Tena and Beyond: The End of the Road in Ecuador

When we needed to get away for a few days, we jumped on a bus to Tena Ecuador and entered the Amazon jungle.  We left most of our stuff locked away at the Tunguhaua Tea Room, our farm, and headed out with 2 small packs.  Traveling without so much stuff was such a relief!  The nervous feeling that I couldn’t get out of my chest faded away as the rumbles from the volcano were lost behind us.  The bus ride was about four hours and from Banos it just got hotter and hotter until the air blowing through the window was no longer refreshing.  Along the road the vegetation  grew thicker as the hills began to flatten out.   Farmers grew fields of palm-like trees producing bananas, plantains, papaya,  pineapples, coconut, and other fruits that we couldn’t identify.

Once out of the bus in Tena Ecuador we asked around for directions to Hostal Limón Cocha, and found it slightly up the hill looking down on the city.  We got a private room with a shared bathroom for $13 per night.  The hostel is run by a German guy and his family, and they also do jungle and rafting tours that you can arrange there.

We dropped our stuff off then headed to town to dig the street food scene.  Tena is rougher and sweatier than other cities we have visited in Ecuador.  Every woman is pregnant, or has a small child wrapped tightly around her with a cloth, or both.  The men sit around under trees, smoking or drinking beer.  People look different here, they are darker and shorter, with obvious indigenous heritage.  We had been told that many a traveler has been taken down by the street food in Tena, but there were a lot of options so we threw caution away and dug in.  If we go out to get street food, we don’t usually grab two huge plates of the same thing but rather several plates of several different things and we share them.  First off we got a huge plate of fries for $1 with salad and different salsa options to pile on top.  Next, I got a kebab of beef, with a plantain on the end.  The meat was actually pretty good compared to other kebabs I have sampled before.  Last, we remembered having passed someone selling huge arepas (imagine a flat piece of fried bread that you put butter and cheese or whatever on top of).  We got two for $1 and found them to be full of cheese.  REAL CHEESE!  They were so hot and gooey!  So we went to bed full and didn’t even get sick.

The next morning we headed out with even a smaller backpack than the day before.  Our original plan was to go on a whitewater rafting trip but we were not able to book one at the last minute.  But we were not going to sit around sad with a whole jungle around us!  We caught a bus (actually we didn’t really catch it, we found out which one it was and then waited for about 45 minutes trying to decide if it was hotter in the sun or the shade of the cooking bus) and rode for about 1 hour to Misahualli Ecuador the official end of the road.

Tena Ecuador
The transportation any farther is only by boat.

The town was tiny and felt deserted.  We walked down to the river where there was a nice beach.  After telling each other that there were no piranhas, we swam for a few minutes then, feeling refreshed, got dressed to check out the town.  This is when we saw them, the reason for our venturing to this ghost town, THE MONKEYS!  Los monos run the beach stealing from backpacks and chasing children.  We took lots of pictures of the funny creatures, one time getting too close and causing the little guy to punch the camera!

Tena Ecuador
They dig in the sand for bugs!

But not all the monkeys were small and cute.  One was big and fat and mean and ran at us.  I’ll admit that he was a little scary.

After we had enough monkey pictures we took a walk around town, or at least what looked like a town.  There were a few open doors at places which may or may not have been selling something, but no one there to sell it.  We walked back to the beach and wandered into a building labeled “HOSTAL” hoping it wasn’t as deserted as it looked. There was actually a nice lady inside who brought us beers and liked talking about the monkeys.  After she went back to the kitchen, a monkey snuck through the side door, into the kitchen, and ran out with a small piece of food.  Next a puppy wandered in and barked at us then took a nap in the corner.  After that a different monkey, then a cat, then the first monkey again, with the food like a treasure curled up in his tail, then a chicken made itself at home in the corner.

Awesome sign in the animal hostel.

