Swimming in the Snow

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South America » Chile
April 8th 2016
Published: June 29th 2017
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Geo: -33.2328, -70.2122

What a memorable way to spend our last full day in South America. I must admit, that when I booked this tour a couple days ago, I didn't know much about the El Yeso National Park which we were bound for, nor the hot springs in the area. Despite our comfy bed, I again struggled to get more than a couple hours sleep at a time, still feeling significantly sick with some sort of head cold. Todays tour kicked off straight after breakfast, around 9am. We were using the same tour group from yesterday, Servitour Tours. Todays guide, Daniel was a bundle of enthusiasm and knowledge. We weren't alone today either, but in a group of 5 with a couple of American ladies in their 50s and a Spanish/American guy named Carlos in his mid 20s. Rather than the minibus of yesterday, todays vehicle would be a smaller 4WD. Wed soon find out why this durable vehicle would be necessary.

Our destination today was El Yeso National Park, about 2.5 hours North East of Santiago at the foot of the Andes Mountain Range. From what I saw online, the area looked spectacular for its mountains, lakes and landscapes. The tour also advertised the chance to go to the Camino hot springs which looked quite luxurious and comfortable and I figured might be a nice, relaxing way to see out our last full day of our honeymoon. On the way, our guide Daniel, advised we had a choice of two different hot springs. The advertised Camino which wed seen pictures of, or an alternative, El Plomo. Id heard of this place but not seen photos. The difference between the two being; Camino was more popular, luxurious and touristic. There were more pools here that were a lot warmer, but they were artificial, man made pools only using water from the earth. El Plomo however was more remote, the water 'not as warm', offered more spectacular landscape views and was 100% natural from the El Plomo Volcano. From Daniels description he left it up to the 5 of us to vote. Which would you choose? It was easy for me, remote, genuine and views all the way. Nat and one of the American ladies agreed and the vote was over. El Plumo it would be!

With every mile from Santiago, the misty cloak of pollution lifted and gave way to rolling hills, cliffs and mountain views. Housing became smaller, simpler and more sparse as we left the city for the countryside. After around an hours drive, we stopped off at San Jose de Maipo, for a bathroom stop and cup of tea before heading to our destination. Just a small town, with a few cafes, as many stray dogs as people, and a spectacular mountain backdrop. Before long we were back in our 4WD en route to our destination. Before long, the paved road became gravel, then dirt, then dust. Sparse homes became an occasional farm. The road got narrower and rockier, the driver doing well to negotiate puddles and potholes that looked deep enough to swallow a bus. Birds of prey could be seen on occasion and goats and horses scattered the landscape and mountain slopes.

Eventually we reached the entrance to El Yeso National Park, marked by a sign and simple toll gate. The road seemed to get even rockier before we stopped for some photos of the beautiful views around us; untouched wilderness, streams, low cut vegetation, whitecap mountains, cliffs and beneath, a swirl of sandy slopes, browns, reds and purples, minerals making a spectacular collage and clash of colours. We soon made our way to the El Yeso Dam and Maipo River Basin, a welcoming sight of turquoise, vivid blue water. After negotiating our way around the rugged, narrow road chiseled into the cliffs overlooking this lake, our driver had us at the other side where we had time to get out and explore a while. It was overcast, cold and windy yes, but still a memorable view in every direction.

It was still a further half hour drive off the beaten track to get to El Plumo Hot Springs. This whole time we never saw another soul, building or structure. At times, it seemed we were driving in rivers a foot deep, and that our driver had lost track of our road or direction. Eventually, we found what seemed like a half abandoned campsite. A few crumbling stone structures, two tents, two cars, and a pretty little waterfall. I think we were all surprised to learn that this was it, this was the hot springs. The American ladies looked disappointed to say the least. Beside the waterfall there were a couple pools of water. We pulled up the 4WD and got out. Time to test the waters. The waterfall is cold. That ponds cold. That's colder. That ones freezing. Uh oh. But wait, hope. This large one is luke warm. Warm enough to wade in. I was quickly nominated human guinea pig and changed into bathers and thongs. Knee deep, this was bareable. Time for the real test, to lose my jacket and beanie and fully submerge myself. Not bad. Tepid but bareable.

It wasn't long before it started to snow. Nat and eventually Carlos decided to join me. The Americans opted to watch. Keeping most of your body submerged kept you warm enough. That's when we struck gold. Between the rocks, jets of boiling hot water. Salvation. Even digging in the sand beneath our feet revealed hot toasty goodness. How satisfying it was to draw warm relieving nourishment from the natural embrace of the mountain and crust of the earth. Finding just the right spot was like lying in a jacuzzi, in the wilderness, on jagged rocks, in the snow, with a hell of a landcape view. I loved it. I was the first in and last out. Getting out wasn't a lot of fun, and probably didn't cure my cold but it was worth it. As a grand finale, the tour included a picnic lunch here. The rest of the group opted to eat in the warmth of the car. Nat and I sat outside with gentle snowflakes for company, in our jumpers and blankets. We enjoyed hearty sandwiches, olives, cheese, beer, wine, nuts and chocolate in a beautiful and memorable setting. We returned to the others in time to defrost and begin the long drive back to Santiago for our last night. Wed return at 8pm for a simple dinner at an Irish Pub. Wed also finally check out the rooftop bar above our hotel named Room 9. A very cool 'secret themed' bar inspired from prohibition days of the 1920s and 30s. The entrance is behind a secret door and you're then escorted to a secret elevator. All the cocktails are very cool, presented in a secret fashion like inside a book, or teapot or some such. Tomorrow morning we pack our things and prepare for the journey home.

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