And then God came. In terms of introductions, that's my favourite.
After a day of superlatives in Patagonia, this time negative ones at the roads that were a jumble of pot-holed and corrugated gravel, we were due some goodness. Puerto Tranquilo delivered. We were bouncing up and down in a speedboat on the Lake General Carratera at 9am amidst the rain and mist to view the marble caves, tinged with mica and manganese that over thousands of years had formed beautiful weathered formations in the lake, yet it was once again the climate in this part of the world that took centre stage. The sun bursting through the mist, calving a path through the mountains to give an ethereal light that sets fire to souls. If there is a God, they like Patagonia very much. Yes, as a proud Kiwi friend was keen to point out, it is similar to New Zealand. Two astonishingly beautiful countries, where you almost bore yourself with the constant exclaiming of ‘wow’. (Images above are from my phone, will be doing the drone and DSLR at some point when I get time! Included is a lovely guy I met, Vladimir, with a Troopy all the way from Russia!).
Cruising in the Landy
In that last 4 days, we hit hundreds of kilometres of rubbish machine-breaking roads, built to rattle ancestors let alone ourselves. This reduced our speed of course, meaning at several points we were hitting an average of 40km, which isn’t too bad, but when a 300km stretch takes you 9 hours and several nurofen, you know you’re in for a tough time. The Carretera Austral is like one long Oodanata, my nemesis in the motorcycle world. However, this time I’m equipped with a Landcruiser Troopcarrier who I love more and more every day. Just an absolute beast of a wonder-horse.
Our route so far has taken us from Santiago, west to Valparaiso, and then began our journey south. Picking up the car in San Antonio, we took in the wine regions of Cochagua, coastal towns of Tome and Concepcion, Temuco and the Lakes District region of Pucon and the Villarrica National Park. Further south, we took in the pretty German town of Puerto Varas and the Osorno Volcano, south to Puerto Montt and skirted along the coast to Hualaihue. Running out of land, it was time some consecutive ferries, skirting the coast where we could and taking in some drone time, and sticking to the famed Route 7 through Chile. The small towns started to blend all the way to Coyhaique, this one large town puncturing the others by having an ATM, supermarket and Bunnings, equivalent. Now that’s living! A few hundred kilometres later we got to our beloved, yet bloody wet, Puerto Tranquilo.
Patagonia should be a name derived from the terrific clouds which deliver rainclouds, delicate white whisps and broad paintbrush strokes across a myriad of deep blue and grey skies. Instead it’s because the Patagonians were patagons i.e. larger than average height for humans that Magellan had seen up to that point in the 1500’s. We had little incline of what awaited us in Patagonia, and thus have been pleasantly surprised by its sheer beauty and capricious weather. Melbourne has a reputation for being a four-seasons in one day type city, yet here that can happen in an hour. The cloudscapes providing breaks, rains or hail are simply astounding, I've never seen anything like it. Opting for the lesser known border crossing east into Argentina from Cochrane (the most famous English Naval Admiral you’ve probably never heard of and a real hero in Chile), we headed into the Patagonia National Park, Valle Chacabuco. Containing llamas, condors, pumas, cougars, snoring Uncles and Welshman, this wonderful park also has slow going roads (which roads don’t in this part of this world?!). The border-crossing on both the Chilean and Argentinian side were simply two men at outpost wooden-huts. It’s an assignment into solitary, effectively. But the scenery was just . . . wow.
I was never very excited for this trip: I had a 13-hour airplane journey ahead of me and had to navigate my beloved Izzy through customs, the latter of which had the propensity to be akin to someone singing Ed Sheeran at me for weeks on end. Only once I was heading down the coast with the sunshine switched on, water to my right and Izzy’s straight six burbling along would I be happy. Well, I’m elated to say, I AM BLOODY HAPPY!! (As for flying, I remain a drug addled mess for the entire period, but I do get to my destination despite the fear, but that is beside the point!).
