90 degree dry heat, constant winds and roads as flat as Nebraska were our three constant enemies as we made our way from the beaches of the Atlantic coast to the foothills of the Andes. I’m writing this from the sheltered confines of the van as we meander our way south on Ruta 40, destination unknown. The nice thing about not having a plan is that we can adjust our route as we see fit, and the route adjusts us as it sees fit. Yesterday day marked our fifth day in the van and Marlies 25th rotation around the sun, to celebrated we planned to visit some hot springs to relax, eat, drink and repeat. As we’ve now learned, the GPS is to be trusted, but only to a certain degree.
We filled our gas tank, tripled checked the four corners of the Internet with the spotty gas station wifi, and began our 62 kilometer adventure to Termas de La Lahuen, for a proper birthday fiesta. 62 kilometers of dusty washboardy, oftentimes single lane gravel road, build up the anticipation of said hot springs with every pedal stomping incline and likewise first gear down hill crawl. 3 hours, one unanticipated 26 km detour (thank you GPS), 5 lakes, and we arrived to misting rain and cool mountain air at the hot springs. We filled a water bottle with wine and commenced exploring the 3 different partially developed hot pots along a creaky wooden board walk that even featured a suspended wooden cable bridge. As the rain picked up, our fellow spa seekers dropped off and we soon had the place virtually to ourselves. The unique feature of the second and third soaking pools was the gack like thermal mud that lined the bottom, soon we were treating ourselves with full on mud baths as the rain poured down. The goal for the afternoon was to end up at the thermal pools inside a decrepit building perched about the natural pools we were enjoying. After sampling our third and cleanest hot pot, we rushed through the rain, up to the building, to enjoy our much anticipated indoor thermal experience, only to find a dusty, shuttered beautifully abandoned structure.
The four of us chilled and soaked to the bone, crammed into the van and using our last dry kitchen towel to dry off, changed into dry clothes and layered up for the first time in Argentina. Soon we were back onto the increasing muddy, narrower, deteriorating road, headed for our first trailhead to sleep for the night. Senda Paimun is a 26 km, two day one way hike that winds along a Paimun Lake to the base of the National Parks namesake, Volcán Lanín. After the most intense climb of the journey thus far, we were disappointed to find the trailhead sans parking lot, on a narrow stretch of the road 4 kilometers from the Chilean border. After heated discussion we chose to retreat to the nearest established campground to ask permission to park overnight alongside the trailhead. Permission denied, the cordial, fast speaking camp host explained that there was no option for a shuttle for the hike and that it would be $28 USD to camp overnight. Defeated we pushed on back down the road from which we came, to find our most scenic campsite yet, perched over the outlet to Lago Verde in a patch of old growth trees. Pesto Raviolis, wine, good company, and celebrating Mars 25th was the order of the evening; before long, the last bottle was finished we were cozied up for the the chilly night.