Tuesday, 9 January 2018
There is only one direction from Ushuaia, Its North
We enjoyed Ushuaia but all good things come to an end and we set off North .
The scenery in this region is stunning with snow caped mountains, rivers, forests and lakes.. Sadly a bad decision back in the 1920's to introduce Beaver to the area has now resulted in colossal damage to more than 400 square kilometres of forest.
After a couple of days we decided to turn west on the dirt road from Rio Grande and take the small border crossing into Chile.
Borders are in two stages. First you leave a country and they you enter the next. However, sometimes these stages can be some distance apart, so I guess you end up in a bit of an airlock of no mans land. These borders were only about 1km apart.
To enter Chile you need to be totally devoid of fresh foods and meat, so smuggling has become a bit of an art, that I haven't yet grasped properly.
The problem with these sleepy borders is that that you are probably the first vehicle for several hours so they have the time for a thorough search , whereas on the busy borders when the queue is a mile long they rush you through.
But on this occasion any searching officer with a blindfold on would have found the large quantity of raw meat that I had forgotten to hide and was still in the freezer. ( oops )
Luckily he was a very nice guy and gave us the option of cooking it all , which we did. We then cheekily asked if we could park at the border for the night which wasn't a problem
The next day we decided that heading north was the right way so we turned south again on the dirt road Y85.
Wow is the only word to describe this road. It was 100km of winding twisty mountain passes, lakes and forests. The views were incredible. The great thing about this road is that when you get to the end at the western point of Lago Fagnano, you have to turn around and do it all again the other way. We did stay the night at the end of the lake.
I have condensed the journey into about 8 minutes for those of you need to get out more. Buckle up.
Here we met a Dutch couple and spent the evening socialising. We also had a visit from some Chilean motorcyclist who we invited to join us for a coffee.
Despite Pat warning them that the small path to our camp was deep gravel they took it anyway and both came off their bikes. No harm done and very amusing. It did however raise that increasing dilemma of what action to take when someone has an accident ...... help or film.
The route back was quite eventful. Firstly I decided to take the binoculars and go on Beaver watch ( I am sure this is a crime ) We parked next to a lake with a big dam and lots of evidence of beaver activity.
I had only just got set up when there was a really loud bang from the truck and the sound of escaping gases. I could see Pat in the passenger seat who clearly thought she was going be thrown from the vehicle for the second time in as many weeks.
Following the advice of a fellow overlander " Paul Crittenden" we put the kettle on and decided what to do. I knew it was an airline on my auxiliary circuit that had burst as my retarding brake was dead but more importantly my very loud air horns didn't work either. Continuing to travel over a mountain pass without brakes is acceptable but I am afraid that big air horns are mandatory.
Luckily before the tea was finished I had tipped the cab, found the problem and fixed it.
Back on the road we were really lucky to see a pair of Andean Condors circling overhead.
Laga Blanco was our next nights stop in a beautiful free camping area. We headed for the coast and on the way stopped for lunch in the Russfin Wood Mill on the Y85 who offer their canteen facilities to travellers.
Pat used to work in a Timber importers so she found this place quite interesting as they used all the same processes such as Kiln drying the wood. In a addition they used all the waste material to fuel a Biomass generator that provided all the energy to run the Plant
Its quite common here for people to work away from home , not unlike an oil rig. Most of the employees worked 9 days at the plant then 5 days off so they could get back to their homes that could be a considerable distance away. They offered rooms and food to traveller
This region must have had a gold rush at some time in its history as there is evidence of this time lying around. Some pieces have become attractions
We hit the coast near a town called Cameron . We set up camp about 15km west of the town right on the sea front. We had only just arrived when we spotted a group of Tonina Dolphins hunting just off the shore.
We had just come to the conclusion that the day couldn't get better and then it did.
Now Chile is a big country. So what is the chances of two sets of travellers bumping into each other. That's exactly what happened . When we were in Montevideo ( 5000 km away ) we met french travelling family " Loic and Raphaelle" and we hadn't seen them since that time.
We had just settled in when they drove over the hill towards us. Whats the chances of that.
A big campfire and lots of wine and Patagonian Beer was the order of the day.
