The city of Baños is set deep into a river valley cutting through the eastern edge of the Ecuadorian Andes sitting in the shadow of a looming volcano. We arrived in the evening after another long day travelling on busses, but were rewarded by a beautiful view of the towns cathedral from our hostels rooftop terrace.
Once we got settled, we went out in search of food, and stumbled across Stray Dog Cerveceria, at which, for the first time in two months, we drank beer that was not pilsner. The food was excellent as well, and we found ourselves here both of our nights in town, and sampled all five of their taps…but, I digress. We were traveling with Sheena’s cousin Marvín, and wanted to make the most of our short time there, so the following day we woke and headed out for a morning hike. We began by ascending to Mirador la Virgin, a penitent climb of 676 steps to the statue above the city. From there, we continued up another 1,000 feet to the ridge top, circling back around and down to town, roughly eight kilometers in total.
A quick lunch followed, then we met up with our guide for an afternoon excursion canyoning in a nearby river. after a short drive we disembarked from the van, changed into our wetsuits and harnesses, and hiked uphill 30 minutes to the first falls. After a quick how-to on rappelling, we roped in and went over the first falls, roughly 30 feet. There were an additional three falls below, the tallest being 60 feet. Each went off without a hitch…except once when Sheena lost her footing and was momentarily pummeled by the third falls. The canyon ended with two natural rock water slides before we headed back to town, tired but happy.
Baños literally means baths, and the city gets its name from the four very hot, volcano-fueled mineral springs in town. By this point, the three of us were in desperate need for a soak to help our tired muscles. We ended our day at Termas La Virgin, sitting at the foot of a 100 foot misty waterfall, aptly named “Hair of the Virgin.” The water contained such a concentration of minerals that it was opaque and brown, and one pool was so hot it was difficult to even enter, but was a needed and welcome respite from the long day.
The following morning, just before Marvín boarded the bus home, we spontaneously made the decision to jump from the 300 foot San Francisco bridge in a “pendulum swing,”wherein you jump from a platform on one side of the bridge, free fall, then swing in a wide arc as you are lowered to the ground. Needless to say, willingly throwing ourselves off of a bridge was one of the more terrifying things either of us have ever done.
That afternoon we headed east to Rio Verde to a new hostel for a night before descending into the western Amazon jungle. Rio Verde’s claim to fame is El Pailon del Diablo: a massive, 80 meter waterfall which falls into a punchbowl and then is bisected by a boulder the size of a house. Around and below the falls has been constructed a series of viewing platforms and a suspension bridge, along with a “path” through a natural crevice of rock which you can crawl and climb to get directly behind the rushing water. It proved to be one of the more spectacular falls we have seen, in Ecuador or elsewhere.
Our plan from here was to spend a few days in the Oriente, Ecuador’s portion of the Amazon jungle. The owner of the hostel in Rio Verde had a contact in Tena, about three hours by bus into the jungle, and made arrangements for us to arrive and head to the house of an indigenous family in the jungle for a night or two. It sounded easy, and relatively inexpensive, so we agreed. But, as does happen, it did not go exactly as we planned…