So on our last full day in Baños, we finally got a chance to rent those bikes. It wasn’t raining – and for $5 per person for a day-long bike rental plus an actual route advertised for bicycling – we were rarin’ to go. Okay, I admit it. I was rarin’, Elliott was willing. It had been a long, busy few days, and our bodies were pretty tired from all the unusual types of activity!
La Ruta de las Cascadas is a route along the main highway from Baños to Puyo, the southernmost entrance point to the Ecuadorian jungle. The route is 60km each way, and if you start in Baños, it’s all downhill. Now, you’ve probably figured out that “ruta” is “route,” but did you figure out that “cascada” means “waterfall”? The foliage and river are beautiful, but the real joy is the waterfalls you pass along the way.
We picked up our $5 bikes and started riding. $5 bikes have a fun price tag but at that price they do have their challenges. There were no cushiony gel seats or smooth gear transitions, no Sir-y. But we weren’t in this for the luxury. (I was. -E)
Did I say it was all downhill? That’s what all those guidebooks would have you believe. And it is, mostly. Except that there are a lot of tunnels along the way that bicycles aren’t allowed to enter (thankfully, because they are often dark and narrow and you don’t want to be in there on a bike with all those speedy cars anyway). So at every tunnel save for one, there is an old side road that you take on your bike… and it isn’t paved for the most part… and many times it goes down and then back up. Yeah, there’s a little uphill in there. And remember Baños is at a pretty high altitude of 5971 feet (1820 meters). And note that we haven’t been on bikes for a long ride like this in maybe a couple years. The “all downhill journey” became tiring pretty quickly! On some of those old side roads around the tunnels we were stopping every five or ten minutes to catch our breath.
But in between the heavy breathing was just one beautiful sight after another. A waterfall here, a bridge there, a deep river gorge over yonder. We stopped at one point early on and paid a dollar each to take a sky ride – aka ride a rickety, suspended cage – across a canyon and to a waterfall. This thing was so much fun, so Ecuadorian in that we could just easily jump or fall out to our deaths, it was an adventure all by itself. And there was also a zip line!
We decided to save the zip line for a future trip to Baños since we’ve zipped some other places and we were already doing so many activities here. But this zip line was not alone – there were several along La Ruta de las Cascadas, and we stopped to watch some other people zip. These were some really high, scary looking zip lines- easily over 1000 feet long. When we’ve zipped other places it’s been a longer activity where you zip along several lines in a row, starting out on a short, non-scary line and building up to longer and higher lines. Not so here in Baños. These individual zip lines just threw you right into the thick of things. We couldn’t see where it ended waaaaay down in the gorge. Even Elliott, Mr. Scared-of-Heights, has mentioned more than once that he can’t wait to go back to Baños and get on one of these things!
The funny thing is, we had a destination on this route. No, not the end. Yeah, you all know me and I really wanted to be up for the whole thing (and back), but when we got to stopping every five minutes I knew that wasn’t going to happen. So we kept looking for Pailon del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron. It’s a really cool waterfall where you get off your bike and hike and can stand behind the waterfall and take pictures and – who am I kidding? I HEAR it’s a really cool waterfall where you can do all this cool stuff. After a lot more riding, and then some riding, some breaks and some more riding on our bikes, I started to wonder where we were.
“Maybe we should look at a map,” I pondered out loud. The map was no help, but some other German bikers passing by gave us a general sense of where we were. We cycled to the next town, and verified yes we had indeed missed our Devil’s Cauldron. By a little. Okay by a LOT. We had gone maybe, let’s say, at least twice as far as this destination of ours. Oops. We weren’t going back for it. And I had read the last third of the trail to Puyo starts becoming uphill-like. We flagged a bus down, a guy loaded our bikes underneath, and for a couple bucks we got a ride back to Baños.
There was little lamenting and lots of laughter. After all of that, had we seriously missed our biggest and target destination? Elliott figured out how, sort of. He knew what to look for from the road… but we happened to be on one of those side roads going around a tunnel, and were still on the side road, when we passed what he was looking for. We never saw it. Just one more reason to go back to Baños.