Banos is a great little town. A welcome respite from the jungle on our days off, it was nice to spend a few days here once we’d finished our volunteering, and get a chance to do something other than laundry.
We stayed at the Hostal Chimenea on recommendation from the guys at Merazonia. I have to say it is one of the best hostels we have stayed in so far in terms of value ($8.50 per person for a private room with bathroom!), cleanliness and facilities (swimming pool and jacuzzi!). It’s close to the thermal baths too, although I’m slightly ashamed to say that we never made it there during our stay. I know, I know, coming to Banos and not going to the baths is like going to Bath and not going to the baths, but on the days that we were staying there post-jungle, it was a public holiday and the queues were horrific. We didn’t fancy squeezing into a pool of hot water with half of Ecuador and their kids. We promised ourselves a thermal bath and mud volcano visit somewhere in Central America.
What we did do though is treat ourselves to a steam bath at the hostel. For $4, you get sat in a wooden box contraption which covers your whole body except for your head, which pokes out a small hole at the top. Eucalyptus is placed in the box and steam pumped in. After you have been sitting in the box for about 10 minutes (and by this time are boiling hot), you get out of the box and wipe yourself down with a towel dipped in freezing cold water. The method for said wiping down is demonstrated to you by an old bloke with the most enormous moustache – first the right leg, then the left one, then the right arm, and the left, up the back, down the front – and if you don’t get the movements quite right, he stops and makes you do it again. Once you’ve successfully wiped yourself down in the correct order and manner, it’s back in the box for another 10 minutes and the next person gets out and wipes themself down.
This getting in and out of the box is repeated four times – first wiping yourself down, the second time sitting in a bath of cold water, the third wiping yourself down again and pouring a bucket of cold water over your head and finally, being hosed down by moustache man. Seriously, I was standing there in my bikini whilst some old dude hosed me down with cold water and amazingly it didn’t seem seedy at all. In fact, he took his job so seriously it looked like he derived very little pleasure from it at all. Still, probably the best $4 I’ve spent for a long while – finally felt clean after the jungle and we all had a good laugh at each other too. Bargain.
One thing we did lots of whilst in Banos was eat. As we only got meat a couple of times a week whilst in the jungle, we treated ourselves once a week to the amazing steaks at Swiss Bistro, as well as their cheese and meat platters. We also visited with a bunch of people from Merazonia for a big group goodbye meal on the day we left, followed by a few rather potent drinks at the Leprechaun (it case you haven’t guessed it was an Irish bar), which was surprisingly nice, with a lovely outdoor area complete with bonfire. The bar staff were rather taken with Tessie, one of the Swedish girls that was working at Merazonia with us – I think her drinks were about twice as strong as everybody else’s!!
Lunch was always had at the sandwich shop (no idea what it was actually called) which did huge baguettes for as little as $2, and there was also the awesome Arome shop which sells all manner of herbs and spices as well as chocolates and cheeses that will make your mouth water.
We also visited El Café del Cielo, where you can enjoy spectacular bird’s eye views of the city, and if you’re very lucky, the Tungurahua volcano, an active volcano which erupted as recently as December 2010, leading to an evacuation of the city. On one of our days off here, the air raid sirens starting blaring at 10am. We wondered whether that was our cue to leave but apparently it was just a drill. Not sure how you’re supposed to tell the difference but the locals seemed totally unfazed!