Thursday, 1 October 2015





We woke up to a rather rainy morning. We were planning on doing a free cycling tour later in the morning but we're not sure if the weather would clear in time. We headed to the local market and enjoyed a hearty breakfast - eggs, potatoes, avocado, salad and chorizo sausage. We would be well fuelled for a day of cycling! 

Banos was a quaint little town with quiet streets filled with plenty of tour agencies offering all sorts of adventure activities. We hadn't quite decided what daredevil adventures we would yet partake in so went to one of the recommended agencies to get a little more information.

The guy at the front desk was extremely helpful and gave us all the info on the canyoning, white water rafting, bridge swing and other fun looking activities. By the time we had done all the necessary enquiring, it was time for the Free Cycle Tour. We had rented some bicycles for $5 which included safety helmets that resembled horse riding helmets. 

We met our guide Juank,  who was actually good mates with Ovie, our tour guide from Quito. He was a fun and smiley guy who made us keen for the day, even though the clouds were still looming. He assured us that most of the way would be downhill. Jaunk had a very trusty face and his words sounded sincere... But his calves told another story. The lips may lie but the calves always tell the truth! They were far too developed and muscular to be 'downhill calves'. We were suspicious but excited to start the tour so after getting acquainted with the rest of our exclusively female group (lucky Jaunk), we began to cycle through the little town. 

It was sometimes a bit of a challenge to dodge the cars on the very narrow roads but as our contingent of bicycles stuck together, we were able to bring the traffic to a halt around us. 

Our first stop was to check out the bridge from which you could do the Bridge Swing.

Joy sporting her rather attractive horse riding type helmet

Roxy and Jaunk - keen to do the bridge swing? 

Jaunk and the girls - the two French girls (Raphaelle and Veronique), Rachel (England), Sarah (London) and Bridget (Australia).  The group later became affectionately known as the Empanada Girls.  

No one was brave enough to take the dive right then and there so we continued on towards the thermal baths in town. 

This beautiful waterfall that flows right next to the hot baths is not actually natural. It was built specifically to create an ambiance around the hot springs. 

Joy may look carefree but in reality her toes were cold and her socks wet and squishy. In order to get to this point we had to walk up stairs that had water cascading down them. Unsurprisingly, the cold water happily flowed directly into our takkies leaving them completely soaked. Yay! Spongy feet for the rest of the day. 

Roxy taking the opportunity for a quick shower - don't worry too much Rox, by the look of some of those clouds, there will be plenty of water falling from the sky quite soon. 

We took a sneak peak into the hot baths... Definitely going to try them out sometime. It was then back on our bikes and we started heading out of town towards the other waterfalls.

Hydroelectric power station

Our bikes resting on the side of the road as we took photies and took in the view over the bridge 

The alternate way to view the surrounding waterfalls -The Chiva Tour

Thus far we were feeling lucky because although the clouds were hovering and looked ready to explode over us, we were still relatively dry... Except our feet! 

Superwoman pose

Wonderful views of the waterfall and river along the road. 

Our next stop was at the zip line. This was the longest zip in Banos and looked exciting. Unfortunately we had already done zip lining in Mindo so we had to give it a skip. The French girls decided to do it so we waited in anticipation for their turn. 
While we were waiting, it began to drizzle. Not great for the spectators but it makes the zip faster,  so great for the participants.

Getting strapped in... Good luck! (we didn't get a pic of the French girls, this is the guy that went before them) 

Once the girls has had their fun flying through the air, we were back on our bikes... The drizzle was still persisting and there was a definite nip in the air so we were happy to get moving again.

Roxy clearly couldn't get enough of the precipitation and just had to go cycling right through a waterfall along our path.

Stunning views of the misty valley as we road

There was a cable car that took people across the valley - it looked very similar to the one in Mindo. Just a metal case hanging 100s of metres above a valley on one rusty wire connecting the two sides of the Canyon. safety  equipment, but this is seemingly not problem or as the locals would say,  'Tanquillo'!

Ready to go... Hold on tight! 

All the ladies,  wind in our hair as we flew through the air. 

Titanic moment... Just don't lean over too far or you might fly over the edge! 