They left the next day but we decided to spend one more night in our piece of heaven. That night we had a knock at the door and were greeted by a bunch of 5 Chilean students and a french hitch hiker they had picked up. They were from from Santiago who were on a road trip. They asked if they could share our fire. More wine flowed followed by the high octane drink called Pisco........ Great lads
Just up the coast we stopped at a king Penguin colony at Pinguinorey . Very nice but they don't do much. I thought about uploading a video but believe me it would have looked just like the still photo .
As I am writing this we are parked in garden of the Tourist information Office in Cerro Sombrero. The guy who runs it "Enrique" is really nice and allow people to stay and hijack his wifi.
we noticed a cut in a tyre so Tomorrow we have to find a guy called a Gomeria to fix it. I think you will find that he is only one point in scrabble away from being really anti social .
As an additional note , we are seeing some incredible bird and animal life, from Dolphins to Condors . We have also become very familiar with these two creatures .
The Patagonian Fox aka The South American Grey Fox
This guy is very smart and has adapted to all environments . They are not afraid of people and will come quite close if they think there is a snack involved. We get visits from these on a regular basis
Then we have the Guanaco . God was probably in some sort of experimental stage when he knocked this beast up. Its part Llama, part Camel and part Vegetable.
I dont think there is a more stupid creature out there. There are thousands of them here . They clearly have no concept of road safety and have never heard of the Green Cross Code. A group of 50 by the side of the road isn't the problem, its the one on his own on the other side who is going to do the suicide run .
On the upside they are quite pretty and do look good in your photos.
I think our next stage will be out of Tierra Del Fuego back into the mainland of Patagonia.
Monday, 29 January 2018
There is something about Chile. It makes you slow down
We set off from Montevideo in the later half November with a romantic notion of spending Christmas in Ushuaia.
Although Christmas was great we realised that the journey down had at times been a bit of slog against constant headwinds and time.
The decision was made that the brakes were going on and that the journey north would be at a slower more manageable pace. .
After our time in Tierra del Fuego we headed back onto the main continent towards Punta Arenas, which is Chile's large city in the south. After a day in town we set of south towards the bottom of Ruta 9.
Some ( mainly Chileans ) would argue that the bottom of Ruta 9 is the real end to the Pan American Highway as it on the mainland. Others ( Always Argentinians ) would suggest that it ends in Ushuaia , even though Tierra del Fuego is actually an Island . Who cares, we went to both places.
We settled about 50km south of Punta Arenas for a night on a river bank. By this time we had really embraced the go slow mode so 1 night quietly slipped into 5 nights . I think we needed it .
We visited a large cemetery in the town. This isn't our usual thing but it had been recommended so we went.
It was actually really quite interesting ( yes it was ). I don't know much about South American History but it was very clear that about 130 years ago huge quantities of Europeans , especially Brits settled in the region and that their families still reside locally.
One place we had on our Bucket list was the Torres del Paine National Park.
We had heard of its dramatic beauty and unbelievable panoramic views. Well when we arrived it was pissing down and you could see a mountain anywhere.
But in true Patagonian style the weather changed and we were blown away literally. ( Its always windy here )
You pay to enter the park and can only camp in designated spots but the it was fantastic. We did several great walks but the highlight was taking the boat up Lago Grey to the Glacier at the other end.
They even gave us a local drink called Pisco Sour with a chunk of glacier ice in it.
My writing skills could not do this park justice so I am simply going to bombard you with the photos and a video.
Told you it would be an overload.... Guess what, I just found some more
Just when you thought is was over
Somebody stop me
That's it...... Oh except the video
Sunday, 11 March 2018
The Carreterra Austral is a long road that goes from South to North ( or Vice Versa ) in Chile. It is without question probably the most incredible and dramatic stretch of road that we have ever driven.
It starts in the south in a small outpost town called Villa O'Higgins and the drive down from Cochrane is about 200 km along unpaved roads that twist and turn through mountain passe's and river beds . It is truly awesome . The town of O'Higgins however, isn't too exciting but appears to be a very popular destination for back packers and hitch hikers alike . It would appear that every young Chilean must do this route as a right of passage to adulthood.
The journey down was fantastic , we had a couple of hitch hikers on board . The scenery was incredible .
