28 Apr 2017

From Vino to Pisco

(The following was written on 23rd April, but the internet was too poor to post and we have not had decent internet since. We are now in San Pedro De Atacarma, but that is for the next post!)

We are now moving North approx ¾ of the way up Chile and well into the desert, where rain is something from the dim distant past. Unfortunately not all blue skies and sunshine though as until the sun pushes off the clouds from the sea it is quite cold (and it is now nearly 1 p.m. ad he sun is know where to be seen yet. Yesterday it was sunny and warm by now and stayed that way until 17.30, when the sun was again pushed out by the clouds  and cold descended, then once the sun goes down (around 19.30) it gets really cold.

We have had quite an adventurous week. After dragging ourselves away from the beach we moved to the mountains to the Elqui Valley. Christain (the Austrian Chef we met in Northern Ecuador) had marked this as somewhere to go, we couldn’t remember why, but when we got here we found it was the centre of Pisco production for Chile and the whole valley was carpeted in pisco plants, often right up the side of the mountain. Many of them covered with 000’s of metres of sandy coloured netting which at first looked like dirty glaciers, but far too hot for that as it was in the 30’. We tried to do a tour but the one we went for was booked up and the following day was census day in Chile and everything closes on census day.

Then back to the coast to follow a 4x4 route suggested by Caro and Victor, from Porto Choros to Huasco. We got to Porto Choros at around 5pm and the only camp site open wanted £25 per night so we decided we would camp wild on a beach up the road a little. We spotted what we thought would be a good spot and headed towards the beach on a gravelled track, but this soon became thick sand and in trying to loop round to come back I buried it. A little gentle coaxing and one rear wheel almost disappeared under the sand, with the axle at a crazy angle and the other wheel almost jammed in the wheel arch. So, for the second time ever, the max trax came out, and this time they were successful (the first time being in Mongolia where they were not!) The max trax were buried in the top box so first everything had to come out to get them out. Then a lot of digging to get them into position let the tyres down to around 18lbs and out she came - for 2 car lengths then sank again. More digging (but this time not so much as I stopped straight away) and off again - for another 2 car lengths. But 3rd time lucky, I managed to get traction and back onto firm ground. I was then a little more careful and we found a nice spot, tucked out of view in a little bay.

The first part of the 4x4 route was very slow, being both twisty and rocky, but then it turned to sand and needed low box for a few miles but a lot more comfortable to drive on and able to get up to 20/25 MPH. Up on top of the cliffs, then down again, finally slithering down a steep sand bank into a small village right on the edge of the water, a bit concerned that if the road back up the other side of the village was the same as the one we came down we might be living here forever! But the road at the other end was well gravelled and 200m later became a brand new road which went all the way to Huasco and then spent another night wild camping on a beach in another little rocky outcrop, again hidden from all.

The new road then continued up the coast and we came off at a place called Baranquilla looking for lunch, which, like many of the villages on the way were virtually deserted. All the houses in the area are like wooden huts on stilts, most quite small, but some 2 storey and we suspect they are either holiday homes or letting propertied and although the weather is good for most of the year Chile has a very fixed holiday time and few people seem to go away outside January and February.
But we drove right through the village to the sea and found a little port where a small fishing boat had just come in and was unloading its fish, so we went to the small kiosk and one of the guys filleted one of the fresh fish for us, and then had lunch at the little restaurant nearby. Whilst there a guy appeared outside mimicking pumping a tyre and pointing at our truck. We managed to explain the the pump was fixed inside the vehicle but we would help after lunch and he gave us a thumbs up and disappeared back up the hill. On the way out of the village he appeared again and we followed him as he trotted off down a side street to a pick-up which looked like it should have been in a scrap yard some years ago, but we pumped up his tyre and he was very grateful, (just like being in Mongolia, but fortunately the do not have mares milk in Chile).

Now we are on another beach, in a camp site this time, and have the bottom room up again as it is too cold to sit outside in the evening – after all – ‘Winter is Coming’.

Sunset on the beach

This bird was infatuated with itself in the mirror and was frequently there for the whole 4 days

Back into the mountains, with 000's of acres of pisco plants covered with sand coloured netting, 

More Pisco plants in the Elqui Valley

The little church in Pisco Elqui, the little village at the heart of the valley

We did not manage to do the tour, but guess that they used to keep Pisco in this large barrel, now turned into a kiosk.

Street Art in Pisco Elqui

These road side memorials are all over the place, some of them massive, this one was to a young couple(19 & and 20) who died 2 years ago


Another fabulous sunset, camped on another beach

And here we are on the beach (the previous shot was taken from our camp spot.

A while since we have been able to feature a real wild animal, this fox spent ages just along the beach basking in the sun 

The coastal road we took

Looking back the way we came

Another feature Ive not included for a while. We did not see any Lamas, but I am sure they could have wandered across the road if there had been any

But Cactus??? Beyond me!

Chis buys a fish fresh off the boat

and the guy fillets it for her.

