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Our route -I:

07.01.05 - 09.01.05:
  • Puerto Natales

    10.01.05 - 21.01.05:
  • NP Torres del Paine

    Our route - II:

    04.02.05 - 06.02.05:
  • Chile Chico
  • Bahia Jara

    07.02.05 - 08.02.05:
  • NP Cerro Castillo

    09.02.05 - 10.02.05:
  • Carretera Austral
  • Coyhayque
  • NP Rio Simpson

    11.02.05 - 12.02.05:
  • Carretera Austral
  • NP Quelat

  • Futaleufu

    Our route - III:

    14.03.05 - 16.03.05:
  • Aguas Calientes

    17.03.05 - 20.03.05:
  • El Caulle
  • NP Puyehue

    21.03.05 - 22.03.05:
  • Entre Lagos
  • Aguas Calientes

  • Frutillar
  • Puerto Varas

    24.03.05 - 27.03.05:
  • Petrohue
  • Volcan Osorno
  • Ralun

    28.03.05 - 29.03.05:
  • Valdivia
  • Fuerta Niebla

    30.03.05 - 01.04.05:
  • Pucon
  • Volcan Villarica

    02.04.05 - 04.04.05:
  • Vn.Lonquimay

    05.04.05 - 06.04.05:
  • Chillan

    07.04.05 - 08.04.05:
  • Cobquecura
  • Buchupureo
  • Constitution

    09.04.05 - 10.04.05:
  • Valle de Maule
  • San Javier
  • Yerbas Buenas
  • Talca

    11.04.05 - 12.04.05:
  • Santiago de Chile
  • Valparaiso
  • NP La Campana

    Our route - IV:

    09.06.05 - 14.06.05:
  • Jujuy (ARG)

    15.06.05 - 16.06.05:
  • Paso de Jama

    17.06.05 - 20.06.05:
  • San Pedro de A.

    21.06.05 - 22.06.05:
  • Calama
  • Chuquicamata

    23.06.05 -24.06.05:
  • San Pedro de A.
  • Calama

    25.06.05 - 26.06.05:
  • Humberstone
  • Santa Laura

    27.06.05 - 02.07.05:
  • Arica

    03.07.05 - 04.07.05:
  • Putre
  • Termas Jurasi

    05.07.05 - 06.07.05:
  • NP Lauca

    Our route - V:

    20.12.05 - 21.12.05:
  • Arica

  • Cobija

  • Antofagasta
  • Juan Lopez

  • Bolsico

  • Chanaral

  • La Serena

  • Curico

    28.12.05 - 30.12.05:
  • Lonquimay

    Our route - VI:

    11.02.06 - 14.02.06:
  • NP Puyehue
  • Pampa Frutilla
  • Aguas Calientes

  •   Chile
    On this page, we (will) describe our experiences in Chile. Apart from the travelogue for this country you will also find a number of links to useful sites, ranging from general information to embassy homepages.

  • Part 1: Torres del Paine (07.01.05 - 21.01.05)
  • Part 2: The Carretera Austral (04.02.05 - 13.02.05)
  • Part 3: The Lake District (14.03.05 - 13.04.05)
  • Part 4: Norte Grande (15.06.05 - 06.07.05)
  • Part 5: Christmas 2005 (12.12.05 - 30.12.05)
  • Part 6: Los Lagos II (11.02.06 - 14.02.06)

    Part 1: Torres del Paine (07.01.05 - 21.01.05)

    Written by: Dorrit

    Petrol station in Chile And again we cross the Magellan Strait with the little ferry, but this time we stay in Chile. We pass through the steppe to the cute harbour town of Puerto Natales, splendidly located at a deep fjord and consisting of wooden houses in all kinds of bright colours. It seems to live on its nearness to the famous national park Torres del Paine and it is here that we prepare ourselves a few days for the ten day trek we want to do in the park (the so called Torres del Paine Circuit, that rounds the range) and get a permit for the dogs. We leave the town via its bay, where black necked swans swim between brightly coloured wooden fishing boats and drive the 150 km (Puerto Natales is considered "near" the park by Chilean standards, since there simply is nothing that is nearer..) over an unpaved road through the low, brown Patagonian hills to Torres del Paine national park. Suddenly the range looms ahead of us; with its up to 3000 m high peaks it is on average some 2000 m higher than the surrounding hills and sticks out as a rocky island from the sea. The range has been pushed up by a subterranean lava stream a long, long time ago and stuck out high above its surroundings. Glaciers, weather and wind have cut deep crevices into the range, turning it from a normal range into a cluster of the most curiously shaped peaks and valleys.

    Guanaco We park the car, grab our backpacks and start the ten-day tour around the range. It starts with a hike through a valley to a lookout point over the three "Torres del Paine" that give the park its name. These three pillars stick out far above the valley like a kind of upright standing baguettes and are so steep and smooth that snow cannot find any hold on their slopes and lies in heaps at their feet. The pillars form the 2500m high, vertical western shore of a green mountain lake that is bordered by a high moraine wall on its other side. It is along this moraine wall that we have to climb to the viewpoint; a steep climb up and a "knee popping descent" down afterwards.

