5/24/2007 - THE CHILE - BOLIVIA BORDER - PUERTO MONTT, CHILE
| THE CHILE - BOLIVIA BORDER CONTINUED...
there are exceptions to every rule, some of which are achieved by stuffing a fifty dollar bill into your passport. in any other south american country, this would work. chile, on the other hand, has a firm belief in procedure, and bribery is not in their books. this was unfortunate, because we still had the issue of not having the paperwork to import the dog into their country. when begging, bribing, and whining didn't work, the thought of sneaking back into chile when the sun went down crossed our minds, but that was if all else failed. the guard kept telling us that we had to go back to oruro, which was about five hours away, not to mention that it was in bolivia. don't get me wrong, bolivia was an alright place, but we were in need of some modernization, chile has lots. i pleaded with the guard, "por favor, no quiero regresso a bolivia, por favor." he was not completely unsympathetic to us, and he said that if we at least returned to bolivia's border to try to get the proper papers, he'd consider making an exception if we were unable to make it happen.
we drove back to bolivia, past the charred plane, to the agricultural office. the guard there told us pretty much the same thing, that we'd have to go back to oruro for the papers. since that wasn't going to happen, we convinced him to put his official stamp on some of the paperwork we already had. much thanks was given as we bolted out the door. back at the chilean border, the guard let us know how unofficial our papers were, but sticking to his word, he granted us passage as he said he would. he did give us a couple of conditions, though. condition one was that we had to take dremel to a local veterinarian for an inspection, where we would be given yet another bill of health. condition two was that we then take the bill of health to the department of livestock and agriculture in iquique, where they would give us the papers we'd been lacking. anything was better than having to drive an additional ten hours, so we agreed to the conditions set. it took a while to get everything taken care of, the car still had to be searched, copies, signatures, and everything else that goes along with crossing borders. by the time we finished, it was dark and some of the guards were heading home. we enthusiastically thanked the agricultural guard, and on the way out of the border, we picked up another guard needing a ride down to iquique.
much to our amazement the night before, the highways in chile are paved. they even have paint, guardrails, and lights. gas stations, for the most part, are within reasonable distance of each other, which is also really amazing. on the way down to iquique, via the flawless chilean highway, the border guard answered hundreds of questions we had about chile. it turns out that the airplane carcass that was resting in the desert was a bolivian jetliner that was completely filled with cigarettes. the seven bolivian smugglers had hopes of selling the cigs for twice the price in chile, but the plane was loaded way beyond it's capacity. they attempted an emergency landing, but it was pretty obvious that it didn't work out. it happened in 1995, the plane has been sitting there ever since. the guard also told us about bolivia's attempt to invade chile in 1990. bolivia was trying to get in on a little of the shipping action that had made chile so prosperous, so they invaded the border. a full on war ensued, and our guard was one of the helicopter pilots that helped to protect the border. the war lasted a couple of years, but it didn't really work out to bolivia's favor. the coast is still chile's and bolivia is still badly in need. i hope the two countries can come to a compromise, i heard in the news that they're trying to come to a peaceful agreement to allow bolivia a port on the coast of chile, bolivia could really use a hand.
iquique was hit hard a couple years back by a giant tsunami caused by an earthquake that occurred a few hundred miles down the coast. since the, they've been diligently trying to rebuild the ocean front park that surrounds the city. a lot of the old spanish colonial buildings still exist, but these ones are made of wood instead of the usual stone colonials, so a few were taken out by the storm. the coast is now lined with several works in progress, mostly luxury skyrise apartments and pricey seafood restaurants. there's a definite class division in iquique, the folks with the big bucks tend to live on the seaside or near the mall. the rest, the other ninety five percent, live in the simple houses that sit between the coast and the mall. a good majority of the houses are exactly the same as the next, they're all prefabricated cabins that can be owned for around eight thousand u.s. they don't even paint them a different color from their neighbor's house, so there'll be entire neighborhoods of pink cabins.
