Most of the planning we’ve done for our trip has been van-related: mechanical repairs, camping equipment, a few safety/customization projects (more on those later)… we’ve spent almost no time coming up with an itinerary. That’s somewhat on purpose, since we have no idea what the roads will be like, what bad weather might pop up, or what other unforeseen delays might arise. So while we were waiting for the van to arrive, we made a rough outline of our priorities for the overall trip. The big must-see sights, and must-do activities that were on our South American bucket lists, along with how long we thought it would take to do or see all those things, plus travel between. That gave us an idea of how long we should allocate to each country or region. In addition, we were planning to rendezvous with a couple of good friends and travel together to Bolivia and possibly further, which helped us set a deadline for our time in Chile. From there, we figured we would fill in the gaps with allllllll the other things that sounded awesome.
With that, our plan was to drive south. Until the continent ends. And then – turn around.
So we started doing just that. We chose Salto del Laja as our next destination: partly because the guidebook called it a mini-Iguazu Falls (you all know Iguazu was a hit with me), partly because it seemed like a reasonable distance for us to drive in one day, and partly because quite a few travelers who had completed trips similar to ours had documented positive camping experiences there.
So, we started the day with a nice breakfast at our first little campsite…
… and then away we went. With a top speed of about 63mph, and a realistic long-distance top speed of about 52mph, we were going nowhere fast, but we were doing it in style.
We made a pit stop at the point just south of town to check the waves and watched suffers climb out onto huge rocks before paddling out. I wished my little brother could have been there with us – he would have loved it.
We passed a few signs that seemingly pointed us back towards California…
And from there we meandered through a few coastal towns before turning inland and getting back on the Panamerican Highway heading south. Aside from stopping to get gas and make sandwiches, we powered through to Salto del Laja.
We had chosen our campsite, Las Manantiales, because it was off the main road and we figured it would be quiet. When we arrived, we discovered that they had three huge pools, each packed with families enjoying a cool dip on a hot day, and a couple of tour buses. One of the folks at receptions walked us down to see the campsites, and proceeded to share a lot of information about the bathrooms that I really couldn’t comprehend…. He tried over and over again using different words, and eventually gave us. We figured it would work fine anyway and we set up camp. The pools looked pretty tempting so before much else we decided to give them a try and changed into suits. Miraculously, when we wandered to the lowest pool, everyone was clearing out and we suddenly had the place to ourselves. Although we weren’t quite sure of the details, it looked like the pools were fed by the river (logically since the waterfalls were just down the road). We checked for creepy-crawlies, and found quite a few, but eventually opted for a section of the pool that seemed critter-free and jumped in to the icy water. It was freezing but felt awesome.
Feeling refreshed, we walked back into town to the waterfall. I don’t know if I would compare it to Iguazu, but they were certainly decently sized and we had fun getting soaked by the spray.
We treated ourselves to a fruit smoothie and wandered into the tourist information kiosk where we chatted with a super nice young man who explained the location of every supermarket in the area and then loaded us up with every map he had in the shop.
Even though the campground was crowded, I hadn’t expected that the resident peacocks would outnumber the people They were EVERYwhere, and they certainly weren’t shy. So, armed with maps and books, we sat outside and alternated between a bit of trip planning and a bit of watching the peacocks strutting around. There were also chickens (including a momma hen and her baby chicks) and pheasants wandering the grounds – we had a lot of fun taking it all in.
As has become pretty common, the night ended with fried-egg sandwiches for dinner and we called it a night.