Chile 12: Punta Arenas and back to Torres del Paine

  Overlanders touring in South America know that, when crossing the border into Chile, the unexpected can happen. Some vehicles pass easily, others are subjected to a search – mainly for fresh produce. Taking the small border post Bella Vista after a public holiday should  have been quick and easy. It was not. The customs official subjected our vehicle to an extremely thorough search, even after we had voluntarily surrendered half a pineapple that we could not eat, as we were filled to capacity (the fruit was then deposited into an underground rubbish container in our presence). While it started sleeting this good official climbed into the vehicle, searched all over, found eggs in the fridge, which we said were cooked. This was not good enough -he made us open an egg in the vehicle in his presence – luckily it was hard boiled, otherwise we would have had a mess. With him, standing by, was his young son on holiday – we assume dad had to demonstrate to him how good a customs official he really was! After this short ordeal we proceeded via Russfin passing the derelict machinery from the gold rush, passed Cameron and ended up at our gaucho hut with its graffiti in order to have some shelter from the wind. The batteries disconnected, we spent a quiet, but cold and very windy night after the sun set at 22:30. After an early start, a quick breakfast we were ready to go just when the rain set in again. On days like this Karin really appreciated the fact that our cruiser had heated seats – within 15 minutes you felt comfortable and warm while the Tierra del Fuego harsh windswept landscape flew past. At Bahia Azul we again used the ferry which crosses every 20-30 minutes. Along the way saw some typical wild horses and the road remained virtually straight. Arriving back in Punta Arenas we immediately drove to Toyota in the Zona Franca ( close to Navimag port) to see whether a vehicle service could be arranged – after their customary siesta, at 15:00 they could accommodate us. So we drove to find Callegos Batterias in the hope to find replacements. Since the one good battery is a 145Ahr, we needed to replace both with the only available choice – a set of Turkish batteries. It is not quite what we would have intuitively selected, especially as they are identical, which meant some cable needed to be extended to fit them in. On the positive side the pair cost R 2978 – about half of what we had previously spent in Peru on Panasonics which had only lasted a year. Toyota serviced the vehicle in the afternoon, but while adjusting the handbrake cable at the rear, the thread snapped off. We needed to be back next morning for it to be brazed as no spares were available for our model. Luckily we got again accommodated at Hostel Aventure Austral where friendly Teresa checked us in. This gave us a chance to explore the city of Punta Arenas on foot and we took supper in a seafood restaurant – shrimps and Merluza. In the habour a luxury liner from Hurtigruten casted off – we never knew that they were also going into the Antarctic regions.   Just as we got ready to drive down to Toyota, Karin picked up a dental problem. With our knowledge of Spanish, how would we find a suitable dentist in a city we did not know? Toyota (here pronounced Toshota) came to the rescue! The friendly Venezuelan service assistant had a friend that is a dentista and Karin left by taxi to see Dra Pamela Eliana Luizaga de Munoz while I waited for Toyota to attend to the brake problem. By siesta time all was done – Toyota cost R 2624 for the service, R 1231 for repairing handbrake, checking brakes, rotating tyres and replacing some lightbulbs whereas Karin’s treatment was reasonably priced as well. We left Punta Arenas with the a good feeling –  things can be sorted out at this southernmost city of Chile. As we got closer to Puerto Natales again, the landscape metamorphosed from flat to hilly and the Andes mountains became visible again. With this change also the flora underwent significant changes. For the night we ended again at Camping Güinos with Francisca and her husband and we got our laundry done for P6000 for 6kg loads. Will we ever get used to the icy cold and wet conditions? Fortunately we could sit inside and share the communal kitchen with a number of backpackers and cyclists before creeping into our warm down sleeping bags which we had specially custom made in South Africa by Makoti Down Products – a manufacturer from Uitenhage we can recommend, their products proved robust and warm and they can manufacture to size.   Before we departed to the Torres del Paine we restocked provisions, as in the park no shops are available and we shall proceed from there back into Argentina. Since gas cycliders from our portable gas stove cost approx. 1/3 of what they cost in Argentina, we stocked up and then drove to the little town of Villa Serano just before the entrance to the park, drove through town past the last house with its red roof and carried on a track toward the mountains until we found a lonely wild camping spot on the bank of the clear Rio Serano that runs from within the Torres del Paine park. Of interest were the cleansing stations for anglers - Chile tries to prevent the spread of Didymo, a type of thin grass that cloggs the rivers. All equiment and angling boots/trousers need to dipped before and after the activity. The only noises we heard during this quiet night were some cows, sheep and horses grazing close to where we found shelter. Before we entered the park the next morning we prepaid Camping Serano for the coming night and then drove in. At the Mirador del Condor we hiked up the mountain for 1 hour, enjoying the splendid views. On the way we saw the rare Porcelain Orchid as well as Guanacos and Andean hares. Next we visited Mirador Grey and walked to see the Grey Glaciar – rain made the walk a wet one and we spent some time hiding under bushes at the Mirador and waited for the rain to pass and were rewarded with a glimpse of the glaciar and some drifting ice. Back at camping Serano we appreciated their shelters to cook in and then it got late after Sven and Iris also arrived and the red wine flowed liberally.   We had to skip the hot shower the next morning as the generator, required to pump water, had not been started yet. We decided to leave early as it promised to be a beautiful day, but this might only last minutes here. Luckily for us we could do a Panorama or two with all mountain peaks exposed except Cerro Paine Grande, the highest with 3050m. This was followed by a walk past Salto Grande, the waterfall up to the Cuernos lookout, a worthwhile point to see the glaciar as well as Condors on the way. From our vantage point we could see an excellent example of an Aréte (Grat in German), that was formed through two glaciars running down two valleys, leaving this knife-edged aréte in it wake. For the night we met Sven and Iris again on camping Pehoé, another site with shelters and warm showers and we enjoyed another supper in good company.   After a short trip to Lago Azul we decided to leave via the northern entrance toward Cerro Castillo. The border is at Cerro Castillo . Here we enjoyed a coffee and cake at the restaurant on the border and met Julia and Markus again, the Photonomads from Austria, we had originally met at the museum in Ushuaia. Leaving Chile at this border post certainly was a lot less stress than entering at Bella Vista a few days ago. This post covers 2nd to 8th January 2018

