My 15 companions and I spent the weekend in a small city called Baños (short for Baños de Agua Santa), about a 3.5 hour bus ride from Quito. Known for its abundant selection of high-adrenaline activities (bridge-jumping, ziplining, canyoning, white-water rafting, etc, just to name a few) and natural hot springs (said to cure and heal the bathers), Baños also has an interesting history of Catholic religious miracles.
Baños History: The Eruption in 1773, La Virgen de Agua Santa, and the Miracle
The most “exciting” miracle was a volcanic eruption in the 18th century, when nearby Tungurahua erupted and spewed lava and ash all over the valley, except for the small town that was Baños. The people believed that it the miracle was due to the town’s devotion to La Virgen de Agua Santa. To this day, the small city hails La Virgen de Santa Agua as its primary saint, having a central church (Santuario Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa), hot springs, and more dedicated in her name. Other miracles, such as unexpected recoveries and appearances in times of need, have also contributed to the centrality of La Virgen.
Friday Night, February 3 — Dancing the Night Away to Wonderful Latin American Music (Please listen to the “Viva Latino” playlist on Spotify)
We left right after class on Friday, excited for a weekend full of activities and sightseeing (and we can’t forget nightclubbing, of course). We arrived in Baños at around 6 PM, so we ate dinner and danced the night away at a discoteca called Leprechaun Bar, where various rooms exhibited different atmospheres — the dance room, blasting popular Latin American music; the bar room with a fire pit in the center; the room dedicated to salsa dancing; the upstairs (not quite sure what’s there, since those other 3 rooms kept us pretty occupied for the whole night).
Baños attracts both Latin American and US / European tourists, and hence, the nightclub was mixed as such, as well. This provided a wonderful atmosphere in which I was able to meet people from all over the Andean community (consisting of Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru). The music was upbeat and lively — “Despacito” has been stuck in my head ever since. (No, really, for the past 48 hours. Not that I’m complaining; it’s an absolutely wonderful song.)
Saturday, February 4 — A Day of Firsts
This was the day that I went ziplining for the first time. And ate cuy (roasted guinea pig) for the first time. And woke up in Baños for the first time (…does that count?). What a day :)
As I mentioned, Baños offers a plethora of outdoor activities for the brave and courageous. So the city center is full of tour companies that offer 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, … day trips for any outdoor activity you could imagine. It was with one of those companies that we scheduled our ziplining tour, which included transportation, 3 guides, and 2000+ m of ziplines for $20 per person.
Imagine a beautiful cloud forest with a picturesque river winding through the lush green. Now imagine soaring 70 m above it, upside down. I’m sorry I didn’t take a video to show you, but my memory will have to do. And I’m also sorry for my sad lack of descriptives for (yet another) indescribable experience. I guess you’ll have to come to Ecuador to experience it for yourself.
Cuy tastes like duck, mostly savory dark meat with lots of little bones. If you were curious. Quite tasty! I’d eat it again, although it was quite difficult to find a store that served it.
Saturday Night — Learning to play “Despacito” on the guitar and eating leftover cold spaghetti
On Saturday night, 3 companions and I were too tired to go dancing for another 4 hours. So we spent the night in our hostel (of which there are plenty in Baños), where Elaina was learning to play “Despacito” on the guitar, I was eating leftover cold spaghetti, Erin was jamming to our music, and Lexi lay in bed and periodically inserted characteristically humorous comments.
Sunday Morning, February 5 — Catholic Mass
After a good night’s rest, Elaina, who is devoutly Catholic, and I decided to attend mass at the central church, Santuario Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa. Mass was offered every hour, and each time, the church was packed with local pilgrims from front to back. While I am not currently affiliated with any religious group, there’s certainly something otherworldly and beautiful and filling about an entire church-full of people singing only to the sound of a guitar about light and peace and love and forgiveness and understanding and gratitude.
To continue with our spiritual cleansing, we then decided to look for the natural hot springs.
How do you say “natural hot springs” in Spanish, anyway?
I guess it’s not really the smartest thing to assume that “Aguacatal” means “natural hot springs” in Spanish, just because it says “agua” (water) and because there are signs for it all over the town (which eventually lead out of the town completely…).
While the other 14 companions went rafting and canyoning, Elaina and I decided to check out the hot springs and cleanse our souls before we headed back to Quito.
Following the signs for “Aguacatal,” we walked for 45 minutes along a highway, getting further and further away from the town center. Because of the humidity, our sweat didn’t evaporate, and we were quite looking forward to a warm bath.
After walking 100 m past a sign that said that “Aguacatal” was 100 m ahead, and seeing only a little boy (who looked at us blankly when we asked for directions) on his bike with a dog and an abandoned gym, we took a taxi back to the town square.
In the taxi, I looked up “Aguacatal” with Google Translate, wondering why we had failed to find the hot springs.
And realized that “Aguacatal” means “avocado plantations.”
February 5, 10: 18 PM — And now I’m back in Quito again :) Ready for class tomorrow? Maybe. I should start reading the 20 page paper that was assigned.
The paper is about “Human impact on the hydrology of the Andean páramos” by Buytaert, et al, 2006, if you were interested.
P.S. It turns out that “hot water” is literally translated as “agua caliente.” A few popular places to go are Las Piscinas de La Virgen and El Refugio Spa Garden. So make sure to ask for those, instead of Aguacatal. Unless you want to see some quiet Baños suburbs along the highway.