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After I finished University, I, like many of my fellow South Africans, went to London, to earn Pounds and to travel. It was here that I developed an intense fear of crossing borders and immigration officials. More often than not, I was pulled aside at Heathrow and questioned in-depth about my motives for being in England. One particular time I was put in a room with people from a variety of other African countries and left for 8 hours without word, water or food. Thankfully my friend who had come to meet me, remained for the entire duration until an official walked into the room and told me I could leave. No reason for keeping me or an apology for the time spent, just a stern, ”You can leave”.
We’ve also had our exiting dramas. Leaving Morocco, we realized that despite the correct dates on our visas, giving us 2 months in the country, the embassy had bizarrely written 30 days on the visa. We had spent a full two months in Morocco, so had overstayed our visa by 30 days. My entire body turned to jelly, and I think the official saw the terror on my face. A quick phone call and by some miracle, he let us go!
Leaving Vietnam, we were once again pulled aside as my visa was for 90 days but Tai had only been given 30 days, which we hadn’t noticed. The fine for overstaying was huge, so I offered to give Tai to them instead of paying. They didn’t find it very funny!! Thankfully the mistake was on his visa and not mine and after much pleading we got a big reduction in the cost and were let through.
After many more years of travel and these past 3 years, I still get a knot in my tummy and sweaty pits when entering a country! Tai knows to be absolutely silent, as I’m terrified, he’s going to say the wrong thing and get us into trouble. Trust me, he has come out with some pearlers at the inopportune times! So, we patiently and quietly wait until the passports have been firmly stamped and then I can breathe again.
In the last 4 months, we’ve crossed the Chile – Argentina border so many times that I’ve become quite complacent. I wouldn’t say I am completely fearless, but it’s wonderful to no longer be terrified.
WHAT WE DID IN CHILE THIS WEEK
CARDENAL ANTONIO SAMORE PASS
The Cardenal Antonio Samore Pass took us from the beautiful Villa Andostura in Argentina to the city of Osorno in Chile. This was one of our easiest Andes crossings as the mountains were not very high here. Once over the border, we passed through the Puyehue National Park with the crater of the Puyehue Volcano rising up before us.
The Puyehue Volcano erupted in 1960 and then again in 2011. The 2011 eruption is said to be equal in force to that of 70 atomic bombs! The temperature of the Nilahue River rose to 45 °C and killed an estimated 4.5 million fish. The ash circled the entire within 5 days, affecting nearly the entire world. Quite incredible!
Driving through the park, there were thousands of dead trees, like a grey forest, stretching as far as the eye could see. The ground was covered in grey ash, even the volcano crater was grey, creating a rather bleak, grey landscape. Quite a change from the vibrant green forests and blue lakes we had just been in.
The last stretch before Osorno, took us past undulating green pastures and some more beautiful lakes. It would have been nice to stop and camp alongside these lakes, but we had an appointment in Osorno.
Osorno is a fairly big city, but we weren’t there for sightseeing. We had an appointment with a brake specialist to make our campervan a little safer. Our new friend Sebastian in Bariloche had put us in touch with Juanma in Osorno. He arranged the brake specialist and took us to his sister’s café where we spent the day working and homeschooling. His delightful niece was brought to translate for us and they were incredibly kind looking after us while the car was fixed.
Lake Llanquihue is said to be the best trout fishing spot in all of Chile and Tai’s rod needed a fish on the end of it. I had read about a great wild camping spot at Los Bajos on the Western shores of the lake, so that’s where we headed.
The road from the North of the lake down to Los Bajos was a crazy ride! I’ve never seen such incredibly steep roads that just kept going, up, up and up, then around a corner and up some more. The roads were narrow like the lanes in Postman Pat and there were times I thought Thor was sure to run out of steam and start rolling backwards!
Then 6km of steep undulating hills on a gravel road and finally we had reached our destination. A perfectly level cement parking area right on the shore of the lake. There was a little café selling yummy empanadas, a kid’s playground and a long jetty which was just perfect for fishing from.
I knew from looking at maps that there were three huge volcanos right across the lake from us, but we were unlucky with the weather and for two days the sky was shrouded in clouds with lots of rain. Literally an hour before we left, the sun finally came out and we caught a glimpse of the impressive Osorno Volcano.
Despite the rain, there was a steady stream of fisherman casting off on the jetty. Tai was there with the best of them but only one guy managed to catch anything – probably because he was there at the crack of dawn!
A mere 25km south is the town of Fruitillar. The sun had come out for the first time in days, so we decided to stop and have a look. The town was absolutely buzzing! It was a Saturday afternoon in the middle of high season, the sun was out, the beach was packed and food stalls lined the streets.
We may not have caught a salmon, but finally we got to eat some – salmon and cheese empanadas – yum! We also got to finally see the majestic Osorno Volcano in all it’s glory. How lucky are these inhabitants to be able to see this incredible sight down every street they walk?
I could definitely have spent more time in this delightful town, but an afternoon is all we had.
