Red mud, blue mud and steam baths

Pools at Piedra de Agua
Pools at Piedra de Agua

The last couple of days have presented more of the unexpected. On Friday, I went to Banos, (the suburb of Cuenca and not Banos de Ambato where I stayed a couple of weeks ago) with Paul, the American, who is also staying in the apartment. This Banos is renowned for its thermal pools and mud baths. There are a number of different ones but I had been recommended Piedra de Agua, which turned out to be a rather up market spa. It took some time to find it as there were few signposts and those that existed didn’t seem to point in the right direction. After asking a number of people, (giving us ample opportunity to practise our Spanish), we eventually found it and paid the quite large entry fee.

Red mud pool on the right and 'blue' mud pool on the left
Red mud pool on the right and ‘blue’ mud pool on the left

Whilst Paul went to have lunch, I was escorted to the Turkish steam bath to start the treatment. This involved two 10 minute sessions in the steam with a quick shower (supposedly cold) in between. Following this I had a red mud bath for 15 minutes, in which I had to coat myself in red mud, let it dry and then sit in the pool, which, not surprisingly given the amount of mud that was in it, looked fairly unappealing. (No photos of me with a mud caked face, thank goodness!) After cleaning off and showering, it was into the blue mud, which, disappointingly, was more of a pale green than the vivid blue I was anticipating. Each of these muds contained different minerals that are supposedly beneficial to the skin.

Next stop was a soak in an underground, candle lit hot pool for 10 minutes, 1 minute in a freezing pool (I declined this part) and then back into the hot pool, which actually became too hot for me once the other people in the pool had asked for more hot water. The last item on the agenda was the steam cabinet, also underground, in which my body was enveloped in a box filled with steam, whilst my head poked out of the top. It is possible to adjust the steam level to whatever you can stand. Ten minutes was quite sufficient in the box for me, although I could have stayed longer if I had wanted to. I would have to say that my skin definitely felt much softer after all this pampering!

On the way back to the bus stop, I stopped at a small cafe, as I was now starving, for a juice and something to eat. There was limited choice, so I ended up with 2 bananas (or rather plantains) that had been grilled (or maybe deep fried) that were cut in half and filled with a fairly bland type of cheese. I had seen these on street stalls many times and had been meaning to try them. They were surprisingly tasty and very filling.

Once back in Cuenca, the day was so beautiful (yes, sun!) that I went straight out again for a walk along the river front, where I admired the street art and the old houses. On the way back to the apartment, I zig zagged my way through the streets, discovering yet more plazas and beautiful buildings.

Markets and guinea pigs

Art in the park
Art in the park
Guinea pig anyone?
Guinea pig anyone?

I had originally planned to go to Salasaca on Saturday but, on talking to Angela (the Belgian/Italian lady), it appeared that the main market was on Sunday, so I had to think again. I lingered over breakfast with Angela and a young couple and their girls from Montreal. The others were all French speaking and I tried to converse but what came out of my mouth was such a jumble of French and Spanish, I had to revert to English. Why does this happen?!

After breakfast, it was still raining, so I dilly dallied around and decided to have a rest day. I still had to go and collect my laundry, so set off at lunchtime, when the sun had reappeared, and combined it with lunch at the market.

View from my lunchtime cafe table
View from my lunchtime cafe table
Inside the church
Inside the church

However, it was too crowded and then I espied the guinea pigs. Luckily, after I sat down, a contingent of Americans at the next table queried the price and I realised that it was going to cost me $20. Strangely enough, I decided that I didn’t really want to try it that much after all, so found an Ecuadorian cafe that served the ubiquitous chicken soup and a main for $2.75. Far more reasonable!

Afterwards, I strolled around, collected my laundry and visited the church and the bakery. The town was very busy and there seemed to be a number of girls entering the church, wearing some very fine dresses, so assume it must have been for a special ceremony.

Back at the house, I tried out the hammock chairs on the deck and read for most of the rest of the day.

Courtyard next to the church
Courtyard next to the church

On Sunday, Angela came with me to Salasaca. We were going to catch the bus but a rose growing Colombian couple, who were returning to Quito, offered us a ride, which we gladly accepted. It was pouring with rain again! As we drove up to the town, I suddenly realised that we were climbing higher and higher and started worrying about the altitude. Luckily, Angela had some aspirin as I definitely started feeling the effects once we had arrived. (Salasaca, I discovered later, is at the same altitude as Quito. Banos is only 1,600 metres and we had ascended quite rapidly, which is why I felt the effects.)

