JOE Backpacking Diary #16 - Extreme sports in Ecuador and extreme parties in Peru
A week that contained four experiences I'll never forget in Ecuador and parties I can't remember in Peru.
My name is Joe Harrington; I'm travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here's what happened on week 15.
Next stop: Baños, Ecuador
I said goodbye to Lisa in Quito so it was back to being solo again, which is still exciting and a bit scary at the same time, but a good challenge.
Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador and I was excited to get there to test my nerve on the rivers, waterfalls and jungles in the area.
I arrived from Quito to my hostel at 8pm so I just had time for dinner and a drink before hitting the hay. A big day ahead.
I woke up at 8am to catch a bus to the Pastaza River for a half day of rafting (€25). I'd never done it before so I wasn't sure what to expect.
IT WAS BRILLIANT!
I ended up in the Spanish-speaking boat with a family from the Galapagos Islands so communication was limited but it was so much fun.
The rapids reached Grade 4 so it was a rollercoaster of a ride in places. The words "adelante" and "vamos" are still ringing in my ears.
You'd think there would be some sort of catch because it's so cheap but it was perfect. Our guide was so professional (and hilarious - he called me "leprechaun grande") and safety was top notch. I highly recommend it.
We got a lovely lunch on the way back to Baños, where I met two German lads who agreed to join me on a trip to the 'Swing at the End of the World' that afternoon.
The swing is one of the most famous photo opportunities in all of South America so I wanted to go there and see what all the fuss is about.
We caught the number 13 bus from Baños (€1) to the swing's home, Casa Del Arbol, and arrived 30 minutes later. There's a €1 entrance fee.
The place is full of different swings, mini zip-lines, little challenges and a cafe. The weather was super cloudy when we arrived so we grabbed a coffee and waited for it to clear...
It didn't clear... but here's my photo on the swing anyway. A cloudy end of the world.
The swing at the end of the world in Ecuador 🌎☁️ pic.twitter.com/Ls9oKnGj8L
— Joe Harrington (@ImJoeHarrington) July 12, 2016
It's a bit of a gimmick, I mean it's a swing on top of a hill, but it is lots of fun on it and the photos are cool so I think it's worth a trip up to see it.
I had a pretty chilled night in the hostel that night, I was tired and had another action-packed day planned but I did make some new friends; Chris and Noel from Seattle. Friends. Travel Friends.
The three of us and two more people from the hostel called Rowen (UK) and Poncho (Mexico) were picked up at 9am the next morning for canyoning (€20).
Canyoning is when you abseil down a waterfall. There were six on our route ranging from 12 metres to 30 metres. Yikes!
Hands up, I wasn't a natural. I was pretty crap to be honest but it's the taking part that counts, right? Right.
I went down most of them at snail's pace despite the cascading water smashing into my face and I slipped on one of them and ate some rock. Yum.
Here's me looking like I know what I'm doing. FYI - My internal monologue, "I have no idea what I'm doing."
There's a really funny bit towards the end where you can slide down the waterfalls instead of climbing down.
Here I am saying a prayer just before my slide.
(Sliding down a waterfall while canyoning in Baños)
The group was really great and the guides, again, were excellent so overall it was a fantastic experience.
All these smiles at the end convey that feeling more than I can with words.
We got back to the hostel at 12:30pm and I was back out the door at 2pm to go on a canopy tour (€20), or zip-lining as most people know it.
I'd never done it before, I had the chance in Monteverde in Costa Rica but it was way too expensive.
I arrived a little late and joined the group on the first of six zip-lines. The first one was about 250 metres and involved using a brake, it was cool.
The second one had the option of doing it upside down, I went for it.
While it was cool doing it upside down, I couldn't figure out what was going on or where I was looking; it was a weird sensation.
Also, the company take photos during the tour (€5 extra) and me zip-lining upside down somehow turned my arse into something that Kim Kardashian would be proud of.
Anyway, the next two ziplines were good but they saved the best 'til last, 450 metre and a 550 metre lines back-to-back.
It was time for Superman... or me with my arms out like a bird, or a plane, or Clark Kent in tight underwear.
(Zip-lining through the jungle in Ecuador)
That was it, I'd zip-lined two kilometres through the Ecuadorian jungle. The only negative was the mosquitos, they destroyed my pins. Wear pants if you're doing it.
I got back to the hostel around 7pm and went out for dinner with the canyoning crew to celebrate Chris' birthday. He turned 24.
We ate in a very chilled, no-shoes-allowed restaurant. My feet were stinking! That was awkward, but it didn't ruin a nice evening.
After dinner we visited the local hot springs near the big waterfall in the town (€3 entry), that was so nice. They're very similar to the baths in Budapest if you've ever been there.
We had to celebrate Chris' birthday a little bit more so we went out for a few drinks in Leprechaun's in the town before hitting the hay. The day after was moving day.
(L-R; Me and Chris canyoning side-by-side in Baños)
It was a short stay in Baños but I got to experience so many firsts for so little money. Rafting, canyoning, zip-lining and swing at the end of the world for a total of €75. Go there!
Accommodation: Great Hostels Backpackers. €9 per night for a dorm.
A fantastic common room with great food and a good bar if you're thirsty. The hostel can arrange every tour you want. The rooms are nice.
Food: We ate in the hostel, at restaurants during the tours and at the fancy Plantas y Blanco.
Drink: The hostel is decent to warm up, Leprechaun's and Volcan are both big and usually busy.
