We set out from Baños this morning, on our bikes, and headed east toward Ecuador’s share of the Amazon rainforest. And guess what? It rained. A lot. We started out dry, but as we steadily biked on, it started to drizzle and pretty soon we were soaking wet. The road we were biking on is nicknamed Ruta de las Cascadas (Road of Waterfalls) as well as Ruta de las Orquideas (Road of Orchids). And it didn’t take us long to see why. As we pedaled gradually downhill (and quite a bit uphill), the vegetation became more and more tropical and waterfalls began appearing after each bend. The hillsides were strewn with purple and white orchids and to our left we followed the curves of the Napo River, which eventually drains in the the Amazon. Along the road were several tunnels that we had to skirt around because they were too dangerous to bike through (cars and trucks only). On one bypass a landslide had blocked the road’s passage and we had to carry our bikes up and over the rubble.
Before the rain got too bad, we took a minor detour from our biking route to hike down into a gorge to see one of the biggest waterfalls along the Napo river, Pailon del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron. It was a kilometer descent down to the river and at the bottom we came across a beautifully built lodge that doubled as the entrance to the waterfall. It was $1.50 per person to enter, so C and I paid and then started up the hand-laid stone steps. We could hear the raging water long before we saw the falls, and when it emerged into view, C and I were quite impressed – both with the stone walkway leading up to the falls as well as the waterfall itself. It cascaded down into a roiling pool and then the whitewater continued on down the river, past large slick boulders and green vegetation.
The stone path continued up to the top of the falls via a very low and narrow cave-like walkway. I almost had to get down on my hands and knees to pass through. After we were thoroughly misted by the the Pailon del Diablo, we retraced our steps back down the stone stairway and up the dirt path back to our bikes. At the top we stopped for a refreshing glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.
We continued on the Ruta de las Cascadas, but when the rain got too heavy to bike on, we got back into the jeep and went in search of sunshine. After a stop for lunch by the side of the road, the skies dried up and we got back on our bikes and continued on to the town of Misahualli where we will spend the night. By the time we arrived, both C and I were exhausted, so we rested for about an hour and then headed out to see the town’s main attraction – Capuchin monkeys who have taken over the center square. We’ve both seen Capuchin monkeys before in Costa Rica, so we didn’t stay long to watch their antics.
Instead, Arie had told us about a large Ceibo tree about half and hour’s walk outside of town. We took off down a dirt road and soon came to a tiny town composed of just a few wooden houses and a large, half-built suspension bridge spanning the roiling brown waters of Misahualli river, which converges with the Napo river in front of our hotel. I was a little hesitant to cross because there were gaping holes where slats missing and steel beams laying in piles waiting to be put in place. But we crossed safely and on the other we were dwarfed by the giant Ceibo tree. It towered over C and I! There’s another large tree – maybe even bigger – on Barro Colorado Island in Panama, that we sometimes visit during hikes on the island. Then it was half an hour walk back to town and our hotel. We grabbed our computers and books and then walked toward the center square for a relaxing evening of writing, reading, and enjoying the warmer climate.