Which one of these things does not belong? Does anyone remember that game from Sesame Street? Well, it brings to mind my very first spa experience in Ecuador.
We were in Baños de Aqua Santa located just outside of Ambato; nestled along a river in the mountains about 3 hours drive south of Quito. We had only been in the country for a couple of weeks at the time and really had no way of knowing this place would one day be considered our most favorite area in Ecuador. We eventually settled in La Libertad, on the coast, however, this little piece of paradise still remains in our hearts.
We came from British Columbia, so the mountains were not new to us and in fact, being in this little town was comforting in some ways; rushing rivers, hot springs, waterfalls; all very familiar to us. It was, however, taking a little practice to tune out the unnerving sounds of the mighty Tungurahua volcano. Daily rumbling, growling, smoke and bits of spewing ash would cause my eyebrows to raise almost daily. The locals, on the other hand, seemed to be totally unaffected by the activity. The subtle rumbles underfoot, the snap, crackle and pop coming from the ‘Throat of Fire’ seemed to fade into the background for them, much like it does for folks that live near airports or railroad tracks.
We let it be known that our plans were to ultimately purchase property to create a vacation rental business in Ecuador. I recall a conversation with one local who recommended, we stay here, in Baños, in the beautiful valley; it is strategically located, there are many tourists and it truly is a fabulous and fresh location.
I replied in total agreement, all very valid points, but I felt I needed to remind him that the volcano sounds angry all the time; I cannot seem to ignore it like everyone else. The reply he came back with was a chuckle and a somewhat dismissive hand signal letting me know there was nothing to be concerned about. Impulsively I replied with; “Pretty sure the people of Pompeii thought the same thing”.
Aside from the typical stressors of traveling to a new country; we were also trying our best to adjust to the culture, language, finding a good pizza joint, and searching desperately for a recognizable cut of beef, all while sidestepping piles of dog poop found all over the sidewalks.
I decided with all that I had experienced up to this point, I was in desperate need of some spa time. Randy, my husband, came with me as we walked from place to place, looking for a shop that called out ‘relaxation’ to me. Being in another country, I was very concerned that I may accidentally choose a more ‘love-you-long-time’ type massage place, and considering I knew virtually no Spanish, how would a person get around the conversation?
I was already feeling a little stressed with trying to learn the language. Each communication session was full of grunting and pointing. Keeping the conversations inline with my 36 memorized verbs and 15 short sentences was exhausting some days.
We picked a location that looked qualified, clean and reputable. Where the word MASSAGE seemed to imply the relaxation kind rather than … well you know …
From a professional spa menu, I chose to have a full body massage followed by a signature pedicure. So far, so good.
The massage went well, I can’t complain, she hit all the right spots and I was definitely feeling more relaxed.
The experience did lack the ambience one would expect in a relaxation massage setting. Perhaps a little soft music, some essential oils, a candle or soft lighting, none of that was present, but the lady did have very capable hands.
Another obvious difference was that for a body massage back home, they would typically start by laying me on my stomach and end by turning me over onto my back; this lady did the opposite.
As the hour-long session came to an end, I found myself laying on my belly, with my face down in the hole.
She left the room and I laid there thinking a light blanket would be nice. I tried to relax for a bit as I was relatively sure she must be setting up the foot bath for my pedicure. She will come get me when it is ready. Apparently, my reasoning was slightly skewed and based on my North American spa experience.
About 5 minutes later, I heard her come back in the room and not so quietly fumbling around and all of a sudden I hear a power tool.
It all happened so suddenly as I lay there in only my panties, chilly, with my face in the hole, I tried to swing my head around to see what was about to happen.
Before I knew it she had picked up my foot in her hand and was going to town with a grinder to my heels. Every inch of my foot was sanded and dry polished. I am pretty sure the heel print was removed.
Now I can admit that I may not have the softest feet around, but typically a warm soak and a little hand sanding will do the trick.
I remember laying in my panties feeling rather vulnerable, and struggling between the thoughts of ‘Are you freaking kidding me’ and ‘Oh my God, this is freaking hilarious’
I could not help but wonder if she was wearing safety glasses. They didn’t seem to follow the ‘safety first’ policies like back home. But still, a power tool is a power tool no matter where you live and when you have flying stuff, no matter what the source, it is best to wear a little eye protection.
I have to say, the outcome, in the end, was that I had soft feet and polished nails; I won’t dispute that the final goal of a pedicure had been achieved.
And I am pretty sure no one that saw me afterwards noticed the little bit of underlying trauma on my face.
Was I relaxed; sort of. Was I amused; most definitely!
To this day when I think about it, I crack up laughing. It was hard to get through this writing without a big belly laugh in memory of the entire situation.
I would like to wrap this story up with a shameless plug:
A spa treatment at Casa Blanca Playa Cautivo here on the coast of Ecuador does not include power tools. We keep them locked tightly in Randy’s bodega: nothing but true relaxation found here.
PS: turns out the lady was not wearing safety glasses.