Baby free hiking and hot springs

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Hiking up the valley towards the hot springs

I want to write about leaving your baby behind and getting some mum and dad “couple” time.

When babies arrive (spoiler for those without kids: there is no stork involved) your life changes irrevocably. The wonderful parts speak for themselves and I won’t list them here. Kids are an amazing gift.

Conversely, time as a couple becomes scarce, sleep deprivation leaves you broken (unless you are in the lucky minority with babies who sleep effortlessly), and other hobbies and aspirations are placed on hold or turned off permanently.

We had the privilege of being able to travel extensively whilst Bertrand was between 6 and 10 months, determined to keep our passion for travel and the outdoors alive and perhaps to instil a taste for mountains, fresh air and international adventure into his little spirit.

Travel with a baby is tough. Waking every hour whilst our little one teethed in Patagonia was harder than any work stress I have experienced. His process of unlearning the sleep-training we had painfully introduced sapped our will. His yelling at 3am with paper-thin hotel room walls left us slightly shame-faced as we entered each morning for breakfast, wondering who else had suffered a night of no sleep.

But travel with a baby is also so rewarding. His excitement every time we see a dog (every few minutes in Argentina). His laughs and squeals at my pain and exertion as we trekked up mountains. Cuddles wrapped-up in a poncho by a fire after dinner watching the sun setting, nestled in with an arm round my neck as he dropped off to sleep. If you have the opportunity to travel with your young one, don’t over-think it, just do it and you’ll work the rest out as you go.

One wonderful and unforeseen upside is that you are never alone. Parenthood gives you automatic membership to a not-so-exclusive club in which you have a common thread and starting point, and over the last 8 weeks we’ve enjoyed many conversations with many parents from many countries whilst our respective little ones crawl around and examine each other with mixtures of fascination and excitement through touch and sound and usually a good amount of dribble.

We are often told it only gets harder, something which I choose not to believe. In life, you sometimes need to just focus on the day and the week, not what will happen in 3 years or ten years time. I think maybe the challenges change, but as long as I get to sleep we will survive any test or challenge.

On that note we decided to go baby-free for a morning. We were in San Pedro in the Atacama desert, Northern Chile. The air is dry, the sun hot, the altitude high: not baby friendly. We were tired, stressed, and needed some of that “couple” time I mentioned at the start of this piece.

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Heading off in the shadows before the sun breached the valley walls

Our hotel arranged a babysitter, and with a local guide we headed off for the short trek to Puritama hot springs.

It’s an easy and beautiful hike following the path of the stream towards the source.

In such a dry landscape the grasses on the valley floor took on a new vibrancy, the stream and grasses providing the basis for all life in this unforgiving environment.

The route winds along the valley. As the sun rises darkness gradually gets driven back by light.

The whole walk is only perhaps only 1 hour, but stopping to examine ancient settlements and to talk about the people who once inhabited this land can extend that to 2 hours easily.

Cacti grow proudly on the rocky valley walls. After an initial period they grow a mere 1cm per year. They are ancient, watching the world change in silent meditation.

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The sun catching an ancient cactus

It’s a beautiful and accessible walk.

Dipping your hands in the stream is a pleasant reminder that you are headed towards natural hot springs.

Chile is on the “ring of fire” with over a hundred active volcanoes and many more that threaten to surprise at any moment.

In Atacama and elsewhere, cold water meets warm magma and is forced to the surface as hot springs and geysers. Puritama is just one such location and after the beautiful valley walk you reach a small bridge and a series of  hot pools and waterfalls when you can bathe.

I was reminded of a hike we did in Hokkaido, Japan. Expecting good weather I had worn shorts, only to be met by torrential rain and strong winds. We met a few other trekkers who looked more like they were headed up Everest, wrapped in multiple layers and very amused by my state of dress. Climbing a long ridge we emerged onto a bleak plain, before descending down a valley leading to a natural outdoor hot spring which bubbled up in the middle of an icy stream. The only sign was a rusty shovel provided to dig out the silt and stones in order to form a pit large enough to immerse your body. Stripping naked and digging rapidly you could submerge yourself and control the temperature with some accuracy by adjusting the mix of icy vs. hot water. It was sublime.

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Natures hot tub – it doesn’t get much better

Back to the Atacama desert and with another hour of baby-free couple time we relaxed in a warm pool (low 30s C) and enjoyed the wonder of nature.

Some may feel uncomfortable leaving their child for a morning, others may feel that their duty lies solely with being the best parent they can be, and I respect those decisions. Everyone has to find their own path.

But … I would venture that perhaps just occasionally by looking after mum and dad and rekindling some of that “pre-baby” freedom, you end up being more relaxed, more full of joy, and actually being a better parent for it.

When we got to the hotel I couldn’t wait to see our baby boy. He was standing by a low table playing with wooden blocks (at 10 months he’s big on standing, though doesn’t walk yet). He let out a squeak and started banging both hands on the table in excitement and reached up for  big hug.

I can’t wait for our next adventure we can share with him. And in equal measure, I look forward to the next alone-time with my wife when we can shift our focus to each other.

I have shared a few more photos of the beautiful location below and hope you enjoy as much as we did.

 

 

 

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