The market was a little disappointing as it was very small. Having read about it, I was expecting something much grander. If the guide books and websites were to be believed, we should also have been able to see ladies weaving in the streets. Alas, this was not the case, however, so the Lonely Planet is either out of date or wrong! Angela chatted to quite a number of people whilst I wandered around, guzzling water and trying not to think about nausea. We ended up sitting with Maria and Maria, who were shelling beans and selling a concoction of beans, potatoes and corn, which was surprisingly tasty and made me feel better.

Angela talking to Maria and Maria at Salasaca
Angela talking to Maria and Maria at Salasaca
Traditional dress in Salasaca
Traditional dress in Salasaca
Produce market in Banos
Produce market in Banos
An array of colourful fruit
An array of colourful fruit

There were a number of buses going back to Banos, Salasaca being on the main Ambato road, and we were taken back in a very airless bus (Ecuadorians do not like to open the windows) for the grand sum of 50 cents.

On arrival, we searched for the Sunday fruit and vegetable market, (different to the everyday covered market) which was well stocked with a variety of colourful produce. I bought an excess of mangoes, grenadillas and lychees, as well as an avocado, all of which, of course, cost next to nothing. I was set for the rest of the day, once we had stopped at the bakery, after which we made our way back to the Casa.

We hadn’t been back long and the heavens opened once again. I have been lucky, though, over the last few days, as the rain seems to have always held off whilst I have been walking.

More walking, swimming and a facial

The track up to Bellavista
The track up to Bellavista

I started the day feeling slightly out of sorts and didn’t quite know what I felt like doing. It was pouring with rain once again, so I lingered over breakfast, chatting to Angela, a Belgian lady, who lent me a hairdryer to dry out my camera in the hope that that would solve the problem. Eventually, I decided to go swimming after I had dropped my washing at the laundry.

Main park and church in town
Main park and church in town

By this time, it was nearly midday, which meant that it was too late to be able to get my clean clothes back that day and I then discovered that the swimming pool didn’t open until 2pm. What to do until then? I wasn’t hungry enough for lunch so walked up to the Bellavista view point and had a look at the town from a different hill.

A very small (old) library building
A very small (old) library building

Needless to say, the walk was vertical. It had also become quite warm, I had forgotten to bring water (actually, the bottle wouldn’t fit in my backpack with the washing and swimming togs) and I was wearing my warmest clothes (skinny jeans, which are definitely going to be jettisoned and merino t shirt). I was accompanied all the way to the top by the sound of a brass band, practising on one of the soccer fields below.

Back in town, I bought a much needed drink and then headed for the pools, where I waited for the cashier to arrive. I was the only person swimming in the lane pool, not surprisingly, as it was freezing. I forced myself to do 20 lengths, which was a struggle not only because of the cold but also because of my fitness, and then rewarded myself with a dip in the warmer pool, followed by a steam bath and jacuzzi. Afterwards, I squeezed myself back into my skinny jeans (who invented them?!) and went off to the money machine to extract the final instalment for the Galapagos. Here, I discovered that not all ATM’s restrict you to $300. This one permitted $600 per day, so it is a pity I didn’t find it earlier.

After finalising the trip with the travel agency, it was too late to stop for lunch as I had an appointment for a facial with Angie, the massage lady, at the Casa, so I bought a fruit juice and avocado in the market and some rolls and cake at the bakery and headed back. The sun had miraculously made an appearance, the sky was a deep blue and it was hot. What a difference it made to the landscape!

The facial was a whole new experience for me. Firstly, I had to lie on my stomach with my head, under a towel, hanging over the edge of the bed and a bowl of fragranced hot water. Whilst I was doing this, Angie massaged my back, gently this time, so it was very relaxing. Next, she wiped off the prolific sweat and scrubbed the top layer of skin off my face with something very gritty.  She also found a few spots to pierce with something sharp. (I hope the pain I undergo in order to make this blog interesting to readers is appreciated!) Then came the clay mask and I was left on the table, in the dark, listening to gentle music. Lastly, my face, shoulders and neck were gently massaged with cream. Wonderful! I can thoroughly recommend this treatment.

Afterwards, I was practically asleep, so another evening was spent in my room, doing very little.

My room is the one next to the hammocks
My room is the one next to the hammocks