Friday, 8 June 2018

Onwards and Upwards

We had a great time in Santiago but if we are honest I think we have both come to the conclusion that big cities are not our favourite places to be. Great for a short visit but we are always glad to be getting back on the road and out of town.

The accident left us with a long list of repairs and unfortunately quite a large amount of the parts needed had to be shipped from the UK.  Thanks to a great friend Colin at Kent Automotive Developments our package  arrived in Santiago just a few days before we headed out of town.

Knowing that we need somewhere quiet and secure to set up our repair camp for a few weeks we put out the feelers on various travelling forums and contact lists .

Within no time we received a very kind offer from a fellow truck builder called Pairoa in San Felipe  ( 100km north of Santiago )  who offered us a very nice plot of land near the town centre. This became our home for the next 3 weeks, so a big thank you to Pairoa and Carmen who really helped us out.

Whilst there we were visited for a few days by our old friends Ellen and Perry and another fantastic young Swiss couple, Etta and Stefan ,  who we originally met in Montevideo, so it wasn't all work.


We love Chile but its vastness never ceases to amaze us. It quite normal here to have to drive over 100km to buy something specific, so two return trips back to Santiago on the motorcycle were needed to pick up more bits. 

Fortunately one of these trips gave me the chance  to catch up and thank a wonderful lady called Dr Francisca Larach who works at one of Santiago's large hospitals. 

Pat has had some medical issues in the past and Francisca ( who is a fellow traveller ) kindly arranged for some routine check ups to take place and returning back to the capital gave me the opportunity to thank her in person. 

A fantastic, kind lady, lets hope our paths cross again soon.

Whilst in our last few days in San Felipe we discovered a Bar / Grill restaurant called A La Parrilla  that made its own fantastic beer on site and spent a great evening chatting with Rodrigo the owner. He told us that if we were ever passing this way again we would be welcome to park in the restaurant car park. He even extended this kind offer to any Overlanders.( You must try the beer )

We tried to resume our journey but due to circumstances ( not getting our act together ) we didn't get far and ended up taking up Rodrigo's offer.

I have mentioned Chilean hospitality before and yet again we found ourselves on the receiving end of it. That night we were invited to Rodrigo's home for a lovely dinner with his wonderful wife Gloria and their kids.

We eventually got our act together and moved north.

The national drink here is called Pisco. Being such heavy drinkers ( Not ) we thought we would go to is home town of Pisco Elqui that sits at the end of a stunning valley . 

We hoped to do a tour but sadly it wasn't available to us at the time we were there,  so we spent the night in the town centre and headed back. The route down the valley was adequate reward.

Chile claims to boast some of the best night skies for star gazing.The European Southern Observatory ESO at Silla , is situated 2500m up on a prime mountain spot in south of the Atacama region.

The 20km drive from the main gates seemed to just go up and up, but it was well worth the effort. Right on the top of the highest mountain in the area sits a collection of huge Optical and Radio Telescopes. It looks like a science fiction town on Mars.

We did the guided tour which was brilliant. 

The site is funded by Europe and is permanently manned by a large team of Astronomers and Scientists  from different nations who are commissioned to examine Astrological occurrences.

The tour was really informative and we learnt lots about things we didn't know about before.

Now these scientists were probably weened on books written by Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan or Robert Heinlein so you would think they have super charged imaginations. Well I don't think this is quite true, in fact I don't think they actually have much of an imagination at all . 

Here is why I think this. After the construction of the first telescope, it would appear that after endless discussion and meeting they called it "The Large Telescope" ( really pushed the boat out there ). 

So after the second telescope was build they came up with the with the really imaginative name of  "The Very Large Telescope". 

It doesn't stop there . They are currently constructing a super telescope at a different site and have really stretched all boundaries with this one. Its called " The Extremely Large Telescope". 

Good effort.

Still a great place and they even let us camp the night just outside the gate and the Stars were amazing.

Craving a bit of a sea view we headed coast bound and easily found some brilliant rugged places to stop. The only problem is that you are always bombarded by nice dogs who know how to play a vulnerable tourist. we have not only started carrying dog biscuits but we now have a dog bowl. Given the chance I think Pat would adopt them all.

At one of the coast sites we saw saw some very rare and unusual rocks called "Granito Orbicular". This is where large lumps of Jurassic Granite is formed in a peculiar way causing Leopard Skin patterning. 

We parked in front of them on our own to watch the sun set over the pacific.  We had just got comfy when a man who clearly modelled himself on Crocodile Dundee approached us. He told us that he was the "Guardian of the Stones" . Now this might sound like a roll from Game of Thrones or Tolkein  but it actually involved sitting in camper van on a nearby cliff and looking at them all day. 

Now bearing in mind that we were the only people in attendance at that time , he told us that we must move to another location as the truck was obscuring his view of the rocks. 

