The change over at Guayaquil proved more difficult than we thought it was going to be but after a few hours we were on our way to banos, after 6 or so hours we were told this was not a direct bus and was kicked off next to a petrol station- was given 2 dollars and was told a bus would arrive soon to take us the rest of the way to banos. Buses came and went with the obligatory guy shouting the destinations trying to persuade you to change your mind and go there instead, we weren't persuaded though and stood in the cold in our shorts and fllipflops waiting for our bus as night time arrived. Luckily a bright orange bus arrived with banos directo in huge letters down the side and we jumped on, arriving in banos and at our hostel at around 8 that night - our 10 hour journey had turned into 13 hours- not bad really by south American standards
A German couple we'd met on the Santa cruz trek in huaraz told us that there was a great vegetarian restaurant which just happened to be a couple of blocks down from our hostel. Craving anything that wasn't fried we decided to head there.
Banos was cold- especially compared to the tropical heat of montanita and we were pleased to find a fireplace and some reasonably priced drinkable red wine at the restaurant. It was a great night and when we retreated back to bed we were excited for the next few days.
Now before we got to banos we were warned by a few people that the volcano was very active and we should be careful- after a quick check on volcano discovery . Com we were informed the status was - erupting and the danger factor was rated at 4 out of 5. Banos is a small town at the foot of the volcano so death by lava was possible! When we were therefore awoken the next morning by huge bangs going on for around 1/2 hour I was a little worried, Tai on the other hand was just annoyed it was interrupting his sleep. It's the volcano I told him we should get up and see what's happening! An hour or so later the banging stopped and tai woke up and we ventured out to explore. The streets seemed to be lava free and no one was evacuating so we figured we were ok. We spent our first day exploring the town and booking our trips for the next few days. That night we just cooked ourselves some food and sat by the fireplace... Like a couple of oap's!
The next day we had to be up early and at the tour agency for around 9ish... We were going white water rafting! We were collected and on our way to our pick up we bumped into the Argentinians from montanita who were also going rafting! We were transported to the river in one of the most awesome vehicles of all time- a chiva
. A chiva is a open sided truck with bench seats in the back, lots of flashing lights, a very loud sound system and some even have dance floors and strippers poles!
It was early, raining, cold and about an hour from the start of the river, the novelty soon wore off especially as gangman style seemed to be stuck on repeat! On route we stopped to change into our wet suits. Apparently it was one size fits all and therefore I ended up with a very baggy long wetsuit while tais seemed to be extremely tight!
We got to the river which was a standard brown colour as are all the rivers here it seems, had our obligatory safety talk and jumped in. As we set off we were warned that the river was the highest it's been for years and so the grade of the river had increased.
As soon as we got going we realised what they meant. The rapids were huge, at least 2m waves were crashing into us causing water to shower down upon our already freezing bodies, water was swirling and crashing all around us and as we fell down the side of one wave we were met by another almost causing the boat to capsize. We made it through with no casualties whooping with excitement, adrenalin pumping through our bodies- we had already warmed up. As the river was so high it meant there was no break between rapids, just slightly smaller waves to try and manoeuvre across
! As the guide screamed "one, duuuu, one duuu, one, duuu" we paddled with all our strength to try and get us through the rapids without tipping, the constant rumbling of the rocks moving across the river bed was a background noise that made the setting ever more ominous! The guide said "right this is the big ones" as we approached some bigger, faster waves on the already crazy river.. "one, duuu, one, duuu, one, duuu" we paddled as hard as we could, water crashing down on top of us as the boat smashed into the rapids, one knocked us so strongly I felt myself slip only to be grabbed and pulled back into the boat by the guide!
We made it to the end in one piece - stopping for lunch on our way back. It had been a great day.
We spent the rest of the afternoon buzzing, speaking of each of our experiences on the raft. We had another early start the next day and so spent the evening making use of the hostel kitchen and chatting with a Dutch girl whom we'd seen in guyaquil a couple of days before.
Another early start- this time we had to be at the agency for 10am (so tai thought) - the activity today - canyoning!
