Colourful mountains

Gekleurde bergenBefore we start our road trip with Ton and Marijke through Chile and Argentina, we first take a moment to catch our breath. Peter and I take a rest from riding to Santiago and Ton and Marijke from their long flight to Chile. At the campsite just outside Santiago where we made camp, we take our time to catch up. At first while enjoying a cup of coffee, but before we know it is time to open the red wine. Although we had been in contact regularly through e-mail and Skype, we still have enough to tell each other. And it is quite different to hear those stories while they are sitting at the table with us, instead of on a computer screen. It is well after midnight when we turn of the light that evening.

The next day we start preparing our trip. Peter focuses on the motorbikes. This time it is his bike that can use some TLC, because he needs new steering head bearings. A tough job, especially since the front of the bike has to be taken apart entirely. Fortunately, he also knows how to put everything back together! Meanwhile Ton and Marijke are busy in the campervan, their home for the next few weeks. The campervan is basically a large pickup truck with a camper in the back. From the outside it does not seem very big, but it has space for a double bed, a kitchenette, a sitting area and even a shower. The camper is quite old and -as a compensation- had been placed on a brand new Volkswagen Amarok. When they picked up the car in Santiago it had only done a few kilometers. While Marijke is busy storing away their luggage in the camper, Ton is getting to know the car.

Gekleurde bergenWe do some shopping and use the internet to send messages home. By the time the bottle of wine is back on the table that night, we take a look at the map to make a route for the next few weeks. Peter and I usually decide where to go based on tips from other travellers and locals. They tell us which highlights should not be missed, what road we should definitely ride and where we can stay. We do not plan too far ahead, at most a few days to a week, so we are free to change our plans anytime. We did get some good tips about the north of Chile and Argentina, but not about the area where we are now. Fortunately Ton and Marijke have a few guide books, which they have read at home preparing the trip. With their books and the map on the table, we make a rough itinerary. We cannot immediately go to Argentina, because the paperwork for the brand new car is not ready yet. In anticipation of those documents we will first stay in Chile a few days.

We are lucky to find a large number of national parks in Chile, where we cannot only see a beautiful scenery, but where we can also camp. The first park we go to is Parque Nacional La Campana, which is known for an ancient forest with palm trees. The next day the weather is lovely, the sun is shining and there is a nice breeze. A good day to ride. The area where we are is very green and must be fertile. We drive past endless vineyards and orchards full of fruit trees. We do not have lots of opportunities to stop and take pictures, because we drive on a busy main road and even large stretches on the highway. Gekleurde bergenIt does allow us to get used to each other and to find out what speed we have to drive to stay together.

At the end of the afternoon we arrive at the entrance of the park. On the sign near the gate we see a note: “Camping cerrado. Solo ingreso por el dia”. Our Spanish still is not great, but we do understand this: the campsite is closed and the park can only be visited during the day. How about that! It is the only camping in the area and it is already too late to keep riding. Ton and Marijke could camp at the entrance of the park in the camper if they need to, but this is not a good place to pitch our tent. We decide to take a look in the park anyway. Perhaps the rangers can tell us where we can find another campsite. We drive through the gate and stop after few kilometers at a closed barrier. The ticket office of the park is already closed.

When we get off the bikes and take a look on foot, a man approaches us from another building. He is a security guard. He asks how we got inside, because the main entrance should have been closed. We tell him that the gate was open and mention we would like to spend the night at the campsite. He says right away that this is not possible. The site is closed, because the risk of forest fires is very high due to the drought. He refers us to the campsite at the other side of the park which is still open. Gekleurde bergenWe had already seen that site on the map, but had also seen that we would have to drive around the park to get there, which is quite a long trip. This would mean that we would have to drive in the dark, something we never do. Moreover, all four of us are pretty tired after the long day of riding.

We ask if he cannot make an exception for us. We have a toilet on board of the campervan and plenty of water, so the only thing we need is a place to park and pitch our tent. At first he will have none of it. But when he sees my tired face, he mentions that we probably cannot get out of the park anyway, because by now the main gate will be closed. If we promise not to use open fire and to leave the park the next morning at eight o’clock, just before the rangers arrive, we can stay. He even shows us how we can open the water in the toilet block so we are able to go to the toilet and to take a shower! How nice!

