Sulphuric Thermal Baths and Snow Storms – Copahue, Argentina

After arriving home at 3am, we proceeded to sleep in until 3 the next day, at which time we loaded up the truck and were off. Andres lent us his truck for a few days so that we could go exploring around the province. The only catch was that the truck was erm, shall we say, temperamental. Max never really has to drive in the city, so this is the first time I have seen him behind the wheel.

We had a five hour jaunt ahead of us and after the first hour of my attempts to distract him, I was impressed with his strong sense of focus. I played DJ and prepared snacks while he navigated the highways, low ways, and no ways. Somehow we forgot to bring a knife but hey, no problem. My travellers mentality kicked in and I improvised cutting everything with a nail file.

The scenery went from flat desert land with dirt, rocks and weeds as far as you could see to steep mountain cliffs, sparse forests and the odd wooden shack accompanying the sheep pasture nearby. I thought about how simply these people lived so far away from everything. We were getting pushed around quite alot by the strong winds gusting over the road. I tried to imagine what it would be like in the dead of winter, harsh winds whistling, snow pelting the cottage, with a day long horse ride to your nearest neighbour.

As we curved around a bend, I spotted what looked like a snow covered field in the distance. I thought it was a bit strange and out of place and I was right. Knowing of my obsession, Max told me cautiously that it was indeed not snow, but a large white lake of salt. My eyes grew pie wide and he had to hold me back from jumping out and rolling around in the stuff. I like salt. Alot. And it would have been great to sprinkle some on our sandwiches.

We opted not to stop because we still had quite a ways to go and aside from the sun setting, the weather was beginning to turn. We pressed on through the endless stretch of deserted highway bidding goodnight to the sun. We got to see about 20 minutes of the full moon rising up over the jagged peaks illuminating the land like a floodlight before the heavy rolling clouds swallowed her up. Gulp.

I searched the sky for some relief but it appeared we were driving into some kind of storm. Ok, no big deal. Not until the winds began to whip freezing rain at us, blurring our vision which was already obscured by the total darkness. I watched as the rain seemed to fall horizontally in the dim glow of the headlights. Expert driver that he is, Max safety weaved us up the steep narrow mountain dirt roads all the while contending with a truck that would just stop whenever it felt like it.

We finally turned a bend to see the small village of Copahue, where we would be spending the night. The smell of sulphur was strong and reminded me of Rotorua in New Zealand. We checked out a few places and ended up settling on the hidden gem of an apartment that Max accidentally stumbled upon when asking for directions. We made a small dinner and played a few games before snuggling deep into the 6 quilt covered bed. I closed my eyes and drifted off listening to the raging storm outside.

We woke up and headed to the thermal baths, which is pretty much the only thing to do here. Its a tiny tiny little village inhabited only 5 months out of a year due to the severe weather conditions. We arrived at the very tail end, infact the last weekend before everyone left for the winter. Before you have any kind of treatment, you must get a `medical` where the lady said what sounded pretty basic (from what I could interpret) while taking your blood pressure.

Our elevation was almost 3000 at the foot of the Copahue volcano which emits gases enriching the waters giving them unique therapeutic qualities. This place is recognised by the WHO and is supposedly one of the three best thermal centers of the world. We wandered around the silent sterile halls (much like a hospital) of the huge balneotherepy facility which boasts several treatments, including our chosen two, thermal baths and massage.

When it was time for our `bath`, we were ushered into a small change room, then into a room with a oversize bathtub filled with murky green water. We stewed in the hot water for our 15 minutes and I wondered exactly why you had to wait three hour intervals between baths. I guess it was ok but nothing really that out of the ordinary. Except that the water came from a volcano.

Because it was raining like crazy since we arrived, we got to see lots of waterfalls tumbling over the rockfaces. We had some time before our massage so we decided to go visit one. You know when you just can`t seem to get the picture? Well, this was one of those days. First attempt, only half my head. Second attempt, both of us, but no waterfall. Third attempt, this pic was perfect except that I somehow managed to screw my face up into the most odd look. The fourth picture, was the best I think, because even tho there is no waterfall, I can actually HEAR us laughing whenever I see it.

So next it started to snow, and hard! In a way, I was kind of excited about it. I haven`t had much snow over the past two years and it reminds me of home. It didn`t take long for the novelty to wear off and within minutes, I was scrambling toward the solace of the building.

I showed Max my traditional bolt-from-the-vehicle-to-the-nearest-door act which if you live in a cold climate, you will well know. He followed suit and we were just unbundling as we watched the wet slushy snow slap the pavement outside when oh no! He had left the lights on in the truck. So there is a picture of him waving as he remedied the situation.

We went for our massages…ahhhhhh. Initially, we were going to leave that day having exhausted the limited possibilities of things to do in the area. But after the massage, we decided to stay over night and do it all again the next day before driving back to Neuquen.

That night, we played a new game I learned called Generale with dado (dice). This game is very much like Yahtzee and I wondered how long it would take for him to regret teaching it to me…me being the Yahtzee queen and all.

Woke up at 7am the next morning to take our first bath which was in a building separate from the main. It was really windy and when I opened the door a pile of papers flew out of the truck at top speed. Poor Max chased them down the road for blocks but ended up getting them all back.

This bath was more like a carved out hole in the ground and if you were not careful, you could burn yourself. There were spots where the water was bubbling and boiling water was coming in from the ground. Infact, we had to add cold water intermittently or we would cook. We went for our last massage and halfway through the power went out. I guess this is normal here with the isolated location and all. Good thing massages don´t require electricity. So, after we had done all the ‘healing’ we came to do, we packed up the truck and made our way back to Neuquen.

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