Chile Update VII

Trip Start Jan 19, 2011
Trip End Apr 15, 2011

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Sunday, April 3, 2011


It's me – Keith. You remember… the guy who went to Chile & Argentina and then disappeared for a while… I know it’s been some time since I've written, but there hasn't been a ton of excitement to report on since my last email… But I’ll bring you up to speed on happenings in the last few weeks.

After arriving back in San Bernardo (as per my last email), we were kind of stuck without a vehicle – waiting for this fellow named Marco to come and take a look at it for us. There wasn't much to do while so I read a couple books on Patagonia that I’d picked up along the way and then followed Maria around to meet and spend time with her various family. You know that movie, Meet the Parents? Well imagine that, except my name isn't Gaylord Faucker – it’s Keith (and much harder for Spanish speaking people to pronounce because of the lack of "th" in the Spanish language), and instead of being watched and trying to get into the center of the circle of trust, I’m the center of attention. hahaha.

Well, Marco finally arrived to take a look at the car and after snooping around, discovered that the transmission linkage was hanging together by a thread and needed replacing. Understanding the problem and what needed to be done to remedy the situation, Marco conveyed to me that it was time to drink (you see, that’s apparently how things work here… More and more, Marco reminded me very much of being back in Waterton with the guys) – we’d fix things the next morning. So 3 bottles of rum, some whiskey, a little moonshine (I think… I can’t really remember to be honest) and numerous shared stories about the outdoors, climbing mountains, trekking, and life outside the city, Marco and I looked at the clock which read 07:00 the next morning… Uff-da! It was off to bed for 2 hours and then up at 09:00 to go searching for the necessary replacement part – which we found after a couple hours of searching about 2 dozen auto part shops. After fixing the car, Maria and I turned our attention towards preparing for a trip to the northern part of the country.

However, due to unforeseen family-related circumstances, we had to postpone our plans and spend another week in the Santiago area.

We did, however, manage to sneak away from the city one day and join a full-day tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sewell – an abandoned mining town. Being on a tour once again caused my tourism education to jump to the forefront and I began to make various mental notes about the positives and negatives of the English/Spanish tour. On the way to Sewell itself, we took a tour deep inside the nearby copper mine to see how the copper reserves are extracted from the igneous rock itself (130 tons of rocks are processed per day, with an extraction rate of ~1%). While this was most interesting, the lack of concern by the tour outfit regarding functional, properly fitting safety equipment (and instruction on its use) was disconcerting, as was the guide’s poor attitude and unfriendly demeanor. Continuing with the tour, we arrived at the abandoned mining town of Sewell which was built in the early 1900’s and abandoned by the 1980’s, due to health concerns of those living in the town and its close proximity to the mine. While it was nice to get away from the city on this tour, it would be a few more days until we would once again leave the smog-filled, 5+ million population hole called the Santiago metropolitan area.

So I’ll skip ahead a few days – to March 28th – which was when we finally hit the road again. Driving north on Ruta 5, we eventually passed through the valley and surrounding mountain range before hitting the coast, where an uncomfortably cool breeze blew off the Pacific Ocean. We drove 370km before stopping at Termas de Socos – hot springs located near the Pan-American Highway. Here we were treated to the best service we’d experienced to date (NOT!). When we asked how much it was to camp and make use of the hot springs at the campground – the fellow at the desk laughed in our face (literally, laughed - a deep throaty laugh) and was incredibly rude. However, we were running out of daylight and needed to set up camp, so we bit our tongues and dealt with the asshole’s comments. After setting up camp, we discovered that the entrance to the hot springs had been locked and we went to bed slightly frustrated. However, I did take comfort in being able to enjoy an incredibly calm, clear star-filled night sky before I fell asleep.

The next day we were on the road at a decent hour and drove straight to La Serena – a touristy beach resort type city. The beach, which stretched for miles and miles across the entire bay, was nice, fine sand, but filled with garbage (not to mention that the waves crashed hard and the water was freezing). After a lazy day here, we were headed inland, into the Elqui Valley.

On the road by 10am on March 30th, we drove away from the coast in a cool fog (one that seems to roll off the ocean every night here) that eventually broke and resulted in the day turning into a clear, blue-sky scorcher of a hot, dry day. With a brief stop in Vicuna to inquire about vineyards that produced and offered Pisco tours (the locally produced alcoholic beverage – a derivative of white wine), we were armed with details, directions, and followed the winding road thru a mountain valley deep into the Andes to a place called Pisco Elqui. Here, we paid ~$10 CAD equivalent each for a 1 hr tour that included a drink at the bar while we waited, tasting glasses that we could take home, and two tastes of different qualities of Pisco. After this tour, which was extremely informative, personalized (there were only the two of us on the tour), and full of tasty Pisco, we drove back to La Serena and then continued south to meet up with some of Maria’s family again.

We met Maria’s father, his sister, and her family at yet another small, resort-type town called Pichidangui; part fancy resort and part dust-blown, dirt-road tiny town. The bay here was arguably the nicest beach we’d visited to date, but the ocean was once again freezing cold. We spent a couple days lazing around by the resort’s pool, before eventually parting ways with Maria’s family and continuing on our own way towards yet another resort-style area, the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic City of Valparaiso and the nearby communities of Vina del Mar, Renaca, and Concon (you see, the lines are incredibly blurred between where one community ends and the next starts). We spent a night in Vina and a day to tour around Valparaiso. To get an idea of Valparaiso… imagine San Fransisco, I suppose… Built on the coast, with buildings literally built on top of one another, development extends steeply up the many hills that line the coast. Narrow, winding, steeply inclined 1-way streets; insane drivers; poor road signage, and rude parking attendants are phrases that describe driving in the city. Amazing scenic views, incredible architecture, and a wonderful Naval/Maritime museum are phrases that run through your mind as you tour the city itself… However, we were running short on time and had to return to San Bernardo last night so as to spend today preparing for the next – and final – leg of our journey in South America.

Ciao for now,

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