We pump someones tyre up for him

The view from our roof tent at another beach stop

And Chris enjoys a platter of Scallops, this is a speciality and has melted parmesan 

15 Apr 2017

Winter is Coming

It is a little like when we headed south from autumn in Russia back to summer in Southern Kazakhstan, after which autumn chased us right across the Stans and finally caught up with us just before we left Uzbekistan and within a few days were well in the grip of winter. This time we arrived in Buenos Aires at the end of their summer and by the time we had crossed Argentina and into the wine region of Chile there were autumn colours in the trees. But now we are 500 miles north  and back into summer again. But other than a few days of rain the only real difference is how cold it is at night. Most days have been hot and sunny, and the sun does not go down until 19.30, but once the sun goes down it gets cold, just not quite as cold up here as it was further south.
 We have now finally stopped for a few days, camped on a beach within walking distance of a small town called Tongoy and I am taking advantage of a little cloud cover to bring the blog up to date.

After leaving the lake we headed for the main wine region, the Cochagua Valley. Just before we left we took Jenna and the grand kids out to dinner and noticed that the wine came from the Colchagua Valley and 3 weeks later we were here! We looked unsuccessfully for a while for somewhere to camp, then noticed a ‘wild camp’ on IOverlander that was not a wild camp at all, but the car park of a winery where they have allowed Overlanders to stay in their car park and turns out to be one of the largest winery’s in the valley, just outside Santa Cruz. By the time we arrived we were too late to do a tour, but they were quite happy for us to camp in the staff car park and as we went back to move the truck a French couple arrived in a Toyota Hilux with an identical roof tent and they came  to join us and had a very enjoyable evening together.
The following day the only English speaking tour available was at 10.30, which was a little early considering it included 5 glasses of wine, but it was an excellent tour, in a wagon drawn by 2 large hoses (Whiskey and Banana) and certainly set the tone for the day. Having decided that 5 glasses of wine (albeit quite small ones) was to much to carry on they were happy for us to stay another night, so we had lunch in their café, spent a very pleasant afternoon in the garden, drinking wine with a Chilean couple who spoke English. We showed them pictures of where we had been and he could not believe that the truck in the pictures was actually there in the car park and insisted on walking down to see it (and take a few photos) and could not have been more excited if it was a Ferrari!
That evening we decided to go the whole hog and eat in their restaurant, an excellent meal, with of course another excellent bottle of wine.
Next day was Sunday, and we were debating whether to go to the beach or head for Santiago, but first went to the bank in Santa Cruz for some cash. For the second time in the Americas the windows sign came up and the cashpoint shut down! It came up a few minutes later, but had eaten my card! So decision made we went to the beach.
The beach was not overly inspiring and a little windy so we staid the night and headed back to the bank in Santa Cruz. Thinking it would be open until at least 3 we stopped for lunch and arrived at 2.30, to find it closed at 2! However, there were still staff in the bank and eventually persuaded one of them to open the door, so that Chris could show him the text she had translated on the Ipad turns out he was the manager and went straight to the cash point, opened it and pulled out 8 or 9 cards with mine on the top, I showed him my driving licence and he handed over the card.
As that cash point was now out of order we crossed the road to another bank, which made no charge to withdraw (before eating my card the other cashpoint was going to charge £5 for the privilege, so double win.
From here we drove to a truck stop outside Santiago, 2 miles from the main distribution centre for Cooper tyres, where we had two new tyres fitted the following morning. We then spent a wasted afternoon looking for replacement parts after our accident, as we had been told by a number of sources that you could find any part for any car in a particular street Santiago – except that is a 1994 Land cruiser. We did find someone who said he could manufacture the wheel arch from the broken parts (we had collected off the road) but could not do it for a week, so having now seen enough of Santiago we headed out and stopped in another truck stop.
The next day we drove around Valparaiso and along the front at Vina Del Mar, which has a very nice beach, with nicely manicured gardens and tracks for walkers and cyclists, but very built up and the nearest camp site some miles in land and expensive, so we staid one night and headed north for 230 miles to where we are now and at last found somewhere we want to stay for a few days.
The 230 miles was mostly on motorway, but we did come off briefly to stop at a tiny fishing village and had lunch at the only restaurant. As we tried to decipher the menu on a chalk board with the waitress a woman diner handed a phone to the waitress for her son to translate for us, turned out the son worked for the Hyatt Hotel! Iv’e no idea where!
These are the joys of travel, the new experiences encountered on the way. At this camp site you pay separately for showers. I went to Reception to pay yesterday and was then accompanied to a row of showers and told which one to use, I knew I had 5 minutes so quickly went in and undressed and then realized there was no tap anywhere to be seen. As I considered what do do next there was a shout from behind the shower, followed by Allez?, I said SI and the water came on!

For those that don’t realise, the title ‘Winter is coming’ is from Game of Thrones, which Sarah would come out with in a northern accent at random intervals and since her mother told her she was born in a storm she now thinks she is the Mother of Dragons – you’ll just have to watch it -

Twin tents in the Winery Car Park

Our Carriage Awaits
and our guide ushers us up into the wagon
1000's of litres of wine  in the first stages

Its been almost 50 years since I left school and finally I see a bunsen burner in action!

