Banos is located in foothills of the Tungurahua volcano. It's the gateway to Amazon and a popular stop for tourists, it is known for adventure sports since it's home to more than 60 waterfalls. Its name comes from the dozens of thermal baths in the area. Banos was our favorite city of those we visited.
Locating hotels in Guayaquil and Cuenca were fairly easy, GPS practically led us right to the door. We weren't so lucky in Banos. GPS led us on one of those goose chases made famous in Cuenca, google maps led us to a hosteria that was no where near our hotel, I asked for directions, but they were unfamiliar with Napolitano Apart & Hotel. Thankfully, booking.com provides GPS coordinates and we were able to locate it that way. The hotel has a large gate out front with small signage. I rang the bell, again, and again. No answer. Uh-oh. Frank got out of the car and he tried knocking. Again and again. Finally, someone heard all the commotion. He wasn't expecting anyone, I explained in my broken spanish that we just booked a couple hours before, for tonight, but he should have records of our stay for the following two nights. I mistakenly used "todo" for today instead of "hoy" so I'm sure I complicated matters. But, we sorted it out, Ivan was warm and friendly. He led us up to our room, and from the moment we passed through the gate, we were greatly relieved. The hotel and grounds were lovely. We were so thankful we chose not to stay in Riobamba.
The bed was a bit snug, but it was the softest we had since leaving home. The pillows were soft and fluffy too. I was so excited to sleep, but rather than climb into bed we sought out dinner. We were starved. It was only a short walk to the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water which is found at the heart of the city.
We tried to locate a couple restaurants with good reviews on Tripadvisor, but again we couldn't make heads or tales of addresses. We decided to take a taxi to the Stray Dog Brew Pub. The driver didn't understand where we wanted to go. We didn't know the location, so we nearly lost all hope. He asked another driver, he didn't know either, but it gave us the idea to look it up on Tripadvisor, the address is shown there so he knew where to take us, the fare was only a buck. We didn't have change, so I ran into the bar and asked the bartender for change using my poor spanish. Thankfully, he understood and had change.
Now is a good of time as any to tell you about breaking bills in Ecuador. It's nearly impossible. Benjamins don't exist, and fortunately, I knew to bring nothing larger than $20, but even breaking that was tough. Tens are the way to go, ATMs even dispense them, and if we ever return I'll bring rolls of Susan B. Anthony coins. These and 50-cent pieces seem to be the most used form of currency. When change was needed, the person we were trying to pay would run to nearby businesses, etc. seeking change. There were a few instances where bills could not be broken so we instead paid with whatever change we did have or we bought an extra water to make up the difference.
With that sorted out, we bellied up to the bar, we were immediately taken with the Throat of Fire IPA. We enjoyed Pilsener, but the change was nice and welcomed. We later learned that the bartender, not only spoke english, but he was also originally from Chicago - the South Side, even.
He told us about the Polish sausage that he gets from Ambato and braises in beer, and other Chicago style eats he prepares. Frank couldn't resist the Polish, and I had the BBQ pulled pork. I asked to hold the coleslaw, he said, no problem, but he could make it without mayo, I was sold. It was great and unexpected meal. The IPAs went down easy for Frank, he earned them after the day's long drive. We hailed a taxi to take us back to the hotel, it was only two bucks from the Brew Pub. We walked across the street for a couple Pilseners to enjoy while Frank smoked a stogie in the garden at the hotel.
We spent a lot of time relaxing here.
We ended up getting to know Ivan, it was a pleasure talking with him each night. It was a challenge at times to converse, but he was patient and he spoke slowly so I understood much of what he had to say. On occasion, we'd use the translator on our phone to learn new words. He shared about his family, and life in Ecuador, and we spoke of our lives in Las Vegas. He allowed us to tour the spa that he's been working hard at completing. It's going to be lovely when done. Frank and I will have to return to see it.
We slept with the windows open, and whoever says the roosters crow at sun up is dead wrong. They started about three hours before the sun would even begin to rise. Stray Dogs run rampant in Ecuador. They bark and it sets off a chain of barks just like in Lady & the Tramp. Between the barking and the crowing, we managed a decent night's rest. The comfort of the bed really helped!
Each morning, Ivan's daughter, prepared breakfast for us. We'd have juice, coffee, fruit with yogurt and granola, and a side of scrambled eggs. The kitchen had panoramic views that are simply stunning. It was a nice way to begin our day.
On our first full day, we set out on the Ruta de las Cascadas, but had to turn back to purchase some duct tape to fix the driver's side mirror on the rental car, it had been cracked and glued, but the vibration from the roads and force of the winds broke the bond loose. When we asked for duct tape, she showed us scotch tape, we asked for something "mas grande" she fiddled in back for a few minutes and then gave us the choice between packing or masking tape. We bought a roll of packing tape for a buck. We were able to rig it in place and believe it or not, it held for the remainder of the trip. Thank goodness, too, because Frank needed that mirror.