Chile 11: Wind, Clouds and King Penguins

  By now we had two goals: visiting the only colony of King Penguins and reaching Ushuaia for New Year.   As we drove southward the wind increased and it grew colder by the minute, light rain set in that sounded like hail hitting the vehicle. Around us nothing……really nothing. Flat country-side for miles on end, no trees, no hills, no estancias. We started wondering whether tonight would be the night where we had to sleep inside the vehicle without opening the rooftop tent.   As we deliberated our options, a small hut appeared on the horizon – amazing that it withstood the gale. As we got closer our decision was taken – we shall park next to the shelter on the lee side. Since wind in Patagonia normally blows from the west, the door opened to the east and to the roadside. As we came closer we realized it was not inhabitated – this is a type of shelter for herders passing with their flocks. One room was reasonably intact and still had floor planks -the other must have been used as firewood. The stench was barely bearable – a herder with his flock and dogs must have stayed here for a while. Judging by the graffiti on the walls the herders must be lonesome and longing for their loved ones. We moved in, happy to have found a little niche in this nothingness. After a supper and a tea the world looked much more attractive again. Next morning we were greeted with an overcast sky, the world looked a lot friendlier then and in the distance we could see the large shearing shed and winter quarters for the animals on the estancia. An hour later we reached Parque Pingüino Rey in the Bahia Inútil – too early, it was still closed. However, the local ranger ( very knowledgeable, also having visited Cape Town’s penguins in Boulders Beach as part of a Penguin Conference in the previous year) had mercy with us and allowed us in early at 10:00 to make good use of the prevailing sun which just poked through the clouds for about an hour (the park opens at 11:00). The King Penguins used to breed in substantial numbers along the Magellanic Channel, then disappeared as the fishing depleted the channel. Since about 7 years they have returned and commercial fishing is no longer allowed. Their numbers are slowly increasing again, currently there were about 100 of which are 30 breeding pairs. They also stay here for the entire year as there are sufficient Sardines in Inútil Bay. We considered ourselves lucky being able to see Penguins of all ages here – some still in their infant brown downs, some moulting into adult and some with eggs breeding. King Penguins reach a height of 1,20 meters and age to 25 years. Here we also met Sven and Iris from Germany travelling in their double storey Mercedes Sprinter and we might  see them again in Ushuaia as they were travelling in the same direction as us. From the park we continued along a good gravel road, a very remote area, drove through the village Cameron with the Communa Zimaukel and observed some ducks along the coast. Along the road we saw many trees strangely formed by the constant winds of this region – reminding us of some trees at home in Cape Town that also grow in the direction of the South Easter winds. Just before Parador Russfin, as small hospedaje that seemed to have catered for the gold miners many years ago, we left the road and found a clearing in a small forest providing us shelter from the wind for the night and with an idyllic view over the plains. Since we would be passing over the border next day into Argentina, we had to finish all fresh produce – Asparagus with Ham – not a bad meal in this desolate area. We had done 20000km since we had started in September in Montevideo and we realized, that travelling this part of the continent requires a lot of distance driving, much more so compared to our first 11 month going north in 2016. The next morning greeted us with drizzle and 8 degr. C , we left early, passing some old gold digger machinery at Dragua Aurifera. Along the Y895 road we spotted four grey foxes ( Zorro gris),  some guanacos with foals (or what is a small camel called?), passed some beautiful old estancias, normally situated in depressions with some wind shelter through small forests. Here we  met a gaucho along the road, who was keen to know where we were coming from and heading to. We reached the 257CH again that took us down to San Sebastian, the border town, where we stopped next to the police station (less wind) and prepared a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and mushrooms – ensuring that border control does not have a chance to seize it. Passing the Chilean border here was quick and the Argentinian side is about 15km drive, again no problems and was quick to enter.   Entering another country always means to find a supermarket as soon as possible, in order to stock up again. In Rio Grande we found a La Anonima  - thereafter we proceeded to find our next stop for the night. Little did we know what weird place we would find for the night.       This post covers 27th to 28th December 2017

Chile 10: Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, Shipwrecks and Replicas

