Action in Banos

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April 4th 2011
Published: April 4th 2011
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We hope you are all well. Don't hesitate to send us a message through this site as we can pick the messages up on our email on our phone. We are in Peru for the next 20 days where the mobile service is excellent.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

It was goodbye to the Upper Amazon, after a wonderful time. We will see the Napo River again, but from the Brazil side, but not until June.

We caught the local bus back to Tena before catching a touring bus where Tom and I sat up the back. It was a full bus and some of our group had to stand up until the locals started to get off. We had a 5 hour trip, again seeing amazing scenery. This time we were winding our way back up the Andes mountain range again. We arrived in Banos (pronounced Banyos) in the early afternoon and checked into Hotel La Castellana, where we will be staying for 3 nights.

Banos is a town of about 200,000 people and has a real village-feel about it. It is in a valley, surrounded by mountains. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern. In this eastern city in the Tungurahua Province, in central Ecuador, it is located in the northern foothills of the active Tungurahua volcano. In spite of the volcanic activity from Tungurahua that forced an evacuation from Baños during 1999/2000, the town is a popular tourist area with both Ecuadorian and foreign visitors. They come for the Basilica, the famous hot springs, the scenery and the accessibility to the jungle via Puyo and Misahuallí.

After we were introduced to the people who owned the hotel, we all put our dirty laundry into be washed. We pay by the weight. It cost us $8 (NB: a bit different to Turkey Sheryl)

We all then started our hike up the side of Tungurahua volcano. It was very steep, and a few of our group struggled a bit. The first notable site we reached had a little village consisting of 3 buildings, a lookout platform, and a large cross which we later learned was lit up at night as we could clearly see it clearly, no matter where we were in the town. Tungurahua, also known as "The Black Giant," is the largest volcano in Ecuador yet the most easily climbed, since Baños is already set on its hillside. Periodic drills keep residents and visitors aware of the potential risks. There are large arrows painted on the roads, showing people what direction to evacuate if the volcano erupts.

We then continued our walk up to a hotel and spa complex. They provided a broad range of massage, beauty and spa services. We took lots of photos and then continued our walk further up the volcano.
We then came across a tree house which was maintained by this little Ecuadorian man who was very keen to tell up all about the history to the volcano and showed us the different coloured ash which had come from the volcano over the years. Most of the time we had no idea what he was saying as it was in Spanish. But thank goodness, he had text books of photos which was could read. He was also part of the monitoring system of the volcano.

The scenery was of very rugged mountains and deep valley. From under the 2 story tree house, there was a massive swing which swung out towards the deep valley. So when you were swinging, it was as if you were way up in the sky. Neither Tom not I had a swing but the photo will give you an idea of the experience others had.

We had organised a local truck to pick us up at the base of the tree house as it was 6.30pm by this stage. We all piled into the back of the covered truck which slowly took us down the mountain to our hotel. We are certainly experiencing a variety of modes of travel. We were all grateful for the truck option as the walk up the mountain was pretty challenging.

That night, we walked into the centre of the town and again had a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant. After dinner, and after walking around the town, it was about 11.00pm to bed. We found the town had a very safe feel to it. The locals were friendly and the whole place had a real village feel to it.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Today was going to be our really active day. We had lots planned. Half of us decided to hire bikes to ride 16 kms out of town, following the river. Along the way we visited 3 beautiful waterfalls. The 1st was double waterfalls and a great photo opportunity. The second was where we hopped onto a cable carriage which went across a very deep valley. The scenery, again, was very spectacular. We didn’t stop the other side but came straight back. The 3rd waterfall required a 15 minute walk/climb up a heavily treed path. This waterfall was spectacularly thunderous, falling about 40-50 metres! The pool at the bottom was round and the water was pelting into it. If you fell in you would not survive.
We cycled back to the town and all felt that the ride wasn’t taxing but very pleasant. We made sure we stopped frequently to take all the scenery in. We dropped the bikes off and had lunch at Mumma Fannys – how is that for a name!!!

The afternoon I was REALLY looking forward to. Tom stayed back in the town to catch up on a few things but I with 10 others got decked up in wet suits, waterproof jackets and harnesses, ready to go canyoning. For those who don’t know what this is, it is abseiling down waterfalls. We drove out about ½ hour before turning off the road, driving another 20 minute. We then walked up a steep hill stopping twice for a breather. This took another 30 minutes. We then were up the top of our 1st waterfall. We had 2 instructors, one of whom would stay at the top of the waterfall with us and the other at the bottom, who would pull on the rope we were coming down on to help us descend at a good pace. The adrenalin was rising in all of us. We had 3 girls who were particularly nervous but we all encouraged each other. The instructors were fantastic. I went 2nd last and was pretty excited as well as the heart beating fast. I attached my safety line and the instructor hitched my harness to the rope. He gave me my last instructions about ensuring I keep my knees bent, and feet about shoulder width and slowly let my rope loose which allowed me to descend backwards along the edge of the waterfall.

