|Welcome to the Jungle!
For out last night in Baños, on the brink of the Amazon, we decided to visit the little mountain town's namesake. In Spanish "Baños" means "Toilets" not a very appealing name, but it got this name because of the abundance of thermal pools in town. We spent a night relaxing and chilling out in the pools. After a few days of riding a night in a hot spring is much appreciated. They had a hot pool, two freezing cold pools and one boiling lava hot cauldron that was not for the faint of heart. It was a good ending to a memorable town.
|With much rain comes many waterfalls.
In the morning when we left town and were soon faced with a riveting choice. To go or not to go? That was the question. Over the gaping gorge that was carved out of the mountains, there was a steel cable that spanned the length of the canyon. The purpose of the cable was to send thrill seekers flying above the gorge to enjoy the rush and the view. Tormod looked to me and said "You wanna go?" I had never ziplined on anything substantial. I figured, what better place to cross this off my bucket list. I said "Let's do it!" We were both a little skeptical about the reliability of the contraption, but we decided to give it a go. We got harnessed up and hooked on to the cable. Then my legs were picked up and strapped in place. With a final shove I was gliding across the huge split. Once I was moving it wasn't scary, it was more energizing than anything else. It was nowhere near bungee jumping or skydiving in terms of terror. It really made me feel like I was flying.
|Would you zip line this?
|Feeling the breeze.
After a crazy time hiking through the bush to see the Paílon del Diablo, we ended up camping in the parking lot because it was already dark by the time the fun ended. The next morning I was faced with some epic riding. We were surrounded by thickly vegitated mountains and a raging chocolate river to our side. It's not called the rainforest for nothing. Before long I was completely drenched through three layers of clothes. The downpour only added to the experience though. It was hot so the rain actually acted more as a boon and less as a burden. We eventually veared off the main road and onto a virtually dead back road. Now we rolled through tiny indigenous communities and passed mostly small wooden huts. It was a very "tranquilo" road, as the locals would say.
|Gateway to the Amazon.
|Gray skies means slightly less sunburn.
|If you ever need a break to just get away from it all. The Amazon is your place.
|Thoroughly soaked, but still lovin' it.
|The steps to the Devil's cauldron.
|El Pailón del Diablo.
|This was a very memorable hike.
|We made some friends along the way too.
One of these villages in particular caught my attention. A bunch of the villagers were playing in a large soccer game, but more importantly they were playing a game of Ecuavolley. I asked if we could join in on the next game. You could see by the look in their eyes they were ready for some fresh meat. They happily agreed to let us play, but we had to fork over the team entrance fee, which I have a feeling was actually a Gringo fee. As we waited to play, we became to talk of the village. People started popping up all around us. Before we knew it, we had received an invitation to stay at one of the villagers houses. Eduardo was his name. He was to be our host, and our third volleyball player. Unfortunately things didn't play out so well for our volleyball team. We got manhandled by the locals A-team even with the help of Eduardo. That didn't seem to sway their opinion of us, we were still popular guest stars in the community.
|Eduardo and some of his kids.
|Our village campground. That's Ed's house in the background.
|This version of Ecuavolley involved a basketball.
|Imagine living down there in one of those houses.
|This house had a wooden fence to keep their fish caged in.
After losing that game we tuned in for the last soccer game of the night. It was a tribal showdown between the best lady soccer players in the village. It turned out to be quite an entertaining game to watch. I didn't feel out of place either since the majority of the people playing weren't wearing shoes. During the game we were frequented by the "chicha" delivery women. Chicha is a homemade alcoholic drink, this variation was made from fermented yuca. Although calling it a drink is a bit misleading, it's more of a soup that has a milky appearance. If you got lucky when she reached into the bucket to fill up her gord, you may get a couple peanuts in your drink. For the rest of the night, these three ladies walked around to every man, and the occasional woman. They stopped and gave you just enough time to gulp down this hearty drink before moving to the next in line. And don't even think about saying no, they wouldn't accept that. After the big soccer game finished they all moved to the dance floor. One of the men insisted on showing me a few of his best dance moves that were gaurantied to fetch me a lady. He showed me his stuff and prompted me to test it out. I moved to the dance floor and found a partner. It was clear the ladies were embarrassed though. Red cheeks emblazoned their faces, and they nervously glanced around at all the eyes glaring at us. I doubt they had seen more than a few gringos in their lifetime and I would venture to say I was the first one they had danced with. After an hour or two I could no longer understand any of the locals. The drinks had gotten to them and their Spanish lingo became too fast and slurred. I was not able to make out much over the blaring music. I just smiled and nodded. It was a bit slow getting started, but it soon became a dance til you drop party. By the time we decided to leave the Amazonian disco, at least two party goers were curled up on the dirt dance floor passed out.
|This was the largest butterfly on the trip.
