One of the benefits of living in Concepcion is having relatively easy access to many destinations for recreation and relaxation. One of our favorite weekend getaways is to the Nevados de Chillan, which is home to three active stratovolcanoes, Volcán Nevado, Volcán Viejo and Volcán Nuevo, and hence also some splendid thermal spas.
While there are several marvelous hotels and a casino in alto Chillán, there are also numerous cabañas with pools that offer easy access to the thermal spas and outdoor recreational sports, including horseback riding, canopy, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. As we like to travel with our sidekick, Teddy, a stay at a cabaña is our usual choice. One of the most recent stays was at the Cabañas Piedrapiramide.
Cabañas Piedrapiramide, named for the large, triangular rock jutting up through the ground in the midst of the property, is located at Km 68 from the City of Chillán, and offers 4 large cabañas for 6-8 people, and one small, semi-detached apartment. Each of the cabañas featured a large common room for living and dining, with a fully-equipped, open kitchen, two bedrooms, an expansive deck with built-in bench and a charcoal grill. The semi-detached apartment had a small, fully-equipped, open kitchen, a cozy living/dining area, one bedroom and bath. The latter served as our weekend residence, while a nearby cabaña provided shelter for the family of a cousin, and was where we all gathered for meals and to socialize. In addition to cabañas, the grounds sported two pools (one for small children) and hot tub.
While the cabanas were warm and inviting, it was the mountainous backdrop that provided the greatest appeal. It was a real pleasure to be outdoors, to breath in the fresh air, and rest ones eyes on the rugged beauty. As an early riser, I often had a couple hours to enjoy the sounds of the countryside awakening to a new day. With a cup of French-pressed coffee, and Teddy to keep me company, I said a quiet prayer of thanks for the day, the ups, downs, and ups of life that led me to Chile, and pondered all that had transformed me into a happier, more content woman.
After morning contemplations, Teddy and I strolled down the long, gravel and grass drive to explore the surroundings. To the left of the drive, was an absolutely charming stone house with red roof that looked like it belonged in a shelter magazine. The owners had tamed a stream that crossed the property in front of the house into wood-lined canal with a red arched bridge. The bridge reminded me a Hiroshige woodblock print. The setting of controlled gardening seemed like a civilized oasis in the midst of wildness.
To the right of the drive, the scene was the complete opposite. The stream meandered in a path dictated by the undulations of the land. Horses and cattle served as animated grass mowers, and provided their own fertilizer as well. Rocks littered the meadow, with flowers and herbs growing wherever wind and wildlife had allowed them to sow.
Teddy had quickly become friends with the cabaña owner’s boxer, Oscar, and he often joined us on our morning walks. Indeed, he happily joined in on many of our activities at the cabaña, especially meal times. In turn, Oscar showed Teddy all of his favorite trails and places to visit around the grounds and nearby farms. They always seemed to be run down a path to check out a new sight or sound, and were constant buddies.
On the third night of our stay, Teddy failed to come back with Oscar. I spent most of the night, walking along the trails, the drive and the tertiary road that connected the nearby houses, searching for Teddy, but to no avail. When I eventually went to bed, it was with an extremely heavy heart. In the morning, I jumped in the car to drive along the busy main road. My fear was that Teddy had been hit by a car; my greater fear was that he had fallen into the rushing creek that ran along the thoroughfare. I drove for several miles in both directions, but Teddy was nowhere in my sight of vision.
I returned to the cabañas brokenhearted. Our cousin Boris had just awakened, and when he learned that Ted was still missing, he offered to help in the search. So we set off in his truck, this time with two sets of eyes. Not too far down the road, Boris spotted Teddy tied to a fence at a restaurant that featured teas. The restaurant was closed, and the parking lot gate was locked. However, adjacent to the establishment was a small house, presumably that of the owners. We called out several times, without eliciting any response. So, I climbed through the wire and wood fencing to rescue Teddy, who was tied up with a long strip of barbed wire.
The owners must have seen me untying Ted, and came out to meet us. I was so overjoyed to have Teddy back, and started thanking the couple profusely. However, it didn´t take long to learn that they hadn’t found Ted, but had taken him. Apparently, they had heard of another dog that had run away, and of a reward being offered for its return. When they grabbed Ted, they had thought that he was the other dog. At some point, they must have learned that he wasn’t. When they realized that I was a gringa from the United States, they started demanding money from me. They weren’t going to admit their mistake and just let Ted go. I pretended to not understand what they were saying… in truth, at the time, I didn’t understand everything that they were saying… and I kept saying, “no entiendo, no entiendo,” while pushing Ted into the truck cab.
