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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

Thermal Spring Oasis

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 16 October 2007 | Views [669]

Ecuadorians enjoy their holidays, and today was Guayaquil's Independence Day.  Well, it was really Wednesday, but why not push it back to make a long weekend?  So my family set off, in our yellow school bus, for Papallacta.  The drive to Papallacta, en route to the Oriente, surpasses the Pan-American Highway's renowned prestige.  The slight variations in the mountain range and the vegetation somehow make a tremendous difference; the mountains snake in delightful patterns, yielding a solitary road just limboing beneath downy puffs of white and blue topaz skies.  We stopped at a popular roadside restaurant for fresh avejas, choclo, and empanadas de viento (imagine fried dough stuffed with fresh cheese…times ten), and finished our fill as we pulled into the site of the thermal springs, set into mountain-scapes resembling Machu Picchu's luscious hillsides.

Though these volcanic baths may be Ecuador's worst kept secret, its management has succeeded in preserving its natural beauty.  Several pools are carved out of rocks and descending in platforms down the hillside; volcanic water flows through each pool daily maintaining a clean and pure setting.  Though families have arrived in droves for a day outing (just two hours from Quito), there seems to be enough space to accommodate everyone between large splash-happy pools and romantic coves.  

Surrounding the baths are trees dangling with floripongo flowers, perhaps the most exquisite flower I have seen.  These flowers, however, have a more tantalizing appeal than their elegance; the floripongo pollen is an intoxicating hallucinogen used amply by ladrones in the cities.  According to Ramiro, a burglar will pulverize the flower's potent parts and place the powder on a sheet of paper.  The burglar will then approach an innocent tourist and ask if they can help them find the address written on this piece of paper, and…puffff!  Floripongo in your face and that's that.  You will be fully aware of your surroundings, but completely unable to react to the circumstances (which may involve screaming, running away, calling the police, inviting the burglar out for a beer, you name it kiddo).  That’s it.  

Of course, Ramiro offered this important fact after I'd adored Mother Nature, as I always do, by inhaling the floripongo's perfume.  My immediate reaction stemmed back to my obsessive-compulsive nature; will I die or begin to hallucinate (much like the way I would react as a prepubescent when I'd discovered that my nail polish had been chipped off, and therefore I must have eaten it by accident when chewing my nails, and I was surely going to be poisoned, it might be slow, but it was inevitable…).  

So I quelled my nerves by steaming in the pool.  Unlike most hot tubs or Jacuzzis, where it just never is hot enough, the baths were a perfectly relaxing temperature.  The water misted and mingled with the fresh mountain air, and the sunny skies pervaded the otherwise rainy climate of the winter months (which decided to begin exactly one week ago).  

A swift river flowed by the baths, though in true mountain form, was of glacial temperatures.  According to Ramiro and other likely legends, skipping between thermal and glacial temperatures will encourage good blood circulation.  I do have very poor circulation, and in the spirit of naturally medicating myself, I decided to take a quick stroll through the river's shallow section.  The frigid water stung my feet like pins and needles in a hail storm, and my stroll became a desperate hop to the nearest rock, on the other side.  Despite Ramiro's insistence that I really did need a photo of myself lying flat in the river, I darted back to safety and sunk into the nearest bath (only to bring on a more acute sensation of pins and needles).  There is a pool fed by river water that I did proudly immerse myself in later, again pressured by double dog dares and carried out only to my discontent.  This was prompted by another long soak in the baths.  Like most activities at high altitude, the proximity of the sun and the volcanic temperature of the water eventually provoked a slight spell of dizziness, and I relocated myself to a chair in the shade with the elderly and young.

Although the entrance sign clearly read "please do not bring in food," almost every visitor was munching and crunching on some sort of snack or other.  I have mentioned previously that eating is an Ecuadorian pastime (though you won't find me complaining about this one).  This overt violation of rules did not exclude my family.  A juicy mandarin and a tuna sandwich revitalized me enough to dip into the baths and rinse off the citrus juice I'd managed to spill down my belly.  

We managed to leave Papallacta as thunder and rain descended on the arriving crowds.  As in most moving vehicles during a rainstorm, the drive home was a fantastic opportunity to nap.  I caught a quick glimpse of peaks newly dusted with snow and several bull farms.  Apparently, bulls are raised in the fierce climate of the parámo to ensure their ferocity in bullfights.

The following day, Martha, Ramiro, and Michelle were aching with sunburn.  A good portion of my aspirin has been consumed, and my bottle of Aloe Vera has been returned empty.  Ironically, my pasty skin was the only one to survive the beating sun and boiling baths of Papallacta.

Tags: The Great Outdoors

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