    The next leg of the journey takes us through heath fields passing deep blue ponds and the great mint-coloured glacial lake Lago Nordenskjold. According to our travel guide, the strange colour of glacial lakes is caused as follows: "Snow coming from the Pacific falls onto the glacier and as the weight increases, compacts to ice. This extra weight forces the glacier to move. As it pushes along, the melted ice on the bottom mixes with rock and soil, grinding it up by its movement. When the glacier melts into lakes, it dumps also the ground-up rock, giving the water a milky, grey colour. This same sediment remains unsettled in some lakes and diffracts the sunlight, creating stunning turquoise, pale-mint or azure colours."
    The contrast with the dark blue non-glacial lakes, that we can see lying next to Lago Nordenskjold from the high mountain slope we are walking along, is indeed stunning. It is quite stormy that day (the area south of the 40th latitude on this continent is known for its storms called 'roaring forties' and 'furious fifties' (and as we are at 51° here, the storms are furious indeed) and for its unpredictable weather) and on the high mountain slope we find only little cover from the wind. Before we set off, I had been smiling scornfully as I read in the trekking guide that people sometimes get blown off the path, but when I suddenly found myself sprawling in the scrubs below the trail my scorn was soon forgotten. After that I was a lot more careful, after all, the mountain slope is quite steep and not all the trail is lined by scrub to catch you when you fall.
    The hike ends at the foot of three mountains called "Cuernos" (horns) for their strange forms and colours: the entire mountain is beige, but the top is black, making the mountain looking like a kind of cake with chocolate dip. Hmm, after three days of instant noodles I start to see food in the mountain forms... and we still have 7 days more to go!

    Cuernos We make a little excursion to the Valle de Frances, one of the best hikes during this trek. The Valle de Frances is a narrow valley between glacier-covered, 3000 m high mountains to the west and the curiously shaped Cuernos and Torres del Paine to the east. Behind us (i.e. south of us) the valley slopes down and permits a great view over the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Cordillera and in front of that the green and blue lakes. The valley ends to the north in a kind of huge amphitheatre; a grand mossy plain surrounded by a ring of towering mountains, one more curiously shaped than the other. Simply awesome. The hanging glaciers on the mountains (especially Cerro Paine) break off regularly and fall down with a loud crash into the rushing river below, which transports the chunks of ice on to one of the many lakes.

    The route continues westward, around the Paine-range and from there to the north along the huge glacial lake Lago Grey, which is fed by the 17 km long glacier Grey. This in turn is only a finger of the 320 km long, 14,000 km² large ice field Hielo Sur, the largest ice cap outside the polar regions. From the trail we have many great views over the glacier and the ice field behind it; a gigantic, blindingly white plain as far as you can see. Every now and then a small dark-grey peak, partly covered in snow, sticks out above the ice, making it look even more desolate. This is how large parts of the world must have looked like during the ice ages. There is a campground near the "snout" of the glacier, at the lake shore. From our tent we can see small, light blue icebergs floating by in the grey-green water. After breaking off the glacier, these chunks of ice slowly melt away in the lake.
    From here the trail continues along the steep mountain slope, high above the glacier and the ice cap, so that all you see when you look west is ice. We feel very small and insignificant. The storm has increased in strength, making it impossible to walk upright along the steep and coverless slope.
    Torres del Paine Since it has started to rain we are not sure if we should cross the 1400 m pass; we are walking the route in opposite direction and the climb up is supposed to be extremely steep and slippery, especially after rain. We decide to go anyway and struggle up the 800 m over indeed very steep and slippery mud until the upper tree line. From there, there is no more cover against the rain, which turns into snow and later hail the further up we go. What made us think it is midsummer here anyway?
    The dogs are shivering and squeaking for cold so we hurry to get down from the pass, through a moonscape of rock, stones, gravel and snow. After one more cold hour we cross the tree line on the other side again and are at least a little protected against the storm. What follows is a horrible stretch through a black mud-swamp, in which we sink knee-deep several times and I nearly lose a shoe. At last we reach the campground, but the plank over the river in front of it is not stable and Coen - holding Manali under his arm - falls half into the river, soaking both himself, the dog and the tent. When we set up the tent in the rain, we find out that the sleeping bags are also wet and thus a sleepless, cold and wet night of waiting for dawn follows. At 5:30 am it is finally light enough to leave and we quickly start walking to warm up again. We are lucky; the weather has improved and we are able to dry our things in the afternoon. The last two days are easy walks compared to the rest, through beautiful fields full of flowers along the river bank, where wild goose nest and gaucho's in traditional clothes pass you by on ox-carts. During one of our breaks Shimal gets into a fight with a skunk. The animal defends itself in its own fashion and sprays green stuff around, leaving Shimal with a mouth that foams better than the best dishwashing liquid. We rinse it as best as we can, but the smell is terrible and stays for days. And it is too cold to let him sleep outside, so we will have to share the tent with him that night! The last 20 km we cross a steppe, having a great view of the Torres del Paine, a view we cannot get enough of. Still, we are happy to be back at the car; after a 10-day 1000 calory-diet of instant noodles and biscuits at 6 hours of climbing and descending per day all that is still big about us are our knees and feet. We are more than ready for some real food and a soft bed. We are happy to find that our Swiss friends Adi and Tanja are in Torres del Paine too and spend a couple of days sitting, eating, drinking and chatting with them before returning to Argentina.


    Click here to read about our experiences in Argentina first before continuing with the next part of our Chile travelogue.