    We woke up early – weather clear and calm, an ideal day to reach Base de Torres. The trail started at the Los Torres Hotel where parking was available. From the parking it is approx. 1-1/2km to the start of the actual trail, as yet we did not knew what was lying ahead. The trail led upwards along a river with scenic views and passed the Chileno Lodge and camping site – pretty full this time of year as this is a popular overnighting spot to do the W-trail. We carried on, after another 7km the hectic steep section started leading to the foot of the Torres pinnacles. By the time we had reached this section the weather had completely closed up. Nevertheless we proceeded and reached the lago at the foot  - unfortunately the Torres covered by clouds. Seeing the condors soaring around these peaks was wonderful. As it grew colder we made our way down again, knees suffering. By the time we reached the vehicle again we had done a 21km round trip in 12 hours and could feel the pain – age setting in? The park offers a variety of interesting fauna and flora. On the way down we rested at the Chileno Lodge and had a decadent hot chocolate and muffin – very worthwhile stopping here and resting a bit. Although the weather was not as it had promised in the morning, we enjoyed this trail.   The evening rained out, after a stormy night we woke up to more rain, but enjoyed some cake and cappuchino in the comfortable rented camper of our Austrian neighbors Rudi and Gisa before we drove down to the Paine waterfall and on to Lago Azul. While enjoying the trip leisurely observing the many Guanacos with young, the Torres cleared up for a while offering us a photo opportunity from this perspective. From here we drove back to the entrance near which the camping site Serrano is situated – a privately run site with wooden shelters, good ablutions and hot water -a pleasure to stay at. Since the angling season had closed a week earlier, we had no problem finding space – we believe it is better to book here when entering the park to ensure a spot. On our way to the Grey Glaciar ranger station we hoped to see the elusive Huemul -not lucky, only see Patagonian scrub hares. Due to the rain it was not worth proceeding further to the glaciar and we turned back -on the way the mountain massif opened up long enough to do a panorama photo or two. Still on our list were to Salto Grande and do the trail to the Cuernos lookout. Rain did not make it a pleasant walk and we are forced back- the raindrops felt like icicles when they hit the face – the wind was strong and visitors with children had to guard them not to be blown over. Another night on Serrano camping compensated and a hot spaghetti went down very well. Next day we proceeded back towards Puerto Natales with the caves en-route that we had skipped coming up. We stopped at the immense 200m deep Cueva de Milodón – the cave so named after the finds of the extinct Milodón, a giant sloth that used to roam Patagonia with other extinct species. In 1895 Hermann Eberhard found the remnants of this 10000 year old sloth. From here we reached Puerto Natales again. Before darkness we did some essential shopping and then found refuge at Camping Güino for P6000pP – all structures made from galvanized sheeting in true Patagonia style like so many old houses. They had a kitchen where all campers could prepare food and spend time inside this heated room and also offered a laundry service. We took some time out to enjoy the colourful wall paintings depicting the life of the original inhabitants of this area, the Aoniken and Kaweskar Indians. The mural is by artist Angelino Soto Cea and is restored every ten years since it was first painted in 1996 on the walls of the municipal stadium. Buildings in Puerto Natales are generally colourful and many are still constructed from corrugated sheets. While we proceeded down the Ruta 9 towards Punto Arenas we had a good sighting along the road of two birds of prey devouring a skunk – the whole area was smelly of the typical garlicky odour of a skunk. Spring was in the air and very evident near Rio Tranquilo. En route the wind was picking up and the clouds remained spectacular. Just short of Punta Arenas we visited the well-known open-air marine museum, the Museo Nao Victoria, that displays a replica of the Não Victoria, the ship with which Fernando Magellan had circumnavigated the globe and who had discovered the Magellanic Straight at the time. Also a replica of the HMS Beagle can be entered, the ship with which Darwin and Captain FitzRoy had travelled to this remote region. For the night we found a room in the Hospedaje Aventura Austral as camping in town is virtually non-existent. However, we could only stay for one night and could not stay the next for Xmas. What a luxury for us – central heating, a hot shower, breakfast included, all while the wind howled outside. For supper we walked to the Café Sarmiento at the outlook Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. The good Wifi at the hostal allowed us to call family to exchange Xmas wishes and greetings before we looked around town and admired more art and painted buildings, all well done. Then we headed south to drive towards the southernmost lighthouse, all along the Straights of Magellan and in the hope to find a sheltered wild camping spot somewhere along the way. We saw Sea Lion, Cormorants and Canquen Colorado, a type of duck we had not seen before. When we reached Cabo San Isidro, chatted to Martha in her southernmost kiosk in Chile, the weather started clearing. To reach Cabo Froward Cruz de los Mares, the southernmost point, is a 32km hike – not what we wanted to do on this Xmas day. On our drive back we found a wonderful spot, sheltered and quiet, in a little forest along the way – only one other family camping about 300m away. The wind died down completely – so unusual for Patagonia and a true gift on the day - we could lit candles for Xmas supper! During the night a drizzle set in, we erected our tent and awning, the wind stayed down and allowed us to enjoy the moment in this remote part of the earth. During the 25th December  there was some more family activity, some music and quadbikes, but towards evening everybody left and we were the only ones remaining in the area. Along the channel we counted about 40 delapidated Chinese fishing vessels, many wrecks and rudimentary shelters. From Punta Arenas we followed the Ruta 9 north and off onto the 255 at Governador Phillip.The road remained spectacular in its flatness and clouds. At Terminal San Gregorio with its desolated buildings and rusty shipwrecks, we took some time out. To cross the Magellan Straights a short ½ hr ferry trip is required from Punta Delgada to reach Punta Espora – the ferry ran regularly and the cost was P15000 for 2 persons and the vehicle. Finally we had reached Tierra del Fuego ( Fireland). The day was drawing to a close and there was no camping site or hospedaje to be seen, the wind intensified and the temperature plummeted.   There were no trees, no little forests, no hills, no nothing to shelter here. Flat countryside. What now?     This post covers 19th to 26th December 2017

