Posts Tagged ‘hot springs’

“Yooproresrah!” exclaimed BusTicketBob.

“Huh?”

I was at the bus/train station in Aso, Japan, on the northern side of the volcano bearing the same name. Inquiring as to the proper schedule of the bus to Kurokawa Onsen, a resort of multiple Ryokan-style inns up in the mountains, each with their own unique hot springs. I had asked BusTicketBob about the time table just to make sure I would be on the bus I had reserved, since all the Ryokans were booked full for the weekend and I had (unfounded) fears that I would be riding in the luggage compartment. Siezing a moment to practice his Engrish, and quiz me on my ogre features, he popped out of his office to follow me around.

View from Aso bus station. Aso-san (volcano) in far background.

View from Aso bus station. Aso-san (volcano) in far background.

“Proresrah,” he continued, “Ressu-ring.”

“Ohhhh, you mean am I a pro wrestler? No.”

Pro wrestling is big in Asia right now; there are posters all over Osaka for it, the kids are eating it up, and it also explains the Indonesians’ nicknaming me Boxer and Smackdown.

“How you get so big?” he asked.

“Ah, this? This is just lucky genetics. Really, if I stopped eating crap and took care of myself, I’d be in better shape than Adonis. What you see here is the flabby leftovers from my weightlifting days.”

“Ahh, weirifting. Hai. You body very big, strong. Beautiful,” he commented.

“Wow, uh… I haven’t heard that since I was in art school. Thanks. Perhaps not the appropriate word, though the problem back then was an exit-only issue, and here and now it’s just a simple matter of vocabulary. But I appreciate your comment nonetheless.”

So then was all the polite bowing and arigatogozaimas and whatnot, and he left me alone to wait for the bus. I was one of maybe 5 people on it. So much for those reservations.

Kurokawa Onsen is about an hour’s drive from Aso, along a beautiful winding road up through the mountains. And once you get there, you are treated to real Japanese country hospitality. The spa hosts are surprised to have a foreigner here, and wonder how I ever heard of the place. It’s reputed to be some of the best onsen in Japan, and I’m staying in the ryokan reputed to be the best here, among the best onsen in Japan. It does not disappoint.

Checking in, I was offered a pair of slippers but none of them fit. Source of many giggles from the spa hostesses. Then my surname, which, when said in a proper Japanese accent, can be directly translated to mean alcohol-induced unconsciousness. Many more giggles. So DrunkenStuporSan, the beautiful ogre, wanders the halls in bare feet.

I wish I could take photos of the outdoor pool, but the naked people lounging around in it would not appreciate it, and I don’t think that the spa management would either. So, I’ll rip one of their website photos off and repost it here:

yamamizukiSo basically, you can sit in a shallow pool of steaming mineral water, which trickles down over the rocks into the rushing river below, which is sourced from a waterfall which you can watch and listen to, about 20 meters upstream, while you gaze at the stars above and contemplate your Zen. The waterfall is tastefully lit at night, too.

Then you show up to dinner spreads where they bring you tea and various neat little dishes, and your eat and eat and eat…

Needless to say, it’s an awesome all-around experience.

Appetizer course

Appetizer course

Sashimi course

Sashimi course

Fish and snail...

Fish and snail…

All of these photos were from dinner last night, and they don’t even cover half of it; because I was so excited to be eating all this crazy stuff, I forgot to take photos. There was also soup, and a sabu-sabu (where you cook your own stuff in hot broth), and other miscellanious little things. It seemed like there were 50 dishes left over just for my meal. But the presentation was superb and the flavors and care in each little dish amazing.

For $11, you can purchase a pass (actually a slice of wood) at the visitor center, which gives you access to 3 onsen springs of your choosing in town. Each place you visit removes a sticker from the pass and stamps it with their unique seal. Having visited other reputedly good and recommended springs, I am glad I am staying at Yamamizuki, because it really is the best. It requires a free bus ride from near the visitor center but it’s worth the time it takes to get here.

First place: Yamamizuki. The outdoor spring pool, awesome staff, and quiet natural environment away from the crowd makes it the winner.

Second place: Noshiyu. Right across the street from the visitor center. It’s got smaller pools but it is surrounded by thick vegetation and the temperatures are perfect for long, relaxing soaks.

Third place: Kurokawa-so. Nice facilities, large pools, several pools to choose from, and a cooldown pool as well. However the water was uncomfortably hot at times, its proximity to the highway (traffic noise), and the blocked-off view to the river (which was paved in that portion anyways) bring it down a notch.

The day started with calling the number of Baños Valle de Colina, which, if you look at their site, states that the road is usable, and that the springs are open. But, just to verify, I called them anyways, and asked if they were open.

