Banos - Extreme Sports, Monkeys.....and Massages!!

Trip Start May 22, 2010
Trip End Sep 21, 2010

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, July 2, 2010

[Owen] We made the short journey inland to Banos, arriving late Friday evening, for a four-day stay. On first impressions, it was a very small town, but due to its excellent location and natural amenities (including roaring rivers, deep ravines, cascading waterfalls and active volcanoes), was the adventure capital of Ecuador.  We stayed in the slightly run-down and marginal Timara Hostel and appeared to be the only residents, certainly for the first few nights.  Upon arrival, I had an amusing interaction with the night shift attendant, who by my estimates was the slightly senile grandfather of the hostess.  For some reason, he also had an obsessive with parrots – loud ones, with an uncanny resemblance to cock-a-doodle-do's – who were let out of their cages at 8am every morning. 

On our first night, we enjoyed a delicious meal in a small Italian restaurant.  Ordinarily I don’t discuss such menial events, but two events made it an interesting evening.  As we sat and exchanged pleasantries with the Puerto Rican waitress (who was married to the owner), she told us that the nearby volcano, one of the most active and violent in the region, had erupted only two weeks previously.  We had no idea.  The authorities had given serious consideration to evacuating the town, although everything had apparently settled down again now.  A short while later, we watched a business transaction take place between a street seller offering strip lighting and the newly installed owner of the restaurant.  He had only been open a few days, so lighting was a feature that was lacking at that point.  As the only two diners in the place, the owner asked our opinions on the various different coloured "lightsabers" on offer.  Words like "warmth", “personality” and “character” were thrown around by the unqualified group, as we all stood out on the street examining our work.  At one stage, Ciaran suggested that one of the colours made the place “look like a brothel” was possibly a little bit too frank and honest.

The nightlife in Banos was very hit and miss.  There was a section of the grid-like town that housed all the bars and nightclubs.  Some nights it was absolutely hopping and other nights, there wasn’t a soul in sight.  We were there from Friday to Monday nights and as a tourist attraction, I would have expected some activity outside the usual Friday and Saturdays, but no luck.  Apparently it’s illegal to drink in Ecuador on Sundays unless accompanying a meal!  There were some good bars here, such as the aptly-named Leprauchan Bar (which had no Irish theme whatsoever) with its roaring fire in the courtyard area and 2 for 1 caipirinhas.  Over the course of the few days, we met lots of different people (usually from the different activities we did) which made it an enjoyable few days.

However, we weren’t here for the nightlife.  We were here for the adventure sports! Our first morning after arriving (Saturday), we went river rafting with the main company in town, GeoTours (US$30 pp), who came well recommended for safety, price and quality of equipment.  I hadn’t done rafting since a Grade III excursion in New Zealand in 2005 and Ciaran was new to it.  We were both excited by the challenge and unsurprisingly, this energy-sapping extreme sport was fantastic fun in the ice-cold waters of the Rio Patata, especially as we had a good group (a Danish guy (Sami) and American girl (Vy) and an Ecuadorian couple).  We rafted down Grade III rapids for some 14km.  The guide, Andres, was top notch and had some nice variations on the standard rafting expedition like flipping the boat to see how we would react and then leaving us in the water to float further downstream.  He even brought the raft under a few small waterfalls from above, which appealed to the thrill seekers amongst us!  We navigated some pretty challenging rapids in this fast and powerful river, ignoring the onset of panic amongst some as we approached some tricky rapids and small waterfalls, all the while listening carefully to instruction from Andres, for fear of serious injury or worse!  The scenery along the journey through the deep valley was fantastic and the only sound for miles was the sound of birds chirping or the increasing roar of the next rapid!  As a bonus, the driver of our bus took some excellent photos of us from the cliffs above.  My only reservation of the trip?  I think I need a Grade IV rapid next time for the extra challenge!!

Ciaran continued the intensive activity focus with a bridge bungee jump in the afternoon, along with new friends Vy and Sami.  Again, something new tried and conquered for him – I was sorry I missed it, not knowing that the bridge was actually in town. 