Cable car selfie

Walking bridge in the valley far below us

Once we had survived the rather rickety cable car ride, we were back on our bikes to continue exploring the views as we made our way to the last waterfall.
Joy surveying the landscape

Classic 'Kem'                  

Our lunch stop was in in the little town before we went to experience the last and biggest waterfall. Jaunk is a very wise man and as a local he knows the best and cheapest eating spots. He brought us to this small restaurant, off the main road, that specialised in Empanadas. Jaunk assured us that these were the best...we were sceptical, we had had some great quality empanadas before - how much better could these really be?

We ordered a chicken one and of course one with chocolate sauce. As we waited for our orders to arrive we could see them being freshly made... Ooh... The excitement was building. They came to us steaming hot. As we cracked the delicate pastry, the aroma hit us and the juices spilt over the plate. From the first bite we were blown away! Oh my... These are the best  empanadas in the World!!!

Soooo much happiness in our faces!!!! 

Our whole group was so excited about these morsels of heaven that Bridget and Rachel just couldn't resist ordering seconds, and thirds! 
It was at that moment that our group name was decided -  The Empanada Girls! 

Once we were fully satisfied, some more so than others, we had to take a little walk down towards the biggest waterfall in Banos. We had, as promised, been going downhill most of the way and had now reached a more tropical jungle climate - we were happy as the rain had lifted and the air was warmer. 


Some intriguing plants and layered rock cliff face along the path

Welcome to The Devil's waterfall - Pailon del Diablo 

We had been warned by Juank and all our friends that had previously visited this waterfall that you will get sopping wet -  thus we were prepared... Best get those sexy packet ponchos out! 

Oh yeah... That's the look. 

The first thing that astonished us was the sound that came roaring up from the waterfall. It was quite deafening and we had to shout at each other in order to communicate. This was the an indication to how powerful this waterfall is. 

We ventured down the slippery staircase to get a closer view of this natural wonder.

We were completely blown away by the speed and amount of water that was violently gushing down the high cliff face. Water was just flying into our faces and everywhere around us. It was magnificent!

Soaking wet selfie 

Although we had gotten close, we were not close enough so we squeezed through a narrow tunnel to the next section of the walkway where we could get right in there.
Rox basically crawling on hands and knees through the little dug out tunnel

Freezing cold water down Roxy's neck! 

The stairs down to get into the action/ covered in a mist of water

One advantage to crawling around and under the wet rocks is that we were able to go right behind the waterfall!! 

A suspension bridge to get a view of the waterfall from above. 

We could see the sun peaking out in the distance! 

Back down to dry land -  Unfortunately as you can see from the water marks on this pic,  the camera wasn't so dry at this point! 

One of the reasons this waterfall is called the Devil's Waterfall is because there is a devilish face naturally etched into the mountain... See if you can spot it in this is. 

We were sufficiently soaked and were so excited that there was a little sunshine.

These first rays of sun for the day were welcomed in by this beautiful rainbow. 

View of the waterfall from the other side

Across the suspension bridge we took some time out to soak up some sun and dry off a little bit. 

Team Empanada

Once we had enjoyed a little relaxing time in the sun, we walked back to the Empanada haven to collect our bikes and load them on the truck for the short trip back to the town.

As we were driving along the bumpy road, we started chatting about The Swing at the Edge of the World. It was something we were all keen to do so we decided to extend the tour - take the truck up the very steep Road to the swing and then cycle down back to town. And just like that we were off to continue the adventure.

Everyone excited for the swing,  especially Sarah, it had been on her bucket list for ages! 

View from the back of the cattle truck as we climbed the mountain... So glad we didn't have to cycle up this one! 

Our couchsurfing host Daniel had told us the story that the old man who loved atop this mountain had built this tree house and awesome swing as entertainment for his grandchildren for when they would visit him in the school holidays. What a cool Grandad! 

View of the valley - usually you can see the volcano (Tungurahua) which overlooks Banos but because the clouds had moved in, we were unable to see it today. 

Climbing up trees, just like we did when we were kids! 

Joy,  Sarah and Rox at the top of the tree house - wish we had one of these whilst growing up! 

