18 – 23 November
We enjoyed the rest at Bahia Inglesa, although dare I say it, we both felt the cold a bit at the coast! Must be getting acclimatized – no idea what we will be like when we get home.
I know I keep saying “what a small world” but I’m going to do it again. Here we met two people who used to live in Hull. One, a German girl, who had been at the University as an exchange student – she recognized JC’s accent! The other was John who now lives in Anglesey with his wife and moved there from Hull 30 years ago. Both were staying at the same place as us!
As well as working on the blog, we spent some time planning the rest of the trip and booking our hotel in Ushuaia for Christmas. JC knew he was under pain of death if I had to sleep in the tent or the Toyota on a garage forecourt for Christmas. Now we know we have five weeks to get there so plenty of time to see more of Chile
We got held up in another demonstration for pay again today around Copiapa. As we headed South the desert finally gave way to what they call the “transitional zone” where the semi-arid scrubland and sparse vegetation is the beginning of the transformation of the barren deserts to the country’s fertile heartland – thank goodness. The blue skies here are cloudless, making it a stargazers paradise with many observatories marked off the road. However, as we run parallel with the coast the clouds look like they are climbing over the mountains and tumbling down onto the road from the West. There was lots more vegetation – finally green trees and some flowers as we dropped down to the coast where the road was shrouded in mist and the temperature dropped quickly from 22 to 14.
At La Serena we headed for camping Sol Di Mare described in the guide book as a “lovely grassy campsite with good facilities and lots of shade by the beach”. Well “by the beach” was about the only thing they got right. There was certainly plenty of shade as the trees had not been cut back over the sites making it difficult to find somewhere where we could actually put the roof tent up and the toilets and showers were absolutely disgusting! Needless to say we didn’t stay but headed North along the coast road, where we found the small Hotel Campanaria del Mar with good clean rooms and excellent friendly staff. Sad thing was, once we had checked in and went to put the Toyota in the secure parking, at the rear of the hotel we found another Camping Sol di Mare which was much much better than the previous one – just our luck!
We have been trying to make arrangements to ship home in February 2009 with Grimaldi lines on a ro ro ship which will take all of us into Tilbury from Buenos Aires, and finally today we heard from them. They have made us a provisional booking but we need to get lots of paperwork together to send to them asap so we need to find a good place to stay tonight so that we can get that sorted.
It is definitely cooling down and today we had the first spots of rain we have seen for many weeks. After a long dreary drive through more of the transitional zone we entered a tunnel through the mountains and came out 3.5kms later into brilliant sunshine. What a lovely sight, orchards, vineyards, farming – we even saw a forage harvester working. JC is finding it difficult to get his head around the fact that it is now mid November, roses are blooming, they are making hay but the barley is not yet quite fit to harvest!!
We headed for Vina del Mar and Valparaiso on the coast looking for somewhere to stay. Our luck was out – most places were full and the only large chain that could offer us a room wanted an extortionate $357 and we would have to wait for them to get the room cleaned – you can imagine JCs comments! So we headed out of town further South down the coast to find that the towns there were mostly industrial ports – no hotels. However, about an hour later, just off the highway into Santiago our luck returned and we found another small hotel whose charges were one tenth of the one in Vina del Mar! Sadly the internet didn’t work so we were still stuck with getting our papers ready for Grimaldi. However, we did watch the English ladies football team play Chile in the world cup! They were playing at Coquimbo, near the place where we stayed last night – pity we didn’t know – we could have gone along and supported them – they didn’t look to have too many fans with them! We won 2 – 0 !!!
The TV news the following day showed massive demonstrations through the streets of Vina and Valparaiso – so we were lucky we didn’t get a bed there – we probably would have had to stay on for another night as the traffic wasn’t going anywhere around the cities.
Today’s challenge was to find somewhere to have the Toyota serviced and somewhere with a business centre so we could finally book our ferry for February! Unsure of our route to the highway, through the small villages we stopped to ask a lorry driver who happened to have two nuns as his passengers! The ladies, who spoke no English told him to lead us to the road we needed and off we went in convoy to the end of the village, where he stopped and drew us a map for the rest of the route. We caused some distraction in the small village of Islito, where two gardeners came along to help with the map and give their opinions of the best way to go!!!We made it to the highway, despite the diversions, one of which took us over a railway bridge – glad there was nothing coming the other way.
We headed for Rancagua, a large town where we got just what we needed. A friendly Toyota service manager who booked her in for 2.30pm that day and gave us directions to a local hotel where we would have all of the facilities we needed. I couldn’t believe it – we were booked in somewhere before lunch. Everything is done and we can now take a break from the highway and get off and explore some of the beautiful countryside around here. The weather is fantastic and the stalls along the streets are full of asparagus, avocados, strawberries, cherries, artichokes and oranges. The area around here is a “wine route” so we will raise a glass or two to you all along the way!