We follow his directions and follow a nice path through the park to the campsite. We find a beautiful campsite, tucked away between the palm trees. The huge palm trees stick out above the rest of the trees and gently rustle in the breeze. The birds are singing cheerful tones and from the bushes we hear the sound of chirping crickets. Those are the only sounds we hear. No speeding cars, no loud music and no barking dogs. The toilet block is a bit far away and can only be reached after a hike through the woods. Gekleurde bergenAs the sun goes down Peter pitches our tent and Marijke and I prepare dinner. The first stars are already in the sky as we sink down in our chairs with a sigh to have dinner. What a wonderful place, shame we cannot stay another night.

The next morning, it is 06:00 when the alarm rings. We have no time to snooze, because we have to start packing. We would not want our “savior” to get in trouble if we are too late. A little before eight o’clock we are back at the barrier. We thank the guard extensively and then drive back to the main entrance, where we park just outside the gate. We are setting the table to have breakfast, when the first ranger arrives at the gate on his moped. He looks somewhat surprised, but kindly greets us and then rides on. That went well.

It is still early when we leave after breakfast in the direction of the second nature park that we want to visit. Today we ride on another legendary road: the Pan American Highway. It is not really one road, but more a system of roads that form a straight line across North, Central and South America. From Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the far south. A route that is followed by many travellers during their road trip through the Americas. And we obviously also want to ride a part of the “Pan-Am” during our trip, even though the stretch we are riding today is not really legendary. Gekleurde bergenIt is a two lane highway, where we even have to pay toll! We ride straight into the wind, are overtaken by other traffic at high speed and can hardly see anything of the scenery around us. The road is useful to get north quickly, but it really is no fun riding here. It is therefore no punishment when we can leave the highway at the end of the afternoon to ride some smaller roads more inland.

Our final destination for today is National Park Los Chinchillas, a small park in the dry, desert-like hills where Chinchillas live in the wild. Once we enter the park we are immediately alerted for crossing ’wildlife’. Although the chances that the little creatures will cross the road are small, because they are mainly active at night. We are welcomed by a ranger who shows us where we can camp. He offers to give us a tour and tell us about the Chinchillas. We change into shorts, pitch the tent and follow the ranger to the visitors center.

In the darkened room a number of Chinchillas are held in spacious pens. They are cute animals, with big ears, round beady eyes and a long furry tail. They have a beautiful coat, which I desperately want to pet. And it is this coat that is the reason that there are almost no Chinchillas in the wild, because for a long time they were hunted for their fur. What a shame. Gekleurde bergenAfter the tour we take a seat on one of the benches outside, from where we can also see plenty of animals: countless birds and a family of foxes. They are cheeky little animals, that keep getting closer during the afternoon until they can almost steal our food from our plates when we are eating.

The next morning the alarm goes off early again. This time not because we want to avoid meeting the ranger, but because we want to leave before it gets too hot. The nights and the mornings are quite chilly, but once the sun has dissolved the fog it is immediately very hot. We leave early and drive through the hilly area to the north. On the dry hills are countless cactuses, the one even bigger than the other. Some with beautiful red flowers and all of them with spines like huge toothpicks. It is particular how small birds can land on top of such a cactus without hurting themselves on the sharp points.

Mid-afternoon, after about after 250 km, we find a spot on a campsite not far from the coast. Once the tent is pitched, we put the chairs in the shade and get a cold drink from the fridge of the camper. After that we just sit there, because it is far too hot to move. And that heat also is the reason why, after only three days of riding, we need another rest day. So we take one. The next day we stay in our beds until the sun shines on our tent. We all take a seat in the shade and go from breakfast and coffee, to lunch and dinner without getting up out of our chairs too often. When at the end of the day the sun is down, it cools down and even becomes a bit chilly. Gekleurde bergenPeter and I would normally go into the tent and crawl into our sleeping bags, but now we have ‘neighbours’ with a camper! If we squeeze in we can just sit in the cozy camper. A great place to end our day of ’doing nothing’ with a drink.

