The opportunity to luxuriate in a bath doesn’t present itself on the road, not on our budget. We knew what to expect before we set out. We had already become acquainted with suicide showers from previous trips, but we had also discovered “Los Baños”. Just a short chicken bus ride from Quetzaltenango (Xela), just beyond Almolonga, there resides a cluster of bath-houses. The waters for these baths are all natural, being piped in from the geothermal fields of Cerro Quemado, a nearby still active volcano. They are also reputed to be therapeutic. To quote “The Rough Guide to Guatemala”, you get “enough hot water to drown an elephant”.
The baths themselves are large sunken concrete bunker-like structures. Sometimes they are tiled, more often than not they just look tired, with years of water stains and age showing. There are no “Aveda” products. You pay your 30Q ($4) and you get a pallangana (a plastic bowl for rinsing). I should point out for 30Q you get 3 hours. Yep, we are serious about our soaks! You can pay 10Q for an hour.
The bath-houses are comprised of a number of rooms each with it’s own tub, so you have the privacy of your own bath. Families descend en masse at weekends and you may have to wait for a bath; not the time for a 3 hour soak. This is a fairly impoverished area so many locals would not have bathing facilities in their own homes. Therefore these bath-houses provide a vital role in the community. They usually echo with the sounds of families splashing, laughing, chatting, parents admonishing and little ones wailing. An attendant bedecked in wellies dutifully disinfects and scrubs before the bath is relinquished to it’s next occupant.
We could not wait to get back to Los Baños on our trip and indeed it is probably the main reason we dilly-dallied in Quetzaltenango so long. It was the perfect way to relax after our daily hikes. Over our years and our many visits we have noticed the lack of other gringos at the baths. This is something else we cherish about here. I know, I know, we are gringos and tourists too, but there is something special about just being a regular along with the locals even if it is for just a very brief amount of time.
My fear is that these local community centres could change in response to the rise of tourism that Xela seems to be attracting. This may not be everyone’s idea of a day at the spa but for me this is one of my most favourite things to do in the world. Bring along a couple of tins of Gallo or Brahva, secure a 3 hour soak and relax in the most glorious bath ever – Beer, Bath, Bliss!
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