Everywhere I go in Banos people tell me that I must do the bike-riding tour of the waterfalls. Some people say that it's about an hour of a half trip and it's all downhill. Others say that it's five or six hours and only partially down hill. Regardless, one day I wake up bright and early and manage to get out on the road a the brutal morning hour of 11am.
Mind you, I haven't ridden a bike in a long time. The last time I can recall riding a bike, even momentarily, was in high school. Thus, I climbed onto the newly-rented bike not without some trepidation. However, I'm happy to report that it's just like riding a bike... er, something like that. Once you learn, you never forget. Within moments I had the complex controls worked out and I was whizzing out of town.
My first stop was to get a bottle of water and some bananas for the road, which were immediately ground to a pulp in my bag and eventually were thrown away. My second stop was when I realized my bag was covered with grease of unknown origin, though miraculously the grease got on nothing else. Third stop involved me replacing my chain after it fell off in the transition from second to first gear. The fourth stop, however, was the first of the "Avenue of Waterfalls", Chamana.
I trudge up the hill and eventually make it to a long tunnel. Mountain roads in Ecuador are scary. Tunnels are even scarier, as they are long, dark, and unfinished: basically once they see light on the other side they call it done. Even scarier still is riding a bike through the tunnel when a car comes up behind and you start to wonder if they can see you, or even if there is enough clearance for them to get past without smearing you onto the rough-hewn wall while trying to carefully steer near the wall that you cannot see because it's pitch black and it turns out there's a gutter that's really deep that you didn't see that makes you think you'll fall directly into the path of the oncoming truck that doesn't see you. When I reemerged into the light I was mighty pleased, as if I had a new lease on life.
Next stop is the Cascada Manto de la Novia, accessible by a fun swinging bridge and a not-so-fun hike up and down the valley wall. Next is the Rio San Pedro, where I meet up with some other travelers that I saw at the first waterfall, who hiked all over the place but couldn't seem to find this one. After questioning some nearby people several times, we finally find the tiny trail that leads to "the waterfall", though in reality only leads to a pretty river.
Back to the bike into the growing rain, which is actually quite nice.
As I suspected, the road is not quite all down hill. In fact, I'd put it more like 60% downhill, which is better than it could be I'll admit. However, that's hard work all the same, and the rain feels good.
Finally I pull into the Cascada Pailon del Diablo (pictured above) to round off the trip. Unlike the others, this one is... well, unlike anything I've ever seen. First there's a 1km hike down a steep winding trail to get to a tiny, empty bar at the foot of the falls. Off one direction is another swinging bridge (warning against more than five crossers at one time), which I immediately begin crossing before catching sight of the enormous falls off to the right.
The view is unbelievable. Water pours out of a cliff face down a deep ravine, whipping up a frenzy of mist along the way. The fall crashes into the first pool, spilling over a series of huge jagged rocks to form a torrential river rushing through a slash in the mountain, finally erupting into the river below and washing away beneath my bridge. It's not that it's so large that's amazing, even though it is huge. It's that it's so violent, as if some chisel just moments ago unleashed a tremendous dam with a single shattering blow to a mountain. I stare at the raging scene for a long while in the drizzling rain, swinging safely above the fray.
When I can take no more (and when I overcome my dread of the return trip), I climb back up the hill, hand my bike up atop the bus, and sit back in a weary daze.
Total time, six hours.