The mysterious case of the disappearing pool

Trip Start Oct 02, 2005
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Tuesday, December 6, 2005

It was no problem at all getting a bus to Chillán and they even let us off on the right road for our hotel before getting into the bus terminal. We checked into the hotel which was quite large and it felt like we were their only guests. They gave us a large comfy room with a huge bathroom which was about the same size as the actual bedroom. Cool. So we left our bags and had a wander around town looking for lunch and to shop around the market, which was mentioned in the book, for some touristy souvenirs. Either we didn't find the market or else we found one that was much smaller than we expected with prices higher than that in Santiago. We came away empty handed but with full bellies.

We woke up early again in order to get to our reserved cabin in Valle Las Trancas which was near the thermal springs of Chillan. Again the bus driver was very accommodating and dropped us off outside our actual hotel which was on the main road that they passed through. Valle Las Trancas is in a small valley just before the tourist Ski and thermal springs resort of Chillan. Our Valley seemed to consist of a very long road with forests on either side and around twenty or so holiday cabins and ski lodges. As we arrived at the beginning of summer we were in between the two peak seasons of Skiing and the Xmas summer holidays. This is great for us because in the off peak seasons the cabins were going for less than half price. Yippee.

As the reception was closed we went into the attached general store to see if we could find anyone who could check us in. The lady behind the counter was very helpful and checked us in even though we were a few hours early. We were very impressed with our very homely cabin that was heated by a wood stove in the middle and also had cable TV and a very comfy bed and sofa. I seriously couldn't have asked for more and it was a perfect remedy from the trauma of our first arduous hike. The original plan was to stay for two nights but as Lea had also fallen in love with the place I suggested that we stay a little longer in order to rest up properly and explore the surrounding valleys. Lea agreed immediately and we asked to extend our reservation a further 4 nights. Hurrah! This was more my style of travelling. Needless to say I spent the next fours days mainly in or on the bed, watching TV, lighting our stove with the provided fire wood, cooking food in our kitchen and trying to regain the feeling in my left big toe.

Eventually we realised that there was an outside world with stunning scenery just waiting for us to go and explore so we stuck our noses outside for an excursion to the thermal springs of Chillan. The owner was taking a French couple with their two children up to a place near the springs and we squeezed on board the four by four for an exorbitant price of 8,000 peso each or 8 quid. Afterwards we felt slightly foolish knowing that we could have probably hitch hiked the short distance for free but as we didn't know how near or far we were going we thought safer to err on the side of caution. The owner dropped us off at a plateau where they were constructing a new set of open air spa pools and told us that the fumaroles and springs were about an hours hike straight up the side of the mountain and that he would be back at 2pm to pick us up. We could have handed over some money to take a dip in the new spa's pool but since we came here to see the fumeroles and we could take a free dip in a natural pool at the top we elected to head on up. As I only had a day pack to carry I found the steep hike relatively easy compared to our previous one. The French family seemed to be full of boundless energy and steamed on ahead leaving us far behind. We stopped at the first set of fumaroles which were easily identified as they gushed massive amounts of steam into the cold mountain air and by the fact that they stank of sulphur or rotten eggs. We also saw big black rubber pipes going up and down the mountain and lots of discarded empty nags of cement. Still at least it was warmer around them. We pressed on upwards eager to see the springs and take a dip. We crested the summit and re-found the French family who were still looking for the pool. We joined in the search but we could only find a small, extremely shallow bubbling mud pool (see short video). Here again were rubbish left by workers, left over bits of pipes and cement. I could only figure that the owner of the newly constructed spa was draining the natural pool by the pipes to fill his pools further down the mountain. What an @rse I can't believe they stole a pool!! Bloody Chileans (I can say that because I am one). Hey ho, never mind, the scenery was still awesome as we could see the whole valley from our high vantage point and the warm fumeroles were cool to watch as they contrasted sharply with the snowfields around them. Eventually the time came to wander back down and wait for our ride back. As we were waiting a slew of cars and mini vans arrived and a small crowd of guys emerged with towels and swimming trunks. When they found out that the new spa was charging for their pools I heard one of the guys say "We don't have to pay because I know that there's a free natural pool just up the mountain" So up they went the way we had just come back down. As most of them were wearing flip flops (thongs, jangles whatever you want to call them) a couple of the guys slipped and fell before they even got to the incline. I would have stopped them but they were too far away by that point. And besides the thought of 30 angry blokes coming back down that mountain to have a harsh word or two with the owner/thief was immensely satisfying. I only wish that our lift arrived late enough for me to see it. But we were whisked away to our cabin before any impending violence could begin.

The next day inspired by our easy trek we decided to hire bicycles and explore the valley a little more. Unfortunately the bike shop was closed as all the keys were taking by the guides who were out on excursions. But with some rough directions from the lady in the general store we set off on foot to see if we could find an abandoned old ski chalet that was built in the 1800´s for a ski slope that was only 200m long! As all the directions were given in Spanish I hid the fact from Lea that we had to cross another lava field knowing that after her previous traumatic experience that she hated them. Anyway we set off down the long road and after a three hours of trekking through some really nice scenery we eventually came to the lava field . Much to Lea's relief somebody has simply bulldozed a wide path through it so walking on that was a doddle. We eventually came to the abandoned chalet, where with time, had become stripped of everything bar the foundations and the wooden superstructure. We couldn't see the 200m ski slope but then again a ski slope that short in the summer would be a pretty easy thing to miss. Thinking about it even in those days when they still used wooden skis it can't have taken much more than (please correct me if I'm wrong) two minutes to ski down hill before having to turn back and return up the slope. The lady in the general store did have a funny story about the skiers tying a length of rope around their waists and being pulled back up the slope when they reached the bottom. A kind of primitive prototype ski lift if you will. Anyway after eating our pack lunch of sandwiches we headed on back to the cabin and the next day we regretfully left and headed back to Chillan to tackle our second hike.
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