What we forgot to mention is that over the weekend, the border with Argentina closed again, which was the one we planned to take for a round of Argentina before going south in Chile. Not because of new rules, but because there was a Covid outbreak amongst the border control personnel, and thus not enough people to actually run the border. While it is a temporary measure, we did not want to get stuck in Argentina, so we changed our plans and decided to only go for Chile with the grandparents, and head into Argentina at the bottom again as we head towards Tierra del Fuego aka the end of the world.
To the coast: Valparaiso
Driving West towards the coast we get our first taste of the Chilean roads. The quality of them is very high (compared to 6 months of US roads), but you also pay for almost every road you take! Varying from TAG managed (a device that records your toll) to taking only cash (better carry a load of change!) we see all kinds and avoiding them seems impossible. Maps.me normally does a good job at that but seems utterly confused here. Our destination is Valparaiso, which we do get to taking a few side roads, but in the end the toll roads are not avoided.
We have booked a hostel for the night, as we have decided the rule is not to camp when we only stay one night. Arriving at the hostel, it turns out to be a student dorm they turn into a hostel during January and February when it is summer holidays here. Problem is we also booked parking with them, but the gate to their back yard (which is pretty much a junkyard) is not high enough for our cars to get through (roof box and van with solar panel). Instead of pleading with us to just park on the street, the owner sets out to get an iron saw and literally saws off part of the gate, claiming he will have to do it anyways if he wants to have more guests with cars… The Chilean way! 🙂
Valparaiso is known for its petty crime aimed at tourists, including puncturing your tires at the traffic light and then mugging you when you stop to check. Avoiding all that drama we have our cars locked away and take a 4 dollar Uber into town to check it out. The city is very manageable on foot, except for the steep cliffs the roads are perched on. The solution; Ascencores – elevators and trams pulling you up the hill for 100 pesos (roughly 11 cents) per person.
We spend the afternoon walking the streets of Valparaiso admiring all the street art, and taking some ascencores along the way. The city is incredibly colorful and really photogenic, and all the narrow streets and stairways make the exploring even more fun. Tired we start to look for a place to eat, and find out it is not that easy! Walking into a small local eatery that the boys deem ‘smelly’, the lady of the house directs us across the street to a place that looks to be ready to turn bar/dancing hall (including discolights projected on the wall) but sets us down for dinner. All in all a good and cheap meal and satisfied we take our Uber back for a good night sleep in our student dorm room :-).
Surf walhalla – Pichilemu & Punta de Lobos
We make our way down the coast to one of the worlds best surfing towns – Pichilemu. With no reservations we search for a campingspot for 3 nights in the area of Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos. We have some time to shop around, and start to see the difference in offerings around Chile and what we can expect. The first campsite is right at the beach, but with wooden enclosures which makes us feel like cattle. The next option is outside of town, but beautifully set up in the woods next to a lake. The downside; no swimming in the lake and very expensive at 12k per person.
Our last try is at Anton’s, a place close to Punta de Lobos with cabanas and spots to camp. The owner is Anton, an American who moved to Chile for love (both the girl and a profound love for surfing) a long time ago and set up shop here. The price feels right, but more importantly the place is incredibly relaxed and we feel immediately right at home. We quickly set up the tent and get to organizing dinner so we can all have a good night rest.
Day 1 in the area is our chance to see the beach of Pichilemu, and find a place for our laundry, as the bag has now become a size we can not stow away anymore. We find a lovely lady who does laundry from her home, and provide her with a mountain of laundry she spreads out on the floor. Probably the most expensive laundry round we have ever done, but with all the dust and dirt washed out of it, it should also take up less room in our limited space. After dropping the laundry we drive on to the beach of Pichilemu, a volcanic black affair with a very touristic boulevard attached to it. We spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach and dipping our toes into the ocean, which turns out to be very cold! So the bodyboard we bought is fun on land, but is not used in the sea here… The sand is hot, the weather is great, so we have a great time chilling. Top off the day with an ice cream and you can sincerely say we had a good day around town.
Day 2 we spend exploring the area of Punta de Lobos, right from the comfort of our campsite at Anton’s. At the side of the road towards the Punta is an ‘accesso peatonal’ which is a walking path right across the non-developed side. It takes us to a deserted beach, where we run into fishermen trying to fish from the shore, and along the coves we find the little shacks of the families who harvest the seaweed that is grown along the coastline and sold in the local stores. There is even a small natural pool we can have a dip in as the water is nicely warmed up by the sun! As we round the corner of the Punta we get to the filled beach and enjoy a strawberry chocolate stick as we stroll along and check out the surfers catching their waves. We round up our day with a dinner around the fire place.. a shame that there are no smores in Chile, but the fire in itself was already fun!
