On Hitchhiking, Specifically In South America And More Specifically On The Carretera Austral And Route 40 (Ruta 40)

By Danny Cronyn

This missive comes mostly from a place of desire for improvement and optimization—of constructive criticism in hopes that generations of future backpackers can make good on the vibrant expectations of what past hitchhiking cohorts have provided. This also comes from a place of being disappointed and disenchanted with the current stock of unappreciative scenesters looking to thumb rides for free on the roads today. Here we go...

Dear Hitchhikers in South America and especially those on the road to/from Patagonia (specifically the Carretera Austral and Ruta 40 outside Calafate, Chalten, Trevelin, Bariloche, El Bolson, etc),

Let me preface this by saying I have purchased and driven vehicles in different parts of the world over the last decade. I’ve picked up hitchhikers in India, across Central and East Asia, Africa, and all over the Americas (north and south). I’ve hitchhiked myself as well, when it became either a mechanical or economical necessity...hence the impetus for penning this here blog post.

Hitchhiking is not a mode of public transportation. It is not a way to get from “here” to “there”. Possessing a thumb and backpack is not your entry price to the world of free travel. Your sociopathic desire to save money on air/train/bus transportation while not offering money for gas to the kind people that pick you up is not “the way it works”. Having nothing to offer is why you would hitchhike, not a chic new way to do things.

Briefly, hitchhiking should not exist to you in the same way that soup kitchens should not exist to you. If you had the money to take a taxi to a homeless shelter, it doesn’t make you an adventurous eater or frugal for dining there, it makes you a real jerk. There is no hitchhiking ecosystem, since there is ostensibly only one side: people who have worked hard, saved, and laid out real money for their own transportation which they improve, fill with gas, and fix (often) when it fails them. You, hitchhikers, have done none of this yet still think by holding out a sign or thumb you’re entitled to free transport.

You paid for an airplane ticket to South America, you pay for meals in restaurants, you pay for nights in hostels and some even pay for hotels (!!!). You come armed with nothing but a sense of entitlement and serious case of bad travel etiquette. You are a freeloading, mooching, grifting, scabby, and sometimes worst of all, boring lot of bad travelers...but here I am willing to try and help out future wannabes by trying to dissuade them.

The situation is this, in South America, that there are far too many hitchhikers now, since it has evidently become vogue to do this, and far too few people who can pick them up. In the olden days, VW buses and Defenders rumbling down to Patagonia on terrible roads would pick up the itinerant hitchers out of a sense of community and transcendental travel spirit. The current class of hitchers though, realizing this, has figured that they can take advantage and use the Overlanding Oversoul to their advantage and just skip purchasing bus tickets all together—offering nothing in return.

The shoulders of roads out of every town now are littered with hitchers, sometimes literally waiting in lines, to get picked up by people like my wife and me, and our fellow overlanders. Like I’ve stated, they bought food and room/board whilst in town, but set aside nothing for transportation (making them jerks, not poor). Out of the tens of dozens of hitchers that we’ve transported, sometimes for distances of hundreds of miles, do you know approximately how many of them offered money for gas? Approximately zero of them. Exactly zero of them. Some have even forgotten to thank us. Our friends picked up one hitcher that was awesome, a true professional that came armed with stories, stickers, and a small donation for gas, but he was the exception that proved the rule.

So, what to do? Here’s a helpful FAQ for you, to help you decide whether you should hitch in South America.

Q: Can you afford to buy a plane ticket to South America, along with food, room/board, and entertainment but not yet for transportation?

A: You’re a great little saver, keep going, you’re almost at “ready to travel” level!

Q: Can you theoretically afford to pay for travel, but prefer the adventurous spirit and kinsmanship of bumming rides?

A: I admire your spirit, make sure to split gas with your ride-givers (or at least offer the maximum you can afford), polish your A-game chatting and storytelling, and do make sure to profusely thank them for their generosity.

Q: Did you arrive on the shoulder of the road by hitching from somewhere else, do you use Couchsurfing or sleep in your own tent, and are you self-sufficient and a real world traveler?

A: You don’t need this FAQ; you know what to do. You’ve got great stories and no one minds picking up someone with those.

Attitudes are shifting about hitchers thanks to the lot currently out on the road. If you’re reading this and considering doing the same, please heed my advice and get the hitchhiking image back to “lovable tramp” from “scheming cheapskate”.

Rant completed.

Ruta 40 and Torres Del Paine

Faithful readers, we have arrived together at the highlight of our trip so far, the crown jewel of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine. Now this is not to say that there haven’t been other epic times up ‘til now, but I deem our Torres trek the highlight because of the combination of stunning and unparalleled natural beauty and the physical accomplishment of completing such an arduous and demanding trek.

