Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Natural hot stone sauna in Chancos, Ancash region, Peru

After 4 days camping and hiking in the Santa Cruz trek, we longed for a bath.  Well, hot spring would be even better.

Arriving the finishing point in a small village of Caraz at around 11am, we saw a sign leading to a hot spring.

But our guide told us that it was 10km walk and there are actually more than one hot spring in the area. He recommended us to join the return tour bus for Huaraz and stop at Marcará on the way (then a short ride by taxi or collectivo, ie, a shared taxi or a minibus, to Chancos hotspring) or go back Huaraz and take a taxi to Monterrey hotspring, which is closest to Huaraz, about 7-10km away. And that Chancos is a more local bathing place, whereas Monterrey is more touristy and smaller.

While Monterrey hot springs has water reaching 49C, it was believed to be able to fight rheumatism, nervous affections and paralysis, among others illnesses.

Chancos on the other hand, is located in the middle of a valley, close to the Copa Mountain, at 2,800 m.a.s.l., 27km from Huaraz. With thermal fountains reaching 72C, there is a variety of small lagoons and vaporario, making up steaming hot caves believed to be cure for respiratory inflammations.

Another hot springs, at altitude 3,137 m.a.s.l. is Chavin, near to Chavin de Huantar, in the province of Huari, is 109km from Huaraz. It is said to be ideal for rheumatism and skin diseases.

We thought we could always take a day trip to Monterrey or Chavin the next day but it would be quite convenience to stop at Marcará along the way, which is 3km away from Chancos hot spring. Furthermore, we have never been to a natural sauna before, and were rather curious.

We requested our bags be delivered to the travel agency, pick up at dawn and we dropped off for the hot spring.

We asked our group in the bus if anyone interested. The Norwagian couple, Ingvild and Bjarne said yes. Great, we have companion!

And so, we arrived the small town, Marcará at noon, bought some banana as snacks and took a taxi to Baños Termales Chancos, arriving in only 10 minutes. It costs us 1.5 sole each. (while we were told that it should not be more than 1 sole - anyway, probably because we are tourist.)

Upon arrival, there were a lot of people - families, couples and tourists from Peru, mostly and we suddenly realized that it was Sunday!

We bought 2 different kinds of tickets, for the cave (5 soles each) and for private bath (2 soles each). But we don't know how to start.

There were in fact around 10 different rooms with natural steam cave and temperature indication ranging 35C to 95C. We have to choose one to queue up for. And people just sat outside the room to wait.

The notice outside the sauna room said 15 minutes maximum and there were 5-6 sitting before us BUT, we waited for 4 hours!!!

Well, there were people pop up from nowhere and had put bags on the bench earlier or communicated with the ones before and after them to look after their place. Being poor in Spanish, we had no clue and not sure who to ask, except finding the end of the queue, sat patiently and waited and waited and waited and waited...

Another issue is that, local interpreted the maximum time as 15 minutes per person, so if 2 people going in, they can bath for 30 minutes (if 6, they can have 1.5 hours! Crazy! I guess they will suffocate!)

After figuring out the system in about an hour, Adley and I waited in separate rooms, while Ingvild and Bjarne sat in another one.

The queue will help count time of the user and knock on the door or ring the bell furiously when it's time. Then, they will yell 'Aqua!' Staff will then show up with some hot water buckets and pour on the floor of the bathroom and place one bucket inside the room. We were not sure if it was meant for cleansing up the floor or steaming up the room.

Then, the couple before me finally got in, while starting my timer, I was ready to knock the door anytime and was carefully guarding against anyone who seems to have the intention to cut the queue. There were people who came sitting next to me, on the next-one-to-go bench instead of the long-queue bench on the opposite looking puzzled and unsure where is the end of the queue and another curious lady who tried to sneak in before me saying she just want to take a look!

Anyway, there came my 'aqua time'. (Actually banging on the door and yelling for 'Aqua' is kind of fun). I was so excitedly yelling 'Aqua!' when the couple finally finished their 30 minutes.

Almost 4:30pm! It was a warm sunny day when we started waiting but already turning a bit chilly.

The staff get water for us, spill on the floor and took our tickets. Actually each ticket for each person can only get you to the bath once. But who will bother queuing for another four hours!?

Upon entering the private cave, we settled our bags on the bench, get changed and started the timer. There is a small changing room with a bench and a cold water shower with a plastic basin and a bucket. When we stepped further in, there is the cave. Wooden logs as flooring, a bench in the centre, and our star - the small hot lagoon inside the cave and it's steaming hot stone walls. We chose a rather hot cave of 52C, otherwise, if we haven chosen 35C, we might be able to dip in the lagoon. So we sat on the bench, poured some natural hot water mixed with cold water from the shower over ourselves, ran to the cold shower once in a while and running back in to enjoy the steam in the cave.

We had the steam a little more than 15mins and felt quite enough. Including a cold shower and getting changed, in fact, we were ready in 25mins.

And the natural hot stone cave is absolutely amazing!

We rejoined the Norwegian couple after the soothing steam bath. Despite the hot thermal bath tickets they bought earlier, they were so tired and ready to go.

We insisted on using the bath tickets and would like to see how it goes.

After bidding farewell, we went to the private thermal bath area. Those private bathrooms were like some ugly bath tank in some cheap motel, we were not sure how much longer we need to wait and it turned out that many of the rooms were closed without water supply.

After the hot stone cave, we were not that keen on waiting some more hours, undress again and bath in those horrible tanks.

Since most rooms were out of service, Adley returned to the cashier and managed to get refund by bugging the guy about no hot water while he was still selling tickets to new comers.

Now, we are happy.

We got on a collectivo and then catches another shared taxi with some Peru tourists and returned Huaraz promptly, feeling light and clean.

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