Chile 9: Marble Cathedral Caves, Parque Patagonia, Ferry Trip Yungay to Puerto Natales

We started early, keen to get better photos of Cerro Castillo –but the mist and rain foiled our attempt. We continued further down Ruta 7, past Volcano Hudson (2500m), a lot of damage to the trees from the last eruption was evident. Rio Murta was beautiful, Lago General Carrera further on presented itself in a turquoise colour enhanced by the grey clouds and rain. We crossed at Puerto Murta and ended at Puerto Sanchez – one place from which tours to the marble caves can be done by boat. However, Pto Sanchez was quiet and deserted, the route scenic, but we drove back to see what tours and camping we could find at Tranquilo, a little village making its living from the marble caves. For the night we camped at Camping Pudu on Lago Gen.Carrera for P8000 pP and we booked a boat tour for the next morning for P10000 pP and hoped for acceptable weather. At the campsite there were decent shelters from the incessant winds and intermittent rain as well as good ablutions – we opened the awning and enjoyed a good glass of wine with our camping neighbor –Eric from Utah – the cold evening persuaded us to creep in early. At 9:00am the next morning we left by boat with guide Daniel and captain Ignatius and two other tourists towards the Catedrales de Marmol and the Cavernas, an hour round trip. It was overcast, not sunny and we knew that photographing on this excursion would be a real challenge. Lago Carrera nevertheless was a lovely turquoise colour, in sunshine it must be extraordinary. Despite the wind we found the caverns to be quite sheltered and the boat could enter some of them. Even though the weather was a challenge we found this excursion very worthwhile doing – only afterwards we found out that a 2 hour trip was also possible giving more time to photographers (we also learned that to photograph the caves is better in winter when the lago’s level is lower). Next stop was the Valle Exploradores with a glacier that used to come right down to the road. By now it has receded a few km inland and we trailed up to the viewpoint to have a look, getting a good idea of the rocks, gravel and grit that a glacier pushes up. With guided tours it is possible to walk into the glacier. About 8km before Glaciar Exploradores we had lunch at the Hostal Campo Alacaluf established by the German couple Thomas and Katrin with their little daughter Daniela some 20 years ago – this was unexpected in such a remote place. According to Katrin it is possible to drive further on to the town Bahia Exploradores and to catch a smaller boat from there to visit Glacier San Rafael – these must have been the boats we had seen on our trip to the glaciar a few days before. Booking can only be done 24hrs ahead from Puerto Tranquilo and not at the Bahia (costs do not seem to be that much lower than the expensive catamaran we had taken, but we could not confirm actual rates). We spend the night again at camping Pudu. Our route took us along Lago Bertrand to Puerto Bertrand, the origin of Rio Baker. This must be the bluest river in the world. Flowing out of Lago Bertrand, the Rio Baker carries 900m3/sec of clear, turquoise-blue water until it drops down a small waterfall ( 1km to walk to the mirador) where it joins up with the glaciar-milky Rio Nef, whereafter the colour is no longer that dramatic, but the landscape is. Along the way we enjoyed the edible Calafate berries that were ripe and sweet this time of the year. In Cochrane we ended up having a very good lunch at Doña Ada together with Reinhard Schneider and a colleague from the German embassy in Santiago, whom we already had met the previous day. The fillet steak was outstanding and it was one of the rare occasions where we were asked how we would like the steak – normally it is served well-done and that is it in South America. We turned back northwards to enter Parque Patagonia – another park by the Douglas Tomkins Foundation and this was where their headquarters is. Again this park is beautifully appointed, everything in top condition and full of trails laid out and well sign-posted. This mountainous region must be one of the most scenic Chile has to offer. We camped on the parking area of the camping site West Winds (for tents only not vehicles), not far from the Admin buildings and hotel. We saw plenty of guanacos, hares, parrots and Magellanic woodpeckers. Driving further down the Carretera Austral we took a detour to the village Caleta Tortel – a town without vehicles and only wooden walkways. From here we drove to Puerto Yungay, approx. 100km north of Villa O’Higgins, the end of the Carretera Austral. We arrived in Pto Yungay, a town of around 11 inhabitants, on time to catch the ferry to Puerto Natales that we had booked. The ferry, Crux Australis, was waiting and we left around 20:00 for its 42 hour journey. We were not too happy since the cost was double for the vehicle compared to what we had been told before – Peso 117000. Although this ferry trip through the fjords should have been a highlight, it was spoiled by the inclement weather we had – almost continuous rain, sleet, wind and mist – we could see almost no mountains or glaciars along the route. The food left much to be desired and so did the comfort of the seats which reclined for sleeping. Midday we reached Puerto Eden, a fishing village with mainly indigenous inhabitants of Indian descent, inside the massive 3.525mill ha national park Bernardo O’Higgins. The town has virtually no vehicles or roads, mainly walkways. To our surprise many people boarded here to go to Puerto Natales. The channels from here were narrow, many islands inbetween, tricky to navigate in such horrible weather conditions. Whenever the weather gave us a few minutes respite we went on deck, saw dolphins, Skuas, Albatross and even an otter.   Next day around 12:30 we arrived in Puerto Natales, the weather had cleared a little and we proceeded speedily to the park Torres del Paine, as the weather predictions forecast rain for the coming weekend.   Entry was P21000pP for a 3-day period. In the park are some places where overlanding vehicles can park, however without ablutions. We drove through the park to the Laguna Amarga entrance and ranger station, where at least there were some toilets in walking distance. Next to us camped Rudi and Gisa from Austria, who also wanted to attempt to trail up to Base de Torres next morning if the weather would permit. This would be in total a 20km trip with a 1km very steep section to get to the crater lake at the foot of the Torres peaks. We were expecting some interesting cloud formations in Patagonia, but did not expect such crazy formations so early into our trip down to the south tip. This post covers 13th to 18th December 2017  

