Maipo River, Chile
12/25/2017 - 12/25/2017
I was up a bit early- around 6- to see the sun come up behind the Andes. It's not quite a sunrise, as you don't actually see the sun, just the light creating a silhouette of the mountains. The neighbors who had been partying all night took this opportunity to wish the whole neighborhood a Merry Christmas, before bringing the party back inside.
We had leftovers for breakfast and hurried out the door to our tour. We thought pickup was going to be at 8, but saw a message saying it was at 7. They may have sent it a while ago, but we saw it at 6:58.
The van picked up a few more people, and we were off to the Andes! It's about an hour and a half drive. The scenery starts out city, changes into small roadside villages, and then eventually into unpopulated mountains. Our path followed a river almost all of the way. At some point, we started to see little "vacation villages." There would be a small general store/bar, a couple of inn-cabins, and maybe a horseback riding center.
At one such village, right near the park entrance we stopped.
While some were taking a restroom break, I explored the park visitor center cabin. It's one room with not much to see (except a beautiful view of the mountains). I saw a poster that amused me incredibly though. It featured a picture of an invasive species of bird. Part of the poster showed how to identify the bird. Part of the poster showed what to do with it if you found one- catch it in a cardboard box with holes and inform a ranger. But really, who carries a cardboard box as part of their hiking gear? And how would you catch the bird unless you're a Disney princess and it lands right on you?
We took off on our hike, without any cardboard boxes or hopes of catching birds.
The path was wide, but very rocky. It didn't generally have or need any sort of rail or fall-protection, but right by the ranger's cabin, it did. I got a splinter on it immediately. Perhaps I set a record for the fastest to injure myself on this hike.
The first part was pretty steep, and I was glad to have a hiking pole. My arms were feeling the burn because my legs needed help. Maybe it wasn't the most brilliant idea to hike 2 mountains yesterday and then try another at high altitude today.
However slow we were going, the scenery was beautiful. The fields were covered in desert-type wildflowers of brilliant hues. The peaks around us were snowcapped. And there were no people at all in sight, other than our group. The end point of the trek was a stop at the river.
The river is melted glacier (we had a view of the glacier). It is icy cold and felt great. We relaxed by it, just absorbing the serenity and quiet. And then it was time to return.
We took the same path down as we did up. For me, the going was much easier, although again, it was very useful to have the poles to prevent sliding down all of the rocks.
At this point, we were all hungry, so we went to a shaded place nearby to have a picnic lunch of bread, cold cuts, spreads, and Chilean wine. We got to try the famous Chilean grapes. Yesterday, the guide had told us about how these specific grapes suffered extinction in France. 100 years later, a Frenchman was drinking wine in Chile and realized that they still had these long-lost grapes (although they called them a different name). So France started importing these grapes from Chile.
From there we took the van through rocky "roads" to the hot springs. I use the word road very loosely. For a little bit, we were on a surface that was mostly paved, but whenever the water crossed it, it was more like naturally cobblestoned. Quickly, it stopped being paved at all, and was pretty much just a pile of rocks without vegetation. The going was slow and bumpy, but eventually we made it.
The hot springs themselves are heated geothermally, as this area of the mountains is volcanic. (The guide yesterday told us that the volcanoes that surround Santiago are still active and occasionaly erupt, displacing people.)
The water is full of minerals, but pleasantly not sulfur. It flows from one pool to the next, so the top one is scalding (I couldn't even get a foot in), but the bottom one is just hot. The 3rd one from the top was about the hottest that I could sit in, and the 4th was comfortable.
Our guide gave us a tip- you get in one and then have to get out, then get in again. She said tha tif you stay in too long, the heat + the elevation (about 2 km) cause headaches. I didn't get a headache, but when getting out of each pool, I did feel dizzy for a few seconds.
While I enjoyed the way the heat felt on my sore muscles, some of the other group members didn't even go in. I can see how the extremely-lacking facilities could be a turn-off.
The "'changing rooms" were wide open rooms in the only building on the premesis. The doors weren't covered, so anybody walking past had a full view of everything. And while there were 2, they weren't marked female or male in any way. One restroom had a fully-transparent window looking right into the toilet, so that anybody outside couldn't help but see whoever was doing their business. The other had an opaque window, but the toilet didn't have a seat, there was no paper, and the sink wouldn't stop running. Both had what I hope was just water from the shower all over the floor. The path between the "facilities house" and the pools, as well as between all of the pools was dirt-covered rock. Of course, when the wind picked up, the dusty dirt flew into our faces as we relaxed in the pools.
Despite the poor facilities, I thought the pools were worth it. The view was amazing, and they were very relaxing. My muscles felt infinitely better afterwards.
From here, we made a final stop for a Christmas snack/toast at a waterfall. Again, the going was pretty rocky, but the view was great.
Fully fed, refreshed, and sunburnt, we headed back into Santiago. We were too tired to go out for dinner, so we finished off the leftover Chinese food and the supermarket food we already had in the apartment.