After a cold and early morning we left the camping site in Uspallata, traced back in the direction of where we came from and tried to take some shots from the site of some ruins. Then we continued along Ruta 7 into the Andes mountains towards the border.
After a long tunnel, without emergency exits and ventilation, we reached the Chilean border, the traffic of trucks was heavy. Crossing took approx. 45minutes as it was a joint border station and quite effective. The Chilean customs was thorough, as we had expected, and a sniffer dog was placed into our vehicle to sniff out foodstuff (or drugs?).
The road into Chile consisted of many kilometers of winding asphalt and resembled a serpentine, hundreds of truck moving up and down. On the sides many ski lifts were visible and we passed many tunnels and bridges that used to be in use for the railway, now defunct.
As we descended the spring flowers increased spectacularly, reminding us of Namaqualand in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. When we reached San Miguel we decided to call it a day, had a buffet lunch with asado at the restaurant El Sauce and camped in their yard and got access to staff ablutions after some negotiations with the owner.
In the morning we continued along the good Ruta 57 into Santiago, the capital with 7 million inhabitants. We found our way to Los Condes, an upmarket and clean suburb close to the centre where we stayed with Gerd and Paulina Eylerts, whom we had previously met in Cusco. Gerd rents out safari vehicles and as luck had it, his larger Mercedes camper was in use at the time,which allowed us to park next to the house to camp. Find Eco South Cone Touring here
We appreciated Gerd’s assistance greatly in getting a service done and the brakes checked while in Santiago – a huge city and not too easy to get around. Gerd also arranged the required toll payments (Peso 13000 for 2 days) for us while using the Santiago freeways- it is an automatic system without tollgates - and we were quite unaware that being stopped could be inconvenient and costly.
Armed with additional suggestions of places worth visiting in Chile, we found our way out of the maze again to get onto Autopista Central Sur 5, drove past San Bernado, Paine, San Francisco de Mostazal, Rancagua to San Fernando, took the Ruta 90 westerly towards Santa Cruz, turned off near Curiaco to visit the wine estate Viu Mananent in the hope that we could also camp there overnight. After lunch in the Food Studio of Pilar Rodriguez (very good!) we did a wine tour by horse cart, learned about the wine production of the estate in stainless steel, clay, cement and wooden tanks and vats.
They produced Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmeniere, Malbec and Syriah wine. We were permitted to camp free in the parking lot and met Swiss travellers (by bike) Tobias Bähler and Walter Gubi – a security guard patrolled by night, so this was a very safe overnight stay.
As we drove to Santa Cruz we were able to buy fresh asparagus,strawberries and cherries at a farm stall – a real treat and not expensive, both being in season. Our route took us then to the coast via the towns Lolol, Hualañe, Licanten, we followed the beaches with dark sands until we reached Constitucion and Chanco, where we camped in the forest reserve Frederíco Albert Faupp.
Next morning we continued via Pellehue along the coast till Mela on the Rio Itata. The road was lined with spring flowers.
On the way we turned off near Cobquecura to visit the Iglesia de Piedra, a huge cathedral-like rock formation on the beach with three entrances, two of which faced the sea and flooded at high tide. We were fascinated by the dark brown volcanic sand beaches, somewhat unusual.
At Mela our route took us inland via Quillon to Autopista 5 Sur, passed Cabrero and easterly until we reached the town Salto de Laja with its scenic waterfall that we visited next day on foot.
Olivier, the Swiss owner of Camping Don Ambrosio, allowed us to camp although normally they only have cabañas. We made use of the shower and toilet in the sauna and enjoyed a 38 degC soak in the hot tub and had an excellent lunch in the restaurant after our visit to the falls. Being Sunday this was a popular outing for many locals.
When we continued the weather was overcast and cool, agriculture made way for forest plantations as we passed Los Angeles, Mulchén, Collipulli and Victoria where we turned off onto the R71 to get to P.N. Tolhuaca – we were the only campers. The stroll to the beautiful waterfall Salto Malleco was worth the 5km round trip and so was the walk on the boardwalk at the lake to observe birds, here we also spotted a beaver.
Morning temperatures were cold 3degC at 950m when we continued, after a welcome hot shower, we drove through forest and the Araucaria trees along the ridges were lined with snow.
At Salto de la Princesa we sat on the river bank and had lunch, as we continued along the 181-CH we saw vulcanoes Tolhuace (2806m) and Lonquimay(2865m), unfortunately both in clouds, nevertheless we turned into P.N.Mallalcahuello and drove up to the snow line –beautiful black and white scenery, but the volcano remained largely hidden.
We retreated and found excellent camping and food at Hotel Camping Suizandina with its friendly Swiss owners. Fortunately we could sit inside as it started to rain, temperature dropping to 3 deg C, while inside the fireplace kept us comfy.
After a hearty breakfast we said goodbye to overlanders Hartmut & Lisa Dassel in their VW T5 combi, also on their way south, we might meet again.
The R89 took us to Lonquimay, additional snow during the night turned the landscape into a wonderland for us.
Then onwards on the R95S along Rio Ruanuco through Mapuche land, along Lago Icalma, it remained cloudy so we missed good views of vulcanoes Nevados de Sollipulli (2282m), Llaima(3125m) but sights of Condors were rewarding. We crossed a valley with lava and where huge tree trunks were swept down from Vulcano Llaima.
After Melipenco, Cunco, along S61 to Hortensias, Los Laureles and on to Villarica. Here all camping seemed closed, so we ended at Camping Molco Beach near Lago Villarica shortly before Pucon. Isaac, fluent is English, had worked for the US Army before settling here offering camping and space for events.
From here we drove via Pucon and the Paso Mamuil Malal (1100m) to the Chile-Argentina border which we passed within 45minutes both sides and without customs search of the vehicle on the Argentinian side.
As we continued over the pass we sadly could not see Volcan Lanin in the clouds on the way to our friend Caro in San Martin de Los Andes where a hearty welcome awaited us and we exchanged stories into the small hours of the morning, Caro prepared a delicious meal of home-made Gnocci, fresh truffles and plenty of red wine.
Blog covers 5th to 16th