I’m sure you have all looked at the world map at least once in your life and there was one country that really stood out in your mind. No…i’m not talking about mother Russia, no, i’m talking about the silly, skinny Chile. Everyone who looks at the map of South America notices just how long it is. If you dont know what i’m talking about, open up google maps and take a look. The country is barely a 100 miles across and stretches for 2/3 of the continent…I dont know if it there is a metric that describes the relationship between perimeter of the country to the area of the country, but i’m sure Chile would be number one!
Speaking of number one… the first thing we did in Chile, like in all the other countries, is going through the immigration and customs. And guess, what? They immigration officer didn’t even ask where we came from, neither did he look for a Bolivian exit stamp, which was non-existent in the US passport. Instead he just stamped it and told us to go to the next window for customs.
At the customs it is a completely different story, here they searched our car more thoroughly than ever before and took all our fruits and eggs. Damn it, i had a nice watermelon saved for this heat!
San Pedro de Atacama
The first town that we got to see in Chile is San Pedro de Atacama, apparently one of the more touristy places. The first surprise was the price of the accommodation, at $10 per person…we haven’t seen these prices since we left California. Well, a few times in Mexico we paid $20 for camping. Oh yeah thats $10 to camp. Anyway, not very important, just a bit of a shock to us.
The main purpose of this town is to service the tourism industry for the nearby salt flats (Bolivian and Chilean), mountains, valleys and a myriad of associated activities. The town is just a large collection of restaurants, hostels and tour agencies.
Within the first few steps in the town you know that you are in a whole different world. The people are different, their clothing, their walks, the buildings are nicer…it seems like we left the developing world behind. Speaking of the behind…check out that volcano in the above photo, thats the same volcano in the Laguna Verde photo of the previous link to post and link to picture. Just on the other side of the volcano, but already feels like a million worlds away.
By the way, the Atacama desert, according to wiki, it is the driest non-polar place in the world. Of course, we all know that Antarctica is the land of absolute extremes, with the coldest and driest places. Maybe, we will go there someday too…just not in our Land Cruiser. Wiki here mentions that some weather stations in the Atacama have never, yes NEVER, received rain…sounds like San Diego to me.
We stayed in San Pedro de Atacama, or SPDA for short, for a couple of days. Sorted out our business, cleaned the car, got some proper food, took a shower and most importantly wrote 2… yes, 2 blog posts in one day. That’s like writing two essays in one day, doable…not alwasy enjoyable. But we gave it our best.
Left the town and drove as far away from it as we could, skipping the nearby town of Calama, which according to the internet is the shit hole of Chile. We drove and drove and drove, but the desert would not stop.
Stopped for the night at the side of the road and just “wild camped”, meaning no toilets and not paying anything. This being Chile we felt pretty safe being on our own.
In the morning we held the inaugural ceremony and added Chile to the long list of visited countries. 12th if you are wondering.
In all its glory, looks a bit like the Texas flag.
Next day, we continued driving…all day. I’ll skip ahead, mostly because we didn’t take any photos, we drove and finally camped on the Pacific shore. Once again, wild camping. The previous night, i figured out that i can re-circulate the “warm” water from our shower heater to make it even warmer. I mean, i knew that i could do this a long time ago, just never actually did it. But for some reason that night, after not showering for only 2 days i decided to test it and wash my body.
20 minutes of re-circulation and i took the most amazing warm/hot shower. Got into the tent all happy at my achievement.
I’m not sure why the car looks tilted in this photo.
Thats the clean Ivan climbing down in the morning.
2 days of driving to get you out of the desert and into the Santiago region of the country.
Vina del Mar
After the desert we made our way to the coast, just west of Santiago.
The two towns that we visited, Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, reminded us greatly of San Diego. This was not a momentary thought that quickly disappeared. Ever since we got to Chile, i had a sad feeling, like the trip is about to be over. It resembles California so much that i felt like i was back home. Walking on the Pacific shore, enjoying the sunshine i had mixed feeling of homesickness and irrational regret that the trip is done and i’m back in La Jolla.
