Saturday, January 8, 2011

Banos to Puyo 1 - What a day...

Today I covered 25 kms on bike, 10 kms on foot (up and down mountains). I´m sunburnt, bruised, bleeding, and sleeping in a hotel that´s still under construction. Man, backpacking is awesome.

The day started out early. I got up around 7 am to start hiking and headed to the trail to Bellavista Mirador, up one of the mountains overlooking the tourist trap of Banos (but jumping off point for some off-trial adventures). At the overlook, you see an incredible view of Banos, sheltered by lush green hills and a snow-capped volcano in the distance. I continued up the trail to the small village of Runtun. On the way down, there was several large groups of school children heading up for a special English class. A few of the teachers stopped to ask me directions, laughing that they were asking directions from the sunburnt gringo on the trail. The long lines of kids would have give me high fives (or rather low-fives since they were so short) as they passed me. There were also several groups of stragglers, kids around 9 or 10, lagging behind on the long, hot trek up the mountain. They also stopped to ask me how to the get to the school, and for a few precious moments, we chatted in Spanish about their English class and I gave them directions up the trail. It was probably the first and only time I will ever be asked for directions from Ecuadorians, in Ecuador.

I made my way down the rest of the trail to the Virgin Mary overlook, and then returned to Banos to prep for my bike trip. I grabbed a quick lunch of cuy or guinea pig from a local stall. Stacks of the guinea pigs lay on the grill, including several on sticks. It never ceases to amaze me how, even in a tourist trap like Banos, you can quickly leave the beaten path and find local stores and vendors, which offer more authentic experience for less money (and with better food).

Finally, I was ready to set off on the Banos to Puyo bike trail. It would take too long to describe everything on the trail, but here are a few highlights.

At Mano de Novia, a gorgeous double waterfall, I took a small, rickety cable car to the top of the waterfalls and a small village. They had a tiny fishing pond, and two local women caught one of the fish for my second lunch. I took it to go, and then hiked down to the bottom of the waterfall, eating my food as the power of the falls sprayed water in my direction.

Continuing the trial, I found another waterfall, name El Placer, which is rarely visited by tourists. I went off wandering the back trails, locals pointed me to a path to the cascade, and I found a spot halfway down, water streaming down both sides of me, and the water plunging over the precipice just a few steps from where I sat.

The next major waterfall was Pailon del Diabolo. After a long hike down, you climb through a narrow cave system to get right below the waterfall, its raw power drenching you with the cold, refreshing water. After that, you can continue the hike to a small rickety bridge giving you a clear view of both levels of the falls.

At this time it was getting rather late, so I needed to hike back up and look for a place to sleep in Rio Verde, a small town surrounded by lush green hills and a roaring river. I asked around for a hostel, and locals only mentioned one to me, which I visited but was overpriced. I knew there were supposed to be other hostels further down the road, so I decided to set off and see if I could find them. In my haste, I got distracted waving to a couple kids, crashed my bike and skinned one of the my knees. Now limping and bruised, I continued biking the next 2.5 kms up the hill only to find both hostels closed. One of the owners mentioned that he thought there might be two hostels in Rio Verde (I had only seen one).

I headed back as light was beginning to fade. I asked again about a hostel, and the locals I talked to pointed me to the same one. I began wandering around town, and noticed a building that looked kinda like a hostel but without a sign. There was a man washing his car in front of the building and I asked him about it. Turns out he was just working on building a new hostel, and he had one room that was sort of ready. He showed me the room, dirty floor, mattress without sheets, windows covered with construction plastic. They quickly cleaned the room and gave me some 101 dalmatians bedsheets. It was perfect.

And so my day ended, 25 kms on bike, 10 kms on foot, 4 waterfalls, bruised, bleeding and exhausted, I would sleep in a barely constructed hostel in Rio Verde.

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