When we decided to travel around South America for 6 months many were surprised that I’d signed up to camping for most it. How does the girl with the pristine Notting Hill flat and the sizeable shoe and bags collection adjust to nomadic life?
The answer is “relatively easily”. It’s not the shoe collection or the outfits that I miss (though a pair of thermal leggings would be nice). The things that, two weeks in, I am adjusting with are a lot more subtle and complicated.
An alternative working title to this post could be “the princess diaries”. I am well aware that these posts might come across as moaning – it’s a great privilege to be able to take the time off and I don’t take it for granted. But I would not be doing this experience or this blog justice if I pretended everything is rosy; besides that’s what Instagram is for :).
We left Pichilemu around noon to drive the c 1,000km to Chiloe island on the infamous Route 5. The drive is predictably long so we aimed to cover the distance over two long days taking 2hr shifts behind the wheel.
We passed a series of cities which we opted not to explore (such as Temuco and Osorno), “eyes on the prize” and all that, but still Chile managed to surprise us when we took short pit-stops to refuel, stretch our legs and camp overnight. The landscape is at first reminiscent of British Columbia, thick forests, waterfalls and steep mountains around. Around Osorno the landscape changes again. Rolling green hills, sparse trees at a distance and cattle farms. Julie Andrews would not be out of place if she appeared singing “the hills are alive”.
In one of our refuelling stops we came across was the city of Frutillar, on the shores of Lago Llanguihue. The town splits in two parts. The more industrial part is further up the hill, whilst the quintessentially German part is by the lake overlooking two inactive volcanos on the other side of the lake. There is a museum documenting the settlement of German immigrants in the area and the place is filled with Tyrol style houses, B&Bs and waffle shops. Having driven by Chilean shantytowns for the better part of two days finding ourselves in this little piece of the Alps was a shock to the system.
A quick coffee and a waffle and we leave Frutillar for the last 2 hours of the journey to Chiloe. Another refuelling stop at Puerto Montt, a supermarket sweep (we have finally bought a cooker) and we are off again to the shore for the short ferry ride across the straight to Chiloe.
We arrived in Pichilemu around 3pm on a hot Saturday afternoon, having driven for a good couple of hours through the mountains on the north of the Central Valley.
Pichilemu is a small costal city renowned for its surfing. The architecture is oddly reminiscent of Melbourne or Marin County. Small, single storey houses with a garden set back from the road. All facing (or trying to) out on the Pacific. My morning run along the coast reveals a big Edwardian hotel now under refurbishment set on a cliff with the inevitable pristine park next to it (perfectly mowed grass and pine trees).
This picks up the story later that day. We had driven through the ‘smokey mountains’ south of Santiago. Not a clever name, the wild bush fires we had seen on the previous night’s news were in the next valley creating a dense blue pall obscuring the spectacular Andean peaks to the west.
We cut off Ruta 5, heading for wine country. High spirits, glad to finally be moving and underway. But night was coming in fast so we decided to sniff out a place to park-up over night. Obviously, chances are higher off the main routes so we roll through a small village, past the small square, the community building and out the other side. Spying a dirt track with an old building behind trees we bank it for later, U-turn and park up back by the square. Like some kind of organised bus tour, we happened to arrive minutes before the annual ‘village procession of the waring grapes’. Four floats, two red, two white, obviously, drove down the main street followed by kids with balloons, cars honking horns and various dignitaries. Stopping only to wave at old mamas, for a photo in front of the community building and when Rafael the float driver stopped to get another beer from his friends, the parade passed through the village and, as far as can tell may still be going.
First proper night in South America. I say ‘proper night’ because on our first night we got into our Lima hotel in a jet-lagged induced daze and then last night we only got into our tiny AirBnB apartment at midnight (still in aforementioned daze) and spent the first 30′ trying to figure out how to silence the alarm.
This morning, after a good night’s sleep we took a leisurely walk down Av Santa Isabella to go find the young Aussie couple whom we bought the car from. Yes we bought a car. More details on how to buy a car and pictures of the car coming soon.
Suffice to say that it took us all day to find a mechanic, have the car checked, negotiate with the mechanic in broken spanish on which of the long list of repairs (totalling £2,000) we would actually go ahead with, patiently wait in a nearby cafe for the agreed-to fixes to take place, and then find a place to safely park our new prized possession. But alas it’s all done, we are the proud owners of a green 4×4 which is surprisingly clean and well maintained given that in the last 4 months it has been driven through Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, down Argentina and then over to Chile again. Name for the car is still TBC – I am sure separate post with full details of its christening ceremony will follow.