Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador

Wrapping up our two-night stay in the resort town of Baños, we decided that the one thing we really wanted to do before heading back “home” to Ambato was to tour Pailon del Diablo (The Devil’s Cauldron), a reputedly awe-inspiring waterfall a few miles out of town that many of our students had mentioned was especially noteworthy. Getting up plenty early, as usual, we walked to a tour company that offered excursions to the attraction on a chiva, which is sort of a cross between a bus and a trolley that has the capability of whisking you to those mountainous sites — chiva, after all, means goat, among other things. (It’s also a slang term for cocaine, and you have to wonder if that has anything to do with these conveyances being referred to as “party buses”; more likely, it’s just because the passengers on them are often drunk and noisy.)

In Baños - January 24th

Our chiva didn’t leave until 10:30, and would return about 2:00, leaving us plenty of time to catch a bus back to Ambato and get home at a reasonable hour. So we bought our tickets, for a mere 4 bucks a head, and stowed our bags at the tour company office (having checked out of the hostel), and went for another walk about town.

So it was back to the local waterfall and the town square with all its bustle, including candy makers pulling some of the famous taffy. And since it was right there and rather conspicuous, we decided to duck into La Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Rosario de Agua Santa, the walls of which are adorned with murals depicting alleged miracles attributed to the Lady Of Holy Water, whoever she is. While we were inside, one couple entered with a small dog, which began yapping sonorously, rather disturbing the mood of gravitas prevailing in such a structure.

Then we boarded our chiva and headed out to see the waterfall among waterfalls. It was only about 15 miles away, but we made several stops en route, to look at other waterfalls, to be splashed by a small cascade that pummeled our vehicle, and to note a big boulder that supposedly looked like a profile of Jesus (any rock, of course, looks like the face of somebody or other if you look at it long enough and from the right angle). And there was a stop at a candy factory, where we were given a little tour of a candy-making process, and given free samples of both a fruit-flavored confection and a fruit liqueur (both quite interesting.) There was the hope, of course, that we’d purchase items in the gift shop, and many passengers (from our own chiva and others) did so. These stops explain why the fare was so low — the tour company receives kickbacks from these businesses along the way.

on the "chiva" (party bus)

One of them was a little cliffside thrill ride establishment that included zip lines. Being major zipline devotees, we seriously considered indulging ourselves on it — we were particularly enticed by the offered option of riding it while hanging upside down. But we decided to pass this time, since we didn’t know how much more money we’d have to fork over somewhere down the road. We did, however, pony up a smaller sum for a sort of cable car ride across the deep canyon, not far from yet another impressive waterfall.

Along the way, we were invited — and decided to — switch chivas, so that we ended up on one where the guide spoke in English.

cable car ride across the gorge

After a few such stops, we arrived at our destination: the parking lot in what otherwise would be a quiet little town, but which instead receives a great deal of tourist traffic because of its proximity to the big waterfall. Between the parking lot and the entrance to the attraction were, as you might expect, many vendors of food, souvenirs and various gewgaws. Oh, and there were also bathrooms — wonder, of wonders, free bathrooms. And when you encounter a free bathroom in Latin America, you do your best to take advantage of it. (Though the price of admission in this region is generally only 15 to 25 cents. In some places, they keep all the toilet paper at the entrance and hand it to you — sometimes a very flimsy little packet of — upon entry. They’ll sometimes set up their toll stand right inside the restroom, gender differences be damned, and even sell candy and other items while they’re at it.)

Though we didn’t have to pay for the toilet, we did have to pay 2 dollars each to see the waterfall. As we suspected, the cheap 4-buck chiva tour price was not all-inclusive; imagine if we hadn’t brought any more moolah, and we took the tour, but were unable to get into the star attraction. Happily, that wasn’t the case, so we had about a quarter of a mile to hike, though it seemed infinitely longer because of the steep terrain.

And there she was, a cascade to put Niagara to shame. Not nearly as big, mind you, but considerably more scenic. And it’s easy to see how it got its name. The waterfall dumps itself into a swirling, churning basin of water that resembles a huge cauldron being roiled and riled, and the basin no doubt has been dug out deeply by the force of the water. In a way, it’s strange that people have assigned sinister names (the devil’s this or the witch’s that, or the dragon’s the other) to gorgeous natural features. But it’s easy to suppose that the name might have come in part from the experience of having people fall into the thing, which would be an episode that would considerably alter one’s future prospects.

Pailon del Diablo - The Devils Cauldron Waterfall

Our tour guide — actually two of them — made sure we kept pace with the group, allowing us just a short while at each stop, including an overlook, and a place where we could get splashed by the overflow from the falls, and a couple of swinging bridges. Looking down from the overlook, we saw other overlooks at a much lower level and much closer to the action. Reportedly, there was even a spot where you could get behind the waterfall, really seeing it up close and personal. But there was no time for checking it out today. That’s the big disadvantage of being part of an organized tour; you can’t take things at your own pace. (If we had, we might have ended up spending the night there!)

scenes shot out the bus window heading back to Ambato

So after just enough of Pailon del Diablo to whet our appetites, it was back on the chiva and back to town. And then back on a bus to Ambato. With the hope that eventually we’d be able to return to this incredible waterfall, and take plenty of time, and get down on the lower level so we could get behind it.

Spoiler alert. We did.

January 24, 2022

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