The next day we do hit the road, this time for a day trip to the third nature park in a row: Bosque de Frey Jorge. The park lies on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and is very special because here you can find both a dry arid plain, and a lush green rainforest. Two extremes, which are separated only by a ridge which runs parallel along the shore. The hills block the mist from the sea, where -as a result of the rain- a forest of ferns, moss and ancient trees grow. From the campsite we follow the highway north, but soon turn onto a dusty gravel road further towards the coast. It is a desert-like area with lots of cactuses and herds of goats and sheep. It reminds us of Morocco and it is just as warm. It is only 30 km to the entrance of the park, but because of the poor state of the road it takes us an hour to get there. Gekleurde bergenAt the entrance of the park we buy ticket and we register with the ranger. To get to the rainforest, we first have to ride up the steep hill. We can already see the road, that looks challenging.

The gravel road into the park is even worse than outside, with lots of bumps and holes. There is a powdery layer of dust on the road, so the holes are not visible. Very treacherous. On the steep sections we occasionally have to change to the first gear. For Ton this is definitely a bigger challenge. The car is a 4×4 and pretty strong, but he also has to take up a lot of weight with the camper in the back. And the campervan is much wider than we are on the bikes, which sometimes proves difficult with oncoming traffic. After some exciting moments, especially on the steep sections, he manages to drive all the way up. Very impressive!

Gekleurde bergenOnce we are at the parking area we exchange our riding gear for shorts and start with a hike through the park. First on the dry side of the hill, that is filled with cacti, aloe vera and various succulents. And then on the seaside of the park. It is a relief to walk through the shady woods, especially with the breeze from the sea. As avid photographers, all four of us have a camera with which we walk through the forrest to capture all the special flowers and plants. After the walk, we drive back to the campsite.

The next morning we receive an email from the rental company to tell us that the papers of the campervan are ready. Good news, because that means we can now go to Argentina whenever we want. We bend over the map and make a route for the next few days. We decide to ride to the Paso de Agua Negra and to cross the border there. It is a gravel road, which is open only in summer and with 4,753 m the highest border crossing between the two countries. Several travellers had advised us to ride the high pass and had described the route as a highlight of their trip!

Gekleurde bergenThe next morning we first drive to Ovalle where we print all the border papers for the car. Now we have all the documents, we leave the highway and drive through the valley of the Rio Hurtado towards Vicuña. The sun is shining and it is already is quite hot. When we stop to have lunch we usually try to find a spot with some shade. But that is a hopeless quest here, because on the hills around us we can only find low bushes and slim cactuses. Instead, we all sit in the narrow strip of shade that comes from the camper. After moving the camper four times, Ton manages to park the car in such a way that we have just enough shade. Armed with a hat and sunglasses and plenty of water we can have lunch there.

The route through the valley is very beautiful. Although the hills are barren and dry, it is very green in the valley. We drive past vineyards, fruit trees, eucalyptus trees and swaying poplars. Just after Ovalle a gravel road starts. The road is narrow and winds through small authentic villages with colourful houses and gardens full of flowers. Ton and Marijke are fully enjoying the ride. Ton steers the big car over the winding road, while Marijke makes a lot of pictures from the passenger seat.

Gekleurde bergenThe road is in good condition, but because of the many turns and bumps we cannot ride very fast. When we stop to discuss the route, we happen to have stopped in front of the sign of a campsite. It is still very hot and we have all had enough for today. The next village is still a long way and at this rate we would arrive there very late. We drive down to see if we can stay at the campsite. We are welcomed by a small, elderly man in a neat white pants, a shirt, loafers and a nice summer hat. It is a charming man with a slightly mischievous smile. He shows us the camping and the lagoon where we can swim. Everywhere are flowers and benches from which you can see the high cliffs, very beautiful. We really like it and decide to stay here. Once the tent is pitched, Peter and I take a refreshing dip in the lake, while Ton closes his eyes to take a nap (still behind the wheel of his car).

