Into the Argentina we go! Part 1

OK, so yeah we promised to be better at posting, then followed it up with a month of silence- it's kind of getting abusive at this point...cycles of broken promises followed by flowers and candy and blog posts- WE KNOW. This time though, we have a great excuse: we were mostly in Patagonia which is known for its incredible beauty but also has seriously crappy wifi (wait for the one-star review Patagonia, just wait for it).

Anyways, last we left you we were heading back to Santiago via a sleepy coastal town called Punto de Choros (translates to Mussels Point). Of course we wanted to get to the beach as quickly possible, so we planned out an aggressive driving route- it's cool we can go 55mph top speed- and wanted to cover 1,200km in just two days driving. Suffice it to say, super bad idea. First night we drove into the desert outside San Pedro, and found a camp spot on iOverlander (another shoutout to such a great app) just next to an observatory on a hill. Apparently the Chilean desert is world famous for science star nerd people who fight over Picard and Wookies and the like. Anyways, we parked next to a bunch of Brits and Scots who were staying up all night to watch stars, FOR FUN, and they were all on vacation from their professional jobs as star nerd watchers. They weren't very friendly, and even rebuked Shannon's attempts at asking after their interests. Whatever dudes. I also cleaned out some stuff in the engine, and discovered how to locate and clean the oil sensor (foreshadowing alert!).

After a nice night of sleep under some pretty amazing stars- you can see the friggin milky way with your bare eyes down here, you guys- we took up our 800km driving day with a sense of stoicism and naivety that we'll never have again. This day changed us as kombi people, and we'll never be the same. K, let me break it down for the non-metric peeps (all us USA'ers): 800km = 500 miles...meaning a pretty decent day of driving, like Baltimore to Boston or a San Diego to LA round trip twice, except in a Geo, or Neon, or Festiva, that weighs two tons and has an engine that sounds like an airplane landing and needs a break every two hours. Tough driving, is what I'm saying. Can't stop won't stop driving type driving. It was a rough day.

As we pulled off the main highway, 740km into our drive, and onto a desolate gravel road that led us out into the beach, the oil emergency light shone bright red in the cabin and I pulled over with much stress. It was dark, around 9pm, we still had an hour to go to get to the beach, and oil light problems usually aren't nice ones. Upon inspection of our engine, it turns out both the smog hose that comes off the carb and the oil sensor that plugs into the engine block had mostly come undone. Smog hose...I dunno, but the oil sensor was all me (chekhov's gun), and had spurted much oil all over the place. I tightened it, replaced smog hose, and we set off into the night- me feeling very much like I graduated with a civil engineering degree.

ANYWAYS, under the cover of night we drove into Punto de Choros, and asked around the sleepy town about camping spots and heard from a young lady that her uncle ran a joint right down the road. Tio Dogui welcomed us in close to 11pm, showed us a place to park in his sandy enclosed backyard, and hurried us into his very homey home for a late night dinner that he had on the stove. Frankly, we had no idea what was going on, he was running around, Shannon looked as confused as I did, but the wind was at near hurricane levels outside, and this gentle old hippie (yes, this bad ass) had already served us fresh bread, some sort of meaty stew, and was asking us questions about life and our travels before we could figure out what to do. His warmth and hospitality was truly at dizzying levels, and we came to see over the next days that it really was hard to tell the difference between guests and family in house. Eat, much needed whiskey drinking, followed by exhausted sleep. 

In the morning we awoke to a beachside paradise- the wind had subsided, the sun was up, and all the puppies at Tio Dogui's were out and playing, along with the old german shepherd matriarch Luna. We talked with Tio, walked around town (takes about 10 minutes), and generally lazed about reading and playing guitar in hammocks. Tio welcomed us in for lunch with the family and other guests there, it was inspiring to receive such a welcome. We hung out more, did some shopping at the neighborhood minimarket, and made dinner out of the kombi. Later there was a fire, and we got to meet Daniel from Colombia who was traveling on school vacation, and Paul from France who was traveling for 6+ months and working throughout Argentina. Good peeps, lots of wine, bed. Next day we all decided to take boats to go see the penguins on the nature reserve island off the coast of Punto de Choros, so we headed over to the docks to get tickets and reserve our spots. While waiting for our boat to get ready, the urchin fishers were hauling in their catch from a deep cold well of water just off the dock. They had a great little system, since harvesting urchins was only allowed during one time of year, they would 'relocate' urchins from all over into this one deep cold well of water, basically using it as a refrigerator until they were ready to harvest. So we watched divers go into the dark hole off the dock, then come back up with hundreds of live urchins at a time. One urchin fisher even came over and craked open a live urchin and offered us a taste. I'm not one for uni or urchin, but this live stuff was the absolute JAM, buttery and salty and smooth. Apparently it's also supposed to be the natural viagra, as explained over and over and over by the fishermen.

Boat out, saw some very cute penguins (did you know they are pretty decent climbers and actually nest in the cliffs and bluffs instead of on the exposed beach?), tons of cormorants, lots of seals, and even had the experience of boating along when a pod of dolphins were swimming with us, like feet away. Definitely worth the price of admission, please stop into Punto de Choros and visit Isla Dama, a CONAF site down here, same as Torres Del Paine. Flowers were blooming, the island was pristine, company was great, just a wonderful day, transcendent really. In the evening Shannon and I walked the beach, skipped stones, and were accompanied by our now faithful companion, the german shepherd Luna. Awesome dog, and she really felt a duty protecting us from birds, other dogs, waves, and even heights (as she freaked out when Shannon climbed a rock). Amazing place, highly recommend it.

We ate a local place, the food was very average, and we had to share the restaurant with some very boorish and drunk chilean and american expats who were very...punchable. After dinner we headed back Tio's, there was a full fire going, some Chilean overland bikers we traded stories with, and decided to offer Paul the French guy a ride to Valparaiso on our way back to Santiago.

Left the next morning, with Paul in tow in the back now, and headed south back to Santiago. Apparently, Valparaiso is nowhere close to Santiago, but whatever, ain't no thing. Mostly uneventful drive, about 500km down there and we left early so not a big deal. Dropped off Paul in the evening, then headed back into Santiago to pick up final paperwork and finally head to Argentina. Before leaving we met up with our good friend Jose again, went to his friend's modern art exhibition, that he helped produce, and got to go out to dinner with him and his father (the hungarian consulate from Arica who was in town) for chinese food in their old neighborhood in Santiago. Jose is great, his father was super warm and all around just another special night for Shannon and Danny surrounded by awesome people. 

 Jose's dad even called the caribineros (police) who manned the border pass into Argentina to check it was open for us, and we got the green next morning we headed to Mendoza via the mountain pass with 25 switchbacks on it. Peace out for now Chile!