The next day the rain started really heavy and from our parking space we could see several youngsters begging for lifts back north. They were stood in the pouring rain all day . Being a bit of a soft touch we picked 5 of them up and delivered them 2 hours later to the small ferry at Puerto Yungay .
We stopped in the port car park for the night and the rain never ceased for a moment. The unpaved gravel roads were slowly turning into rivers and large puddles. The road surface was becoming very fluid.
The next morning we set off towards our next destination of Caletta Tortel , a small very picturesque town about 40km away.
Two of yesterdays hitch hikers " Sara and Augustin " asked for a lift and as the weather was so dreadful we agreed.
About 5 km down the road we were held up by workmen who were repairing a large section of the road that had washed away previously . We had just passed them and had to stop to let an oncoming car past when the "Shit Happened "
Whilst stationary we felt the truck move slightly to the right. Then within 2 seconds the whole ground beneath us collapsed in a fluid fashion and the truck fell over sideways rolling down a large embankment ending up nearly upside down. It was very scary moment and everything that wasn't strapped down including the hitch hikers went flying in all directions
Pat was strapped in in the lower half of the cab pressed against the window upside down , I was suspended by my seat belt hanging above her and Sara and Augustin were stuck to the ceiling in the Cabin. The crashing sound was terrifying.
After a lot of struggling we managed to get everyone out safely via the drivers cab window and back onto what was left of the road. The rain was still pouring down.
Here is the "Oh My God" bit I mentioned earlier.
With a few minor bumps and bruises we all stood on the side of the road in shock. Pat and I were devastated, We still are.
By shear luck the local Carabineros ( who I will talk about later ) arrived after about 10 minutes . they were taking a vet called Manuel to the ferry boat a few km away. Manuel spoke great English and selflessly abandoned his plans for the day and stayed at the scene to assist us and the local Police Officers with his translation skills and giving Sara first aid as she had cut her head
The rain still poured and poured
We all remained at the scene for an hour or so and with the help of two cyclists from America " Grant and Leslie " who we had met earlier we retrieved a few belongings from the chaos inside the truck and were all then transported to the local village of Tortel to be examined by a doctor. Pat, Sara and Augustin travelled by ambulance I went in the back of the police pickup.
We sat in the doctors waiting area soaked to the skin looking at our feet in total devastation. I was absolutely convinced that the dream was over and the truck was destroyed. I have never felt so low as I did at that time. Shock, emotions and fear took over. Pat however, was surprisingly rational and really took control at this point .
The calls went out to the family, who being so far away felt totally useless and unable to do anything .
Suggestions of them flying out were put on hold and to add to all this mess I was told that I was technically under arrest as I had to have a blood test to check i wasn't drunk or on drugs . The problem being was that the doctor who could take the blood test was over two hours away in Cochrane and I would have to be driven their later after the dust had settled and everyone had been treated by the local doctor
OK . The doom and gloom is now over.
Here is the bit that still makes me emotional even as I am typing this post a few weeks later
In earlier blog posts you might remember our dear German friends called Ellen and Perry who we travelled with on the first part of this journey.
They were now ahead of us on their tour and were someway north.
Without hesitation they made the decision to abandon their own journey and turn round to come to our rescue. Them problem being was that they were in fact 1800 km away and were facing a journey of endless driving over bad corrugated unpaved roads and very long ferry crossings. This was additionally complicated by the fact that it was still raining more and more .
Now I also mentioned earlier that I would come back to the local Carabineros who came to the scene.
I cannot find the words to describe the kindness and hospitality they showed us at the time and over the next week.
The held our hands and made sure that we were never feeling abandoned.
One guy Carlos , who I am now very proud to call my friend, showed us so much kindness it was beyond belief.
An example of this would be that having driven me for two hours on the day of the accident for my blood test, he then took me to his home , arriving at about 1 am and introduced me to his lovely wife " Daisy" who had made a meal for me . I unfortunately wasn't the best of company at that time but I fully appreciated this incredible gesture.
Meanwhile, again with the help of the local Carabineros in Tortel, Pat had booked into a little Cabanas, which was in fact a two bedroom shed with a toilet. The two shaken hitch hikers had one room and us the other.