Morning came quick. I was awakened by Eduardo's kids playing in the dirt and swinging from a rope swing tied onto their guava tree. When I emerged we were treated with a traditional jungle breakfast prepared for us by Eduardo's wife. It consisted of steamed yuca, hard boiled eggs, and a spicy tomato and onion salad. The entire breakfast came straight from their backyard. Eduardo was very proud of this and preached about how natural they lived at his house. Rightfully so, I would be proud of a self produced breakfast too. He even went so far as to show us how natural his two year old son Moises was. He demonstrates how Moises preferred to be completely naked by stripping off his clothes. Moises did like it though, when they tried to put a shirt back on him he put up a bit of a fight.
|Little Moises feeling free. His toy happens to be some strong whiskey with a few roots cut up and added for flavor.
|Exploring the forest.
After breakfast Eduardo wanted to show off one of his prized possessions. He showed us his homemade blow dart gun. This piece of expert craftsmanship was almost as long as me. He said he had used it for birds and monkeys mainly. He grabbed a sharp slender object off of the palm thatched roof, and wrapped a fluffy material on it. Voila! He had made a lethal dart. He loaded it into the gun and handed it off to me. With one good blow the burst of air sent the dart soaring through the forest. It was not hard to see how effective this would be for hunting. He said "Es muy silencio." Or it is very silent. We waited out the daily downpour as we talked with Eduardo and his family. Although I didn't think of it at the time I was fulfilling a childhood dream. I was in the largest jungle in the world, learning from a native that was born and raised there. The Amazon has been a place I have been facsinated with ever since I watched nature shows on Animal Planet. This visit with Eduardo and his family will be an encounter that I will never forget.
|She started sprinting for cover as the rains came.
|Practicing with the blow darts.
|He was a curious little guy.
After we left the village it was not long before we approached a river. On the map we noticed there was no road traversing this Amazinian tributary. I figured there would be a ferry boat to take us across, or a felled tree to clamber across on. If those both failed I reckoned we may be able to just ford the river holding our bikes. Well when we arrived I realised that none of those options were possible. There was no boat, so no ferry ride. The river was about a quarter mile across, so the tree method was out. Lastly it looked to be about 20 feet deep and rushing at a pretty good clip, so we definitely were not fording it. But there was one other option. There was a single steel cable that hung above the mighty river. Attached to that cable was a small metal cart. "We had already ridden a zip line for fun, now we will ride one out of necessity." I thought to myself. We inquired with the operator if it was possible for us to cross in the crate. They assured us everything would be fine. They warned "No tocar." (Don't touch) as they pointed at the fat steel cable. We packed this cart to the brim. Two bikes and two Gringos, there wasn't room for anything else, or so I thought. The two boys operating the zip line detached the cart, got a running start and jumped on. These two hung off the back of the cart as we soared 50 feet above the rapids. In the meantime touching the steel cable would have meant sudden death for your hand or a arm. It would have been promptly sucked into the back of the cable cart and extracted from the body. Lucky no limbs were dismembered. We crossed the river and came in pretty hot. There was a large tire resting on a cement wall just in case any carts are coming in too fast.
|Tormod closely inspecting the souvenir stand before making a purchase.
|Packed and ready.
|Tarzan swinging from a vine.....okay it's a cable.
|That dude has got to pull this thing back up.
|This was the condemned house we slept in. You gotta be resourceful in the forest.
|Dude using a flamethrower on a hanging pig......need I say more?
On this side of the river our surroundings changed. The road became really rough and rocky, and there were lots of small Dragon fruit fields that were being cultivated by the locals. On this side of the river the forest was denser with a higher canopy. After several hours of riding through the pristine forest we arrived in a little forest town. This isolated place was formed way out here in the jungle. They had a soccer field, volleyball nets, a basketball court, and a little restaurant. That's where we found ourselves for dinner. It was run by a lovely couple. The wife was from Cuba and her husband was from Equatorial Guinea in Africa. They were very happy to fill us up. They made us a great pizza and topped it off with some tropical bits. After we ate dinner they kindly invited us to stay the night in their restaurant. What a week!
|Potholes for days.
|Dragonfruit, love it or hate it.
|A neat little home on stilts.
|Stream through the forest.
|Saved by the bell.
|Nice quiet road.
|The pizza man.
|I loved this little house.
We found a gorgeous swimming hole and played around there for a few hours. Now we are now in the forest town of Macas getting ready to continue South towards the border of Peru.
|The water was moving deceivingly fast. I was not a strong enough swimmer to cross over to the waterfall.
|I could have spent days here.
|Just hit the 2,000 mile mark today!
|Butterflies and waterfalls.
The pieces of life will fall into place, you just need to create a space for them.