I’ll Have One Gringa ‘Al Vapor’ Please

Today, after a 20 mile bike ride, I climbed into a wooden box and steamed myself. Well, actually an Ecuadorian man steamed me. In Spanish steamed is al vapor

Banos is a small mountain town South of Quito, known for it’s hot springs and public baths. It’s a major tourist draw, not only for backpackers but for Ecuadorians too. On weekends, the public pools are chock full of brown skinned kidswrapped in cheap blow up plastic life jackets and speedos, flipping off the diving boards and squealing with delight. Banos is also known for it’s outdoor activities (biking, hiking, rafting) and it’s taffy. Shopkeepers stand in every doorway pulling the sticky whitish taffy from a peg. (More photos of Banos and Quito on photobucket! ) But back to the steam box… 

For $3.50, I was treated to an hour of heaven on the first floor of our hostal. Imagine a small wooden bench, big enough for one person (me). Now around me on the bench is a wooden and cement box, closing me in from all sides, except one small hole, just big enough for my neck. 

Corinna in a box

 The bottom of the box is filled with fresh eucalyptus branches and a small spigot in one corner starts releasing warm steam so the whole box fills with eucalyptus droplets. They only let you sit for 4 minutes at a time (and believe me, I couldn’t have cooked any longer!) before they release you. The next step involves cold water in some way or another. The first two rounds I was responsible for dumping it over myself, one body part at a time. The third round I plopped down into a large bucket of cold water and splashed myself. the last round I was sprayed with a hose, up one side and down the other. Even the bottoms of my feet. Between Cold Water Dumps, it was back to the box. 

The whole cycle is repeated over an hour and by round three I felt like I was high. I have never been so relaxed- it was other worldly. It must be something about the cold and hot cycles that affect your energy and circulation. Or perhaps they were fibbing about the eucalyptus and they were really coca leaves. 😉 Whatever it was, it was wonderful. 

The Steam Boxes, notice the neck holes on top.

Today’s budget:

Breakfast: Omlette. coffee, homemade bread $2

Bike rental” $5 for the day

Entrance fees to the waterfall: $3

Lunch: $3

Bus ride home and ice cream: $3

Rum and OJ before dinner: $1

Dinner: $2

Total: $19

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3 Comments

Filed under 3) Ecuador

3 responses to “I’ll Have One Gringa ‘Al Vapor’ Please

  1. Jordan Michels

    The Vapors sound amazing. I experienced a similar high in a very hot Native American style sweat once after a cold dip in the river. Your budget is impressive. A bit cheaper than I’m anticipating in England.

  2. julie robertson

    Cam did you participate in the steam bath ritual or were you just in the hot pools with locals? It must be your turn to write a blog pretty soon or are you on hiatus. We want to hear your point of view especially on eating guinea pig. That was some ugly face on those fast food guinea pigs just like KFC without the bucket. Sounds like your gortex is coming handy!! I bet your legs are tired from walking and biking on all kinds of terrain. Keep us informed of your adventures. We send our love your way!! xo mom julie

  3. Grandma Lois

    When Kip Bugas (17) and I traveled in South America, 1978, we rented a house in Banos with an Australian photographer and a Swiss mountain climber and one or two others. Many internationals. I remember the street vendors cry, “Huevos, huevos, duros y calientes.” I am so happy to hear of Banos again.

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