What a challenge to describe with few words the last three weeks spent in a roadtrip in the Wilderness and Nature of Patagonia, jumping from one adventure to the other!
To share the feeling of Freedom given by explore new lands and people with two Wicked vans that became the home for me and other nine other amazing friends while driving South from Santiago de Chile to the “end of the World” (also called Punta Arenas).
The photos and this video from Didier can just give an idea of it!
[Thanks for the video to Didier and www.picture-perfect.be]
Ten travellers “from all around the World!”, as we soon get used to reply in chorus to all those asking along the way.. we got connected thanks to the travellers’ website Couchsurfing, but we actually met and spoke for the first time only the same first morning of the travel!
Here is the new family:
Didier and Marion from Belgium: she is at her first real and long travel, while he already gave a round to the World during a gap year. His the idea of this trip and its master route, he is also a professional film maker and will be filming along the way to prepare a promotional video for Wicked campers South America who are providing us with the vans that are our transportation and home.
Fabio, from Portugal: avid surfer and travel addicted, up to the point that he left his normal life and job to travel full time.
Robin and Nadya, amazing couple from Germany with some Chilean and Russian origins: they spent the last five months visiting South America using Santiago de Chile as a base.
Kathryn from New York – USA: she has the dream job as photographer travelling around for pleasure and job.
Yen from China, or Clara (her European name): as Fabio and myself, she also decided to travel longer than the usual holidays and after some short trips abroad from her base in China, she starts now travelling South America for half a year.
Romy from France: after finishing the studies why not to travel for some months around South America?
Alysa from Russia: she dreams to visit Chacabuco valley and hike Torres del Paine.. both are on the master itinerary of our trip, but nothing is fixed in stone and destiny is on the way and will reserve a lot of surprises for us.
“Mama van” alias “Mystery
Machine”: a 6 seaters van painted as the Scooby Doo car of the cartoons. We will be noticed everywhere with children and people of any age stopping us on the route to ask for photos and our stories: we will also receive a small Scooby Doom from a kid.
To boom even more our popularity a phrase in the back of the van states in cubital letters: “El que te ofrece Marihuana no es tu amigo… es tu hermano!” (literally: Who offers you Marihuana is not your friend…is your brother!”).
- “Baby van”, alias “Beautiful lady” or “Mapuche van”: a 2 seater painted with the traditional symbol of the Mapuche, the local tribe of Patagonia.
On the other side a big head of a mapuche lady.
6 seats + 2 seats = 8 seats..
as soon as we meet I finally realise we’re in 10! Upsi…
Even better, we’ll squeeze! Just in case Didier brought along with him a portable tent that we will actually use only once, more to have more fun than for real need.
It’s mid afternoon when we finally leave the city of Santiago headed to Pucon, nine hours driving more South: enough time to start knowing each other.
First night camping and no real plan or idea on where we can actually stop and park to sleep few hours before carrying on. With maps-me in hand (an application similar to Google maps that works even offline) I spot a small dead-end side road that drives away from the lake.
Following my intuition we reach its end and find a perfect parking spot in the middle of a farm. We see some people still awake and, on top of giving us permission to stay, they also invite us to annual celebration of the Mapuche local tribe: a 3 days party with locals that is ending exactly the day after.
What a great kick-off for our adventure!
The party is simply GREAT !
We eat “carne asada” while having few “Terremoto”, a powerful alcoholic drink.. we play “Unos, dos, tres estrellas” with the children of the tribe and try to compete with them climbing a slippery tree..(a young 8 year girl will win on me and all several times..).
The people of the tribe are enthusiast of our visit and apart from asking for photos together they really want to share and teach us their traditions and costumes: I will try for half an hour to make a powerful sound blowing air inside the horn of an animal…
Everything is accompanied by live music, especially the one played by Carlos Ortiz whose CD will become the only music in the wilderness for Baby van.. (Disclaimer: be careful: his music is addictive!)
The night is really unforgettable and ends even better with a so kind invitation for the whole group to have breakfast at Juan’s place!
We will discover an amazing farm and wonderful family with his wife who actually started baking bread at 6am to welcome us…What an amazing example of hospitality!
