I awoke in El Coca not really knowing my plan for today. I was still torn between Banos and Quito. Banos seemed like the better option as it meant I could go down to Cuenca afterwards. I decided I’d let the bus Gods decide and headed to the bus station, but not before finding a panadería to get some breakfast and stocking up on snacks from the supermarket. I jumped in a taxi and was sad to see that most of the busses to Banos were night busses. I asked at the last kiosk, I can remember why and had a little issue with 10 in the mañana vs tarde and noche. After I had a complete brain meltdown I brought a ticket for 10am and would be on the bus in 45minutes. Great as according to google it was only a 4 hour journey. After I looked at my ticket I realised it was to a place called Puyo. I went to question it and I was told I could get a bus from there and it would only be a further hour. Ok.

I jumped on the bus which left on time and then seemed to be driving the wrong way through the city. It stopped for petrol and after it started crossing the bridge south, where there seemed to be a huge lack of roads, instead of heading to the highway in the north. I asked a fellow passenger and they said the bus did indeed go to Puyo so I accepted my fate and sat on the bus. It was boiling hot and it powered thought the Amazon, first on dodgy asphalt roads and then gravel. Stopping at the villages along the way. I soon realised this was not going to be a 4 hour journey.

At one point the bus stopped and a load of people got up and I realised too late that they were going to use the bathroom. I thought it was a little strange as there was a toilet on the bus but as I’ve since discovered in Ecuador the toilets are more of a theoretical eminently. So when I tried to use it the door didn’t open. You could argue the next thing that happened was lucky or unlucky but I’ll leave that to you. Maybe 45 minutes later the bus stopped. At this point we were años hit by a huge storm. 10, 20 then 30 mins went by and I realised we were not moving. I decided to ask to leave the bus and was able to release myself in the biggest storm ever. I rejoined the bus still not really sure as to what was going on. I Janet really paid attention to the time but after what felt like an hour everyone suddenly left the bus. I followed, and it turned out they were walking up the road. I had realised there must be something blocking the road and indeed there was. A lorry that was deep in the mud and wouldn’t be getting out anytime soon. So we swapped busses with those coming from the other direction and then sat on it for a while without moving, I until the cries of “vamos amigo” became too much or they were just ready to go. The bus had to reverse and then do an interesting 12 point. I asked how long the journey would take and it was another 3 hours. Which indeed it was. The rest was fairly uneventful and I was dropped off I. Puyo with the driver waving to another bus. I got on and was on my way to Banos with Jumanji playing at record volume for the 12 time. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it but many of the busses here play films, normally something inappropriate like an action film with a lot of violence and especially in Ecuador at a loud volume. No one seems to watch either.

After another 90mins I was finally dropped off in Banos. For once I hadn’t booked a hostel and that morning there were plenty of places. Sadly it turned out to be a holiday weekend and the hostel I wanted to stay in, Community, was fully booked. They pointed me to another hostel where I was greeted by a very friendly man and luckily I had a bed for the night. Exhausted I went to a reasonably priced restaurant and treated myself to a steak that is not had in sometime.

Despite the town buzzing and being invited by some people I’d met in the common area I decided to have an early night. Well that would have been the plan if it hadn’t been so loud. It’s a shame as most of the hostel is great but my bed was overlooking the plaza and possibly the noisiest place in the hostel.

I decided to sleep in a little the next day and arranged to meet Claudia at 10:30 I don’t think I mentioned above but I received a message form Claudia who also happened to be heading to Banos. After speaking to a couple from the US in the dorm I realised there was a lot to do.

We decided to start by hiking up to La Casa del Árbol, a swing on top of the mountain. It was 4km and I figured that it wouldn’t take long. I was wrong, and it was a really steep ascent. It had been a few weeks since I’d been done any hiking at altitude and I was back up at 2500 metres so was really hard going.

We finally reached the road and there wasn’t far to go when a 4×4 pulled up and offered to give us a ride. We accepted and jumped in the back excited for the opportunity. A lovely family from Guayaquil had given us the ride and we hung out with them whilst we queued for the swing. As you can see the swing is on the edge of the mountain. I was a little scared to get on the swing but as soon as I was swinging I had a great time.

Afterwards they kindly gave us a ride back to town. We all crowded in the inside of the car. It’s amazing how many people you can fit in if you try and the police are not going to pull you over. It was really fun to sing reggeton songs on the way down. Back in town we grabbed a late lunch and then went back to the hostel to rest. Later Claudia and I met up again to book rafting on the river and had dinner at my hostel which apparently did Ecuadorian food. I ordered the vegetarian tacos and added chicken. I realised it was a good way to get more vegetables into my diet.