We five (us, Gareth, and B+B) had been talking about and planning this trek since we met up in Bariloche so we hit Ruta 40 in Argentina with a renewed sense of excitement now that we were actually drawing near to the trip. But first, Ruta 40—a 3,107 mile long road that stretches from Argentina’s northern border with Bolivia all the way down to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the continent. We picked up Ruta 40 at Perito Moreno, just east of the Chilean border of Chile Chico. The road, mostly paved, and sometimes painfully not, would take us past some of Argentinian Patagonia’s most famous natural attractions but we had agreed to bypass them until after the Torres trek since we wanted to finish by Christmas and before the summer hordes descended in January.

The next couple of days were, well, desolate. The road stretched out to the horizon. Nothing to see but flat grassland, clouds, guanacos (smaller, more graceful relative of the llama), and the occasional ñandu (a relative of the emu and ostrich). We were so excited to see other life forms that we’d shout, point, and hang out the windows of the van every time we saw one. It was eerily beautiful and quiet and we’d go for hours without seeing another vehicle. Our routine was basically drive, get gas, drive, find wild camp, repeat.

At last we approached the Argentina/Chile border (for the third time) and crossed back into Chile to Puerto Natales, which is where everyone going into the park takes time to organize their gear and buy supplies and food. We gave ourselves a couple of days at Hostal Rio Tyndal (simple hostel, creative camping spot, but epic host) to get sorted. It was the first trek of this length for Danny and I so we took cues from Bridget and Brendan as to what type and how much food to pack. Basically, unless you have buckets of cash to spend on guides and sherpas, you’re carrying all your food and gear into the park with you. This, in our opinion, is the more fun/legit way to do it. If you have never carried 8 days of food on your back before, it's heavy. And I wouldn't know. Danny, wonderful man that he is, took most of our food and heavy items and I was tasked with carrying our sleeping bags, tent, and other lighter things, which for me, were still pretty weighty. But I was looking forward to the shape my legs were going to be in once we finished. 

First, a bit about the layout of the park. The central mountain range is surrounded by a looped trail or "O". The front side of the "O", where most visitors begin their trek consists of what is called the "W" so named for its shape. But the "O" can in fact become a "Q" if  you include the tail-like trail that extends from the southwest corner of the circuit. The bottom of the tail, 15 additional kilometers from the more popular starting point, is where our intrepid group planned to begin. Also, to help you follow our journey, I should note that all along the circuit are campgrounds where we'd stay (it is prohibited to camp outside of these campgrounds). Some are free and some are run by private companies that you have to pay extra for. The private campgrounds, or refugios, even have cabins with real beds and hot prepared meals that you can shell out extra money for. And all of the camps have little kiosks where one can buy candy, snacks, deodorant, boxed wine, and the like. So, not as remote as I had thought but as the days wore on, I admit that I was glad that cookies were readily available after hiking for 8 or 9 hours.  

Day 1: The Tail and Camp Italiano - 24.5 km (15.22 miles)

After spending one night at a campground inside the park, we left the vans at the ranger station and set out on the tail. On clear days hiking the tail gives you extra time to ogle the mountain range as you approach. The tail ends at the place where the ferry drops most other visitors off to start their trek but for us this was only the halfway point of day one. Already pretty bushed but eager to make it to our first camp of the week, we scarfed a soda and a Snickers and continued on to Camp Italiano. This was to be the base of our hike the following day up into Valle Frances. It was only our first day but Bridget and I wasted no time establishing ourselves as the slow pokes of the bunch (slow and steady wins...the Snickers?). Danny, speed demon that he is, had already been at camp for an hour but was waiting for me at the bridge to cheer my last few steps into camp. 

Day 2: Cuernos - 16.5 km (10.25 miles)

We woke amidst the crowds of other campers, packed our packs, and left them at the base of the trail to hike up into Valle Frances. We completely lucked out with the weather. Torres del Paine is notorious for having sun, rain, and snow all in one day but the sun shone warm in bright blue skies as we made our way up along the river, past glaciers, to an incredible 360° view of the mountain range. Since the sun had been warming the ice all day, on our way down we were treated to an avalanche or two (from a safe distance of course). Quick stop to eat a granola bar, gather our packs, and march on to Camp Cuernos. We arrived to yet another bustling campground, which we had come to expect on the crowded and more popular front side of the trail, or the “W”.  We cooked dinner and spent the rest of the evening chatting with other hikers and drinking the boxed wine that is sold along the way. 

