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Beastly Blog
Thursday, 9 November 2006
To the end of the Pan American Highway!
Hola Beast Crew

We have been motoring the past few weeks, weaving in between Chile and Argentina , filling out temporary importation forms like they are going out of fashion and seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Apologies for any jealousy causing and I hope some of you are still reading these updates!!

Valparaiso - San Javier - Temuco - Pucon - Termas de Panqui (Chile) - San Martin de Los Andes (Argentina) - San Carlos de Bariloche - Puerto Varas (Chile) - Ancud - Chonchi - Auchac - Quellon -Termas de Amarillo

23th October 2006 - 9th November 2006

We left the stunning UNESCO town of Valparaiso and our Spanish teachers and headed back onto the Ruta 5, the Pan American Highway. We were on a quest for the ultimate vineyard but Greg kept passing all the signs for the wine routes and only after a look at the map and after an argument ensued he was persuaded to turn off at the last wine route on the map. A couple of kilometres of dusty roads later we pulled into the Saavedra vineyard. We bought a few bottles of wine and asked the owner if he knew anywhere good to camp for the evening, he immediately suggested the best spot he knew, at the top of his vineyard overlooking the vines with the mighty Andes lurking seductively in the background. A few bottles of wine were enjoyed as the Andes disappeared into a misty orange haze. We were woken up by a vineyard security guy with 5 dogs who looked scared to death when a half naked man pop up out of the roof of a big red car and say "Hola!".

We headed further south to the last marked Land Rover garage in Temuco . The lovely Beast needed a bit of an overhaul as we realised that the further south we head the more likely we are to experience dusty roads and the overlanders hated corrugations on dirt roads. We pulled into Temuco and stayed overnight in the car park of a parilla (meat restaurant).

We had far too many Pisco Sours, whisky sours, wine sours and whiskies the previous night (god the hangover was bad) and we surfaced at 3pm, just managing to turn the engine on and drive the 5km down the road to the garage. We pulled up and attempted to explain what we wanted doing, with sore, pounding heads. After a lot of gesticulation and pointing, we got our oils changed and got the brakes checked. A huge amount of dust came out of the brakes which had been causing all the squeaking but the rear nearside (passenger side) brake had a leaky seal. As soon as the mechanic took off the seal, he realised he didn't have any spare parts. All the brake fluid dripped out of the system whilst he and Greg went in search of the spare seals. Seal replaced, the brake system needed bleeding of air. At 10pm the mechanics had still not worked out that the brake and clutch system are interlinked in the Land Rover 101 and they gave up. We slept overnight in their car park and they managed to get the brakes to work a little more efficiently just before we left the following day. We now have to pump the brake twice before we slow down!

We headed over to the lake and snow studded areas of Villarica and Pucon who gain most of their money from visitors who come to scale the active snowcapped volcano and sample the termas ( hot springs ) that sprout from the side of the mountains. We had read about a hot springs called Termas de Panqui which was 15km down a dirt track, set up by an american hippy with the enticement of staying in a tepee (a native american's tent). In torrential rain, we travelled down the atrocious bumpy road to the hot springs to find a wet bewildered Mapuche Indian in a skiing jump suit, trying to persuade us to not stay in the tepees which were soaked through and collapsing from the wet Chilean winter. The hot springs cleaned off 5 days worth of grime and gave us a relaxing day away from the Beast but the evacuation signs in the centre of the local towns providing information on the indicators of a volcano about to erupt made us a little uneasy sitting there roasting away!- one of the statements was that the hot springs waters would heat up, a lot. I couldn't tell as my skin was starting to peel off anyway!

International border roads are always a bit dubious and this one was no exception. Rutted, potholed and with adverse camber, the road wound up through the tree and mist laden Lanin National Park where the pouring rain that hadn't stopped for 3 days turned into snow as we reached the border. We passed local Mapuches who all had a strange regional fashion of ponchos and hard hats to protect them from the rain. The monkey puzzle and southern beech trees were covered in dangling lichen. We stopped in San Martin de Los Andes where we met up Sarah and Gary the two 40+ year old Brits who have taken a year off to travel the world. They accompanied us the following day on the worst road we have encountered so far through the national park, where we saw some buff-necked ibises, condors and stunning snow capped scenery. They left us in the ski and chocolate resort of Bariloche to travel south to meet their ship south to the Antarctic.

