07.05.2016 - 07.05.2016
Baños is a hub of activity for extreme sports. Canyoning, paragliding, rock climbing, mountain biking, quad biking, bungee jumping, white-water rafting, and more besides!
Except the first thing we did upon arrival was to eat some meat. Our diet in the Amazon had been without meat. A steak house was needed and a steak house it was. To eat meat for the first time in a week just proved to me what I already knew inside - a vegetarian I could not be.
So, fully loaded on protein and ice cream, we retired early (well, past midnight) in order to take full advantage of the white-water rafting the following morning.
In traditional South American style, there was very little by way of health and safety. That's not to say it was unsafe - we had wetsuits and flotation jackets - just that there was very little explanation or instruction provided (aside from "don't drown" and "you won't drown") and definitely no forms to sign that would cover them in the event of our deaths. But it's fair to say that the guides worked very hard to not make us drown...apart from when they thought it was amusing to push us into the rapids as we sailed down river! Still, we didn't drown, so I guess they knew what they were about.
The rapids themselves were a category 3-4, which is two categories below the most dangerous. So I'm told. The guide showed us how to go forward, how to go backwards, and how to brace ourselves when we done fucked up and needed to hang on for dear life so we wouldn't drown. And boy did our guide like to kid around. Often he would have joke that we were terrible and 10 year olds could row better than us. Imagine!
So as we smashed through wave after wave and the current dragged us ever onwards and we rowed fairly ineffectually, the guide would either push us into the water himself or instruct one of our group to push another in. Fairly soon we didn't trust each other. Sitting at the front I was in a constant state of suspicion about the people sat behind me. When finally I was pushed in I made sure to drag the bastard (Eleanor!) in with me. At one point our guide made us all jump into the rapids. Again, safety first...
We finished off the trip by landing safely at a beach some miles and an hour or so later. It was then that our guide told us to climb along the rocks beside the river and swim into the rapids and current. He told us it would be fine and we should swim back when the current had dragged us adjacent to the beach. This we did. Well, the others did. I sort of forgot to swim back to the beach and went with the current a bit longer. Which meant I overshot my landing a little and had to catch the rocks on the riverbank and haul myself back over. Still, I didn't drown and I think the guide was happy with his 100% return. Who needs health and safety?
We finished off the day with a visit to the Swing at the End of the World. This has nothing to do with Ushuaia (the End of the World) but is simply a swing on a mountain overlooking Baños. When on it, it looks as though you're swinging out over nothing, hence the name. And is very much worth the $2 return trip and the $1 entrance fee. I'd heard about the Swing from somebody (actually a complete stranger working on the phone at my bank) but strangely heard very little about it from any other travellers. I was quite eager to check this out but hadn't really included it in any of my travel planning, so I was very glad I had the opportunity to come and ride it. There's quite a lot of stuff to do up there too, for a family, including some very low zip lines that do not work so well when I lie on them and try to fly across like superman.
The evening meal was another steak house but sadly the food was overshadowed by a nasty incident. Tom had his bag stolen by a little shit cunt who sat behind him for all of a minute, grabbed his bag and fucked off. Thankfully his phone and camera weren't in there but his wallet and passport were, to say nothing of the bag itself. Still, Tom handled it like a boss and didn't let it cloud the rest of Baños.
While a few of us scoured the nearby streets for the culprit (we initially thought it might have been one of the tip-requesting musicians) Rashid and I came across a completely reputable DVD store. Attracted inside by the big Captain America: Civil War poster, we joked about being able to buy it. When I pointed at the poster the amiable woman behind the counter said "Si". Rashid and I exchanged a dubiously amused and suspicious glance. The woman obviously noticed our disbelieving looks, and so put a copy into the DVD player. It was indeed the brand new Marvel movie. The quality wasn't the best but I've seen way worse copies. We broke down laughing when she told us the price: $1.25. I asked her if the copy was legit and legal. "Si," she repeated. Naturally I do not condone the making, distributing, or purchasing of pirated movies. So we definitely did not purchase any of her products and I informed the good woman neither of us would frequent her shop again, and bade her good evening. Please, therefore, don't ask further questions about it or check my bag for any DVDs. Because they're not there, obviously...
