Chile 4: Valparaiso and P.N.Radal – Siete Tazas

We slowly made our way down Chile - a country some 4300km long and 756 000sq km in size and were looking forward to visit Valparaiso, whose Historic Quarter on Cerro Concepçion is a World Heritage Site. Since 1844 Chile is independent. Wir freuten uns auf Valparaiso - eine Stadt, welche durch ihre geschützte Altstadt und auch auf Grund seiner bemalten Wände und Graffiti bekannt ist. Allerdings gibt es dort keinen Campingplatz. Next stop on our southbound route was P.N. La Campana, a park with the high  Chilean palms (Jubaea chilensi or the Chilean wine palmand quiet, shadowy camping spots and walking trails. The park is 60km east of the city of Valparaiso which was next on our agenda to visit to see their prolific street art and murals. The vintage electric busses reminded us of the seventies in Cape Town, when the last of these were phased out in our city. Valparaiso did not have any camping site and we ended up camping in the one-way street outside Villa Kunterbunt, known for hosting many bikers that pass through Valparaiso (they also offer a service of receiving and shipping motorcycles from here). It ended up being one of the noisiest nights on the trip as the busses passed through this one-way street during the night. Worst of all was the fact that we could not enter the Villa during the night for a loo pitstop. However, as many bikers were accommodated here at the time, this was the best Martina and Enzo could offer us. Valparaiso (also nicknamed the Jewel of the Pacific) is unfortunately known for not being the safest of destinations and we were warned not to flash around camera gear when visiting the city. We decided to walk and take one of the three old furniculars called "ascensores", the Ascensor Artilleria, closest to us. The charm of the old buildings and the many street art murals and graffiti certainly made for an interesting and worthwhile outing. Continuing, our aim was to miss the capital,Santiago,  as we were not in the mood for more cities. From Valparaiso we went further south via the towns of Laguna Verde, Casablanca, San Antonio and aimed to overnight in the bird park R.N. Yali (a RAMSAR site) – at the gate, after we had driven many kms, we were informed that it was closed due to the bird flue – we were not excited, as a sign board earlier on could have warned us and would have saved many miles driving. Maybe we were expecting too much. So we pressed on to Rapel, where we found a spot along the Rio Rapel at Camping Calicanto. All fine, except the next morning we found out the duchas are “natural” –no hot water as promised, as so often. En route from here we saw what looked like a volcanic eruption – it was the start of Chile’s most devastating fire in a hundred years and it would rage on for the next 14 days and would make it difficult at times for us to skirt around. We proceeded towards Pichelemu on the coast –a town known for its excellent surfing wave ( at Punta de Lobos). The town was busy and abuzz with surfers and other holiday makers. We continued inland at Bucalemu, then on to the Ruta de Viná, passed Paredones, Lolol, Santa Cruz to Teno. On the way we bought our first sweet and aromatic strawberries of the season, at farm stalls we ate Blueberry cake etc. Everywhere plantations of fruit and vineyards, many wine cellars were on this route. At Teno we were back on the Ruta 5 PanAm for about 70km and turned off towards El Radal to reach the Parque Naćional Radal Siete Tazas – a stretch of rough dirt road ending in a beautiful wooded park area with many camping spots and the scenic seven pools ( 7 cups) where the Rio Claro drops down. We camped at Siete Tazas amidst holiday activities, but had no problem finding a spot to camp, then moved on for two nights to the quieter private San José de Frutillar camping y cabanas where we camped on the forest edge and enjoyed watching the parrots. On the way we stopped at the Salto Velo de la Novia (Bridal Veil Falls) which had little water at this time and walked to the impressive 1000 year old Conagüe tree with a 9m circumference. This post cover 15th to 20th January 2017

