Thursday, March 16, 2006


Shortcuts don`t always prove short...or easy, and this is the experience that I had just a few days ago (now, quite a few).

After biking 60km (mostly downhill) in the morning from Baños to Puyo, along a route that has several stops to see, hike to, or take a cable car to waterfalls, I decided that I would try what was described to me as a good (the word adrenaline was used) descent to Baños. I used the detail lacking map that had been given to me and started to ride up the back side of the mountain in order to get to the trail. After going up quit a ways and by this time sufficiently tired...the road ended. And a look across the valley below revealed another road...the right one. I didn`t have the energy to turn around, so I thought I would just simply cut across the valley. I knew it wouldn`t be that easy, but it looked better than the alternative. So I started down the landslide which created the only semi-passable route down to the stream (another looming problem). A few 10-12 foot drops weren`t too easy to navigate (the bike took more punishment than the normal day rental usually gives it), but were only a precursor to what was to come. After getting down to the stream without any serious falls I was sure of two things, one that I could no way make it back up carrying the bike, and two...that the hardest part was behind me. I was wrong. Crossing the "stream" was an issue and it took a while of walking (in what ended up the opposite direction, but also the only option) to find a place where I could just barely throw the bike across (without it being swept downstream) and where I could just barely jump across without meeting the same fate (incidentally, right above a little, but nasty looking waterfall). I made it, the bike made it, and together (bike on my back), I ventured into what would become one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done.

At first it was OK...the uneven ground was sufficiently covered by plants, so that every step was a surprise, be it rock, hole, or something in between. The bamboo/sugar cane like plants were thin enough at this point so I could make it to the cliff that led up to the order to confirm that I had no chance of climbing it with the bike in one arm. So I walked towards the area where I remember seeing that the cliff gradually subsided...and I should be able to make it up to the road. However, the walking became quite a bit more difficult at this point. The aforementioned obstruction/plant (which were a uniform 10 feet high) became impassably thick and were joined in their efforts by vines and small trees. At one point I had to just push them down and crawl over the recently bushwacked as well as the dead ones which made up a 4ft high, sharp and difficult undergrowth. Crawling through wasn`t easy (occasionally hitting a hole and falling either head or legs first into the mess that was under me) and I knew that it would be more difficult when I went back to get the bike (I had to do several scouting/bushwacking mini-expeditions without the bike...). Finally I did it all over again, with the bike...clearing a path hopefull big enough to get the bike through while I decided that handle bar extensions (which caught every vine, branch, etc, etc) were the worst invention...ever.

It took about an hour to go 50m...with no end in sight the whole time and just hoping that I found a passable route before it got dark. It was bad, and I looked horrible when I came out...clothes changed to a green and brown from all the contact with the plants, dripping in sweat, and cut all over. In my foolish optimism, I actually tried to keep going up towards the top! But after about 100m I realized how tired I was...and road down the road. The driver of the bus that I eventually caught back to Baños actually seemed concerned (although not enough to keep him from over-charging me) from my appearance. It was officially one of the worst shortcuts I have ever taken...I`m just happy no one else had to endure that with me...and nobody was there to be angry at what would have surely been my insistence that we take the "short cut." Anyhow, I made it out and decided that between that and Machu Picchu, I had had enough of a "jungle experience" for my whole trip.

The hot springs, however, that night was the best hot spring experience of all time. This place was good, complete with hot and cold baths, as well as a firehose strength cold-water shower. Very nice.

The next day I settled my debts in Baños and it was onward, through the blinding rain, to Quito.


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