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the hot springs

In the morning, it is not raining but everything is sodden and water is still dripping from the trees. The sounds of droplets falling on my tent discourages me from rising and it is later than usual when I get up to make breakfast and pack everything onto the bike, sopping wet and dirty. I am feeling somewhat disheartened as I head out towards the Visitor Centre and unsure of my immediate plans.

Fred is standing next to the Visitor Centre, which is constructed to resemble a traditional longhouse, talking to the man who runs it. They both greet me. “It rained a bit last night, didn’t it?,” Fred says,  “I was just coming to check on you and see how you were.” I agree that it did, indeed, rain a bit last night and we discuss the water resistant capabilities of my tent.

“Would you like some coffee?” he asks, “I have a thermos in my truck.” The warmth of the gesture rather than the coffee attracts me. I am surprisingly deeply touched. Fred goes to his truck. I pay Verne the campsite fee and then join Fred inside the pick-up. He hands me a cup of sweetened coffee and apologises for the lack of milk.

Over coffee, Fred tells me news from his village – sadly, a respected chief has died of a massive heart attack yesterday. He elaborates on the impact of this death on the village and then the health issues – obesity, heart problems, diabetes – that affect the community as a whole. These issues recur, world-wide, across communities living in poverty and, particularly, in indigenous communities. We discuss the similarities between the First Nations communities in Canada and what I know of Aboriginal communities in Australia.

He tells me his father also died of a heart-attack some time ago and that education is needed to improve people’s diet and health awareness. I suggest that the disruption of the traditional diet is a major factor in poor health and, perhaps gently chiding me for my assumptions, he lets me know that his father was particularly fond of bottled sea-lion flipper.

I tell him a little of yesterday’s misadventures in the car and he asks me about my plans for the day. Today’s mission is finding the hot springs. As we part, Fred extends heart-felt good wishes. “I hope it doesn’t rain for the rest of your trip!” he says. I laugh and feel compelled to point out that it really has to rain sometime.

I set off through the lava valley marvelling again at the surreal landscape of chaotic rock forms covered by a dense layers of moss and lichen. Diminutive versions of various tree species have found gaps and crevices in which to send down their roots. The mountains around the valley are still swathed with strips of cloud but the rain has ceased. Exiting the valley, I am suddenly surrounded by a lush green rainforest of massive trees.

Diminutive tree clinging to the volcanic rock amidst moss and lichen.

Diminutive tree clinging to the volcanic rock amidst moss and lichen.

Finding a place to send down roots.

Finding a place to send down roots.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Approaching a bridge, I am surprised by a small black bear which suddenly appears on top of the concrete barrier to the side of the road. She looks equally startled and starts to cross the bridge, heading away from me, as two little cubs also jump up onto the block of concrete on the side of the road and hover there uncertainly. A car approaches from the opposite direction and I wonder if I now have a bear crisis on my hands – a mother bear, with two cubs, trapped on a bridge between me and a car. However, the situation resolves without itself any drama with mama bear changing her mind about which direction she will go. All three bears jump neatly over the concrete barrier on the other side of the road and disappear.

I reach the road sign that Fred mentioned. Looking at it closely, I can see that the sign originally stated the place name in English with the local name underneath in brackets. Someone has painted out the English text and the brackets, carefully matching the colour of the sign, leaving only the indigenous place name visible.

After bumbling around for a while, uncertainly, I find a trail leading up a hill through old forest. Massive trees rise above me, draped in emerald green moss. The path is muddy, wet and slippery and where the trail descends into a gully I have to walk ankle deep in murky water. Wooden boards floating in the puddles clearly exist to avert wet feet but the recent weather has overcome their efficacy.

Rainforest.

Rainforest.

Giant rainforest trees.

Giant rainforest trees.

Amazing lichen!

Amazing lichen!

I walk for only ten minutes before descending again to a small clearing in another gully. Pipes lead to a tiny gravel-bottomed pool emit steaming water. A stream runs to one side. Sulphur hangs in the air. I have arrived.

The place is clearly dearly loved. Rickety wooden structures provide places to sit, change and store belongings. Wind chimes hang in the trees and small statues adorn rocks in the pool and the sides of the gully. Pipes guide the water from three springs of varying temperature to the central pool and two other pipes provide drainage so the water constantly changes. The water coming from the main pipe is hot, another pipe provides luke-warm water and a trickle emerging straight from the ground is scalding. The stream running alongside is cold.

I try to work out how the system works. I pour hot water over myself but I would dearly love to sit and soak. Eventually I settle on a plan. There are plastic containers on the wooden platform which fit neatly into the drainage pipes forming an efficient plug. I place them in the pipes and sit in the pool as the water level rises. From time to time I go to the cold stream and refresh myself with cold water.

Steaming water bubbling up from the ground.

Steaming water bubbling up from the ground.

The pool.

The pool.

A very happy afternoon passes in this magical place.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Tom (and Bridgette) | September 11, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna,
    It’s been a while since I checked your blog and noted it’s been a while since you wrote in it. Hope all is well with you…

    We finally had the cabbage contest last weekend; it was a World Record! No kidding! 127 pounds (57.6k) is about 22 pounds greater than the Alaska record, and broke the previous world record set in England by three pounds. So, even though we are talking about just a vegetable, it actually was a pretty exciting event. There is more info and some videos here: http://www.alaskastatefair.org/veggiecam/index.html
    and here:
    http://www.alaskastatefair.org/2009/fair/entertainment/venues/farmexhibits/cabbage.html
    Both my daughters and son-in-law were here for the thing, so that was fun, and we had a week to travel up to Denali Park as well.

    We do have a cabbage Tshirt for you; when you land somewhere, let me know where to send it.
    I am currently on hold for any interesting bike trips waiting to see what will happen with my job in january. I will know by 1 October, so just a couple weeks to wait to see if I will still be working after january… It won’t be the end of the world, of course, either way.

    Hope your adventure continues safely and you are enjoying each day. Take care, talk to you soon.
    Tom Preston

  2. anna | September 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tom

    I’m glad the giant cabbage competition was so exciting! That winning cabbage weighs more than me. I look forward to getting a giant cabbage wrangling t-shirt.

    My blog is about 2 weeks behind me and I date the posts to reflect when they happen rather than when I post so it’s more recent than it look.

    I hope you get to go somewhere interesting on your bike in January.

    All the best.

  3. julie | September 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Glad you found the hot springs- they sound very special set in a magic forest. Natural springs are full of magic, water being such a powerful element, and hot ones even more so. I visited some hot springs in NZ on a New Years eve once with a full moon on the edge of an ocean beach. People were lounging around in the moonlight soaking up the different temperatures, like you describe . To have this one on your own after the long trek to find it would have been wonderful. Lots of love xxx

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