Chile 3: Parc Naçional Las Chinchillas and the Chilean Coast

Every day a new surprise. Who would have thought a national reserve existed for rodents? The Chilean Parque Naçional Las Chinchillas takes care of a species close to extinction. Manch einer mag sich an die Modewelle der Chinchilla Pelze erinnern. Auch hier hat der Mensch eine Tierart an die Grenzen der Ausrottung gebracht. Ein einzigartiger Park in Chile überraschte uns mit seinen Anstrengungen, die wenigen Chinchillas zu retten, die es noch gibt. Our route took us back via Huasco, then via Valleñar on Ruta 5 to Serena and on to Coquimbo, which afforded a shopping opportunity at the Lider Supermercado. For the night we drove towards Guanaqueros, where we camped at the well organized and clean camping site Mar Azul, run by Hernan. We parked less than 100m from the sea and spent a quiet night. From here the harbour can be reached on foot, being a pleasant 1.5km walk along the beach. We took a stroll next morning and enjoyed freshly shelled raw scallops (tasting very similar to oysters) and subsequently stayed for lunch with a starter of seafood ceviche followed by one of the best, freshly prepared seafood empanadas at one of the stalls. A note of caution: make sure the ceviche or camarones have been kept on ice! (a friend we had recommended this place to had a problem a few days later). We returned to Serena and took the Ruta 41 eastwards to Vicuña, on the way we stopped at the Puclaro dam and took a stroll along the dam wall, strong winds prevailed. Although no kite surfers were active, it apparently is a very suitable expanse of water for this sport. The area was arid, yet along the valley it is lined with vineyards and fruit trees right up to the little village of Pisco Elqui, a town wit  its own pisco distillery and an abundance of little eating places. At our camping site Camping Refugio del Angel adjacent to the clear cold Rio Claro, we met our friends from Iquique New Years Eve party again – Laima and Mindaugas. This was a good opportunity to enjoy a pisco for sundowner and a joint supper among the shady weeping willow trees. This area is known for its observatories that can be visited – we were not in luck as it was full moon. In the morning we walked through town, enjoyed a pisco ice cream on the shadowy plaza. We found the camping site with its many trees a comfortable place to stay for the day and only left next morning back to Vicuña from where we turned into a small gravel road with plenty of mountain passes, cacti, colourful parrots and observatories visible on the mountain peaks. We drove past Ovalle  and ended the day at the Parque Naçional Las Chinchillas - the friendly staff gave us special permission to stay for the night in the parking area. We were not aware of this reserve beforehand and it highlighted the plight of the Chinchilla to us: There used to be 20 million animals before it became fashionable to wear pelts made of the fur of this little, nocturnal rodent. Today, they are almost extinct save for the small 20 000 population cared for in this reserve. Boris, the guide, took us into the nocturama – a underground cavern which houses a number of different rodents from the reserve and that can only be seen during the dark of night. However, the little Degú can be seen at dusk and dawn and it gave us the opportunity for a few closeup photos. We journeyed further to Illapel and Los Vilos and along the coast to Los Mollos, a coastal resort where we found Camping El Chivato, close to the beach, where we took long strolls amidst many holiday makers enjoying this area at the summer time of the year. Here we met Laima and Midaugas yet again and settled down for the now customary sundowner and a delicious camping supper. Los Mollos offers scuba diving trips and has a large park worth visiting. We decided on the latter and walked through the Bio Parque Puquén with its interesting birds, cacti and cliffs. We observed whales and dolphins and marvelled at the effort sea lions go through to get up on the island cliffs, having to time their ascent with big waves. This post covers 8th Jan - 15th Jan 2017