I was quickly brought back to reality as we parked the car in a public street and some guy came over to demand $5 for parking. Another local guy saw this and intervened saying that we dont need to pay. The two of them got into a heated debate, and we decided that it was best for us to just leave.
Located just south of Vina del Mar, Valparaiso is the shipping port of Chile. When i was planning the trip a year ago, i considered shipping the car from Valparaiso to South Korea, with the idea of shortest distance in mind. Asking shipping companies for quotes, I soon realized that this is not going to be the cheapest option. It seems like Valparaiso is at the end of the supply chain and NOT the international shipping hub i was hoping for. Nevermind, we will just have to ship from the east cost of South America.
Parked in the center of the city, paid a local hustler guy to look after our car.
You can watch the big ships unloading right in front of you. You could also take a little tour around the bay, but the line looked long and we decided that we have seen enough of this and went in the other direction.
The city is able to pull of the old architecture and the new graffiti without it clashing too much. The hipster bands playing in the street only add to the feel of an older city that can live it up in the 21st century.
The capital city of Chile and just an hour away from the coast it also the second largest city that we visited in South America, Lima is a bit bigger (Wiki – list of cities in South America). While not the largest, Santiago definitely claims the first place as the most beautiful background for cityscapes. When the weather cooperates and the rain clears the ever-present smog, you can see beautiful snow-capped mountain surrounding the city from the East.
We weren’t so lucky, so i had to steal a photo from Flickr – check out other ones – Santiago cityscapes
I’m not being fair to Lima when i say this, but ….but…Santiago is much nicer. The historic center has the same architectural style, but the street are cleaner, there are more people about. Lima felt a bit dead when we were there, while in Santiago you feel that people live and enjoy living in this city. Or maybe it was just our mood…first impressions are easily swayed by mood and random chance.
I know you are expecting a picture of a church, but i think Hyein is slowly realizing that they all look the same and decided to focus on some other buildings. This for example is the a post office building and prettiest post office i have ever seen.
If you have received a postcard from us from Chile, this is where we sent them from. Because of an art exposition, the postal office put out some desks for people to write about the art. But for us it was a pleasure to finally sit down and write out all the cards.
Btw, if you haven’t received a card from us and cannot live until you get one…i mean your life will not be complete until you do kind of feeling…well then send us your address and we will consider adding you to the list of the lucky few.
The hardest part about sending the cards is figuring out the perfect card for everyone. Sometimes you see one and you just know that this one is for Vikram or another one is perfect for your mom. You see we take this stuff very seriously and sometimes spend hours looking for just the right card.
If you ever travel around South America and decide to send a card to EVERYONE you know. Then Santiago is the place to do it. The most reliable, cheapest and fastest service. For example, my dad in Moscow received a card from Santiago before he received a card we sent from Guatemala…3 months ago.
Hyein insisted that i take a picture with this beauty. Now that i’m writing this i think i know why…someone needs a haircut.
After the chaos, dirt, smells and general riff raff of all the previous countries, walking around Santiago feels like you were transported to a different world. The feeling of sadness washed over again…is this the end of the adventure? Are we back to civilization?
Walking back to our home we were lucky enough to see a short Tango performance.
Our friends Faby and Juan are from a town called Concepcion, and are our primary source of trustworthy information about Chile. I remember almost year and a half ago sitting in our kitchen back in San Diego talking about Chile, all the beautiful parks and great wine. We decided that we could not miss visiting the city of our friends and decided to drop by Concepcion.
The Pacific coast next to Concepcion. The beaches are sandy and the water is cold – yup it’s the Pacific alright.
We could have spent the night at the beach, but it was dark and scary, the cars were driving right next to you and we decided not to risk it. Instead we drove to a nearby park and the only place we could find in the dark was in some tall grass between the trees.
Not our typical breakfast layout, since we are making korean soup, but close enough. In Santiago, we happened to pick by complete accident AirBnB that is 5 minutes away from K-town. Before we left the city we managed to stock up on all the Korean essentials. Hyein, and I in turn, were ecstatic.