The next day Carlos and his colleague spent the whole day chaperoning me, taking me back to the scene to assess the damage.
As we pulled up my heart sank. I looked at our poor truck in its inverted resting place and could not see any way forward.
How would we ever get it out, would it be repairable, was it really destroyed as I believed.
The dream was surely over
Monday, 12 March 2018
Cloud 9 Lives
Having experienced a disaster like an accident it would ordinarily be very hard to be positive about such an event.
Believe me we had many very positive experiences over the following days and the aim of this blog post is to not only to share the recovery experience but also to highlight the incredible never ending stream of human kindness we experienced after the event.
Firstly lets go back to the scene .
The truck is tipped over, we are over 200 km on bad roads from a reasonable sized town and no amount of reducing the tyre pressure is going to get this out.
Oh! and to top this my Spanish is crap and the nearest phone signal is 40 km from the scene and its still raining.
Its not looking too good at this point.
Re enter Carlos the Carabineros. Carlos had now made it his life's goal to get the truck out. He had even started digging with the only available tool to hand which was a spanner . He and his colleagues had tried every avenue available to them to get it lifted out of the ditch and back onto the road using municipal equipment but had sadly drawn a blank as the nearest crane was about 450 km away and would take 2 weeks to drive there . So Carlos approached the road workers who had two large diggers . ( But surprisingly not a shovel in sight )
After a group gathering around our sad truck and lots of head scratching and tutting a decision was made " We need to talk to the Deputy Chief of the firm"
An envoy was sent the 40 Km to Tortel to fetch him.
Two hours later the Deputy Chief was in attendance and had joined in with the collective head scratching and tutting and after about 30 minutes he made an announcement.
" I need to talk to the big Chief "
Fast forward a couple more hours and the decision was made that it could be done .
Chains were produced and ropes borrowed from the nearby ferry and within a short time Cloud 9 was tethered up and operation "Resurrection" began.
Now I always new that such recovery would undoubtedly not pass without more damage being inflicted to our baby. ( We will come back to this aspect later ) Even at this point I had not been able to see the far side and was still convinced that it was badly smashed up.
In the mean time I had received several messages from our Mechanic friend Perry ( who was about half way ) saying " Don't try to start the truck "
The pulling, creaking and groaning began and I could only stand there looking through spread fingers thinking that any minute a strap would break and Cloud 9 would plunge further down the embankment and be lost for ever
Two hours later she was standing on her own 4 wheels and from one side looked pretty good. I nervously looked at the other side .
Unbelievably the damage was really quite minor in the circumstances. A few scratches, and a broken plastic window and a re shaped wheel arch.
Even the wing mirror and awning on the crash side hadn't even been broken. How could this be .
I did however notice that our lovely porthole in the door looked a bit strange . Then it dawned on me that everything inside the truck was now piled up against the door . Didn't fancy opening that yet.
And top it all the Sun had come out.
Stand by for another bit of human kindness.
The next morning I needed to get back to the truck from Tortel ( over 40 km ). Carlos was busy and the buses were twice a week and the next was in two days time and was already full
Pat started asking folks in the town square if anyone was going that way who could give me a lift .
Language was an issue and a very kind lady over heard our bad Spanish and helped with a bit of translation but still no offers of a lift.
We had just about given up when the same lady re approached us and said that although her and her friend were actually going in completely the opposite direction that they would be pleased to take me the 40 km to the scene. Well we could have kissed them, in fact I think we did. Paty and Vale , I hope you will read this and know that we really appreciated this very kind gesture and will will never forget you .
Not sure you would get that in a UK town.
Inside the truck was a mess. The fridge had emptied, washing liquid , coffee, water and loads of food were all over the walls . The only thing that hadn't emptied was the toilet, thankfully.
A new jar of jam had smashed on the wall. Now jam is a peculiar product because we discovered that if you throw it at your walls then scrape it back up you actually end up with enough to fill 5 jars. Think I might have stumbled into the solution for the famous biblical loaves and fishes routine there.
I had made the decision not to even look under the cab until Perry had arrived so I spent the while day scrubbing and cleaning and by the end of the day it looked like I hadn't even started.