    Part 2: The Carretera Austral (04.02.05 - 13.02.05)

    Written by: Dorrit

    Gaucho At the border we give Rodrigo, a student from Santiago, a lift to Chile Chico. In this little village we book the ferry over the lake to Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez at the northern shore, thus saving 270 km of bad unpaved road. We have to wait 3 days for the ferry and do this at a splendid little beach with nice green trees at the border of the international lake Lago Buenos Aires (Argentina) / Lago General Carrerra (Chile). The water in this huge lake is deep blue and if you stand at its shores it looks so clear that you can see every little stone at the bottom. It seems as if it is filled with drinking water. Rodrigo visits us and tells us there is a folklore-festival in the neighbouring village Bahia Jara. Together, we drive there and end up at a meadow near an estancia (large cattle farm), where a podium is built on top of large haystacks and food and drinks are sold from little stands. Men in traditional wear play a game where one throws a piece of bone and the rest gambles on which side it will fall down on. Further down, people can participate in a horse contest; one of the wild horses should be caught, saddled with a sheep skin and ridden to the far side of the meadow. Most of them manage to catch and saddle the horse, but none of them makes it to the far side of the meadow, all are flying off the horse after a couple of metres and land in the grass. At 8 pm live music and dance starts. An accordion and a guitar player play folk music, to which a dance group in traditional outfit is dancing some folk dance. The men are wearing costumes which remind me of 18th century Spain; black and tight fitting suits with a bright red waistband and a hat with broad rim, the women wide white blouses and colourful skirts. Many visitors to the festival appear to know the dance and before long most are dancing between or with the dance group.

    Along the Carretera Austral We cross the lake in 2 hours and from the northern shore start our journey over the Carretera Austral, the road from Puerto Montt to the "south" of Chile (at the moment it is not going much further than Chile Chico). It is indeed a lot greener and moister than on the other side of the Andes and we are enjoying a great drive through a Swiss looking landscape to Coyhayque. Our plan to walk in the national park Cerro Castillo has to be given up, since dogs are (again) not allowed; this park is (like Fitz Roy) dedicated to save a nearly extinct South-American deer. Instead we settle down on a nice forested campground and do nothing for two days. We read, prepare the trip for the coming time and try to keep the many horse-flies away from us. We do some shopping in Coyhayque and move on to National Park Rio Simpson, through a great alpine landscape of green grassy hills full of purple, white and yellow flowers. We pass cute wooden houses painted pastel and white and little farms where geese and chicken walk in the yard and men wearing big black hats drive small herds of cows along the road or are riding ox-charts full of hay towards small wooden barns. Gold-coloured fields of corn lie in front of snow-capped mountains covered in dark green pine forests. A happy little river in the foreground and ready is your Bob Ross picture! Everywhere along this happy little river we find great spots to spend the night and thus the days fly by while we swim in the river (it is very hot here and the crystal-clear water is very inviting) and celebrate a well deserved holiday.

    Glaciar Colgante in NP Quelat Further north the landscape becomes rougher and we pass perfectly still lakes that mirror their green shores and the mountains further away to perfection; we make picture after picture. The road becomes narrower and bumpier and some parts are nothing more than a gravel trail through a thick jungle of huge trees, bamboo, ferns and a road plant with leaves that are like huge hands, measuring 2 m². We have to wait half a day for road construction: the road is blocked until 6 pm. When we are finally allowed to move on the stretch proves hardly passable, deep mud holes (in which a truck gets stuck in front of us), sharp stones that stick out of the road and heaps of construction rubbish make it hard to drive here. In National Park Quelat the jungle gets even thicker and we seem to drive between to solid green walls. We pass a beautiful, deep-blue fjord and visit Glaciar Colgante, an impressive hanging glacier. Over a saddle between two mountains the light blue ice comes forward, high above the green-green lake in which it empties itself in the form of two large waterfalls of some hundred metres high.
    Through the fabulous Futaleufu valley we go back to Argentina, where we want to do some trekkings in the Lake District.


    Click here to read about our experiences in Argentina first before continuing with the next part of our Chile travelogue.

    Part 3: The Lake District (14.03.05 - 13.04.05)

    Written by: Coen

    Via a road over a pass, that climbs through a barren rocky landscape, we enter Chile. It rains and it is cold. Fortunately our next destination is Aguas Calientes. As the name suggests: hot water. This relaxing 40° C hot bath, situated at the riverside, is nicer than ever when it rains.
    Aguas Calientes Around the thermal park are some walking trails and after we have walked a few treks in the deep green forest full of mosses and alerces, we find a nice spot to camp at the riverside. Here we start preparing our next trek: in 5 days around Volcan Puyehue.

    We lift our backpacks on our backs and start with a 1000 meter climb in 7 km, in the rain. The trail climbs steadily through a forest with volcanic grit. The rain has worn out deep trenches. The higher we get, the blacker the volcanic grit gets. We pant in our rain suits that doesn't allow any oxygen in or out. Finally we arrive at the refugio, a wooden hut. Here we find a confused Swiss guy who was lost the day before and spent the whole night walking around in the cold outside. We managed to light some fire in the stove and together with two Germans and two Israeli we spent a nice camping night.