Chile 2: El Tatio Geysirs to P.N. Llanos de Challe

San Pedro de Atacama reflected the vibe of this desert -desolate yet vibrant. We started here and finally ended on the coast in a national park. Das höchstgelegene Geysir Feld El Tatio war etwas mühsam zu erreichen -aber doch beeindruckend. Wir setzten unsere Reise durch die Atacama fort und wurden immer wieder von einsamen, tollen Landschaften begrüsst. Alles andere als langweilig, wenn man Wüsten liebt. Ansonsten kann die Einsamkeit bedrohlich verlassen wirken. As the last musician drifted back home from the evenings party, we left at 4:15am to beat the traffic on the atrocious road to the El Tatio geysirs, almost 2 hours away. We arrived in bitter cold conditions just before sunrise together with some bikers who had left even before us and who seemed frozen stiff. The temperature had dropped from 13° at San Pedro to -3° C at the 4300m altitude. El Tatio is the highest field of geysirs in the world and the best time is to see them is early in the morning as the steam is more prominent. Although some visitors took a steam bath in the natural pool, we decided against it, but it was tempting. Only while we drove back did we see the beauty of the area, the vulcanos, the vicuñas and flamingos (including the rare James Flamingo with its bright red tail feathers) as well as Moorhens, Andean Avocets and Andean geese. We left San Pedro at midday and continued to the Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques only to find that they closed 18:30 and camping is not permitted anylonger in the reserve. This prompted us to drive on in the direction of the border towards Argentina where we found a wonderful riverbed 6km away (at 3850m altitude) and suitable to camp in between rock faces and  not visible from the road. Again, it paid off to be under way in a 4x4 ( S23°44.9879, W067°50.4649). Here we were lucky to observe a South American Gray Fox (Chilla Zorro), some vizcacha hares and different bird species. After a cold and clear 4°C night we returned next morning to the reserve at the foot of Cerro Miscanti and Cerro Minques, where we spent some relaxed hours at the equally named lagunas – pity there were no flamingos to be seen during this time of the year. From here we decided on a detour via the little town of Peine on the edge of the Salar de Atacama, a huge, dry salt lake. Lots of Lithium mining takes place here and the crust is hard and rough – nowhere to be compared to the beauty of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. The road we took is the main track to Antofagasta from here, but we decided to turn off to the B55 southwards towards Estacion Pan de Azucar. This dirt road is deserted, no traffic and we got pleasantly surprised that at deserted Estacion Imilac , directly on a dry salt lake, a spring delivers cold, clear and sweet water and made this remote station a good place to replenish our drinking water and obey the demand to leave some behind. Further on we traversed two huge mines, Minas Escondida and Zaldivar (watch the huge ore haulers – simply massive vehicles), then had some tarred road to Oficina Oriente where we continued on gravel road. Desert landscapes mesmerized us along the way – not a person in sight for the rest of the day; we passed eerie graves and towards late afternoon decided to camp before Yungay at a lonely spot with a view, reachable by 4x4 on a ridge. The earth around us was a salty crust devoid of any life at 1003m (S24°02.3695, W069°47.1399) Although the night was clear the morning presented a thick blanket of fog with everything being dripping wet. We pushed on to Paradeiro Barazarte on the Pan Americana Ruta 5 and continued southwards with a stop at the well-frequented Mano de Desierto –the large concrete hand sticking out of the desert sand along the route, sculptured by Mario Irarrázabal in 1992 in honor of the victims of injustice by the then regime. (the hand at Punta del Este in Uruguay is by the same artist). Along the PanAm we regularly saw decorated graves, complete in some cases with the vehicles in which the occupants died as well as paraphernalia like hard hats, caps or other items associated with those who perished. In cases where children are involved, often the toys are also left at these memorials. It should be noted that service stations along this stretch are infrequent – however,it did not pose any problems for us with a tank reach of around 1200km. We filled up at Aqua Verde and continued to Chañaral through the Sierra Colorada, again with beautiful vistas of the Atacama. From Chañaral we turned northwards along the coast to reach the Parc Naçional Pan de Azúcar where we camped at the Lodge Pan de Azúcar with many camping spots and a  kitchen lapa and warm showers. After an early walk into the sleepy fishing village we drove back via Charñaral along the Ruta 5 PanAm to Cadera, an endless stretch of desert again illustrating the enormity of this desert expanse to us (more than 1000km long straddling Peru, Bolivia and Chile). Here the Pan Americana changes into a dual lane double highway, allowed us to make good headway to Copiapó and southwards where we turned back to the coast at Algorrabal, had tarred road to Canto del Agua, then via Punta Carrizal into PN Llanos de Challe known for its cactus landscapes. We found a quiet camping spot behind a rock amidst all the holiday activity prevailing. Before sunset we went for a walk and tried the cold, crystal clear Pacific ocean. At this campsite various animals could be observed, including zorros chilla (false fox) and some owlets early the next morning. Read more about the Atacama desert.   This post covers 3rd to 7th January 2017