the entire city reeked of fish, and the only place where we could get away from the smell was our hotel room. we had no choice but to hang around iquique for a couple more days, the veterinarian and the department of agriculture would dictate the length of our stay, they were shut down until monday. while we were in waiting, we had time to consider that there might not be a way to travel up africa for a while. the whole mid section has become impassable due to a couple of wars, past and present. there are parts of mauritania that, while they allow you to pass, it's highly advisable not to. landmines cover the desert floor, and while we're always up for an adventure, this sounded like more than we'd want to deal with. one thought was to ship the car to europe, and we'd visit south africa while the car was in transit. while this plan seemed the most promising, there was no avoiding the bad timing for it. we would make it to mongolia just in time for winter, forty below zero didn't sound too enticing to either of us. that, and the truck would have to undergo some serious overhauling, the back rack is damn near falling off, the suspension has all but given up, and the gas guage has stopped functioning. it would be possible to fix the truck, but difficult in that there aren't very many options for parts or metal fabricators. additionally, our health is not quite up to par, we've both had a couple bouts of dengue, i had a kidney stone, brian's had a flu, and dremel had a mild case of heartworm. the most logical of all options was to return to colorado for a while, rebuild the truck, make some money, get healthy, then finish out the trip in segments, weather permitting. it was a bit of a bummer to face the facts, we set out to drive all the way around the world, and we weren't going to be able to do that just yet. on the other hand, it will be nice to see my family and friends, i've missed them all dearly, they're incentive enough to justify returning early.
monday finally arrived, so we would be able to finish up with our dog papers and move on. the veterinarian was super friendly, and could not have made things any easier for us. it was the department of livestock and agriculture that gave us trouble. the lady who worked there tried to keep all of our original paperwork, and she refused to make copies for us. brian had to literally tug the papers out of her hands. after we got the papers back, i reasoned with her as best we could, but she was unwilling to work with us. we left, figuring that we could try a different office location further south, one where the employees weren't so insane. the bulk of the day had already passed, so we stayed one more night in iquique. on the way out of town, we stopped to fill up on gas. the gas station attendant tried to pull a fast one by not resetting the gas pump to zero then demanding that we pay the difference. we caught on to what he was up to, and demanded a receipt. knowing that the receipt copies are turned in at the end of the day, he reconsidered going through with his scam. he threw the receipt for the correct amount in the car, took our money, and stomped off. he was insulted that we caught on.
THE CHILEAN DESERT
well, what can i say... the chilean desert is exactly like any other desert in the world. dirt, rocks, sand, and not much else. the one thing that sets it apart from any of the other deserts i've seen is it's vastness. it goes on for days, and while the first couple of days might have been interesting enough, heavy doses of boredom set in, and we weren't even halfway through. for lack of anything better to do, we drove a hundred miles out of our way to see some flamingos that live on a swampy salt flat. that kept us busy for a couple of hours. further down, there was a park called the valle de la luna. not sure if it got it's name because it looked like the terrain of the moon, or if it was just a good spot to look at the moon. either way, we had to go through it to get back to the highway. the park guards charged us eight dollars upon entering, promising a refund at the park's exit, but only if we made it there within fifteen minutes. unaware that they were making a mistake by telling two rally enthusiasts that they were on a timed course, they counted us down and i hit the accelerator. brian was pleased with my fast paced driving, but i'm sure the park guards and the pedestrians felt differently. at any rate, we didn't have to pay, and it was a heck of a lot more efficient than hiking.
