Baños de Agua Santa: Gringa heaven in Ecuador

After arriving in the Guayaquil bus terminal with an open road ahead of me, I decided to head north and inland to Baños de Agua Santa where I was told a slew of adventure sporting and thermal pools awaited me.

The Hostal

At this point in my trip, I’ve stayed at quite a fair share of hostals, but none has amused me much as the lovely Charvic Hostal in Baños.  It’s not your average, super hip social hostel with a common area, dorm rooms and some bearded hippy trying hopelessly to get laid by playing a guitar.  It has more of a pay-by-the-hour kind of feel to it with its private rooms and dark hallways, a sentiment which was further cemented by the condom wrappers I found under my bed.  But I still thought that was better than having to step around a joint and a tampon on my way to the bathroom once in the Wild Rovers hostel in Cuzco.

What made me feel comfortable though was the owner, Daniel, who was one of few Ecuadorian proprietors to give me a discount without even asking.  He equipped me with maps, a free bottle of water and gave me an informative rundown of the city.  He also has some cute kids, which are running around in the cramped lobby at odd hours.

Just as I was feeling comfortable again, I actually found my room, which was 306 if anyone is wondering, and the feeling of sketchiness swept over me again.  All of the doors on the floor except for mine had anti-theft strips.  My door was even chipped away a little as if someone actually had broken into it before, but I brushed the concern aside.  It’s amazing how less paranoid you will become when you’re tired from a long day of travel.  I figured, I could use my iPad cover as a makeshift doorstop and the actual iPad as a weapon should the need arise.

Queen of the Raft

As I made it through my first night with having to sacrifice my iPad, the first activity up on my sporting agenda was rafting on the Rio Patate.  It was a short trip, but was by far, the best rafting experience I’ve had so far (out of the grand total of 2 – Costa Rica and Bali).  The scenery was lovely and the rapids were frequent and had a decent amount of splashy-ness.  This was however, the first time I had gone rafting in semi-frigid conditions.  I was nervous at first when they handed out wetsuits and started recalling the frozen bike ride I took on the Machu Pichu tour, but after seeing how it fit like a glove, I was easily distracted from the coldness into thinking that I was Catwoman.  Yes, I’m easily amused.

Another great part about the trip was our ever diplomatic tour guide.  I was as usual, the odd single person in the group and so I had to sit in the back with him.  He wanted to make sure I still enjoyed the trip though, so after rotating through all of the couples to sit in the front, he told me to leave my paddle in the back and just sit right on the edge of the raft in the front.  The 14 year old teenager in me thought this was super awesome and like a giddy little girl, I laughed and screamed all the way down the river as I was getting doused again and again.  Excellent experience!

Who needs a bath after this?

Other Water-Related Activities

What kind of town would Baños be if there wasn’t some kind of pool action going on?  Following suit, there are about three thermal pools in which to relax after a long day of hiking or biking.  I forget which day it was, but I went to the Virgen pools I think and soaked after a day of doing whatever it was that made my legs sore.  I have to say though, if you’re coming to Baños for the whole thermal pooling experience and you’ve been to other thermal pools, you’ll likely be disappointed (at least with the one I went to).  Sure there was a beautiful view of a waterfall nearby, but the pools themselves had no ambiance and were overcrowded.  And when there’s overcrowding, naturally there always has to be a large creepy looking man who awkwardly sits uncomfortably close to you and gives you a wink.

Another Frickin’ Mirador

In Baños, you have the option of hiking to several miradores or look-out points (I honestly don’t remember what word we use in English for this) where you can take in the sight of the city surrounded by the mountains.  After hiking a short distance, I again realized how badly out of shape I am.  I was huffing and puffing all the way up the stairs as my new travel companion, an American girl who’s the same age as me, seemed to be sprinting up without breaking a sweat.  After the first mirador, we hiked an easier path to the second one and then got lost on our way to the third one.  At this point I was becoming cranky again from all of the soreness in my legs and as we found the right path again, I opted to return to town instead of hike up to the third mirador because I decided that the view wouldn’t be any different from the previous two and it was beer o’clock.

Food and Beer Heaven

Speaking of beer, can we just take a few moments to relish in the concept that microbreweries exist in South America?  I mean, how amazing!  I normally thought that microbreweries were only found in the U.S. as a more taste bud friendly alternative to the commercialized beer brands in the U.S. that more often than not, taste like a golden shower in your mouth.  But at the Stray Dog Brewery in Baños I was happily proven wrong.  After months of drinking mediocre South American beers such as Pilsener, I finally got to indulge in a stout and a golden ale, words I had forgotten existed.

As is usually the case with a microbrewery in the U.S., the food was outstanding too!  I ate here three times, had three different dishes and all three were delectable.  The first dish I had was breaded shrimp with an ají sauce (oddly enough I’m still not sick of shrimp) and unlike most breaded shrimp dishes that are served in restaurants wasn’t soft and mushy, it was flavorful and crunchy.  They’re obviously not taking any short cuts back in the kitchen, a point which was further established with the chicken wings, a simple American classic.  The best part about this snack was the homemade bleu cheese with yes, real chunks of bleu cheese.  My mouth was actually confused at first because cheese is hard to come by in these parts, let alone fine quality European cheeses.  The highlight though was the Chicken Diablo sandwich – perfectly grilled chicken with a pineapple and pepper sauce on top.  The french fries, which normally I skip, actually did make it to my belly thanks to what appeared to be again, homemade ketchup and the rich garlic butter sauce.  It’s rare, I have this many good meals from the same restaurant, but I certainly won’t complain about a good thing!

Chicken Sandwich Delight!

Ruta de Cascadas

For my final adventure in Baños, I rented a bike with a seat that kept falling down, so like an adult on a kid’s bike, I rode my way along the main road to take in the surrounding waterfalls.  I stopped along the way to watch some guy bungee jump off a bridge that literally looked like it was only perhaps the height of a 3-story building.  I actually don’t blame the guy for freaking out because I didn’t think they made bungee cords that short.  I guess I also think I’m a pro or perhaps just a really sick individual because I was getting so frustrated with this guy for stalling on the jump.  I need to know if you’re going to live or die man!

After he jumped and survived, I felt like I could carry on with my own journey and continued on to the famous waterfall known as Pallon del Diablo.  Daniel, from the hostel, billed this as Baños, Machu Pichu.  That’s a bit of a stretch but it still is an impressive and unique waterfall due to the lagoon-inside-a-cave type feeling you get standing next to it.  It also creates a beautiful rainbow across the river that follows, something I told happens often here.

Rainbow at the Pallon del Diablo

I finished off this stretch of the bike ride with a simple Ecuadorian lunch of chicken and rice (big surprise!) and paid $1.50 to drive back to town with my bike in a truck.  After all of this exercise and nature, I was looking forward to going to Quito the next day for fun city activities!


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