Pozo Omega Hot Spring, Chile

30 Aug

Sailing solo up the channels of Chilean Patagonia I was always cold. I got used to it after a while, but even after a night in a cozy bunk or warmning my bones by the diesel heater, I would always return to a basic state of coldness. My hands and feet were the worst, and parts of both heels were numb for months afterwards. I stumbled across mention of a remote natural hot spring, called Pozo Omega, and it drew me northward, even though would be a sixty-some mile deviation from my rhumbline to Valdivia.

My bad choice in cold weather wear (rubber dish washing gloves with liners underneath) led to dry, but perpetually cold, hands:

I got all my supplies together days before: handheld GPS, razor, shaving cream, soap, towel, and a couple liters of tank water in a plastic bottle for washing off the rotten egg smell afterwards.

I made landfall at about 9:30 p.m., tied the boat in with three shorelines led to trees, and then ventured off for the hot springs in the dinghy with all the aforementioned gear. 

For starters, it was a dark as the inside of a cow, and the light from my flashlight was just swallowed by the darkness. I had the handheld GPS, but one must first know how to use the handheld GPS. It initialized and connected with the satellites, I threw it in my pocket, and it was only when I really needed it that I realized I couldn’t figure out any of its key functions without the manual. My chances of finding the hot springs in the dark were pretty slim, but I made it to their rough location.

I thought I would use my sense of smell; I would sniff for the telltale sulfur smell of hot springs. To backtrack a bit, I had just crossed the Golfo de Penas, a body of water with a nasty reputation. Most sailors try to get out of there without dallying. In fact, the Belgians, the German, and the Swedes, who I'd been crossing paths with every week or so in the channels, took advantage of the good weather to leave the Golfo de Penas behind them and never look back. Why walk through the valley of the shadow of death when you can run? I, instead of doing the same, elected to stay there and recreate. Only now that I had successfully crossed this loathsome body of water and found a snug harbor, I ventured back into the Golfo de Penas, in the middle of the night, in an eight foot rubber boat, and motored in circles sniffing the air like the village idiot. I realized the sulfur smell of a hot spring is almost indistinguishable from the general low tide, rotting mollusk smell of the shoreline. I abandoned my sniffing.

By very lucky chance I spotted steam with the flashlight. This was just a little double-D flashlight, and I was putting along far enough offshore not to hit any rocks. I pulled the dinghy up in a likely spot and started exploring. There was about a 300-foot stretch of shoreline where scalding hot water spewed out everywhere. I followed a few streams up and they disappeared into the hillside at just 15-20 vertical feet above sea level. You’d think I’d learn the first time, but no, I scalded my hand three times before I convinced myself that yes, all of this water was really hot.

I kept pushing down the shoreline and then spotted it, the perfect natural pool. I stripped down, opened my bottle of malbec, and slipped in. The stars were making a brief appearance, I was right on the tideline looking out over the water, and it was just what I’d been dreaming of, except, it wasn’t quite hot enough.

To qualify this, it is damn cold there, and I sat in this pool for about twenty minutes and didn’t get cold, which is saying a lot, but I wanted it a bit hotter to really cook myself. From some of the scouting around I’d done I figured there was a way to divert more hot water to this pool. I dried off, got dressed, and went bushwhacking again, but once I was warm and dry I decided to come back the next day with some amateur hydrological equipment.

I gathered my things, launched the dinghy, and headed back. My little outboard is 3.3 horsepower, almost enough to get the dinghy on a plane with one person in the boat. I’ve found that if I lock the motor in place, then move way up forward, the boat will break onto a semi-plane. So there I was, in total darkness, riding up on the bow of my dinghy like a Labrador Retriever in the front seat of a pickup, still taking slugs of my malbec, covering a mile of open water in the Golfo de Penas. As I did this it occurred to me that this was not normal behavior, and probably pretty dangerous.

The next day I diverted some scalding water to the pool, which was about right for three people, if you were all good friends, and had the spa day I'd been dreaming about:


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