Tuesday, Jan. 9th
Today was a driving and shopping day in Puerto Montt. We were looking to buy another solar shower because our 30+ year old shower began to leak. The camping equipment store called Doite apparently sold them but you never know. It was located in a five story mall. I don’t think I have ever been in such a nice mall with all the name brands found in the United States. We bought a couple of empanadas for lunch and eventually found what we came for. Starbucks was a bonus which made Sarah happy. When Starbucks is the best coffee you can find you know they are not coffee snobs in Chile. We head to the Jumbo which is similar to
Wall Mart but maybe bigger.
Back on the road we caught the ferry to the island of Chiloe and found an amazing wildcamp spot on some cliffs overlooking the ocean. We had the place to ourselves. A million dollar view overlooking a gorgeous black sand beach. Cooked a great dinner, played some cards, watched a beautiful sunset and went to bed listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
Wednesday, Jan. 10th
Woke up to a beautiful sunny day. Sarah and I drank our coffee in the front room (driver and passenger seat) and studied Spanish. Seemingly, for our entertainment, the Dolphins were swimming and breaching in the water just out in front of us. It was so fun to watch them play and swim in and out of the waves.
We decided to get a little workout in before we ventured off down the secluded black-sand beach. We walked barefoot through the warm sand out to the shoreline and the Dolphins we still enjoying their time. We could have watched them for hours but we started hunting shells and rocks. There is just something about looking for objects on the beach that bring out the kid in you. We must have walked a half of a mile before we turned around. That’s when Sarah said, “Look!” I turned and saw one penguin standing on the beach where we had just been. We both wondered where it had come from and why it was alone. He was not the least bit afraid of us. We gave him a lot of space but we came within 15 feet. Sunning, primping and preening; he didn’t seem to mind us. We were awestruck by the weather, the dolphins and the penguin. It all came together to be one of those memorable days.
Back at our van the time was approaching 1:30 and we talked about driving down the coast to stay at another location. But instead we chose an array of cheese, crackers, salami, cherries and a glass of wine followed by a siesta. Why ruin a good day with driving? Coffee and a good book followed the afternoon nap and eventually dinner and a sunset. PERFECTION!
Thursday, Jan. 11th
We decided to get on the road early and head south not knowing exactly where we were going. We know we have to be at the southern end of the island by Saturday to catch the ferry at 8:00am. So, we drove the eastern side of the island passing through mostly farmland. The Jesuit priests in the 1500’s built a network of wooden church buildings that are scattered throughout the island. Having been in Europe this past summer, these churches pale in comparison to Europe’s amazing cathedrals. That said, you don’t come to Chile to see great man made architecture but rather unbelievable landscapes that draw your attention to a powerful Creator.
We stopped for coffee in the town of Castro upon the recommendation of Fodor’s Travel Guide. The building stood on stilts above an ocean inlet but as we approached, the entrance gate was locked. We were desperately looking forward to a good cup of coffee. As we turned toward the car in disappointment a women came out of the front door and told us that they went out of business due to the pandemic. She sweetly recommend another place in town but we made to many wrong turns trying to find it and left town without a drop. We were so close!
We stopped at a mini market to buy some ice but instead I bought an apple empanada from the trunk of a lady’s car. The store was out of ice but the empanada was muy bueno.
Driving along a beautiful lake heading west toward the ocean we came to a campground at Lago Huillinco. As we pulled up to get our bearings a young lady called out to us from across the road. The next thing you know an older woman was ushering us into her pasture and talking away in Spanish. She would have made a good used car salesman and had us shelling out pesos faster than you can say taco. When I asked about the duchas (showers) she said they were muy caliente (very hot). We have come to learn that “hot” does not exist down here.