We headed back into Chile to head south down into the island of Chiloe , dangling off the bottom of Chile . Chiloe is a unique place, scenically it does not really looking any different to anywhere else in Chile but all the houses are covered in wooden tiles, most of the churches on the island are UNESCO protected and most on the island live on subsistent farming with their own plots of land, growing vegetables, collecting seafood and fishing.

Greg and Alexis hadn't intended to spend so long on Chiloe, but there are only 2 boats a week leaving from Quellon to Chaiten, the start of the infamous Careterra Austral, so we spent a bit longer exploring the undulating island, with wooden tiled houses. We stopped in the small fishing village of Auchac , where a mere 100 people live and we had dinner in the only restaurant in town. We had just ordered some food when one of the local fishermen walked in and presented us with 12 oysters and 12 clams for free. We were the talk of the town and people came and asked us all about the car and explained what happened in their lives and the local fishing industry.

Our last night on Chiloe, we camped at the fairly unexciting monument that marks the end of the Pan American highway. The Pan American highway is quite a feat of engineering bridging 12 countries and covering 22,000 km and we have only just driven a mere 3,000 of it so far!

As we were getting ready to board the ferry, a cyclist from the USA called Nif asked if she could put her bicycle in the car to avoid paying for the crossing. She unloaded her bike into the back and we settled down with some of the local Chiloan delicacy, Curanto (a seafood, meat and potato hotpot normally cooked underground for 4 hours). We boarded the roll-on-roll-off ferry and set off from Quellon to Chaiten, braving extremely choppy seas with waves just reaching the top of the boat sides. We spent the 6 hours crossing trying not to throw up by watching Albatrosses, Petrels and Penguins braving the waves.

We arrived back on 'the continent' (as Chiloans call it) in the end-of-the-road palm tree strewn town of Chaiten where we stocked up on water and essentials before heading off to another thermal hot springs, this time heaving with dirty truck drivers recuperating from their long drives. Nif, the not-so-much-cycling-across-south-america-cyclist, decided to hitch a ride with us down the Careterra Austral.

During the 1970s, Pinochet was worried about the Argentineans invading and ravishing the southern part of Chile of all its natural resources. So licenses were issued to provide incentives for mass migration to the area. In the process, over 3 million acres of prime forest was burnt to the ground as part of the clearance as it was faster than logging. Ghostly remnants of the tree trunks stand lonesome amongst the fast growing wood forests that have since been planted. A gravel road was constructed through the region, the Careterra Austral. The Chilean government is currently tarmacing the road which weaves its way through the snowcapped mountain range of the southern Andes , through pretty flower strewn meadows with cows and sheep grazing in the Alpine looking countryside. There are still only 87,000 people in a region the size of the UK . We headed south down the gravel road, leaving Nif with a Chilean cyclist to carry on her route south and we headed back into Argentina .

Notes from Chile :

- Chile is much more expensive than any of its neighbouring countries.
- The Pan American highway ends 1km south of Quellon on the Chilean island of Chiloe . It stretches for 22,000km from Chiloe all the way to Anchorage in Alaska . It passes through 12 countries and is an unbroken road except for 30km through a national park in Colombia , known as the Darien Gap.
- Horsemen in Chile are called Hausos (Whoo-ass-o-s). They generally sport a flat, broad brimmed hat and in wet weather will wear a poncho. There is usually one dog if not two trailing behind.
- Every town in Chile has an artist's market, selling things from local woodcraft to woollen products to jewellery.
- Chile tried to give the island of Chiloe to the British back in the 1800s, but the Brits refused.
- Most of the salmon farmed on Chiloe is boxed up and sent to Japan and Norway (so just think how far your salmon has actually come next time you have a bit of gravalax!)
- When passing a mate on to the next person, in Chile you take from the right and pass to the left.
- The owner of the clothing company, Espirit bought a plot of land at the north of the area now known as the Careterra Austral. He turned it into a private park called Parque Pumalin, one of the first in Chile. It is highly controversial as he charges for people to drive through the park on the initial part of the Careterra Austral from Puerto Montt, but at the same time has preserved a large area of lenga and southern beech forest that was burnt down south of the park.

Notes from Argentina :

- Horsemen in Chile are called Gauchos (G-ow-ch-o). In the Patagonian region they wear berets, wide trousers that are pulled in tightly around the ankle and pixie boots. Many don't have saddles but sit on sheep skins.
- San Carlos de Bariloche has a healthy population of St Bernards who you can have your photograph taken with in the central square.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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