I am in the depths of a cave; its walls rough-hewn by the unyielding fist of nature. In the shimmering half-light all I can see around me are great, rugged walls of volcanic rock.
But don’t let appearances fool you. You haven’t strayed onto an extreme sports website. This is no crazy act of adventure tourism. I haven’t squeezed myself bodily through gaps that an [insert diminutive animal here] would baulk at, pushing muscle and sinew to the limit to reach this rarely-plumbed depth.
No…far from it. This is no ordinary cave. This is a massage cave
Again this description may have misled you, caused your mind to wander into dimly lit corners of the human condition: but I assure you that I am not a gentleman with what might be euphemistically described as ‘specialist tastes’. This is not a ‘massage’ with inverted commas: the only leather on show here is the massage bed and there is not a trace of PVC to be found.
This trip is pure pampering, with no gung-ho action and no funny business.
The massage cave is part of the Piedra de Agua complex, one of the many thermal spas in the parish of Baños in the province of Azuay, southern Ecuador, a mere hot-stone-treatments throw away from the colonial city of Cuenca.
Baños, Azuay (not to be confused with the city of the same name in central Ecuador) was set up in the year 1570 by Spanish colonists to exploit the gold and silver deposits in the area, and originally went by the name of Las Minas del Espíritu Santo (Mines of the Holy Spirit).
The thermal waters in the area were known and used by the Inca Empire and by the Cañaris tribe before them and over time the Spanish colonists came to appreciate their qualities and the area became known as Baños, achieving official parish status under that name in 1824.
The waters emerge from an inactive volcano in the foothills of the Andes mountains at a temperature of 78 °C (172°F). After being piped to the spas they are cooled to a luxurious 38°C (100°F) to 40 ° C (104°F).
With a firm, flowing perpetual motion, with no moment in which both hands break contact from my body, the masseuse finds kinks I didn’t know existed and smooths and pounds and knuckles them into submission. Even the pan-pipe moods, elevator-worthy muzak piped into the cave cannot detract from the sheer, what-day-was-it-again-eeeeurgh-mmmmmm indulgence of it all.
This massage is the culmination of an afternoon of solid pampering, beginning with steam room and sauna, followed by a thorough exfoliation in both red and blue mud pools (smeared from head to toe in volcanic mud, like some primeval swamp monster), segueing into an invigorating hop between (soothingly) hot and (bracingly) cold thermal pools, and ending up in a kind of magicians box steamer (fortunately with no sparkly outfitted entertainer trying to saw your head off) before rounding off a hard days indulge with the massage.
If you want to check Baños out for yourself, its located 8km south-west of the city of Cuenca in southern Ecuador and can be reached by a short taxi ride from central Cuenca (guide price: $5) or on buses 11, 12, or 27 (guide price: about 25 cents).