A town called toilet and I find out I'm not a fish

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Everyone knows that when heading into a foreign country, it's vital to learn a few vital words in the local lingo. Sure you can rely on sign language for things like food (hand to mouth), hungry (rubbing stomach and sad face), what’s the time (pointing to watch), but there are some things that you must learn the word for. Toilet is most definitely one of them. In South America where stomach bugs are a common occurrence, you’d better get this one down. Try asking for the location of the nearest facilities and by pointing to your crotch or your bum and you’ll either end up beaten up or thrown in jail. For the past couple of months, I’ve been using the word "Banos" when asking for the toilet and so far, so good. I can happily report that I’ve had no accidents. Now I find out that we’re heading to a town called Banos and I’m expecting the worst. That’s until Nic tells me that Banos is also used for bath. Apparently, the town isn’t a craphole, it’s famous for some hot spring baths as well. I guess I’d find out one way or another pretty soon.

Before we headed to Banos, we met another truck in the town of Cuenca and they told us of the Tungurahua volcano was showing its teeth. Their definition of teeth is to be able to see red hot boulders flying out of the volcano and plenty of ash around. Of course the smart thing for us to do was to head directly towards it. But we were assured that we wouldn’t be close to the volcano, only 20 minutes away. Last time I checked, lava can travel pretty quickly, mostly because it’s really hot and melts just about anything in its path. But we were also assured that the mouth of the volcano opened away from the direction of our campgrounds so if it did erupt, the lava would go towards the town of Banos and away from us. Okayyyyy..... The last time the volcano went off, the locals left the area and came back to find that the military and police who were left behind to secure their property actually looted the place clean. Some people never recovered financially, so this time, no one was leaving, no matter how bad it was.

We went to bed that night to the rumbling sounds ready for the activities to come. The next day, after being woken up to the ground shaking due to the volcano, we geared up for some white water rafting on the Pastaza river. The town of Banos was shut down due to the impending eruption (which actually didn't occur until a few days after we left the area), but fortunately the river we were headed to was in the opposite direction. We were told that the river was flowing nicely thanks to ongoing rain and that we could enjoy some nice grade 5 rapids on our way down. With 5 being the highest, we all paid attention to the safety briefings then we were off. We were 3 boats strong and our boat established a nice rhythm early. When we hit the first complex of rapids, a boat in front of us was wedged into a whirlpool. They were bloody useless. We couldn’t avoid them and we crashed right into them, also getting stuck in the whirlpool. Some hard paddling and there was a split second of calm until we heard the warning from our guide. He screamed out “Hang on guys!!!” Good advice, but a little late to be hearing that while I was sailing into the air, face first right into a grade 5 rapid. I’m bobbing up and down, knees and ankles finding every boulder possible on my way down. I glance up and see that my boat is nowhere near me. Unless I grow arms like Mr Fantastic from Fantastic Four, this is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. Moments pass which feel like forever before I hear a banging sound on my helmet followed by me getting wrenched into the boat by our guide. He looks me in the eye and shouts, “Where the F*%K is your paddle?” My only response is to cough up a couple of litres of the Pastaza river. Not the answer he was looking for. I chose to take his question as a rhetorical one. I figured that if I wasn’t clutching that paddle in my hands with a kung fu grip, then it was obviously somewhere in the river. He grabs a paddle of someone from the back of the boat, shoves it into my chest and tells me to get back to the front of the boat and paddle. If you’ve been white water rafting before, the power and rhythm is controlled from the front of the boat with the guide giving direction and steering from the back. I get back to my seat and paddle like I’ve never paddled before. My paddle is collected by another boat when the first set of rapids thin out and we spend the rest of our day inside the boat and have a blast going through some insane water. The same couldn’t be said of another boat from our truck. They spent so much time in the water I’m not sure why they bothered to bring a boat at all. The river was so rough in some parts that we had to walk around the rapids and lead our boats through them with long bits of rope before jumping back in downriver. Nic and I have been whitewater rafting a few times but this was by far the hairiest rapids that we’ve ever seen.

We had a lunch of barbequed salmon where a few beers were consumed and I had a chat to our guide. It was at that point that he chose to tell me that the spot where I went in was where a tourist died just a few months before. They fell in, got sucked under and that was the end. I muttered a quiet expletive to myself and sat down to lunch. Far from losing my appetite, I asked them to throw another salmon on the barbeque to celebrate the fact that my heart was still beating. If my heart's-a-beatin, I'm-a-eatin!

We got back to the campsite and the heavens opened up, putting the rain in the rainforest. This was to be the last time we would be sleeping in tents for the whole trip and we were glad that we’d managed to learn a thing or two about where and how to set up camp. The same couldn’t be said for others who had to deal with flooded tents at 3 in the morning. All Nic had to deal with at 3 in the morning was probably my snoring.

The next day, we chilled out at the campsite and went to a bridge jump in the afternoon. I’d signed up to strap myself into a harness and jump off a bridge for fun. When the time came and the guy asked who would go first, I looked around like everyone else and saw that somehow my right hand had grown a mind of its own and volunteered the rest of my body to lead the charge. I think my right hand was scared that the longer I waited, the less likely I was to go ahead with it. As I was getting strapped in, the bridge was shaking from every bus and truck that went by. I climbed over the railing, snuck out to the edge of a very small metal platform, high fived the guys from our truck and hurled myself off a bridge. This time there was no limit on the number of expletives that came out my mouth in the few moments after I stepped off the ledge. Nic captured a video of the whole thing. She wasn’t silly enough to hurl herself off a bridge. She’s the sole beneficiary on my life insurance policy. Someone’s got to collect.

Join us in our next blog when we head deeper into the jungle, go tubing on the Amazon and catch a glimpse at an ocelot, an extremely rare jungle cat. 
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