    In the morning we start a wonderful tour through a Sahara-like volcanic landscape because everything is above tree line and completely barren since a volcanic outbreak some years ago. The weather is clear and we have magnificent views over the surrounding volcanoes: Osorno, Tronador and Lanin. We a pass a kilometres long black stream of dried up lava and at the horizon we see several meters high fumaroles (smoking geysers) erupting from the earth. Through the barren and sulphite colored mountains, specked with blocks of yellow, red and green sulphite crystals, we walk uphill and downhill. We pitch our tent at a riverside, which banks are completely yellow, orange and grey because of all the volcanic minerals and everywhere hot water boils up. In front of our tent somebody has conveniently dug a pool filled with hot thermal water, so we jump in and spend the afternoon in the hot tub. The sun is shining and the panorama fantastic.
    Unfortunately, it starts raining in the evening.

    Quotation from my diary:

    "...in the evening it started raining. It rained very hard, the whole night through. Then finally daylight appeared. But it started to rain even harder and wind started blowing. We could only leave our tent in a rain suite. The rain and the wind penetrated everything. We could not even make ourselves a cup of tea. So we sat the whole day in our tent. It wasn't even dry for a minute. We hoped the rain would stop in the afternoon so we could visit some geysers but unfortunately it didn't stop raining, the wind became a storm and it was getting dark again. We had a very uncomfortable night before us. It rained and stormed non-stop and during the night we were surprised by lightning and thunder. Rain was pouring so hard that our tent was standing in a pool of water, not a very nice thought considering we were the highest point in the area in the midst of a thunderstorm. It was a very miserable night. I was afraid our outside tent would fly away and I saw ourselves sitting alone, outside in the dark, in the rain, in the middle of nowhere with two dogs. Fortunately dawn broke after 36 ours of non-stop rain. For breakfast we had a few muesli bars, swallowed away with sulphur water (the river with clean drinking water had risen so high that it had mixed with the thermal water). We quickly packed our stuff together. Everything was wet and cold. It was still raining and storming. We walked quickly uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill. Then suddenly fog broke in so we had much difficulties in finding the trail. The only orientation we had were some bamboo stakes, which we couldn't see because of the fog. A few times the dogs found the trail and a few times Dorrit stayed at the last stake and I went searching for the next one in different directions. During the last part, it started hailing….hard to describe how happy we were to arrive at the refugio. Completely soaked and cold to the bones we made a tea but first we had to filter the water through a sock because due to the heavy rainfall, the stream of drinking water here had also swollen into a muddy flood…."

    Of course we did not feel like spending another night in the rain so we took some Dextro Energy and walked another day's march to the car this same day.
    We drove to a campsite in Entre Lagos, where, with a chocorum and the heater on, we enjoy being in our car again.

    After another visit to the thermal baths in Aguas Calientes to treat our stiff walking legs, we drive to Frutillar. This picturesque village is situated at a lake with volcano Osorno at its horizon. Then we drove to Puerto Varaz. Both these villages are in an area with many inhabitants from German origin and therefore there are a lot of German-colonial houses, blond people and a lot of "Kuchen" (great German pastries).
    Nice view... In Chile it is usually difficult to find a suitable place to spend the night because every m2 is fenced. We are often able to find a good, quiet spot though, even if it sometimes takes more than an hour searching. Autumn is coming and we can often collect a delicious blackberry dessert.
    Volcano Osorno Volcano Osorno keeps us in her spell for another while: via a tour through rough volcanic landscape, with a wild river full of huge lava rocks, we drive to Petrohue, the far end of a volcanic peninsula. After crossing a valley, recently flooded with mud, we arrive at a black lava sand beach on the shore of a perfect blue lake, surrounded by green hills. With a view on the volcano Osorno we camp here for two days. A perfect spot.

    Then it is time to drive on to the north, which we want to do via the coast. First we visit fort Niebla, part of a fortification at a strategic estuary of three rivers. We camp in front of the fort and for the first time we see the Pacific Ocean. We wait to see a perfect sunset at the broad bay.
    Begging like a stray cat Before we move on, we visit Valdivia, a small coastal town, where we walk around on the local fish market. Like stray cats the enormous sea lions and cormorants beg for the fish leftovers.
    For the first time we take the asphalted, well maintained, 4 lane (and expensive) Panamericana-highway. Nobody here has the money to drive the Panamericana so except for some plastic-flower sellers we drive alone to Pucon, through the bright yellow autumn forest.

    Pucon is a touristy town from where you can climb to the crater of Volcan Villarica. It is the most active volcano in the area. Because the magma level in the crater is very high, you can see it bubble when you are standing on the crater rim.
    We explore the area around Pucon and we visit fantastic thermal baths on a riverside with 5 baths surrounded by huge rocks. Near Pucon, we found a camping spot in the forest, to which we returned every night. The logging workers, whose oxen where tied together with a wooden beam, didn't bother us being here, since we gave them coffee in the morning.
    Climbing the crater To climb the volcano we drive to the beginning of a ski elevator. From here we climb the volcano up to the snow line and we are rewarded with beautiful views over the surrounding landscape and the volcano itself, vomiting white grey plumes of smoke all the time. That night we camp in a riverbed with a good view over the volcano. When it was dark, the crater was illuminated brightly orange by the bubbling lava. The light flares up and extinguishes - just great!

    Our next plan is a 5 day trek around volcano Lonquimay. Meanwhile autumn definitely arrived and it rains a lot. We walk a few day treks through the lenga and araucaria forest. After a few days in which the weather does not improve we declare the trekking season for ended and we decide to look for some sun and warmth at the coast.

