Friday, April 26, 2013
If there were a town in the center in the middle of the Andes, Copahue might be it. Oh, and if you ever plan on visiting, it has to be from December through April. Yes, Copahue is only inhabited during the summer months. After that all of its residents move to either Caviahue, Locahue or even further and this tiny village ceases to exist with roadblocks installed in Caviahue to stop the curious – or lost!. Every November, people move back, build and repair the damage from the brutal winter storms, snows and wind, reopen hotels, restaurants and the complex, stock up on supplies and then settle in until April when they move and nature has its way again. Located near the Argentine – Chilean border close to the base of Copahue volcano at an elevation of about 7,000 ft (2,150 meters) its name actually means “sulphur” in the Mapuche language. This is very apt given the perpetual odor in the air. Steam just fills the air of this tiny Andean village, emitted from the thermal complex itself, stone fumaroles that have been built along the streets and steam vents dotting the landscape and which appear to have simply peeled away the earth’s layers like onion skin in order to escape from its core. With the volcano adding to the steam, I can almost feel my skin and body, thirsty from months of the dry Patagonia wind, drink in the moisture and humidity and hydrating all my cells one by one. The campground is located above the town to the west and gave us a superb view of both the village and the volcano capped in perpetual snow and ice, which at almost 10,000 ft. (3,000 meters) looms over us. As I watch the smoke blossom from it, I remark to Tom that while a “small” eruption would be interesting to watch, I hope it doesn’t have a big one and bury us in ash. We had been told that there are geophysicists and geologists in the area to observe and monitor any activity and due to the eruption at the height of tourist season had put a dampener on visitors to the town. We took a walk around with Winston, past the tiny chapel which looked as though at best it would hold 50 people, past a few small hotels with restaurants attached, past the thermal complex which we will visit tomorrow, past three open air thermal pools, one of which was a therapeutic mud bath which we also hope to try out and all the while breathing in the sulpherous, steam laden air. We walked the four main streets, passing many of the stone fumaroles built into the sidewalk and avoiding open vents from which steam belched out with bubbles and to the sound of popping, rather like lots of balloons being burst one by one. The town is small and our entire walk, with many stops for photographs covered the entire village took only about 30 minutes. Back at the RV, we cooked dinner and planned our day at the thermal complex. During the night the wind picked up and began to rock the motorhome even though we thought we would be protected by the mountains on one side and another large motorhome right next to us.