Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hot Springs

By Alex Mehlin

Since we have left Valparaiso, The Gypsy Train has been on a search for hot springs. We have looked long and far searching the seemingly endless array of South American hot spring only to long for the perfect bath.

The idea bath is pictured in a remote valley, an underground river leaks scolding water from a crack in the rocks forming a pool. We drive up, park, our muscles cry out for relief from the cold night air and we long for a soothing soak after a day spent hiking. We undress crack open a few beers and jump in.

We have found everything but this idea situation.

What we have found are: Luxury spas, overpriced algae infested pools, empty pools, community bathing grounds, whore houses with hourly rates, cold pools, splashing children in municipal swimming pools with water slides and mapped out pools at the end of the world that don’t exist.

For a while it became a joke, every day we would promise all the Gypsies a night spent at the hot springs, Mike always grew excited only to be let down. Eventually the joke became old, but we never gave up our search.

We drove with our newest crop of Gypsies into the deserts of Northwest Argentina. The map promised a hotsprings. We expected very little. The surrounding country side was nothing more than an empty moonscape. I wondered how any body of water would survive a day in the heat.

We pulled up to an unsuspecting goat herding village. A small hotel sat amidst the dusty adobe homes. Alaena snuck around back and tested the water, a warm clean sensation rushed over her hand. She jumped back over the fence, her face tattooed with a smile.

I dreamed that this could be it. We rang the door bell. No one came. Alaena, anxious to get in the water, rang again, this time for 15 seconds.

We waited. Finally an elderly lady came to the door. She whipped the corroded mascara from her tired eyes as she unlocked the glass door. I instantly knew we had awakened her from her siesta. A rush of Antique air passed us as we entered. She was dressed as if to meet hoards of customers at any minute.

A rosary hung from the full rack of keys to the vacant rooms. A tacky photo of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns hung above the seventies decor. It seemed as if this lady was preserving a business that was long dead.

Alaena asked in her most innocent voice. “Can we please pay you to camp in your backyard and use your pool?” Alaena’s charm usually pays off; I stood smiling anticipating a welcoming yes.

Through her cracked lipstick the words spilled out. “No, you pay and stay in the hotel or you do not use the pool.” The rock hard flatness of her voice left nothing to negotiate. She was not going to budge. It was if we asked to borrow her first born.

The prices were set at an exuberant 200 pesos for a single, 250 for double and topping the charts of luxury her ancient suites came in at 330 pesos.

We are poor travellers. There was no way we were going to pay these prices. With shattered dreams of cold beers consumed in a warm concrete pool gazing into the arid startlit night, we walked back to the bus.

The Gypsy Train drives on, continually searching for our romanticised perfect pool. We know that one day we will find it tucked deep in the wilderness, free of splashing children, angry old women and filled with sexy travellers.

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