Ecuador is small enough to easily catch day buses between its major towns, I only had three hours of compulsory downtime before we dipped into the valley surrounding Ecuador's adventure capital, Baños.
Considering the town name roughly translates into 'Toilets', the place has a whole lot to offer for any greenback carrying mochillero: rafting, zip-lining, hiking, waterfalls, mountain biking, road bugging and a thriving weekend nightlife – the list is endless. On my second night I found the best hostel in town and bedded down for three nights, using each of the days I had there to get out and explore the small town and its surroundings.
Unfortunately the weather really wasn't on our side, and we found ourselves stuck in the hostel on more than one occasion practicing our pool skills – a really cultural experience! Thankfully, Baños is small enough to walk around quite easily and I was able to explore the town in the mornings before the rain set in. Like many South American tourist hotspots (for extranjeros and tourists alike) it has it's own 'thing', which happens to be a sugar cane taffy produced in almost every small storefront. The process involves a sticky, warm sugar mixture which is then teased and stretched across wooden hooks over several hours, which is then flattened and packaged into small bars. If you walk slowly and make eye contact you sometimes get a free taster, if you're with a girl then don't even bother, the Ecuadorian men only have eyes for the gringas.
The town itself, combined with the pretty ordinary weather, started to wear thin over the next couple of days. Watching teams of travellers (apparently with a lot more cash than me) return from fun-packed afternoons of canyoning and being awesome, I felt obliged to make friends and set about convincing the unlucky subjects to spend an entire day with me riding the Ruta de las Cascadas, a downhill ride varying between 15-60km in length racing a path through the valley and east towards the town of Puyo.
When I saw the dreadlocked legends from Mancora, Dusty and Justine, I could hardly believe my eyes. Two great people whom I'd said emotional goodbyes to in Mancora had decided to head north and search for work in Ecuador. In the process, they had also unwittingly become participants in Teddy's Terrific Waterfall Ride, departing at 9am the following day. With a little coercing I also managed to get Laicy on board, a wiry American who was a solid contender for the coolest girl hair I've ever seen. It was a shame when she had to put on the standard bike shop issue stack hat the following day.
Naturally, a 9am start evolved into a 10am departure and it was another half an hour before we had rented our bikes for the day ($6USD). Safety conscious, we were each adorned with the aforementioned stack hats – the height of Ecuadorian cycling fashion. The only person who didn't look like something out of a 1970's Countryside magazine was Dusty, whose dreadlocks provided a greater degree of protection.
And so we were off, down into the valley, over superb roads and by-roads to avoid cycling through any of the several tunnels boring through various parts of the mountainside. The cloud line sat low over the lush green hilltops and above the roaring river, fed by several waterfalls, deep in the valley below. At various points along the ride we had the opportunity to stop and zip-line across the canopy or jump off the odd bridge, but I was just happy with the view.
Just minutes riding time away from the ride's showpiece, the Pailón del Diablo, Dusty managed to snap his chain clean in half. Thankfully it was mostly downhill from there and he managed to make up the rest of the distance by half-coasting, half-skating and not forgetting to throw in a whole lot of Tenessee-style colourful language. If I was to write some of the things that he said I'm pretty sure I'd get banned from the internet.
Thankfully, we made it to the waterfall in time for the daily thunderstorm and promptly locked up our bikes. We descended carefully through the small park reserve ($1.50USD) for about 30 minutes before reaching the foot of the falls, which were the most impressive I've been treated to since Iguaza Falls a few months back. I was totally unaware of the sheer size and volume of this thing prior to my arrival, which even included the opportunity to crawl through a child-size tunnel (sorry Dad, you wouldn't be squeezing through this one) and stand behind the falls themselves. Totally awesome.
Dusty told us in pretty clear terms that he would not be pushing his bike 15km back uphill to Baños, and considering he is a foot taller than me and pretty scary (even when he is happy), I quickly agreed that we should find a truck. A moderate $2 charge got us out of the rain, bikes in two and back into town within 20 minutes.
Unfortunately more goodbyes followed that evening, as I was keen to push out of Baños and head into the jungle the following day. Look out for the next post from incredible Misahualli, one of my favourite places so far on this trip.