Parque Nacional Conguillío to Pucón

We were excited again to tackle another leg of our journey and after the necessary coffee and breakfast made in the van, followed by a quick stop at a grocery store, we hit the road.

We had mapped out a couple of route options the night before. As we worked out way south, we wanted to see something other than the Panamerican, so we opted to try a road of questionable quality that we thought might take us through some pretty countryside. As a complete bonus, it also happened to lead us through Parque Nacional ­Conguillío we had read about it in the guidebook and it sounded interesting, but we weren’t expecting much.P1060020 (1024x768)

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Salto del Laja

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…


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It was Friday. And we weren’t quite sure where we were going next, but we were happy to be ging somewhere. Over breakfast we figured out we wanted to make our way to Pichilemu, a surf town south of Valparaiso. We scouted a camping option there and it seemed like a good place for our first night sleeping in the van. So, after one last shower and gathering a few supplies, we made our way south.

We’ve already learned a few things about driving here. One: the maps we brought with us don’t do much, and the signage on the road doesn’t help much either. So our new navigation method is to route a course on the iPad when we have wifi and then pray that we don’t need to change our plans :) Second: unless we’re on the Panamerican highway which runs north to south through the center of the country, we probably won’t be going anywhere quickly.

Since we realized we wouldn’t be making good time anyway, we gave in and stopped at Vina Matetic, a winery on the outskirts of the Casablanca valley. We tasted a few wines sitting out on the patio while a group next to us shared a bottle over a game of cards. It was quite and sunny and a perfect first stop on our trip.

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Van Day!

Thursday morning I woke up feeling nervous. It was the day we were to pick up our van and, theoretically, start the trip that we thought we would have started a month ago.

Since deciding to take this trip we’ve learned a lot about how to ship a vehicle overseas. First we had to decide whether to do a Roll-On Roll-Off (or RORO), which means we hand over our vehicle and our keys at the dock, and then our vehicle takes a glorified ferry ride to our destination and we pick it up and hope that the person we handed our keys to didn’t call his cousins to come down and strip our vehicle of everything down to the copper wiring. Since we had hoped to load the van up with everything from camping equipment, to a spare tire, dishes, tools… we weren’t all that keen on providing the shipping company employees with complimentary access to all our worldly belongings. So, we decided against a RORO shipping option and instead chose to send our precious cargo in a 20 foot shipping container which would allow us to lock up the van and hold onto the keys until it reached Chile, presumably with all our stuff inside. A bit more expensive, but we thought it would be well worth it to arrive somewhat self-sufficient and with a few comforts from home.

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Vina del Mar

After a few days in Valparaiso, we were ready for a change of scenery and made plans to move a few miles up the road to the neighboring city of Vina del Mar. Since our boat was scheduled to arrive in a week, we were happy enough to stay nearby and explore the area a bit more. We also wanted to be close by in case we needed to take care of anything in advance – dealing with customs, meeting our shipping agent, or filing any paperwork. We don’t really know what to expect and staying close by gave us some peace of mind.

Once we checked out, our Airbnb host met us and offered us a ride to the metro station we wanted to reach. Since wandering around with our awkward luggage is anything but fun, we took him up on his kind offer and pretty soon we were on the metro making our way towards Vina del Mar. The violinist on the metro playing Christmas carols made my day :)

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Landing in Santiago again, we felt like total pros. We knew exactly where to go and what to do and the bus schedule and route… what a difference a couple of weeks make. We caught the bus from the airport, arriving at the bus station where we bought tickets found our platform and boarded a bus to Valparaiso, all in about 10 minutes. Total pros :) The bus trip out to the coast was an interesting glimpse into what the rest of our trip will be like.


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Silver Lining

While I’m beginning to think our van may never arrive, the silver lining here is that it feels like we have a luxurious amount of time to spend enjoying and exploring Santiago. The feeling almost doesn’t sit well – I feel equal parts guilty and fortunate to be able to just experience with little agenda. Maybe this is what travel should actually feel like?

Venturing a bit outside of the center we wandered to Barrio Brasil. What we found was a surprising mix of beautiful but crumbling buildings and beautiful street art, all seemingly begging for gentrification. This perfect little square, with its slightly decrepit fountain and cobblestones, surrounded by stately but slightly sad mansions, seemed to capture the feeling well:


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Day two we awoke to another sunny day. From our apartment we’re able to enjoy the sunrise over Cerro Santa Lucia, which is an absolutely decent way to start a morning. By the time we left Germany I had just barely recovered from jet lag and had started to get used to darkness arriving around 4:30pm. Now, arriving in Santiago, my body is a bit confused about what time it is and why it doesn’t get dark until around 9pm. For now, it’s nice to be up early to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.

Despite our insistence on lugging a dozen or so Lonely Planet books across the world, the cheesy tourism poster hung in our apartment has become our guide to Santiago.


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