Day 3: Torres - 20 km (12.42 miles)

Morning finds us scarfing oatmeal and throwing our gear back into our packs to hike to Camp Torres, just 45 minutes from the famous granite towers for which the park is named. Usually, people have two opportunities to see the towers—once in the afternoon when you can still see where you’re hiking and again in the wee hours of the morning so you can watch the sunrise and turn the towers pink. Although some of our party (me in particular) had limped exhausted into camp, with rain forecast for the evening and following day, we decided to take advantage of the still clear weather to go up and see the Torres.

Day 4: Serrano - 18 km (11.18 miles)

It’s a good thing we saw the Torres the day before because we woke at 3:30 am to the sound of pouring rain making a trek up for sunrise pretty pointless. Back to sleep for a few hours then up early to make the long hike to Camp Serrano. This would be our first day on what’s considered the back side of the “O” or “Q” trek. Since fewer visitors to the park have the time (or energy, or will, what have you) to make the complete loop, we were really looking forward to not having to say “hola” to 50 people a day or dealing with crowds and trash or loud, drunk parties until the wee hours. And truly we enjoyed the solitude and change of scenery. What had been views of lakes and craggy, snowy peaks on the “W” now gave way to a softer landscape—rolling green hills and open valleys and fields of wildflowers. Still it was a long day and we shuffled wearily into Serrano to set up camp, cook dinner, and play a few dice games with our fellow trekkers.

Day 5: Dickson - 19 km (11.80 miles)

The next morning we headed to Dickson. We had been looking forward to this stop since it was to be our chance to celebrate Christmas (on Dec 23rd) with a meal inside the refugio. Side note—along the trail there are both free campgrounds and paid campgrounds, with the paid ones offering actual beds and bathrooms, hot showers and meals indoors which is a luxury when the icy Patagonian wind picks up. So with the prospect of a proper meal injecting a little more energy into the group, we set out. This didn’t last long. About an hour in, we approached a massive hill. Whatever hopes I had about the trail leading around it were dashed as I spied other trekkers on its face, trudging their way up. Truly this was the hardest stretch of the whole week for me—30 to 40 min, I don’t know really, of straight up, my pack feeling heavier with each step as I used my hiking poles to drag myself to the top. Tip: counting your steps helps give you something to focus on aside from the pain. Danny was already at the top to congratulate me but it wasn’t very restful since now we were exposing to whipping, ice cold wind. Welp, nothing to do but bow our heads under the wind and continue on. Yet another day of limping into camp. But oh! Dinner! We five, plus new friends Tamara and Lammert from the Netherlands, enjoyed every moment of being inside the toasty warm quincho, feasting on our Christmas lasagna and drinking boxed wine. We fell into our tents full and happy.

Day 6: Los Perros - 9 km (5.59 miles)

We woke the next morning (Christmas Eve) to some light snow. The view up to the mountains where we would be hiking was dusted white. We hurriedly packed our things eager to beat the wind and snow to our next camp, Los Perros. This was where we would prepare to cross the pass, the highest, windiest part of the entire trek. We were prepared to stay two nights if necessary since the park rangers will close the pass if the weather is too bad. Thankfully, most of the day was spent winding through lush forest which protected us from the wind and snow. But the peace and quiet of the trail dissipated when we arrived at Perros. The pass had been closed the previous night so there was now double the number of trekkers at Perros. With the rain and snow, everything and everyone was cold, wet, and muddy. We managed to find a spot inside the crowded cooking shelter and set to work preparing our second Christmas dinner which included rehydrated soup with real cream that I found at the camp shop (what a treat!). We bedded down for the night and tried to get restful sleep in preparation for the pass the next day.

Day 7: Refugio Grey - 22 km (13.67 miles) 

Merry Christmas! We woke to good news—the pass was open. We scarfed breakfast, packed and headed out. More snow had fallen overnight so as we made our way higher we found ourselves hiking through it up to our knees. But it was stunning. Everything white and crystalline, the air pure, and miraculously, no wind! Danny reached the pass first with Lammert and Tamara. He told me afterwards they celebrated with hot tea and danced to Christmas music. Then we began our descent into Refugio Grey, the last stop on the trek for us. As we got lower, the snow turned to rain and thus, the trail turned to mud. It made for treacherous hiking and I think we all fell at least a few times. The mud wasn’t the only obstacle that day. We also encountered not one, but two, suspension bridges over deep canyons. Danny, who was an hour ahead of me at least, said he had considered waiting for me at the bridge because he was terrified to cross. I don’t have a problem with heights but even I was nervous and got a touch of vertigo as I crossed the swinging bridges. No time to stop in the middle and take pictures of the glacier, just keep my eyes up and walk. After a day of hiking in snow, mud, and rain, we were all pretty miserable once we got to Grey. Though it wasn’t part of our plan, we decided to shell out again for dinner inside the hotel (yes, there is a hotel at Grey) just so we could have a spot to be warm and dry and maybe steal a spot by the fire. It had started to snow again—we got a white Christmas after all—but we were cozy inside. The whole evening was joyous and celebratory and we fell asleep looking forward to hiking out the next day and getting back to town for a shower and burgers.

