Sunday, October 26, 2008
Dangerous Hikes and Mineral Baths
Today I went to the neighborhood of Baños, not to be confused with the other Baños that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. This one is not a seperate town, but rather a part of Cuenca with its own mineral baths, though not as visited or popular as Baños de Ambato or Papallacta. A new friend of mine took me to go for some hiking and to check out the pools. Jumping on the public bus we took the ride across the city and into the barrio.
When we got to the small neighborhood we headed for her aunts house so we could leave our bags there. Her cousins warned us to be careful on the hike because some people had been robbed recently, so I decided to not take my camera with me. The hike started right across the house, and I mistakenly thought it would be easy, since it wasn't that high up from the road. But as I should have already known, nothing in Ecuador is easy, and we're already at altitude, so the hike was no piece of cake.
As we started going up the slipping rocks and dirt, we had to use our hands to get up the steep slope and occasionally would slip. My friend had failed to tell me that it wasn't a paved path, but we were rather climbing up a rugged mountainside without any kind of official trail. I thought that Global Underwriters Insurance would not be very happy about this.
The hike was extremely difficult, not only because of the heat, the incline and slippery path we made, but because we were walking through thick vegetation. Everything in there was trying to kill us, if not for food, than for sport. Every other bush had some thorns or grabby branches slowing us up, and as the cuts and scratches started to mount, the air also started to get fresher and thinner. I was starting to get soaked.
Finally we made our way to a little clearing that I thought was the top, and though it had a nice little view, we still had a long way to go. Based off of how steep the climb up was, I decided that it wasn't worth the last leg of the hike, though it did kind of feel like a cop out to not complete the climb. We started to descend and tried to remember which way we'd come, getting lost a few times along the way. My friend had told me she climbed up the mountain all the time, so I hadn't paid attention to the way we went.
We had to shimmy down and slip and slide along the way, clutching onto branches for dear life. A few times we almost fell all the way down, but somehow grabbed onto something at the last second. I was wondering how I wound up climbing this random mountain, essentially rock climbing, with no real gear and no idea what I was doing. I was wearing jeans after all, not the ideal hiking pants.
Eventually we made it to the bottom and celebrated with a glass of water at the aunts' house. Now sweating badly, we headed to one of the many mineral pools throughout the town. We went to a public bath for $3.50 and took a dip in the water. It was warm and murky, but a welcome relief after the hike. After swimming for a bit we went into the Turkish steam rooms, which was suffocatingly hot and thick with unhealthy air, so after only a few minutes I had to get out.
While waiting for my friend to finish changing I sat and watched some other people in the pool while looking at the mountains in the distance. I saw a sister holding her young brother above the water and suddenly was reminded of a memory I'd long ago forgotten. On some family vacation when I was a very small child, we were at some hotel pool that was packed with guests. My dad and sister were trying to teach me how to swim, but I was scared and didn't want to let go. My dad was laughing while my sister tried to help, but I think I wound up crying and going back to the shallow end.
I don't think I've though about that since it happened, probably over 15 years ago. I have to imagine that it was in Florida, probably while visiting my grandparents. It's been a long time since then, and it's also been a while since I've gone on a family vacation, at least one when we weren't all yelling at each other or going off to do something else. But I've gone on many trips since then, and more and more lately without the family. Since then I've learned to swim, but it never caught on that well, and I've never been an incredibly confident swimmer.
Now I'm out here in uncharted waters on my own and at times, it would be nice to have some family there to be out in the middle of the pool to swim to, but there isn't, and it's on me to get from one side to the other.
We left Baños as the sun was starting to set and went back into the city to patch up the wounds and rest up before another week of classes and work.