“The rain started three years ago….” breathed the owner of the vegan restaurant in Banos, “…and it hasn’t stopped since.” I nodded empathetically. I’d experienced the same exasperation towards the relentlessly sunny weather in Los Angeles.
I don’t mind the rain… which sure is a good thing to not mind, because the rain hasn’t quit here in Banos. It rains all day. It rains all night. It even rains when the sun is shining.
The beauty of Banos is in the rain. The rolling clouds are to be thanked for the rich greenery of the mountains, and the voluptuousness of the waterfalls, the rivers, and the hot springs all depend on the unbroken pitter patter of drops on the tin rooftops.
I spent my first day in Banos determined to get the most out of the bountiful naturaleza. In the foggy 4:30 am darkness, I walked a mile uphill to the Salado hot springs, where the steam from the muddy umber water mingled with the low-hanging clouds.
Most of the hot springs visitors at this hour were in their golden years. They sat still as frogs, chin-deep in the concrete basins, occasionally immersing their swim-capped heads beneath the bubbling surface. Despite my younger, healthier heart, I couldn’t stand the hot water as long as the old people, so I jumped between the hot and ice cold pools until my muscles felt like they’d had a deep- tissue massage.
The rain doesn’t stop business in Banos. On every block, tour companies try to sell their rafting, canyoning, rock climbing, and mountain biking packaged adventures. I bought in to the canyoning when a 60 year old ex-pat named Richaard said that if I only do one thing in Banos, it should be canyoning.
Richaard seemed like the kind of guy with good taste. He drove his five dogs around in a rickshaw-motorcycle contraption with the name of his favorite dog, Helga, inscribed on the side. Helga had lived with him at sea for six years.
By definition, I don’t know what canyoning is… but it turned out to be a lot of repelling down waterfalls. Although the whole tour thing felt manufactured- with peppy, overworked guides (one who looked undeniably like Steve Aoki) that patiently lower uncoordinated tourists down waterfalls twice a day- the scene of sunlit water spraying down the falls made it worth the $25.
I couchsurfed my first three nights in Banos. The host, Juank, almost always has couchsurfers. As Juank’s home is basically a free hostel, he has hosted over 1,000 travelers. Sadly he had to leave town, so I moved to Santa Cruz Hostel– its main draw being the fireplace. I spent a lot of time at this hostel doing yoga on the bedroom floor because Ben wasn’t feeling so great, and it was still raining.
I did manage to make the pilgrimage up to the Instagram-famous Casa del Arbol, also known as The Swing at the End of the World. The pilgrimage can be done by bus, but I chose the two hour hike. When I got lost, the two hours turned into six hours. No matter… spectacular scenery mostly distracted me from my blistering feet the whole way up. And as an added bonus, the sun came out… so I got the perfect cliché Swing picture.
Banos is the perfect place to weave a fine web of connections, because the rain brings people together. Weather is usually a dead-end conversation topic. Not in Banos. Say “it’s still raining” and you’ve spoken God’s honest truth. For a satisfying week, take a few daytime escapades, fireside evenings, lots of new buddies, and talk about the rain.