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My Amazon trek was tough, but this spa visit was tougher

In the steam box I felt like one of the tamales I’d had for breakfast, steamed until my insides turned to hot mush.

Courtesy of El Refugio Spa

Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

After three weeks in the Amazon sleeping under mosquito nets, bathing in jungle waterfalls, climbing an active volcano, jumping off a 160-metre bridge and jockeying a raft through Class IV rapids, our adventure tour group staggered into a spa just outside of Banos, Ecuador.

At the El Refugio Spa Garden, we were stripped of our clothes, given papery, disposable bathing suits and led into a cold room where we slathered on hot mud while officious Ecuadorian ladies assisted us with wooden spoons in the places we couldn't quite reach. Then the music started. The staff blared Ecuadorian pop music and obliged us in Spanish to "Dance!"

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We jumped and jived awkwardly until the mud was caked and cracking. One by one, we were marshalled into a shower to wash it off.

Next step: the steam box. I'd experienced a lot on this trip, but of all the bodily shocks I'd endured, this would be the worst.

I was locked into a wooden box that encased my whole body, save for my protruding head. A mug of cold, unsweetened herbal tea sat on my left and, every once in a while, a boy held the straw to my lips.

Inside the box, I shrivelled and sweat. I was drained, lethargic and convinced I was slowly scalding to death while the Spanish-speaking overseer failed to comprehend my pleas for mercy. I felt like one of the tamales I'd had for breakfast, steamed until my insides turned to hot mush.

After 20 minutes, we were released only to have the overseer wordlessly dump a bucket of ice water over us – three times. Now I felt like a blanched vegetable – I will never look at an asparagus the same way again.

Back into the steam box we went. This time, when our roasting was up, I had to be dragged out kicking and screaming because I knew the cold water splash was coming. By the third time I was so spent that I hung limply by my skull from the hole in the top of my box.

For the last ice bath we were instructed to put our hands on the wall like criminals waiting to be frisked. A high-pressure hose rinsed us off, then, just for good measure, we were doused one more time by an icy overhead shower. Only then, tense and shivering, were we allowed to change back into dry clothes.

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Once dressed, we were led into a deceptively cheery waiting room, and munching on pineapple snacks we listened sympathetically to our friend ("No! I'm not ready yet! I don't want it!") who was still in the torturous steam room.

Later, I heard that some of our group were treated to an Ecuadorian enema cleanse. I'm sorry I missed out.

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