Day 8: Hiking Out and Puerto Natales - 11 km (6.83 miles) 

The next day, December 26th, the storm had cleared and we were treated to stunning views of the park as we hiked out. Everything was blanketed in white and the lakes were like glass. We soaked it all in, a little sad knowing we were leaving this place behind. Back in Puerto Natales we luxuriated in hot showers and had those burgers we had been dreaming about. Our last night in town we finally did something we had been talking about the whole trip down to Patagonia—we had a lamb roast! Under the tutelage of Oscar, our lovely host at the hostel, we spent the better part of a day roasting and basting (with a mix of olive oil, rosemary, garlic and mint) our lamb. It was an epic feast with tons of side dishes and shared with a merry group of friends. Truly a fitting finale to the incredible weeks spent with Gareth, Brendan, and Bridget. Needless to say our goodbye the following day was tearful (like, really, a lot of crying) but we parted knowing we would see each other again somewhere on the planet. And so, with hearts full of gratitude, we said farewell and pointed Masi south for the last time. Punta Arenas here we come!

South, South, And More South—The Carretera Austral

Hello dear friends and family. In an effort to get caught up on our blog posts, I’m jumping in to help tell the tale of our South American adventures. Last we left you, we were wrapping up our time in Futaleufu, the friendliest town in Chile. Still high from our few days of rafting, cake consumption, and campfire laughs, we loaded up Pepe (B+B’s VW Vanagon) and Masi and took the gravelly, dusty road out to meet up with the Carretera Austral, Chile’s famous Southern route.

 Nice to meet you Carretera!

Nice to meet you Carretera!

A note on the Carretera, or Chile’s Route 7—it was started in 1976 under the Pinochet regime in an effort to connect the remote Patagonian communities with the rest of Chile. What began as a mostly unpaved road over fjords, past glaciers, and over steep mountains is now a more or less (sometimes a lot less) paved road that stretches 770 miles from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. For anyone driving in South America, this is a road trip not to be missed. Keep reading to understand why.

Up ‘til now, we had been fairly lucky with mostly paved roads. But now we steeled ourselves for what was sure to be a bumpy ride. For us it was all part and parcel to experience the magic of such a remote and wild place. Our first driving day on the Carretera saw us winding past lush forest and icy lakes. That first night we spent wild camping by a river in La Junta—also the town where Danny and I spied an extremely pregnant dachshund resting behind the counter of the gas station minimarket. The owner proudly showed off photos of the handsome dachsie father-to-be and we left thinking how cool it would be to add a Chilean dachsie pup to our family…

 How we spend most of our nights in Patagonia. 

How we spend most of our nights in Patagonia. 

In the morning we were off again, this time to explore Parque Nacional Queulat, made up of Valdivian temperate rainforest (read cold and wet and full of amazing moss and plants with giant leaves) and home to the Queulat Hanging Glacier, Danny’s and my first! The hike up to see the glacier was stunning—it began with a river crossing over milky greenish-blue water (the result of minerals from the glacial runoff) and wound through the lush, mossy rainforest up to the viewpoint for the glacier where we partook in what has become a favorite ritual thanks to Bridget: tea and Toddies! After a filling dinner of campfire empanadas a la chef Brendan, the pizza dough king, we called it a night and headed out the next morning for Coyhaique, the biggest city along the Carretera.

The next day’s drive took us past more temperate rainforest, one aptly named the Enchanted Forest. It was raining so we didn’t stop, plus we had a mountain to get up and over. The steep and twisting mountain road eventually gave way to wide open valleys blanketed in pink, purple and white lupine. While not a native species, it was a joy to drive these roads just as the lupine was blooming. We stopped for the night at an eco-farm campground just north of Coyhaique. The owner, Nacho (or Nacho 1 as we would come to call him), welcomed us enthusiastically and immediately grabbed Danny for a guitar jam session. He also gave us a tour of his organic lettuce farm and treated us to an educational maté ritual. Overall a beautiful and relaxing stop before making a pit stop in the “big” city.

Coyhaique. What to say? It’s a big city and we usually prefer to avoid them at all costs. However this visit was made necessary by needing to refill cooking gas tanks and do some grocery shopping. Unfortunately, we ended up staying a bit longer than we wanted because some shoddy mechanic work we had done in Buenos Aires caused Masi to break down. It took us the better part of a day to track down an electro-mechanic, but he was able to fix our girl and we were on our way again with only a bit of time lost and a couple more grey hairs.

