Adventures in Baños

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The ultimate adventure destination in Ecuador is without doubt Baños de Aguas Santas– a city in the central part of the country. ‘The Gateway to the Amazon’, Baños is the last big mountain town right at the edge of the Amazon jungle and a major tourist center.

Banos

Banos

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paintings of local disasters and accidents are found inside the church

paintings of local disasters and accidents are found inside the church

Ecuadorian woman in traditional clothing in Banos

Ecuadorian woman in traditional clothing in Banos

Guinea pigs for lunch!

Guinea pigs for lunch!

Backpackers, adventure-seekers, and adrenalin- junkies from around the world poor here daily attracted by the immense natural beauty of the area- green mountains, rivers and waterfalls, as well as by all the extreme sports and adventures this terrain provides. Mountain biking, river rafting, bungee jumping, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, canyoning, jungle expeditions, thermal springs, and zip lines- right at the foothills of the active Tangurahua volcano and for the cheapest imaginable prices. We are so there!

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A day before our arrival in Baños, February 27th 2016, Tangurahua erupted shooting a tall column of grey ashes 5 kilometers into the air. Fine ashes, like sky-dust, started falling down on us in Riobamba- a city about 80 kilometers away. The volcano kept erupting, puffing like an old smoker every few hours for the entire time we were in the area. The first time we saw the strange thin cloud coming out of the mountain in the distance, we asked a random man on the street: “Is the volcano erupting right now???” He just looked at us without stopping, smiled and said: “Bienvenidos en Ecuador” (Welcome to Ecuador).

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After the second day, we just stopped paying any attention to Tangurahua’s spewing lava and ash, and went about our business, like all the locals did and have been doing for ages.

Tangurahua– “Throat of Fire” is an active stratovolcano in the Cordillera Oriental of Ecuador, which entered an eruptive phase in 2000, with major eruption in 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and now, causing a few evacuations, a number of roads and houses destroyed and people killed by pyroclastic flows.

Fire on the mountain: Tungurahua on February 27, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH BY JUAN CEVALLOS, AFP, GETTY IMAGES  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160304-ecuador-volcano-tungurahua-erupts-lava-ash-pictures/#/01_tungurahua.ngsversion.1457104257445.jpg

Fire on the mountain: Tungurahua on February 27, 2016.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JUAN CEVALLOS, AFP, GETTY IMAGES
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160304-ecuador-volcano-tungurahua-erupts-lava-ash-pictures/#/01_tungurahua.ngsversion.1457104257445.jpg

We arrive in this extremely beautiful extremely extreme environment, ready for action. Our CouchSurfing host Juan-Karlos or ‘Juanka’ is the most awesome guy in Baños, possibly in Ecuador, probably in the world, and we are the luckiest family to have the pleasure of staying at his place and getting to know him and his family. His house is huge, clean and beautiful, and we get a nice room with two big beds on the second floor.

Juanka teaching Maya to play the guitar

Juanka teaching Maya to play the guitar

Juanka has an extensive experience working in the tourist industry. He is organizing ‘Free Bike Tours’ – a few hours or all day, different terrains guided mountain biking tours for tips. For more details, check out his web page: Free Biking Tours Ecuador. But he also is the owner of a local bar and during our few-day stay at his place he was busy most of the time, so we didn’t get a chance to bike with him, unfortunately.

With Juanka at his house

With Juanka at his house

Instead, we rent bikes for 10$ for a day, and ride without a guide. We take a map of the 18 kilometer long ‘Waterfall Rout’ with 12 waterfalls along the way, going mostly downhill parallel to a river, mostly on the main road with cars passing all the time, across bridges, through tunnels, villages and side roads. The ride is long but easy and the scenery is spectacular. Canyons with zip lines every now and then, waterfalls, bridges over the river, where you can bungee jump for 20$ or less. We stop regularly to marvel at the view or watch the zip-lines.

Maya

Maya

As we reach one of the final waterfalls, we eat delicious lunch at a small Persian restaurant in the village and take “the bus” back to Baños in the afternoon. It’s 18 km uphill, so 99% of the tourists, including us, pay 2$ per person to ride in the back of a truck instead of paddling with the bikes.

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The next day it’s raining so we decide to get wet anyway. We sign up for a white water rafting adventure in one of the few agencies in town. Together with a few other tourists and guides, we pile up on a mini-van with an inflatable raft on a trailer behind us and drive down the road to a place on the Pastaza river, where, after short instructions, we launch the rafts and off we go down class 3 and 4 rapids.

instructions

instructions

going downriver!

going downriver!

This means- crazy big water, the raft disappearing completely, then jumping in the air, everyone screaming, people falling off the raft into the river- it’s absolute madness!

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Maya loves it so much, she decides to sit in the middle, right at the front of the raft and gets the most of the splashes.

Maya is in the front

Maya is in the front

We lose her and have to fish her back out of the water a couple of times.

Mira

Mira

We stop after almost an hour. If we don’t stop at this spot, our guide explains, we will float down to the Amazon River and reach Brazil!

The raft crew

The raft crew

On the way back, we stop for lunch- included in the rafting tour package, and Maya declares she wants to be a river-rafting guide one day and do this for a living…

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Watch our short YouTube video- Two Months in the Andes With Maya

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