One highlight from my time in Chile was a trip to the Maipo valley near the capital city of Santiago with a group of friends. This is a favourite spot for city slickers looking to get away for the weekend and de-stress, a long valley with a river meandering through it and a multitude of campsites and cabins for rent. Our destination was the thermal baths at a remote location very far up in the valley, near one of the numerous volcanoes in that part of the Andes.
The month was February, summertime in Chile and probably around 30 to 35 degrees. Not unbearably hot, but made more intense due to the very high UV levels in Chile which give the sunlight a fierce burning quality. For that reason, it would have been unwise to make the journey to the thermal baths in the day when the hot water combined with the sun would have made it a less than pleasant experience. So the plan was to rent a cabin where we would stay the night and which thankfully had a nice cool swimming pool where we could lounge around during the day. Then, when the sun went down we would make the trip up the valley to the baths themselves.
So after a relaxing day eating and enjoying said pool we (around eight of us) set off in two cars in search of the famous thermal baths. We soon came to the end of the tarmac highway which ran along the length of the valley, or canyon as it is referred to there, and continued onwards along the rugged dirt track. We had only a general inkling of where we were going and that basically we were to continue driving for around an hour in the darkness until we arrived at the baths and that we would ‘know it when we saw it’.
That was fine in theory, but after an hour’s driving under the dramatically clear starry sky, there was still no sign of the place. In fact, the road was getting progressively rougher and one of the vehicles was really struggling with the streams we were having to ford and the increasingly larger rocks. Some of the party were beginning to grumble and suggested turning back, when suddenly we crested a hill and there it was: hundreds of lights in what appeared to be a campsite full of vehicles and tents. We were ecstatic and quickly paid the entrance fee, parked up and headed for the baths.
I was by now getting very cold and must have been around 11pm. There was a freezing wind cutting through the valley, so stripping down to our bathing costumes felt very counter-intuitive to say the least. The baths themselves were built into the side of the mountain and were fed by a volcanically heated stream that emerged from the ground somewhere higher up. We got changed and jumped right into one of the larger pools near the bottom. I was a little disappointed as it was only lukewarm and not really enough to offset the chill winds. There was a small, much warmer waterfall feeding the pool but it was constantly being hogged by a big Chilean bloke. Still, we managed to keep warm just by fooling around and flicking water at each other. However, someone soon made a wonderful discovery; the next pool up was deliciously hot, although unsurprisingly a lot busier. We relocated and spent several hours there absorbing what are said to be health-giving minerals and gazing up at the stars. In fact there were a surprising number of elderly people or individuals with serious health problems who had made the trip just for that reason. We certainly felt great when we finally headed back at around 2am, so perhaps it really was all those magical minerals we had absorbed.