The town of Baños is one of Ecuador´s most popular sites for locals and international travelers alike for the lush vegetation hanging off the mountains, an active volcano, numerous waterfalls and hot springs. Its subtropical climiate is great for outdoor adventures like rafting, trekking, mountain biking, volcano climbing and hiking — when it´s not raining.
Well, maybe some people are hardier than me, or are less exhausted when they get to Baños and are willing to be wet for hours and days to partake of all this adventure. But I am not among them.
It rained most of the 36 hours I was in Baños. Until this morning that is, when I could enjoy the beautiful sunny weather on my way out of town. I got wet enough walking around the town yesterday morning, looking for a better place to stay for the second night, getting some lunch and generally checking things out. This involved getting wet, avoiding puddles, stopping to eat some taffy pulled on a nail on a wooden post, splashing around some more and then stopping in a cafe for a cup of tea. But we did find a lovely place to stay - Posada del Arte.
By the afternoon, it was clear there was no mountain biking in my day, so I spent the afternoon at a spa of sorts — El Refugio. I´m now traveling with a friend I met on the Galapagos trip, and we decided we deserved a day to be pampered after all that hard touristing.
Somehow, between my enthusiasm for the journey and my incomplete understanding of the entire Spanish conversation, I was talked into being closed into a steam cabinet, seated, with my head sticking out the top for about 45 minutes. This doesn´t sound so bad, you may say. But wait, there´s more. After about 15 minutes or so, the spa lady opened the cabinet and dumped a bucket of freezing cold water over my head - twice!
I knew that the bath would involve cold water at some point. I´d figured that much out. And I only yelped a bit the first time she hit me. So I thought - well, that was refreshing and now I feel very alert. Then she closed me back in the cabinet and said she would be repeating the cold water treatment four times. “Next time you won´t feel a thing,” she said. What a weird job - to pour freezing cold water on people while they scream.
After awhile, some Ecuadorians came - two men and two women - for the privilege of having the same punishment / treatment. Sue, who had quite a bit to say when the water was dumped on her, says I was the toughest of the group. The way those men were carrying on, you´d think somebody was killing them. They sounded like they were practically crying. I fully expected one to call for his mother. Perhaps having all those teeth drilled without novacaine when I was a child now has the advantage of making me appear to not be a wimp in public. But if I hadn´t been some kind of a weenie, I would have been biking or hiking in the rain.
Although rustic, El Refugio, as the spa is called, decorated its cinderblock walls with brightly painted murals throughout. During my steam bath, I was able to look out huge windows at the beautiful mountains, a river babbling across jagged stones, low clouds and rain.
Afterwards I had a massage complete with incense and Enya-like music. It wasn´t the most firm massage I´ve ever had, but at the end they rubbed my body with hot, smooth river rocks, which felt really good.
Unfortunately, I have no photos of El Refugio, or of me with my head sticking out of the steam cabinet. I did not take my camera, since I wasn´t sure what the security would be like. Instead of Burke-Williams, where they give you a secure, private locker with a fluffy towel, robe and sandals, at El Refugio we got a plastic basket to put our things in and wore our own bathing suits and flip-flops. After walking around for a couple of minutes after the bath, we found someone who could finally give us some towels. Guess we were supposed to bring our own.
The result is I feel much more rested after a somewhat less adventurous day, so I must have needed that steaming and freezing. Unfortunately, with time short, I decided I will have to take advantage of all the charms of Baños another time. I did manage to have a couple of nice meals including one that came with entertainment. Las Alturas, an Andean band playing traditional instruments stopped by for a few songs and to sell CDs, which, of course, I bought. They were quite good and if I can figure out how to get a sound clip on here, I´ll do so at some point.
I managed to snap a few photos in the beautiful morning of my departure including the one small waterfall you could see from the hotel, Bridal Veil Falls, at the foot of which is a public bath fed by hot springs. Apparently, you can jump from the hot pool into the waterfall, but I´d already had enough cold water for one day.