On Saturday we went to the Quitumbe bus station, bought a bundle of rock-solid rainbow taffy from one of the many food stands, and headed to Baños.
The town is located about two hours from Quito, named for the natural hot springs that bubble up around the periphery. As towns go, it’s tiny. The buildings are hemmed in by gorgeous, towering green mountains and the streets are full of bicycles, backpackers and busking musicians; it felt like a hippie/bohemian paradise, with murals to match.
We dropped our bags at a ridiculously cheap hostel and headed to the hot springs, which were packed. The highlight: a nearby torrent of water pouring out of the mountainside, funneled from the waterfall. I dunked under the icy torrent a few times, and we went to pay homage to the actual waterfall (and eat espumilla, which is like whipped cream piled onto a cone).
Evening got interesting. We booked a ride on a tour bus that we thought was going to visit the dozen waterfalls around the town. We were mistaken; when we showed up at the tour service at dusk, the man behind the desk led us to a line of fluorescent buses with no windows and piled us in. The driver blasted dance music and started driving up the mountain in the dark, until we reached an overlook where (on a clear day) you can see the volcano Tungurahua. Since it was misty and nighttime, all I saw were the lights of Baños below us. The guides served canelazo and it started to rain. Eventually we went back to the buses, huddling together under a roof dripped – only onto our row. I still have a grudge against that bus.
As a rule, the food on that trip was fantastic. There was the café-bookstore where we almost collectively fainted over the milkshakes and ginger tea, to say nothing of the entrees. And the many coffee shops serving thick, organic hot chocolate. And the Ecuadorian-Danish owned place where they make veggie sandwiches with a toasty, crunchy-yet-tender baguette. Usually international travelers have to be constantly vigilant about vegetables, but this restaurant washes them all thoroughly, so we had no fear. I scarfed everything.
One place I did not visit in Baños: the spa. I’m not usually a spa-going kind of gal, but that weekend I was; unfortunately I was also broke. I made a solemn vow to go back one day and get a chocolate massage with aromatherapy. Thirty dollars for an hour and a half. Relaxation will be mine.