The next day we arrived in Cerro Castillo, a town that gets its name from the stark mountain rising from the valley. And yes, it looks like a castle. In the morning we set out on a hike to its base.  Now, here is where I’ve learned that expectation setting is everything when it comes to hiking. This was a tough one and had I known I think I would have handled it better. It’s basically four hours straight up to the base of the Cerro with a very exposed, windy, and icy cold final stretch. That said, the views were stunning and made it all worth it. Ramen noodles, tea, and photo ops at the top, then back down.

At last we reached what was to be the final stretch (for us) of the Carretera Austral. Though the road continues south of Coyhaique all the way to Villa O’Higgins, there is no way to continue further (cuz the glaciers are in the way) which makes doubling back necessary. So instead we turned east along Lago General Carrera intending to cross the border into Argentina to continue south. We had been looking forward to Lago General Carrera because they are home to the Marble Caves, stunning rock formations in the middle of the lake that you can visit by boat or kayak. But our excursion was made a bit more somber by the news that Doug Tompkins, the co-founder of the North Face, had died on the lake in a kayaking accident only days before. Before we started this trip, we had seen the documentary 180° South and learned more about his life as a climber and conservationist. Suffice it to say that he was a large part of our inspiration for this trip and we are grateful that we have had the opportunity to see first hand why he was so passionate about preserving Patagonia for future generations. 

 Photo cred to the ever talented Brendan Murton. 

Photo cred to the ever talented Brendan Murton. 

After a successful kayak to the Marble Caves, we hopped back in the vans and went in search of a suitable camp spot for the night. It took us longer than we expected but as is often the case when looking for that perfect wild camp, our efforts were rewarded. We ended up on a small beach with incredible views of the lake and mountains in the distance. Another round of tea and Toddies, a shared meal and good campfire conversation later, we turned in and prepared for the drive to the Chile/Argentina border the next day.

 Our wild camp at the edge of Lago General Carrera.

Our wild camp at the edge of Lago General Carrera.

The drive would take us along the edge of Lago General Carrera, which, you guys, is huge (over 100 miles long). And stunningly beautiful. See below for evidence of the vast, turquoise body of water. We had a great time taking it slow and stopping every so often to pile out of the vans and take pictures. We stopped for the night in Chile Chico on the Chilean side of the border. Our campground host, Nacho 2, treated us to stories of his early life as a rock star and policeman (we tried not to think too hard about what being a policeman meant during the Pinochet regime) and also helped us build a roaring fire and roast a huge rack of ribs for dinner. We bid him adieu the next day and made our way to the border, Argentina, and famed Ruta 40. Next stop? Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine!

 

Catching Up With The Cronyns: San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Hello folks! We're trying to get better at updating more often and at least get to the same country...currently we're in El Bolsón, Argentina on the way to Patagonia and Torres Del Paine. Let's catch up, you guys!

Last we caught up we were leaving Arica after a nice bout of altitude sickness and heading southernly toward San Pedro de Atacama. Itching to get back out on the road again, we burned out of Arica down the coast line, through some severely large canyons (we still think it's funny one of them is called Shrimp Canyon). No issues on the drive, not a ton to see, but we were heading south again and in a fine mood. We wanted to break for the day somewhere near the large mining town of Iquique, where we also wanted to get an overdue oil change. It took us waaaaay longer than we thought to find a mechanic to change oil, pretty simple job, but finally made our way and had it done. By that time it was wicked late so we checked trusty iOverlander for spots to wild camp. We ended up pulling into a yet-to-green sand gold course that was under construction, and sleeping no more than 100 meters from the waves on the coast. Beautiful spot, free of charge, and great cooking and playing campfire guitar together...just us two.

 Enjoying the views of the Chilean coast before heading back into the desert. 

Enjoying the views of the Chilean coast before heading back into the desert. 

Next day we headed south and inland, we hoped, to the famous San Pedro de Atacama. Masi was in fine shape, the coast line looked exactly like the PCH or Highway 1 in California, and all was right in the world—truly inspiring views and surf on the coast. We hit the town of Tocopilla and made the turn inland to the exhausting desert. Winds picked up quite a bit, to the point of steering corrections and then finally to me literally holding the wheel at a 90 degree angle to compensate for the nonstop gusting. Because of an alignment problem and compounded by super hot desert asphalt and the open angle of the wheel on the road, it wasn't long before we had our first awesome tire blowout. It was legit—the entire tire blew out from the sidewall, and shredded the whole thing. So there we were parked on the side of the road, 100km behind and in front of us, in the desert, with a blown tire. It also wasn't until then that we discovered the jackpoint nearest the wheel was welded almost completely shut, and the jack we had would no longer work. I tried inverting the jack, using rocks to gain leverage, digging a hole under the wheel, but could not get Masi far up enough to get the spare onto her. After an hour of trying, then another hour of trying to flag someone down for help, a drunk Chilean (he was drunk because 1) I know drunk when I see drunk and 2) they had an open case of Corona bottles sitting out in the car and all four of the people in the car were drinking them) pulled over to lend us his working jack and also berate us for not understanding more of his slurred Chileno. Cool bro.