We set up camp right next to the lake and Sarah was first up for a shower. I figured since the last camp shower did not go well for her that she should get the first crack. When she came back to the van, I could see steam and it wasn’t coming from the shower but from her ears. Being a man even I could see that she was done for the day, maybe the week or even the month. The shower ran scalding hot or ice cold but no in between. Apparently women have this need to shampoo their hair more than every other week and if you can’t wash the soap out it’s no bueno. At this point in my manhood my follicle count needs no such pampering; but, at that moment it would not have bode well to make such a mention. That brought the day to an end and we were both thankful it came.
Friday, Jan. 12th
Woke up at 7:00am and made coffee for the new day. We sat in the front room (driver and passenger seats) and studied our Spanish. Worked out, ate breakfast and drove out to the coast to take a peek. From there we turned around and headed to the town of Quellon where we will catch the ferry tomorrow. We found a good wild camping spot right next to an old church and across the street from the cemetery. We both enjoy wild-camping more than established campgrounds because you are usually alone. Yes, there are no amenities but the amenities have not been that wonderful so far. We are looking forget my ward to tomorrow because we are officially beginning our journey into Patagonia down the Carratera Austral.
Saturday, Jan. 13th
We were up before the crack of dawn to catch the ferry. But I swear if we didn’t have bad luck we would have no luck at all. The car started making a new noise that sound like a high pitched whine. My guess was that it was some kind of bearing but whatever it was it was, NO BUENO!We boarded the ferry around 8:00 am for our five hour ride. Me and the ocean do not get along, but thankfully it was a very smooth ride. On the ferry I was surfing the web for mechanics but it was a Saturday and we heading to a very small town.
We arrived in Chaiten around 1:00 pm to overcast skies and rain. I locked in the address of the mechanic on Google and off we went. It is hard enough when you speak the language to describe what is going on with your car but now it seemed almost comical. With the use of Google translate, pathetic Spanish, flailing arms and the juvenile sounds of bzzzzzz and hmmmm, I gave it my best to explain the problem to the mechanic. He did not seem amused or even like he was interested in helping us. He stood there saying nothing with a look on his face as if saying, “And what do you want me to do for you?” It seemed like a year of silence and then he motioned me to unlatch the passenger seat that gives access to the motor.
In just a few minutes he came up with a diagnosis. The alternator needs a new bearing. He could fix that in a week. I think a few French words were floating around in my mind at that moment. Then he asked me if the vehicle was rented and from where. Within a few minutes he had the owner of the rental company on the phone and we got it sorted out. Indeed the bearing was going bad but we could easily drive it for thousands of miles more. That was as good as it got. We left with a little assurance, but a little is better than none.
Chaiten is a very small town typical of a town you would find in Alaska. And when you are looking for food options you have very few choices. We found a nice place to eat pizza and met a young couple from Germany who were hiking around Patagonia. After a late lunch we headed up the coast toward Pumelin National Park. The park was gifted to Chile by the owner of North Face after he tragically died in a kayaking accident. We got sidetracked on the way and found a wild camping spot on the beach in a little area called Santa Barbara. It was perfect for napping and reading but about five hours after our arrival Sarah asked me if I had turned the car lights off. Are you ready for the answer? I put the key in and turned the ignition and it was like a volcano of more than, “NO BUENO” erupting in my mind. It was now my turn to be done. I had nothing to say from that point until bed. We decided to wait until morning before we asked for help.
Sunday, Jan. 14th
We woke up knowing that help would drive by at any minute but we both had this creepy thought nagging us, “What if the battery is so dead that it can’t be jumped?” Thankfully that did not happen and the car started up. We headed back to Chaiten, got gas and found a good coffee shop. There we met two couples who had been camping in Patagonia for a month. They gave us a lot of good feedback. The Barista had worked at Breckenridge and Jackson Hole a few seasons so we felt a bit at home and the coffee was a the best we had had so far. The Barista gave us a couple hiking options and we decided it was better to get wet hiking than sit in the van most of the day. We chose a hike that took us through forests that were very similar to the Redwoods. On the way to the hike we picked up two sets of hitchhikers. One set of males (French) and one set of females (Chilean). They were on an excursion with a small tour when their van broke down. They were going to do the same hike that we were headed to.
