Ecuador - Special Guest Entry: Hannah Moore - Baños

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May 15th 2018
Published: May 23rd 2018
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Baños (11/05/2018 - 15/05/2018)

Thank you Amy for letting me be a guest writer for your blog. In case anyone was wondering, Amy and I met on the Quiltoa Loop (it was amazing - you can read about it here) - I’m the one stupid enough (or smart enough depending on how you choose to look at it - I did complete the hike afterall) wearing a bin bag in lieu of the recommended ‘high quality rain gear.’

Anyway, after completing the Loop, we both decided to head a couple of hours south to Baňos; a small city known for its plethora of adventure sports, which is what I am going to be talking to you about.

Steam Box Bath: Thinking Outside the Box
In our hostel we spotted a sign advertising ‘steam box baths’ along with other spa treatments. The accompanying photo made it look like some kind of medieval torture device, but it claimed to give you detoxifying benefits and ‘silky, smooth skin’ so (after checking it wasn’t April Fools Day) we decided we would give it a go!

The following morning we sat nervously in our swimsuits on small uncomfortable benches surrounded by eucalyptus-infused steam. Amy, being the long legged beauty she is, needed to have her bench lowered, whilst I had to sit upright looking like an ostrich stretching my neck as much as I could so the guy could literally box us in with just our heads poking out the top. There was definitely a moment when he slid across the lid, that I thought he was going to knock our heads clean off, guillotine style. Luckily for us, this didn’t happen and we gradually enjoyed this unique experience, melting in a box of hot steam. After four minutes we were motioned out of the box (our lack of Spanish definitely made the situation both funnier and more confusing) and we were treated to what looked like a weird burlesque performance as the guy demonstrated how we were to rub ourselves down with very specific movements using a small towel which had been sat in icy water. He was doing this fully clothed, with a dry towel. We were basically free entertainment.

This process was repeated four times and surprisingly became increasingly pleasant as we looked forward to the ice cold cooling down after being in the hot box and vice versa. I’m pretty sure he sensed we were starting to enjoy it so he decided to notch things up a gear. Instead of the towel-burlesque routine, we had to plunge ourselves into a mini ice bath and splash ourselves down, again with very specific movements. I was pretty impressed with how we handled this (I HATE the cold) with minimal squeals and swearing. I think the guy was determined to break us so on the last round he got out what looked like a giant syringe or needle and with a childish look of glee on his face, for the finale, he hosed us down with ice cold water at a pressure so high it was actually painful. He left Amy with a bright red doughnut shaped mark on her stomach where he had been making circles around her belly button.

After we had finished we were both pretty disgusted by how much our skin had peeled off, but the advert was right, we were left with silky, smooth skin - worth the $5!

The Swing at the End of the World!
After our early morning steam box bath we were feeling invigorated and the sun was shining so it seemed to be the perfect time to visit Casa del Arbol - better known as the swing at the end of the world. Located about 10km outside the town centre, there is a public bus which runs a few times a day. However we were lucky enough to bag a free lift with some guys who were heading up there as part of a bicycle tour. I think they soon regretted this offer after they ended up in the rickety trailer with the bicycles, whilst we sprawled out comfortably on the back seat of the car.

‘The Swing at the End of the World’ has recently become bit of an Instagram sensation, largely helped by a photo of it which won a National Geographic photo contest, with the volcano erupting in the distance. With this in mind, Amy and I predicted huge lines of tourists, a hiked up entrance fee, and being allowed 10 seconds on the swing before being pushed to one side to allow the next person their turn. So we were thrilled to discover a lovely, chilled out area at the top of a hill (with a $1 entrance fee) with stunning 360 degree views and fortunately a volcano not mid-eruption. A few people waited in line for a go on the infamous swing but everyone took as long as they liked and me and Amy even went back for a second go to make sure we got a perfect photo. We used the burst function on my iphone to make sure we got the photos we wanted, but this meant we ended up with approximately a zillion photos each to sift. When we finished we made our way back down via public bus which we had read would took about 45 minutes but only took around half of that. Overall, the best $1 I have ever spent!

Ruta de las Cascadas: Mario Kart Style!
One of the things Baňos is most famous for is its stunning waterfalls - apparently there are over 60! In particular it is known for the Ruta de las Cascada or the highway of waterfalls, a road approximately 18km long just outside of town dotted with some spectacular waterfalls including the El Pailon del Diablo, or Devil’s cauldron, a powerful waterfall flowing over cliffs with view platforms and a pathway cut into the rocks.

