I was stood, with 10 others packed into a lawn mower engine powered basket of death, suspended over the valley bottom 50 meters below when suddenly, the whole pulley system stopped. We were dangling, swaying side to side in the wind.

Banos is a town in central Ecuador. It is best known on the backpackers’ route as one of the adrenaline capitals of South America. It is found a couple of hours south of the capital, Quito, and can be reached by regular bus services. The town gets its name from the thermal baths that can still be found at the edge of the town, but these days the main draw is not the baths. Instead, it is the swing at the edge of the world at Casa de Arbol. 

Not only can you swing over the edge of a cliff, but there are also more adrenaline activities than you can shake a stick at. These range from canyoning and hiking to paragliding and mountain biking. However, the region around Banos is also famous for its waterfalls. There are countless different waterfalls that can be reached on foot or by bus with the most famous of these being Pailon del Diablo which in English translates to Devil’s Cauldron.

I was only made aware of this waterfall when I saw photos of it circulating online. It is incredibly impressive, made to look even more so by the walkways carved into the surrounding rock. The Pailon del Diablo itself is situated in a waterfall park, consisting of other smaller waterfalls as well as a huge suspension bridge.

Pailon del Diablo

However, whilst the Pailon del Diablo is certainly worth a visit, this waterfall is not the main focus of this piece. Instead, this piece focusses on my death defying experience visiting a much smaller waterfall, just off the main road on the route from Banos to Pailon del Diablo.

The waterfall in question is found near to the village of Urba. You can reach it on foot by the trail that runs past many of the waterfalls in the Banos area, or you can reach it in the way that I did, in a rickety old basket travelling over the valley.

It was actually the driver of the minibus that we were in that suggested to stop at this waterfall near Urba. This specific waterfall was not on my radar, and I would have missed out on the experience had it not been for this one minibus driver so I will forever be indebted to him.

Whilst we were driving, the bus driver pointed out the waterfall across the valley and told us that it was possible to get even closer by taking a pulley across. I was very intrigued by this. I couldn’t see a pulley system to get across the valley from the minibus. All that was visible was a little building perched on the edge of the cliff.

So, I set off to the building to work out what the situation was. Here, I was greeted by two large, middle aged Ecuadorian men drinking beers around a white plastic table perched on a balcony overlooking the valley. Next to the balcony there was a red metal basket suspended on some rickety wires that ran across the valley towards the waterfall on the other side. It was this basket that I would soon discover to be the basket of death.

The two men explained to us through a mixture of their broken English and our broken Spanish, that for the sum of $1 each, we could get in the basket and be carried across the valley to the waterfall to get the best view and take some photos. As I mentioned earlier, there were 10 others with me, and we were sure that this basket would not be able to hold all of us at once. However, we were told that it would be perfectly safe for us all to go over. Despite our reservations, we all climbed into the basket, and it is safe to say we were not prepared for what was to come.

Just before we left, one of the guys operating the pulley asked if we wanted to stop close to the waterfall to get the best photos. This seemed like a good idea so we all told him that we would, not quite knowing what that would entail.

The first sign that this was about to be a wild experience, was that in order to set the pulley going, it had to be started by aggressively pulling a chord on an engine that looked as though it had come straight from an old lawnmower. It took a few tries to get it going, but once it started, it was deafening.

The basket shuddered into life and fired off the balcony that we were on. Before I knew it, we were suspended 50 meters above the valley floor, hurtling along in a basket, held up by only two questionably looking metal wires.

After the initial shock, and a few screams, mainly from me, we settled into the journey across the valley. It was a remarkable view along the river back towards Banos and all the time we were getting closer to the waterfall on the other side.

smacap_Bright

However, this enjoyment was abruptly brought to an end just a few minutes later. There had been some discussion amongst us as we got close to the waterfall about when we would stop to take the photos. I assumed that the man had just forgotten and gone back to his beers. However, just as we made it to the waterfall, the basket came to a halt. It was as if someone had pulled the emergency brake. We were all thrown forwards, only stopped from plummeting to our deaths by the railing of the basket before being left to hang in the wind.

If I am honest, the view from that spot was excellent. It was the perfect place to get the best view of the waterfall, as well as a great view down the valley and of the mountains in the distance. However, I must say that during that moment, the great view was not at the forefront of my mind. I was just focussed on survival.

As we stood there in the basket, swinging from side to side, it would be fair to say that there was a bit of a panic. People began shouting back across the valley to the man controlling the pulley asking for him to please get us going again. After what seemed like an age, there was a splutter as the whole system came back to life and we carried on past the waterfall to the other side of the valley.

As we arrived at the other side of the valley, there was a small wooden hut next to where the pulley ended. The basket ground to a halt, and we were met by an Ecuadorian grandma who looked as though she had been asleep before we got there. She asked if we wanted to get out and go for a walk or just head straight back across the valley. The consensus amongst us was that we were all too petrified to go for a walk and wanted to get off this death trap as soon as possible.

So, the grandma sent a walkie talkie message back to the men on the other side of the valley and before we knew it, part two of the terrifying journey was underway. We all hoped that this time it would be quick and without stops, but that was not the case. Instead, the basket again stopped dangling right over the valley before accelerating at what felt like breakneck speed.

As the basket pulled back into the docking point, there was a real sense of relief amongst those of us who had survived this trip. We had signed up for what we thought was a gentle ride across to see a waterfall, but it had quickly become a dance with death.

The fact that this whole experience was not only allowed to exist, but only cost $1 is still mind boggling for me. Looking back on it, I have no idea why I thought it would be safe to get into a rusty red basket and travel over a valley, but I did. Whilst at no point on that trip across did I feel even remotely safe, there is no doubt that it was definitely the best way to see the waterfall and did provide some stunning vistas. All in all, I would certainly not do it again now that I know what I would be signing up for. However, I would still argue that the basket of death is quite possibly the most intense and thrilling experience that you could ever get for the tiny sum of $1.