I sat outside the truck and drank a coffee. At this point I realised that this place was actually a really beautiful location. I was next to a small stream with Trout in it. A waterfall was just above me and the humming birds were feeding on the large Fuscias that grow here. And to top it all we had spent the last 3 months trying to spot the illusive Magellanic Woodpecker , and one turned up on a tree nearby. He had a good look at me and and made what can only be described as a loud laugh....Bastard.
I actually thought that if Cloud 9 died here then its not such a bad place to end up.
By the next day Ellen and Perry had arrived and the four of us went back to the truck. This was the first time Pat had seen it since looking out of the ambulance window in the rain.
A very emotional moment that's for sure
Ellen and Perry were fantastic. Ellen and Pat spent the whole day scraping up jam and washing and scrubbing everything and by the end of the day it all looked pretty amazing inside .
Perry and I tackled the engine area . Firstly though we had to get round the problem that the hydraulics that tilt the cab had been damaged .
Having another truck and a big strap seemed to get this sorted pretty quick
Gravity can be a bitch. Having dipped the oil and discovered that half of it was missing, Perry set of on his methodical system of tracking down the oil.
Engine oil in the wrong places , i.e in the cylinders or air intakes can kill and engine so the first thing to do was to try and turn the engine over by hand. It was rock solid and would not move an millimetre. This meant that either the engine was seized or the cylinders were full of oil that had to be removed.
Luckily Perry had the last 4 days and 1800 km thinking this over and had devised a plan . He had also had a special tool made on the journey to allow is access to the cylinders
The top was removed from the engine and one by one the Injectors were taken out. With a syringe and a small tube we removed about 1.5 litres of black engine oil from the all of the 6 cylinders and slowly but surely the engine we were able to turn it over by hand. The rest of the missing oils was located in the air filter and intake ducts.
After many hours Perry had meticulously opened and cleaned nearly all the oil out of the wrong places.
The time had come to push the button and try and start her.
Within one turn she fired into life, However, within 2 seconds we couldn't even see the truck for the huge cloud of smoke that it was belching out. Having been reassured that this was simply all the unburnt oil that was going through the system she sat at idled for the next 10 minutes and sounded great.
What a relief.
We packed up camp and and set of in tandem towards the town of Tortel. Within a few seconds of driving I knew she didn't feel good.
My steering wheel was jumping about all over the place and was 90 degrees out of alignment.
Walkie talkies at the ready we plodded on at about 10km per hour and I could only hope that Ellen and Perry were behind me as I couldn't see a thing in my mirrors.
|Yes I'm in there Somewhere|
I destination was a large level area next to the river near Tortel were we could really examine the damage over the coming days.
We were nearly there when the loud scream " Stop " came over the radio from Ellen.
One of the large U bolts that hold the rear axle and springs in place had just fallen off.
After a quick assessment an even slower speed was adopted and we made camp.
Perry lit a fire and we were later joined by some semi wild pigs , which I thought was a bit of stupid move. Since when did a pig turn up at a BBQ
Over the next few days Perry and I spent all the time on our backs under the truck whilst Pat and Ellen continued with the inside . We also discovered that a solar panel had been smashed and needed disconnecting.
Now I said earlier that I knew that extracting a 10 ton truck out of a ditch could have consequences and we soon discovered them
We focused on the steering and soon saw that the two vital steering controls, being the Drag Link and the Track Rod had been bent and stretched out of shape and this had caused the alignment issues. We also discovered that whilst the vehicle had been upside down it had lost all the power steering fluid.
Adjustments were made and and fluid added . The missing U bolt was replaced by two 15 ton Ratchet straps and after a few days the vehicle was declared fit for the next leg of the journey, some 120 km on Gravel road to a town called Cochrane.
Pat had washed everything and we struck camp and set off, stopping every 30km to check all was well.
It took a whole day to get there but we did in one piece and the steering , although not perfect was acceptable and a lot smoother now it had some fluid in it.
Perry is not only a fantastic Mechanic but he has a problem solving "can do" attitude that never stops.
In fact if your thinking of travelling by truck you shouldn't leave home without a "Perry" near by.
He had worked out all the solutions and in Cochrane he spotted a guy welding a fence and within a few minutes he had fabricated a new U Bolt.
