After NYE there was no doubt, we loved Banos. We were also floored for an entire day after the celebrations. On New Years Day we laughed about the night before, took naps, ate our remaining snacks, read books and finally left the room for a few beers. We decided to get back into the action on Jan 2. One of the things Banos is famous for is waterfalls and all sorts of adventure activities. We decided it would be fun to rent quads and head out to the waterfalls.
I was the only one that had been on a quad before. I’m pretty sure I was about 8 years old and holding on as my Uncle Kevin drove around some forest. So, I mean, I am pretty much an expert. I envisioned us riding out-of-town (the fact that we were even driving a few blocks through town seemed strange to me) and getting on a trail to the waterfalls. Turns out I was wrong. Way wrong.
We all get our helmets, sign some sort of release and are led over to our quads. We are told in rapid Spanish how to turn them on. That’s it. Nothing about how to go forward or more importantly, how to stop? The teenager who is in charge of helping is just walking away. Chico! Espera! Ayuadame! No se como conducir eso! Hey kid! Wait! Help me! I don’t know how to drive this! Oh. Press this lever forward for the gas and use the hand brakes to stop. Well, that wasn’t actually said but there was some hand motioning and that’s what we figured out. Mhmm. Time to go, I guess?
We drive through town and everyone is staring. The quads are super loud and there are four of us so I guess that’s whats causing all this attention? We get out of the small town and then realize that we are actually pulling on to a much bigger road. Um? I’m sure we’ll turn off soon. Oh great… now we’re being tailgated by people in actual cars. People who should actually be on the road. There is a lot of honking. My quad pulls really hard to the right so when I try to get over to the side to be passed I almost go into a ditch. Um, not gonna do that again. I decide that holding up traffic is better than dying so, hold up traffic I did!
This whole time Josta is navigating while driving with a tiny, hand drawn map. We will later realize that while the map is correct it is in no way to scale. What seems very close is actually super far and vice versa. So we made a couple of wrong turn offs – heading up smaller roads in search of waterfalls but not having luck. Trying to turn around on the narrow, little roads is when we figured out that we didn’t know how to reverse. We took turns getting off our bikes and helping each other pull them into position so we could get back on the road. I still don’t know, is there reverse on a quad bike?
We’re back on the road, cruising along and suddenly the road opens up even more. Cars, pickups and big trucks are now driving even faster than before! We are going full speed on our bikes but still not going anywhere near fast enough. This road is also way up in the mountains where the roads are steep and curvy and full of tunnels that got through the mountains. This is insane. I am driving in the complete middle of the road with Ellen and the girls behind me. All of sudden we hear a lot of honking. I look back and there is a greyhound style bus behind Ellen and it’s coming up FAST!
I look behind me again and Ellen is gone and the bus is now behind me. At this point I enter a giant, super long tunnel. The walls are not concrete like tunnels in the States – this is just a hole drilled through the mountain. I am going as fast as I possibly can, my handles are shaking and the bus is tailgating me like crazy. I sort of panic but at the same time realize there is nothing I can do – just keep going! I am in a mountain tunnel, being chased by a bus and my friends are nowhere in sight. Terrifying? You bet! I eventually make it out the tunnel but the road is crazy curvy, there is nowhere to pull over. The bus keeps trying to pass me on the blind curves and then having to jerk back behind me. This is insane. Oh my God. My parents are going to be so pissed if I die. Oh my god. Why did we think this was a good idea??? AHHHHHH!
So, claro I didn’t die. Eventually I was able to pull over on the side of the road. The bus roared past at full speed. The girls show up two minutes later all screaming at once. OHHHHHHHHMYYYYYYYGODDDDD we thought you died!!! That was crazy!!! We went from freaking out to laughing hysterically. How did we get ourselves into this? We keep going and pull up to the first waterfall. It’s pretty but so far we are just wishing we got here some other way. While we there we load into a metal basket and go flying over the canyon. It’s surprisingly fast and kind of cool. Def worth the $1 we paid! We keep driving, it’s taking us longer to get to the main waterfall then we expected so we have to hurry a little. Back on the road, full throttle and thankfully not as much traffic.
We finally make it to the biggest of the waterfalls. There is quite a bit of traffic getting into the waterfall area. Turns out that Ecuadorians are still celebrating New Years, it’s a holiday so there are lots of people visiting the waterfalls. We get in, we park and head out in search of empanadas we’ve heard are really good. The empanadas have not been talked up nearly enough. Mercede’s the owner is amazing. She makes us fresh fritada (delicious pork meat) empanadas that are legit life changing. My mouth is water just thinking about them. So. Good. Ok, so we eat our empanadas and head to the waterfalls. Turns out this one is quite a hike down and quite a hike back up. At this point we know we are going to be late but have been told that’s fine, we will just be charged for the time we use – no need to rush back.
We’re done with the waterfalls and we have about 45 minutes to get back to town. We get going and within 10 minutes we are sitting in gridlock traffic. 45 minutes passes and we have barely moved. Not good. Also, it’s boring. We start singing whatever we can think of at full volume. Again people are staring but that’s to be expected – we are singing like a bunch of crazies. Another hour passes and we have moved just enough to now be stuck in the tunnel with all those delicious bus fumes. Ughh. This sucks. More singing. More selfies. One of the other things we realized while sitting in traffic – 4 Ecuadorian women would NEVER have done this. There we go breaking down gender sterotypes. People would roll down there windows and ask us where we were from. My personal favorite was a few old ladies who were so excited to talk to us and then said a prayer for our safety.
The should be 30 minute return trip ends up taking almost 4 hours. 4 freaking hours. 4 boring hours. 4 hours we have to pay for but no one had budgeted for. On the plus side we didn’t run out of gas which was a major concern.
We finally make it back to town – the people who rented us the quads are in a full on panic. They thought we died or were maybe kidnapped??? Nope, just an obscene amount of traffic. I. Hate. Traffic. So we end up spending double what we budgeted and heading directly to a bar. Beer is our favorite coping mechanism.
The next day we decide it’s time for our final adventure. Josta wants to go big and spends the day canyoning. The rest of us, not so much. We decided that the “Swing At the End of the World” is enough excitement for us. Ellen, Nat and I take a ride (this time in a cab) up-up-up the mountain. When we get there we’re a little less then impressed – the treehouse looks like it’s straight out of IKEA and the swing isn’t so impressive. We decide we made it up here, might as well go for it. Then it’s almost our turn and we all casually admit um, I’m like a little bit nervous.. ahhh! Me too! Me too! I hate heights. We make Nat go first. Thankfully a couple big guys behind us step in to help – Nat climbs up the ramp – sits on the swing – buckles the little piece of rope across her lap and goes for it. The boys give her a big push and she’s flying – laughing – loving it! Ok, my turn.. I’m super nervous. Same process, big push and I’m off. Doesn’t take long to remember one important thing – swinging is real fun. I too am loving it! It’s a blast and at one point I even go no hands (for all of 2 seconds.) So, in the end totally worth it. The view was gorgeous, the swing was fun and it was a good way to spend our final day in Banos.
That night we had one more big night out. Came home at about 5:30 in the morning. Slept for about 4 hours, packed our stuff and headed out. Ellen, Josta and I went to Cuenca and Nat went north to Quito. Our bus ride wasn’t too exciting but bad enough that we all vowed to never again do an 8 hour bus ride with a hangover and only 4 hours sleep. We made it to Cuenca, immediately went to bed and then sleep for approximately forever.
Banos you were crazy. You were fun. A great way to get 2015 started!