Chile 1: Atacama Desert – Arica to San Pedro

We were ready to explore the next country: Chile. Although Peru has been a wonderful country to visit, the amount of rubbish everywhere started working on us and we had heard Chile to be quite different. As we started along the Pan Americana we realised that this country was organised and clean -what a pleasure. What surprised us, however, was the sheer size of the Atacama desert. Was Chile uns wohl bringen würde? Es war an der Zeit,in ein etwas besser strukturiertes Land zu kommen, wir freuten uns auch auf die Wahrscheinlichkeit,auch eine breitere Palette an Produkten zu bekommen. Wir wurden nicht enttäuscht, jedoch die Ausmasse der Atacama Wüste überraschten uns. From Arica we started right in the north of Chile along Ruta 5. Soon we reached three modern petroglyphs, the “Presencias Tutelares”, representing  Aymara beliefs and were created by the Chilean artist Juan Díaz Fleming, honouring the ancestors of this region. Just off the Pan Americana we took a track to the west until we saw the Geoglifos de  Tiliviche –large stone figurines, on the side of a hill, of a Llama herd and their shepherd trekking. Next was El Gigante de Atacama – the largest geoglyph of 85m on top of a hill – pretty disappointing as it was not visible as a complete figure, maybe more exciting to view from the air or using a drone. The wind picked up and we had a sandstorm and plenty dust devils. Next we made our way to Oficina Santiago Humberstone – a deserted nitrate mine  (Salitrera) and its processing works that were operational from 1872 to 1960 - today it is kept as a museum that reminded us of Kolmanskuppe in Namibia (deserted diamond town). The product at the time was both important as a fertilizer as well as for gun powder during the world wars. The city of Iquique was situated against a massive dune and we camped on the camping site & cabañas outside the city, named Tres Islas and run by owner Thomas. We decided to stay for New Year after meeting new travel friends Laima and Mindaugas from Latvia, as well as Otto and Elisabeth from Germany and Maria and Heinz from Switzerland. Together we spent the day in Iquique, visited the old part of the city (it used to be a major harbour for nitrate exports, now it is the biggest producer of fishmeal), then visited the fish market where we bought fresh Reinata for the evening grill and later enjoyed a massive and splendid fireworks display over the city at midnight. After New Year we carried on along the coast on Ruta 1, on the left we had the Cordillera de la Costa, then drove inland on the Ruta 24 up to Calama. This time of year many people camp wild along the barren coast of Chile. Before we reached San Pedro de Atacama we turned off to have a look at the Yerbes Buenas petroglyphs depicting mainly Llamas. Then we drove further into the Valle de Arcoiris – valley of the rainbow mountains. Very prominent and colourful mountains and sandstone formations, we wild camped far in and had one of the quietest nights on our trip so far. Cold and clear skies during the night with with a wonderful and soft light dawn awakening us. Mid morning we carried on to the viewpoint above the death valley “Valle de Muerte” with a wide view over the valley and the dunes frequented by sand boarders. Then on to the Valle de Luna, where we climbed through the salt caves and visited the very old salt formation “Tres Marias” (one has unfortunately toppled over) and made our way into the nearby salt mine with its eerie crackling sound of the salt as the day heated up. On our way back in the excessive midday heat we came across two cyclists ( Benjamin and Louisa) that were just too happy to top up their water bottles from our tank in order to get back to San Pedro in the day’s excessive heat. The view from the surrounding hills was stunning and we climbed one of the peaks despite the temperatures – it was worth it. Finally we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama where we found a camping spot at the Hostal de Campestre run by Urzula - not a quiet night as the town had music until 2:30 am and the owner also celebrated his birthday with friends at the hostal. This post covers 30th December 2016 to 2nd January 2017