Eventually the lady running the place grabbed a bag of potato chips, walked out the front door, and started throwing them to the monkeys who went crazy.  The big mean one stole the whole bag and threw it into his tail for later.  The other monkeys had had enough though, so they either played in the rafters or swung in the hammocks.  Silly monkeys.

With enough monkey videos we headed back to town.  We saw a truck with backpacker-looking people packed into the back like cows, just returning from a jungle trip.  Two girls jumped out and ran into the shop we were checking out.  One of them spoke Spanish and showed the lady who was running the place the other girl’s legs.  They were so bug bitten and swelling and purple!  They made plans to go to some kind of a doctor and Carrie and I laughed at them a bit.  Who goes tramping through the jungle in their flip flops?!

Hot and tired, we got on the bus back to Tena, on the edge of our seats waiting for our cheesy arepas at the bus station.

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Ruta de las Cascadas: Biking To The Banos Waterfalls

Banos is full of amazing outdoor activities and biking to the Banos waterfalls should not be missed!.  From the town of Banos the bike down the main road east towards Puyo, which is considered to be the edge of the jungle.  While Puyo is 60km away from Baños, it is almost entirely downhill, making it a realistic day’s bike ride to the waterfalls.  We do not bike often, at least since leaving Arizona, so we didn’t make it all the way to the jungle.

biking Banos waterfalls
On the road!

We got our bikes in town and cruised down the hill.  The river flowed at our side carving a canyon that weaved down through the mountains.  Most of the way you are riding on the road with the cars, but sometimes you ride on the scenic road around the tunnels.  On these roads we were usually all alone, so we took fun pictures with the green hills in the background. Along the way you bike through a tunnel, past a dam, and then come to the first waterfall.  The first falls you can see fine from the road and there is a cable car and a slow-seeming zipline to the other side, if you’re so inclined.

biking Banos waterfalls
You can cable car or zipline to the other side.

The air became sticky as we rolled farther and farther down the hill.  We started dripping sweat and feeling that light-headedness you get from sitting in the sun too long.  I saw a shiny bright blue butterfly, and the largest wasp I have ever seen.  People sat around under trees and if they moved, moved sluggishly.  This journey to the edge made us very excited for later excursions deeper into the Amazon.

Nearing the end of our ride we came to the biggest of the Banos waterfalls, the Cascada Pailón del Diablo, which was at the end of a short trail.

biking Banos waterfalls
Cascada Pailón del Diablo.

It was $1.50 each to enter and the trail was pretty rough after biking for a few hours.  Many Ecuadorian women came wearing high heels and other great hiking footwear; most foreigners wore the standard safari gear.  We like to laugh at other people’s attire, since we always look like bums.  Once at the bottom the falls were hidden in a little cove.  The mist rose from the pool and the sun made multiple rainbows around us.  We climbed up a trail that had a one meter (under 4 feet) high ceiling, slippery from the mist.  After crawling through this up about 30 more meters (100ft) you emerge behind the falls, and you get soaking wet.  It was just what we needed after a long day in the equatorial sun.  Lucky we had our waterproof camera (Thanks Mom and Dad) and the rest of our gear was in ziplock bags.

biking Banos waterfalls
Behind the falls!

After we made the exhausting hike back up to our bikes, we rode a little father down and accidentally passed the last falls.  We missed the turn and went for the best downhill ride yet.  The problem was that we didn’t have it in us to go all the way to Puyo-the next spot with busses after the one we had passed.  So we turned around and walked our bikes back about a mile to the final waterfall we missed.  We decided we didn’t need to spend another $2 to hike down to this waterfall so instead we drank a beer at the bar at the start of the waterfall trail.  After about 15 minutes a tour van pulled up, half full of people that were too lazy to do the trip on bikes.  For $1.50 each they gave us a ride back to Baños, bikes on top, blasting salsa music from the sound system.  We were tired and sunburnt and didn’t even make it all the way to Puyo, but we still felt accomplished.

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