Chile 8: Volcano Chaitén,Parque Quelat and glacier San Rafael

The morning at Parque Pumalin was cool and misty and we took our time to get ready. By 13:00 the fog had lifted and we drove to the foot of Volcan Chaitén which we intended to ascent. Although only about a 2km to reach the point, from where it is possibly to look into the caldera, we underestimated the trail – first 984 steps while ascending and the last few 100m gravel on the steep section. We found it really tough – probably because of the tummy bug we had battled with on our return from Chiloé. The vistas were absolutely stunning and it was a good example where one could observe the devastion which an errupting volcano created – thousands of trees that died in the pyroclastic wave. The caldera has two little lakes of different colouring and there is still a lot of smoke emanating from the mountain. Some advice: start early ( we did not), take sufficient water, the walk is tough on the knees –especially coming down. By 18:30 we were back at our vehicle. Since this took up our day we decided to spend another night inside Parque Pumalin. As we were about to leave next morning, we discovered a small 40-50cm antelope – the Pudu, which we had not yet been able to observe before. Going south we again passed the village Amarillo, along Lago Yelcho and enjoyed the views of the Andes, mountains still covered in snow, the melt running in clear streams everywhere. The Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) passed through Villa Santa Lucia (where 2 weeks later on 18th Dec, 12 people were killed here through a landslide, burying part of the town under mud), Villa Vanguardia, we traversed many sections being a rough gravel road, then passed many enthusiastic cyclists (including  family of 5 where the dad towed a kid on his bike – must be extremely exhausting!) and got overtaken by many a motorbiker – this route is extremely popular due to its beauty. In La Junta we indulged in an ice cream for lunch and decided to buy some Christmas decoration for Tembo Hakahana (our vehicle – meaning fast Elephant). As we continued towards Puyahuapi we could not drive further due to a massive landslide being cleared and had to drive to the waters edge to load the vehicle on a temporary ferry to circumnavigate the section. Landslides seem common on this stretch of road with its sheer cliffs. We arrived at Parque Quelat at 18:00 – the park closed at 17:00. Nevertheless, we were allowed in (entrance P10000 for two) and we were lucky to find the last open camping spot. The morning was misty and we started the trail to Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier), a trail of just over 3km through rain forest with different ferns and moss, fuchsia magellanes abound as well as a variety of other flowers. The view of the glacier was most rewarding – a real treat for the eyes and the soul when finally reaching the end of the trail. We spent almost 2 hours at this mirador not wanting to leave this magic spot with its view on the glacier high up and its milky waters flowing into Lago Tempano below. Arriving back at camp via the hanging bridge we paid our P20000 for two nights camping to Juan Carlos, the friendly caretaker.   Next morning we passed another family on bikes negotiating the loose gravel road, this time 2 kids cycled, the third was drawn in a cart by father Tom. When we arrived in Mañiuales we felt peckish and while looking around we saw two jogger prams for kids parked in front of a café, each decorated with a South African flag. This we had to investigate and on entering, met Mike Sewell and his friend Roger Cameron from SA. They were busy jogging down the entire Carretera Austral, some 1300km, at a rate of around 30km per day, except Sundays. They started in Puerto Montt and wanted to finish in Villa O’Higgins as part of their Project Patagonia. We had lunch together and then viewed their three-wheelers with all their belongings (and we thought we had little space!). We would probably meet again along the road. Lupines everywhere - pity that people spoil nature with illegal dumping. We managed to get to Coihaique in time to book a catamaran to travel from Puerto Chacabuco to Laguna San Rafael, where we hoped to get close to the glacier of the same name. We booked at Patagonia Blue with Morena Morales (a whacking P 380000 for two!) Since there is only one operator from here, booking is essential – it is also possible to stay in their hotel Loberias del Sur in Chacabuco, however, the US$ 280 was too expensive so we took a cabaña in Puerto Aisén at Ayelèn Cabañas the night before.   Before we left Coihaique we also booked the ferry trip with Marcel (good English) at Austral Broom to travel from Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales. The ferry runs only once a week on Saturdays taking about 42 hours. In Coihaique we stayed at El Camping where we met Rob Rowley and Valerie Lobe,who were also exploring the area. Rob is a merchant sailor, mussel farmer and boat builder in New Zealand and Valerie an Ocean Biologist who has visited Antarctica many times. We explored the Valle Simpson and Lago Elizalde, the road ending at Lago Caro, saw Cerro Castillo from a different side.   En route we met our South African runners again, negotiating the somewhat uneven roads. Next day we moved to Puerto Aysén, enjoyed a walk through the little village and felt cosy in the heated cabaña before driving to Chacabuco next day for the San Rafael glacier trip. In the fjord fish farms for Salmon were passed at regular intervals. San Rafael Glacier was stunning, although it was a very overcast and partially rainy day. The glacier is 2.5km wide, 35km long and Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael is 1,742million hectares in size and the glacier is part of the Northern Ice Field in Patagonia. The water temperature is around 2-4 degrees and we made sure not fall overboard during the trip to the glacier face by zodiac. Floating black ice was tricky to photograph and fascinated us like previously in the Antarctic. The catamaran travelled at 22-30 knots and covered the 222km in 5-6 hours one way. We were happy to return to our heated cabaña in Puerto Aysén for the evening, but not before enjoying a free glass of whiskey on glaciar ice. We had heard that visiting the hand paintings was worthwhile so we drove to Villa Cerro Castillo to explore this historical sight. Along the way we had hoped to see the rare Huemul deer - we were not lucky to find one. The drive to the town was a scenic one, passing the prominent mountain silhouette. The manos paintings were just outside the town and can only be visited with a local guide. Not as spectacular as we had imagined and the visit to the first school in the area (Museo Escuela Antigua) near the site rounded off the trip (built 1930, closed 1975) and gave us insight into how late education came to this remote area of Chile and Patagonia in general. In Villa Cerro Castillo we camped at Camping Araucaria after we found Camping Sanderos Patagonia being closed (due to renovations). A communal kitchen made the supper in the cold wind bearable before we crept into our roof tent and warmed ourselves under the double set of duvets. This camping site also offers extensive trails on horseback ( cabalgatas). This post covers 4th to 12th December 2017