They also present us with an amazing home made jam for the trip and a juice to mix with wine.. Slurp!!!
It’s Time to move on and after a “short” break for shopping food in Pucon city we reach the national park of Huerquehue, where we make our first hike to the waterfalls and the three lakes on the top. What a refreshing swim in paradise!
We already feel home cooking and sleeping in the vans and being two friends more in the vans results to be an advantage helping to warm it up more during the cold and windy nights.
We abandon the main road to hit unpaved streets while driving through the Lakes’ district, one of the most beautiful regions of Chile, stopping by for a swim whenever the sun and time allows us: Fabio is the boss in this and will jump from any bridge he can along the way!
Camping time again and as usual speaking with the locals gives the best hints and after exploring a road under construction near a lake we find our spot where we also light up our first bon fire.. the right atmosphere to play the five-question, an ice-breaker game I learn while travelling in Australia few year ago (sorry both questions and answers are a secret of those who play.. next time we meet?)
Together with the questions a couple of pisco bottles and few beers get un-explicably empty and when we wake up in the morningn the van doesn’t want to get out from the sandy beach where we parked!!! Still can’t understand why…:-)
Luck is again on our side and eventually a scraper appears at the same moment we get stuck and in few seconds we’re towed out..
It’s soon clear that we need to hurry up: we’ve 5600 Kms to do in 3 weeks without knowing a lot of the area to explore neither where we can stop to camp or cook. Maps are often outdated and the conditions of the roads are changing suddenly from the well paved road near a city to dirty paths up the mountains full of holes and bumps.. What a great fun, but we soon start calculating a couple of hours for 100 Kms on the map, also considering that moving in 10 people is a lot of fun more, but a bit slower… 🙂
After another day driving in paradise we randomly stop to camp in a village appearing in the evening on the right side of the road we are driving. We will find two of the best things we could ever hope:
another local fair that exact night with a show and most important some warm food ready to eat;
an amazing camping site where waking up in the morning I see a four meter old rope laying down in the back of the vans.. Something inside says me to pick it up and pack with the rest of our stuff.. Later that same day we’ll all discover how good decision to follow that instinct!
It’s still early morning when we reach the dock of Hornopirén where few hours on a ferry booked a couple of weeks ago tranship us to Caleta Gonzalo. Here it begins one of roads with more memories of the whole trip: 60 Kms of dirty and bumpy road climbing up and down in the middle of the forest.
The first memory comes together with a strong smells filling all the interior of Baby van and the car unable to move a step more… Enough time just to park safely and set an emergency triangle and a truck stops to assess the situation and confirm my worries: the clutch is completely burn out and the car unable to continue!
Without neither asking they offer to tow us to the nearest town 2 and half hours away… “Do you have a rope?” are their words….
Near town we finally have mobile coverage to call Wicked assistance that in a blink of an eye organise the shipment of the new piece for the following day by airplane in an aerodrome 20 Kms away.. What a good energy and luck again!
We find a mechanical and Saturday eve if god (and Alejandro the mechanical) wants we’ll hit again the road!
One last problem: where to sleep with the small van out of service in the mechanical workshop and the cabanas and hostel of the village all sold out?!
Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine saves our trip another time when stopping for a group of curious and smart children they bring us to their uncle who has an amazing comfortable cabanas for all of us!
A smile appears back on the tired faces at the only sound of the two beautiful words “hot shower”!!!
Next day is dedicated to go back on the road to hike a volcano surrounded by a mysterious forest of dead trees, collect the new part at the airport and give a lift in one go to 10 hitchhikers, the biggest group ever.. Chile and Ruta Austral on which we are travelling is full of people of any age travelling “sacando el dedo” (hitchhiking in Spanish) at a point that I prepare a board stating “Full” with a sad face on it and on my face: a nice way to show we would give them a lift when possible. From the many smile received back it looks like the board works well!
We drop them at the volcano and drive back to the end of the road to take a photo we missed the previous day and to bring back the camera to a cyclist from Bariloche who lost it along the way!
