Thursday, August 13, 2009
After a day of bookkeeping, it was time for a hot bath.
Most non-Spanish speakers will recognize the word baños – because you should always know who to ask for the toilet in a foreign country. Baños was not a great name for a town and frankly, our thoughts about the town so far were better suited for the toilet than this blog. We knew it wasn’t fair to blame the entire city for being robbed but can you blame us for being cranky. It didn’t help that I had to spend the morning talking to the credit card companies to arrange delivery of our credit cards to my sister’s place. Then it was time to start the arduous job of filling out insurance claims. Actually the filling out of the forms was easy, the supporting documentation they wanted would prove more difficult. (A hint to those of you planning your own trip: before you go away, find receipts or proof of ownership of everything you’re taking with you scan or photograph it and email it to yourself. Just in case). Finally, I phoned American Express to report our travelers’ cheques stolen and get the replacements. To cut a long story short, American Express Travelers Cheques: do leave home without them. It turned out that the canny thieves had somehow managed to cash the cheques (shocking since they are the hardest things to cash when they’re actually yours). This meant that we couldn’t get replacements because American Express had to launch an investigation to make sure we were telling the truth. They asked for the police report number and the investigating officer’s name (hah, like the Ecuadorian police were actually investigating this crime) so they could follow up. This investigation would take a month and they would mail us the results. And with that, they said goodbye. So once again American Express totally disappointed me with their brusque almost rude brush off and it made me realize we were truly lucky that the thieves only got their hands on our backup funds or else we would have been totally screwed.
It was all very draining but Adrian had snuck out while I was doing all that and signed us up for whitewater rafting. Not only would it be the perfect thing to take our mind off of all the crap, it might actually be fun too. But that was tomorrow. And we still had half the day to spend in Baños. So what to do? Well, Baños was not a reference to the toilet but to the local baths fed by a hot spring. The baths were reputed to have such great healing powers that the church had dedicated a virgin to them in the cathedral. We decided to investigate this – after all, if any one needed some mental healing it was us.
The cathedral was just off the square near the hostel. The virgin was safely encased in her shrine but paintings around the cathedral told the story of the miracles attributed to her. Something about people being saved after falling off of donkeys, the town saved from destruction by earthquakes and volcanoes, nuns being cured by a bath, and of course someone rescued from a car crash and brought back to life. Or something like that. The descriptions were all pretty vague as to how the spring figured into these miracles. But the faithful seemed satisfied.
Then it was time to check out these miraculous springs for ourselves. I’m not sure if it was the depictions of the springs in the paintings or my own desire for some peace and quiet in nature that lead me astray, but I was kind of expecting the springs to be set amongst the lush green hills, a natural pool in nature. I was sadly disappointed. The spring was actually more of a public swimming bath and not a particularly one. It may have been located under a waterfall of crystal clear mountain water, but the baths were actually two pools of murky brown water (photo above). However the water was hard to see for all the families crowded into the pool. It wasn’t particularly appealing but everyone else seemed to be enjoying it so we gave it a try.
We slipped into the water which was indeed warm, piss warm in fact, and it had certain sulfurous aroma. Combined with the brown colour and all the kids floating around, our minds immediately turned to that South Park episode where Cartman is forced to stay in shallow end of the pool with all the grade one kids. Needless to say, whenever our bodies felt a particularly warm spot or an unknown object in the water, we alternated between being grossed out and laughing as Adrian did the worst Cartman expression ever. We made our way to an empty corner in the deep end as soon as possible and spent the next hour and a half in the mineral rich (although probably pee and poo rich too) water melting our worries away. Despite the inherent grossness of it, it was also just what we needed.