Banos is a small town near the active Volcano Tungurahua, surrounded by lush green mountains. We arrived in Banos quite late Thursday night and checked into our hostel, which was near the famous thermal baths in town. Our friend Gareth who was traveling with us, only had a couple of days there so we decided to get up early the next morning and go white water rafting. The tour company we signed up with, Geotours, had a few spots left for the following morning so we joined an already existing group. Farima and I were inspired by all the different activities offered and so decided to book two more with the same company: rock climbing and canyoning (we ended up with a good package deal for all three!).
The next morning during rafting, the group split up into 4’s per raft, each with their own personal guide. Giovanni was ours and first impressions did not serve him as a fun person – until he warmed up on the waters and started joking around. At one point, he joked that we were rowing slower than his grandmother and shortly after that our entire boat flipped over (thanks to Giovanni!). The rapids were level III and IV and it was a beautiful sunny day out. When the rapids were mild, we got to jump off the boat and free swim while the current took us down the river. At another mild rafting part, Giovanni kicked me off the boat into the water and Farima thought I had fallen out randomly not knowing what had actually happened… but it was all in good and fun. The entire trip down the river lasted about 3 hours but we were having so much fun it seemed to be over before we knew it. We had lunch with everyone on the trip and decided to all meet each other again at a bar called GB (Good Bar) for happy hour later that afternoon.
After getting dropped off back into town, Gareth, Farima, and I headed back to our hostel and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at a famous vegetarian spot and though we missed out on their famous quinoa burgers (sold out!) our dinner was still pretty tasty. After dinner, we met up with the our rafting crew at GB bar that included some of the rafting guides, Andres and the tour company GM, Oscar who were both really cool and Oscar especially funny. After happy hour at the first bar, the crew headed to another spot Leprechaun, which is mainly a tourist bar but has a cool outside fire pit. We danced the night away perfecting our salsa skills. As we had promised our friend Gareth (who was leaving early the next morning for Peru) to head to the thermal baths at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to beat the crowd, we decided to leave our dancing shoes behind and head home.
The next morning at 5:30 a.m. when we arrived to the thermal baths (Piscinas de la Virgen), they were not exactly what we had expected. We had expected a more natural hot springs but what it ended up being was an actual built in structure that made the hot springs more like regular swimming pools. There were three of them in total: freezing cold, warm, and hot. Farima didn’t end up coming in, but I figured since I was already up I might as well enjoy the warm waters. It was quite impressive to see the number of people who were up so early with the same thought in mind (to beat the weekend morning crowds!). We stayed for a short while, said good-bye to Gareth as he headed off to catch his bus, then headed back to bed to wake up a bit later.
We had scheduled rock climbing on an Ecuadorian volcano (volcanic rock) the same afternoon. I have been rock climbing before in Colorado and Thailand, but this was the most difficult I have experienced thus far. There were 13 different routes, but we could only make it up two… and by that I mean more like 1 and a half. What made it the most difficult was once your hands slipped from the volcanic rock, all balance was lost and it was downhill from there. It started to rain just as we were finishing up our rock climbing session so we headed back to the agency. We decided to grab a bite at a local restaurant (which I came to later regret… stayed tuned), went back to the hostel to get ready and went out for another night on the town. We headed to the same spots as the night before and met up with the same group of people. Banos is such a small town, you seem to always be running into the same people which in a way was part of its beauty. As we had nothing planned for the next day, we continued our salsa lessons into the night.
The next morning, I woke up with severe stomach pains, regretting the meal I had the night before. I didn’t end up getting out of bed until 2 pm and we didn’t leave the hostel until 4 pm. Since I didn’t want to make Farima stay in all day and wanted to avoid being cooped up inside, we decided on an adventure a little less extreme. We took a cab to Casa del Arbol (tree house), to check out the famous swing at the end of the world. We both took turns on the swing, which was a make-shift one that hung from a tree house and swung over the mountain tops (not as scary as it sounds!), and took a few pictures. Pictures and videos make the swing look a lot scarier than it actually is, which was a bit of a relief since we were afraid it wouldn’t be so secure. The top of the mountain and the swing were a complete tourist spot and crowded with locals and foreign tourists alike so we had to be considerate with the amount of time we spent on it (mainly the number of cool looking pictures we were able to take). The scenery around the tree house was beautiful and I was glad to get out in the fresh air for a while. We headed back into town and decided to end the Sunday with a nice relaxing movie night. I finally watched the movie, Gravity, but like everyone told me I probably should have seen it in 3D.
The next day, we were in for some more adrenaline packed fun. We were going canoying! Canoying is basically repelling and sliding down waterfalls. We had to get used to the feeling of repelling down a waterfall, but once we got the hang of it, Farima and I were running down them and jumping off the side which made it even more fun. There was another couple in our group, however the girlfriend did not seem to be enjoying herself as much as the rest of us. The water was a bit cold and the weather a bit stormy, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time. We returned back to the city center around one and got ready to go and explore the rest of the city, but first we treated ourselves to a massage. The place where we had our massages looked big on the outside, but once inside was only a tiny little room. We basically had a couples massage as there was no separator between the two tables. On our way to dinner that night, we were fortunate to catch the Volcano Tungurahua (a present day active volcano near the small town of Banos) erupting. Although we didn’t actually witness the lava flow, it was still a cool experience to see the plume of smoke.
For one reason or another, Farima and I were enjoying Banos so much and the feeling of being in a city for more than a few days, it was hard to leave. On our last day before we parted ways, we rented mountain bikes and rode down one of the main roads in town, Waterfall Avenue, which is the main road in Banos that is lined with waterfalls on either side. As we stopped to admire one of the many waterfalls, we ran into our friends, Fleur and Michelle whom we had met earlier in Salento, Colombia (another cool thing about meeting people who are on a similar plan!). They happened to be doing the same waterfall tour in a car which was cool because we continued to run into them at different ones. During one of the stops, I was persuaded to do a canopy swing down into the valley across the river. Though it was a bit nerve wrecking, I am really glad I got to experience it as it was breathtakingly beautiful and not as scary as I had imagined. We finally arrived at the last and final waterfall, which was called Pailon del Diablo or in English, Devil’s Cauldron. We locked up our bikes and walked down to the waterfall view point which was about a 20 minute hike down. The waterfall was massive and extremely powerful, so powerful that we were soaked after standing on the viewing platform for only a few minutes. After seeing the Devil’s Cauldron I now understand why Oscar had told us it would be our last swim in a waterfall when we asked him if people could swim there. Afterwards, we parted ways with Fleur and Michelle, but made plans to meet up with them later the same night. As the rest of the bikers had done and as it was starting to get dark out, Farima and I put our bikes in the back of a truck and headed back into town. We grabbed a bite to eat and met up with Fleur and Michelle as planned, and headed out for our last night in town.
The next morning, Farima had to catch an early bus to Mancora with Fleur while I was headed back to Quito to catch my flight to the Galapagos; we would meet again in Cusco in a week’s time. It is funny to think what started as a rough plan to spend a couple days in a small little Ecuadorian village turned into us staying for almost a week. It is refreshing when you fall in love with a place you visit and the things you experience there that make it difficult to leave. It is also liberating having the freedom to change and alter your plans as things unfold and as you continue day into day. We have definitely come to consider that as one of the many beauties of long term travel!
Edited By: Farima M.