We arrived at Pequeno Paraiso (Small Paradise) our camp site around 4pm after a 10 hour drive day from Cuenca. Pequeno Paraiso is a very cool spot with great camping lawns, fresh mountain water pool, cooking facilities, TV room, hot water 24/7 and friendly pets. As we arrived, we were informed about the various activities on offer, some of which included rafting, canyoning, treks and bridge swings. A short video detailing the activities had my mind set on what I was to do. Canyoning (as as of yet, I have skipped all other canyoning excursions) and the terrifying bridge swing (little did I know I was going to be doing TWO of them!).
Pequeno Paraiso was a good 30 minute bus ride out of town so it made getting around a bit of a pain. Thankfully, there were buses running between Puyo and Banos on which we could hitch a ride for 50 cents into town. The standard offerings were available. Internet cafés, restaurants and bars, artisan markets etc. but there was also an active volcano nearby apparently. I saw some signs for it but never saw the actual jobbie as I believe it was behind one of the hills snuggled up against the town. We did have one night on the piss with most of the group which was good fun. Went to a bar by the name of ‘Leprechaun’ and ‘enjoyed’ 4 Long Island Ice Teas (yuuggh). It was a very cool bar with dance floor inside and rustic garden outside complete with raging bonfire and sombreros. We did head out to Jack Rock which is another bar for a game of pool before calling it a night. Jolly good fun.
At 9am the morning after arriving, we headed to the kit room to get all our gear. This included wet suit, helmet, life-jacket, shoes and harness with carebena and figure eight. We then jumped into a back of a pickup truck and sped along for about 15 minutes to the start of our adventure. Everything that followed was awesome. We were dunked into the cold water by our guide (to allow us to ‘slowly’ adjust to the cold water). After clamoring over rocks and through the river for a few meters, we met a 2 meter drop into a rocky pool below. That was a little scary but we all did it no problems. Further along, another jump into a pool but this time it was a 5 – 6 meter high jump. Two of the girls with us chickened out and got belayed half way down before the guide dropped them the rest of the way (lol). I, obviously, took the leap. That concluded the big jumps. Next, we had two repel sections. Having done rock climbing at school, I quickly got back into the swing of things and made my way down the rock faces. The second one included repelling down a waterfall which was fantastic. Thirdly, there was a make-shift zip line that the guides set up to get us from waterfall edge to the floor. Awesome.
The canyoning was amazing in general and everyone concurred that this was one of the best and most exciting excursions done so far on tour. Adrenaline was pumping, muscles burning (which I haven’t felt in months! – I have some serious exercise dept waiting for me when I get home) and soaked to the core. The scenery was beautiful and just spending that time in mother nature was great. It was just unfortunate that it didn’t last all that long. Three hours sounds like a decent amount of time but when there are 8 of you and you have to wait for everyone to complete the various sections (and for some, repelling is a scary task and takes a good few minutes) and that really eats into the time. After completing the ‘course’, we ended in a river pool and just spent a couple minutes there doing flips and flops off a rock into the water. Played some silly ‘catch the guides bag’ game and then headed up to the road through a fish farm. A great morning and after all that adrenaline rushes, there was only one thing left to do… go for a bridge swing!
Bridge Swing (x2)
Why do we have this silly urge to do stupid things like jump off bridges? Drugs I reckon. The one in question being the heart-thumping Adrenaline. 5 of us decided to go jump of a bridge in town with a 100 meter drop to the rocks below. The rope was approximately 25 meters long and as with all bridge swings, the rope is pulled tight along the bottom of the bridge. You connect yourself up with carabenas and your harnesses on the opposite side and then you jump off. Easy peasy huh? Honestly though, this jump wasn’t all that bad (in scary terms). We had a little 1.5 meter platform connected to the bridge and once up with rope in position, it was just a matter of taking a two step run and flinging yourself off the end in a swan dive. Apparently my dive off the bridge was the most fluid and poetic of all the others who jumped ;) but it was an awesome experience and really had the heart racing. The harnesses could have been a little more friendly around the waist and groin area though.
Obviously as with any drug, once you get some, you want more. So the next day, off 3 of us went in search of another bridge offering bridge swings. What made this swing different was that the bridge was about 35 meters above the river so when you jump it looks as if you are going to hit the rocks below. Second, the gave the option of going backwards which I took of course. One word. Petrifying! I gave a girlie scream as I experienced 6 meters of free-fall before being caught by the rope. I think it would be way easier jumping head first but falling off a bridge backwards is no fun task. It was an incredible rush and the adrenaline was like none before but I don’t think I will be doing that again (at least for a while). It’s not every day you get to fall off a bridge and at only $20 a pop (which is at least 1/5 the price of elsewhere in the world) it makes it well worth it. Another $5 and you get a CD with pictures and video which I purchased obviously. These clips will join my Durban Stadium swing on YouTube in the Adrenaline playlist when I get home.
After a big night out on the town, a few of us decided to have an easy start to the second day by going for a short walk to a waterfall. ‘Pailon del Diablo’ was it’s name if I recall correctly and it is a mere 15 minute walk from Pequeno Paraiso. A 20 minute walk down the side of the valley brought us to the entrance to the waterfall which incurred a $1 entrance fee. This came with guide not that we needed one but whatever. The pathway took us right up to the waterfall and we could go quite a way down so as to enjoy a soaking in the spray. Although nothing in comparison to Iguazu, it was still an awesome sight. The power at which the water fell into the pool below would probably crush a man into a skin-bad of mush. What set this waterfall apart from others was that the path continued through a little cave-like crawl way and ended with a ‘room’ right behind the waterfall. First time standing behind a waterfall of this size and it was quite the experience. At this point, we were obviously all soaked but knowing that ‘the worlds best’ empanadas (you have to try the banana and chocolate one!) were just up the road, our spirits could not have been higher.
The hot pools (aguas calientes) is the reason for Banos (which means ‘Baths’). Three of us made our way there after the second bridge swing with the aim being to relax and rejuvenate ourselves in the steamy baths however, that did not come to pass. We got there, paid our $3 each to get in and as we crossed the threshold into the bath area, our minds were changed. The pools (of which there were two at the time with another being filled up with fresh water) where crammed full of local people. The pool downstairs appeared yellow in colour (but I doubt this was urine based as there was no smell). We didn’t even bother to inspect the other pool in detail. There was one empty pool however but this was for a reason. It was the cold water pool and was a little too cold for us at that time (around 7pm). As nice as it would have been to relax in a hot spring, this was nowhere as nice as the pools in Pucon, Argentina and it was with that that we left a little disappointed.
Our two days here have been amazing. Every hour has been filled with some form of activity which has either had my heart in my chest or my clothes soaking wet and I would not have had it any other way. Being so far from town (30 minute bus ride) was a bit of a pain as I could not access the Internet easily and enjoy other city offerings but that is a teeny weeny complaint. From here we head out into the Amazon for a 4 day jungle experience which is apparently jam-packed with activities and experiences. I’m sure the blog post following that will take up volumes! Can’t believe that the end of the tour is a mere week away. It has gone so quickly and has been the most amazing adventure of my life so far. Anyway, lets not dote on the end, we still have the jungle to explore!