    First we drove to Chillan, visiting a interesting very colourful farmer market. Here the locals sell their things and everything you can imagine is for sale here. Here I had my first "Completo" (a sort of hotdog with advocado sauce, spicy unions and tomato. It is Chilean national food and you get it everywhere). We fill our fridge with farmer cheese, chorizo and red wine.
    The landscape start to get dryer with small savannah trees and hills full of planted forest.

    At the coast the sun is waiting for us. We slowly ascend along the coastal line, walk al lot on the beach and we pass two sea lion colonies. When the car is full of sand and the dogs are on their normal weight again, we take a back road heading for the wine village San Javier.

    Coastal area An unpaved little road follows the coast through little settlements with wooden farms and grain fields and the farmers wear sombreros. The road passes unspoilt bays with rocks, beach and sea birds.
    The lost but found grape On the road to Constitution we pass innumerable wood plantations and small and poor villages where Indian Chileans live. Even in a rich country like Chile, equal chances do not exist. In Constitution we buy a 2,5 kg heavy sea fish and eat 3 days from it.
    In San Javier the wine route through the wine area starts. We visit a wine house and we buy some wine, among others a bottle of Carmenere. Since 1860, in France, this grape was declared extinguished because of a disease. A few years ago some viticulturists found it back in Chile, disguised as Merlot.
    The wine route continues through some small colonial wine villages like Yerbas Buenas and via unpaved roads we pass along many colonial wine houses with big veranda's full of chicken and Gaucho's on horses.

    Cerro Santa Lucia Despite our plan not to go to Santiago the Chile, we decided to visit it at least one day. In the centre we walk to the Plaza de las Armas and visit the centre and the cathedral, where the recently deceased pope John Paul II is commemorated.
    In the park Cerro Santa Lucia we picknick and have a nice panorama over the city. In the quarter ParisLondres the houses are built in 18th century neo-medieval style with pretty wrought balconies and gates.
    At the Palacio de Moneda, where Salvador Allende was overthrown by general Pinochet in 1973, the militaries changed guard. There were no traces of this revolution left.
    The same evening we drove to Chile's second big city: Valparaiso.
    Chilean palm This is an interesting coastal city with a pretty centre full of Art Deco buildings. With an elevator dating from the 19th century we go up and visit the upper part of town. We stroll along colourful wooden 19th century houses and pensions and churches and wander through narrow cobble stone streets.

    Before we drive back to the Argentine border, we go to National park La Campana that is full of Chilean palm trees, cacti and trees. A beautiful 5 hour walk brings us to a waterfall, surrounded by palm trees and cacti…Very special in this very dry area.


    Click here to read about our experiences in Argentina first before continuing with the next part of our Chile travelogue.

    Part 4: Norte Grande (15.06.05 - 06.07.05)

    Written by: Dorrit

    Salina Grande (Arg.) In Jujuy (Argentina) we do some small repairs on the car and pick up new export documents for the dogs. On the day we want to leave for Chile we hear that in the area we want to go to there has been an earthquake of 7.9 on the Richter scale. Since there might be more tremors we wait a couple of days and then head for San Pedro de Atacama in Chile via the spectacular Paso de Jama.

    Via a seemingly endless zig-zag road we climb 2000 m to the Argentine high plateau or altiplano, an extensive flatland covered with yellow spiky grass and small herds of grazing vicunhas, a sort of crossing between a llama and a deer. We cross a couple of salt flats, over a dike that runs straight through the middle of these snowy white fields.
    The night at the border town at 3,700 m is very cold; when we wake up there is a thick layer of ice on the inside of the windscreen.
    On the Chilean side of the border the area is even more desolate than on the Argentine side; the altiplano is surrounded by mountain and volcano peaks and punctured by several salt lakes in the most bizarre colours, from deep dark blue to dark red and even fluorescent green (bordered by light green ice). The effect of algae that grow in these lakes and form the diet of the flamingoes that live here despite the harsh climate (-20°C at night is no exception here). Most lakes have a white crust of salt around their borders, contrasting nicely with the brown desert landscape surrounding it.
    The Chilean customs in the oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama are playing tennis and are not interested in working. After letting us wait for an hour or so they give us trouble about our dogs and take away our three potatoes, two onions and two garlics, that you are not supposed to take into their country. Welcome to Chile.

    Paso de Jama San Pedro de Atacama is an oase in the driest desert of the world. Meteorologic institutes here have never recorded any rainfall! Most of the desert looks like that too, but in San Pedro the inhabitants have used the little river that runs through it well and made a nice and green oasis out of their village. Adobe houses line the narrow streets and the main square features a lovely white 17th century adobe church. In the museum we see a lot of mummies with deformed skulls (with bandages, the still flexible baby heads were shaped according to the form their clan or caste distinguished itself with) and powder boxes that the shamans used to sniff the precolombian version of cocaine from. A habit that the Spaniards eradicated with force to make way for - as the museum information leaflet tells us - "nuevos valores christianos" (new christian values).

