Ecuadorian holidays never cease to amaze me, and Carnaval over the last weekend stayed true to the trend. Similar to Mardi Gras, the two days before Ash Wednesday are holidays with a parade-filled weekend beforehand. Parade and festival-goers celebrate by buying large cans of silly string or foam, then spraying passersby with it. It is no holds barred and anyone can be a target. With the long weekend, it’s also a common time for people to travel. I decided to take the time off and visit the city of Baños, known as a premier destination for backpackers because of its extreme sports and fun nightlife. Luckily for me, my good friend Tony was able to visit me in Ecuador and join me on this trip.
Baños is around 3-4 hours away from Quito by bus, and is located in a valley at the base of an active volcano called Tungurahua. We got up early on Saturday morning and made it to the bus station to catch an early ride. Unfortunately, I didn’t predict that half of Quito would be in the bus station trying to travel that day. I probably could have easily predicted from my history of traveling in Ecuador that there was going to be a delay. I think that puts me at around 0 for 57 on avoiding delays while traveling at this point….maybe it’s me? Although some earlier buses were full, we were able to grab the last two seats on a bus leaving around noon.
After arriving and checking into our room, we spoke with the woman behind the desk at the hostel to book some tours the next day. There were several great choices, but we chose a whitewater rafting trip for the next morning and booked canyoning in the afternoon. We got dinner, walked the city and then got some rest for the big day coming up.
A bus arrived outside around 8 to take us to the rapids. After picking up some other groups, we were given wetsuits, paddles and instructions on how to white water raft. The lead instructor spoke a mix of Spanglish to explain safety procedure. I was able to comprehend and translate most of it for myself and Tony…I mean they were just class four rapids. Boats held groups of six, and the four in our boat were Chileans also on their first white water rafting excursion. Our green boat was appropriately named “Diablo Verde” and we were pumped and ready to go. If we survived, the other boat members invited us to see the eclipse in Chile next year.
We had a rough start and almost flipped the boat — at that point Tony and I were wondering if rafting was a good idea. But our guide was able to get the group synced up to become a fairly decent rafting committee. At least good enough to not lose anyone during the rafting. It definitely was not easy, and I think everyone came close to falling off a few times. The time flew by faster than the rapids, and next thing I knew we were lugging the boat back to the bus and heading to canyoning. One member of their group had a GoPro, and said he would send me the footage in a few weeks. The tour company also had a kayaker taking pictures, highlights included.
After lunch, drying off and a bus ride, we were taken to the site where we’d leave for canyoning and were set up in our second wetsuit of the day. Next thing you know, we were in a truck heading to rappel down waterfalls. We had a great guide who explained the process to us, and made everything sound easy. That is until you are standing on the edge of a waterfall and preparing yourself to walk down it.
I was going first with rope and harness in hand. While the first several steps are weird and disorienting, by the time I had made it down the first one I started to get the hang of it. The whole experience was well worth the initial fear. After getting down and looking up, it’s amazing to look back at what you just accomplished. Plenty of high fives were to be had after making it down the first one. By the end of it, we had done around 6 rappels, and had graduated past slowly walking to making small hops down. The water felt pretty good as well, so can’t complain about that.
The next day we had to leave for Quito in the afternoon, so we decided to celebrate the extreme day by grabbing some drinks and seeing some of the Carnaval concerts. Music was great, and we luckily avoided getting covered in foam. Overall, I would highly recommend making a trip to Baños should you have the time in Ecuador. We just had a short time there, and could have spent seemingly weeks doing all the city had to offer. Just be ready for some active days and long nights. #VidaLaVic