Going with the Flow in Baños

“Tengo una buena noticia y una mala noticia…” I have good news and bad news.

These were the words that were communicated to me as I stood in the crowded, dark office of an adventure tour agency in Baños. I woke up that morning ready and excited to go canyoning—repelling down waterfalls and rocky cliff faces. For days, I had been trying to convince my fellow interns to go with me—that it would be an amazing time—but only managed to convince one friend to join me. She and I rose earlier than most in the hostel, tore through a breakfast of rolls, jam, butter, assorted fruits, coffee, and eggs, and waited anxiously at the hostel entrance to be picked up by the “adventure tour” agency. There were two other girls already waiting to be picked up, and upon exchanging hellos, we learned that they had come from Glasgow, Scotland.

The four of us piled into a van and drove through the crowded, misty streets, lined with vendors and cafes with colorful awnings. I made small talk with the taxi driver, who told me about all the rain the area had received overnight (and was still receiving at the time). I didn’t let this deter my excitement for the expedition to come. We would be wearing wetsuits anyway, so what was the harm?

It wasn’t until I entered the tour agency office that one of the guides explained the severity of the situation. Because it had rained all night, the waterfalls were too strong to safely maneuver—no canyoning today. As I listened, I was slightly dismayed, but the guide kindly offered to take us on the rafting tour instead. “¿Está bien?” he asked me. I glanced quickly at Katey, who waited expectantly for the English translation. We had to make an instant decision, and we didn’t have any competing alternatives, so rafting it was!

We were fitted for wetsuits, water shoes, and helmets, while introducing ourselves to the cast of characters that made up our rafting group. In addition to the two girls from Scotland, there was a guy from Holland, one from Ireland, and a group of guys from England. The group moved into a van to be taken to the river, and settled down for a scenic, forty-minute ride through the green, fog-covered mountains.

Upon arriving at the launch site, I seriously questioned my decision to raft. I looked at the roaring, wild river in front of me and wondered if I was going to come back to my hostel at all that day. It seemed a definite possibility to be swallowed up by the brown torrent in front of me. I told myself that it was too late to back out, so I tugged on my wetsuit, laced up my gritty, damp shoes, and prepared for the all-important safety briefing.

The new rafters stood around the guides, being pelted in the face by torrential downpour, listening attentively. After an animated, heavily-accented crash course on what to do when things go wrong, my boat of five passengers plus a guide prepared to shove off into the Pastaza River. My excitement and nervousness were hardly containable at this point, but I had far-committed myself to being a team member. I scrambled into the raft with Katey by my side, and before I could totally settle myself, our raft was picked up by the vicious current. Definitely no turning back now!

Our guide yelled instructions to us, assured us that if we followed them, everything would be ok. Forward, forward, full forward! We were flying down the river, paddling like a trained team, when our guide told us to take a break. At that moment, I picked up my head, turned my face to the sky, and took it all in. The forest rose up on either side of the vast river, the sound of the current filled my ears, and my skin was alive with the falling rain. This is amazing. This is absolutely incredible, I thought. My heart raced and the adrenaline drove me to be hyper-alert, ready for whatever the river could throw at us.

The journey included several series of rapids, one of which ejected three out of six raft members into the water, but after a fast-acting rescue effort, all was well. Though the majority of the raft team was comprised of strangers, by the end, we had definitely bonded in some sort of unspoken way. We pulled along to the bank after an especially rough patch of current, with both surprise and relief. Everyone clambered out of the raft with aching arms, racing hearts, and wide smiles of accomplishment. The rafting adventure was exhausting, enthralling, and absolutely unforgettable...a welcome change of plans and an incredible experience in Ecuador!