We had hoped to do some downhill mountain biking the next day but the company we went to were a bunch of lying arseholes. They lied to us that we could do it and lied to us that we would have transport. It turned out that instead of being driven to the top of the mountain in order to ride it all the way down, we would be able to cycle it up and catch a bus down. Not quite the same thing, so we buggered off from there (after a lengthy argument and loosing $5 each) and rented some quad bikes and buggies to have a little race around the roads.
Talking about health and safety, I'm pretty certain these machines were not street legal. For one thing, Tom's buggy didn't have any brakes or seat belts. But who needs either of them? Our (mine and Eleanor's) buggy had very weak brakes and almost non-existent steering. Aaron's...well, Aaron's was fine by comparison. But let's just say he had a couple of shaky moments in traffic due to its stability. It was great fun to bomb about on the open roads trying to overtake the others and, y'know, not cause an accident. But the real fun came next...
We went to bungee jump off a bridge!
Now, strictly speaking, this wasn't a bungee jump. It was rope tied to a bridge that swung you underneath the bridge after a fall of 35-odd feet or so. There was no bounce back up, there was no elasticated attachment. But in the regard that you had to jump off this bridge into empty air, it was a similar experience.
And it was fucking brilliant!
I was nominated as the first to go, obviously. I was double-harnessed and the guy even tied a little string around my GoPro as an extra security measure (shame I didn't catch my jump on it). I eagerly stepped over the railing of the bridge into the minuscule jumping square, and then with excessive care, I gingerly shuffled towards the edge.
It was then that I realised just how stupid this was. I was literally jumping off towards a fall of certain-death. None of the harnesses or attachments behind me provided any reassurance. My legs trembled with adrenaline though I wasn't particularly scared standing there. I just didn't know how I could bring myself to jump off.
Yet, I figured to myself that countless people have done the same jump as me. In fact, I'd just been speaking with a couple of people who'd literally just done what I was standing to do. I thought if they had done it, and countless people before me, there was no reason I couldn't do it.
So I counted down from 3, bent my legs, let the momentum carry me down, and pushed out. I can't remember if I screamed in excitement or fear, but probably both. Looking back, I don't remember feeing too afraid - it was exciting and adrenalin smashed through my veins! The rope caught me and swung me under the bridge so far and fast that I appeared on the other side, watching my friends cheer me on for being stupid enough to jump off a bridge.
Little tip is not to fit yourself a wrist GoPro, or if you do, not to tense your arm for the whole jump. Turns out you can make your shoulder sore by doing that...
Anyway, shoulder aside, I think the adrenalin from the jump is still racing through my body. Loved it completely! Can't wait to do another in Quito and I hope one day I can do a full bungee. Highly recommended - just remember to jump. You'll be fine!
That night we headed back to Sacha Yacu, the animal sanctuary in the Amazon for another week of work and bonfires. (Pretty certain the film on the bus was the Spanish dub of the Point Break remake. It looks ridiculously shite).
It's hard to write about the week without going over the same ground as last week. The tasks are pretty much the same, and though we lost some volunteers from the previous week, we'd also gained a couple of new ones.
I figure, therefore, that I'll talk about any new things I got to do. One of which was feeding Kitasha, the ocelot. And she makes some beautiful purr/growls, but the meat smells worse than my t-shirts after a week in the jungle. Both the ocelots in the sanctuary are gorgeous and are captivating to watch, but Kitasha is so playful and utterly stunning.
Feeding the squirrel monkeys is an happy little job too. The cute little bastards climb all over you, rest on your shoulders as they eat, even nuzzle into your arms and look as though they would never consider escaping. Sadly the wild monkeys that live around the sanctuary are not as comfortable being close to me (maybe it's my smelly t-shirt?) but they will drop leftovers on my head if I'm daft enough to walk beneath them.
Cut down sugar cane for feeding to the animals. Turns out the sugar cane plants (?) have nasty tiny needles on their leaves that prickle your skin the way fibre glass insulation does. Can't wait to do this job all the time when I visit the tribe next week...