Chile 7: Carretera Austral, Parque Pumalin and Chiloé Island

Travel with us along the Carretera Austral,  Parque Pumalin and marvel at the old wooden churches of Chiloé Island. From the scenic pass and road along the Rio Futalefú we changed from the 231CH on to the 235CH towards Chaiten. The road passed along the east side of the Andes mountains, Lago Yelcho next to us. At the small town of Amarillo we turned off into Parque Purmalin, one of the most beautiful private parks established by Douglas Tomkins, past owner of the companies Northface and Esprit and his wife, a director at the clothing company Patagonia. The establishment of these parks, of which there are three, went through a very controversial phase as never before have foreigners bought such vast tracts of land in Chile and initially the motive was unclear. Today, these parks are the most beautiful and well appointed parks in Chile and we can strongly recommend a visit there. Tragically Douglas Tomkins died two years ago while on a kayaking expedition – luckily his wife is continuing the sterling conservation efforts in the region. We drove into the park – no fees were collected until 15th December, when the holiday season starts. We camped at camping site Ventisquero, with its neat shelters and ablutions (just ducha natural – no hot water provided) and beautiful views of active volcanoes Michimahuida (2404m) and Chaiten (962m), the latter which last erupted in 2008. Trails to the glacier (20km round trip) and to a viewpoint (40 minutes) can be taken from the camping site. Christos, a greek cyclist in his orange tent next to us, was very happy to share a scrumptious pasta dinner with us, the 1300km long Carretera Austral was taking its toll and he still had far to go as he wished to travel right down to Ushuaia. He was working in Germany and was fluent in German and English. In the morning we trailed to the viewpoint from where we enjoyed the wonderful sight of Volcan Michimahuida and its glacier. Afterwards we retraced the 9km out of the park (a narrow route through forest –not suitable for large rigs) and found the offices of the ferry company Naviera Austral in Chaitén to book a place to ship across to Quellón on the island Chiloé. The ferry only departed on Saturdays and Tuesdays at 10am, however tomorrow it would only depart at 18:30 so that we would arrive very late in Quellón. Cost was Peso 97000 or around R2300 for vehicle and 2 pax. So we decided to travel northwards on the Carretera Austral to the other Park Pumalin, the Volcanoes section. As before, entrance was still free and we found a spot with a good view of the active Chaiten volcano – our intention was to climb it the next morning. The night got cold, tea with Rum helped to keep us warm, but it rained next morning and we had to skip the ascent to the crater. You can imagine our disappointment. Waiting for the ferry we spent a short while on the seaside promenade – or what is left of it today after the ash of the volcano pushed out the sea and now it is a desert. We took some time to look around Chaitén and enjoyed the wooden and sheet metal houses and buildings. Late afternoon we finally embarked and after 5 hours arrived in Quellón, close to midnight. Then we drove along the last bit of the Panamericana and found camping at Cabańas Millaguen – to our surprise Tobias Bähler and Gubi, the Swiss bikers we had camped with at the wine estate Viu Manent, also had taken a cabańa here. Next morning greeted us with drizzle, the lapa allowed us shelter to prepare a hearty breakfast under roof . Afterwards we decided to drive the few km to the official end of the Panamericana, the famous trucker route from Alaska to this southern point in Chile. The monument is unspectacular yet it was a milestone on our travels. The day was passed with driving to Yardad, we saw the first wooden churches that Chiloé island is so well-known for. In the fjords and bays were many mussel farms, we continued along the Costanera Pedro Montt and were amazed how high the difference between low and high tide was (at low tide many boats lie on dry land).   We passed San Antonio, where many salmon factories reside, the farms themselves must be further out. After turning off Ruta 5 we aimed for Colonia Yungay and then on a small gravel road to Parque Tantauco, a large private area with good facilities and 2 spots at Camping Chaignata, from where hikes up to 8 days are possible. The road to the park was in a dismal condition and took us a good 3 hours, best be driven with a 4x4 or a vehicle with high clearance. Since the holiday season only started on 15th December we paid a lesser tariff of P3500 per person and P10000 for a camping vehicle. We only stayed one night and took a walk down to the lake with its gulls and ducks. On the return journey we stopped to see the 800yrs old Futa Mañu tree called Manio Abuelo (grandfather) and to follow a walk through the forest. Beforehand it was required to disinfect the shoes to prevent contamination that could interfere with the sensitive frog habitat.   From here we drove toward Chonchi, in the background the Andes visible and volcanoes near Chaiten from where we had started on the mainland. Along the route we came across the first wooden churches that make Chiloé worth a visit. Chonchi had a beautiful specimen as well as other colourful wooden houses. In its modest supermarket we found a “Christollen mit Marzipan” and could not resist buying two to make our forthcoming Xmas a special one (last year we could not find any familiar cake or cookies for Xmas in the northern countries – so this time round it was a special treat).   