This is me. What springs to mind?
What probably doesn’t enter your mind is an adrenaline-junkie explorer.
And so, this is the story of a smiley girl from Sydney paralysed by fear and reduced to tears in Banos – Ecuador’s capital for adventure.
Ready? Let’s find out what activities you can get up to in Banos, Ecuador.
When I read the trip notes for our Ecuador to Peru adventure, I was looking forward to Banos. Meaning bath, the town’s nearby Tungurahua volcano feeds a handful of hot springs that locals and tourists can enjoy. I was imagining relaxing times ala our time in Baden-Baden in Germany’s Black Forest.
On the food front, I heard that the Swiss made their way to Banos and during our 3.5 hr bus trip from the Amazon home-stay I let my mind wander to a happy place of cheese fondue, chocolate, spas, manicures and general chill times.
Oh yes, I was aware there was white-water rafting, canyoning and a multitude of other experiences where I could find myself hanging perilously by a carabiner-fastened rope donning protective headgear. I knew this, but I also know myself, right?!? I’ve been there before in Africa. Flung out of a raft into a washing machine 1200 spin cycle of white water on the Zambezi. I was not going to sign up to activities that would find my nervous system lit up like a homemade firecracker.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Things to do in Banos – The worry and weeping part
Situated in the Andean highlands of central Ecuador, the everyday temperate climate of Banos is great for scenic walks to waterfalls (there are over 60 of them!), horse riding, biking and eating taffy (or as the Ecuadorians call it melcocha).
I can’t tell you much about any of these experiences because I didn’t do them.
Instead, the two days we had in Banos, my evil alter-ego signed waiver form after waiver form.
Rafting in Banos
The team at GeoTours are great. Equipment, guides and the safety briefing were all top notch. The error was on my part, thinking hangover numbness would be the way to tackle grade 3 and 4 rapids.
See, the night before I was practising my Spanish, mastering “vino tinto per favore” and “una mas”.
It was week 2 of our 8-month Latin American trip and these are critical phrases to get under your belt!
So how did it go down?
As we left the calm waters of the rafting entry point, I was thinking “this ain’t so bad”. Sitting in the middle of the raft, I felt safer than when I was up front taking in all the water. The canyon scenery is amazing. The rapids gradually increase in intensity. At the beginning, it’s super fun to move up and roll over the swells. Rich’s face was lit up, loving every minute of it.
Then we hit the rapids proper.
After each rapid, my quick glance around at the faces told me something I always knew.
I’m not like these people.
Fear grabs me by the throat. A slow choke-hold that takes my breath away until floods of tears appear. See the thing with water sports…no one can see you crying!
Now check it out in slow-mo.
The guide then talked about a fun move we could do called ‘surfing’ effectively balancing the raft on two opposing water forces keeping you stationary.
Thanks, but no thanks.
The question was put to the group. It was 5 against 1 (can you think of who said no?) It was possible for me to get off the raft, and into another group’s raft, and so I did.
With grace? Hell no. Turns out you are always safer in the raft. In my scared giddyness, I aim to step from one rock to another and completely misstep, so I fall and wedge myself in between the two rocks semi-submerged in the water. Using my forearms to stall my fall, I end up getting scraped pretty good. There were bursts of laughter. Even I was laughing, because who manages to get into this situation?
From a safe distance, I watched the surfing and it looked awesome, and I was glad I didn’t stop the group from having a go.
The journey came to an end, and I couldn’t be happier. Rich was already planning for future rafting trips on our South American tour, but I knew I was done.
Oh did I tell you that this trip was part of a full day adventure package?
Yeah well, stay with me, because the fun ain’t ended people.
Canyoning in Banos
Next we take a drive to the foothills of some mountain for canyoning. You know that gig where you bounce off cliffs with water thrashing down around you using just a rope? Yeah, that!
I remember as I was booking the day trip, I knew I wouldn’t like the rafting but hey this canyoning could be great fun.
First you got to get yourself into a full wetsuit for a 15-minute steep walk to the top of the waterfalls. I don’t know if it was the wetsuit, the adrenaline from rafting or generally lack of fitness, but my hyperventilation was met with tears. I feel for the poor guide who was walking with me, understandably bewildered by my emotion. I think I may now be known as the person who took 10 breaks and 40 minutes to make the climb and attracted a mini search party! Oh yeah, Rich and a mate Jack came looking for me and the guide because who takes this long to climb up a small hill?
I finally reach the top. I listen to the briefing letting the cool water bring my overheated body temp down.
The first rappel was 8m. Let me tell you 8m seems like the depth of the Grand Canyon when you are at your wit’s end.
I make it and start feeling bolder for the next one, oh but wait that’s 15m and then the one after that is 20m with a mini zipline, finishing with a climb over a precarious ladder to the final 30m rappel.
Half way down I was enjoying it.
I got the hang of it and made a few jump rappels. Annoyed for not being bolder at the beginning, the adventure came to an end with a final slide down the rock face into a pool of water.
Big thanks to our super awesome group who was patient with me and guides that understood the fear and instead of making fun, supported me through each step.
Things to do in Banos – The whooping with delight part
Time to settle the heart and bed the adrenalin bug for a wee bit and look at the things to do in Banos that are pure fun. Not to say the above activities are not fun, just that they also come with a side of fear.
Casa de Arbol
How about trying the tallest tree swing in the world?
Enjoy a drink with some amazing views
There are great look out points in Banos and we made our way around to Luna Runtun for a drink at sunset.
We caught a local bus for 50c to Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) and took the scenic walk around this park. There are a number of suspension bridges that you can cross and small tunnels to crawl through to get behind the waterfall. Be prepared to get really wet from the powerful waterfall spray.
There are loads of spa places to choose from and we opted for a couples massage. To finish off Rich took a milk bath and I had a pedicure.
Tip: Have a good rinse after the milk bath otherwise you smell a bit like a dairy farm and not in a good way.
Feel like you packed in a week of activity in just over 2 days? That’s Banos for you. Check it out next time you are in Ecuador, it will definitely stay in your memory long after your leave. Not to mention, for this kind of fun, all the activities are super affordable ranging from US$1-$25.
Rope-free and dry listening to Above and Beyond – Group Therapy 162.
Let me know in the comments below what’s your favourite place that brings together fear and fun? I’ll probably opt for the fun stuff only 🙂