Whilst in Cochrane we also had a great evening out with Carlos's wife Daisy and it was really good to have a bit of normality back in our lives.
The only really outstanding problem was the fact that lifting the cab was still impossible without the two broken hydraulic connectors. We still hadn't been able to fix this issue.
The steering parts that needed to be replaced could only be purchased from Mercedes and the nearest dealer was in Coyhaique which was only 330 km away on unmade corrugated gravel road , which out here is considered to be just round the corner.
We set off to Coyhaique at a slow pace. We even stopped for a couple of nights along the way to do some sight seeing. Life was slowly returning to normal and it was great to do things that weren't truck related.
However, confidence was still an issue on these gravel roads in the wet. I wouldn't have wanted to be behind us over the pass's.
Coyhaique went well. Mercedes had the two steering parts by the next day and pointed us to several suppliers for the hydraulic connectors . Sadly all of them proved fruitless .
We set up camp near on large river bed and set about replacing the parts.
You can see that the draglink was all out of shape so it was nice to get it all perfect again.
Whilst taking a short journey to a local port , Ellen and Perry went missing for a while and showed later back at the camp. Perry was grinning like a Cheshire Cat so I wondered what he was up to. Later that night they produced a small gift wrapped parcel . Inside was only the two hydraulic connectors that we needed . he had spotted a dead truck in a yard and talked the owner into parting with these two bits free of charge after hearing our troubles . He never stops. he does however need to work on his poker face a bit more
Well we are now 1500 km from the crash site ( although we took a ferry for some of it ) and all is well.
We still have a lot to do but the truck is definitely fully repairable. Whether our confidence will mend as quick is yet to be seen.
We are now doing normal things again like going site seeing and eating in restaurants.
I would like to dedicate this post to all of the people who have helped and supported us both here and at home.
In particular I would like to really thank Carlos,
The fantastic Ambulance crew ( P2d2) in Tortel who hugged us every day.
Vale and Paty ( Angels )
Grant and Leslie for propping us up at the scene .
Sara and Augustin the hitch Hikers we tried to kill.
And lastly to the dearest friends in the world Ellen and Perry who have really saved the day, and have somehow put up with us for the last two weeks .
We couldnt have been back on the road without them
We love all you guys
For those of you that think that nobody cares and humanity has given up, You couldn't be more wrong.
Thanks to all those who sent kind words and wishes following the last post
Hasta Luego and we will see you on the road somewhere .
Wednesday, 4 April 2018
Life Back on the Road
Sadly some damage was caused by getting the vehicle upright but with the help of our friends Perry and Ellen all the parts that needed replacing have now been replaced.
That enough of the negative crap.Its time to get back to the journey.
To continue from the the last place we kept heading north up Ruta 7 in Chile, the Carraterra Austral . It was a slow journey as at this stage we hadn't completed all the repairs and if were brutally honest we have changed the way we drive in these "Ripio " roads and now treat them with a lot more caution
Puerto Tranquillo was always on our list of places to visit and it was really nice to get there and do some normal touristy stuff, as this marked the first stage back to everyday life . Lago Tranquillo boasts a rather strange phenomena being a large collection of caves that are situated on islands in the lake. They have been eroded over millions of years into strange features and shapes. The boat ride out to caves was a bit of a stomach churner and I wasn't really looking forward to the trip back to port.
We limped on to Coyhaique were we had the chance to catch up with the vet Manuel and his wife Florencia and have a junk food overdose .
Our aim was fixed on Puerto Montt which was the first really big town on our route . We believed that we could buy all the vehicle parts there but it was still over 650 km away and involved some pretty bad roads and several ferries. After loads of discussion and googling we could see that we could in fact get one overnight ferry onto the island of Chiloe and then drive on paved roads all the way to Puerto Montt.
The ferry left from Puerto Cisness and we embarked at after midnight and just hunkered down in the truck until morning.
Although beautiful Chiloe Island looked bleak and drab as the weather here was now definitely changing and it felt like winter was catching us up.
One of the famous landmarks on the island is the supposed end of the "Pan American Highway"
I say supposed as we have seen another two other locations that also claim to be the end of this road.
