As many of you already know, we drove a truck and camper from the lower tip of Chile to the capital city of Santiago, totaling over 4,000 kilometers. The idea stemmed from Kevin seeing a truck and camper from the same company in the parking lot at the Perito Moreno Glacier. Ten emails and one eight hour bus ride later, we found ourselves in Punta Arenas, Chile, located on the Magellan Strait.
Our excitement turned into apprehension when we picked up the camper and no one from the company spoke english. The camper introduction, run through and contract process was entirely in spanish, including the maps and campground brochures. As we navigated our way out of the fairly large city, our excitement returned because we were off the “hacky sack trail” and had our own wheels for the first time! Our first stop was Torres del Paine, the most famous national park in South America.
On the way into the park, we were completely amazed by the beautiful landscape. Every turn produced “oohs and aahs” and many stops were made.
This became a common theme during our entire journey to Santiago. Our luck with weather continued and all of our days were nice and sunny, but the wind held up its reputation and the gusts were the strongest we have ever experienced. We hiked and camped and stared for three days. Back on the road, via the infamous route 40. We had to prepare for this stretch, as the “highway” was a bumpy dirt road for miles and miles, a no man's land, with very little petrol stations or human life. The landscape literally looked like the moon.
After an overnight stop at a rustic “estancia,” which is basically a working ranch that provides meals and basic lodging/camping, we entered the Chacabuco Valley, a soon to be national park. This stretch of road was one of our favorite parts of the road trip. The landscape was varied ~ high mountain peaks sitting behind dramatic colorful buttes with lush green valleys and curving rivers, intermingled with desert patches and wild horses, flamingos and guanacos (Patagonian llamas).
Picture this for six hours and only seeing 2 cars the entire time! Our night was spent in Cochrane, Chile and realized that the locals don't see many tourists and have never seen a truck and camper. With the recommendations by Scott Perryman, a Patagonian expert and one of Mandy's work associates, we headed towards the tiny town of Puerto Guadal on Lago General Carrera.
Scott told us to stay on his friend's property on the lake, which proved to be a little difficult, as we had to figure out where exactly this property was and how we were going to open the locked gate from the road. To make a long story short, it took three stops, and the convincing of five people (two of whom spoke no english) to get the lock opened. The task was worth it, as we had a beautiful, private lake side campsite, with fresh veggies from a green house on the property. With local insight, we found out about a hike onto private property to an incredible waterfall.
After, we were invited to an “asado” by friends of Scott's, to celebrate the completion of a “refugio” or rustic cabin. An asado consists of a slow roasted lamb, cooked for eight hours on an open fire. Once its ready, the lamb is placed on a large plywood board and hand devoured by guests.
Kevin says that it is undoubtedly the best lamb he has ever eaten. The hosts and guests welcomed us with open arms and exemplified true Chilean hospitality. We then continued north, around the lake to take a quick boat ride around the “castillos de marmol,” floating marble formations that can only be conveyed in photos.
Our journey took a detour and headed 50 km west, by Scott's recommendation to drive through the valley a dramatic mountain rainforest, with literally hundreds of waterfalls, rivers and lakes. After an overnight stop at a crazy German-run hospedaje, we continued north and ended up in the fairly large town of Coyhaique, Chile to regroup. The stopover included a dinner at a fire station restaurant, “Bomberos,” a few frustrating hours at a local police station, an argument with a local metermaid and several attempts at taking a hot shower. The drive out of town never felt so good. The next stop was Quelat National Park, a rarely visited park in Patagonia. We had the park to ourselves and hiked through a lush rainforest to a hanging glacier.
The next day we made an impromptu stop to soak our sore muscles at a hot spring. The spot was one of a kind, situated on a fjord. Again, we had the place to ourselves for complete peace and relaxation.
At one point, we observed a pod of porpoises swimming by. We convinced the owners of the hot spring to let us camp, then headed towards Chaiten, Chile to catch a ferry further north. Chaiten was devastated by a volcanic eruption in 2008 and unfortunately, has not recovered. The town was almost abandoned, as most homes and buildings were destroyed and ash still covered the area.
After a night of “wild camping,” we hopped on the seven hour ferry toward Hornopiren, Chile.
The ferry crew was intrigued with our camper, and much to their delight, Kevin gave them a tour of the inside. We felt privileged, as the other passengers had to hang out in the uncomfortable “lounge,” while we relaxed in the comfort of our rig. We decided to spend the remainder of our road trip in Pucon, Chile, which is in the lakes district of Patagonia, and included two full days of hiking, with incredible views of volcanoes and lakes.
We then made the final stretch to Santiago, Chile, where we had to return our camper. We must mention that one of the nights on this stretch was spent camping behind a gas station, and Kevin realized that his lifelong dream of being a trucker wasn't his true calling.
We must also mention that Kevin had to drive this rather large vehicle through the crowded city streets of Santiago. A wrong turn led us through the city center, but Kevin persevered, with help of his San Francisco driving experience and multiple honks of the horn.
With a sigh of relief, we dropped off the camper with only minor damage and made our way to Evan and Lorena Smith's home in Santiago. Evan went to Chico State with Kevin and is now living in Santiago with his Chilean wife, Lorena.
They were the most gracious hosts~ cooked us food, gave us our own room with endless amounts of hot showers and showed us around the area. They even took us to the coast, to visit the towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. We can't thank them enough for their hospitality! We got a good ol' dose of Americana one night, watching an entire Giant's game on TV and drinking good beer. Other days and evenings were spent exploring the city, and tasting traditional Chilean and Peruvian dishes, wine and pisco sours. A great ending to an eventful 3 weeks!