From Downpours to Sun

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April 1st 2015
Published: June 12th 2017
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Geo: -1.47201, -78.327

We all slept very well during our second night in the Amazon..that is until around 5:30am. We were all roused from our sleep when we heard the steadily growing sound of what sounded like an earthquake. It was still dark and I was disoriented, so I could not make out what I was hearing or from where it was coming. Just as I was getting out of bed to investigate, the sounds of what could have easily been a waterfall thundered around me. I looked outside the screen wall and could see that there was a solid wall of water pouring from the roof and down the far side of our balcony. The original noise had been a downpour of rain beginning. As it built, the water started to pour down the steep roof and was now running in sheets into the large concrete channels built throughout the resort. None of the buildings had gutters. The volume of water would be too great. The terracotta roofs had overhangs, and water would pour straight down into the deep concrete channels crisscrossing the property. The noise and vibration from the downpour was deafening. We had been congratulating ourselves the night before for having spent two days in the rain forest with no rain, and now Mother Nature was reminded us who was in charge.

Our bags had to be outside our door by 7:00 am, and we were to eat and be on the boats to leave by 8:00 am. I could not even see the river at this point, as the rain was still cascading down in sheets and the clouds hung so low we couldn't even see the buildings across from us. I was wondering how we could possibly leave in such conditions.

We dressed for the rain as best we could and, as luck would have it, the rain stopped right at 7:00 am. We put the bags into a sheltered area and walked to the outdoor breakfast area, which had remained dry. We ate and looked at the brightening sky, thinking the worst was over. We returned to the room for final check out and, as we walked to our common meeting area, the rain started again. We barely made it to cover when the skies again opened up. We made the most of it and enjoyed some more coffee, but I was surprised to see that the porters were still collecting our bags and sending things down toward the dock as if nothing was happening. At about 8:15 am, Pato circled us up and told us to walk down to the docks and get our life jackets on. The rain had not let up at all. The locals collected on the bottom clearly had a sixth sense, as they started in unison to get us lined up and our bags coordinated. As soon as they did that, the rain let up just enough for us to board and stay relatively dry. With German efficiency, people and bags were loaded up and off we went, racing to reach the far shore and our bus before the skies opened up in force again. Either by chance or design, we crossed and were loaded up at almost the exact moment that the torrents returned.

Everyone's spirits on the bus were a bit subdued at this point, with lots of talk about how Sunny Sally had failed us. Ever the optimist, she told us that Mother Nature was just sad we were leaving, but that she'd leave us alone by the time we needed her to. We drove southward along the Napo before finally turning west and started up a second gorge, leading upward to the Quito plain several hundred miles away. We climbed steadily but could see little through thick fog and persistent rain.

Our first stop was to be a waterfall with the menacing name of "El Diablo." The bus pulled over at the turnoff for the entrance, so we could get a glimpse of the multi-level waterfall from a distance, and gauge how far a walk we would have from the parking lot. We had surmised by this point that our guide, Pato, was feeling under the weather. It had started the day earlier, and while he would not admit it, we could tell he was struggling to get through parts of the day. After parking, we convinced him that we'd all be fine on our own and that he certainly did not need to make the 30-minute hike down to the falls in the rain and mist. We donned various levels of rain gear and headed down. We brought Sally with us, in hopes that she might stave off the rain. It didn't work. The trail down the falls was in very good condition, despite the rain, but it was very steep, and we knew getting back up would be a challenge. We reached the lower viewing level, from where you could access the falls itself, and walk behind the water by crouching down and progressing through a tunnel-like walkway carved into the cliff. I started but claustrophobia got the better of me and I backed away, content to take pictures of K and Anna, who made it through without a problem.

Thoroughly soaked from the rain and ultimately the waterfall spray, we retreated under cover at the base and ate the boxed lunches provided to us by the hotel earlier in the morning. It was, at least, still warm, so aside from being wet, we were all in good spirits.

We reached the bus with only a few minutes to spare, ahead of our agreed-upon departure time. Again we imparted a wet-dog smell to the bus, but I guess we were now used to it. We started to drive further up the mountain toward the city of Banos and it's infamous volcano of Turnurahua. Banos, which I thought meant "bathroom," I'm told actually means "bath," and the town of Banos gets its name from the thermal springs which dot the valley below the volcano. We had to pass through several very long tunnels bore straight through the mountains to reach the valley. To our surprise, as we emerged from the second of three tunnels, the rain had stopped. Evidently the mountain was a natural barrier and we had passed above the showers. We had also entered the area around Banos known for "adventure tourism," with large numbers of outfitters offering white-water rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking, zip lines, and cable cars across the myriad of river gorges converging at the city. It was all very unexpected. We pulled over for pictures and were able to hop on an electric cable car that zoomed us across one of the gorges. I hopped on in a whim, before K and Anna had a chance to get off the bus. It was so much fun, and much faster than I expected. By the time I got back across, they were watching from the launch platform. K quickly jumped on for the next ride, but I could not convince Anna. The heights spooked her.

Our moods had all improved as we piled back on the bus and headed through the final, and longest tunnel to reach Banos. We emerged on the far side under blue skies and bright sunshine. Again we found ourselves shielded from the poor weather below, essentially above the cloud line. The city was of a good size, which a huge sugar cane industry. They are also known for taffy made in the city from the locally grown sugar cane; we saw stalls all over the place with men pulling taffy by hand. We had a couple of hours to explore the city on our own, with time to shop and visit their considerable cathedral, which has had to be rebuilt no less than four times in the last 400 years because it was destroyed during eruptions of Tungurahua. The walls of the cathedral were covered in paintings depicting eruptions over the centuries, as well as several times when the Virgin Mary supposed intervened and spared the city. The sun was out in force and we were all dry and hot not long after leaving the bus.

Everyone was in particularly good moods when we met up and departed the city, as the skies remained blue and we were heading to our hacienda for the night. We left the highway and drove down into and then up from a steep valley on the far side of town, which was a center for all kinds of agriculture. The variety of fruits and vegetables being grown was staggering. The road itself was very narrow and steep, and afforded us our first and only "scary" moments on the bus. The views were truly memorable, but those of us sitting on the valley side of the bus had to fight off vertigo.

We spent the night at the Hacienda Manteles, which has been in the hands of the same family since the search for Incan gold in the 1700's. Most of the rooms were located in the main house. We were "upgraded" and had two bedrooms located in a free-standing building with a large family room area across the property. All of this was situated on a cliffside with clear views across the valley to Tungurahua. The clouds were skirting the summit, but you could clearly see the smoking crater on the side. Inside, the owner's partner showed us lots of pictures on his computer taken of the most recent eruption, which was only five months ago. All of the pictures were taken from the main house and showed dazzling lava light shows, all of which were precursor for a huge eruption which forced a two-month evacuation of the city of Banos.

We held our farewell dinner this evening, which was apropros, as it was our best meal of the trip. We were the only guests for the evening and the selection and quality of the meals was of the highest quality.

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