Tire back on, short of light, and an alignment problem, we decided to park it for the night in Calama and get Masi checked up on and aligned. Alignment guys were funny, new tire was bought, so we messaged our friend and ex-kombi owner Jose to let him know we had our first issue but we're ok. According to good 'ol Jose, he said, "Well guys, please get out of Calama as soon as possible, because it is basically the worst city in the entire world", and added that Calama is known as the city of the Three Ps: perros, putas, and polvo. I'll wait here while you google translate those.

After a very respectable camp experience in Calama, we bought another jack, and then attempted to head to San Pedro finally. Masi didn't want to start for the first time since we hit up 13-14,000 feet in Putre, and we were starting to get concerned. Getting her going still worked in second gear, so we punted on the problem until we got to San Pedro. Drive went fine and we arrived in San Pedro to see our real first tourists of the entire trip! Both welcoming and unsettling, as we had made it into a commercial zone. We parked up in a great little camping hostel (Hostal Puritama), and paid what we felt was an extravagant price for camping, use of kitchen (but no cooking allowed...womp womp), and crappy wifi: $20 USD per night. It's a hit to the budget starting out the day especially with so many free wild camps around. But there I learned how to change the timing on Masi, gave it a go, and she started firing up right away—so I was cautiously optimistic that I've made my first actual auto repair.

 Hostal Puritama's seriously aggressive geese looking for a snack. Shan1 had to fight off the male with a plastic box. 

Hostal Puritama's seriously aggressive geese looking for a snack. Shan1 had to fight off the male with a plastic box. 

Our week in San Pedro was pretty relaxing, although still expensive and touristy and we were glad to get going at the end of it. Highlights:

-Cabalgatas (horseback riding) through the desert and getting my steed into a full out gallop across the open sands. Shan1 was a bit more intelligent and kept her horse to a nice trot

 That's not how you ride a horse. THIS is how you ride a horse. 

That's not how you ride a horse. THIS is how you ride a horse. 

-A couple nights of wild camping that bookended a full day at the Termas de Puritama where we soaked in stunning natural pools at the bottom of a red rock canyon 

 Spending the night near the termas the night before paid off—we were first to arrive in the morning and had the pools all to ourselves for 15 whole minutes!

Spending the night near the termas the night before paid off—we were first to arrive in the morning and had the pools all to ourselves for 15 whole minutes!

-Our tour to Valle de la Luna where we explored some awesome salt caves and watched the sunset from the top of the valley ridge 

 The last rays of sunlight on Valle de la Luna. The human specks on the ridge offer a sense of how grand this place is. 

The last rays of sunlight on Valle de la Luna. The human specks on the ridge offer a sense of how grand this place is. 

-A great, and well-earned "nice meal out" where we FINALLY had good Chilean food: a rich pesto veggie risotto and a very solid salmon dish

-Watching a local football (soccer) game in the stands...not great level, but we felt like locals for a bit

-A tour to the salt flats where we saw our first flamingos, and then up to 14,000 feet to see a few volcanic lakes—beautiful and we were thankful to have plenty of coca and a fast bus driver to get us down this time!

 14,000 feet and no altitude sickness, yay!

14,000 feet and no altitude sickness, yay!

After a week in San Pedro, we started our drive back to Santiago to collect our official ownership papers for Masi but had a magical stop along the way in Punto de Choros and made some new friends. Stay tuned.

First we got to Arica...then we LEFT (<---Spoiler alert)

You know the 'ol maxim about driving 2,000 kilometers to Arica: you start out, then you get there.

Well, that's exactly what we did. We wanted to coincide our trip with our Kombi's old owner, and our new friend, Jose's trip up there and spend a day or two with him in his hometown. We arrived there the first evening a bit road-weary, but happy to see expanses of beaches, a chilled out surf town, and plenty of places to potentially camp right out next to the surf. As luck would have it, we got to play one of my favorite old games, "wrong way, right way", familiar to any friends or family that have visited me anywhere ever. To play, first you must go the wrong way (at least once), and then you go the right way. Equal parts stupid and unrewarding.