The man opened the other truck door, and grabbed Ted, saying something about having been to New York, about New Yorkers having money, and wanting compensation for Ted. I pulled Ted towards me, and backed out of the truck. There was no way that I was going to pay a ransom for dognapping. When the man realized that he was getting nowhere with me, he started badgering Boris, demanding that Boris give him the new toolbox that straddled the pickup bed. At that point, Boris said to just get out of there, and we headed back to the cabaña, shaking our heads in anger and frustration. It was the first and so far only time that I had felt any sort of victimizing for being a foreigner in Chile, and it was an experience not quickly forgotten.
When my mate learned about what had transpired, he made a point of driving there to personally “thank” the man for “finding” Teddy. Essentially, he was letting the man know that what transpired was despicable, without actually having to exchange any explicit commentary. As for Teddy, we swabbed the barbed wire cuts around his neck, and babied him for the rest of the day. He was so happy to back, but was left traumatized for weeks. Every time that a car passed while taking Teddy on his daily walks, he would nearly jump out of his skin. I was relieved when the damaging memories of his experience finally faded away.
When not caught up in dognapping melodrama, we had a fabulous time exploring the various activities available during the off-season between summer and winter. One day was devoted completely to the Termas de Chillán. While the Termas de Chillán features a first-class hotel, with pools, spas, restaurants, and bar, we were fortunate to have the keys to a condo in one of the two high-rises on the Termas de Chillán campus. Friends of Boris love to ski, and had invested in a permanent residence for their family. The condo had an impressive sky-high view of both the grounds and the mountain range in the backdrop.
During the winter months, Termas de Chillán, and really the whole region as well, is a destination for ski and snow lovers. They offer various types of skiing experiences, as well as dog sledding, snowmobiles, snow paintball, and a mountaineering club for children. During the summer and warmer weather, horseback excursions, canopy, mountain biking, golf, mountain climbing, paintball, canyoning, hiking, tennis, and the ski lift for additional mountain viewing. As our group ranged in ages from four to somewhere in the mid-70s, the more adventuresome of us settled for the ski lift ride and horseback riding.
The ski lift ride was simply exhilarating, albeit a little unnerving without the snow to disguise just how high up we were. Although not usually afraid of heights, there were some moments when I was very happy to be looking through the camera lens instead of through just my own eyes. There were some stretches that seemed such a long way down, but it was worth the swallowing of fear for the ride provided stunning views of the rugged, craggy Andes Mountains, as well as some spectacular shots of the volcanoes, which still bore traces of the previous winter’s snow.
Once our feet were firmly planted on the ground, my mate and I headed over to the corral to have our bottoms firmly planted on horseflesh. It’s rare for us to ever pass up on the chance to become one with the fluid motions of a horse. There is something so emotionally moving about bonding with these noble creatures.
For this adventure, I left my camera behind, not wanting to risk having it damaged again (someone else had carried the camera on a previous riding excursion). It was unfortunate that I didn’t have a small pocket camera, for our guide, who was aware of our riding capabilities, had led us up into the mountainside to an area of fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots. Even though the smell of sulfur was strong, there were a large number of bikini-and-swim trunk-clad tourists apply mud to their skin, and reclining on the banks of the volcano-formed pools. It was impressive to see water literally boiling in some small pools, and to see the steam rising into the air.
Our guide spoke of another large, natural thermal pool that lay beyond where we had ridden, but it was a half-day’s journey away. As much as we were tempted to continue, it would have been very improper to leave family waiting back at the corral, wondering what had befallen us. So, we made plans to contact the guide for a personal journey as time in our busy schedules became available.
On our last day, we caravanned to Valle Hermoso (meaning Beautiful Valley, in English), located in a forested area of the Andes, about 80 km from Chillán. This tourist destination offered rappel, canyoning, horseback riding, camping, picnic grounds, canopy, as well as a spa and thermal pools. Our intentions were to enjoy the three pools, two of which were thermal and one icy cold. That day, one thermal pool registered 40 degrees C., and the other 35 degrees C.
The Parque de Aguas (“Water Park”) of Valle Hermoso grounds, as well as the vistas, were very beautiful. However, I found it difficult to enjoy the pools. Not only were the pools very crowded, but the water was also murky with the mud some guests had smeared on their bodies, and there was gravel in the basins. It was too much for my persnickety sensibilities to accept. After some short-lived moments in both thermal pools, I elected to spend most of my time in the freezing cold pool. Being an extreme Northern girl had its advantages, for that pool was primarily empty and clean.
Others seemed to enjoy the pools, so the experience is really a personal predilection. In general, the Parque de Aguas was very affordable (about USD$10 for general admission, Seniors $8, Children age 6-12 $6), compared to other thermal spas and pools in other regions of Chile.
As the day began to wan, a front of clouds and cold were beginning to set in on what had been a sunny and warm weekend. So, we eventually made our way back to the cabañas to begin the task of repacking, and making the two-hour journey back home. It had been a fun-filled time, with photos and memories to carry us through the upcoming months of winter.
For more information, please visit these websites:
Termas de Chillán:
Valle Hermoso and Parques de Aguas: