Tuesday morning, March 15. We were up early to do some hiking near Baños. Our third day in Ecuador and it promised to be a good one. The sun shone, and the only clouds were those that hydrated the green, high altitude ‘cloud forests’ our guides told us about.
First, though, our bus stopped at a bridge where we watched some intrepid bungee jumpers. Four not-so-intrepid souls from our group decided to join in. It wasn’t really dangerous, but Stella and I decided to stay on the bridge and watch the fun.
We came to a tunnel that our bus was too large to enter. So we were all dropped off to walk a mile along a back road that circumvented the tunnel. Our guide Carlos showed us some of the native plants, and talked about the volcano that brooded above us, Tungurahua. It was wreathed in clouds and silent; no fiery boulders were spewed this day or any other day on our trip.
We also took a ride on a cable car (a moving platform with railings) that was towed across a river and back. It took us close to twin waterfalls, both very scenic.
Finally we came to the start of a trail that seemed to go straight down into the jungle. Most of it, in fact, consisted of steps. At the very bottom was a narrow canyon with a river below, and a side trail known as the Devil’s Staircase. I waited below on a stone terrace while Stella and a few others tried it. It looked more like a narrow cave than a staircase; it involved climbing on hands and knees on a rough rocky surface, on a 45 degree angle, until you reached an enormous waterfall. At that point you could reach out and touch it. Many did.
When Stella came back she was almost completely soaked but happy. We lingered by the canyon for a bit, then started the long, uphill climb back to our bus.
Box lunches awaited us on the bus. I happily dug into ham sandwiches, Gatorade, apples, and other treats. Stella hated mayonnaise, so naturally the sandwiches were slathered in mayo. But she managed to find something good to eat. The bus drove on as we ate, taking us to a new destination.
Next stop was a wide open area near our whitewater river, where we would launch ourselves in rubber boats. Only a handful of us had ever done this before. It was going to be interesting. We were divided into groups, and our group leader was William, a cheerful, stocky Ecuadorian who spoke very good English. He had us suit up and gave us the lowdown on whitewater rafting while still on dry land.
Suddenly, we were off! I was assigned to the front of the raft, along with Jake, a fellow traveler from Washington state. We were supposed to call cadence (One-two! One-two!) but I had a sore throat and Jake was too soft spoken, so William took over, sitting in back and directing us loudly and clearly.
Of the six of us, only I had a problem: not paddling correctly. I knew I had to put my whole body into it, not just my arms, but it felt weird, unnatural. William never failed to correct me (Hey! Don!) when I lapsed, and eventually I did get the hang of it.
The water got rougher. Several times were were told to hunker down on the floor (Get down! Down!) while William navigated us past menacing looking rocks. Once Stella and I were both thrown to the floor during an unexpected melee of powerful waves. At least we didn’t fall out. Two rafters from other boats did; they kept cool and remembered what to do. Both were picked up unharmed.
Soaked and tired, we managed to finish the three mile trip and were treated to some shoreline games and a second lunch. I was by now exhausted and a little nauseous, so I nibbled some bread while everyone else ate heartily.
When we got back, my cold had gotten worse. I decided to skip dinner. Stella went on her own, and when she came back, she reminded me of the one-hour massage she had set up for me. I decided I was feeling better and went down to the main buildings to get it. And it was wonderful. The only downside was the oils my masseuse had plastered all over me, even my hair. A soapy hot shower solved that problem; I hit the sheets and conked out completely.