These large concrete eggs are used because they allow air  through the concrete

and 1000's of Oak barrels where they stay for 18 months

Chris scales the wagon for the next leg

and finally the wine tasting

and buy 4 bottles of Cab Sav (I am going to try and bring 2 home - we'll see!

We say goodbye to Sarah and Romain

She may not look it, butChris was enjoying it really!

The brown leaves of autumn

Valporaiso from the beach at Vina del Mar

I find an old school chair for a beer in the sun at the camp site and a new friend

The little fishing village

Where we stop for lunch

Chris patches the duvet cover that had sprung a few holes

Bright blue skies and warm sunshine during the day, but we put the bottom room on (for the first time since we left the UK for New York), as it is cool at night and we plan to stay a few days

6 Apr 2017

We arrive in Chile

We arrived in Chile yesterday lunchtime (14 days after landing at Buenos Aires) and we love it already, after finding a wonderfully peaceful camp site by a beautiful lake and having a meal cooked by us for the owner accompanied by an excellent bottle of local wine.

The drive across the Andes was wonderful, fantastic scenery and very smooth road. The map showed it as an unmade road, but it has recently been surfaced and except for the odd rough diversion (where the road or a bridge had collapsed) it was very good, which meant we made good time to the border.

We chose to cross at Talca, a couple of hundred miles below the main crossing to Santiago, after tales of 11 hour waits at the border, which was at over 3000m. The way we went there was around 40 miles between the Argentine border post and Chile, both at around 1800m and took 20 minutes at the Argentine side and 40 into Chile, including a pretty thorough search (where they confiscated Chris's Garlic and Cardamom seeds- apparently it is OK to take spices as powder but not as the full seed, so at least she was able to keep most of her spices).

The story so far - When we returned to the UK last November we had hoped to get back on the road in January, but no such luck. The operation to check the cancer got the all clear again but I had some heart issues as they were about to give me the anaesthetic which required various tests. I have had an erratic heart beat for 17 years but it suddenly went into overdrive. However, by mid March I was given the all clear to travel (with a couple of extra pills to keep the heart in check) and here we are!

We landed in Buenos  Aires on Chris's birthday and planned to go to the steak restaurant we ate at first time (where they cut the steak with a spoon) but we couldn't find it! However, we had booked our usual apartment for 2 days and the second day we finally made the open topped bus, had a wonderful beer in the sun just outside Recoleta Cemetery (where Eva Peron is buried) and then finally found the steak restaurant for an excellent steak.

Next day we took the ferry to Colonia and Sandra helped us buy a couple of batteries for the cruiser (when we left we had some electrical issues with the lights so Sandra took it to an auto electrician for us but had a problem with one of the batteries and the auto electrician pronounced it dead).

But our battery issues did not end there, when I switched the leisure batteries on they too were flat and would not charge. I spent the next day in a near by camp site swapping batteries around and charging them seperately and the second battery charged OK so installed this as the main battery and left the other disconnected and we were up and running OK. The weather was absolutely gorgeous so was no real hardship and that evening went for a beer in the sun in the harbour and another gorgeous sunset.

The drive across Argentina was hot and sunny for the first half and torrential rain for the second. We had a day off in Cordoba and spent much of the time dodging heavy showers, but as we approached Chile the sun came out again and we drove across the Andes and bright sunshine.

The drive was not without incident,  whilst driving through a gorge, 2 days before crossing into Chile we were at the end of a slow line of traffic and a car coming the other way veered across the double yellow lines, side swiped us and carried on going!!! We stopped  and found we had suffered comparatively little damage, having a couple of small dents and scuffs and having lost half a wheel arch (which meant also having to remove the mud flap which, whilst in tact, was now dangling by one screw). After 15 minutes or so we doubled back in case the other car had stopped round the corner, it had not, but a few minutes later a car coming the other way (with its driver mirror dangling) blowing its horn so we stopped and it caught up. The damage to the other car was extensive, but we swapped insurance details and carried on! I emailed the agent with all the details and he has passed them on to the insurance company, so we will see if anything comes of it.

So, here we are in sunny Chile (it was cloudy this morning but the sky is clearing with the promise of
 a gorgeous afternoon).

We take the open top bus round Buenos Aires

Visit Recoleta Cemetery

Stop for a beer in the sun close to the cemetery

The famous steak cut with a spoon

Friday was a public holiday in Argentina and it looked like the whole country was out demonstrating against the Government.

Many of the roads had been used as bus parks and were solid with buses for 100's of metres

A beer in the sun on our first day back with the truck

And another the next evening on a beach just up the coast

We walk the streets of a wet Cordoba, between the showers

Damage done by a car crossing the double yellow lines in the middle of the road.

There car came of worst!

We take a detour on a dirt road south of San Raphael

Not far from Chile

We stop for lunch in no mans land between the border posts

And carry on into Chile

A Gaucho just disappearing over a hill following his cattle
The view from the camp site the jetty in the foreground shows where the lake should come to after the winter snow has melted.