First, we wanted to camp literally on the beach so we scouted up and down the playa for an entrance where there were cars on the beach (don't look at their tires or the big 4x4 stickers on them, key to playing "wrong way right way"). Shannon got out, measured the sand was only like 2 feet deep or so, at worst, and then I gunned my little lady Masi from the dirt entrance straight out onto the sand. I must relate that those three feet we made it onto the beach were exhilarating. Unfortunately, if not for a kind passer-by with a tow rope, that's where Masi would still be since she apparently is a real no-talent ass clown when it comes to sand. Anypoops, we got pulled out (Shan1's first tow!), and headed to sands of less depth. We found some of those, only like a foot, at MOST, this time, and with a similarly glassy look in my eye I gunned Masi onto the beach for a second towing experience. This time we made it like four feet, at least. After that, we just wanted safety and no more digging and towing. So yes, we found a solid inlet road and set up camp maybe 45 feet from the where the waves were crashing.

Successful tow numero uno! 

Later that night, Jose and his girlfriend Marcela came to join us for a whiskey-by-lantern-light on the beach, we talked, then all retired for the night- not before Marcela told us that where we were staying on the beach was "really not safe at all". Ah well! Waves, beach, not-too-deep sand, what could go wrong?

KOMBI CAMPER ALERT: cover your damn cab air/intake holes with mosquito netting!

If anyone has read the above alert, they will notice that if you do not take caution and cover the cab air vents (obviously not the engine ones, although we saw Kombis with those painted over which kinda flies in the face of the whole "air-cooled" part of the engine) then intelligent 'squeeters will fly in, fly around your face and ears, and bite the fuck out of you all night long without any feelings or remorse or concern for your sanity. This night filled with mosquitoes and hatred for the insect world, was a terrible one. If I had transformed into a mosquito through some Kafka-esque magic, I doubt Shan1 would've spared me...such were the levels of pure and intense hatred toward those guys. I plan on tithing a part of my future salary to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, as I support their mission to rid the world (universe?) of mosquitoes #kill-em-all. At least, that's how I understand the mission of their charity. What I'm saying is that night was rough, you guys.

Well, we survived, woke up in the morning (as alive people do), and we were literally on the beach. NOT BAD. Vultures picking at trash piles aside (for real Chile, what the actual fuck), I was able to wake up in my Kombi, with my beautiful wife, on the beach, in Chile—and that does not a bad life make...no matter how many itchy bites one has on his face. From there, we met up with Jose for a tour of the city, a coffee, a visit to a surf hostal, and then said our good-byes to Jose as he was flying back down to Santiago that evening. We then drove out along the coast of Arica toward a nice little camping spot we found on iOverLander (shout out to this app—it's the bomb and please port over to 'Droid!). The spot was right at the mouth of a cave system along a coastal road (think PCH for the Californians) and situated only feet from the surf again. We parked up Masi, unfolded our table, cooked a delish dinner, and had a pretty solid night. In the morning, about 7 fishermen literally woke us up by banging into our Kombi with their rods and tackle and what I guess were bulky turtlenecks. Not cool guys. Also, lots of trash on the beach as the light revealed, the beach looked better in the dark. 

Playa Corazones where we spent our second night. The caves in the background are closed until December 2015 due to being cleaned and de-graffittied, yay!

We then spent the rest of the week in Arica, buying much-needed mosquito netting for Kombi cab intake holes, a tow rope for absolute crap performance in the sand, a sound system workaround for shoddy music choices on the FM tuner, and general sightseeing. Highlights:

  • OLDEST MUMMIES IN THE WORLD: not even kidding you guys, these mummies are from 5,000 bc, putting those young studs from Egypt to shame
  • Terminal Agro: Sweet open air market, Terminal Agro was the name, and selling life curiosities was its game (Beware wild packs of roving dogs though, they'll get ya)
  • Sunsets

We stayed a few nights at El Buey Surf Hostel, a place owned by Jose's friend, Giovanni. Super chill place, we had it basically to ourselves while there, and only minutes walk to a really nice beach named Playa El Laucho, right where a resto/bar called Tuto Beach is located. Freezing water, hot sun, not too shabby. 

Lunch at Tuto Beach on Playa El Laucho. 

From Arica, our next destination would be Putre, where just above is situated the world's highest lake called El Lako Mas Higho...just kidding it's called Lago Chungara and don't look up whether it's the highest, everyone told us that it is and these colors don't run.


Hey we're on the roa....yikes

This post is only a week old and we've communicated broadly that we're now fine, but I still want to preface this with a sentiment: our hearts go out to everyone in the areas affected by the massive earthquake that hit here in Chile, just west of La Serena and Coquimbo. At least 12 people have lost their lives, several towns were destroyed, and from first-hand experience I can tell you it was no joke.

