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