Many people choose to do this route by bicycle but as we were still feeling pretty lazy after our three day Loop hike and only had an afternoon (we were rained off the previous day) we decided to go full adventure mode.. Mario kart style and rent a dune buggy. Of course there was a sticker declaring the buggy was strictly for off road use only, but she (yes-she, we affectionately named her Sheila) managed fine along the busy main road amongst the speedy cars and lorries. I’m really glad we went for this option, mainly so I could spend the journey singing TLC’s ‘Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls’ at the top of my lungs instead of being out of breath. It was great fun though the long, pitch black tunnels were a little hair raising at times to say the least.

We stopped at about 5 different waterfalls, some of which had a small entry charge of $1-2 so make sure you have small change or be prepared for murderous looks as you hand over a twenty or outrightly refused entry. We also went on an awesome terabithia ride (there are a few on the route) which is essentially a fast tram that goes across a gorge and ends in a waterfall and provides amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding scenery.

On the way back to town it was getting dark and of course we took a wrong turn; we had underestimated how much slower we were travelling going slightly uphill instead of down. Sheila definitely struggled and there were moments we thought we would be Flintstoning it back. Anyway, somehow we ended up on a small dark street being chased by a gang of wild, barking dogs. It seemed we were either going to have to run them down (they were clearly not intimidated by Sheila quickly moving towards them) or they were going to jump us. Luckily, Sheila slowly speeding up combined with our high pitched screaming scared them off and soon we were back on our way.
Unfortunately for Amy, who was driving the whole day, I am the world’s worst navigator and though my limited abilities got us back to town I soon led us down a strict one way street and an old local man frantically waving his arms and yelling that the police were over there. We needed to reverse, rapido. Buggies, even one as amazing as our Sheila, can’t reverse. Cue me very quickly jumping out and desperately pushing Sheila backwards, being cheered on by Amy, laughed at by all the locals, and honked at by queued surrounding cars, until it was possible to turn around, jump back in and quickly zoom off before the police came. Made it.

Baňos Thermal baths
Relaxing. Soothing. Peaceful. These are the words I would NOT choose to use to describe Las Piscinas de la Virgen, one of the thermal baths in Baňos. We were advised not to go at the weekend because of how busy it would be so we obviously chose to rock up mid-afternoon on a Sunday. The place was packed, I definitely recommend wearing your swimsuit under your clothes to avoid queuing for a changing room. The baths are clearly considered a great family day out so the pools were crammed full of families and splashing, screaming children of all ages and various inflatables and toys being batted over our heads. Amy and I shuffled our way through the pea soup coloured hot water to a safe corner to watch and enjoy the madness. At least we looked incredibly fetching in our compulsory swim caps.

Hot Chocolate: Aromi vs Arome
I knew Amy and I were going to get along great when we discovered we shared the same top priority for our time in Baňos: drinking the best hot chocolate in Ecuador! As the chocolate in Ecuador is pretty incredible I was prepared to have my socks knocked off. We had both read on another blog about a cafe called Arome, which the author swore was home to ‘the best hot chocolate they had ever had.’ Hot chocolate sounded like the perfect antidote to a rainy day so we quickly found the location on our App and set off. I was a little underwhelmed by the decor but not to be deterred we each ordered a large mug of chocolate (rice and soy milk options were available.) They were delicious and each came with a coffee bean covered in cacao which were so good we went to their store next door to pick up a pack each (and maybe a couple of other chocolate goodies.)

A day or so later, when rereading the blog which recommended Arome we realised when we clicked on the link it took us to a different cafe’s website- Aromi (easy mistake to make). It was clear we needed to head there (pity us- having to drink more hot chocolate) and see how it compared. So on our last morning in Baňos we headed there (ideally located rounded the corner from the bus terminal) for breakfast. I found the atmosphere far more cosy, largely helped by the smell of four large chocolate cakes being baked. My day was made when we discovered FIVE different hot chocolates on the menu including ones with mint, chilli and marshmallows (fortunately not all in the same mug.) We both went for the house hot chocolate and were in agreement that these were the best we had ever had! We also had fruit pancakes (with awesome chocolate sauce-obviously!) which were also delicious and happily killed time until our buses were due to arrive for our next destinations. Success!

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