The route through the valley of the Rio Hurtado is part of the Ruta de las Estrellas, the route of the stars. The air in this area is very clean and the nights are cloudless 300 nights of the year. Because there is hardly any light pollution either, it is the perfect place to watch the stars. It is not wither a reason that the world’s largest telescopes are located here in Chile. And it is indeed beautiful. The longer we sit outside that night, the more stars we see. Some constellations become almost impossible to detect because they are snowed under by thousands of other bright spots.

Gekleurde bergenWhile we are enjoying the starry sky, it appears that all four of us would like to stay another day in this place. The campsites we stayed at the last few night were not very good. We did find some beautiful spots, like at the palm trees and the chinchillas, but the sanitary facilities were very poor. Cold water for showering or even no water at all and filthy toilets. Peter and I hardly notice anymore, but for Ton and Marijke it is definitely different from the standard they are used to on European campsites. Here in Hurtado, at the campsite of the charming old man, everything is very clean. And if we want to take a shower, he lights the stove for hot water. Moreover, it is a nice place to stay in the shadow of the big pepper trees in the valley. The freedom that Peter and I look for during our trip, also means that you can stay an extra day in places like this. Not because you want to rest, but just because it is nice here.

The only “problem” is that we ate most of our food over the last days and we hardly have any ingredients for a proper meal. The old man had already told us that we cannot get a lot of groceries in the village, certainly no fresh vegetables. Marijke and I put everything we have out on the table. With a little improvisation we can still make one tasty meal with this. If we then have a big breakfast, with an extra spoon of oats, and we only eat soup for lunch, we will get through the day. Perfect, this means we can stay! We use the extra day to drink coffee, read a book, take pictures of the many parrots and to swim in the lake. Really great. If we would have had more food, perhaps we would have stayed a few more nights.

Gekleurde bergenThe next day we pack our stuff and we continue our route through the valley of the Rio Hurtado. From the campsite the route leads up into the hills, away from the river. We leave the green valley behind us and therefore also the small villages. You will only find houses and crops here near the water. All that remains is nature. And although it is barren and dry, there is still plenty of life to be found. Beautiful plants, all kinds of birds and lizards, and in the deep sand beside the road we even see traces of a puma!

Halfway through the afternoon we arrive in Vicuña, a larg town with a nice center and a huge supermarket. This is quite different from the corner store in Hurtado where we bought some drinks this morning. While Peter and Ton watch the motorbikes and the campervan, Marijke and I walk through the supermarket to stock up on food and drinks. If we find another great place like the old man’s campsite, we certainly want to have enough food to be able to stay. For the first time since Peter and I were in South Africa -where my father traveled with us in a big car- I do not have to think about the weight and size of the groceries, because it is all going in the campervan. A few extra bottles of wine and an extra packet of spaghetti, we can take it all. The most luxurious thing is that we now have a refrigerator again and can enjoy cheese, yogurt and cold beers! In addition to all of this, we buy a lot of water and lots of fruits and vegetables. After an hour we leave the shop with a overloaded cart.

At the tourist office in Vicuña we inquire about a campsite where we can stay. The man refers us to a swimming pool that also has some camping spots. We find the pool just outside the center. It is particularly busy. Not surprising since it is summer and the holidays have started for the Chileans. There is one camping spot available, but the campervan cannot get there. The alternative is that the campervan remains in the parking lot and we pitch our tent beside the camper on the soccer field. It is not ideal, but we decide to stay anyway, because it was the only campsite in the area. Gekleurde bergenWhile we pitch our tent we think back with nostalgia at the idyllic spot we left this morning and remember the smile of the friendly owner.

From Vicuña it is still 150 km to the border with Argentina and from there another 90 km to the first village on the Argentine side. A lot of it is on a gravel road and in addition we also have to cross a high pass. A big trip, for which we want to take enough time. After dinner, we set the alarm for 05:30 and we crawl into our tent. And while we are in bed early, we do not get a lot of sleep. The entire evening cars drive in and out the parking area and people walk around the bikes and our tent. It is difficult to get some sleep when you are listening with one ear whether people are not stealing your motorbike. Just as it is a bit more quiet, a car parks next to our tent. A group of noisy boys and girls get out. They fire up a barbecue and put on some music on the sound system they brought. It now is well after midnight. OK, we knew that dinner time in South America is a lot later than in the Netherlands, but this is absurd late. While we lie in our bed, that is shaking on the rhythm of the music, Peter slowly starts losing his patience. He goes outside to ask if the music can be turned down.