    We spend a few days at the beautiful Valle de la Luna (moon valley) near San Pedro de Atacama, where we walk through a salt gorge whose walls are made of thousands of tiny, glittering salt blocks and where it creaks continuously. We also drive through the length of the park, that indeed looks like a moonscape, with marvellous rock formations in bright red, purple and rosa with white sediment stripes, all covered in a thin layer of salt that glitters in the sun. The valley floor seems to be an ice layer of several metres thickness, but when I tasted it turned out to be salt as well. We climb a giant sand dune to reach a viewpoint for the sunset over Valle de la Luna and are looking at what seems to be a fantasy landscape for a SF-novel: no vegetation whatsoever, everywhere strange-shaped rocks sticking out of the sand dunes, east of the valley an extensive salt flat and behind it the Andes that seems to be formed of nothing but volcanoes here, all turning bright red in the light of the setting sun.

    Flamingoes in the Salar de Atacama South of San Pedro de Atacama is the Salar de Atacama, an enormous salt lake that is now (in winter, e.g. May-Sept) dry. Here we visit a deep and narrow canyon (Quebrada de Jerez) in the middle of the desert. You hardly see it until you stand at the edge and look down into it. Only then you find out that it is filled to the brim with vegetation. With the water from the little river flowing through the canyon, the people of the desert have turned the canyon into a real oasis. Besides endemic plants like a white barked tree they even grow oaks here! The walls of the canyon are made of salmon-coloured rocks that look like dried up chunks of clay. Here we take a walk with the dogs that play in the mud and then expect us to be happy to take them back into the car with us.
    In the middle of the dried-up Salar de Atacama there are a number of lagunas that contain a flamingo breeding colony. At the break of dawn we are standing ready with camera and binoculars. It is freezing cold but we are rewarded with a large group of grazing flamingoes, that are perfectly mirrored in the still blue water.

    adobe altiplano church Calama, west of San Pedro de Atacama, is a miners´town near the largest open pit copper mine of the world: Chuquicamata. Although our travel guide tells us not to drink the water here as it is contaminated with arsenic (only one of the many negative side effects of the mine), we fill up water here anyway, because we are running out and the locals drink it too without dying immediately. We spend the night in the town of Chuquicamata itself, whose population is now being evacuated to Calama because of the air pollution in Chuquicamata. We are allowed to stay near the police station, next to a sign saying "Carabineros de Chile, un amigo, siempre" (carabine holders of Chile, always your friends). Very ironic, after so many years Pinochet.
    The copper mine is a huge open pit indeed: 4 kilometres long, 3 kilometres broad and 1 kilometre deep. There are plans to extend it to a lenght of 15 kilometres and a depth of 2 km. From the edge of the pit you can look down and see how small toy cars drive to and fro with grit. Up close the tires of these toy cars alone turn out to be thrice as high as we are.. Chile is exporting 35% of all copper in the world and this number is going up steadily, as the Chileans discover new deposits of copper in the Atacama desert every day.

    From Calama we drive up to Arica in the far north of Chile. A number of the things we wanted to see and do on the way there are impossible to reach right now, as the roads there collapsed during last week´s earthquake.
    The first 300 km we drive through the heart of the Atacama desert, where there is no vegetation at all. All we see are brown hills, brown flats and more brown hills. Every now and then we pass the ruins of deserted nitrate mine towns, whose graveyards full of rusty brown crosses occupy more space than the ghost towns themselves. We spend the night below a hillside with more than 350 precolombian geoglyphs on it. These are a kind of rock drawings, featuring llamas, humans, squares and circles. The villages here are quite damaged by the earthquake, there are fragments of buildings lying on the street and people have put up tents next to their houses. Despite the force of the earthquake (7.9) the damage has been relatively little though, mainly because there was no tsunami and because the high rise buildings in the cities were built relatively shock proof.

    Santa Laura factory Near the city of Iquique lies the ghost town Humberstone, a deserted nitrate mine and accompanying miners´town from the 1880s-1950s, that - like so many other towns in this area - did not survive the invention of synthetic nitrate after WWII. In the 1940s over 4000 people worked and lived here and everything is still there, crumbling and rusting. The eastern part has been badly damaged during last week´s earthquake, but the rest can still be visited. For more than 4 hours we ramble through the empty streets, miners´houses and public buildings. We have a look at the swimming pool, made from the iron of a shipwreck and rusting away slowly. Everything looks exactly as in the high days of the 1930s and 1940s: the wooden church, the market halls with the first "refrigerated rooms", the tiny shops and the theatre, complete with red velvet curtains, the school with the classic wooden school banks and the little hospital. In one of the houses we meet a couple of elderly men that were born and raised here and organize a reunion every couple of months, out of a feeling of nostalgia to the good old days in Humberstone, where there was still a community feeling. Well, within your own class at least, because contact between the miners and the higher employees was unheard of in those days... Santa Laura factory They show us around in the owner´s villa (the Brit Humberstone, hence the name of the town) that is normally closed to public. A couple of kilometres further west is the mine itself, called Santa Laura. There is also a museum here and the guard allows us to stay here for the night. He and the owner of the little bar next to the museum invite us for a pisco (a kind of bitter that both Peru and Chile claim as originally theirs) in the bar. Shortly after we have entered the bar everything suddenly starts moving, the bottles behind the bar are jumping up and down and we were never so quick in leaving a building in our lives. The guard is talking agitatedly into his walkie-talkie, then tells us that it had been an earthquake of 4 to 5 on the Richter scale, one of the many tremors that followed the mayor earthquake last week.
    Luckily it stays quiet for the rest of the evening and the only thing that still moves is the bottle of pisco. The Chileans get very drunk and keep on offering us bottles of pisco and wine as a gift. Refusing is impossible and at the end of the evening they drive home in their car, not in the least bothered by the fact that they are too drunk to even talk straight.

