Chile Day 3: Glacier Hike and Hot Springs

Spoiler alert....... I got my full South American marathon after all!!!!!

We had booked a hot spring and glacier tour through Eco Chile for Monday. We tried to do most of this trip on our own on the cheap, but we also wanted to get put of the city and see the mountains, so we decided to splurge on one guided tour for a glacier and hot springs adventure.

Our guide, Mario, pick us up bright and early at our hotel and we headed south out of Santiago. The highway soon turned to a narrow twisting back road with a sharp drop off down to the river. The towering mountains we saw from the city we now right around us. We stopped in San Jose de Maipo, a little village, to buy lunch. We got empanadas at the bakery, water and cookies at the market, and apples and avocados at the fruit sand, before heading off again. Soon the road turned into a dirt track and we completely left all signs of civilization. We were in an SUV, but we were bouncing all over the road. There were a lot of trucks coming from the mines up in the hills, that kicked up so much dust that we couldn't see anything. This made it especially scary when we pulled out to pass them. I was pretty sure we would die either by hitting a bump and then sliding off the cliff or by hitting a truck head on. But eventually we reached the trail head in El Morado.

note the lack of roads to San Jose de Maipo and El Morado

We grabbed our packs and headed off. It was about a 5 minute walk to the ranger station where we needed to check in. I was dying. The race yesterday made me feel pretty darn good about my fitness, but the start of the hike totally made me doubt it. I was gasping and my heart was racing. I had totally under estimated the effect of the altitude. Mario went to sign us in while R and I exchanged " we are screwed" looks.

And then we were off. We could see the glacier 16 long, steep kilometers in front of us. The first section was very steep and all I could do was watch my feet and try to keep moving. I just tried to remind myself to look up occasionally and remember how completely amazing the view was. I have seen a lot of mountains in my life but these were by far the most rugged and spectacular.

After an hour we stopped for a quick break by a spring. I ate my apple, which was both huge and amazing. There is nothing like fresh local fruit. As we ate, we were approached by a group of horses. The farmers turn them out to graze all summer and fall. I fed one my apple core and made friends. 

But we still had a long way to go. Luckily next section wasn't quite as steep and the footing was a little easier. An hour later we stopped for lunch by a little lake. I housed my cheese empanadas and then cut open the avocado. Holy yum. It was so flavorful and perfectly ripe. I also drained half a liter of water. It was sunny and the air was very, very dry. I worked up quite a sweat, but it dried almost instantaneously and I constantly felt thirsty.

After lunch we had only about 30 minutes until we reached the glacier, but it was steep and rocky. It was rough, but I was determined to touch that stupid glacier. And then finally we were there. It was crazy to be touching ice that is thousands of years old. We didn't linger long at the glacier because of the risk of rockslides and avalanches.

Going down was amazing. It was a little rough on the joints, but at least I could breathe! Since I could breathe, I could also talk so I had a long conversation with Mario about Chilean history, politics and culture. And I had a lot more energy to admire the stunning scenery (and do a few cartwheels).

5 hours and 32 kilometers later we were sunburned, dirty, and back at the car. Hot springs time!! We headed even further south and east on the crazy, bump dirt path to the springs. The Baños Colina hot springs are nestled at the bottom of the San José volcano. When we got there we had a celebratory tailgate with Pisco sours, avocados, hard boiled eggs, and nuts.

The hot pools were fed by a single hot spring that fed into a pool at the top of the hill. This flowed into a pool below, which in turn fed into another pool, and so on. So the pools got cooler as you went down the hill. We started in the fourth pool and worked our way up. Omg, nothing has ever felt as good as a hot mineral bath after a half marathon and a day of hiking. It really felt like something out of a movie to be in this hot spring fed pool looking a condors sweeping over the snowy peaks of the Andes. I could have stayed there forever. 

Sadly, we eventually had to head back on the bouncy road back to Santiago. I had been worried the drive back on that road in the dark, but I was so blissed out on hot springs and Pisco sours and so tired, that nothing bothered me. I ended up passing out on R's lap for most of the ride. As I was lying there I started thinking- I had done 5k on the treadmill in the gym early in the morning, then hiked 32k. That mean that I was a tiny 5k away from doing a marathon. Yes I was tired, but this was an amazing opportunity. When I would be in South America again and just need 5k to complete a marathon distance in one day? So yes, I hopped on the treadmill again when we got back to the hotel and pounded out those 3 miles. 

Meeting my marathon goal after all, touching a glacier, being surrounded by the beautiful mountains all day, and finishing with hot springs and cocktails. Does life get any better??