A holiday from my husband – Experiencing Piedra de Agua day spa in Banos, Ecuador

“How do my nails look,” I ask Dave, holding them up for him to see. I’d just bought a purple nail polish and had spent the past hour giving myself a manicure.

“Yeah, great,” he replies, not looking up from cricket website he was reading.

I sigh and glare at him, willing him to look up and appreciate my brightly coloured nails. But he continues to read about the latest cricket store, oblivious to my annoyance at his lack of appreciation for my nails.

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador - Double-Barrelled Travel

It was time to give up on Dave’s company and head to the day spa of Piedra de Agua

I love my husband, I do. He’s a great travelling companion – he’s always up for embracing new cultures, tackling new adventures or learning a new language.

But sometimes I wish he was a woman. No matter how hard he tries (and he does try, especially when we go shopping) he’s no match for my girlfriends back home in England or Australia when it comes to girly matters.

Which shouldn’t be at all surprising considering he’s a man, not a woman.

After travelling with him for nearly a year and a half now, we’ve got used to spending every waking moment (and sleeping ones too, for that matter) together but I still miss my girlfriends. He’s just no substitute for girly time.

Time for female-only company

Although we make friends everywhere we go, I don’t always get to the point where I’m painting my nails with a newly-found girlfriend. I mean, it’s not like I could go up to a woman on the beach in Cuba and ask if she’d like to partake in the nail painting ritual with me, or go (mostly window) shopping.

Well I guess I could, but that would be weird.

So it was to my delight that I recently found myself in Cuenca with two fast-made girlfriends. Kristin, who we’d met on the Inca Trail back in March, had decided to spend the end of her six month South America trip in Cuenca, and I welcomed her to the city with open arms.

She then introduced me to Alice who she’d met in northern Ecuador a few weeks earlier.

Before long we were joined at the hip, going shopping, to cafes and enjoying more than a few cocktails.

Dave stayed at home.

I asked him if he was feeling left out. “Not at all!” came his reply. “I love spending time on my own, I’m getting a lot of my book writing done.”

And it was true; unlike me, Dave does like a bit of ‘alone time’, and whether he was writing his book or sitting in his jocks with a beer in front of some crappy action film, I think he was (not) so secretly enjoying time without his wife. Meanwhile, I was galavanting all around Cuenca with the girls.

It was a win-win situation.

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador mud pool - Double-Barrelled Travel

Alice and Kristin in the mud pool at Piedra de Agua

Enjoying the day spa at Piedra de Agua

And to take advantage of the situation, I decided to invite the girls on a day trip to Banos, Ecuador, for a full day at the spa, no (known) man in sight. They accepted the invitation gladly. It’d been awhile since we’d all been pampered – Alice had been travelling for two months, and Kristin for nearly six.

Banos, Ecuador is situated about 20 minutes from Cuenca’s town centre and is known for its hot springs. As a spa town, people come from miles around to relax and refresh themselves in the hot water.

So we set off for our day of relaxation. After a $5 taxi ride we arrived at the marbled foyer of the Piedra de Agua spa.

Donning cotton dressing gowns, we headed to the hot pool, where we relaxed for a half hour or so before making our way to the mud pools. Smearing ourselves in mud, we laughed at how silly we looked. We washed off in a shower housed in fake rock-built volcano, and then Alice and I headed for our massages. Kristin had decided to skip the massage because at $20 for a half hour it was a little steep for Ecuadorian prices.

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador mud mask - Double-Barrelled Travel

Mud bath time!

Enjoying the facilities at Piedra de Agua

The massage was firm and very relaxing but it was over too soon. And it wasn’t just the time flying because we were having fun – the masseuses only worked on us for around 20ish minutes so unfortunately we didn’t feel we got our money’s worth.

We were too relaxed to complain though, so Alice and I put on our dressing gowns once more, picked up Kristin by the side of the pool, and made our way into the underground caves.

The caves were lit by candlelight and we giggled as we made our way into the very romantic-like setting. We immersed ourselves into the boiling water of the hot pool and twenty minutes went by before our usher was telling us to get into the adjacent pool – which was ice cold.

We got in little by little, but had to stay in the freezing water for at least five minutes before being allowed back into the hot spring.

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador girls- Double-Barrelled Travel

Us three girls in the underground cave hot spring at Piedra de Agua

It was so cold it was almost painful, but the tingling sensation that overcame our bodies when we re-plunged into the hot pool made it (almost) worth it.

Next it was time for our steam-boxing. We were led to another section of the cave where a series of wooden boxes were waiting.

We sat on stools inside the boxes and our usher enclosed us within them, so that only our heads were peeking out. It looked like a torture machine from the Middle Ages.

Our usher turned the steam on and our bodies instantly warmed and began to sweat, while our faces stayed cool. A strange sensation but a pleasant one – like being in a steam room but without your face dripping.

No matter how pleasant though, I was relieved when our usher returned 15 minutes later to let us back out of the medieval-like contraption.

We spent the rest of the day making our way between the cave’s hot pool and the outdoor hot spring, chatting about our lives and anything else that sprang to mind.

We ate lunch at the restaurant; prawns, salad and rice washed down with a bottle of wine, and enjoyed a fruit platter with a couple of glasses of ‘champagne’. (Which our usher insisted was champagne but was just sparkling wine. But I was non-plussed; Ecuador’s not exactly famous for its bubbles.)

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador Alice and Carmen - Double-Barrelled Travel

Drinking ‘champagne’… dressing gown optional

Before I knew it, it was 7pm and I told the girls we should be heading back as Dave was probably wondering where the hell I was.

So we hopped in a cab and made our way home; dropping off the girls before I headed to the house Dave and I were house-sitting.

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador main pool - Double-Barrelled Travel

The romantic setting of Piedra de Agua at night

Returning to husband

As I walked in the door, glowing from my day of relaxation, Dave looked up from his computer (Book writing? Cricket watching?) and asked, “How was it?”

“Brilliant, a really relaxing day!” As he gave me a hug, seemingly unaware that I was home four hours later than I said I would be. I realised that he’d thoroughly enjoyed his day on his own. And I’d more than enjoyed my day with the girls at the spa.

We’d had a successful day apart from each other – and I realised that this was an ingredient for the recipe of a healthy marriage.

Do you travel with your partner? Do you have any tips for enjoying your own ‘me time’?

Piedra de Agua Banos Ecuador pools - Double-Barrelled Travel

The circular pool area at Piedra de Agua

What you need to know:

How to get there: It’s very easy and inexpensive to get a taxi to Piedra de Agua from downtown Cuenca. It should only cost you $5 or so. The address is Parroquia Baños,Paseo de la Guadalupana y Calle S/N.

When to go: Because most of the facilities are outside, it’s best to choose a day when it’s not raining. The spa is open Monday – Saturday from 6am – 10pm and Sunday  from 6am – 7pm.

Cost: For full use of the spa’s facilities it costs US$30 for the day. Massages and other treatments are extra. You can take a look at the full price list here.

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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