Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Villarica and Los Pozones: Running Hot and Cold

In the daylight, lake Villarica was wide and blue, and the mountains across the lake were green and sharp-tipped.  We walked out of the cabana onto the terrace and looked up to see the snow-capped cinder cone of Volcán Villarica rising up behind the trees.  We would spend much of the next week sitting on our terrace and watching it smoking - exuberant puffs of white smoke.  Puff. Puff. Poof!


It gave a certain frission to a peaceful holiday breakfast.

All that week we kept to a rigorous schedule. We slept late, waking half a hour before a very nice woman arrived at eleven to service the cabana.  While the beds were made and the bathroom swept, we lay on lounge chairs under a tree and watched the light shift over the lake.  
            When the nice woman finished and gone, we went back to bed for a nice hearty nap, then lunched,  swam in the lake for an hour or so, and drove into  Pucon to buy groceries for a BBQ dinner on the terrace.  After dinner we wound sit out by the lake until the light died, then we would come inside and read to each other until it was time again to go to bed.
            It was an utterly splendid place for a holiday - lazy volcanic frissions and all. We had arrived just before the season opened -the season opens the week of the new year, more or less, and the beach and the lake were all our own. 
            But things were happening. One day a row of floats appeared in the lake to mark a swimming area.  The next day, a row of freshly painted wooden benches was laid out on the shore.  A lifeguard tower was trundled down onto the beach. The next a pack of teenage boys and girls arrived at the little swimming beach - hooting and splashing distantly, jumping off the jetty, adding a touch of holiday gaiety to the scene.

We swam in the lake every afternoon.  The water was very clear and the lake slopes so steeply away from the shoreline that a short jetty can make for splendid diving - straight into water the color and consistency of bottled ice-cubes.
            I love me my fresh water - any way, any how, and any where, and I could stand Villarica for a good hour or so before i started to feel a little nippy.  My Canadian Mr Tabubil, who can handle temperatures staggeringly below zero if they occur on the other side of a parka and good set of thermal underwear, is not quite so comfortable with water. That man can - and has- caught a nasty chill off of a reef in the Hawaiian islands.  Down at Villarica, he'd stand on the jetty, working up the courage to jump, then rise up vertically from the depths at a velocity only slightly slower than the one he'd taken going in,  and spend the rest of my vivid, brisk and breezy hour sulking in the sun complaining about chilblains and yelling when I dripped on him.

 One day, we dragged ourselves away from our quiet beach and drove to the hot springs at Los Pozones.  There are many volcanic hot springs in the region. Some of these hot springs have decadent lodges built around them, with saunas and plunge pools and café-bars.  Others are nothing more than natural pools in the forest.


Los Pozones” is at the au-naturel end of the spectrum.  A chain of natural springs strung along a tumbling mountain river at the bottom of a narrow mountain valley, it posesses marked paths, and wooden staircase reaching down into the water, and a wooden change-house built over the topmost pool, but otherwise, it feels much as Volcan Villarica made it. 
            The water was extremely hot. The weather was also extremely hot - it was a good 30 degrees C in the sun, but the temperature differential was still great enough to have steam billowing from the pools. We've done this rodeo before, and thought it pretty good, all things considered. Los Pozones, however, puts a twist on the formula. The idea was to alternate sitting in the hot spring with jumping into the icy river next door, and THAT water made Lago Villarica feel like a tepid bath - those tumbling rapids must have topped out at a neat 4 degrees C.  After plunging in once and making a hellofalotofnoise before I got out in a hellofahurry, I sat on a rock on the riverbank and let Mr Tabubil gallantly splash me. This ridiculous regimen was supposed to open your pores and fill you simply to the brim with sulfur and minerals and healthy vitality. On a more temperate day the pools would have been an utterly sybaritic luxury, and we have decided to return mid-year, in deep winter, and spend a week sitting in hot-springs when the weather is sensible.  As it was, between the extreme cold and the extreme heat, all I got was a sniffle.

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