From the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores (Argentina/Chile border) we snaked our way downwards from 10, 500 feet, completing the 29 hard switchbacks carved into the Andes. We couldn’t imagine driving up this road in the wintertime, covered in snow I would expect, while heading to one of the numerous local ski hills up top.
Reluctantly, we parted ways with Chris and Mallary as they made the turnoff towards Santiago and we headed towards the coast.
After a good long break at the COPEC station (gas refill, coffee and croissants (called media lunas), fast free wifi, — that’s where the magic happens, people), we headed towards our first campsite in Chile since San Pedro de Atacama a few weeks earlier.
We arrived at National Park Campara after a scenic drive along a beautifully tree-lined road. The site had quite a few spots in the centre of a circular pot-holed dirt pathway. We literally saw only one person in the whole place. Our spirits were low after saying goodbye to our friends. That, and the mosquito and fly population put a cramp in our camping style. To remedy this we cracked open our last remaining canned Gin and Tonics and cervezas from Argentina, went for a walk around the park, and turned in for an early night’s rest.
Valparaiso and Viña del Mar
Viña del Mar and Valparaiso are less than 10 km apart on the Chilean coast. Viña del Mar is more modern: a beach destination with high-end shops and many restaurants catering to tourists. A long seaside concrete pathway was the place to be, with joggers in their brightly coloured spandex tops and groups of Chileno families beaching it up. Valparaiso, on the other hand, has an older vibe: more bohemian, more historic, with many multi-coloured buildings housing hostels, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants. The city felt rough around the edges outside of the main tourist area and we were warned multiple times to keep our camera out of sight.
Viña del Mar and Valparaiso welcomed us back into city life. And by “welcomed” I mean we were caught in a mess of stop and go traffic for several hours, and the first night was a gong show trying to find any sort of accommodation with parking. Eventually we found the place we were looking for (well after dark), but we were reminded again that the busy city just wasn’t the place for us anymore.
Despite this, we took the Metro to Valparaiso to see what it was all about. Buskers hopped on and off the metro line, playing Carlos Santana tunes on trombones and accordions. Huge tankers floated on the horizon, while multi-coloured shipping containers were stacked like lego at the port. People filled the streets. We spent most of the day just wandering around taking photographs of graffiti, hiking up the steep concrete stepped alleyways, and of course stopping to admire the multitude of brilliantly painted facades. We imagined that beyond the closed wooden doors sat a hip group of artists with loose clothing, long hair, fingers streaked with paint or clay or black with charcoal, while they smoked cigarettes and talked about cool artsy things we likely knew nothing about. That was the romantic image I had in mind, but who knows how accurate it all was.
We took a ride on one of the 26 ascensors (elevator or funicular railway), of which eight are still in active use. They were constructed in the late 19th century due to the steep hills and lengthy communication time between the various neighbourhoods. Following the construction of the Panama Canal, Valparaiso’s economy tanked and many of the ascensors fell into disrepair. In recent years several grants have allowed some refurbishment to not only the ascensors, but other historical buildings, streetscapes, and public spaces.
After hours of walking through the city, we were in desperate need of sustenance. We stopped by Empanadas Famosas for some GIANT heart-attack inducing empanadas and Cristal beer. Sufficiently suffonsified.
During our first week in Chile it became common for the locals to approach us either to ask about our truck, tent, and trip, and/or to warn us that we should be careful with our electronics as they would likely be stolen. Parking lots became a place for us to mingle with the locals and attempt to understand their very fast, slang-filled Spanish. Big, well-marked highways with tolls became the norm, something we hadn’t seen since Mexico. The price of fuel skyrocketed ($1.50 USD per litre as opposed to Northern Argentina’s $1.00), as did the cost for food, accommodation, and pretty much everything else. We were back up to our North American daily average. Hey, there’s more where that went!
Eager to ditch the hustle and bustle, we made a plan to meet up with Chris and Mallary one more time before they headed south, and soon thereafter we were scheduled to meet up with Richard’s mom in Santiago. A small beach town by the name of Puertecillo was recommended to us by our friends George and Jenine, so we headed a few hours south in search of tranquility.