there were a few towns here and there, most of them exist because of the mines that surround them. the down side is that the mines aren't owned by chile, more often than not, they're canadian, american, and european endeavors. the chilenos work for nominal wages, while everyone else profits. once the mine is tapped out, the towns are abandoned, left in the dust. we passed by a few of the ghost towns, it's pretty eerie to drive through an entire town filled with hundreds of vacant houses, empty streets, empty churches. it's unbelievable how greedy these mining companies are, but there's one in particular that takes the cake. it's a canadian copper mining outfit that is in the process of fighting the chilean government for a plot of land that sits underneath a glacier. they want to load the glacier bit by bit into giant dump trucks and dump it into the middle of the desert. this glacier is the main water supply for a few farm towns that have been able to sustain some sort of economy without having to rely on the mines. without the glacier, the olive and grape vinyards that support these towns would be gone, and the towns would quickly follow. i don't recall the last time i heard something so idiotic, i can only hope the chilean government feels the same way. we stayed the night in one of the towns that will likely be affected by the canadian glacier thieves, it was a city by the name of vallenar. it was one of the better places we've stayed, a little oasis in the middle of the rocky desert, nice houses, a nice hotel, and the people were super nice. it would be such a drag to return one day and find vallenar in ruins.
THE COAST OF CHILE
there's only so much you can do in the desert of chile, and we'd been up there for days. we made our way down to the coast to escape the boredom. there was rumor that there were penguin colonies off the coast, and for ten bucks per person, you could hop on a boat that would circle the islands where the penguins live. i have some weird fascination with penguins, so i was all about it. by the time we reached the coast, we'd spent all our money on gas, which is crazy expensive. the pinguinos would have to wait, we had to find an atm, some food, and a place to stay. we hit the nearest town, where we were successful in finding some money. food wasn't as much of a success, the food was crap, and the grumpy old waitress gave us incorrect change, which worked only to her benefit. when we called her out on it, she acted all innocent, especially in front of her boss, who swore up and down that she didn't pocket the money. there wasn't too much we could do about it, and in the end, we just had to suck it up and leave. it's a drag being in unfamiliar surroundings, and being messed with. you're basically screwed because you're the stranger, and you're on their turf. our best retalliation was to get off their turf without spending another cent.
there were some amazing beaches outside the town, and this being the beginning of the chilean autumn, we had our pick of vacant beaches. it was a little chilly, but not intolerable, so we camped on a long, empty stretch of white sand. i was hoping to wake up to millions of penguins running around the tent, but instead, i woke up to a few pelicans, seagulls, and sandpipers. after a breakfast of skittles, gummy bears, and pepsi, we drove down to the boat dock to see if we could hire a boat to take us to the isla del pinguinos. everywhere we've been, we seem to arrive right in the middle of off season. for the most part, this has worked to our advantage, rooms are a lot cheaper, we have our pick of tables in the restaurants, and there aren't too many hippies making earrings out of pigeon feathers in the town squares. that, however, did not deter the chilenos from holding the penguins for ransom. a half hour boat ride to the isla del pinguinos is eighty dollars, and no matter where you go in chile, there's no way around it. the chilean pinguino monopoly only made us more determined to find a way to see the little buggers for free. this still hasn't happened yet, but argentina is looking promising.
the temperature keeps dropping the further south we drive. it's not the kind of cold that freezes your nose hairs the moment you walk outside, it's humid cold, the kind that stings your skin and aches your bones. even though the sun was out in valparaiso, the wind and humidity was in full effect. a quick drive around the city was all we needed. it's funny, we drive all day to reach the next city on the map, which is always too busy for our liking, so we high tail it to the next small town. guess we're mountain kids after all. valpo was an interesting enough place, it was the first place in chile that had architecture. i always thought that if there were buildings and houses, there'd be architecture, but it's just not true. while it's not very well thought out architecture that makes up valparaiso, it somehow works out. wooden spanish colonials have modern extensions on them, there's even some mildly german influences. if it weren't for the traffic, we might have stayed, but there's always something in the back of your mind that tells you that there's something better down the road.