Chile and Heading South
It’s been almost two weeks of travelling, one week with Izzy and my uncle, and I’m writing this post as we navigate the Carrera Austral south (the road is broken up by several boat trips). We are moving pretty quickly but have plenty of time for sightseeing. We’ve come down from about 1000km from Santiago and camped most nights in little out of the way places next to lakes or rivers, or if we’re feeling blasé we’ll try a campsite. I had researched every country in detail several months ago, but since buying Izzy in July 2017, it’s been 100% on the vehicle, so I’ve completely forgotten everything about any country. For those that don’t know, Chile is a vast stretch of meekness running a good half-length of South America’s rear – you go only two ways, north or south, with the volcanic Andes nestling the entire east of the country, and the Pacific the west. It’s south we go!
Camping wise, Izzy has a roof top tent which I sleep in and then I set-up my uncle (travelling with me for the first three weeks) in another tent, a good 20 feet away. You see, my uncle snores like some kind of rhino having an enema. As a co-pilot you need only a few attributes and my uncle has almost none: being 70% blind he can’t read any of the signs, can’t read any maps, doesn’t know any of the language, he naps like a champion (mid-way through conversation yesterday) and driving really isn’t his forte. However, as an octogenarian and great-grandfather three times over, he is wonderful company, and between the two of us we can cover a lot of utterly worthless drivel for hours and hours.
On our way south we stopped into the Lakes District and met up with our recently acquired friend from Santiago, Emily Mason, a scientist from Cambridge studying volcanology at Pucon. When the rain hammered it down in the afternoon, we formulated a plan involving eating brownies, drinking hot chocolate and working out ways to physically restrain myself from any cheap Star Trek puns to Emily. I failed. In between the mist and the driving rain though, Pucon did seem a beautiful area with waterfalls a plenty and some small hikes we trampled on despite the weather. Those lakes have to get filled up somehow, and with three days of rain forecast we headed further south and fortunately avoided most of it. Huzzaahhhh!!
Meeting Incredible People
Other than getting a smash on the windscreen (stone on the freeway, crack!) and getting that replaced, along with fitting a new alarm – make hay whilst the sun shines and all that – one of the highlights of the week was meeting Lucy Barnard. As per my previous write-up, Lucy is aiming to be the first woman to walk solo from Ushuaia to Alaska, completing her journey by 2020. Needing to cover about 5000 miles a year, she has covered about 3000 so far in her inaugural year. I am not sure I have aided this at all by supplying Tim Tams and Vegemite for the journey! Whilst I’ve maintained really light-running communication channels, Lucy has blogs, Instagram, twitter, facebook, real interviews, sponsorships, competitions, fund-raising and miles and miles of walking to do. It would kill a lesser . . . erm . . . Welshman. In saying that, Lucy is a pro-adventurer. However, the bravery and courage for her trip is undeniable, she’s an incredible person, and an incredible person lugging a 30kg pack every day. One of the key things she highlighted during her trip was the kindness and compassion of the people that she met on her journey, something we can completely attest to as well. As with any country (and hopefully this remains the same for this trip!) I’ve visited, regardless of Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and even North Korea, people at their heart remain the same: good natured, caring and full of surprises. Oh and Lucy is an Aussie (if the vegemite wasn’t a give away!), so please support her at tanglesandtail.com, and buy her a coffee at her next stop!
Other pieces in a quick summary: the food here is staggeringly expensive (box of cereal for 7 or 8 USD) as the tax is huge; the wine is wonderful; the weather has been pretty kind so far; the motorways are smooth and there is little traffic; officialdom has been at a minimum; there are lots and lots of wild street dogs in every town and city, and all are immensely friendly. If you pat one though, you’ll have them follow you around for the rest of the day. And they all LOVE barking at one another at night. But for me, in all honesty, this last week has been dominated by Izzy – she’s been faultless (touch wood) and am simply amazed we got her through customs: after all the nay-saying and the sometimes rude “you’re an idiot and don’t know what you’re doing” that comes with travelling forums, it was nice to get that major milestone over the line after months of planning and years of dreaming. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
HUGE THANKS TO TELSTRA
As above, I am writing this from one of the ferries from the route south. Telstra were very kind in providing me roaming for my trip which has been absolutely invaluable, a huge thank you to them enabling me to keep up posts and message family and loved ones. Thank you Team Telstra! Will add some photos as soon as I can get some wifi! :-)
I’ve been camped in a hostel in Santiago's Bella Vista district for the last few days, a leafy graffiti laden suburb where the affluent (young and...erm…me) come to eat, socialise and get absolutely paralytic. It’s a very cool area though. I’ve been practicing my Spanish and trying a few local dishes, although am yet to try casuleh, essentially a hunk of meat and vegetables delivered in a dish of steaming broth slightly warmer than the sun. When famished I did undertake the manhandling of a huge local burger, and thus my appetite was truly satiated, my wallet parched of $20 US (holy sh*t!) and yes, my soul entirely abandoned. Still, I didn’t go and ask reception where the local Starbucks is, so that’s got to be a win.