We had fun trying to get our documents faxed to Grimaldi. After trying two differing numbers for them in Italy, we asked the hotel to fax to my office in the UK. That number too, according to them was “not being answered”. I knew it was Friday afternoon but Jo and the rest of the guys at PSG Hull were still there! I think the hotel machine just didn’t like international numbers. So we walked up into the town and used the services of Chile Express who charged us 12.80 pounds for sending 8 pages – no wonder the hotel machine didn’t work!
It seems like a day for sorting things out – no rest for the wicked!!! Since getting the vehicle off the ship in Ecuador we have not been able to use our dipped headlights, because JC left the battery leads on and she was flat when we took her out of the container. He tried first to jump her off with 12v and when that didn’t work they used 24v – must have blown the bulbs. Neither two service garages that we have used have had spare bulbs and as, by law, we should be driving on dipped headlights at all times in Chile, we have been lucky not to have been stopped by police again!!
At the next big town, the Toyota service engineers were a bit more innovative – although they didn’t have the exact bulbs they managed to “adapt” some that they had in stock and ten pounds and half an hour later we were legally on our way again.
Just in case anyone is wondering why JC seems to be fixated with having the vehicle serviced at very short intervals – the diesel here is cheap but it is like black custard!!!!
Taking a break from the Panamerican Highway we took a side trip to see the seven cups waterfall. The sun shone all the way and despite JCs worries, we managed without breaking any glass but had a few hairy moments on the narrow gravel road with oncoming buses in the dust and at one point a man on horseback who was almost invisible in the fall out from one of the buses!It was a nice change to be off the highway and at least I thought the waterfalls were worth the visit. Not sure about himself though, although he is smiling in the photograph!
Most of the campsites were still closed as the holiday season doesn’t really get going here until after Christmas but we found one by the river- no one else around except for a girl teaching English to some locals, who told us someone would “turn up” at some point to take our money, a dog and a family of chickens who were obviously looking to share our supper. With fresh asparagus at only 99p from a wayside stall, some lovely Chilean red wine for me (Heineken for JC of course), we settled down in the evening sunshine to enjoy our first nights’ camping – except for the garage forecourts of course – for a while.
No one came for any money, but the place was a buzz with gardeners, cleaners etc the next morning, obviously getting ready for the weekend and we paid our three pounds for both of us!! Has to be the cheapest accommodation since we left the UK in April!!
Next morning we planned to drive to a lake about 150kms away and camp again before putting in some longer days driving to get us down to Patagonia. Best laid plans as they say – today the vehicle problem was with the batteries and the solenoid – too complicated for me to explain but the upshot was that, it appeared that our auxillary battery which runs the fridge, chargers etc was not charging, or at least the ‘in car’ display showed it as not charging. We fiddled, read the instructions – but in the end called Paul who advised us to by pass the solenoid. JC did this and whilst we were stopped with the bonnet up a friendly Chilean truck driver stopped to ask if we were OK. Then someone else pulled in behind us – they had broken down – so we offered them some help. All of this took us a couple of hours and finally we headed for the lake, fingers crossed that the battery was charging, through more of the beautiful farming countryside. When we got there it was a bit of a disappointment – not the beautiful emerald green lake that we had expected – maybe we are getting a bit blaze about all of this wonderful scenery and to top it all there were no camp sites open.
We ended up staying the night at a small motel, where the rooms were let by either 12 hours or 24 hours – sounded a bit dodgy to me and I was worried it was like the ones in Mexico that we had read about which really are just glorified houses of ill repute. JC says there were pictures of women and phone numbers in the gents toilets – but I think he was pulling my leg!
The young couple running the place were very proud of it all and did their very best – even carrying a table and chairs from the cafeteria into the garden so that we could sit in the sunshine with our drinks by the swimming pool and the internet connection was the best we have had for a long time!!
Well the Toyota started up first time, so that was a relief and we were off again though the Central Valley, where the vineyards and farming were eventually replaced by huge forests of pine and eucalyptus. The forests are obviously managed with young trees being planted and the smell of the wood in the timber yards was wonderful. The crops are still not quite fit for harvest so it looks like JC will not get a go on a tractor, as we are nearing Pedro’s place. We stopped at Salto de Laja a rushing waterfall that cascades 50 metres from the cliffs above. A lovely place to be at 9am on a Sunday morning in November.
People are so friendly here, yesterday a lady and her two sons came up for a chat in the supermarket car park and today at a garage a guy came up and told us “the best is yet to come – you are not yet in Southern Chile”. When we showed him our planned route through the Lake District into Argentina he said we have a beautiful drive ahead of us. Its been a long drive down through the desert, the transitional zone and the beautiful central valley of Chile, always with the Andes, now topped with snow, in the East but well worth it and with the prospect of even more beautiful scenery to come!
Thanks for all of your messages – good to know you are still following us and enjoying “our story”.
Good news is – our 12.80 fax worked and we now have a confirmed booking out of Buenos Aires for February.
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