It was finally our turn to give the swing a go. We had to get strapped in (safety first) and then Jaunk helped to pull us up the ramp before we were hurled over the cliff!
Bridget ready for lift off! 

Sarah living out her dream!!! 

Joy's turn:


No hands! 

So happy! 

Roxy is up next:


I know you must be so impressed by our bravery, but the truth be told,  the pictures make it look much more impressive than it actually is. Nevertheless, we loved every moment! Playing in trees and swinging over the valley really ignited our childhood playfulness! 

We could see that the clouds were really starting to set in and the rain was imminent so we hurried to our bikes (which we had securely chained together) and got ready to start the steep downhill! As we began, so did the rain! As we propelled at fast speeds along the cobblestone road, we had flashbacks to Bolivia and the Death Road. The only difference here was that we did not have gloves and the frigid rain and air were causing our faces and fingers to freeze! The bumpy Road in combination with the fact that we had to constantly pull on our brakes so as not to go too fast, meant our hands were rattling around and getting cramps from being contracted for so long! It was quite exhilarating but at the same time we were cold, wet and in pain... We could not wait to get to the bottom and warm up! 

Although it was a tough 20min descent, we got to the bottom in one frozen piece but then we still had to cycle another 3km UPHILL into town. Now we saw where Jaunk got those calves! 

Back to the agency we went, super proud of ourselves for getting through such a challenge! We said a quick farewell to the Empanada Girls and Jaunk and enthusiastically hurried back to our hostel to have a hot shower and put on some warm clothes. Our poor shoes were completely drenched... Don't know if they shall ever be the same again. 


We had planned to do canyoning this afternoon but unfortunately yet again the weather was not playing ball. As we woke it was raining and showed no signs of lifting. Although we could have possibly still done the canyoning, we were not keen to spend yet another full day wet and cold. It was thus an admin day on the cards for us. This gave us the opportunity to load photos and plan our upcoming trip into Colombia. 

We did sneak out during a gap in the down pour to try the local sweet - taffy! We had watched people pulling and making it the day before. Taffy is basically like toffee but in order to dry it the maker must literally hang one end on a hook and stretch it out and fold it over and repeat until it is the right thickness and texture. It was so funny to watch the taffy hand pulling the delicious sweet on the sidewalk - we were tempted to ask to give it a go but thought we ought to leave it to the professionals. 

The wide selection of different flavours... Which shall we choose? 

Joy testing out her teeth against the Mora flavoured chewing taffy! 

Earlier that day we had received an exciting message - James from Quito was in Banos to! Joy went to meet him that evening at the hot baths for some relaxation time!

No one was allowed into the pools without wearing these rather attractive swimming caps. We also had to have a cold shower before... Extra motivation to hurry into the hot water.

It was quite a clear evening so we decided to start with the outside pool.

James sporting his blue (for boys) swimming cap! 

The fake waterfall overlooking the baths and setting the mood

Pleased as punch!! 

We spent ages in the outside pool enjoying chatter, the night's sky and getting the odd splash from a inappropriately energetic child. We had prune-like extremities and so we knew it was time to move to the next pool. But first... 
...Hot baths selfie 

We moved to the inside pool which was so much hotter that the one on the roof. As we stepped in our feet felt almost cold and numb it was so hot. We could only stay in for a few minutes before needing to sit outside on the edge for a little while to cool off... It was glorious. There were these freezing cold plunge pools which we just had to try out. We dunked ourselves into the icy water for as long as we could stand then quickly went back to the boiling pot... It was awesome.
After a good two hours stewing in the hot water we were quite dehydrated - best solution, well...  some local beer of course!
After a delicious cold one it was time for sleep and then to see what the new day had in store for us!


The helpful tour agent had told us about a little local zoo just outside town - The San Martin Ecozoologico. As we were beginning to miss Puzsek, we decided to go see some furry animals. We had also heard that the zoo housed some Andrea bears,  the only bear species found in South America. We weren't going to get the opportunity to see them in the wild so this was our only chance to spot them!
It was a quick and cheap local bus ride to the zoo. As it was school holidays, there were lots of parents and grandparents bringing their children for a day trip.
Joy at the entrance

The zoo seemed a lot bigger than we had expected. We wanted to save the exciting bear exhibition for last so we began with the bird section. 