SAN ANTONIO, CHILE
the big sunday afternoon activity in san antonio is to go down to the pier and feed the sea lions that lounge next to the boardwalk. i figured because there was a penguin monopoly, there'd also be a sea lion monopoly, but admission to the pier market was free. even better, there were actually sea lions, and you could stand as close as you dared to the gargantuan beasts. well, they weren't really beasts, they were more like lethargic fat men who had just eaten a whole thanksgiving turkey a piece. every now and again, they'd groan, flop into a different position, and groan some more. one of the more hyper sea lions worked up enough energy to sneeze in my direction, i ducked just in time to avoid being covered by a bucket's worth of sea lion snot. the funny thing about these giant creatures is that they're terrified of my gentle natured labrador, who could have cared less about them. just the sight of dremel set the entire blubbery beach into motion, it was all they could do to flop themselves into the safety of the water.
the rest of the pier was covered in local vendors selling everything from fresh fish to toiletries to souvenirs. we milled about in the cold for a while, observing the chilenos in their sunday afternoon environment. there were break dancers doing head spins and what-not, a drunk guy trying to start fights with anyone who walked by, and families strolling with their kids. it's kind of a comfort to see south americans taking part in leisurely activities, it's not a very common sight. when you're travelling, you're mostly on the outside looking in, a stranger trying to understand why things are the way they are. the differences are great, and sometimes hard to explain, and it makes them seem like strangers. then you see families doing family things together, and you realize that even though your lives are completely different, you still have something in common. it was like any given sunday afternoon at confluence park, it was nice to see something familiar.
too intimidated to even venture into another big city, we bypassed santiago completely. where did our phobias of big cities come from? i mean, we used to live in new york city, so why all of a sudden are we petrified of setting foot into a major city? well, here's my best explanation... for the most part, we have built up a pretty high threshold for the amount of craziness we can deal with in a single day. believe me, there's always at least a couple crazy things that happen to us in the course of one day, things like being run down by buses, being pulled over by every single cop in the district, being forced to eat the stomach lining of cows, and so on. the thing with cities is that they're like concentrated craziness, and you always have to deal with ten times more than you're really up for. we generally don't have this problem anywhere north of the rio grande, but only because we're used to american style craziness. i wonder if the south americans that visit the states feel the same way about our cities, and try really hard to avoid them.
we ended up driving to the southern most outskirts of santiago, where the only hotels were motels of the x rated persuasion. i wrote previously that there's always this thing in the back of your mind that tells you there'll be something better down the road, but having actually been on the road for months, there's been plenty of occasions where there hasn't been a single thing for hundreds of miles. tired and worried about leaving all of civilization behind us, we checked into the motel paraiso del amor. the thing about latin american sex motels is that they're actually really well set up for overland travellers. each habitation has a private garage attatched to it, which is ideal for doing minor repairs or cleaning out the truck. most are right off the highway, which makes them a lot easier to spot than most hotels. best of all, they're guarded twenty four hours a day, and they all have big security walls surrounding them. so you can rest assured that for once, nobody will be checking out your ride and the contents within. the motel paraiso del amor was kind enough to drop off a couple shots of campari in the window box, where all business transactions are done in places like these. we downed the campari, watched a couple of bootlegged dvds, and passed out on the king and a half sized bed. we woke up famished, starving, and the best breakfast restaurant in town served nothing but hot dogs. seven a.m. and hot dogs just don't go hand in hand, so we moved on.
copec is not an exotic destination, it's just a gas station. why take the time to write about the gas stations of chile? well, copec has quicky become my favorite place in all of chile. there aren't too many places to eat in the middle of the desert, but there's always a copec somewhere down the road. for about a dollar, you can buy a homemade empanada, one of the only food items on a very small list of things that can be safely consumed by humans. not only that, but you can refuel with as much frequency as your tank requires, which is not always possible in other south american countries. they have espresso machines, american candy, and get this, they have atm machines. no more driving to center of five different towns looking for a bank with a functional atm machine. some of the bigger copecs have sit down restaurants, showers for truckers and travellers, wifi internet, and a whole separate store devoted to selling toiletries. they even have a children's bathroom, with tiny toilets and tiny sinks that are mounted knee high. definitely not an exotic destination, but a popular destination nonetheless, i cannot think of one day in chile where we haven't hit a copec. i really only have but one complaint, the gas prices are way too high, but all of chile carries a premium price tag. should you ever find yourself driving through chile for some reason, i highly reccommend the nearest copec for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it's a lot cheaper than most of the more formal dining establishments, and the service is fast and friendly.