    llama in NP Lauca After visiting the mine (entirely made of rusting steel, the machines still all in there) we drive another 300 km through the dry desert and reach Arica on the last drops of diesel, because petrol stations were non-existent in the desert. We stay at the beach north of Arica, but although the beach is quite clean and the city of Arica is really trying its best with some small palm trees, it is not what I had expected from a pacific beach.
    Everything is brown: the hills behind the beach (still Atacama desert), the beach, the air and even the sea seems brown! Every 20 m there is a sign indicating the escape routes in case of a tsunami, apparently they are not always so lucky as this time.
    Arica itself is clean and green. We visit the small steel church that Gustava Eiffel built here and read our emails, finding out that my little sister Lisette is pregnant. Hurray!
    Unfortunately we caught a flu in Calama, forcing us to stay in Arica. We try to drive up to the Lauca national park in the Andes at the Bolivian border, but have to return to Arica as we are too ill to go up so high.

    Parinacota and Pomerape A couple of days later we try again and drive back into the mountains, from Arica at sea level (0 m) to Lauca national park (NP) at 4,600 m in 80 km. In the cute adobe village of Putre, situated at 3,600 m directly below a snowy peak, we spend the night between the first scrubs and small trees since San Pedro. Near Putre, hot springs provide some rustic pools surrounded by fringes of reeds with hot water. Here we take a 38°C bath in the sun and recover from going up 3,600 m in one day. The next morning we start the day with a hot bath in the sun, cup of French press coffee (thank you Suja and Ola!) in our hands. Isn´t this the best life you can lead?
    Las Cuevas is the first part of the Lauca NP and large herds of vicunhas are roaming the swampy grasslands here. vicunha in NP Lauca In the 1970s the NP was originally created to save these animals from extinction and its conservation has been a great succes: within 35 years the vicunha population has risen from 1,000 to 25,000!
    Between the rocks we also see our first vizcacha´s, a kind of big rabbit with a large squirrel-like tail that jumps from rock to rock like a monkey. Driving further east into the park we also see the twin peaks of the volcanoes Parinacota and Pomerape: two perfectly symmetrical cones covered in snow behind an extensive bright green swampy flat full of llamas, vicunhas and alpacas (a smaller kind of llama that looks like a huge woolly lamb). In the precolumbian adobe village of Parinacote, sitting at 4,500 m below the twin peaks we spend another icy night next to a rocky area full of vizcachas. On our last day in Chile we drive to a large border lake full of birds (flamingoes, black ibisses, Andino-gulls etc.). and from there it is on to the border and to Bolivia!


    Part 5: Christmas 2005 (12.12.05 - 30.12.05)

    Written by: Dorrit

    Mancora From Ecuador we pass the mega-crowded border of Tumbes to Peru. On the border bridge where we have to stop for customs the crowds are so thick you can hardly see the pavement. Everywhere you look you see ambulant traders pushing carts or carrying weekend bags full of merchandise on their backs, street stalls and masses of people passing by. Some miles down the road, in the village of Tumbes, we see how a car driving 70 kmh in the centre of town kills a dog that tried to cross the street. The driver does not even slow down for a second. Some minutes later we see in our rear mirrors how another car crashes into a rikshaw and its driver. Welcome back to Peru.

    We take a few days rest in Mancora, the lovely little beach resort we ended our last visit to Peru with. Here we celebrate Coen´s birthday and take long walks on the beach with the dogs. Then we drive some 3000 km along the coast of Peru to Chile, in five long, long days. The entire route goes through the dry, brown desert, where nothing seems to grow but a very few dusty brown hamlets.

    the route The last stretch, from Nazca to the Chilean border, follows a beautiful coastal route, that sometimes seems to hang on the side of the steep coastal mountains, sometimes is blown out of them. An admirable feat of engineering. Pelicans and sea lions are swimming in the sea below us, other than that there seems to be no life whatsoever. Such endless emptiness!

    In Tacna we struggle with the Peruvian authorities and their siesta for half a day to get export papers for the dogs and it is dusk before we reach the border. Both our papers and our camper van are being examined very thoroughly and of course we have to give up our lemons (you cannot bring any fruits, vegetables or meat into Chile). We do not arrive in Chile before 22:00, where it is 2 hours later and already midnight. We spend the night at the beach of Arica opposite of an army base; here in Chile it is safe enough for wild camping again. The beach is fully covered with dead jellyfish, there are hundreds of thousands of them, with their dark grey bodies of some 30 cm in diameter and metres long red tentacles. In the waves of the sea you can see there is at least as many of them left alive and despite the heat nobody dares to swim. Brr.

    the endless desert Chile looks a lot cleaner and safer than Peru, but is also a lot more expensive and a lot less Latin-American. The only indigenous people we see are playing pan pipe for money in the shopping mall, just like at home! Incredible that Peru is only 15 km away.
    The landscape however, does not change for another 5 days: the endless, ultra-dry and empty desert goes on and on, nearly until Santiago de Chile (i.e. another 2000 km). We pass gorgeous altiplano-like landscapes and amazing, wild mountain ranges, but also extended sand flats that seem to go on for ever. This is the area that Chile conquered on Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific (around 1880) and that Peru and Bolivia are still demanding back from Chile. You would wonder why when you look around in this emptiness, but the riches are below the surface here: copper, nitrate and many other minerals, that together make out more than half of Chile's revenues. No wonder this sets bad blood in Peru and especially Bolivia, which is (still) one of the world's five poorest countries.