“Yes.” they answered.

OK. So GermanBob (who is visiting me for a couple of days) and I head out in the BobMobile in search of adventure. Just for reference, this place is pretty much almost up into Argentina by way of mostly crap roads used by mining trucks and stupid gringos who should know better than to believe anything a Chileno says.

Once we got onto the rough parts of the road, I pulled out my trusty (untested) set of offroad air pressure reducers/regulators, which you are supposed to be able to just screw onto the valve stems and leave on. They are supposed to let the air out until it is at about 18psi, which is great for sand and loose gravel and snow, and really saves your spinal column on those washboard roads. Note the “supposed to” part. Well, they definitely let the air out. A little too well. The drivers side tires seemed fine but the ones on the passenger side started to make awful noises so we pulled over to see what was going on. Both tires on the passenger side totally flat. WTF. And we’d been running them flat for some time. Great. One is OK, as the BobMobile has a fullsize spare bolted to its ass. But two? Up here in BFE in the Andes mountains?

Score 1 for the “Slime” brand 12-volt air compressor, which saved our asses. The rear flat puffed right back up to an acceptable pressure but the front one was off its bead and would not hold air. So I had to jack it up until it took. Score 1 more for the Slime air compressor. Also score 1 for Pirelli tires, which drove for who knows how many kms on those shite roads without any air in them, on a broken bead, and still inflated again with no apparent permanent damage. Score 1 for BobMobile. The tire deflators go into the shite bin.

We continued our quest for these hot springs, way up past any sign of civilization, until we were plowing through snow drifts and cutting new channels for the tires to drive through. Eventually we got to a point where the drifts are too much for the BobMobile, despite its awesome 4×4 capabilities. We were also at 2400 meters so it was running out of mojo, and could hardly make it up the grade in anything lower than extra-low-first-gear. BobMobile would have to wait behind.

The GPS told us we had 6.5km to go to these springs. I asked GermanBob how long he thought it would take us to hike it. 2.5 hours, ok. It’s 1pm now, we get there, spend some time at the springs, and hike back before we freeze to death…

Keep in mind that since we (gullibly) believed a Chilean, we arrived ill-prepared, in plain shoes (GermanBob in open-vented beach sneakers) and simple sweatshirts. No food, just a couple liters of water. Because we thought that the road was open, and we would be able to drive the whole way. We were not prepared for a 10-mile trek through 10-foot snow drifts and slippery mud. The BobMobile is equipped to ride out the next apocalypse in style, and we considered winching it through the snow, but it wasn’t going to work.

That road there would have been 2 lanes wide. Just to give you sense of scale for the snow drifts. This is what an "open road" looks like in Chile.

That road there would have been 2 lanes wide. Just to give you sense of scale for the snow drifts. This is what an “open road” looks like in Chile.

However we threw caution to the wind, and went anyways. That said, we were evaluating every possible nook and cranny along the way as shelter should we need to seek it after the sun went down. It was nice in the sun but in the shade, that high, you are robbed of every calorie of your heat in mere minutes.

I have acclimated to the higher altitude of Santiago so it was not so horrible for me oxygen-wise but GermanBob has been living at sea level for a while and the lack of air was making things tough. It was probably not smart for us to do such a strenuous hike at such a high altitude, so far from anything, with no cel signal, no food, through snow and slush and mud, 6.5km each way, in beach shoes…

“If we get there and the springs are indeed hot, and we can’t make it back in time, we could just stay in the water overnight and not freeze to death.”

But we went anyways and we kicked ass. All those snowshoe tracks we passed on the way made us a bit jealous. But snowshoes are for pussies!

It took us exactly the 2.5 hours GermanBob estimated in order to get there. The entire complex, if you could call it that, was deserted. Ghost town. Empty, hanging open, Already evacuated for the winter. I guess that’s what “Yes, we’re open,” means when a Chilean is telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

As we crawled up the muddy hill, literally on our hands and knees (exhausted, and probably at least 2500 meters altitude by that point), and reached the first pool, we found it to be cold. NOOO! However the higher we got and the closer to the source, the water was warmer and warmer. The topmost pool at the source was too hot, in fact, but the next one down was just right. Bath water. Awesome. Score.

Not as great as in the photos on the website (I assume that they scrub them out in the summertime to keep the extremophyle bacterial slime from accumulating in them) but that can be overlooked for the uniqueness of our monopoly on the place.

We were only able to enjoy it for about 20 minutes before the sun fell behind the mountain, the mercury started to drop like a stone, and we said, “Shit, we better head out before we get stuck here.” But damn, the only thing that could possibly have made it better is if we had brought beer. Nothing is quite as awesome as having an entire thing like this to yourself…

ExpatBob’s better side.