Pretty chuffed we aimed to get to Cucao along the W80 and, although there were a number of camping sites along the way, we opted to camp wild on the beach next to a small body of water, it was a windless afternoon and a stunning sunset as we were facing westerly. As we had heard of the “bridge that ends nowhere” that was worth visiting, we drove down the W-654P until we got to Rahue, bought two tickets for P3000 to visit the bridge Muelle de las Almas. Everybody here earns something from the visitors and after paying a further P2000 for parking at Quilan, we walked the 3km to the bridge – a scenic point, nice views but possibly a little overrated. Nevertheless it was a pleasant outing, forced us to have some exercise and enjoy the local flora and fauna as well as see some gauchos shearing sheep along the way. Once we reached Castro, the capital of Chiloé, we inquired about the ferry from Castro to Chaitén, but were informed that it no longer operated – whether permanently or temporarily nobody could tell us for certain. Castro also had a large wooden church we visited and then enjoyed the view of the Palafitos – the colourful houses on stilts. From Castro we proceeded on Ruta 5 to Ancud,skirted around the town and took the westerly W-20 and W220 exit Pumillahue to reach Ballena Azul Camping late afternoon. The wind blew forcefully and the temperature plummeted so we decided to spoil ourselves in the restaurant with delicious Corvina (fish) and Mariscos y Queso empanadas (seafood pies with cheese). Fortunately the camping is a few meters below the restaurant and reasonably protected from the worst winds and the 11degC temperature that felt more like 4 degrees. Early in the morning we took the short trail down to the beach Ballena Azul and explored the coastal habitat. At this time of year there are unfortunately no blue whales to be seen as they return to the Antarctic regions. Ancud welcomed us with fair weather next day, we found a laundry and Unimarc supermarket.A stroll through some of the streets brought us into interesting alleys. A trip to Chiloé can hardly be complete without a visit to the museum in Ancud on the Ruta de Iglesias -it is here where we appreciated the craftsmanship behind the art of building these intricate wooden structures and the many techniques involved combined with careful selection of the right wood for the purpose. Then we proceeded towards Faro Corona, an old lighthouse that can be visited, then on to Fuerte Ahui, the fort built by the Spanish in 1779, unfortunately damaged by an earlier Tsunami, which we hoped would not repeat itself while we were relaxing on the adjacent beach. Passing through Ancud again we booked the ferry from Quellón back to Chaiten for coming Sunday and were lucky that they could take us, this is not guaranteed once the holiday season starts. Rather than looking for a different campsite we decided to return to Ballena Azul.   For lunch next day we had arranged to participate in a Curanto, a speciality prepared in a hole in the ground lined with Nalca leaves, then mussels, chicken, sausage and smoked pork are added and covered with leaves, coals on top cooked the meal over a 3-4 hour period. As starters we ordered fresh oysters – they only served them by platter of 20. Since Karin does not eat them fresh, I ate all 20 and the half the Curanto. Neither the oysters nor the Curanto tasted fresh, all a little muddy, a sign that the local farms do not seem to get sufficient fresh ocean currents. It turned out to become my worst nightmare – for the next 24hours my tummy and intestines disagreed strongly with this meal.   For the night we reached the coastal town of Quemchí, where we camped at Camping Tenaún, owned by friendly Gelmán who ran a neat and clean site behind his house. The historical wooden church “Iglesia de Tenaún”, with its 3 spires is part of the World Heritage collection on Chiloé and is kept in good condition. From here we travelled via Colegual to San Juan with the smaller church San Juan Bautista, not painted - yet the wood lasted till today. A further church was visited in Dalcahue (Iglesia Nuestra Seńora de Dolores), a town offering a variety of woolen and other souvenirs on its market place.   On our return via Castro we again visited the colourful houses on stilts, this time during high tide – much nicer. Then back on Ruta 5 we returned to Quellón and had to rebook our ferry with the operator Naviera Austral with offices on the Costañera Pedro Montt, before returning to Millaguen Cabañas y Camping for the night enjoying the beautiful views of volcanoes Corcovado and Nevado in the east on the mainland. Since the ferry would only leave on Sunday, we spent the day in camp resting and blogging. Before boarding the ferry in the afternoon the car was refueled as diesel in Quellón is cheaper than in Chaitén on the mainland. As luck would have it, while waiting in the queue for the ferry, we found a top fruiterer and indulge in fresh cherries, apricots, nectarines and grapefruit. Strange where some of the best shops on our trip were located – so when you leave or arrive by ferry in Quellón, look for the inconspicuous shop close to the quay. Our transit back to the mainland was a quiet one and we arrived on the mainland late at 23:00 ( only departed 19:30 in place of 16:00) and we once again arrived at Parque Pumalin Volcan section towards 01:00 am, pretty exhausted, but happy that it was not fully occupied (drive in, find a spot).                 This post covers 24thNovember to 3rd December 2017