Our first spotting, the majestic Buzzard Eagle 

Andean Condor - the biggest flying bird in terms of wing area and weight


We couldn't find what this little guy with the blue face was called... 

... But Nosy Nelly might be appropriate! 


Crowned Parrot

There were information boards that gave important facts about the names and descriptions of the animals... 

... Someone doesn't seem to know how to use Google or were just too lazy to.

Southern or Crested Sreamer

Most of the birds were pretty parrots or fierce predators but there were also a few oddballs... Someone was having a laugh when they came up with these designs... 

Horned Screamer... Or Unicorn Bird as we like to call it! 

Pato Comberton... Or Pom-pom Duck

After seeing these two birds we were thoroughly entertained and felt that anything we saw after this would be cherries on top of this hilarious fruit cake!

Scarlet Macaw 

The information board for this bird just said 'Owl' - What more do you really need to know? 


We had enjoyed the bird section and decided to move on to a new part of the zoo.

Joy was smiling here but wasn't smiling when she  realised which section we were heading into... 

... The Monkey Area!!! 

Luckily for Joy we were eased into it with this rather cute looking fellow! 

He seemed pretty harmless -  see Joy,  they are not so bad... 

Unfortunately the reflection from the glass doesn't allow for the best picture of this guy - Parahuaco Nero... Or Grandpa Monkey. So cute... Perhaps Joy had misjudged these animals.

It must have been siesta time because the next animals we came across were all Snoozing...

Stunning Jaguar

Yay, more monkeys!

It was them time for the main attraction... The Andean Bears!
Bear hugs! 

View over the river from the Bear Mirador. 

We stood above the bear enclosure watching the one big black fluffy creature sleep in the shade. We thought that this was all we would see but then we heard a rustle and saw another bear just below us...

Look at those eyes -  alert and curious! 

The big male sat in the cool pool for a while... Just chilling! 

Then he was on the move... We couldn't help giggling as he walked. His but jiggled and his fur flopped as he strutted his stuff along the rim of the pool. 

One selfie seeking human was being quite daring and totally illegal on the edge of the enclosure. We were secretly hoping he would fall in... Just to see what would happen. 

Sitting so elegantly to explore a possible treat he found...but it was a plastic wrapper which he luckily discarded and did not eat. 

The 'Spectacle' bears seemed to be quite relaxed so we decided to check out the rest of the zoo and then come back to then before we left. 

Back to the beautiful Puma finding solace in the shade

This little guy was so speedy that we could barely get a good pic of him... It was a kind of mongoose type creature. 

Rio Pastaza 

No need for a wind machine at this photo shoot

Galapagos Tortoise hiding in the tall grass

Spider monkey

Agouti - adorable mouse/dassie animal

Spotted - a bird in the wild! It looked like quite a big predatory bird. 

Back to the bears we went and we were excited when we saw they were a bit more energetic... 

The male had just woken the female from her sleep... She was not happy about it! 

She stormed off in a huff... 

Typical woman... She had to get the last word in! 

Typical man...exhausted after losing an argument. 

Eating her feelings... 

Scratching his back

We had had a lovely day at the zoo and headed back to town.

Going over a very narrow and extremely high bridge - the bus just managed to squeeze on! 

That evening it was back to the hot baths where we met up with James again to enjoy our last night in Banos together.

The HOT hot pool! 

Couldn't stay in for too long,  had to sit on the edge to cool off. 


We were on a ridiculously early morning bus (3:30am) to make our way back to Ibarra and then to Tulcan,  the border crossing town between Ecuador and Colombia. Despite being warned that the crossing would be difficult with strip searches and baggage scanning, we made a very quick and effortless transition from Tulcan  (Ecuador) into Ipiales in Colombia. 

Crossing the border bridge

We were very heart sore to say goodbye to Ecuador,  the country that had surprised us with its wave of activities, natural beauty and friendly people! We would definitely be back, if only to explore the elusive Galapagos Islands, and to visit Puzsek of course! 

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