Adrenaline junkies in Banos

Trip Start Jun 23, 2011
Trip End Aug 30, 2011

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Monday, August 8, 2011

We caught the four hour bus from Quito to Banos on Monday morning. Banos is in a large valley surrounded by lush green mountains. It has several hot springs, from which it got its name. There are several rivers, canyons and waterfalls in the surrounding terrain and it has developed into an adventure sports hub in Ecuador. As we pulled in to the town, it began to rain. This was the first time it rained since the 4th day of our trip in Rio - over 40 days since we had been rained on! It rained every day we were in Banos, though, for at least part of the day.

We made our way to the hostel and wandered around to figure out what we would do while we were there. The town is very small and easy to navigate on foot. There are also lots of fun drinking and eating establishments, and the town generally has a very friendly and fun vibe about it.

We really wanted to go whitewater rafting. Every block in Banos has three or four tour operators, and they all offer rafting, mountain bike rentals, buggy rentals, canyoning, and other activities. We went to a recommended outfit to talk about rafting. There was a half-day trip available over class 3 rapids. We had been on a trip like that in Colorado a few years ago and found it boring. We wanted more thrills. They said the full day trip, which goes on a different stretch of river and goes over class 3, 4, and 5 rapids (there's even a class 6 on this stretch, but class 6 is the highest class and basically a waterfall, so you get out and portage the boat for that one) may be available the next day. There were two requirements. First, they needed to get at least four people who wanted to go, and second, the water needed to be low enough that it wasn't dangerous to do the trip. We arranged to come back that night to see if they got more people. When we came back they told us they had enough and the trip was going.

We decided that afternoon to get a massage, since these are offered all over Banos, and, compared to NYC or the spas in any of the Marriotts we've been staying in, they are incredibly cheap. We had an hour and a half massage, reflexology and facial that was amazing and amazingly cheap. I think things feel even cheaper here because they use USD, but the prices are generally low. It's not Bolivia, or anything, but pretty cheap nonetheless. The time she spent on my feet alone was worth the price we paid. Relaxed by our massage, we had a great dinner and enjoyed some drinks on the roof of our hostel.

The next morning we got up and went to the office to meet. We got our wetsuits, shoes and helmets before they told us that they spoke with the kayaker who was testing the river, and it was too dangerous after the previous night's rains. We opted against the half-day trip, took our refund, and headed back out to see what adventures we could have to satiate our need for adrenaline. We found enough to last us a month.

At first I was a little down, having looked forward to the rafting for a while. But we quickly decided to go canyoning, which I'd only done once before in Switzerland and was really fun and scary. We went into a tour operator who had a trip leaving at 9:30. We didn't realize that the "trip" was just us until we were in the van on the way to the canyon. 30 minutes after our rafting disappointment, all of the sudden we were in different wetsuits standing at the top of a waterfall as our crazy guide threw down ropes and tied knots. 

K-money's thoughts: The only instruction our (I'm quite sure) high instructor gave us was not to worry because we had a lifeline--a second rope that was attaching our harness to the mountain. This, combined with me obviously making Jefe go down first, was enough to convice me I wouldn't die on this particular waterfall, so I slowly propelled my way down the side of a 30' drop with water ferociously trying to speed up the process. 

I've done many adventure sports including jumping out of a plane but canyoning was particulary terrifying for me, so when we got to the second waterfall we were to descend and our lifeline was abandoned I immediately pointed it out to the guide who just laughed. I'm still not sure why this funny. When doing anything if there is a with or without lifeline option, I will always choose with lifeline. Unfortunately this option was not presented to me so I reluctantly went down our second waterfall lifeline-less. Once we were down it became clear why we didn't have the lifeline when the guide followed us down and simply pulled the rope, which had not even been tied to anything - just doubled through the ring at the top of the falls, through the ring when he arrived at the bottom so we could move on more quickly.

After that waterfall we slid down a third, smaller one like it was a natural waterslide.
Our final and largest decent was the highest by far and, from the top, appeared absolutely terrifying. We had to slowly pick our way down a small waterfall to a tiny platform where our guide was waiting for us, I decided I would go second directy after the guide as being in the middle is always a safe bet (neither first nor last). Little did I realize that going first down this little pass meant I was first down the 60' drop below us. Upon reaching the platform I peered down the waterfall and saw water, lots and lots of water, spilling over the edge of the earth at which point I expressed myself in some less-than-ladylike terms and told the guide, thank you very much but I won't be going down there. He gave his usual, unhelpful response--a laugh--hooked me up and physically pushed me over the edge. 

Left, right, left. My feet SLOWLY moved down until about 8' down, the wall of rock I had been rappelling down ended and only open space loomed below me. I looked up for some explanation from our expert guide who just said "move the rope!'. Well, basic survival skills told me otherwise and I responded with a resounding "no". After a few minutes of weighing my options while the guide repeatedly yelled "move the rope" in a sing-song manner. I came to the conclusion that I had very few options and begrudgingly began slipping the rope through the figure eight that was holding me up. My legs were quickly free of the wall and I floated down among the falling water at a pace much too slow for my guide. 

