The bad smell of exclusivity

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Mon 3 Oct 2016 00:29
Our expectations were high as we set off in our kayaks to search for the most exclusive hot springs in Chile. An old Chile guidebook (1994) that we picked up along the way in a book swop has a rather appealing  photo of a thermal bath, a deep pool set in an open landscape with two naked young women enjoying the naturally hot water. I imagined we would find a clear water pond within a forest clearing. Franco’s image was much the same, though it also included the two pretty girls. Even if by now they would be at least 45 years old and very wrinkly indeed if they had spent the past 20 years sat in the thermal water. 

Franco paddling in Golfo Tres Montes

Finding the spot proved harder than we thought. The tree canopy was continuous, with the same mix of trees and no sign of a clearing. I had expected that the difference in geology or, at the very least, the change in micro-climate caused by the steam and hot water would have made some impact on the vegetation. As we paddled along Franco called out “I can smell sulphur.” Personally the only thing I could smell was my factor 30 lip balm. Then he shouted “I can smell sea lions”.

We changed course and called in at the Islote Amarillo (Yellow Small Island) southern sea lion colony where we met Crusher, Nudger’s Chilean cousin.

Crusher and his harem

Cormorants have got to be the comedians of the bird world. A bird that has to dry its wings every time it dives can’t be taken seriously. (What is a bird doing diving anyway?) When a cormorant crosses our track, it never ever passes behind Caramor, instead it always flies in front of the boat and just as it draws parallel, it realises ‘it-isn’t-going-to-make-it-and-is-going-to-get-splattered-on-the-genoa’ and has that look of total bafflement that only cormorants can have. Today Franco saw a cormorant shake itself mid-air and nearly fall out of the sky. It had that same _expression_. 

The cormorants on Islote Amarillo watched us kayak past, then, as we started to pull away, one panicked and set off a chain reaction. All the birds on the island took off in one big loop of the bay. The clever ones got back early and rushed around stealing nesting material from the others that were still flying. I suspect the mass stampede was orchestrated by the chief robber.

Cormorants on Islote Amarillo

As we closed the shore we caught a distinct whiff of sulphur, or maybe it was those bad eggs we threw overboard a few days ago. We found a stream with fumaroles and black slime. The water was too hot for a bath but someone had built a small stone retaining wall in the bed that had accumulated three inches of water. Surely this wasn’t it? We paddled on.

More steam and another stream looked more promising. Franco went ahead to search for my clearing in the forest.

Franco in the fumarole jungle

Many paths led into the woods, only to come to dead-ends under large trees.

The end of a path - thousands of years of accumulated biomass

At last we found it, a few metres along the shore, a rockpool the size of a bath with hot water running into it - the most exclusive hot springs in Chile. Exclusive because the only way to get here is by boat and the nearest place you could buy or hire one is several hundred miles away.

Exclusive doesn’t necessarily mean luxurious, and opulent our bath was not (not a Martini in sight). There is, however, something amazing about sitting in a rock hollow sloshing about in bath-warm water with the sea lapping at the shore just a couple of metres away. The stench of sulphur, the mud and leaf litter, the black slimy algae, the seaweed tickling our toes didn’t really matter in the greatness of the universe. 

Deep in thought, we contemplated the absurdity of sailing half way around the world to sit stark naked in a rock puddle in the middle of a wilderness.

Don’t worry lads … I’ll take a photo of Kath next time!

N.B. Nudger was the villain in ‘East Falkland cruising’ (December 2015)