    coast near Antofagasta On a peninsula near Antofagasta (the second largest city of Chile and the export harbour for the mines in the desert) we find a great spot to camp in a small bay with our private sea lions where we celebrate Christmas with a traditionally extensive and tasty Christmas dinner. We are only a few kilometres south of the Tropic of Capricorn and only a few days past the southern hemisphere's summer equinox (21 December), so during the midday hours we are without any shadow.

    About a hundred kilometres north of Santiago it finally starts to be a bit greener, from the first steppe grass and the first cacti via small bushes and mini-trees to real green grass, dark green forests and golden wheat fields. On the peaks of the Andes there is still snow and we pass one volcano after the other. At volcano Lonquimay we wanted to do a trek last year, but we were too late in the season. This time we are right on time and it is here that we say goodbye to the Pan-American Highway, which we have been cruising on since Quito (some 6,500 km ago). volcano Lonquimay and Araucarias Via cute villages with pastel coloured wooden houses that remind us of Transylvania we drive through an Alpine spring landscape to the national park. There we camp between the strange Araucaria trees (a special type of pine tree, see picture) and have a great walk along the foot of the volcano to Crater Navidad, the "Christmas Crater". This crater was born on 25 December 1988 during an explosion on the side of volcano Lonquimay and spat out an 8 km high cloud of dust, ashes and rocks for an entire year, until the next Christmas. We climb over the flank of the volcano to the crater, while the dogs play madly in the last fields of snow. Meanwhile we have a splendid view over the Andes to the north and south of us. We have a tea break on the warm volcanic stone before walking back again to be able to cross the border to Argentina that same day.


    Click here to read about our experiences in Argentina first before continuing with the next part of our Chile travelogue.

    Part 6: Los Lagos II (11.02.06 - 14.02.06)

    Written by: Dorrit

    Lonquimay and Araucarias There are huge lines of Chileans and Argentines waiting on both sides of the border and it is hot like an oven. We have to wait for hours on end and to make the day the Chilean customs not only take away our eggs, but also our bamboo walking sticks. That seemed a bit overdone to me.

    To compensate things Chile shows itself from her best side during the next days: under a bright blue sky we walk through a beautiful forested area to a high plateau named Pampa Frutilla or "Strawberry Field".
    The first day we ascend nearly 900 metres over a distance of 23 km. The walk through the forest is just like a geography class: from broad, high trees to smaller trees to bush to mosses and tundra grasses. The highest point of our route leaves it at that, but when you look up along the side of the mountain you see how the mosses make way for bare stone and above that there is still snow. From the pass it goes down a bit to the pampa frutilla, where we set up our tent at the border of one of the two crystal clear mountain lakes. We are all alone here and enjoy the silence and the possibility to cool our sore feet in the cold water. The plain is surrounded by rough mountain peaks and rims of dark green forest. At night the still water of the lake mirrors the light of the full moon. What a great place!

    Crater Navidad We wake up with a view of the rising sun, enjoy a lonely breakfast of smuggled Argentine chorizo sausage (which the Chilean customs did not find :o) and do some warming up by walking around the two lakes. Our feet still hurt but the tabano's (stinging horse flies) are "out in force" as our trekking guide had already promised us, so there is no way of staying here any longer, no matter how beautiful this place is.
    We walk back to a small field halfway, where we eat a soup, drink a tea and hold a siesta until the horse flies go to bed. After dinner we sit in front of our tent with a cup of tea and see how the setting sun colours volcano Puyehue from white to yellow to orange to red to grey.

    The next day we walk the last stretch to our camper van and drive on to the nearby thermal baths of Aguas Calientes. There we meet Guido and Brenda from Holland, whom we had met before in Cuzco and who join us after the hot bath. Together we cross the border back to Argentina and find a dark grey sandy beach at Lago Espejo (mirror lake) to chat away the night.


    Click here to read our final travelogue.

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  • Our top 5:

    1. Torres del Paine

    2. NP Lauca

    3. Carretera Austral

    4. Banos de Caulle

    5. Valparaiso

    Tierra del Fuego

    The main road from San Sebastian to Cerro Sombrero is very bad.
    However, you can take the good road from San Sebastian to Porvenir and turn into the equally good road to Bahia Azul.

    No dogs allowed:

    1. NP Cerro Castillo

    2. NP Quelat
       (Glaciar Colgante)


    The ferry from Chile Chico to Puerto Ibanez costs EUR 33 for a camper and 2 persons and takes 2.5 hours.
    This will save you 270 km of bad gravel road.


    In Pucon, the best thermal baths are those of Termas de los Pozones to the north of town.


    The petrol stations at the Panamericana offer brand new, spotless and warm showers for next to nothing.

    3rd party insurance

    You can get the obligatory 3rd party car insurance for Chile in Arica at "Las Americas" in shopping center Santa Maria, Av. Santa Maria.

    For a 4 months-insurance we paid 7000 CL$ (EUR 12).