The hike was wonderful and we met guy along the trail that wanted us to take his picture in front of a giant Alerce tree (Redwood). Sarah said to him to say cheese and I was not sure if he knew what that meant. In a true cultural faux pas, I chimed in with, "Queso." He replied with, "in Chile we say no whiskey" and pointed to his mouth circling it with his finger while saying, "No quesoooo!" We quickly realized saying whiskey causes a smile while the pronunciation of queso (cheese) does not. It was too funny!
We drove an hour south after the hike and found an old abandoned air strip that became our campsite to for the night. As we were sitting in the front room along came a guy in his truck moving a herd of sheep. It was so fun to watch the dogs work the herd. It can honestly say the day turned out to be wonderful. We are finally, officially in Patagonia and what a difference in scenery!
Monday, Jan. 15th
This morning the best sound rang out when I turned on the ignition, “Houston, we have liftoff!” I suppose it could not have been more fitting since we were on an airstrip. The car was running and we were on our way to Futaleufu. This place has one of the highest rated rivers for rafting (+5) in the world. We didn’t plan on rafting but we just wanted to see the area. Along the way we were amazed at all the jungle surrounded by mountains. We picked up a couple of hitchhikers (Thomas and Valentine) from France and gave them a two hour ride into Futaleufu. They were traveling for a year. When we arrived in town we parted ways and headed for a coffee shop. To our surprise we found a good one.
The town of Futaleufu reminded us of a laid back mountain town in Colorado without the commercialization. The surrounding snow capped mountains were awe inspiring. We spent a few hours poking around town and then headed up the road to find an amazing place to camp. We pulled in right next to a blue/green river and parked the van. It was just us when we arrived so we did some laundry in the river. Later in the day a few locals came to swim and fish but by nighttime we had the place all to ourselves. As the sun fell the stars appeared and the night sky lit up revealing the glory of our creator. It is unbelievable how clearly you can see the Milky Way without city light pollution. It looks like tomorrow is going to be a sunny day and we can’t wait to see all that is around us.
We woke up to beautiful skies and knew it was going to be a good day OR maybe not! We decided to head out to the island of Port Raul Marin Balmaceda. We heard it is a great place to see whales and dolphins and seals and birds. It is 37 miles off of the main route.
Just to give you a perspective of how slow travel is down here, that is a 2 and 1/2 hour drive on a dirt road. On the way we were starting to see bicyclists from all over the world. I do not envy them with the all the dust on the roads, they are covered.
As we were driving out to the island to catch the ferry the road, with no warning, was being graded. A twelve inch wide by twelve inch tall berm of dirt was heaped up in the middle of the road that might as well been a center divider on a highway intended to keep traffic separated. I had no time to react and we rode right up on it. The steering wheel was locked straight ahead as the berm acted as rail that would not let us go. We were thrown to the left and we were now on the wrong side of the road and that’s when we noticed a blind curve ahead. Sarah said we need to get over but the berm looked like a huge wake behind a water ski boat. I headed for the lowest point and we bounced onto the correct side of the road. It all happened so quickly but for a second we felt relieved and then came the squeeze.
It was after 4:00 pm and we needed help. I looked down the road and here comes a road grader. We just laughed. Off course a road grader shows up just when you need it. After 20 minutes he pulls us out of our pinch. We try to pay him but he refuses. He knew he was the reason we were stuck so I didn’t insist.
We made it to the ferry and onto the island. We set up camp right next a harbor and struck out for a four mile hike to the beach. It was stunning to see all the marine life, the views of the islands off the coast and mountains that rise straight up out of the sea. We met a young couple with two kids from France, who had been traveling by bicycle for the past six months. What a lifetime experience for a family. We are so blessed we got to travel with our kids throughout the years.
Dinner came and went, the day was over. More excitement ahead and we will keep you posted. Keep on rolling, Scott and Sarah
Keep on rolling,
Scott and Sarah