Aaaah… a local drink you can buy everywhere in Northern Chile – Mote con huesillos. A sweet drink made with whole wheat, peaches and sugar/honey. Served cold. I didn’t expect that i would like whole wheat…but it had a pleasant taste and very nice texture. Sort of like the chilean version of Boba tea.
We drove and drove and drove – our main destination being the famous Carretera Austral, a road that starts in Puerto Montt and winds its way through beautiful nature in the South of Chile. We couldn’t get from Concepcion to Puerto Montt in one day so, we had to stop in a little village on the side of the lake, with a volcano in the background.
We parked on the shore of the lake, right behind the Tourism Board building.
After months of travelling, we have no more shame. We just set up our table anywhere and start making food. We have literally cooked: in the parking lots, parking garages, side of the road, city streets, village streets, in front of police stations and the list goes on. And no matter where we cook, it could be the middle of the desert, dogs always show up to help with dish cleaning. I have made it a habit to teach them the “sit” command. Some dogs are definitely brighter than the other ones and pick it up after 2-3 tries. And others….are still wondering to this day what exactly i wanted from them.
Yuuuum. We continue our series of Korean dishes…honestly, we bought all that Korean food, now we have to eat it
Oh and a pleasant addition to our meal is a nice bottle of wine.
We also managed to score some Sriracha…even after trying many hot sauces, still one of the best all around sauces. It just goes well with everything.
We decided to break our beer drinking streak….no, dont worry, i didnt mean like quit drinking…that would be a silly thought. We just changed the beverage, i hear that wine is good for the heart and definitely for the soul. And it happens to be some damn good wine in Chile. But more about that in later posts.
The view from our tent in the morning.
A police officer came by and told us that we are okay to camp, but the people in the tents have to leave. Do you see how absurd that is? The only difference is that our tent is ON TOP of the car…it is still a tent. I’ve stopped looking for logic when comes to laws and police.
When we went to sleep we were the only people in this little park. In the morning I jokingly mentioned that the circus arrived overnight. The came over in the morning to talk to us and turned out they were really a travelling circus troupe going to San Pedro de Atacama.
Tour of the car
We will digress from our enthralling trip and talk a little about the car. Why now, in the middle of Chile? No reason, we IS adults…we do what we want!
The bottom drawer is dedicated for our kitchen stuff. In the first compartment we keep, the most frequently used things like olive oil, salt, coffee, sriracha, plates…the regulars.
Second compartment has the pots and pans and a rice container(blue).
The top drawer stores our toiletries, various ziplock bags, duct tape, and tools.
The switches for various on board electronics. “Overhead light” is the most common one we actually use, it turns on the LED ligts on our rear door. Deck light switch is for LED ligths on the awning, barely use. Water pump is turned off when we are driving. Bilge pump switch controls the gasoline transfer pump from secondary tank to main tank, since there is a second switch (unfused) inside the cabin, i never turn this one off. There is another switch for the refrigerator at the bottom, we rarely turn the fridge off. Only when we park the car in the city for a few days.
Last minute addition before we left – a water tap in the back. This was a great idea, since we use it everyday.
Little drawer to store books, batteries, maps, usb cables, little things.
Our fridge ARB 37 Quart – we are very happy with it. Keeps the temperature well, runs quiet, so far hasn’t killedo our battery. Enough room for 3-4 days of food that needs to refrigerated. If you want you can just pack the whole thing with steaks and eat them for a week.
Not as picturesque as the volcano in Banos, Ecuador, but still a pleasant thing to look at.
Especially when you are gazing at it through a window of a music room in the Board of Tourism building. We found the piano and just started playing without asking. I knew that as soon as the receptionist heard Hyein’s music she would come and tell us to stop, but i was hoping that she would be swayed by the beautiful sounds and let us play. She never stood a chance, Hyein was allowed to play for as long as she wanted.
Coming up next – Puerto Montt and Carretera Austral. Accidents, adventures, more wine and amazing people.