When restaurants are full at 7pm, you know you’ve hit tourist central and so it was in Puerto Varas. The town was inundated with tourists and for good reason. What a wonderful town this is!
You can walk the whole length of the town on the lakeside promenade, where artists have created amazing statues and structures. Mosquitos and spiders on the beach, huge metal robots and hand knitted puppets. Music filled the air, the lakeside beaches were filled with sunbathers and some were even brave enough to be swimming in the lake!
The houses are all built using traditional Chilean wooden shingles, often using bright colours such as red and turquoise, with the doors and windows in a different coloured trim. They are delightful and quaint. One of our favorite attractions in Puerto Varas was the Pablo Fierro Museum. Constructed by the artist Pablo Fierro, the house is a fusion of Chiloe Archipelago and German architecture. Clocks and candy canes, the hull of a boat and bicycles, retro cars and ropes – all adorn the front of this crazy building. A real treat!
The magnificent Osorno Volcano stands proudly across the lake and on a clear day you can see at least 5 other snow-capped volcanos. Chile really is the land of Volcanos!
VAN LIFE AND LESSONS LEARNT
A simple stop to change oil and oil filters at the recommended 8000km mark, turned out to be not so simple after all. I really should give up on the concept of simple fixes, but optimism will prevail.
Our angels in Puerto Varas were Sergio and Arturo. Sergio is a mechanic and Arturo is the electrics specialist. A quick oil change turned into 3 days at the workshop and a return visit a few days later.
Checking under the car, Sergio found the two bolts, supposedly holding the drive shaft in place, were in fact missing! The gas cylinder was loose, the exhaust was loose, and the distributor oil was pitch black and needed replacing. He spent ages tightening everything he could find, changing oils and getting us ready in tip top shape.
While at the workshop, our alarm suddenly stopped working, as well as the cigarette lighter. The cigarette lighter is vitally important as it’s the only place we have to charge cellphones and we need them to continuously charge while driving with Google Maps on. The wires underneath the steering wheel were a mess, so Arturo tidied everything up, changed spark plugs and got everything working again.
Two days later we had our wheel alignment and balancing done and as we left the park brake light came on, despite the brake no longer being in use. Back to Sergio and Arturo we went, where it was determined that the alignment guys had damaged a sensor. To fix this would mean rerunning cables and was quite a big job so they said I should just ignore the light, which is what we will do.
WHERE WE STAYED
OSORNO: We drove about 10km north of Osorno to the Copec petrol station, where we had amazing showers – for free!! Incredibly fast wifi and a good new restaurant.
GPS: S 40°28’40.20”, W 73°2’8.34”
LOS BAJOS: This is a fabulous wild camping spot right on Lake Llanquihue. There are bathrooms for 300 CLP, a little café with locally baked goods, a kids playground and a huge jetty from which to fish. On a clear day you have a perfect view of Osorno Volcano across the lake.
GPS: S 41°4’21.12”, W 72°56’5.22”
NEAR PUERTO VARAS: COPEC: We spent a night at the Copec petrol station. Showers were 1500 CLP. Small shop with take-aways. A quiet area around the back to park.
GPS: S 41°21’4.98”, W 72°58’51.06”
PUERTO VARAS: This is the best spot in Puerto Varas. Follow the road along the lake shore until the big gravel parking lot at the end. Lots of campervans here and the best views of the town, the volcanos and the lake. There were a few food trucks nearby and city centre only a few minutes walk away. The police patrolled often so a safe spot to stay.
GPS: S 41°18’41.58”, W 72°58’40.44”
We travelled from San Carlos de Bariloche > Osorno > Los Bajos > Fruitillar > Puerto Varas
Total Distance: 415km
I will be providing our basic travel costs per week, so that you get an indication of what a trip like this entails. Bear in mind that we are budget travelers, so your budget could vary depending on your lifestyle choices. For example, we always opt for the cheapest and often, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and only require very basic accommodation. For us, the experiences are where it is all at, so we’d rather spend money on activities.
The costs below are for the full 7 days. They do not include campervan repair costs, visas and insurance costs.
The costs below are shown in Chilean Pesos (R1 = 54 CLP) ($1 USD = 774 CLP).
- Fuel = 84031 CLP
- Tolls = 600 CLP
- Parking = 5000 CLP
- Only Wild Camping = 0
- None = 0
- Restaurant = 60 590 CLP
- Supermarket = 46 407 CLP
- Quick Bites = 16 080 CLP
Van Supplies and Living
- Laundry = 16600 CLP
- Showers = 5000 CLP
TOTAL = 234 308 CLP = USD $290 or R4390
WHERE TO NEXT
With great excitement at the prospect of not driving for a few days, we are going to board the Navimag Ferry in Puerto Montt and sail our way down to Puerto Natalas in Southern Patagonian Chile. The trip will take us through the Chilean Patagonian fjords where we will hopefully see whales, dolphins, albatross and many many wonderful sights.