod paid only $20, because i assumed they were going to an easier stretch of the river.

Needless to say, we met their group at the departure point for the same run! F*ck. I suspect i got mugged by the tour guys. And it wasnt even that we had better gear - the life jackets were ragged (but functional), the wetsuits ill-fitting and our training equally brief. Great. Id make a bad Jew. And our raft was smaller. And the water was mainly III with bit of IV (although the water was high this week, so maybe a touch more).

The rafting itself was awesome (but not scary, despite the claims of some of my fellow co-rafters). The smaller raft ended up being a good thing (more agile, more fun) and we did take a slightly different route to the other boats, a rougher and more challenging one. I suspect this was because we had our sh*t together enough for our instructor to consider it worthwhile, rather than because wed paid more. Due to the level of the river, it was higher and faster than usual, and our 2h run was over quickly.

On the way back, we stopped for lunch and they tried to talk us into doing one of the rope swing jumps set up on the bridges. A bit like a bungee jump but the shock is absorbed only by climbing ropes, hence the requirement for the swing component to prevent breaking people. Its not my thing, but i went along to watch it being rigged up and see 2 of the guys jump. Theyre certainly technically safe, but i couldnt see the point of actually doing it - and certainly not for $20. It also transpired that, like market stall holders and most Latin Americans, everyone seems to be related to everyone - our guide dashed us to another agencies bike rental and rope swing and then they all headed out for beers afterwards. Maybe thats why haggling is sometimes fruitless, theyre all one and the same!

Rafting is certainly something that i want to try again, perhaps V, but it seems, like many sports, that you depend a lot on your fellow participants. It is a team game and you do need to work as one. It didnt matter much in Banos, but i did have to heave people back onto the raft. It could just as easily have been me in the drink, but the reason anyone fell in is because some people are clueless grinning muppets who cant paddle/function alone, never-mind as a team, and dont have the stamina to keep going when the guide really needs them to. We obviously worked well enough to do the more fun side of the run, but if it was something wilder, well, id be choosier as to who im in there with. Grrr :-)

The following day 3 of us got mountain bikes for $4/day and headed off towards Puyo - 60km away, mostly downhill. The route is lines with waterfalls, bordered by mountains and has bridges that entrepreneurs have set up rope jumps on. Our progress was slow because we hopped onto a cable car across the valley/river, hiked to some of the falls, had a fish lunch (that took ages, was prepared by two 10 year old and was awesome) and because one of our number was scared of freewheeling - and thus braked almost the entire way. Not an issue though, because wed simply wait for her to catch up after bombing the longer downhill runs. Great fun - some of them are long and steep, traffic is infrequent and you can take speed bumps fast on a bike, far faster than motor vehicles. Awesome. As soon as we hit start of the uphills towards Puyo (35-40km in) we flagged down a bus, threw the bikes on top and headed back to Banos.

The Hostel was nice, the steam shower (those steam boxes with a hole for your head) were amusing and really did involve a bowel massage (i assume it was a typo...) and all manner of fun cold water surprises. I think we went out most nights in Banos, but it was dead as we were not there at the weekend - not that it stopped our terrible karaoke attempts. And it was here that Sabrina from Switzerland dragged us all off to the Swiss Bistro for fondue (yep, that volume of melted cheese and beer totally f*cked my digestive system for a week afterwards) and tried to  convinced me to head to the jungle afterwards. I initially refused, but...
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