Bathing body and soul in Baños

For the first time on our many and varied travels, I was crying because I didn’t want to leave.

We were in Baños de Aqua Santa, Ecuador, this January, at the El Pedron, a peaceful, lush, well-run hotel. Our corner room had two windows with a view of the Virgin’s Falls, one of many waterfalls that pour down from the green mountains that surround this town.

The last morning we took Luca, a golden retriever, one of the six rescue dogs belonging to our hostel lady, on a walk around the town, ending at Virgin’s Falls.

Baños has more hostels than any town we’ve ever visited and no shortage of restaurants with quirky names such as Blah Blah, Café Hood, Casa Hood, and Eruption, the hostel and restaurant where we spent our first three days.

Robert Frost wrote: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and he was right, at least about Baños! There are no walls here: people are more than neighbours, more than acquaintances, more than friends. They share, they mentor, and they are generous with their time and talents.

Story continues after photo gallery

The centre of the ex-pat and local community is Libreria Vieira, Arte Illusiones, an art supply shop, new and used bookstore for students and travellers, excellent café featuring delicious espresso concoctions, and a jewellery shop.

Nynne Noe Vivanco Vieira, who is Danish, runs the establishment with her husband Juan Diego Vivanco Vieira who creates the jewellery in an open workshop in one corner. Their children, Luca and Nova Luna, return from school to the café to play and do their homework behind the counter featuring school and art supplies. On the way home from school at about 1pm, children enter and buy a homemade chocolate for 30 – 50 cents or ask for a glass of fresh water.

The community gathers to hear talks and partake in activities such as the Saturday afternoon Art Attack, all of which are central to the spirit of this place. The theme for Art Attack on Saturday was New Beginnings and speaking of new beginnings…

One morning while lounging on the couch and sipping our macchiatos, we met Robin, an ex-pat from BC who has been living here for seven years. Her husband, a welder, returns to Canada now and then to work. Robin is a supremely talented portrait artist who works in coloured pencils! Her portraits are so powerful that they inspired me to purchase a set of quality pencils and paper and begin exploring their artistic possibilities. Coloured pencils are much more portable than the acrylic paints I have used for more than 50 years.

It was a Dominican priest who encouraged the development of a spa culture here, a centre for therapeutic mineral baths fed by the many mineral sources coming from the once active volcanoes. Every second shop offers massages, facials, pedicures, and laundry services.

On the third day, we took a $1.50 taxi to Salados pools, and for $3 each we bathed in a series of thermal pools: hot, warm, lukewarm, and cold. It was a first for both of us and we thoroughly enjoyed the stimulation. They say if you go from the hot to the cold, it adds ten years to your life. We’re eager to see whether this is true.

This whole town is rejuvenating, from the friendly locals and ex-pats who share their life stories to the 360 degree vista of mountains covered with lush vegetation, to the cool, sometimes rainy weather that envelops your body and soul with well-being.

More? There’s the fruit lady who makes fresh fruit salads for $2 and serves you on tables and benches made of logs and slices of huge trees.

There’s the French retiree from Aix-La-Chapelle, who rents an apartment for $300 a month, finds everything affordable, the people friendly, and she’s not afraid of the 20-minute walk home from downtown at night.

There’s the cyclist, who spoke for two hours at Illusiones one evening. He’s cycling from Vancouver to Patagonia and is about halfway there. He’s promoting alternative tourism.

We, however, see the need for all forms and levels of tourism because without tourism, this town would be a poor shell of itself. Now it’s a vibrant, happy place where almost everyone seems to be living harmoniously and eking out a living. The locals need us for our money, and we are happy spending it here, knowing that it goes a long way in every sense.

If you’re planning on visiting, the only place to stay that we’ve discovered is our hotel, El Pedron, so silent you can almost hear the waterfall.

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