Overlanding Tip 101: when a sign says “end of road” you should probably turn around. A quick walk towards the edge of the apparent cliff revealed the steepest road we’ve ever driven down, and of course, because we’re in Latin America, a Suzuki Samurai was chugging its way up towards us. The driver indicated with a thumbs up in our direction that Toyota Power (or brakes in this case) would help us arrive safely at the bottom of the near vertical path. And it did– in 4-lo, first gear, while Richard took care of the manual-anti-lock-brake action. We would have taken pictures if we were not fearing for our lives during the descent. As is normally the case in situations like this, a perfectly good alternate road with a very shallow grade could be found with a simple 10 minute detour.
Much of Chile’s middle coastline is becoming developed, likely due to its proximity to wealthy Santiago-dwellers looking for a new place to spend the weekend or build a summer cabin. Ramón Navarro, a local fisherman-cum-surfer in the nearby coastal town of Pichilemu has been fighting hard against the commercialization of his beloved coastline, including the infamous Punta de Lobos: a massive point break that is legendary in the international surfing community. Ramón, The World Surfing Reserve, and the Save The Waves Coalition are working to create a local foundation in order to safeguard traditional fishing rights and protect marine biodiversity along the point.
A huge stretch of coastal land in Puertecillo is scheduled to be developed in the coming months. Fortunately the town boasts a great little campsite among the pine trees next to the Pacific ocean. Unfortunately the price for camping at this spot involves melting down my gold figure skating medals currently boxed up in my parents’ basement. So, as we do, we drove around trying to decide where exactly the line is drawn when it comes to a ‘no camping’ sign.
We spent our first night in a super ‘stealthy’ spot in the forest. The next morning I was in the process of greeting the day, sitting up at the entrance of the tent, groggy, sleepy-eyed with my glasses on and hair likely sticking up in every direction, when two men pulled up in a legit-looking security truck and informed us that we were not allowed to camp there. Apparently we were camping on private property slated for development. Fortunately they directed us to the beach, which ended up being an excellent spot for two more nights.
Much of our time in Puertecillo was spent preparing and enjoying long, luxurious brunches where we would sit around camp and chat for hours on end.
We popped into the Puertecillo Kitchen & Co. for a quick cerveza on the patio.
An hour long walk on the beach took us to El Rinćon (“The Corner”), a popular surf spot with a long left point break. As with Punta de Lobos, locals have mobilized a coalition to ensure the development plans for the area remain within Chilean law and that an Environmental Impact Study is completed before the project continues. We enjoyed sitting out on the rocky point watching the surfers, in full wetsuits, catch some waves.
One of the things we chatted about with Chris and Mallary was how different life will be when we return home. In order to really remember the details so easily forgotten we put together a list of things we will miss from life on the road.
Things We Will Miss From Life on the Road
So many things… this list is definitely not all-inclusive. We could write a book on this topic.
- two-hour long breakfasts
- free camping on epic beaches (or at playgrounds…) with awesome people
- staying in one place if we like it or leaving immediately if we don’t
- solving problems with what you have on hand (i.e. camp, meals, directions, repairs, etc.)
- tailgate lunches
- making memories every day
- spending all of our time outside
- $3 organic local wine
- no showering for days = no problem
- “camping clean” (our new definition of sanitary)
- non-material attitude – you have what you have and it is enough
- no schedule (most of the time)
- no phone and internet 24/7
- sleeping in the tent/car
- listening to podcasts/music during long driving days
- making ourselves at home anywhere we park
Of course this conversation also led to things we would not miss from life on the road, as well as things we are looking forward to back home.
Things We Will NOT Miss From Life on the Road
- the midnight pee without privacy (including climbing down from the rooftop tent and putting shoes on)
- cleaning and putting everything away before bed
- washing dishes at camp
- no Chic-Fil-A or Arby’s (thanks to Chris for this gem!)
Things Back Home We are Excited For
- bathtubs and having a shower anytime
- walking barefoot in a shower/bathroom (no flip flop sandals required!)
- flushing toilet paper
- Mom’s cooking
- all-natural yogurt, no TBHQ, organic food, smoothies, potable water 24/7
- CASHFLOW (what’s that?)
- washing dishes in a sink with running, hot, soapy water
- Amazon.com (or .ca for the ol’ Canadians)
- no wind interfering with your cooking
- understanding what people are saying to you
In the meantime we would enjoy the good food, stunning black-sand beach sunset, and crackling campfire with friends as one those unforgettable moments, lengthening our list of things we love about life on the road.