During Mariana’s passport run to Chile, she also learned that she was accepted to the project she applied some time earlier. So she needed to go back to UK. Accordingly we decided that we should speed up a bit and first go to Cordoba as direct as possible. This suited me as well, because I wanted to spend some time in warmth for a change. Though there was still time till winter, the cold for me was sufficient to call it winter. So from Junin we started hitchhiking towards north.
After a day’s ride with a guy full of bullshit like he is a police officer – he was not- his wives and girlfriends in different cities – which I doubt the stories- and how the aliens built the pyramids – no comment- and how evolution is a lie – comments surpassed- we arrived to Zapala. From there a guy with an extensive knowledge on the local ice cream shops lifted us. He has tried all the ice cream shops in the region and was giving us hints on how to find the best one. This is one of the times that having a limited knowledge of Spanish becomes an advantage where you do not have to respond or look interested. After that ride a local old guy picked us with an old pick up. Unfortunately he was going a very short distance to the next village but fortunately he knew the area very well. He strongly suggested that we should visit Copahue. This was not a location we ever considered or in fact even checked in our planning phase. He told us about the hot springs being very popular among Argentineans and was worth a visit. He advertised the hiking trails, waterfalls, hot springs and eventually got Mariana when he told us about the araucaria forest. It turns out that while she was studying she got hold of an araucaria seedling but could not grow it and somehow felt responsible towards the whole species of the tree. So instead of pushing forward we decided we can spend a few extra days there and got down in the intersection for Copahue and Caviahue. From where we stand we could see the smoke on the mountain but luckily no fire in the sky. However for the two hours that we tried to hitchhike, all the traffic was from the mountain which made us suspect our decision to go closer but it disappeared when an elderly couple with their family took us to the back of their pick up truck. We again could witness the beauty of the road to Copahue with a wider angle which was mesmerizing.
Mariana practicing accordion, luckily it does not make a sound
Being at the back of the truck, we probably missed the entry checkpoint where they deny entry to people younger than 1250 years. I suspect that was the point where they hand out bathrobes, the official uniform of the town. This peaceful city’s population consists mostly of elderly people in bathrobes walking slowly to various directions. It can be described as an ant colony however the peacefulness makes it more like a snail colony if such a thing exists. Mostly unknown to foreign tourists this place is the heaven for the Argentinean people who suffer from bodily pains, in my personal opinion caused by having antique id cards. They are mostly quite happy and socially warm like most of South America and very eager to talk and share their experiences. However those experiences are mostly which pool cures the specific bone pain immediately after 15 minutes of exposure. I think that the major part of the cure is to change to a different environment and getting out of their home town for these people.
However unlike many other towns around the country it does have a small shopping centre, and a huge medical centre controlling the hot pools. And due to the general clientele there is not even one cheap hostel. However there was one camping area, though designed mostly for camper vans, we were able to put our tent there. And small surprises came in different times. The owner/manager of the hostel recognised my Turkish driving license and knew a few Turkish words. It turns out that he has been working at UN in Kosovo and was exposed to a lot of Turkish truck drivers and learned the language and most importantly was familiar with the driving license which I was using as ID.
Though a bit chilly, the weather was great for hiking. So we took the route towards the volcano. After a bit of a climb, passing by one of the most naïve mother mary sculptures along the way, you can arrive to a more flat point where the border to Chile is. There are sign posts that mark the border but there is not a single person around. We heard that the locals here cross the border on their horses all the time. The landscape makes you proud that you have come this far. It is considered quite cheap in my natural beauty evaluation scala. A smoking volcano on one side and a winding valley with scattered lakes to the other. Definitely worth a visit.
Definitely a mother but not sure if it is Mary.
The valley towards Chile or according to where you stay, towards Argentina
My kind of border
The other side of town
When we get back to the sulphurous town, we had a dip in one of the pools to relax. I generally do not like public pools a lot but after the hike it felt great. There are a number of fountains around the pools with various tastes and purposes with different temperatures and mineral content. After a short trial and error, the mate fountain became our favorite and filled our mate there.
Miracles of the fountains. Obesity should be wiped out with this water.
To the other side of the town there are other hot springs, bubbling pits and smoking cracks on the ground. The only one that can be utilised is called las Maquinitas where you can have a mud bath. I do not have high opinions of mud baths as well, so being walking distance from town I considered them as milestones on a short evening walk.
We didn’t wait too long for a car to stop to our thumbs. Two young narcofriendly guys took us to Caviahue. Luckily they were working there and they knew the owner of a hostel in Caviahue, where they took us. This saved us a lot of time and considering the town does look deserted, it was very helpful too. It was the dead season for the town, so very few people were around or few shops were open. People usually come there when it snows for skiing or working for the tourists. There were no other guests in the hostel so the lady offered us a room instead of a dorm which we happily accepted. They had a great shower. I mention this because after travelling very close to the nature and in small places with a budget, it had been some time that I was exposed to proper working shower. These little things that make you happy change according to the context in life. Adequate level of water pressure and warmth is a blessing and not an easy combination to experience in smaller towns of Patagonia.
The town is in front of Lago Caviahue. I am not sure if the lake or the town named first so I do not know which one gave the name to the other but in cases like this it is most probably the lake. This was the calmest body of water that I have seen at this size. There was not even a ripple on the surface, which is hard even in a cup of water. It gives you the reflection of the mountains far away and makes you sit an extra moment to enjoy the peace.
Lady of Lake in her retirement house
The town is extremely quiet but this is limited till there is snow. The only sound comes regularly from the den for the ski dogs during their feeding times. All of a sudden you hear a blast of barks and after a few moments they are silent. The other interesting bark is that of the araucaria trees. It does indeed look like a tortoise shell. The araucaria forest is a short walk from the town. The branches of the trees are like leaves or you may say that the leaves look like the branches. This is the reason they are also called monkey puzzle. The trees grow on volcanic formations and you can see a lot of hexagonal basalt on the ground like the place is tiled. There are a number of waterfalls on the walking path in the forest which makes it quite a pleasant walk.
Tree bark, an earlier evolutionary step in turtle shells
Just behind the town there are cable cars that go up the ski slopes which were not operational at the time. Since we were too tired and for a long hike we took a shorter path that goes to Laguna Escondida. This is a lake which you can reach after a very steep climb along the bushes where many local dogs join you and show you the path if you ever have doubts on finding the route. From up there you can see the town and the lake and all that is beneath the lake. This place, together with the trees look very archaic to me. I am not sure who put this image in my head but it may be that the artists who depict the dinosaurs probably used similar trees in their illustrations and my mind somehow accepted it like that.
The view of Caviahue
I somehow feel there may be dinosaurs around this place
If time wasn’t a problem we could have stayed a few days more and try to climb the ski slopes as well. It is a beautiful place in touch with unspoiled nature with few but wonderful, helpful and friendly people.