Back into the mountains: NP Radal 7 Tazas
Our first National Park in Chile! While we make our way southbound we zigzag from beach to mountains and vice versa. Today we have 7 Tazas (7 cups) on the agenda, for which we drive across the country to get back towards the lower Andes. Before we do however, we have a stopover in Santa Cruz, a town halfway with one big draw; its museum. The museum is very large and contains several exhibitions about the history of Chile, both its geological as its archeological history. From its more recent history is a separate exhibition about the rescue of mineworkers in 2010 who spend over 2 months underground after being shut in, and miraculously survived, all 33 of them. The museum proves to be a great spot and well worth the entrance fee.
Driving on to 7 Tazas we cover again a small bit of toll road (We try to avoid ‘ruta 5’, the main highway and the traffic artery of Chile going from north to south. Almost all of it is paid, and you can spend enormous amounts of money if you add the entire road up) and then roll into the eastern side of the country. The town of Radal has several campgrounds, and we choose to stay in the one run by the National Park itself. With kids and the elderly at half price it turns out to be a very good deal. Sites are very big, and right by the river with good facilities – including hot water showers! We happily set up the tent and do a quick discovery of the surroundings before calling it a night.
The main draw of the park is the section called ‘7 Tazas’, a viewpoint down in the valley from which you can see the full canyon where 7 cascades make their way down the one after the other. Before we go here however, we head towards the hike called Chiquinguilas, a 8km hike loop climbing up the mountain and coming down through the valley alongside the water. It is a proper scramble, and luckily a lot is shaded by trees, as the sun beats down on us making our way over the tight paths. The hike is a lot of fun, and at the junction with another path we meet up with grandpa for lunch.
On the way back of the hike we visit the ‘7 Tazas’, and another big cascade called ‘el velo de novia’. With all that dust between our toes – Chile in general this time of year seems to be one big dustbowl – we need a proper wash, but instead of hitting the hot showers, we find a spot at the river to take a nice refreshing dip! Of course after that we still do take a nice hot shower, and move on to dinner and bed, to give those muscles and good night rest!
A night of comfort – Bullilleo
The next day we make our way southbound further, with the plan to cover some ground before we do another multi-night stay. We do some big grocery shoppings in Linnares and drive all the way down along the beautiful side roads of Chiles’ countryside. We pass big plantations with all kinds of fruit (sold along the road), villages with thermal baths and other beautiful scenery. While the road is longer, it is certainly worth avoiding the Ruta 5 and getting a proper taste of the Chilean towns. We also decide to have a ‘Mote con huesillos’, a true Chilean drink/snack which consists of grains, a dried peach and a sweet liquid. The opinions vary from ‘delicious’ to ‘much to sweet’, but for one it has appeased our curiosity after passing hundreds of signs selling it.
We drive up towards Bullilleo with a semi plan, as the booking we tried to do through Airbnb was not confirmed. The further we drive, the worse the road gets, and twice we wonder whether we should go further only to be passed by little sedans giving us the courage to continue. The second problem is that we do not know exactly where the Airbnb is, as you only get the exact location after a confirmed booking :-). So we drive on and on up the mountain on an unpaved path until it really seems there will not be anymore to go. The only option we have left is go back into town and cross the bridge, where there is a path of a few hundred meters still and try to find a place to stay. As we do so and come around a very narrow corner, we actually find the Airbnb we were looking for!
The lady of the house is in the backyard and opens the gate, surprised to find us on the other side. We explain the booking and she tells us there is no wifi yet, and thus she could not respond, but she does have the cabana available – *phew*! The cabana turns out to be a really comfortable one for 6 people and as an extra bonus the nephew of the lady has just built a brand new padel court on the plot next door. We have never done it before, but the sport is incredibly popular in Chile (originated in Argentina it turns out) and the nephew decided to have his own court next to the cabanas he is building for rental. We have a good round before dinner, and another one the next morning, really sparking a love for the sport with everybody. All in all, this gamble up in the mountain turned out to be a great stay with a fantastic family.
Next week: Further south we go, mountainside