The top four highlights this week have been the cemetery, learning about the coup d’etat, and the domestic violence protests. Looking at it, it’s not exactly a jolly start, is it? I’ll just round the blog off by kicking a puppy and that’ll be me set.
The cemetery is good, in fact it’s so good its counted twice. I have been to a few in my time, but clearly attending them for funerals is just weird, but I’ll get to that. For a start, take a stab at how big it is? Let’s talk football fields. 50? 100? How about 117, packing in 3 million people. I’ve since wikipedia’d (new verb for you) and they believe it’s closer to 85 football pitches, but still....HUGE! The biggest interest though is not just the amount of burials but how they’re buried. Remember in mortuary scenes in films where they slide out the cadavers from a chest of drawers of people? Well imagine that, but buried. Thousands upon thousands buried as unceremoniously as slotted into a wall with nothing to show for it but a small plaque or in some cases just handwritten scrawl. If that wasn’t enough, you pay rent on the place of about $100 a year. Yup, rent. If you don’t pay? Well the bones of your beloved are amassed, put together in a small pot and another body slapped in on top. Sometimes, whole families have been in the same space. Amazing. And to top it off, the cemetery is treated as a park by the locals and so, according to the guide, first dates in the cemetery aren’t uncommon. Wow. Just...wow.
The third choice was the Human Rights Museum detailing the period of unrest during the junta era and General Pinochet’s reign. It will need a much lengthier read, with the museum providing confronting images and stories of the interrogation, torture and butchery. It’s pretty savage, but certainly worth reading considering it was just over 30 years ago.
Domestic Violence & International Womens Day
To continue the theme of a fairly serious post, which is completely unlike me, my other one in the top four was the domestic violence protests, where thousands of women and men protested in the streets with banners and drums to celebrate International Women’s day on Thursday. It was really fantastic to see such a passionate and mixed crowd of all ages getting behind such a great cause, with banners and protestors highlighting the recent domestic violence case of Concepción Arregui, known as Conchy, that was apparently killed by her former partner. I say it’s fantastic, but at the same time it saddens me that people have to protest at all – come on society, equal pay, equal rights, equality, saying no to violence of any kind . . . lift!
To end on a slightly lighter note, I’ll be picking up my uncle soon from the airport and travelling to the coast at Valparaiso, and in the coming week hopefully picking up my beautiful machine Izzy and meeting an incredible inspiring woman in Lucy Barnard from tanglesandtail.com. And talking of inspiring women, check this wonderful clip out. "...if there’s something to be done, I'll do it". What a woman!
Cue the music Les MIserables fans . . .One Day Mooooooore!! Another day another destiny . . . perhaps the wrong audience, especially at 5.43am on a Monday. This is the first day not at work, and how I relax. I've been up about two hours. Can't sleep, again, but no matter! Onwards, huzzaahhhhh!!!! <... and snooze>
I fly out on March 6th and hopefully meet my vehicle on March 8th in Sanitago, a mere 7000 miles away.
I mentioned this already on my facebook post, but thought I would welcome aboard Bainbridge Technologies as a sponsor who are providing a 160amp hour battery kit which I'll be fitting when I'm out in the bush somewhere and have some time on my hands!
Have an awesome day!
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here