It was time for an early night as we would be rafting in the morning. We were picked up at 9am and ended up in a minibus which drove around town picking up other passengers and played dance music. We stopped off at the office and picked up our equipment and boats before we headed off down river. We were instructed to change, given life jackets and split into smaller groups. It was here we were given the safety briefing where we were told what to do if we were knocked out the boat, the boat flipes over, hit a rock, we’re dragged away by the current and a multitude of other ways I might end up in the river. I started to become a little scared as the briefing was strongly suggesting that I’d be in the river.

Then we got in the boat and practiced paddling on land and took our positions in the boat. We then carried the boat to the river and jumped in. One girl was told to sit on the front and off we went down the first rapid.

After the first rapid we pulled into a calm area and were told to jump in the water. Whilst the others questioned I jumped in. I really need to question things before I do them. Once we were all in the water we were given 10 seconds to try and get back in the boat. This was not easy so I grabbed a strap and managed to pull myself in. Then as shown in the safety briefing those of us in the boat pulled in anyone still left in the water. In hindsight this was really good as have us experience of the water.

Before each rapid we were given various instructions and all followed them. The rapids were grades 3 and 4 and at various times people were locked out the boat. After a couple go rapids the guide asked who wanted to go upfront next so I jumped at the chance thinking it’s better to get it out the way and I perched on the front of the boat. It was really fun and I got to drink a lot of the river water. It was actually easier than rowing as the water tended to knock you back into the boat and I had more to hold on to.

There was one point where just before the rapid we were told the boat might flip as it was the biggest one. Luckily it didn’t and to make up for it our guide kept us paddling against one rapid and half the people fell out. We hit a couple of rocks at times which made people fall out. The Dutch guy on the front slid under the boat which looked really scary, but he said he wasn’t and it was fine. At another point we were taken a different way down the river and bounded off rocks as we went down the rapids. Apparently this is the fun way.

It was over all too soon and was so much fun. Not only did they take all of the photos but lunch was also provided. All for $20. We went back to town exhausted.

After a quick shower Claudia and I went to the coffee shop again as they offered the most amazing milkshakes. We didn’t realise that they were designed to be shared.

Afterwards we decided to try the hot springs for which Baños is famous. From the advise of her hostel we went to a local one around the corner. Entrance was only $2 and we seemed to be the only tourists there. They had two hot pools and we needed to rent hair nets. The fist was around 30 degrees and we stayed there for a while. It was busy and personal space is not so well regarded here. But we did speak to a few people and practiced Spanish. The next Pool was crazy hot. The first time I went in it felt like I was burning. A little like walking on the sand in Huacachina. I led the Pool after a few minutes and after I got out for a little while I thought I might fair for a little while. Claudia chatted to a man and we sound out the Pool was 40degrees. Which is pretty hot. I gave it another few goes but I couldn’t get used to the temperature. Afterwards Claudia went back to her hostel and I went out in search of pizza.

On the final day we decided to cycle to the Pailón del Diablo. It’s a waterfall and the ride is 20km downhill which goes past a selection of sights. We met around 10am and collected our bikes and then started off cycling. Most of it was on the main road so I’d have to deal with busses and lorries. It was mostly downhill and pretty steep and we sped off towards the first stop.

We passed several waterfalls and there are tunnels on the route, the first one needs to be cycled through and the others there is a cycle path.

After a few more kilometres there was a bigger waterfall and there is a cable car across the valley. We jumped on and before I knew it we were speeding high across the valley and I was taking photos. It was only on the way back that I realised I hadn’t even considered the height.

After more downhill we parked our bikes, locked them up and followed the path to the waterfall. There is one point where you can go right behind the waterfall. To get there you have to practically crawl on your hands and knees through a tunnel.

We went and had empanadas for lunch as had been suggested and then decided to look at the other side. This involved walking across two high bridges and we got a much better look at the river and the waterfall.

I started having a little play taking close ups of the water and slow mo videos.

We went back to the village and luckily there is a truck that transports is and the bikes back to town.

Afterwards the Sky was a little brighter so I took a few shots of th town which is actually really pretty.

That night we decided to go for pizza. I can never have too much. Claudia went to take her night bus and I was spending one more night before heading to the coast.