On my second last day in Puerto Varas, Chile (Feb 2 2013) – I woke up with my mind and heart set on discovering a little known natural hot spring called Termas de Ralún and visiting the Saltos del Petrohue (Petrohue waterfalls). There was a brief mention of the hot spring in my copy of The Rough Guide to Chile. The hot spring is on the northeastern shore of the Petrohue river and borders the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park. Any time I hear or read about hot springs and spas – I want to go!! Let alone, this one is completely set within a forest and without any infrastructure.
How cool is that!? A real natural hot spring. Free of charge. No big crowds. A hidden gem!! I was super excited that morning.
Despite my bit of advance research which involved chatting with all the staff at my hostel, finding the location of the bus stop in Puerto Varas and the direction the bus should be heading – I “assumed” the bus to have frequent service. That morning I arrived at the bus stop by 8:30 am but I assumed wrong! I was not early enough, the bus left at 8 am and another is not due until lunch time. I asked the other bus drivers and locals “what are my options?” I was suggested to take the bus to Ensenada and then switch to the bus that will take me to Ralún. The BIG question – when will the bus come to take me to Ralún????
After I got off the bus – I looked up and down the “highway” – then I started a little conversation with myself.
“Karen, what have you gotten yourself in today?? You are standing on an unknown highway in Southern Chile, no map, just a guidebook, food and water for lunch, a towel and a phone without a local SIM card. Have you gone mad!?! All this craziness for an unknown hot spring!!?!? Most of all – you do not know when will the next vehicle come along, let alone the next bus.”
Talk about asking the Universe for a miracle!
Well the more I talked to myself, the more scared I became – or desperate may be the more appropriate word. At this point, I do not remember why I thought I had had had to go to the hot spring first and then the waterfalls. Guess I was so scared, I was in tunnel-vision mode and could not think of plan B or C. What happened next could be considered madness. I stuck my thumb into the air when the next car came into view – fortunately, the car stopped. With my broken Spanish, I asked the 2 men if they are headed to Ralún or Termas de Ralún. Their answer “Si Señorita!” I was beaming with joy!
I did not even stop to think – these 2 men could be dangerous, not-to-be trusted with my life. That is how focused I was at getting to the hot spring. They attempted to converse with me but they soon gave up as I could not understand most of their questions in Spanish. They carried on with their own conversation and I sat in the back of the car. I was really fortunate that they were just 2 kind men who was willing to help a stranded traveler. They dropped me right at the entrance of the hot spring and we bid farewell to each other.
I was getting excited – there was a small shop to the left of the overhead sign, so I popped in there to verify my location. The shop keeper confirmed I was on track and just need to walk about 1 km down the road to the river, cross the river by way of a small boat and walk another 600 m to find myself at the hot spring. I finally started to relax as I knew I will be at the hot springs very very soon! Luckily there were small signage along the way to reassure me I was on the right path.
After the campgrounds, the road becomes a simple walking path. The sky was blue, the sun was shining – I could not complain.
As the path continues gently downhill, I know that is a good sign. Soon after, I was at the dock to cross the Petrohue river. Even though I am a city girl, I love it when I am surrounded by nature! It cost me 4000 Chilean pesos ($8 CAD) for a return trip to cross the river.
After crossing the river, walking alongside the river was such a special experience. The views were breath-taking.
When I arrived at the site of the Termas de Ralún, it was nothing I have ever seen or anything I could have imagined. A couple of shovels laid on the black sands, with a water pump on the side of the river. There was a couple of small pools with the largest occupied by a family from Germany and some young adults from Argentina. When I took a closer look, it was simply created by 2 dams – one dam allows the water to enter into the hand dug pool from the near by stream from within the forest. The other dam allows water from the pool to exit into the Petrohue river. Simple! Beautiful.
The geothermal energy from the ground simply heated the water that was allowed into the pool. As I sat down and moved around the pool, I found the hot spots and cool spots. Then I got to wonder where is the “cold plunge” of the hot spring experience? Well, I soon found out when a German man jumped into the river and took a long swim. So I got out of the pool to test the water temperature, it was FREEZING cold glacier water!
As I was not a strong swimmer, I just splashed the river water onto myself. I relaxed and enjoyed my lunch by the river. When I talked to the Argentinians I found out they are headed to the Petrohue waterfalls as well and they knew the bus schedule!! The Universe was helping me once again.
We all walked back and crossed the river together and took the bus to the Saltos del Petrohue.
Thinking back to my first hitch hiking experience, I believe that if the 2 men in the car made me feel uncomfortable before getting into the car, I would have waited for the next car.
From this day’s adventure, I learned that if it is meant to be, it will be.
And, when you want something, all the Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
~ Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”