After that, we were good to go. However, we grew frustrated that we weren't locating these grand waterfalls we expected to find. There were no signs. We only encountered a few that were on the roadside. Before we knew it, we were in Puyo. This small town is about an hour east of Banos, it's where many travelers gain access to the Amazon Rainforest. Though, it's not quite as popular as Tena. Approaching, the city, we were stopped at a check point. We provided copies of our passports; the officer found it funny that we only spoke "muy poquito espanol" but he seemed pleased to have us visiting for tourism. After our quick exchange, we were on our way.
We stopped for an early lunch at a restaurant that caught Frank's eye. It was bright and immaculate. The owner was so happy to have us, we were warmly welcomed and told to sit. There was some confusion, having to do with corazon, which I know to be heart, but I was unable to understand the context. We had almuerzos, the soup was beautiful but a bit bland, and boiled chicken is my least favorite preparation, but it was still a nice cheap meal, this time we even had dessert, higos con queso or figs with cheese.
Often, we found the food to be bland, but most places had some sort of house salsa (like the one pictured above), and all were fantastic. It allowed us to spice up the rice, and make it more palatable. Plain white rice, just isn't part of our usual diet.
On our way back, we were determined to find these waterfalls, particularly, Pailón del Diablo. It was seeming less and less likely. We made a couple turn offs and found ourselves in residential areas, were waterfalls were prevelent, but not large like I had seen in photos. One ran right across the road, we decided to drive through it, our rental didn't like the cold splash of water and decided to loose all power until it dried out. We nervously awaited it to do so. I suggested we take a tour the following day, because I was worried the car wasn't equipped to handle the steep hills, puddles, watercrossings etc. The last thing I wanted to be was stranded. Thankfully, the car started back up and we continued our search of the waterfalls. Finally, we spotted a turn off on the opposite side of the road (near the river) and it appeared we were going the wrong way, like it was strictly for pedestrians and bikes, but suddenly, we came upon a young man flagging cars down to park. We had found the Pailón del Diablo. It turns out all the sights are off the old road, not the highway that's been built to bypass the tourist attractions. Signage would've been mighty helpful.
Somehow in my research, I completely missed that it was a 30 minute hike downhill (steep) through the muggy & muddy cloud forest to get to the falls. Thankfully, I did wear hiking boots, but my knee and ankle screamed on the way down. One of the juice vendors took pity on me and loaned a walking stick to make the rest of the journey. I felt like an old lady, but it helped. Finally we reached the falls, but to get a clear view you need to walk down slick wet stairs. It's well worth the effort, though. One look and you'll understand why it's named the Cauldron of the Devil. It churns at the base with great power, I've never seen anything like it. Frank has been to Niagra Falls, so he was less impressed.
Along the side of the falls there is a tight cavern that leads to the backside of the 328ft falls, I tried to meander my way up there, but realized how slick the rocks were and began to fear hurting my ankle. Frank was unable to squeeze through the opening so he wouldn't be able to come to my aid. I got about half way before chickening out. Plus, I later learned that you get completely soaked from standing behind the falls. It would've made for an extremely uncomfortable hike back to the car.
Further down the falls there is a suspension bridge that you can cross, you get your token after seeing the Pailón del Diablo. The last time I was on a suspension bridge like this one, I was in tears. But ever since conquering the Golden Gate bridge in San Franciso. My fear of bridges has faded.
The hike back probably took twice as long. It was hot, sweaty and my achilles screamed the whole way up. I'm definitely not in good shape, and my achy limbs made it even more tough. I was so grateful we didn't rent bikes in Banos to ride to falls, like many do.
Now that we knew about the magical road that leads to waterfalls, we kept our eyes peeled for access. A bit closer to Banos, we found the Tarabita (cable car) that takes you over the 260ft El Manto de la Novia falls. My understanding is that it hasn't always been double falls, the single falls split in two after heavy storms that caused a landslide.
The tarabita was a must, it's a little sketchy and a lot of fun!
Frank and I are always facinated by dams, and the Agoyan Dam, was no exception. Agoyan is a hydroelectric dam that lies on the Pastaza river. It was completed in 1987.
Before dinner we stopped at Arte Cafe & Te. It's a charming spot for crepes, coffee and tea. Their iced coffee is simply the best. I have no idea what sets it apart, but it was wonderful. We shared a chocolate and banana crepe which was a yummy treat.
Then, we went Pappardelle Ristorante for dinner because pizza sounded great! We started with caprese and then ordered a margherita pizza, it was was surprise when it came out and it was only cheese. Thankfully, they had their own picante spice blend that addeded some flavor.