A snake blocked the path on our way to feed monkeys. It wasn't a poisonous snake but it's bite could still lead to a bad infection with all the bacteria. And the big bastard was curling up with the angry intent of pouncing. We waited it out and the snake finally moved enough for us to get by without getting bitten (I kept thinking of Douglas Adams' "Last Chance to See" that I alluded to in my last post about the best advice for creatures is simply to not get bitten).
Another new job was to find and catch all the turtles we could from their fairly overgrown enclosure. I built a little wire pen to keep them in one place temporarily while we painted numbers on their back in bright blue paint, weighed them, measured them, and checked their gender. The idea being that next week/month/whenever another group could catch the turtles and weigh-measure them again to see how well or poorly the tortugas are fairing. The only problem was that no sooner had we finished did it start raining. Heavily. Oh well, so much for the paint...
15ish kids (the total school population) came from the nearby school to find out about the sanctuary and learn about animals. I'm not sure quite what they learned as we ended up playing games with them and then most everyone jumped in the pool and splashed each other, but I'm no animal expert.
We needed to build shelters for the birds, around the perches and feeders we built on day one. This was because when it rained in the RAINforest the birds were stupid enough to wait under the deluge and become avatars of cold and wet. Apparently not good for the birds, we proceeded to machete down trees of varying sizes, cut down hoja (this means leaf in Spanish...apparently) to weave atop of the shelters for a roof. It worked surprisingly well and I must say I'm quite proud of the results.
One of the birds needing a shelter was a particularly annoying toucan. It frequently fell of balconies and got itself trapped in its own enclosure. It would peck at you (virtually painlessly) and chirp: All. Day. Long. Unfortunately it was not this toucan that became sick and died, it was the other, nicer toucan. I know I'm volunteering at an animal sanctuary but sometimes I wished for a particularly savage and precise jaguar to rescue me of this annoyance...
Another bird of note would have to be Pascal. This parrot, for whatever the cause, possesses the most sinister phrase and laugh of any animal. When entering the cages to clean and feed the birds you would hear, "Hola Pascal" followed by a laugh so pitched and menacing it reminded me of the Judge from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Pascal the Parrot even had the pointy blood-red eyes. Once you heard his catchphrase followed by that laugh, you knew the feathered fiend was about to swoop in and attack - those claws and beak are no joke. So we entered that cage armed with branches meant for playing Bird Baseball. Conservation only goes so far, this was self fucking preservation!
So far I have not found any bullet ants in order to feel "the most excruciating pain a person can feel" (I use speech marks as I become more and more dubious as to the level of pain (which in fact itself just false bravado engineered by feigning doubt (meaning: it'll be fucking painful and I'm an idiot (and just like the bridge I'm still going to jump)))) BUT Raul (the head guy at Sacha Yacu) did find a particularly beautiful caterpillar, a bright turquoise colour with spines like Christmas trees all along its body. He told me not to touch it because the spines cause pain and inflammation. I asked him if I could touch it. He said "Si" and a few minutes late my wrist was hot, itchy, and swelling nicely. Thankfully Raul had the necessary remedy: apparently if he cut open the caterpillar and rubbed it's shit on my wrist, all would be well. He did and it was was! Hardly on the same level as a bullet ant sting but I'm building up to it.
I need to say for the record (like this nonsense will last for eternity!) that we ate SO well the second week. Somehow Alex managed to cook incredible meals with just a few basic ingredients. We had starters, we had desserts, we had fried cauliflower and potato pancakes, we had garlic sardines, chocolate mouse, rice pudding, and broccoli soup! It was incredible. I feel ashamed at how poorly I ate the week before. Well, not really. I'm too lazy to do what she did with such scant supplies. But I appreciate it entirely and I send my endless gratitude to the chef.
Eleanor tried to hack her thumb off with a hatchet while cutting corn. Thankfully, she didn't cut it all off, but she did slice through the nail and the end of her finger. She didn't need stitches and didn't appreciate my suggestion that she should have aimed for the corn, not her thumb. Some people just can't take advice...
And that's really about it for Sacha Yacu and the animals. Aside from being smelly and sweaty and having no meat and being constantly bitten and stung and wearing the same shirt while rotating the same two shirts & pair of underwear for 8 days, I'm actually going to miss this place. Looking forward to staying with the tribe in the Amazon next week, but first an overnight in Puyo for showers and food!