Highlight: It was my first time canyoning down a waterfall, that was very cool.
Lowlight: The mosquito attack during the zip-lining. I'm still itching the bites.
Next stop: Cuenca, Ecuador
I'm on a bit of a tight timeline with the Olympics in Rio looming on August 5. I'm going there to cover the games for JOE, which is a dream to be honest.
That means that my time between now and then needs to be maximised so I decided to skip the west coast of Ecuador and head to the southern city of Cuenca as it's on the way to Peru.
— Joe Harrington (@ImJoeHarrington) July 17, 2016
The journey to Cuenca proved to be a really annoying one. Remember how I said that my feet stank in that restaurant earlier? They stink because my runners are filthy. I've had them for a year.
They may smell bad but by God are they good runners. They've been up and down mountains and volcanoes with me and along the numerous long journeys I've taken on foot.
Now, they're gone.
On the connecting stop between Baños and Cuenca in Riobamba, someone swiped them from underneath the bus. That left me with a pair of flip-flops.
You might think, "just buy a new pair of runners, you cheapskate," but it's not that simple. The biggest size you can get in Ecuador without spending crazy money is a 10, I'm an 11 or 11.5.
After asking in, I don't know, a billion shops, I eventually sourced a pair in a mall in Cuenca for €110. That's almost two weeks in a hostel or breakfast and dinner for 10 days. A blow to the budget.
Cuenca itself is a nice city, it's an old Spanish colonial town so there are churches EVERYWHERE.
Me, Noel and Chris strolled around and explored the place ourselves; it felt very European there. There isn't that much to do there unless you're really into churches, I'm more into Chvrches.
The nightlife in our hostel was so nice, a great atmosphere with lots of locals. We ended up chatting to a local couple who moved to New York and a Danish couple on a world tour. It was lovely.
I wouldn't say Cuenca is a must-see place by any means but it's a handy and a safe connecting city for going on to Peru.
A highlight of our time there was when Noel failed miserably trying to take a seat at the bus station.
Accommodation: La Cigale Hostel. €11 per night for a dorm.
The room was great with a nice clean bathroom. The downstairs bar and restaurant was packed every night, there was a lovely atmosphere there.
Food: We ate in the hostel and a pizza place around the corner from the hostel.
Drink: The hostel was the busiest place in town. We got very lucky.
Highlight: The church was nice.
Lowlight: It was a blow losing the runners.
Next stop: Máncora, Peru
I hadn't heard of Máncora until a few days ago but what I heard was great so myself, Chris and Noel grabbed a night bus to the beach town in north Peru.
The bus from Cuenca cost €15 and it took 10 hours but that included the border crossing which was totally smooth. The exit and entrance desks are in the same room.
We arrived in Máncora at 5am and slept in the hammocks in Loki Hostel until 9am before checking in properly and getting a bed.
We had a pretty uneventful day except for a ride on a banana boat (€6) which is always great craic. The weather there is perfect, hot but not humid.
Loki is a party hostel, a proper party hostel. That night was a UV paint party night and the place was hopping.
The hostel is famous for its Blood Bomb Train, which happens every night. A Blood Bomb is grenadine, vodka and an energy drink like Red Bull.
It's f**king dreadful.
Despite that poison, we had a great night and I bumped into a few Dublin and Belfast boys, who were sound. Which was nice.
The following morning was a bit hairy so we only got going around 11am and organised a tour to go swimming with giant turtles.
We haggled on the street with a guy and got it for €8 each. Myself, Noel, Nico (Dutch) and Jimmy (USA) set off in a tuk tuk not knowing what we were getting ourselves into.
After 25 minutes we reached a small beach village with a pier and there they were, around 50 giant turtles in the water.
I have to say it was one of the coolest things I've done on the trip; they were everywhere. I
am was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan as a kid so I was in heaven.
We passed the rest of the day playing ping pong, pool and beer pong. It couldn't be a more stereotypical backpacking party experience but it was great craic.
I met a few more Irish people that night, Adam from Waterford and Sarah from Dublin, but I had to say goodbye to my American pals Noel and Chris. Seattle's finest #KentForLife.
I never expected to see such a beautiful beach in Peru, but it's here. I'm heading south to Trujillo next to learn to surf and see what that place is all about. Peru, so far so good.
Accommodation: Loki Hostel. €10 per night for a dorm.
It's a party hostel so be warned. The bar is good, the food is decent. The wifi is iffy. The staff are cool.
Food: The hostel, Ceviche on the beachfront, Monkey's for breakfast, El Aji for Mexican.
Drink: The hostel and the beach.
Highlight: The 50 giant turtles. No contest.
Lowlight: All those Blood Bombs!
Read more about my trip to Central and South America here:
Diary #2 - Miami, Guatemala City, Antigua
Diary #3 - Antigua, Lake Atitlan
Diary #4 - Entering El Salvador
Diary #5 - El Salvador, Leon, Nicaragua
Diary #6 - Volcano boarding in Leon, Laguna De Apoyo, Granada
Diary #7 - Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Diary #8 - Monteverde and Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Diary #9 - Bocas del Toro, Panama City
Diary #10 - San Blas Islands, reaching Colombia
Diary #11 - Colombia, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Punta Gallinas
Diary #12 - My first week in Medellín
Diary #13 - Meeting Pablo Escobar's brother, Guatape and Salento
Diary #14 - The wonders of the Tatacoa Desert and San Agustin in Colombia
Diary #15 - Adventures in south Colombia and Quito, Ecuador