Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Very Short Afternoon at a Hot Spring

Mr Tabubil and I, along with Mr Tabubil's parents, sister and brother-in-law, have come south to spend the week between Christmas and the New Year  at a parcela just outside the small village of Llifen on Lago Ranco (Lake Ranco), deep in Chile's southern Alpine Region.  

On our third day, we drove up the Llifen Valley into the mountains to spend an afternoon soaking at the Termas de Chilliuo (the Chilliuo Hot Springs.)

The Road up to the top of the valley and into the mountains was mostly an unpaved one-lane mountain track:  picturesque as postcards, but  hell on the suspension of our small rental cars - low suspensions and  two wheel drives on a mountain track do NOT a return-on-rental-car- deposit make.
It was terribly dusty - thick road dust mixed with a soup of volcanic ash.  Our little Toyota Yarises (Toyota Yari?) had no air-conditioning and we had to leave the windows open, and before we'd left the valley we were breathing soup and scooping it out of our noses and our ears.

Hot, dusty, tasting of ashes and increasingly car-sick, we bounced higher and higher into the mountains.  Stopping at little wooden bridges over bouncing mountain tarns we smelled fresh, cold air and pricked up our dusty noses and dreamed Mountain Hot-Spring dreams.

We bounced through tiny villages that clung to knife-sharp ridgelines, rode switchbacks and hairpin bends around hanging valleys and empty precipices, we jounced past herds of dairy cows in fields dotted with daisies, slowed to choking halts behind gauchos on tall sauntering horses and blasted through bosky, shadowed pine woods . Beyond our personal travelling dust clouds, the world was a paradise.

On a blessedly smooth stretch of road in a long valley at the top of the world we saw a sign for the Termas de Chilliuo.  Swinging our car off the gravel road, we bounced up a grassy lane and rattle gently to a stop in a grassy clearing in front of a row of simple wooden changing cabins.  

Volcanic dust-cloud incoming!

Water gurgled.  Birds chirped. White daisies nodded their heads in the grass.
Steaming gently and hooting happily, we tumbled out of our cars into the mountain silence - and heard a noise.
            Lots of noise.
            And we were bombarded by legions of biting black and orange horseflies the size of light fixed-wing aircraft.  Grabbing our bags, we threw our towels over our heads and ran like hell toward the change rooms.
            The Termas were somewhat anti-climactic, under the circumstances.  The weather had come around and the sun was high and flat and hot.  The Springs were a flat, shallow concrete pan filled with scalding water and the only way to avoid a massed aerial assault was to sit in the steaming stuff up to our necks.  I risked a sprint to an outdoor ice-water shower, and I only made it by whirling a wet-t-shirt around my head like a helicopter propeller the whole way.
            We lasted barely ten minutes.  My father-in-law cracked first.  He rose from the water like a steaming leviathan at a starting post and  made a mad dash to the changing sheds - cursing viciously and flailing away at the flies with his arms above his head.  He didn't have a wet t-shirt to extend his reach.  Poor soul.
            The rest of us badly wanted a photo of us sitting in the spring - ten minutes in that water under that sun was hero stuff, but he refused to come out, and we nearly expired.
            When he did emerge, under the weight of our pleas (and imprecations), he was fully clothed and deeply paranoid and in the three seconds that it took him to raise the camera to his eye and press the shutter, he was bomb dived by six enormous horseflies in a synchronized attack that came right out of the sun and aimed for the vulnerable patch of skin on the back of his neck.
          He broke and ran.
          Clearly, our plans for a picnic lunch on the lawn were right out, so hungry and heat struck and rather worse for wear, we bolted for the cars and tore back down the mountain until we found a meadow where the horseflies were merely an annoyance instead of the country's dominant predator.

But I still ate my sandwich from underneath a beach towel.

And on the way home my father-in-law dented his oil pan.

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