However , If I had just ridden a bicycle from Alaska to this location I would be pretty gutted as the the monument was pretty crap.
We headed in tandem through the island stopping at several pretty towns . The island has obviously been quite a poor area and the Churches are made from timber and looked like they had been built by local boat builders. They were absolutely stunning.
Houses on stilts in the estuary in the islands capital "Castro"
We arrived in Puerto Montt. Now maybe we have been spoiled by beautiful countryside and open spaces but we didn't really like it . It was big and busy and we couldn't find any of the things we came for. We did however have a great evening catching up with two cyclists, Grant and Leslie, who we had met on the day of the accident.
The weather had started getting better so the resort of Puerto Varas gave us a few pleasant day in the shadow of Volcano Osorno and we managed to get a few more jobs done on the truck . Call me a softy but I even managed to give Pat a window back.
I know what your thinking. Cake decorating isn't for me.
I have mentioned before that there is a lot of German influence here and the Kunstmann ( Try saying that right after a few of their beers ) Brewery in Valdivia is a great example of this.
We stayed in their car park and drank loads of Bavarian style bear in a Bavarian style Pub , served by Bavarians. Slightly weird in the middle of Chile, but non the less very nice.
The drive to the town of Pucon via Villarica was the first real introduction to real wealth. The fantastic Lake front properties were in a different league to the other parts of Chile we had visited .
Pucon is a very touristy town full of back packers, soap dodgers and people with flowery trousers who are "Trying to find themselves " despite all this it was really nice and the town sits at the foot of Mount Villarica which is an active Volcano which last erupted in march 2015. Despite the risk of another eruption the property development in the area is immense.
Another great highlight of Pucon was meeting up with one of Pats Internet friends " Roberta " from Brazil who is also travelling a similar route to us . We tried to meet up in Ushuaia but just missed each other. Having met in the town she kindly invited us to stay with her at a house she had rented in the hills just outside town. A real star.
Just an hours drive down the coast near the town of Conaripe is a tropical Spa called Termas Geometrica.
Its nestled in the hills in a small valley above the town. The drive up there was a challenge as the roads were steep, twisty and narrow. But as usual you think you have done really well and deserve a big yourself a pat for getting there in one piece. Then you enter the car park and park up between all the coaches and buses and family hatchbacks.
What a well needed afternoon. It has over 20 pools varying between 9 degrees and 44 degrees . We just headed to the hot ones and turned ourselves into boil in the bag humans . Happy birthday Pat xxx
The Congiullio National park is a little piece of heaven nestled between loads of semi active Volcanoes and Lava field. The lunar landscape at the entrance is strangely beautiful and the forest areas are the healthiest I have ever seen .
The drive through the park was incredible, with narrow twisty turns with overhanging trees and views of the lakes and Volcanoes .
I have produced a short video of this but unfortunately the youtube Malicia didn't like the sound track and banned it. So here it is without the music. If any of you know "The Gold Bug " by Alan Parsons then humming it might help. You can adjust the quality up to 1080p in the settings
The weather has now turned a bit colder so North it is.
i don't know if it was the fact that it was a bank Holiday weekend here, but the traffic on the way out was awful
Lots of horns and no manners
Don't Forget our Places and Photos page shows our route and more pictures
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
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".
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
Sorry its been a while since we last posted. I could say that its down to poor internet connections, which is true, but the reality is that we have just been having great time here in the regions of Antofogasta and Atacama. We love it here.
Since our last entry we hopped up the coast stopping on rocky outcrops, beautiful beaches and high mountains , the weather has got progressively better and we have managed to get a serious amout of relaxing in as well as visiting some incredible places here.
The landscape has definately changed. We are now in mainly desert regions and we have also discovered the joys of altitude.
With our friends Robert and Claire we managed to stop on the rocky coast near Chanaral and on the edge of a beautiful white sand beach just south of the entrance to the Pan de Azucar National park. The road to it was a bit trick but what a place .
The sea was freezing but it was just heaven
The National Park itself was really our first taste of the Lunar Landscapes that we have since become accustomed to and love
I thought about writing loads of geeky stuff but I think the video below describes the sites perfectly , so the geeks among you enjoy and those who are drifting into a coma move on quick .
