14 January 2020
Not going to lie. I miss Montañita already. Why didn’t I stay the full weekend? Why did I rush off? I know exactly why, and that makes it worse. It was a rash decision. People I hung out with almost daily for about two weeks left very suddenly. In one week, on separate occasions, I woke up in the afternoon to WhatsApp messages along the lines of, “Are you awake? I’m leaving.” After the third time, it felt like a real blow. I never even got to say goodbye properly. I moped about for a couple of days, feeling alone. My crew had escaped and I should too. I immediately made plans for Baños and asked my hostel manager when’s the earliest I could leave. Shortly after everything was set, one of the guys who left, returned. I was surprised and ecstatic to see this familiar face back on the street, drinking a Strawberry Daiquiri. By then, my mopey-ness had died down. I was ready to continue partying. Too bad I had already purchased my bus ticket and arranged to begin my volunteering by a certain date, so I left.
Now I’m here in Baños, and I’ve only heard rave reviews about it and its outdoorsy stuff. The thing about these sort of activities – it’s more fun in a group. Now I’m back on my own, and I can’t exactly do white-water rafting by myself. I’m sure if I do sign up, I would be placed in with some others, but I don’t really want to be crashing someone else’s party. The vibe of this hostel doesn’t seem very communal either. The guests are mostly families with kids, so naturally, they have their own thing going on. The “fun” hostels are more in the town centre. But this was the only place which accepted a one-week minimum gig, so I went with it.
There’s another volunteer here, Maria from Colombia. We went to the Swing at the End of the World yesterday, or locally known as Casa del Arbol. A tour would cost you USD5, but if you take the bus yourself, which is what we did, it’s only USD1 per way. It’s a treehouse located in the wilderness, up 2,600 meters, in the mountains and next to a volcano. Dangling from this treehouse is a massive swing, with just a strap across your waist to help you feel more secure. You get on a ramp, get strapped in, then someone pushes you. Forwards, at first. Then spins you round and round. One, for mere excitement. Two, so you can get a frontal-facing photo. I screamed when I first got on it. I’m not great with heights. Especially with the guy yelling, “Let go your hands! Open your arms!” It was fun. Then I was nauseous. I think I got motion sickness.
Oh, did I tell you I got ringworm too? I never knew what that was. I had this mark on my leg in Montañita, which at first looked like a really nasty, huge bite from some bug. Then it developed into what looked like a bullet wound. Or a paintball scar. It was itchy but not aggressively so. I figured it would go away on its own. Weeks later and it’s still there. On my last day, on the beach, a girl asked, “Is that ringworm?” Back to my hostel, I Googled an image. Yep. She was right. Probably got this fungus from one of the stray dogs or cats. Only yesterday I went to the pharmacy and bought some cream. Hope it works!
This morning I found a tick in one of the sheets while I was housekeeping. I showed it to Emi, who is the administrator here. She freaked out and showed it to Manny, who owns the hostel. That was around 10AM. Now it is 4:30PM. They have been at each other’s throats since. I can only assume this isn’t just about the tick; that there have been underlying issues and this tick made everything explode. Cause occasionally I hear Emi crying, saying things like, “You don’t respect me.” Her kid is on the sidelines yelling for them to stop yelling. I feel bad for saying anything. Maybe I should have just killed the tick and left it at that. I mean, it could have come from anywhere. From another traveller. It’s not necessarily that the hostel has a hygiene problem – it definitely doesn’t. We clean everything with bleach every day. Two new volunteers arrived last night. Clearly wondering what they just walked into. Maria asked if I wanted to leave early since the situation is tense, but it doesn’t affect me. I do my work, then I lie in bed and eat, and watch my shows. I’m fine being here. Doesn’t hurt that the beds are crazy comfy too.
Last night, Manny asked if I had been to the waterfalls. This morning, as it’s my off day, he drove me downtown, put me on a local tour bus, and paid for it. I was rather surprised at his nice gesture. Mainly because he didn’t offer this to the other volunteers. Then I felt a little bad for finding him weird and mostly avoiding him. He was also surprisingly rude to some of the guests, but always polite with me. I don’t really know what to make of it.
On the tour bus, people were dressed like it was winter and I wondered if I was underprepared. Felt a little out of place too, but I should be used to that by now. We headed along Ruta de las Cascadas (The Waterfall Route). I can’t actually remember how many waterfalls we passed. Somewhere between five and eight. I think. The more adventurous travellers do this route by bike. You go uphill with a truck, but downhill with your bicycle. Easy. Too bad I still can’t (properly) ride a bicycle.
A lot of stops were made along the way. One of them was a source for holy water where people fill up their water bottles because it was seemingly coming out of a rock which looked like Jesus Christ. Another stop was for extreme rides, like flying fox across a canyon, or sitting in a ball cage and getting flung off a cliff as it spins 360 degrees. No thank you. Also cause it costs $10, which I didn’t want to pay. The rest, expectedly, were the cascades. With the most impressive one being the final one — Pailón del Diablo. Or Devil’s Cauldron. It’s a $2 entry plus a short hike and a couple of bridge crossings before you get to see it in all its spectacularity.
After the tour, about 6PM, I headed off on my own to another thing Baños is famous for… thermal baths. If you learnt the phrase, “Dónde está el baño?” You’ll know ‘baño’ means ‘bathroom.’ So, Baños, or fully known as Baños de Agua Santa, means Baths of Holy Water. This city was named as such because they have a lot of hot springs around. ‘Holy,’ because of the water’s mineral content which is believed to be healing, and also due to reported sightings of the Virgin Mary.
The one I visited was Termas de la Virgen. Yes, it was by this thermal bath where believers saw Mary. Located right in the city centre, next to a waterfall, heated by the active Tungurahua volcano about 10km away. This was the cheapest and most visited by locals. I only saw a handful of foreigners even though it got really packed as the night went on. They had several pools, three of them with different temperatures. 3 degrees, 30+ degrees (I can’t remember exactly), and 42 degrees Celsius. I went into the 30+ one first. Pleasant, but wasn’t impressed. I soak in bathtubs hotter than this. So I went for the 42. Oooh weee! I’d say it’s almost impossible (for first-timers) to enter this pool without wincing or making a face. It’s far from boiling temperature, but pretty much felt like it. Signs everywhere warned “5 MIN MAX IN THE POOL.” Even five minutes felt really long. It was scalding.
I did what I believe you were supposed to do, which is go back and forth between the 42 and the three degrees pool. There were moments in the cold pool when I felt super light-headed, as though I’m about to pass out. Might have been a shock to the system. But then it got much easier to adapt to the 42 after that. After an hour, I figured I had enough. Took a shower, walked back into the city centre. Genuinely astonished with how energised I felt after that. I could see then, how this was viewed as miraculous. Makes sense almost everyone in that hot pool was, I’d say, above fifty. A lot of elderly folk refreshing their bones.
This was a nice end to Baños. Tomorrow I head to Quito. Not exactly looking forward to being in the capital city, But I hope to go camping on someone’s private land there. Tell you more once I have it all sorted. Hasta la próxima!
Cover photo: Plantain stuffed with cheese – a typical Ecuadorian street snack
All photos courtesy of the author.