Saturday.. time to repair the van with the new clutch! While the group heads for sea lions and hot thermal baths, I decide to dig myself below the Baby van with mechanical in the hope to speed up his work and get the van before night..
At 5 my hands are black of grease, but we’re again on the road and driving South to Futalefu where he hope to do rafting the following day. It’s apparently one of the Best spot in whole South America and one of the few that allows not experts on 5 grade rapids!
It’s my third time rafting, but the landscape, the great spirit of the group and the expert guides of Condorfu rafting makes this experience on Futafu river an unique experience!
South South South!
Let’s go, Let’s go!
We’re driving on the famous Carretera Austral surrounded by nature and after Puyuguapi and Coyhaique we arrive in the “city” of Cochrane. Just the time for shopping and wifi are we’re again on board heading to O’Higgins, our longest detour from the main route: 225 kms to go and 225 kms back, including two free ferries.
The route is indeed beautiful and the camping spot that we create at the end of the route is one of the best of the whole trip with a view on the lake and a good bonfire warming our night. But when we ask our GPS to track the route to our next planned destination El Chalten the linear distance change from around 90 Kms to almost 900 kms… We already knew it and in one or two years the new route and border under construction will avoid the long detour back.
But another unexpected event is on our way: after all the kms and unpaved dirty roads, we’re 18 Kms away from Cochrane when Baby van runs into an accident. Both the right tires gets flat and the van flips over the right side. Lucky everyone is safe and just some cuts on the right leg of Alysa that requires some medical attention at the local hospital.
The most injured is baby van and the spirit of the group, tired and doubtful if and how the great adventure can carry on till Punta Arenas..
New day and new energy… We visit a couple of vulcanisations and tires shops and go back a couple of times to where we left Baby van and in few hours of work we’re back on road with both the vans and ready to leave the following day!
Celebrations and Pisco for everyone!
With a plastic sheet instead of the passenger’s window and some transparent tape to keep the windscreen together we drive through Chacabuco valley, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. As soon as we pass the border to Argentina through Paso Rodolfo Roballos the landscape becomes even better and the Guanacos are all around us the whole time.
We would like to stop to sleep and camp here, but the days lost doesn’t allow us and another great destination is waiting for us: El chalten and Perito Moreno glaciar!
The Ice comes down from the mountains reaching the waters of Lago Argentino in front of us. Even if I have been hiking on glaciers before in Europe and Nepal, I remain impressed by the 60 meters wall of ice raising from the water and the sound of ice cracking continuously. From time to time pieces of ice breaks falling in the water while waiting a major fall happening every few years when the ice grows up to close the lake into two sections and the pressure of water works its way through. The last fall happened few years ago, unfortunately for all the photographers during the night..
Another long drive, 2 more stamps on the passport and we’re back in Chile in the Torres’ del Paine National Park. We suddenly realise that no real shopping is possible in the park and our food and cooking gas reserves are not sufficient for the day and half in the park.
The girls at the entrance of the park will save us giving us boiling water to use with our emergency food: Instant Noodles obviously with Aji correction. Aji is a spicy sauce that creates high addiction and we mix with any kind of food or snack.
The group split into two: six of us doing a long 6/8 hours hike to the famous view point on the three towers, while the other four goes for two small hikes that will surprise everyone with waterfalls and beautiful landscapes.
An amazing day and colourful nature surrounding the river we follow until the source where the lake is dominated by the three massive Torres del Paine. We’ll take a unique memory photo, but different and colder than the ones of other tourists.
It’s the last day.. a long drive will bring us to Punta Arenas, our final destination where a long night out knock us out at 4am at a camping site near the airport where we drop off many of us.
Just DO IT!
And do it the way we did it.. Exploring it in complete freedom, being able to stop where you feel like, to take a small side road on the map and speak with anyone on the road. Avoid buses to visit the cities and paying touristic and expensive tours!
Give a lift to hitchhikers as much as you can, will give you many surprises and interesting contacts.
It doesn’t matter if you do it by car, van, bicycle or “sacando el dedo” (hitchhiking), getting with it the problems, difficulties and adventures of the unexpected that a travel to the end of the world brings with it.
Patagonia is really the adventure experience and trip that everyone is dreaming of!