The 1st waterfall was 10 metres drop. We all got down really well, continuing to encourage each other as we descended, one at a time. The next waterfall was 20 metres. The cliff of this waterfall was much flatter than the 1st so we were all encouraged to do little jumps out as we descended. What an exhilarating feeling. The next waterfall was 25 meters and we were all really getting the hang of it. My only problem was I was pretty cold waiting for my turn but once I was standing at the top of the waterfall attached to my abseiling rope, I had other things on my mind. Half way down the 3rd waterfall there was a little but deep pool we all fell down in. From the bottom looking up, we would watch each person descend and then disappear into this pool. We would then see a head pop up and they would climb out of it ready to descend down the last part of the waterfall.

The next waterfall was the big one – 35 metres. With each waterfall, we were descending further down into a canyon. The width where the waterfalls were falling was about 4-5 metre wide areas. The vegetation on either side of this area was reasonably thick and when looking back up to the top of each waterfall, it was beautiful. It was raining slightly which didn’t worry us as we were wet anyway. I was thankful for my jacket and wetsuit. Going down this 4th waterfall was great fun. Bridgette, one of the group members from Melbourne who worked as a court registrar and was always pretty scared, went before me on this waterfall. When she was more than half way down, I was instructed to hook up to my rope and start my descent. Off I went. I was jumping out from the cliff face descending and all of a sudden I came across Bridgette who had stopped. When I stopped descending to dodge Bridgette, I rotated around and my feet left the cliff face. When this happens the guy down the bottom just pulls on my rope and I stop descending. It’s pretty safe. I then turned and soon had my hands and knees on the cliff face again, then stood up and started to descend again. Bridgette then started to come down again. We all cheered for her and she got her confidence back again.

The final waterfall was easy. This one we slipped down on our butts. There was incredible excitement, with hugs and photos all round. Everyone did so well. We were all very pleased with ourselves and each other. We walked a short distance to our van which took us back to the hire shop where we took off our wetsuits and harnesses, jackets and sneakers (which I didn’t mention before). We then ran back to the hotel for a beautiful warm shower. Tom and a few others were back at the hotel enjoying so beers.
After dinner that night, we went to the Leprechaun Club where they had a big central fire and great South American music. We found that Stephanie, our Canadian member of the group was an excellent salsa dancer. Around the bar, she started to do her ‘moves’ and one of the local blokes spotted her and they went onto the dance floor. They were great to watch. A few more of our group ventured onto the dance floor also, with Erin from Newcastle also dancing with the local expert salsa dancer. Later we all got up for a dance. Things don’t seem to get going until at least after 11.00pm in Ecuador. I left at 12MN (Tom had left earlier) and left all the other group members to dance the night away. By the look of some the next morning, they all had a fantastic time. The good looking guy who was the leader of our canyoning experience also turned up, so he was dancing with our mob also. A good night had by all. What a fantastic day we all had.

Thursday 31 March 2011

The next day was Tom’s turn. He went canopying. This is like a flying fox, with a special harness for safety, flying across a deep valley from a cable. There were 6 rides, the shortest for the 1st and the longest for the last. The 1st one was about 150 m to just get the feel of it. Each of them was given a special clove to help break behind the pulley. Most of the time, Tom sat up right to enjoy the sensation of crossing the chasms, but on one leg, Tom went like a superman flying with arms out stretched and the instructor holding his legs behind him. The longest leg was 550 metres. Tom said it was fabulous. I was the official photographer for everyone. As I had done this in Las Vegas, I was happy to be an onlooker.

In the afternoon, we hired a street buggy for an hour to look more around the town. It was under-powered and sluggish, but good fun. We came across the bridge where they did the bungy swinging and there was a girl who was just about to jump. We waited 10 minutes but she kept on being too scared to jump. This is one thing that I would not do. The ravine was about 100 metres deep, with the river flowing through it. The bungy swingers, once they reduce their swing after jumping from the bridge, are lowered down to the ground level.

We have found that Ecuador enjoys a spring-like climate most of the year. The pleasant climate is often misty and clouded over, but we found that the clouds don't interfere with our activities too much.
In the latter part of the afternoon, we visited the museum within the basilica and the art gallery

Another thing Banos is known for is its hot springs! This is from the volcano. The baths, baños, are located within walking distance (5 minutes) from our hotel. We went there at 7.00am. The water is coloured by the high mineral content, and the temperature varies by the amount of cold water mixed into the bath. We paid our $2 and were given a milk crate to put our clothes in while we were swimming. We had to have a warm shower first and then went into the smaller pool which was about 40 degrees C. Tom and I stayed in for about 2 minutes, as it was so hot !!! We then went into the warm pool which was about 40 metres long. There were many locals, some of whom obviously go to the baths regularly before work. There were several amateur swimming teaches who couldn’t swim very well themselves, trying to teach their adult daughter or partner to swim. We saw no one who could swim strongly.

SO that was Banos – what an action packed couple of days. We always slept well !!!!

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