Back to Jefe: After we rode back to town, it was only noon, so we needed to decide what to do next. We decided to rent a dune buggy and drive out of town to see some waterfalls. Driving the dune buggy was an adventure, as it had a "blind spot" directly in the center of the driver's field of vision caused by the role bar, and it couldn't go as fast as a lot cars wanted to on the winding mountain road, so we got passed a lot. The road was under construction in places and they had torn up the asphalt, so dust and small rocks were thrown up at us constantly. We were wearing sunglasses to block the stuff from our eyes, and afterwards, we both had reverse raccoon looks going with dark, dirty faces and white circles around our eyes.

We arrived at a spectacular gorge with two waterfalls on the opposite side. There was a cable car going across the gorge, and as we watched, trying to decide if it was worth it to go across, we saw a small white dot coming towards us across the gorge. As it got closer, we realized it was a person on a zip line that went alllllll the way across the canyon. It took us about 30 seconds of nervous debate to decide that we wanted to do that to continue our adreneline rush. I'm not sure if anyone saw the movie "Crank" with Jason Statham, but the premise is that he gets poisoned and needs to keep his adrenaline flowing to counteract the poison as he searches for his poisoner, so he keeps on doing ridiculous things to make his adrenaline flow. Our day was a little like that.

We harnessed up and rode the cable car across, which was scary enough in itself. We were dangling in a 15 by 10 foot cable car above a 150 foot drop to the canyon floor and the river below. As we went across on the cable car, I think both of us seriously reconsidered our desire to hurtle across without any kind of floor beneath us.

We got to the other side and hiked up to the launching platform. I was going first, so the guy hooked on my upper harness to the front hook and then I had to stand on the edge of the platform, reach out over the abyss and grab the wire while the guy lifted up my legs and then hooked them into the back harness. (I would be flying across on my belly, superman style.) Then I had to let go of the wire while he held my legs to stop me from starting my trip. This was the most terrifying part. I was totally dependent on the rope and harnesses, staring out to this huge drop and long trip across the canyon that was ahead of me.

He counted down and let go and I was speeding down the wire across the canyon, looking straight down, thinking "What would it feel like if the rope or harness broke?" It was hard to judge the speed I was travelling, because the canyon was so large and the walls and floor so far away, but I know it was fast, because at the end I slowed down a lot due to the slope of the wire and still felt like the end was zooming at me and gave out a loud "oomph!" when the guy at the end grabbed my harness to slow me down.

After I went, K-money came zooming across, I got some good photos of her going across. Our adventure sports day was really fun. To cap it off, we went to one of the hot springs that give Banos its name. As we were in line to pay our entry fee, we happened to look inside and saw a few hot tubs that were standing room only - 25 or 30 people packed standing shoulder to shoulder into a little hot tub with a ring of people waiting around the edges to take the place of anyone who left. We decided that didn't look like much fun and hightailed it out of there.

We had signed up for a health bath at our hostel, which we took early the next morning. It was a strange experience. We arrived at our appointed time and the guy took us into a room with a row of wooden boxes, about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet with a round hole in the top about the size of a human neck. He folded back the top and opened the front for us to each get into our own box. We sat on the bench in there while he wrapped a washcloth around our necks and closed the boxes around us, sealing us in with only our heads poking out. I wish I had a picture of this. He turned on the steam (we had a control inside the box) and the box immediately got quite hot. We sat in the box heating up for about five minutes.

After five minutes, the attendant came back, released us, and turned on the water spigots in the walls in front of our boxes. We grabbed big towels, dipped them in the freezing cold water, and rubbed them over our bodies in a systematic way as lead by the attendant, refreshing the cold water after each limb. After that, it was back into the boxes. We did this four times and then moved on to phase two.

Phase two was sitting in a shallow semi-circular bath that covered you in freezing cold water about up to mid-thigh and mid-torso, because you were sitting down in the deepest part, butt first. The attendant made us massage our lower intestines with our fingers in a circular motion and after about 3 minutes we switched directions, and the attendant came and splashed the freezing cold water on the rest of our bodies. After that, three more cycles of the hot box/cold towel, before phase three.

Phase three could be described as being power washed by the attendant. You stood there while he directed a very powerful hose at your various body parts, focusing especially on the lower intestines, which didn't feel that great honestly. The best part was when he did the bottoms of my feet - that did feel really great.

The health bath was certainly an experience, and I'm very glad we did it. I can't say I felt any more healthy afterwards, though. Maybe it's because I didn't do it for the recommended three days in a row, but it didn't seem to do much for either of us.

After our health bath, we headed to the bus back to Quito to get to the airport and make our flight to Colombia.

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