Waterfalls and full moons

Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It is with some surprise that I wake to find I'm still lying where I fell asleep.  I didn't cannonball out of bed, nor did I sleep walk into someone elses.  I'm feeling like day of the living dead, but that's all going to be cured with today's activity.  We're going to explore the waterfall trek via mountain bike, a 20km ride towards Poyan, into the Ecuadorian Amazon basin.  I'm almost at a loss for how much can go wrong.

Banos shares similar features to that of Monteverde in Costa Rica.  Both are nestled in a green valley catering for the adventure tourist crowd, both are swamped with outsiders.  Gringo's almost out way the locals as you wander round, and every shop seems to be rammed with "hand made" gifts to tempt the traveler.  The streets are lined with hostels and hotels, as well as a multitude of activity organising companies, all keen for you to part with your dollar.  Mountain bikes and quad buggy's take up sidewalk space, and you can take your pick from any number of life affirming experiences.  White water rafting, zip lining, canyoning, jungle treks...the list goes on.  We opt for two wheels, 18 gears and a A4 paper map.  I've not ridden a bike since I was 15.  It has potential to be a life affirming experience but only if I come out of it alive.

As well as seeing all these wonderful waterfalls we're expecting, this trek has the added bonus of assisting me in removing my now, quite frankly, ridiculous booze belly.  Certain T-shirts I wear has me convinced I'm getting moobs too.  Too much gluttony, drinking and not enough exercise.  From today this has to stop.  With a bit of luck I'll work up enough of an appetite for an Argentinian steak later, then I'll reward myself with a massive bender.  First I've got to get the hard work out the way.

And hard work it is.  At least to the totally inept and unfit.  Within a few minutes of being back in the saddle I'm blowing out my arse, attempting to make it look easy to two girls doing the same route.  Enormous trucks and tankers hurtle by my handlebars, nearly forcing me into a ditch, and it's a blessing that nobody can see the gurning grimace of terror on my face.  I really should stay in and lock all the doors.

Like learning to ride a bike, it thank fully starts to come back.  I become more at ease with the machine and surroundings, to the point where Paddy and myself pick up the pace and leave everyone behind.  Before long we're dismounting to see the first of a series of waterfalls, gushing out from the vast rain forest canyon.  It's lush, it's green, it's time for dinner.

The famous Pailón Del Diablo is where we're striking for.  The "Devils Cauldron" is meant to be one of the more spectacular cascadas in the area, and sits some 18km from Banos.  Arriving at the site, it's a long, steep decent to the canyon bottom, which is going to be knackering trying to get back up.  Shuffling down wet rock steps doing my best not to slip head over heels is somehow worth it when we reach the white water.

People always seem to be drawn to water pouring over a rock face.  The world over they pull thousands of people each year, but when you think about it, it really is just water falling over a cliff.  Having said that, they can be truly spectacular.  Niagara Falls this past summer was incredible, and while not nearly on the same scale, Pailón Del Diablo doesn't disappoint.  Squeezing up behind it is no easy task, especially if you suffer from claustrophobia.  The more I think I've conquered a fear, the more I discover a new one.  Pot holing definitely isn't for me.  I've seen The Decent; I know what lives in these places.

I've never stood behind a waterfall before.  It's wet.  And noisy.  The Rio Verde lashes out over the rock face in front of us.  It's tempting to reach a hand in, but I'm afraid it'll tear it off, or pull me into the plunge pool 30ft below.  As fascinating as it is, it's also getting very cold, considering we didn't bring a poncho and the spray is soaking us to the skin.  Yet again my jungle survival skills know no bounds of stupidity.

My cousin James Murray decided to post a picture of himself on facebook, butt naked in front of a waterfall in Sierra Leone, then tag all his friends so they would be subjected to it.  This gives me a great idea.  Growing some balls, at the next picturesque waterfall, I throw off the togs and force Paddy to take a photo of my bare backside, shining gloriously white for all to see.  The only thing is, now that I've had the bottle to do it once, I wonder if I'd be arrested for going starkers at Machu Picchu...?  Or in a field full of Lamas?  The possibilities are endless.

It's raining heavily by the time we flag down a bus, load the bikes and head back to town.  I face plant a local as I stagger through misty glasses to an empty seat.  Not the best for gringo-Ecuadorian relations, and stammering apologies I sink into the space behind.  I can already feel my legs turning to jelly due to the cycling and climbing, but the promise of a spa treatment upon our return to Banos keeps me going.  Unfortunately I've started to discover I've seriously sun burnt my back, due to the 25 minutes faffing in an outdoor thermal bath this morning.  I spent most of the time trying to hide my hideous frame from teenagers, so why I've managed to turn out a Lobster I don't know.  It makes a massage near impossible, but it also makes for a very unhappy Stuart.  I attempt to sleep, wincing in pain, failing to man up in front of the two German girls in the bunks below.  Tomorrow I'll get Paddy to rub me with after-sun.     

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