there isn't much to talca, it's kind of like the longmont of chile, so we kept on going. a few miles south, we pulled into the first place that said they had cabins. there were really no cabins to speak of, only the house that belonged to the property owner. luckily, the house was big enough to accommodate a few extra guests. the lady that owned the house was positively insane. she was aggressive in her methods to convince us to stay there, and aggresive about everything else, but in a nice way. she was cooking something in the kitchen, and we were hoping she would feed us, but the offer never came. we went upstairs into her sewing room, which also served as our hotel room, and ate tuna fish and potato chips. we froze our asses off that night, and having taken her advice, we slept in until ten. the sun doesn't come up until nine, so there's no point in getting up any sooner. she was insistent that dremel stole one of her husband's work boots, which is not dremel's style at all. she was pretty sure it was him, and not one of her other five dogs. we felt confident the boot would show up eventually, and didn't dwell on it, but it seemed like it was the most excitement that household had seen in sometime, even the neighbors knew about it. it was all we could do to get out of there, she kept wanting us to look at her knick knacks, pictures, and home improvement projects. from that point on, we stuck to the more mainstream places to stay the night.
PUERTO MONTT, CHILE
when i think of what a seafaring town should look like, i think of puerto montt. white bearded sailors limp down wooden docks, wearing black and white horizontally striped shirts under wool pea-coats. they even smoke tobacco out of old wooden pipes. every where you look, there are boats... boats in the harbor, boats sitting on the beaches, paintings of boats on the walls of every restaurant in town. i think there are more boats than there are people in p-montt, it's kind of ridiculous. the thing about seafaring towns is that more often than not, the menu options are limited to seafood. p-montt is famous for it's salmon, and they've built quite an industry off of their salmon farms. the problem is, it takes six times the amount of other fish varieties to feed the salmon, and there are so many salmon farms that it's causing some problems with the local ecology. it hasn't seemed to deter the locals in the slightest, there are salmon farms everywhere you look, and it's a staple in the restaurants and grocery stores.
because there's only so much seafood a coloradan can consume in one lifetime, we ventured inland a couple miles in search of some real food, some carnes rojas. the cabin we rented had a fully equipped kitchen, so we loaded up on groceries and did the best we could to put together an american style home cooked meal. the cabin didn't have a t.v., but the kitchen was enough to keep us there for a couple more days. when we didn't feel like cooking, we just went to the giant buffet restaurant in the grocery store and chowed down on steaks that no one human could ever fathom to finish in one setting. we were being indecisive about whether or not to take a boat down through the channels and fjords of patagonia, it was a little pricey, and if it ended up being a bad decision, we'd be stuck on the ship for four days straight. even after visiting the navimag office to get more details about the boat trip, we still couldn't decide. the most logical thing to do was to drive south for a day and see how it went. if it seemed worthwhile, we'd stick to driving, and if not, we'd return to puerto montt and get on the boat.
