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A Little Bit of Paradise (Rio Verde/Banos)

July 1, 2012

We’ve been on the road for a year and we were ready for a break. Travelling can be tiring particularly when you are on the move almost every day.

Fortunately we arrived in the spa town of Banos (well Rio Verde around 15km down the road) and discovered Pequeno Paraiso (literally a small paradise). This is a hostel and campground set amongst beautiful gardens. It is run by Marc and Sue, who are ex-overland crew for Toucan, and their gorgeous dogs Tasha and Pinga. Pequeno Paraiso is a stop off for all the commercial overland trucks who spend three nights here. Smaller campers can park in the gardens near the kitchen area but there is a separate area for bigger trucks on the other side of the property.

We ended up staying 2 weeks in Rio Verde and managed to more than fill our time while we were here. Although it is a fair distance from Banos buses go past the entrance every few minutes and it only takes 15 minutes and 50c to get all the way to Banos – they’ll pick up and drop off anywhere along the road so its really convenient.

Banos itself is a quiet town, during the week, but explodes with visitors at the weekends – many racing around on quad bikes and dangerous looking jalopies. Needless to say we avoided the town at the weekend. The claim to fame of Banos are the thermal baths fuelled by volcanically heated water – however we visited what is reputedly the best baths in town and decided that it wasn’t for us.  Having recently been to the thermals at Papallacta there was no comparison and as it was a lovely sunny day, we weren’t in need of a hot soak.

There is a zoo just outside the town which we visited. The highlight of our visit here was watching two American girls who were interning here try and feed one of the owls. They had 3 live mice which they had been told to kill before feeding the owl. However they were too squeamish to do this so just threw them at the owl. The owl looked at them with disdain and flew off to another part of the cage. They’d been told they couldn’t leave live mice in the enclosure – so they then tried to catch the mice – one had disappeared in the foliage on the ground, another was making it’s way up one of the wooden poles and the third was trying to squeeze out of the cage. One of the girls tried to catch one of the mice by holding it down by it’s tail and then screamed when it swivelled around and bit her on the finger ! We left at this stage as they were becoming quite stressed and resentful of our giggles on the other side of the fence.

The best bit of the zoo were the spider monkeys who came right to the edge of their cage and reached out to us with their tails. They were after food but they just grabbed our feet and tried to pull them towards the cage ! Overall though we didn’t think too much of the zoo and weren’t too impressed with the standards of care – the cage to the Capybara was unlocked and swung open when I leaned on it with no sign of the Capybara – maybe it had gone for a walk !  However, we were very relieved to see that the Jaguar cage was securely shut!

Pequeno Paraiso is between two very big waterfalls. The first that we visited was called the Pailon del Diablo. This involved a trek down into the canyon until you reach a set of platforms to view the waterfall. Here there is a very low cave which you can crawl/walk through until you reach a ledge cut into the cliff right next to the waterfall – needless to say you get soaked getting there !

 

The highlight of our visit to the Pailon del Diablo was stopping for Empanadas at a small restaurant just before the entrance. The woman here freshly makes the empanadas to order and also makes some lovely Jugos (juices). The chicken and ham with cheese sauce were absolutely goregeous. My favourite Jugo is fresh Strawberry – it would be too expensive at home but here strawberries are easily and cheaply available.  During our time in Rio Verde we came for lunch here 3 times – that’s how good it is !

The second waterfall was my favourite and is called the Machay waterfall and the entrance is only a 10 minute walk from Pequeno Paraiso. The descent into the canyon is down a steep staircase bolted into the rockface of the cliff.  Once down at the bottom you cross a very wobbly swing bridge before reaching the base of the main waterfall.

A trail follows the river down from the main waterfall to a swimming hole below a second waterfall and then further down to the main river in the canyon where there are natural swimming holes , modified with concrete, where you can laze in relatively warm water watching the river flow by.

One of the days that we were in the area we went for a gorgeous walk with Marc, the dogs and Niamh, a tour leader for Kumuka who was on a break between trips. The walk was up a path from the village of Machay following a river with a number of waterfalls. The walk ended in a beautiful spot by a waterfall with a deep (very cold) emerald coloured swimming hole – the only issue was that there was no path to get to it so we had to bushwhack through waist high grass to get there down a very steep slope, praying there were no hidden snakes.

 

On the way back we stopped at a local restaurant/ trout farm, where you have to catch your own trout and they cook it up for you.  Fortunately this wasn’t too challenging and we’d all bagged a juicy trout in the first 10 minutes. A trout dinner including a big beer was only $6 – so pretty good value!

One night we all went into Banos, Sarah and I, Niamh , Marc and Sue for a night out. Marc & Sue don’t get to go out very often with the business to run, so it was great to give them the excuse. We started with beers in the local brew pub, The Stray Dog – probably the best beer we’ve had since hitting Latin America, and then moved onto an Argentinian restaurant for large quantities of meat. We finished the night in another pub called The Leprechaun, with a roaring outdoor fire.

Between Banos and Rio Verde the River Pastaza runs in a deep canyon. There are a number of Taribatas (small cable cars) that run across the canyon allowing you to access the other side. They are sited where there are big waterfalls falling into the canyon. We decided to cross the canyon on the Manto de la Novia Tarabita and walk the trail on the other side before crossing back on the San Pedro Tarabita.

The Tarabitas accelerate really quickly when they start off which was a massive shock – I almost dropped my camera. They cross the canyon pretty quickly but the views of the waterfalls are amazing.

When we got across to the other side we walked right down to the bottom of the canyon to get to the foot of the Manto de la Novia falls. Then we walked all the way back up and followed the path along the canyon edge. This is an old smugglers path which was used to avoid the authorities on the main road the other side of the canyon.

When we reached San Pedro we walked down a path which goes half way down to the bottom and lets you stand on a small ledge half way down the falls.

After seeing the falls we climbed back up and then caught the Tarabita back across the canyon before heading home.

We didn’t really intend to stay 2 weeks but it’s a beautiful hostel, there is plenty to do and Marc and Sue were superb hosts.  We also wanted to try canyoning which is outstanding in this area and Marc and Sue run a canyoning business. We had to wait until a Dragoman truck arrived, fortunately with only 8 people on board – the recession is hitting overland truck numbers badly, until there were enough people for the canyoning.

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