Now these rocks, which are bigger than a house , have been there for about 170 Million years. 

But he clearly felt that maybe they would disappear during one hour whilst we watched the sun go down.

In fairness he was a very nice man doing a very important job so we moved and he was happy again.

The interior of the Atacama region is quite a desolate hot sandy landscape and is littered with hundreds of mines. Mainly Copper.

On August the 5th 2010 the small mine of San Jose was thrust into the public spotlight when the main access  tunnel collapsed burying 33 miners over 700 meters below the surface for 70 days.

The world watched as rescue crews from around the world assembled on site searching for survivors. Families kept vigil and the world waited patiently for an update.

After 17 days of drilling 700 meter long bore hole in a grid formation all appeared to be lost. Then on day 18 the long drill was extracted from one such hole and attached to the bottom of it was hand written note saying " We are fine in the refuge, the 33 "

A later note suggested it had been a long shift.

Now although they had now been located and could be passed food, water and even a telephone the mammoth task of getting them out was still being developed. At a depth of more than twice that of the Eiffel Tower it was being suggested that it would take many many months to get to them.

Outside agencies such as NASA became involved and a multi pronged approach was adopted.

By day 70 a bore hole just large enough for a small capsule ( the Fenix 2) was in place and lowered to the miners.

One by one they were extracted from the mine in the capsule back to the surface. 

The world was hooked to this story.

The mine today is a small tourist attraction with a visitor centre that is run by Senor Jorge Galleguillos Orellan who was the 11th Miner to be extracted.

The video footage shown in the display will reduce anyone to tears. It is truly an incredible example of human courage and achievement. 

Anyway, It was truly an honour to have Jorge sitting in our truck telling us about it. 

Just to add to this story. A few Post back I introduced you to Raul in Santiago who repairs wind turbine blades in situ hanging on a rope. Well he, being a rope rescue expert, was also on the rescue team for this incident. 

We are now back on the coast relaxing in the sun at Bahia Inglesa which is the nicest beach we have discovered so far .

Now here's a question for you guys.

Why do people stack stones.

We have seen this practice all over South America along roadsides and even in very remote and obscure places .

We don't know why people do it or what it might signify. 

Is it simply that some people are so profoundly OCD that the shear randomness of mother nature drives them to distraction and they feel they have to put some order to it , or is it just a bit of fun.

Let me know 

Hasta Luego




Sunday, 29 April 2018

Santiago Bound

We have truly fell in love with Chile and its people. Everyone we have met has been really friendly and helpful. However, when we were in the south we must have been told 20 times or more that when you get to the capital Santiago the people aren't so friendly. In fact we were led to believe that everyone in Santiago is either a Robber or a Murderer. The ironic thing is that most of the people who told us this were in fact from Santiago. 

Well were here in Santiago and so far so good.

The latest leg of of our journey to get here has been pretty relaxed and the weather has been kind to us. 

Our last entry saw us leaving the Conguillio National park which will be recorded as one of our highlights and a place that all Overlanders and Travellers here should try to put on their itinerary.

When you enter most of the countries in South America you are given a tourist Visa that last 90 days . If you want to extend this and stay longer you can either do so at a government office or by simply exiting into one of the neighbouring countries and re entering , thus re starting the clock. We knew that our time in Chile was ticking by and that we wanted to stay much longer than the 90 days as we needed to do some repairs in Santiago which could take a few weeks. 

Realising that we were really quite close to the border at Icalma we thought we would try and book out and then book straight back in. We chose what looked like a quiet crossing but when we arrived it was super modern and had a staff of about 10 on duty. 

For some reason here they tend to put some distance between the exit of one country and the entry into the next, sometimes up to 15 km. We are not sure which country you are in when entering this "airlock "

Our cheeky plans was to actually book out of Chile , wave good by to the border staff as we left the building then re appear a few minutes later at the entry desk shouting "Surprise " and never actually go into Argentina .

Great plan but failed at the early stages. It was a case of " computer says no" It appeared that you couldn't have the country you have just left the same as the one you are entering . ie from Chile to Chile.

We were forced to head for Argentina. This was hampered by the fact that the truck broke down 20 metres into the airlock.  With the help of several of the friendly border guards we got it fixed and set off to Argentina . However, before leaving I foolishly made  the guards aware of this blog. Once in Argentina we started to hope that they wouldn't actually read it as in an earlier entry I did make mention to the fact that I had managed to smuggle two pineapples int Chile up my backside. 

We spent one quick but pleasant night  on a small peninsular at Villa Pehuenia then back to the border the next morning. My only thought was that if they get the long rubber gloves out then they have definitely read the blog . 

My fears were unfounded. Even though one of them had clearly spent all night reading the blog, they were all very kind to us and the 90 day clock started ticking again.

