After a 5-hour drive southwest from Tena, you will find Baños de Agua Santa (or just Baños, as people call it): a wonderful town with a population of around 14,600 inhabitants in the province of Tungurahua, in the centre of Ecuador.
Baños de Agua Santa (translated into ´Baths of Sanctified Water´) and its province have such names because of the existence of thermal waters around the town that are believed to be curative, and an active volcano in the province called Tungurahua (in Quichua – meaning ´throat´).
The town seemed very beautiful to us (especially after having spent four days in the Amazon Jungle, without commodities). We stayed in La Florista, a nice and clean hotel around the centre of the town, decorated with hammocks, mirrors, cheerful yellow tones in the rooms, and flowers.
It seemed like an Oasis to us after the last few days. I run to the shower as if Satan was persecuting me, and I don´t remember to have felt so comfortable in my entire life. After the hot shower I felt a horrendous muscular pain that went from my neck all the way down to my back. I am not surprised. That backpack, that bed, the Jungle… I had to buy Voltaren. A MUST in these kinds of trips, gotta say (trips that involve carrying a backpack and sleeping in buses).
Our first stop in Baños was La Casita del Árbol (or Columpio al fin del Mundo), which is the main tourist attraction in Baños. It is a little house in a tree that has two swings hanging from it on each side, and which faces the Andean mountains.
There are really long queues and it lasts like not even a minute probably (they push the swing only about three or four times), but it is just $1, so you have to give it a go. The landscape from the little house in the tree is quite fantastic, and it seems as if you could touch the clouds.
But I did not sit down in the swing. I was too scared. That, however, allowed me to take a photo that made me carefully reviewed my own behaviour in life.
There is a way for you to swing in heaven. It is in the city of Baños, in Ecuador, around the centre of the world, in the middle of it all. I found it very scary, and while looking for neverending minutes at the deepest of the skies, of the clouds and of the Andean mountains, I saw a woman who sat in the swing and jumped into the unknown, laughing out loud, and not even holding herself at all to that swing.
I felt jealous, because she was free and unafraid. And, at that very same moment, I understood that I had to jump myself, and live my life to the fullest, as if there was not tomorrow. I realised I really wanted to swing in heaven, and finally live.
Sometimes it is just better to observe rather than do (not often, but sometimes it does happen).
Because I had been such a chicken, the next day I signed up to do something much more scary than swinging in front of the Andean mountains.
I did put my name down to do a 850-meter ziplining, crossing a 90-meter Tibetan bridge and climbing 90 meters, all above a small river with almost no water on it. We did it in Parque Aventura San Martín with a company called José & Two Dogs, which I absolutely recommend. (https://www.facebook.com/JoseTwoDogsBanos/)
The zip line or canopy is an 850-meters-long cable that you are hold onto, while flying Superman style over a valley with a river. One of the guys does a demonstration of how it is done before you jump in. I have to admit it: I was trying not to pee my undies when I arrived there and saw the spot you are pushed from, and the emptiness you are pushed into! But I did it. I knew I had to. It is very scary when you adopt the flying position, and when they push you from that mountain. You might even feel like insulting the guys who push you. Go ahead! They won´t hear you, as you will already be far away from them, because this is really like flying. Flying fast.
But, then, after two seconds you feel powerful, and you extend your arms, and look down all around you, as if you were really flying, as if you were an eagle controlling your territory and admiring the nature. It was one of the biggest pleasures I have ever felt. You are free.
It is a bit scary (to say the least) when at the end of the cable, you enter into a very narrow cave, so you automatically collect your arms, and, right after you enter, it seems like you are going to crash into the wall of that mountain (because it is actually one mountain with a massive hole in it). The stop is also quite dramatic… But, overall, it was an unbelievable experience; I highly enjoyed it. Believe me, it is so worth it.
The issue was when I touched the floor and the guy said: “Ok, guys, now let´s do the rest!” That line he pronounced was actually the scariest part of the experience. I was like: “Eh… sorry, what rest you talking about…?”, without wanting to know the answer, really. Apparently, I signed up for a four-activities experience, and I was told off big time for not listening. “You were there yesterday. I remember you”, the guy told me. How rude.