At 10am we were late- we were meant to be there at 9! Luckily it wasn't far so they gave us a lift to the waterfalls and we joined the rest of the group! On the way I began to think of the last time I'd done canyoning and really hoped this wasn't going to be a deja vu of that time and the dreaded frog incident!
First up was sliding down a waterfall on our bums, tai got tied to another girl and left me scared and alone at the top - he climbed back up like my hero and after some persuasion we slid down together. It was really good fun although I didn't want to admit it then
! Next up abseiling down a waterfall, we were last and so watched everyone and learnt how not to do it.. By the time it was our turn we manouvered down like pros, leaning right back our feet flat on the cliff face. At the bottom we were told to jump into the pool, somehow tai thought this meant to jump into the main fall of water from the waterfall and got taken out and pushed under unable to get out for a split second. He emerged from the water with a look of shock on his face while the guide look at him with bemusement as to why he chose there to jump and not just the pool as everyone else has done! The final waterfall was the big one an 80m drop to the bottom. We all queued up, scrambling over rocks hoping we didn't slip before we were tied on to the safety rope. Again me and tai were last and as we were attached to the ropes and pushed towards the edge doubt crept into my mind. You couldn't see the edge just a number of people before us disappearing over the edge, screams, then silence, then the same all over again. "I can't do it I said" "yes you can" replied the guide as he pushed me over the edge dropping the rope so I fell into the water gushing over the waterfall and fell to the ground beneath me. Like the others all tai had heard was my screams and then nothing and so he sat there at the top waiting nervously for his turn not knowing what was in store. Hello it's tai! So after Sarah jumped and her screams became silent it was just me and 3 guides sat at the top of this huge waterfall. As I was the final person to jump they had to collect all the other equipment leaving only my single rope hanging over the edge. With the water pouring over the edge and crashing on the rocks into the pool below I had to shout at the guide for him to be able to hear me - "ok go" he shouted as he pulled me towards him pushing me towards the edge. "jump?" I asked "si si jump!" he responded - after the last mishap on the waterfall earlier I didn't want to fall into the water on this one or against a rock so I jumped..
. Far and as I did the guide let the rope off and I fell fast towards the floor below. It was an awesome experience and we just wished there was more to do but it was time to climb out and head back. (Sarah again) from the bottom and with water splashing onto my face I waited for tai, it seemed like he took forever and I was worried he'd backed out like I nearly had. Then I saw him jump unnecessarily far out away from the edge. When he reached the bottom we were both buzzing, adrenalin pumping through our bodies, we climbed out of the canyon and headed back to our hostel for a warm shower. That night as we say having dinner by the fire at our hostel we heard some fireworks going off and so headed up to the roof terrace to check it out ( just a quick point to add, it may seem like we are staying in a plush resort with fireplaces and roof top terraces, well it is the best hostel we've stayed in but we haven't turned into the dreaded flash packers just yet) we were welcomed with an incredible fireworks display which went on for hours and so we spent the night drinking our home made cocktails (imaginatively named - ecuadoreans) and watching the display. The next day we found out that the fire work display was to mark the anniversary of when the people of banos were allowed to return to their homes after being evacuated because of the volcano! It should also be noted that the banging we heard on the first day we'd heard every day - it was a local brass band not an erupting volcano!