The following day, Sunday, Ciaran and I tried different activities.  I chose the exercise-focused, 20km downhill mountain bike ride through the scenic countryside, whilst Ciaran journeyed by bus to the town of Puyo with Vy and Sami, to visit a monkey farm.  I rented a bike from a reputable operator in Banos (US$5) before setting out on what was, for the most part, a winding, single lane, major artery between Puno and Banos.  I pretty much rode in the gutter for the first few miles until I got used it.  There were sections of the journey that were solely for bicycles, which thankfully, enabled me to avoid the numerous 1km long tunnels and trucks and buses.  My bike ride took most of the afternoon and although the elements were a little against me, it was hugely enjoyable and a pleasant change to get out and do some exercise.  The journey took in many different waterfalls and deep valleys, culminating in the forcefulAmazing views along the route and the final waterfall Pailon del Diablo was pretty awesome, its power and force up there with Sapo Falls.  After taking some initial photos from a rickety bridge over the ravine near the waterfall (which despite the clearly displayed restriction of a max of 5 people, regularly suffered 25 or more Ecuadorians at a time!), before taking the path up towards the top of the waterfall, crawling through a really low and narrow tunnel to get in behind it for an altogether too brief time.  All that was left to do now was get back to Banos, this time by loading the bike and gear onto the back of a truck.  A variety of missed buses and mix-ups meant Ciaran didn’t return from the monkey farm until after 11 that night.  When he got back he had no key and by trying to scale the fence he woke up our favourite night watchman, who came down to the gate in a frightful panic in his underwear!

No rest for the wicked.  We went canyoning Monday morning, again with the popular GeoTours.  Our group for the excursion consisted of a group of younger Scots and Dutch friends – friends Mark and Hida, sisters Michelle and Ainsley, Renu and Ciaran and I.  Canyoning is basically abseiling down slippery waterfalls of varying heights, in this case four different waterfalls ranging from 6 metres to 30 metres.  We spent three hours in the freezing cold rivers but it was well worth it.  The equipment included wet suit, protection clothing for falls and all relevant abseiling ropes and clips and of course, two expert guides.  It was actually not as difficult as I expected, taking less than 60 seconds to descend the final 30m waterfall.  The highlight of the day was the second guide running down the final 30m waterfall, facing forwards, in about 4 seconds.  It was crazy, dangerous, but pretty unreal!  Later that evening, Ciaran visited the thermal baths with Vy (Sami having made his final journey to Quito and home to Denmark) to relax after the busy few days with his new friend.  I caught up with Ciaran again the next morning and we got the 9am bus to Guayaquil and the next, exciting part of our trip – the famous Galapagos islands off the west coast of Ecuador!

A final story on our time in Banos.  The morning of our departure, we woke up to what seemed a pretty hazy day and couldn't see much at all.  Our swimming gear and towels, left to dry on the wall outside our private room, were dirty and covered in ash.  A quick surveying of the scene – the plants and ground were too.  Puzzled, we continued packing up and checked out of Timara Hostel and Banos.  The hostess explained that a lot of ash had spewed from the volcano overnight, solving the mystery of the dirty clothes.  When we went out on the street, it was like something from a science fiction movie.  There were literally hundreds of guys in white coats and masks out cleaning up the mess, and it wasn’t even 8am!!  All the shopkeepers were out (also with masks!) sweeping the streets of ash outside their stores.  I guess it was a good time to leave, although we had a fun time in Banos and met some great people, particularly Vy who would become a feature in the rest of our trip.

[Ciaran] Really loved Banos, as Owen said nice small town where you can find everywhere and don’t need to get taxis anywhere. I have to agree the parrots were becoming annoying every morning the sheer noise of them is hard to explain.

My first time white water rafting and I’m hooked couldn’t get enough, totally agree with Owen would love to try the class 4 ones next time. The trout we got for lunch was melt in your mouth stuff. Met Sami from Denmark and Vy from California on the trip, two of the soundest people you can meet, so we headed out that night for some dinner.

The next day headed to the monkey farm with Sami and Vy, about an hour and a half outside town by bus, Owen decided to give it a miss opting for mountain biking instead. Its basically were they rescue young monkeys who’s mothers have been shot, a lovely place run by two mad Swiss lads, its quite big but all the monkeys hang around the house. We’d only walked in the gate when a monkey jumped up on me and just sits on my shoulders with his arms wrapped around you. There are about 20 different species of monkeys there. Sami was like Dr Dolittle at one stage with 3 monkeys hanging out of him. After about an hour the three of us decided to do a walk around the farm about a hour walk, came across loads of these leaf cutter ants you see on tv marching along carrying leafs ten times the size of themselves, its quite impressive to see thousands of them all doing the same thing. On the way back we hitched a ride in the back of a pick up truck, it was like doing a border run or something good fun except for the bumps in the road there’s a good video of it I’ll try put up on face book.

The next day as Owen said we went canyoning which was great fun although cold, the guide said its colder when its sunny because the sun melts the snow and ice on top of the mountain which keeps the water cold but great fun anyhow. After the first waterfall the guide noticed my waterproof jacket they provide was inside out which got a laugh, but I still reckon I’m a pro at it anyway. Sami had to head back to Denmark that morning, you’ll be missed dude. That night me and Vy headed to the thermal baths for a couple of hours, the water was sooooo hot but by the time you come out your muscles are so relaxed your only fit for bed.
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D-Mac on

Best one yet!!!

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