At this point it would be appropriate to point out that I can actually take no credit at all for the selection of our destinations. I am ashamed to say that I do very little research in advance into the waypoints of our journey. It sounds lazy and probably is , but I have Pat, who reads everything available several times and researches endlessly. I cant compete so I don't even try. It must be said that all of her work always pays off and we always end up in amazing places.

The next stop was no exception

Still drifting North we came to the small town of Malalcahuello ( usual spelling ) which sits in the shadow of a reasonably recently active Volcano called Lonquimay

However, on the 25th of December 1988 Lonquimay woke up and it is now known as Crater Navidad. 

Unlike other historic eruptions  we have visted were you witness the remains of huge lava flows like molten rivers of rock , this was different Lonquimay threw billions of tons of ash into the sky and when  it settled it left a landscape that looked like the set of "The water Margin". ( Google it ) The whole area had many meters of ash deposited on it which has made it very difficult for nature to regain a foot hold . 

As luck would have it , right on the top in high winds we bumped into another overlanding couple called Sigrid and Peter in their Landcruiser. Well after a very british quick cuppa we met up with them again later that day in the town and had a very pleasant evening. We will keep track of these two as we are looking forward to catching up with them soon.  

Apparently Mendoza in Argentina  is a great place to taste wine so being the great wine connoisseurs that we are ( we know nothing about wine ) we thought it was time to get educated so we again set off for Argentina. After 2 days of travelling we came came to the border and it was shut as the weather was too bad to go over the pass in the Andes. Two days later we were back were we started.  As luck would have it my head researcher had identified a great looking Winery near Santa Cruz called Viu Manent.  

We took the tour on a horse and cart around the vinyards and were shown the various stages and processes between grape and bottle. 
At the end of it my knowledge of wine had vastly improved . I now know that they can make wine that is red and wine that isn't . 

We were shown a laboratory that was obviously just for show. It had lots of brightly coloured liquids bubbling  away, Bunsen burners and smoke coming out of various flasks and test tubes. This lab was exactly like all the ones I remember from the Hammer House of Horror days.

Like most tours it ended with a tasting session were Pat got a little too enthusiastic . Her favourite was a Malbec , but she had to try several to be sure .

They let  us park in their car park. This was a mistake. We were instantly swamped by the locals who knew exactly how to prey on the vulnerable. I was lucky to get out of there without extra passengers, but it did take 3 days to effect our escape.

We did however meet a young Dutch couple on the coast a few days later. Pat persuaded them that they should visit the Winery and when they said they were going to she loaded them up with dog food to dish out.

The beach resort at Pichilemu was a great place to stop for one night. Three days later we decided to move on. It was nice to just chill out at the beach and watch the surf.

Now remember in the last post we visited the Conguillo National Park. Well a chance meeting in a car park changed all our plans. 

Its quite common for people to take an interest in the truck and we were approached by a family from Santiago.

We instantly hit it of with Raul Marcella and their daughter Augustina and within minutes we had arranged to get together that evening for a drink.

Raul foolishly made mention to the fact that he owned a company that made fibreglass repairs to the blades and towers on wind turbines. Knowing that we were heading to Santiago to try and get the remaining damage from the accident repaired, my eyes lit up.

Raul invited us to go to his turbine repair training centre Escuela Vertical were he kindly offered to fix the truck. I was a bit concerned that at 3.5 meters it might be a bit high for him.

Now I cannot sing this guys praises high enough. His hospitality was unbelievable and the repairs carried out were incredible and perfect. I would like to publicly thank Raul, Marcella and their staff who we will will never forget and we are honoured to add Raul and Marcella to our growing list of great friends.

Have a look at what they do and you will see what a muppet I felt for suggesting that the roof of our truck might be a bit high. Awesome guys. 

Santiago is the capital city of Chile . It is home to more than 6.5 million Chileans which is more than one third of the countries population. It sits in the valley of the Mapocho river and to the east is the huge Andean mountain range.

Sadly most of the population aren't aware of the mountains as the city has a permanent foggy haze that makes it almost impossible to see them. Raul told me that we should see it the day after a heavy rain storm. He described it as seeing Santiago in High Definition as the air pollution is temporarily removed.

Santiago does however boast a very large number of people who think that being able to juggle oranges at traffic lights is a life skill .

On Raul's suggestion we went in search of a small Natural thermal pool the exists about 100km east of the city, very close the Argentinian border in the mid levels of the Andes at 3000 metres along the "Embalse El Yeso" called the  "Termas Del Plomo"

Both of us did feel slight effects from the altitude, I think our ascent was a bit quick .

The pool was fantastic and the scenery was stunning.

However, the drive up there was the main event. 

As I am writing this we are still in the Santiago region and will probably stay in this area for a few more weeks

Dont forget you can see our exact route and plenty more photos on our "Places and Photos " page by clocking on the drop pins 

Hasta luego