Baños de Agua Santa

Baños is a small town (pop. about 20,000) resting in the mountains, with peaks shooting up all around

and waterfalls visible from town center. It’s named after the thermal hot springs in various spots around town. The streets are lined with hostels, spas, and adventure tour shops complete with ATV rental, dirt bike rentals, puenting (bridge jumping… kinda) tours, canyoning tours, zipline tours… you name it.

You can hike up the surrounding hills, one of them has a Casa de Arbol (treehouse) that everyone goes to see. My guidebook said it’s a “very strenuous hike”. Asking around, I found out that for $1.00 I could get on a bus, a 6 block hike from my hostel, and ride up, and this I did. The treehouse had a couple of swings, which you could sit on and swing out over the edge of the mountain. I got a bit of vertigo just watching others do it. I was happy to take pictures.

I had been told that it was a beautiful hike, and that I should walk down rather than return on the bus. “An hour and a half, and it will be worth it.” It was indeed beautiful, but so steep. Every step I had to strain and flex to make sure I didn’t fall, sometimes having to sit and scoot. Finally, I saw a house, and thought I had made it. I walked down some stairs, around a corner, and realized I was at the “Cafe of the Heavens”, a cafe mounted on the hillside overlooking Baños. I still had a very long way to go, by the size of this little dots of houses below.

Eventually, just before dark, I made it off the hill and back to Baños. I passed a woman, in her house, elbows resting on the window sill, leaning out.

“Did you do the hike?” she asked.

“Si,” I responded.

“It’s so beautiful!” she said.

“And steep,” I thought…

Relieved, with legs of rubber, I stumbled home.

In the morning, my legs were stiff and tired, but I had already decided to do the 20k bike ride along La Ruta de Las Cascadas (Waterfall Route). Every few miles there was a stop, a beautiful waterfall, and some kind of zipline or adrenaline junkie type setup waiting for you. I would stop, look, and get back on the bike. Other than the buses flying by and blowing you sideways, this was a fairly benign trip.

The next morning, when I tried to get out of bed, my legs screamed at me, calling me names and telling me how stupid I was for trying to walk down a mountain, and then to follow that up with a bike ride. I wobbled, stiff-legged, to the nearest pharmacy in search of Ibuprofin.

“I did a hike. The legs hurt. I need medicine.” The pharmacist smiled and gave me something, told me to take it twice a day after meals. I did, but it didn’t help.

“What I really need is a hot tub,” I thought. Realizing that I was in a town full of thermal hot springs, I worked my way to the closest one. Closed, for two more hours. On the way back to the hostel, I passed a Spa that advertised “steam boxes”. I don’t know what those are, but it sounded like something that could help. The nice lady sitting on the steps in front told me it was exactly what I needed, and that I would leave feeling as good as new. I trusted her.

Inside a bath house, of sorts, was a row of wooden boxes. She sat me in one of them, and showed me where the handle was to control the amount of steam. Then she closed the box, which had a hole for the neck so the head could stick out. She left, and 15 minutes later came back. I was sweating profusely, a bit light-headed, but the steam was good on the legs. She made me get out, then reached for a bucket.

“What are you going to do with that?” I asked fearfully. She smiled, bent down, and scooped up some water, then threw it at my legs. Wow! It was freezing cold! I saw stars, and before I knew it, another wave was hitting my chest, and then she threw a bucket over my head and on my back. Each wave took my breath away. Then she put me back in the box and left.

I watched the clock, and 15 minutes later, here came the evil lady again. She pulled the lid off the box, and I asked “Do we have to do this cold part again?”

“Si, the cold is what makes your muscles better,” she said, grinning sadistically. We continued this cycle four… FOUR times, each time with me begging her not to douse me again.

When I left, she asked me if I felt like new. I told her I did. I would have told her anything to keep her from working out her anger at tourists on me further.

Photos of Baños are here.

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