We bid Argentina farewell and crossed over the Andes into Chile. The stern fruit and vegetable border control personal were soon scrambling around our camper and truck, digging into our possessions, looking for the illegally smuggled-in substances. I am talking honey, fruit and vegetables. They cheer when they find our illegal substance, a tiny little nearly finished pot of honey. Oh, Winnie the Poo do be careful when you cross the border into Chile. The fruit and veggie doggie will not smell out your drugs but it will find your honey. We are marched back to the office and they have to manually go through piles of “I have Nothing to Declare forms,” ah the disappointment when they discover we had declared we had honey. No jail time for us at this border crossing.
The road from Chile Chico is worth the detour. Climbing steeply over the mountains, the narrow road winds up and then down along the steep cliff edge and around blind corners but offers us one of the most spectacular drives we have done. The going is slow not only because of the road but also because we ooh and ahh all the way to the bottom, until it joins up with the famous Carretera Austral or Route 5 road.
Southern Chile is a wonderland of mountains, forests, wild flowers, glaciers, lakes, fjords. It is a wild and battered coastline. It is remote, the weather is challenging with cold rains most of the year, its tiny hamlets and the friendly of people provide a warm welcome.
We find a sheltered campsite on the lakeshore and make ourselves hot wine and a hot water bottle and sit huddled in the camper keeping warm and dry. The ducks on the lake quack to each other as they enjoy the calm waters of Rio Tranquillo. This is heaven.
We arrive at the biggest town in this area, Coyhaique and park the camper while we go to book tickets on the ferry. It is impossible to drive the full length of Carretera Austral without having to take at least one ferry. And then the impossible happens we both forgot where we parked the truck. We have lost the truck. We purchase some hot peanuts from the street vendor to keep us warm and give us energy while we search the streets looking for our truck. After we locate it, we head off to a cabana for the night and meet Mr Happy.
Tall, skinny, and wearing several layers of clothing Mr Happy greeted us as if we were the most important guests he had ever had. He was soooo happy to have us stay with him. He fussed around and when I asked where the nearest laundry was he immediately took me to his own private washing machine. I yelled at Tom to bring the laundry as Mr Happy already had the washing machine filling with water and was adding detergent.
“Also your shirt, take off the shirt you are wearing,” I yelled to Tom. Tom came running in his underwear across the parking lot with a bulging bag of laundry. Mr Happy explaining everything to me in rapid Spanish and the more I repeated that I do not understand Spanish the faster and louder he spoke and he then decided I needed more Spanish lessons. So one by one as each article of clothing was put into the washing machine he would grab it hold it up high tell me what it is in Spanish, I had to repeat and then he put it into the machine. Bra, panties, t-shirt, jeans, towels, I had a hard time not bursting out laughing. I loved this Mr Happy; he was so in love with life and his guests.
We continued north and soon the road was rocky and muddy. Wild flowers filled the valley, trees reached for the sky, and waterfalls tumbled down the mountains. We stopped for lunch and the roar of all the waterfalls filled our world. “Listen,” I said to Tom, “We are so alone here but the noise and roar from all the waterfalls makes it hard to even hear each other.” We were driving through Parque National Queulát and were later to learn that the word Queulát actually means the Sounds of the Waterfalls.
In a tiny hamlet we stopped for gas and asked if there was anywhere we could get coffee. The aging attendant waved his hand and pointed to a little house across the road. Tom walked up the pathway it looked all closed up and the sign on the door read “Cerrado.” But as he was returning to the car and young girl came running out and said we could come in. Sitting around a wood burning stove, we enjoyed a hot bowl of homemade soup and a cup of coffee.
That evening we enjoyed the company of Juan and Edriana in La Junta at their Hosteria Rayen. What a delightful little oasis in the cold wet weather. Sitting around the blazing fire, we chatted in our broken Spanish and their broken English. A good sleep in comfortable beds and we were ready for more tough driving. We bid them farewell and they told us to come back when the weather is better.
The further north we drove the narrower, muddier and more difficult the road became. We had to drive 4X4 and the truck power helped us cross over little streams, across crumbling edges until we were stopped dead by a road crew who were trying to fix the road that by now had been completely washed away. Donning our bright yellow raincoats we joined the crew and watched the bobcat driver work the earth, diverting raging streams, moving boulders and lifting giant tree trunks, “Its like an elephant trunk” I whispered to Tom. Several hours later, they had built a narrow bridge over the stream and we were allowed to proceed.
We arrived at Chaitén a little town buried in ash by the Chaitén volcano and then flooded by raging rivers and mud on the 3rd May 2008. It still stands battered by time, waiting for decisions to be made as to what will become of the town. A few residents have returned but it is like living in a disaster area and a constant reminder of what once was. We chatted to Nicholas who lived through the eruption and has returned to try to reclaim a life shattered by the volcano. He spoke of the difficulties, the decisions of whether to rebuild or relocate the town, how so many lost not only their homes, but their businesses, jobs and community. It reminds us of the power of nature and how vulnerable we are when the earth becomes restless.
The following morning we boarded the Naviera Austral ferry along with fellow overlanders Clements and Kristina. We are all traveling to Puerto Montt. After 8 hours we arrive and bid them farewell as they are heading west and we north.
We arrive at a campsite to be greeted by Mr Happy Dog alias (Bobbie) a big friendly yellow lab with a bad cough. Juan the owner was also happy to have us and as it was late and we were heading for bed, chatting will have to wait until morning.
The campsite in Frutillar had us believing we had arrived in a little Bavarian town. As we strolled along the lakeshore in the morning volcanoes around the lake glistened in the sun. We had excellent apple strudel and strong coffee before heading off to explore the lake district of Chile and perhaps head over to Argentina’s Lake District around Bariloche.
It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky we had not had such a perfect day for weeks. We drove towards the Puyehue Volcano. I glanced up and excitingly said, “Its spewing, it’s spewing.” What is spewing said Tom glancing around the truck and wondering now what.
“The Puyehue Volcano is blasting away” We pulled over and yes indeed we had a spectacular view of the volcano belching ash high into the atmosphere. A massive cloud of ash was drifting towards Argentina. We arrived at the border it was closed so headed for a little campsite/hostel beneath the volcano. Christian the young muscular mountain climber/owner urged us to hike up the opposite mountain for a view over the volcano. “it’s a clear day we don’t often see it like this”
We scrambled and huffed and puffed the hour up watching the volcano across the valley blasting, listening to it roar like thunder, groaning under the strain of pent up energy. Tom wanted to stay forever. But we had to hike back down to the campsite in the valley before dark.
We arrived back at the campsite to general chaos. The border to Argentina was closed because of the volcano activity and ash fall out. Motorists were stranded. A wild boar was roasting on a spit to feed the crowds, everyone pitched in. Soon the kitchen was taken over by the guests, Christian happily trying to arrange food and bedding for all. Wine and beer appeared, tables were hastily set by guests, food was being served by guests and glasses were raised in toasts to the volcano and hopefully a safe night of sleep. It grew eerily dark as the ash cloud covered the sky hiding all the stars, only the rumbling of the volcano could now be heard. I lay in my little camper in awe listening to the volcano and thinking what a privilege to be so close to the might of nature.
The following morning flights out of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay) were closed because of the ash. We left the campsite; our truck covered in ash and headed off to find some hot pools. Chile is proving to be wonderful we love it.