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This road was narrow and gravel and headed into the hills, but I gamely started walking it. I didn't really expect any traffic there, but a car did appear and the driver picked me up. He was going to Pallaco, which was the township before the national park there. I was tempted to ride with him, as he explained it was another 2 km walk up to the park, and of course the walking in the park itself, but I decided I really wanted to go to some hot springs. It was by then one in the afternoon, and I didn't have sufficient time to go into the park and return to town by 8, which was when I had to again meet the people with the equipment who would be taking me up the volcanoe the next day. I wasn't sure if I had time for hot springs either, especially as the roads from there on were gravel and not well traveled, but there was a better chance of getting a lift back from the hot springs when people finished bathing than from Pallaco, where traffic would be sparse indeed.
When we came to a turning, the driver stopped to let me out, saying the thermas were that way, but his road was to the left, and mine would be to the right. I went over with him several times in what I thought was decent Spanish whether he was sure I should get out there or not, and I was in fact standing outside the vehicle showing him on my sketch map how the road should turn south, to the right. Could this be my mistake? It turned out he had set me out at a road to a therma, but not the one I wanted, so I got back in, and he took me a couple more kilometers to a second crossroads.
This one was helpfully marked for Tres Saltos, 5 km. These "3 waterfalls" happened to be near the road that went to the thermas, so I knew I was on the right track. At that crossroads were a trio of young travelers with backpacks trying to get to the park. They practically rushed my driver, but he had told me he was only going half a km further to visit someone before continuing on to Pallaco, so I had them leave him alone. In return, they told me that the big bus that hadn't stopped for me, probably the only one that day in that area, had just come by and I'd missed it by only 5 minutes.
I don't think the bus was going out to the thermas, but it would have carried me that 5 km. As it was, there was no further traffic on that road, so I had to walk on to Tres Saltos. However, it was a great walk. The driver had carried me up a hill and the walk was now down. It passed alongside rolling farmland with bulls in green pastures kept there by rickety wooden fences, and preventing me from acting on the urge to check out where the sound of rushing water was coming from on their side of the fence. The road was no wider than a trail. Skies were now blue, it was a warm spring day, and I was feeling fine, getting some exercise.
Signs along the way marked now and then the remaining distance to 3 Saltos and to a trout fishing stream nearby. Eventually I came to a side road marked a km for 3 Saltos. Although it was out of my way, I was curious. The road led up a hillside from which I could see a bridge below over the river that was on my sketch map and ran down from the thermas, and I could see the road, with no traffic in sight. AND, I could for the first time, see the snowy summit of Villarica Volcano poking incongruously above the clouds, like a mirage above the waves of heat in a desert.
The road led up a hill and then down again past a few houses of farmers in the commune there, and ended at a spot of land with a waterfall pouring off the facing hillside. The road led past a gate, where I was approached by the landowner who said he charged 300 pesos for visits to the falls. This was the price of two bus rides or three pisses in public toilets in Santiago, so I handed over the coins and crossed the man's land and found his signs pointing to the other two falls, one of which was just upriver from the first. At the base of the lower fall, I doffed my clothes and had a swim of no more than a minute in the frigid water. I washed the sweat from my shirt and hat and put both on wet and walked in the sunshine back up the road in my bathing suit. Before I left, the man, who had come over to mow the grass near the pool, asked me to sit and chat in the shade of a tree, but I demurred, explaining that I had no car and had to be on my way.
When I rounded the top of the hill to head back down to the bridge over the river to the road to the thermas on the other side, I saw that Villarica had shed its last clouds, and the sulfurous smoke was now visible from its pristine white cone. I stopped for pictures. A few minutes on I was over the bridge and walking out the gravel road toward the thermas.
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