K, so back to the beginning: our last week or so in Santiago was rather uneventful, as we cruised around finding, buying, and searching for more camping equipment. For anyone following in our footsteps: START AT THE BIO BIO FLEA MARKET off the Franklin stop before you go anywhere else. You can find anything there, seriously from Tae Kwon Do gear to old school Ataris and antiques, it's all there. We bought camping gear at a fraction of the store prices, tools for the kombi, and plenty of randomness. We also left a ton of things we would've loved to get folks back at home- sorry Uncle Mike, we didn't have space for those wooden golf clubs and the jade monkey.

In addition, we hot stepped all across Santiago, some days clocking more than 6 miles, searching for 1990 kombi window latches (pestillo, en espanol!), water containers (agua whatevers), and double burner camp stoves (doblisimo ampercamp-say estovos). Once we felt good with supplies we set our departure day for the 16th of September, and got everything all sorted with our baby girl for the road.

FIRST DAY: Our new baby did not let us down: she drove smoothly across hills, valleys, plain, and plateau alike, and although we move much slower than everyone else on the road (averaging about 80kph, or about 50 miles per hour), we were steady as hell. Our girl is a thirsty mistress though, and gets about 8 klicks to the liter, so we found our newest hobby- stopping at nice gas stations to take breaks, pay absurd dollars for gas (a full tank on our girl is about $60 USD), and eat the Chilean national food- Completos, or hot dogs with avocado on them. 

Quick sidebar on Chilean national stuff:

National food = Completo (hot dog)

National anthem = car alarms (wee-ooo-wee-ooo-BARP-BARP-BARP)

National past time = enjoying the wonderful outdoors and then immediately throwing all your trash on the ground and breaking every piece of glass you have so as to ruin this site for anyone else. Chileans have a pyrrhic sense of enjoyment when it comes to nature.  

Anywho, first day went great, we stopped off in Coquimbo and La Serena to buy some supplies and re-fuel on our way into the desert to do some camping. We had just barely parked out in the desert and started cooking dinner, when we felt the ground start to shake. The camp table and stove started to tip over, the food went all over the ground, and the kombi was swaying full tilt from side to side. For any Californians reading, this was Shannon's biggest earthquake, and definitely mine, and we although we laughed it off once it subsided (after minutes, not seconds), we knew that was a big deal. Soon texts and emails and FB messages started to come in telling us that on the other side of the mountain range that hid us, tsunamis were rolling in and literally destroying the towns we were JUST IN. Terrible news, and we have kept those people in our thoughts. Earthquakes are no joke, for real. Nothing funny to say about, just glad we were OK, and thanks to everyone that has kept us in their thoughts.

More to follow on the following days...only one week behind now!

Bienvenidos a La Vega (Or How We Learned Our Spanish Sucks)

Before we began this trip, we dreamed of all the delicious food we'd be eating. Savory meats, fresh seafood, rice, beans, empanadas, etc. But the morning of our third day in Santiago we had already eaten in a handful of restaurants and hadn't been wowed by the food. Finally we talked with our housemates and learned that if we were waiting for that pinnacle gastronomic moment where we look at each other across the table and mumble "oh my god" before even swallowing the first bite, well, it wasn't going to happen. Turns out Chile isn't know for their culinary prowess. After all, one of the more famous dishes is a hot dog covered in mayonnaise.

So after spending way too much money on our third or fourth so-so meal, we determined that buying groceries and cooking at home was the way to go. And what better way to get to know Santiago than a trip to La Vega, the famous open air market!

If you're reading a little trepidation in Danny's face, it's because La Vega covers 3 city blocks!

Knowing at least a little about what we were undertaking in visiting La Vega, we decided to stroll around first to get a feel for the market before buying anything. Turns out this is not at all a good strategy. No sooner had we spotted something that we liked (we'll come back for it later! we thought) than we lost it amidst the endless aisles and crowded stalls bustling with buyers, vendors, carts, and occasionally, an actual car. It wasn't until we left that we noticed the aisles did have numbers on them so you could find your way.

It was an exhausting trip though. And man did we underestimate our Spanish skills. We both thought that for the most part things would sound familiar and thus trigger the release of 10 years of Spanish education, but no. Chile has the most difficult accent in all of South America (go figure) and tons of strange expressions that make zero sense to foreigners, even ones fluent in Spanish. And if Chilean Spanish is the worst, then the Spanish in La Vega is the worst in Chile. Of course we learned these things after we made it home with our bags of groceries so we didn't feel as bad about how much we had struggled through our shopping trip but still. We also had a brain fart moment converting kilograms to pounds and ended up with almost 2.25 pounds of cheese...

The freshest fruit, veggies, meat, and seafood in Santiago. And much cheaper than the supermarket.

All in all, we've been eating most of our meals at home and feel like we're settling in nicely to our new neighborhood. Ahora nosotros tenemos que practicar nuestro Español. 

Note: At the time of this post we are about halfway through our 2.25 pounds of cheese.