Sunday, 26 April 2009, Santiago, Chile
Seven weeks after completing the Carretera Austral we are in Santiago, 'homeless', and preparing for the journey home. During these weeks our time has been spent primarily focussed on finding a buyer for the camper and truck, which have been our home and our carriage for just over 3 years. But not all of our time.
From the time we arrived in Puerto Montt, we had a for sale sign on the back of the camper, so Juergen was constantly answering enquiries from interested persons. These came by way of personal contact, where the interested party waited by the truck until we returned from wherever we were; from email enquiries; and eventually from telephone enquiries. It took some time for the latter because first we couldn't find anywhere to buy a prepaid card for our phone, then when we did buy one it wasn't activated correctly, but when we eventually got that sorted out, it rang fairly consistently. Needless to say, Juergen's Spanish has been improving dramatically since the beginning of this exercise.
A few days after we arrived in Puerto Montt, Kathy and Rick, our friends with a rig that wasn't functioning well at all, arrived from far down south by ferry. We wanted to be there for them when they finally arrived in Puerto Montt, with high hopes that the local Chevrolet dealer could succeed where others had failed. Once we had celebrated their arrival with Caspar, and found that Chevrolet was doing all the right things, we set off to visit Chiloe. This island is reached by ferry from Pargua, a town about 60 km south-west of Puerto Montt. We had expected to be more impressed by the island than we actually were. The countryside was not particularly outstanding - lots of farms and lots of fences, meaning it was difficult to find somewhere to park and sleep. The first night was spent at a mirador overlooking the town of Ancud. It appeared to be quite peaceful when we arrived, but appearances can be deceiving. As soon as it was dark, there was constant traffic coming and going all night. We don't know why, but we'll let you all imagine what you will. The weather also deteriorated overnight, becoming very cold with sharp winds. We drove on down the island and stopped in the main town of Castro to do some shopping, including trying to buy a phone card. Well, we were successful in the purchase, but the attendant was so impatient that she didn't activate it properly and we had to wait until we returned to Puerto Montt to actually have it functioning.
From Castro we drove south to Chonchi, and then turned towards the west coast. We were looking for somewhere quiet to stop and make up for the lack of sleep the night before. After driving endlessly past possible places, which were all fenced, we found a spot that Caspar had recommended - and then the adventure began. We turned left into a road towards the beach, and came to a water crossing. Caspar had told us there was one and that it wasn't very deep, so we went on through. It was actually quite a bit deeper than we expected and were initially really worried about it being salt water. It turned out to be fresh water, but an awful lot of it was dripping out from under the bonnet. Juergen was so worried about going back across it that he had difficulty sleeping in the perfect spot we found on the other side. To make matters worse, we were both coming down with yet another cold.
We decided to watch the level the next day to try to work out when it was at its lowest point - we assumed it was affected somehow by the tide. We marked the level and then went back to check every hour to see how much it had changed - it didn't seem to go down enough to be tide related and by mid-afternoon I decided to take a long walk to see if there was another way out. There wasn't. Around 5:00 Juergen went for another look and decided it was now or never, because he thought the water was coming up again. We prepared quickly then drove to the water's edge. Juergen was really worried that we may get water into the engine, which would destroy it, or that it would stall and we would be stuck there. In the end he just went for it and we got out the other side. The water did splash onto the bonnet and a little into the air filter, but it was still running and we hoped it would stay that way. We just parked where we were to spend the night. A while later Juergen saw a Toyota Hilux 4x4 attempt the crossing with some locals saying no, no, no - he reversed out again when it got to his bonnet!
In the morning I noticed from the window that the lagoon appeared to be lower, so I went to check it out before I even had my first coffee. I don't know where the water went, but overnight that terrible crossing we did the day before emptied itself almost completely, and then we got to see how deep it actually was! That day we drove back the way we had come and stopped for lunch in Chonch. We found it a very interesting town, with lots of tin or wooden houses in various states of repair. When driving through Castro we stopped to photograph the palafitos, which are houses built over the water, and very typical of Chiloe - we had just been too tired on the way down to pay more than passing attention to them. Then on to Ancud where we stayed in a campground for the night before returning to Puerto Montt the next day.
When we arrived back in Puerto Montt, we checked in with our friends at the Chevrolet dealer, and in the process again encountered the French Chavance family we have been meeting along the way. Kathy and Rick were waiting for a part from the USA but were quietly confident that it should do the trick. Although we had received more email enquiries about our vehicle, with no firm negotiations happening, we decided to start to move north. Our goal was Panguipulli in the Lake District, where the Australians we had met on the Carretera Austral live. On the way we stopped in Puerto Varas and Frutillar, both of which are towns originally settled by Germans. They are quite touristy and offer a lot of cafes and restaurants, with signs outside that they offer kuchen. In Puerto Varas we parked on the edge of the lake and had a fantastic view of the volcanos over the other side. We shared this amazing view with a German couple, Michael and Ingrid, who are travelling in a camper built on a Magirus Deutz 4x4 truck. We were so pleased to have had clear skies that evening because the next morning was completely shrouded in fog, which didn't clear until mid-afternoon. We tried some kuchen in Puerto Varas but, I'm sorry, we can't recommend it!
Frutillar was more interesting for us. There is a German colonial museum run by the Southern University of Chile in the town. It proved to be very interesting, with old, reconstructed buildings. There is a farmhouse, a mill with water wheel, a huge barn with a lot of old machinery and vehicles on display, a blacksmith where a guy who speaks an interesting form of German will make you a souvenir horseshoe if you like, and all of it set in a really nice garden to walk through. And, unlike a lot of places, it was not expensive. Before leaving town we decided to try some kuchen again, this time at a restaurant called Guten Appetit. It was very good and quite faithful to the German style.
Later that day we arrived in Panguipulli to the farm of the Australians. They had a beautiful outlook over the lake and a view of yet another volcano across it. We had planned to stay some days to sort through things in the camper, and to do some much needed cleaning to prepare for selling and vacating our home. Unfortunately this didn't work out as we'd thought and we spent the rest of the week at a campground. This turned out very nicely. The weather was sunny most of the day - when the fog cleared - and we managed everything we wanted to.
By this time it was obvious that we would be returning to Puerto Montt. There had been various contacts with interested parties there, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to have a look at the truck and camper. The first appointment we had was with Gonzalo and Germán. We didn't know if they were two separately interested people or if there was a connection, so Juergen made two separate times for them. In the end they turned up together - Germán is married to Gonzalo's sister. Germán invited us to stay at their place which was a hectare of land where both families lived. They were so welcoming and hospitable that we stayed a week, despite the fact that Gonzalo, who already owned a motor home and quite a collection of other vehicles, decided that one more was one too many.
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