CALETA MANZANO, CHILE
patagonia is a really difficult place to get around, especially in winter. i never really knew what the big deal was with patagonia, i guess i thought it was maybe a couple of mountains, and possibly some snow. after only a day of trying to drive through it, i soon discovered that patagonia is quite possibly the least populated place on earth, with little or no option for refuge for those who seek it. to effectively see patagonia, you would need a four wheel drive vehicle, a boat, a helicopter with water runners, and a couple weeks of good weather. the first hundred miles are paved, up until the point where the road dead ends into the pacific. a half hour ferry ride will get you to the next island, where you drive another hundred miles, this time on a rapidly deteriorating dirt road. it was at the end of this road that we found we could go no further. there was supposed to be another ferry, but it only crossed over to the pumalin region two months out of the year, the weather just would not allow it otherwise. with no other choice but to regress, we ended up in caleta manzano. the nice thing about caleta manzana is that every person who lives there has put up a couple extra pre-fab cabins on their properties for the sole purpose of renting them out two months of the year to tourists. even better, the prices for the cabins drop considerably in the off season, so we can actually afford to stay in places like patagonia. on the down side, caleta manzana is ridiculously cold, and the only source of heat that any of the cabins have are woodstoves. the woodstoves themselves aren't the problem, it's the wood that the landlords supply you with, or the lack of. there's just enough to warm up the cabin before you go to bed, but not enough to make it through the night, if the chattering of your own teeth doesn't wake you, you're likely to die of exposure. i wasn't quite savvy enough at this point to start pilfering wood from the other cabins, but a couple cabins later, i was getting pretty good at procuring enough firewood to make it through the night. winter down here is pretty harsh, the sun only stays up for about five hours a day, so there's plenty of time to get bored in the evening. all outdoor activity comes to an abrubt halt once the sun goes down, so there's not much to do but hang out in the cabin and watch the woodstove. we were fresh out of bootlegged dvds, so we resorted to watching the trailers and special features of dvds we'd already watched. in the morning, i tried to take a shower to warm up, but that only works if there's hot water available. instead, we rushed to get everything back into the truck, cranked the heater, and headed back north to puerto montt to catch the boat.
THE NAVIMAG EXPERIENCE PART 1
neither of us had driven this far only to have to turn back at caleta manzano. we had every intention of making it to the southern most tip of the world, and by god, we were going to do just that. it was kind of like when the griswald family finally made it to wally world only to find that it was closed for repairs. we'd have to ride the navimag if we wanted to get any further south, so we went back up to our favorite cabin in puerto montt to wait for the next boat. before boarding, there were a couple details we had to take care of. the dog would not be allowed in the ship's cabins, he'd have to stay in the car on the lower deck, so we bought him a space heater and a really long, really expensive extension cord that has a plug that won't work anywhere else in the world. if the food on the ship was as bad as the food in peru, we'd have no choice but to eat it for four days straight, so we loaded up on plenty of snacks, coca cola, and canned food. last, but not least, we only had one transderm scop patch between us, so we stopped by the pharmacy to buy some more. for those who have never navigated in a rally car, you have no idea how bad motion sickness can be. the transderm patch is the only thing that works for motion sickness, so we knew we were wasting our money on the dramamine that the farmacia sold us, but it was all they had. the last thing on the list was securing a cabin on the ship, which was easy enough, you just hand them a fistful of money and they take it. with all the business out of the way, we had a couple more days of waiting, so we left puerto montt the next morning in favor of a little exploration.
a day of driving brought us to volcan osorno, a mecca for fly fishermen from all over the world, and supposedly, one of the world's premier ski areas. as far as the fly fishing, i couldn't really tell you if their claims of how great the fishing was supposed to be was true, but they had a lake, so i guess that's a good start. now, ski areas, that's something i could tell you about, i'm from colorado, so i have some credibility on the subject. it wasn't so much a premier ski area, so much as it was a premier sled hill. there's nothing wrong with sled hills, lots of people like sledding, but they really hyped their single lift, single run ski area. staying true to the whole ski area theme, they even charged ski area prices, a cup of cocoa was four bucks. granted, it was in a really cool place, it was on the side of a volcano, overlooking a bright green lake, but the only way they'd attract my business on their slope would be if they quit calling it a ski area and let me have a go at it on a super saucer.
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