The Refugio Sanctuary in Baños is a tranquil place full of flowers, trees and tropical birds. But that’s where the peace ended. My health therapy consisted of five hours of being caked in mud, steamed, ionized, massaged like a sumo wrestler, cleansed everywhere, and I mean EVERYwhere, made to drink pints of copious bitter tea and the ‘Walk’.
Walking didn’t sound too stressful. No matter that I had hiked over an hour to get to the Refugio, arriving sweaty and disheveled, as if I had wandered in the wilderness for days. I was looking forward to a leisurely stroll through its pretty gardens. That is, until the assistant told me about the trail.
“You´ll start by walking barefoot on volcanic rock,” she said, pointing the way down a steep hill full of tiny jagged stones.
Barefoot? Are you sure? I asked dubiously.
“In order for you to achieve optimum emotional health you have to walk the Walk,” she repeated.
The pain and discomfort could not have been worse had the rocks been hot coals. Actually, in the noonday sun, they were pretty fiery. My tender arches cried for mercy.
Twenty agonising minutes later, I arrived at a winding path full of bushes and thorns. The assistant told me I had to to circle the enclosure three times around the aptly named Purgatory, which if you can believe it, had even deadlier stones than the first path.
Fighting the urge to turn back, I kept on. Fortunately the path turned from rocks to branches and finally foliage underfoot. Relief.
A handwritten sign pointing to the sky, led the way to the Mural of Silences, which was a climb of 200 steps made of the same material as the flimsy bridge in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the fierce mountain wind with my feet sore from the volcanic rock, I held on to the rope for dear life, climbing slowly until I reached the top.
At the Hall of Screams, I was supposed to stop and think about anyone who had hurt or angered me. This was going to take a while. Number one on my list was the woman who suggested the Walk, followed closely by the person who had designed the Refugio and its various forms of therapeutic torture. I found it hard to scream with only the wind to hear my pain, but I managed a good howl, if only because standing at the very top of the clearing, almost mocking me, was the elusive Volcan Tungurahua. I had been chasing the Volcan since I arrived in Baños, always arriving just as it hid behind the clouds.
From the Hall of Screams, I had a breathtaking view, seeing the peak of the mountain wrapped in ice. Of course, my camera was somewhere below in my backpack, left behind with my other worldly possessions in an attempt to reach some sort of material-goodless nirvana. I briefly considered walking back through Purgatory to get it, but there was no way I was walking through those rocks again, even if I was being chased by yetis.
A few screams later, I felt much better and I started the descent to the Wall of Forgiveness. Here I was supposed to leave all my regret and guilt behind. The mural had a stunning view of the surrounding are, a perfect composition of jungle, a waterfall, and (agh!) Tungurahua.
I tried not to kick myself about the camera as this would have defeated the purpose of the forgiveness exercise.
Fortunately, the mural was situated on a mossy hill with grass that felt like angels tickling my tender feet. I stayed there until I managed to get rid of all the negative energy I had accumulated during the Walk. The view was beautiful. Baños was beautiful. I felt beautiful, renewed in mind and body.
That is until the cursed volcanic gravel on the return.
Listen, if you are going to construct a healing walk, you have to reward your customers with consistency. Pain on the way there, pleasure on the return. Not so difficult, right?
It was hard not to shout obscenities, as I leapt and danced my way past the stupid hot stones, all serenity and peace dissipated. Let me tell you, if you try to evade the rocks the agony is only worse. There is no way to escape their constant sharpness, your mind is filled only with the immediacy of your body and the increasing pain. I had to focus every fibre in my being not to cry out.
“You must return humble, the way you came into this earth.” said the assistant. “If you can, crawl back from the Walk on your hands and knees.”
There was no way I was going to kneel on that gravel. At this point I would have traded my soul for some solid concrete.
Everyone smiled when they saw me limping back to the Refugio. They had probably placed bets among themselves to see how long I’d hold out before cracking. I have to say though that aside from some soreness, I felt fantastic and a tiny bit smug. After all, I had completed the Walk and lived to write the tale. I had experienced scream therapy for the first time, realising my anger into the wild. I’m sure I had even managed to accomplish a little forgiveness. As an added benefit, my feet were now very soft .