After breakfast we went for a little wander around town - where every other shop was selling taffy which they pull from hooks on their doorways (the photo better describes this!) we decided to sample some of this doorway delight and nearly broke our teeth in the process! We then decided to hire some buggies and head off in search of some waterfalls! After a "wrong" turn (it was definitely a right turn - I saw the sign but tai didn't ) we were back on the road again, the motor roaring in our ears, the wind in our hair and flies in our mouths
. We soon BOTH saw a sign for a waterfall and decided to try and stop there - try being the operative word - and after crashing into a woman with a baby and a railing we came to a very smooth stop. To get to the waterfall you had to take a very precarious looking cable car- it was $1 each and it was here we realised we only had about 2.50 on us. Great we thought, paid and jumped on, the car bouncing under our weight jerking as it headed off over the canyon towards the waterfall. It moved incredibly fast stopping before the waterfall do you could appreciate it for a while, then it jerked forward again sending both of us flying into the side rail. We made it without us or any of our belongings falling over the edge and on the other side we walked to the river, swang on a tyre swing and had an awkward family photo- is with a locals baby! Then it was time to get back on the cable car, this time hanging on for dear life. After a little while further on the road we saw another sign for a waterfall and turned off. On the walk down we met a girl who was staying at our hostel and chatted about our experiences so far in south America, one thing we should of learnt by now is nothing is free and maybe we wouldn't be stood near a waterfall next to a man asking for 3 dollars for us to see it and us only having 50c! Luckily our new friend took pity on us and paid our entrance fee. There was a short climb up to the 1st viewing area and as the spray grew stronger and we rounded a corner we came across the most incredible waterfall- it was huge and there was so much water crashing over the edge you couldn't even see the bottom - just a big splash and cloud of water. There was a way to get closer but you had to crawl through some caves on your hands and knees - about half way through tai told me I looked like gollom - I've since started reading the hobbit so I know what it is, but then I didn't and tai just chuckled to himself taking photographs. When we emerged from the caves we were so close to the waterfall that after a few minutes we were drenched
! Time was running out on our buggy hire so on the way back I took over at driving and cranked it up a gear to make sure we were back on time. After dropping off the buggy we were walking back to our hostel and bumped into the American girls we'd met in montanita- our volcano trip was booked for later that night and so they booked onto the same one and we met at the agency at around 9pm. It had been raining every day and night since we'd arrived here so the trip had been cancelled but tonight it was dry so it was on and as the volcanos status was currently erupting we hoped to see the glow of magma from within it's crater. We climbed into our brightly coloured chiva- complete with a dance floor and headed up 500m to a lookout. As we climbed the road in front became more and more foggy until we reached the top and realised we were in the clouds. Unfortunately from the lookout we could see nothing but a few fuzzy lights from the town below, we were however welcomed with a warm alcoholic drink and a magic show! The guide also told us about the volcano and the evacuation procedures the town has in place - apparently there is a light on one of the surrounding hills and when it's flashing everything is ok but when it's permanently on then you have to get out. They have regular drills and the last one they emptied the town within 25minutes of the light coming on. We hadn't even seen this light yet and wondered what happens if the volcano erupts in the middle of the night.
The next morning we had a much more relaxing activity planned - a steam bath. Not knowing anything except they offered them at the hostel we headed up to the steam bath room. We got changed and walked into a room with 4 wooden boxes in them, the guy that worked there wrapped small towels around our necks, motioned for us to sit in the box, then shut the front and the lid until we were nothing but floating heads! We sat in our little wooden coffins sweating out the toxins of the last few weeks- after 5 minutes or so we had to get out and wipe ourselves down with a freezing cold towel and then it was back in the box
. This process was repeated a couple of times then just as we were getting used to the towel cooling off a new freezing cold method was introduced - it was a chair submerged in water that we had to sit in whilst massaging our tummies as the guy splashed more freezing water into us?! Then we were put back in the box and the next time it was back to the towel - we were relieved but not for long as just when we thought we could get back in the box the guy picked up a bowl of ice cold water and threw it all over us. Then it was back in the box for the final time, after the steam came the obligatory cooling down- this time it was a really strong hose which he sprayed all over us! All in all a very weird experience but we felt great afterwards!
Later that day we headed to the bus terminal to book our bus back to Guayaquil for the following day - the bus station just happens to be next to a bridge with a 100m drop beneath it that you could bridge swing from. Unfortunately when we got there there was no one there just a couple of old ropes hanging over the edge - we were sure it wasn't a DIY activity and after loitering for a while we gave up and instead went to a bakery where we bought cookies the size of our heads! We also realised today that we'd lost a load of our photos some how and so headed to the nearest bar to drown our sorrows. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening here before meeting the Americans - dean and Emily for dinner. They'd planned to head to a few bars after and we decided to join them. The following day doesn't really warrant a mention - we awoke, checked out and got our very uncomfortable bus- which was more like a moving market - to guayaquil where we checked into a hostel next to the airport that was being run by a 15 year old boy!
We left montanita in the early hours of the morning on the 2nd January and after a little incident with an invasion of cockroaches we were on our way on a bus back to Guayaquil.