The four activities were:
The 850 meters Ziplining, crossing a 90-meters-long Tibetan bridge, climbing 90 meters from a horrendous mountain, and more ziplining (this last one shorter than the first one).
Moments before the nightmare…
When he pointed us the Tibetan Bridge I said: “I am not doing that. Ever.” And I promise you, I was so convinced that I would not do that, that I even turned around, but unfortunately, there is no escape from that cave, and that is why the guy, understandably, was so mad at me. There is NO way you can go out from there. ONLY through he Tibetan bridge, and the climbing right after. I almost cry at that point, and my legs started shaking. I could not breathe for a few seconds and, after a whole minute considering the possibilities (not many to be fair) I decided:
“I am not gonna make these people call a helicopter to rescue me. So I shall just do it and die here today. In Baños. In Ecuador. In the middle of nowhere. Far from home. Ok, le´ts end my pain, let´s end my life”.
I am not being dramatic. That super long bridge is really a bunch of metallic little platforms (only a little big bigger than the size of my shoes, and I am a 4, so perhaps it is just like a 7), quite separated among them (like 50 centimetres), and they are sewed together by little ropes… so they are not static; they constantly move! Especially when another person starts crossing when you are still doing so.
To hold yourself there are two ropes on each side. To one of the ropes you are hold with a harness, so, fine, you won´t die, but you could hurt yourself and be hanging upside down any moment till someone come to the rescue (still a very unpleasant idea, and definitely a traumatic experience).
The distance to the river is big, and as I started walking, I started dripping cold sweat. There is a point where you feel dizzy, because you are seeing all these little metallic squares but you can see the river under you, and then at some point your steps become irregular, and your legs are too short to reach the next square, so you need to put both your feet into the same little square…. Do not do that! That square is designed for only one of your feet. If you put both, it becomes so shaky that you could easily fall into that hole.
What a horrendous experience, to be truthful. For the 10 minutes it lasted I was thinking: “Today is the day in which I die, and I paid for it. How stupid can I be?” I also pictured my mother shouting at my ghost for unwise (well, she wouldn´t use such a soft insult).
I would not do that again. I would not have done it ever. There is no need to demonstrate anything to anyone. I kinda felt proud when I finished, but it is not worth the trauma. I am surprised I don´t have nightmares at night.
But the climbing was yet to come. That “easy” activity (as they kept on describing it) brought the same fear that I had just had, because it was not climbing on a straight line up, but moving constantly to the left, having to open the legs considerably, particularly if you are not a tall person. I became so shaky that a guy had to be constantly talking to me to make me feel relaxed. During the climbing you have a few guys with you, but still, you can fall any moment and be hanging in the emptiness of that valley. I did not enjoy that climbing either.
But, again, there is no way out. Some people, members of the stuff confessed, cannot make it and they do have to call a helicopter to rescue them, but that is expensive and a hassle, so that is why they make sure you understand what are these activities like before you make an attempt.
I messed up. I know. And, besides, I cannot say I am happy I have done it. I just enjoyed the ziplining.
The last ziplining (of only 350 metres long) was a delight and you can do it with someone else at the same time. It was very fun.
This company gives you photos and videos of the whole process for only 6 euros more.
Check out this video from Youtube to see all activities!
The rest of our stay in Baños was quite pleasant. The Basílica de la Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa is quite pretty, and the park Palomino Flores has beautiful trees.
We also did some shopping, I had the best massage of my life for 25 dollars, that I totally deserved, and we went out in the night to dance salsa in the most popular Salsoteca there: Leprechuan Bar, where you are invited to fiery shots on arrival.
It is absolutely fun, but you will have all the locals stuck to your… back… since you arrive, dancing in a pervy way.
Despite the name of the town is Baños de Agua Santa, and the reason of that name, those natural pools that Baños has got were so full of people, and seemed so green and dirty to us, that none of us could even put a foot on them. Anyway, they are cheap and perhaps you feel more adventurous…