Chile 6: Christo Redentor border to Santiago

    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 November 2017

Chile 5: Araucaria trees, Valdivia and the Lakes around Puerto Varas

For our first trip to South America, we were reaching the final stage in Chile. Our aim was to travel down into the lakes region before crossing the Andes into Argentina. Exploring the southern tip had to wait until we return later in 2017. Die Jahreszeiten fingen an, unsere Route zu bestimmen. Es wurde langsam aber sicher zu spät im Jahr, noch an den südlichen Zipfel Südamerikas zu denken. So wollten wir in dieser Runde noch bis an die Seen Region in Chile vorstossen, um dann die Anden nochmals zu überqueren und durch Argentinien dann in Uruguay zu enden, wo der Wagen für ein paar Monate abgestellt werden könnte. After returning to Molina we travelled down Ruta 5 again, passed Talca and turned off eastwards at Chillán to stay at Camp Extremo 19km away from the town. Caution: Do not jump head first into their pool –it is only  1m deep everywhere. Nevertheless it was pleasant to cool down on this 34°C day. We found a quiet camping spot under large trees and had a pleasant night,albeit windy. Next day we continued further down the Pan Americana, turned to Nacimiento, close to Los Angeles along the Rio Bio Bio, then up to Coronel and past Curanilahue, Tres Pinos, on to Cañete, where we turned off towards P.N. Nahuelbua 47km away. As we came closer, the planted Eukalyptus forests gave way to the old Araucaria forests and other indigenous trees like the Coigües, Robles and Lengas. The park had various hiking trails and we hiked up to the Mirador Piedra del Aguila, a round trip of approx. 9km. On this trail we saw the ancient Araucaria Milenia, a 2000 year old specimen – wow! From the mirador we could look across the entire country –from the Argentinian border to the coast. We also saw two elusive Magellanic Woodpeckers with their bright red hood and black bodies. After the walk we took a cold shower in the rather dilapidated ablutions. It again reminded us how good the parks in Southern Africa actually are. During the afternoon the light changed due to the forest fires and the next morning we realized everybody had left –including the rangers. As ash was trickling down we decided to rather move on, although this park begged to stay for longer. From the park we continued down the P70, passed Tirúa and Puerto Saavedra and stopped on lago Budi at a private and friendly site called Camping Boca Budi. From here we drove along lago Budi then along the coast with black beaches, lots of seabirds, passed Nueva Tolten and stopped at Bahia Queule, a small fishing village with its Black Crowned Night Herons sporting their white feather on the head. For the night we reached the city of Valdivia and camped on Complejo Turistico on Isla Teja amidst a plantation of fruit trees. What a luxury getting a private ducha with hot water allocated for each camp site. Valdivia experienced an earthquake in 2010 but has been rebuilt and we spend hours wandering around, enjoying Kunstmann beer that is brewed locally and admired some of the buildings with old German architecture. A day trip along the coast was worthwhile, driving via Curñanco to Pilolcura, scenic coastal landscape ending where we could observe many breeding red-legged cormorants. We proceeded south to Osorno, we turned off inland and reached Lago Puyehue (after a supper at Cerveceria Armin Schmidt, an artisanal beer brewer next to the road and worth a visit)  to camp at Cabañas y Camping Los Copihues with views of the vulcanoes Osorno and Casablanca with their peaks covered in snow. The lake was clear and inviting, the camping site quiet and pleasant despite the many holiday makers. Next day we continued via Entre Lagos, past Lago Rupanco, via Puerto Klocker, passed the Osorno volcano and then stumbled across a very good restaurant close to Rincon Alemana run by a German couple – a place worth having a good meal at. We continued along Lago Llanquihue to Puerto Varas – at the entry of which is a German school and next to it a Jumbo Supermercado with a fine selection of delicatessen that we by now were craving for. Puerto Varas is a quaint and clean town that could be in the Black forest area of Germany. We found a good camping spot a few km outside the town at Camping Hermosa, on the lake, we swam and enjoyed the view of Volcano Osorno. Here we should have met our friends Caro and Vincente from Argentina, but they ended having vehicle problems. In order to meet them we continue back north to Osorno, Lago Ranco, Futruno and camped just before Los Lago at Camping Los Suizo where at last we then met up with our friends. We all departed to Temuco – our friends to buy spares (currently much cheaper than Argentina) and we used the opportunity to get an oil change done, brakes checked and looked for an airfilter at the garage of Edgar Schneider who was very helpful. The airfilter we had to order from Toyota ex Santiago which would take 2 days. 35km East of Temuco we camped at Estero Cobulto with owners Elly and Werner – all clean and a quiet setting among trees, good ablutions. Then we returned to Temuco to get the filter, but were unlucky with regard to wheel alignment we wanted to get done, as no company could lift the heavy Landcruiser (4tons) – so we left it for now and carried on towards Villarica where the Volcano Villarica is still active ( 2840m). On the route to the border along Lago Calafquen we again camped on a farm-like site run by an elderly indigenous couple – a pleasant and clean camping site among some fruit trees, named Camping La Ruca de la Teo. From here we drove past a few Termas towards the border – a small road through Coñaripe, through forests and on to the Chilean border post –nobody was interested to check the vehicle this time as we were leaving Chile to Argentina and not visa versa. This post covers 21st Jan - 2nd Feb 2017

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