Originally, I had added Banos to my Ecuadorean list of must-sees simply because I wanted to experience the Swing at the End of the World. I didn’t know anything else about the town, and when I arrived it was immediately apparent this was my kind of place, and the one day I had allowed wouldn’t suffice.
I quickly changed my itinerary to spend five days in Banos, wandering the town signing up for any adventure activities that caught my fancy. It had been a long couple of weeks that I had been cooped up. Canyoning, paragliding, white water rafting; everything I saw sounded good. The adventure begins.
A Feminine Rambo in Spandex Yoga Pants
Canyoning caught my eye first and I signed up for the following day. I’ve done some minor rappelling in Arizona down dry desert walls, but never in waterfalls. I pictured myself jumping and bouncing down the rock face at breakneck speeds, a feminine Rambo in spandex yoga pants.
First thing in the morning, we were suited up in some sort of quasi wetsuit. An unflattering waterproof rainbow jacket was yanked over my head. Not quite the look I was going for, but they assured me it would keep me warm in the cold water and free from scratches.
We headed out a forty minute drive to the waterfalls and began a steep hike up. For some reason I had thought we’d drive to the top and I stared dubiously at the trail before starting to make a run for it. Eventually one of the guides caught up and clipped himself to me, suggesting if I had so much energy that I pull him up as well. Feeling great, we reached the platform where our safety demonstration was to take place. Solely in Spanish.
Over the Edge
One of the guides hooked a rope to a tree that grew out of a steep cliff. I looked over the edge at a sheer drop of at least 500m. I looked back at the rope tied once around the tree. Back to the edge. While everyone constantly cautions me about the safety standards in South America, surely they couldn’t be sending us over a ledge tied loosely to a tree, could they?
Seeing my ashen face, one of the guides laughed and yelled, “Demonstration!”.
With an instant sense of relief, we set off hiking again to reach the waterfalls. I took a look over the first ledge and happily noted it wasn’t that far down. We were starting off easy. With a quick lesson on what to do if we fell or were knocked off from the water, we began. I scaled down the rock face easier than most, making some attempt at modesty when the other participants and guides congratulated me on my easy descent.
On the Second Attempt, Crash
The second waterfall was about twice the length of the first one. No problem, I thought, visions of Rambo’ing my way to the bottom. I was tied off, and began quickly making my way down. About one third of the way down, I put my right foot on a rock that wasn’t there and that was it. Before I could comprehend what was happening, I was slipping and swinging wildly. I crashed into the canyon edge with a startling crack to my helmet and a solid hit to my ribs.
I hung there for a moment as the waterfall came crashing down over me trying to remember what to do in this situation, and doing it all completely wrong anyway. The guide from the top repelled down to me and asked if I was ok. Embarrassed, I struggled to right myself, and somehow managed to based on sheer will. I nodded and continued the descent, where I was grabbed by two guides at the bottom and ushered off to the side. Both were speaking in rapid fire Spanish at me.
I vaguely understood the word ribs. I’d seen it on a menu somewhere.
I assured them that I was fine, and then more vehemently insisted on it as they attempted to remove my jacket and wetsuit to get a look at my side. The area was angry and red, but not cut. The jacket had done its job.
My side began to throb as I waited for the others to continue their descent. One guide gestured at my side and told me he thought they were broken. I shook my head; I’ve broken bones before. This hurt, but it was manageable.
Since there was no way to go but down, we continued on. It seemed every ten minutes one of the guides would walk up and poke me in the side, watching my face as a I flinched. By the time we’d finished the fifth waterfall, it seemed my entire body was aching.
As soon as we reached town again, the tour operator came running out to see me. Somebody apparently had called ahead. I assured him I was fine and there weren’t any broken bones, but my side might be a bit colorful in the morning. He insisted a doctor confirm that and practically dragged me to the clinic two blocks down.
Half an hour later, amid a flurry of indecipherable Spanish, I was looking at X-rays of my two very clearly cracked ribs.
Rambo, I clearly am not.