And if you really can't get enough have a look at www.eso.org
For years we have seen photos of South American travellers standing in front of a large hand shaped Monument, " Mano Del Desierto " in the desert area of Antofagasta. It has always been on our bucket list to get there and have our moment . This was our next stop and the weather was kind to us.
Back on the coast just north of Antofagasta we stopped at the "Portada de la Antofogasta" and for the first time crossed the Tropic of Capricorn.
We stopped a couple of nights near the river Loa near the town of Maria Elena and met a young british couple "James and Gemma " who were just finishing their journey in a little van they converted. We had a great games night but do you think Pat might be peeking
Having re met up with Robert and Claire we set off on our pre booked tour of the largest copper mine in the world " Mina Chuquicamata" just outside the town of Calama.
Everything was huge. The pit was huge , the diggers were huge and the trucks were enormous. It was like being in the Lilliput.
The surface of the pit sits at 2850 meters above sea level. The pit is 5 km long over 3 km wide and has a depth of 1.1 kilometers. The trucks in the bottom are barely visible .
It was opened as an "open pit" in 1915 and has grown into a facility that is in effect a very large industrial town, It has its own smelting plant, Its own hospital, the biggest Sulfuric acid plant in the southern hemisphere and uses 2000 litres of water per second 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year.
I dont profess to understand the process but from what I understand is that the rock is dug out of the ground constantly. Only 10 % will actually contain usebale Copper Ore. It is then crushed almost to dust and washed . The sludge is then mixed in huge vats with the sulphuric acid and the copper is extracted by electrolysis and magic.
In 2012 it produced 443000 tonnes of Copper and 330910 tonnes in 2017
Sadly, the bi products of this plant are very obvious. Firstly there is all the dust and pollution to the environment and secondly for many many kilometers around the plant there are hundreds of artificial mountains created by the dumping of the other un useable 90% of excavated rock. Its an amazing place but not pretty.
It used to have its own residential town for the workers and their families but due to the very high level polution and Arsenic this has now become derelict and is slowly being covered in waste rock.
There were signs everywhere telling workers to wear dust masks, but we saw very few who did.
China is its biggest customer.
In 2010 an $18 billion expansion project was approved to meet the world demands for Copper.
This expansion will be sited about 7km away and is due to open in 2019. This will be a more traditional underground operation and is hoped to extend the mines life by another 40 years.
These trucks just keep working 24/7 hauling rocks up from the bottom of the pit . Fully loaded they weigh 500 tonnes and have a payload of 350 tonnes. They use 300 litres of fuel every hour, thats 7200 litres per day and probably have a carbon footprint the size of Alaska.
Ok You can put your Anoraks away now.
Our next pit stop was in the very pretty riverside town of Chiu Chiu. Pat and I manged to have a nice walk around the town and get to see inside its beautiful small church. Although not religious it was quite moving to see several nuns in the church praying. One had a guitar and was singing like a bird. Sadly the bird in mind would have been a crow .
The Geysers at Taito near San Pedro de Atacama were always on our list but we were a little bit worried about its location being at 4200 meters.
The drive up there was amazing and we had been told that the best time to see them was at sunrise
We spent the night outside the gates and not only did it get down to minus 18 but we both suffered a bit with the altitude. The 5 am alarm was a struggle for us and the truck.
San Pedro de Atacama is the main town in this region. It is very tourist and popular with younger people who are looking for some adventure and night life.
Although its main industry is probably tourism it still has a very strong and traditional local population .
We were lucky to witness one of their annual festivals that involved a parade through the town.
The surrounding area of San Pedro de Atacama is mainly desert . Although greenery is a bit sparse it has an incredible beauty that we have come to love.
It has been a highlight.
One of the big attactions here is the "Valle de Luna" . Its the best 5000 pesos we have spent. It was truly wonderful.
For those close to us, you will know that our journey to get here hasn't been easy, but to see Pat crawling on her knees through a narrow underground passage and then climb up to the top of the highest peak for sunset was fantastic .
We have truly loved Chile and its people. It is likely that we will be leaving soon but will remember this marvelous country for ever.
Don' forget you can always see more information and Pictures on our route map on the "Places and Photos" page of this site.