Now...this is it. This is what I've been waiting for.
Screw hiking through landslides and gawking at ancient dead people. Hows about some spa treatments, bathing in waterfall pools, and playing with spider monkeys?
This is my kind of destination. Four nights in the small mountain town of Baños could easily turn into four weeks. Our original plan was to only spend three nights, but we decided to add one more after only being here a few hours. Baños is the perfect destination to get rid of bus-rot and to be introduced to the territory of tropical rainforest that we will encounter as we continue to move further north.
Yes, I know. The word baños does mean bathrooms, but it also means baths, and this town is full of them! Situated under the Volcano Tungurahua, it is home to many thermal hot springs and as such has turned into a bit of a spa destination, with plenty of outdoor activity available as well.
Our eco-hostel, Casa Verde, is a haven! Run by a coupla Kiwi's, it is situated a short distance away from the town and right on a cliff over a raging river. Pete and I splurged the extra few dollars (spent $36 a night!) and got the superior double - a king size bed in a spotless room, private bath, and 270 degree views of the lush green hills and river valley below, enjoyed from our very own balcony and hammock. Add on a tremendous breakfast and owners that feel like friends, and we have found more comfort in this place then any other on our travels.
After 15 hours of being on a bus over 2 days, we started our stay off here with some much needed rest, followed by a visit to the spa to work out all the kinks. I indulged in an hour massage and a mud bath treatment, Pete had a well needed ear cleaning and we both enjoyed a Baño de Cajon - an unusual sauna experience where we were enclosed in separate wooden boxes with only our heads poking out.
The bottom of the box was covered in eucalyptus leaves and once we were entirely closed in, the box filled with steam. After about 10 minutes in this bath, the fun really began....the door opened, and buckets of cold water were splashed on our steaming, sweaty bodies! Talk about a shock to the system! But the fun wasn't done yet - back into the box we went, only to be drug out several more times for this cold water treatment. And each time, they found new ways to torture us - making us sit in a cold bath, dumping water on us from above, and finally via a high pressure hose.
Although this particular treatment did warrant a few stifled screams, our bodies felt completely re-energized when we finally emerged. Overall, some much needed rehabilitation at an incredible price - all of our spa treatments for only $60! Again, my type of destination!
Major sleep-in again the next day but we did manage to get in some activity with a couple of hours of hiking. The town is surrounded by waterfalls so we joined up with a few other people in the hostel and one of the owners for a hike to Chamama waterfall. Suckers for punishment? Maybe, as we immersed ourselves in the torturous, freezing cold pool at the fall, although it was quite refreshing in the hot Ecuador sun!
Day 3 - you guessed it! Slept in again. But for our last day in this town, we went for an experience like none other that we have had. Just 60km way in the town of Puyo (at the start of the Oriente, Ecuador's chunk of the Amazon basin), we visited Paseo de los Monos - a refuge facility for discarded pets. They currently have 55 monkeys of five different species that are being rehabilitated to life in the jungle.
I can't even begin to express what an amazing experience this was. Other tourists came and went in a manner of minutes - we probably stayed much longer then we were supposed to, but we just couldn't pull ourselves away. We were peed on, pooped on, and Pete had money stolen out of his pocket. They chewed on my hair, our shirts and our ankles. They removed my earrings, licked the salty sweat off of our skin and tried to steal our camera.
But then they cuddled, fell asleep in our arms (and in my hair!), and played with us endlessly. We fell in love.
All of the monkeys have names, and we quickly discovered a few distinct personalities. Sambo was the trouble maker, a larger spider monkey who was always being called away by the workers and getting into trouble for harassing us and the smaller monkeys. Fernanda was the best (and cutest) pick-pocket we have found on our trip thus far. Allison was a wee cuddly baby who curled up in my arms and looked up at me with her sad brown eyes.
After two hours we left behind our donation and reluctantly pulled ourselves away. This experience is easily added to the list of coolest-things-we've-ever-done.
And to top off this near perfect day, we were treated to a wonderful dinner by our newly adopted travel mom. Gunesh is an older Turkish woman who travels the world on her own and bravely attempts most things we would never even consider. The only thing that kept her from bungee jumping today was that she fell out of her white water raft (and bumped her head) yesterday! She is an inspiration, AND a great cook!
We are sad to leave our comfortable little abode and new friends, but tomorrow we have a short bus ride to see the capital of Ecuador - Quito! And Deidre! And Margaret! And some Blue Footed Boobies!
Life is grand. =)
Muchos fotos!! Dating back to Peru, but also many cute monkey pictures... CLICK HERE