From the tent I can hear them talk, after which the music is put down. But he is not even back in the tent yet, when the volume is opened again. Peter goes back to the group and this time he turns the music down himself. Gekleurde bergenThat is not appreciated and creates a grim atmosphere in which he is nose to nose with one of the boys in the group. Peter then goes to the owner of the campsite. He reassures Peter that he does not want the music to be this loud either and tells the boys to turn their music down. It helps about fifteen minutes, because the music is turned on again and can be heard all over the campsite. In the Netherlands, someone would have called the police by now to complain about the noise, but that is not the case here. We really are the only ones who think this is ’antisocial’ and we realize that this is an actual cultural difference we just have to get used to. We put in earplugs and try to get some sleep.

When the alarm goes off the next morning, we have both only slept a few hours. We begin to pack our things because we want to leave early. And as well-behaved Dutch we usually do that very quietly, but today we cannot put in the effort of whispering. And just before we go, we cannot help to let the bikes idle for a while to get warm. Still with a slight blush on the cheeks.

Just after sunrise we drive off the campsite. It is still nice and chilly in the shade in the valley and even a bit hazy. And very quiet on the road. After 80 kilometers we arrive at the customs office of Chile. For Ton and Marijke it is their first border crossing with all the associated paperwork. The papers that were sent by the rental company are in order and before we know it everything is stamped. Until now we drove on a perfect new asphalt road, but now the gravel road begins. Gekleurde bergenAnd we immediately also ride in the dust. If we pass oncoming cars, we can sometimes not see anything for a few seconds. But once the dust then settles, the view is magnificent!

We drive through a valley that is flanked by beautiful yellow, brown and orange coloured mountains. The further we drive into the valley, the higher the mountains are. At first just round bumps with a lot of stones, but soon we ride passed the rugged rock formation with the most beautiful forms. The colours are very beautiful. From deep black and dark red to pale yellow and pale green and amidst of that a deep blue lake. The sun is shining and lights up the colours even more. It is truly breathtaking!

The road is in good condition and wide enough to stop and take pictures. The road keeps climbing and by the time we stop for lunch, the GPS indicates that we are at 3,200m. We can feel that we have already climbed a lot. The road then leads away from the river and continues to climb with several hairpin bends. Gekleurde bergenThe further we ascend, the more trouble we get with the altitude. The motorbikes also seem to struggle. The engine itself is still running smoothly but they have a lot less power. We only use the first three gears, and on the steep sections only second gear. The road becomes more narrow and in some places is no more than a flat ledge where they have pushed away some gravel. As if the road is carved into the mountain. The view from the high pass over the coloured rocks, the deep valley and the snow fields is great. It is a definate highlight!

After 165 km from Vicuña we reach the top of the pass at 4,753 m, and the border between Chile and Argentina. We are already 6.5 hours on the road. Ton and I now are considerably affected by the altitude. I have a headache, am a little woozy and do not seem to be able to find my words. An uncomfortable feeling, especially because I still have to ride my motorbike down. So no extensive photoshoot, but a few snaps and then quickly continue to ride down. With every 100 meters we descend I feel a little better, but only once we are below 3000m I feel OK again.Gekleurde bergen We have been in Argentina for a while, but only arrive at the customs office after 85 km.

We have our documents stamped and just when we want to ride on a man comes after us. He wants to check our bags and the camper for the fruits and vegetables! We had not thought of that! During all those times that Peter and I crossed the border between Argentina and Chile in the south, we were only checked for food when entering Chile. And as these things go, we are now checked after we have just filled the fridge with fresh fruits and vegetable yesterday! We ask the man if he allows us to cook and eat the food here. We can.

We park the bikes and the campervan next to the customs office. Peter and Ton take out the table and chairs and make themselves comfortable. Meanwhile, Marijke and I think about what we will cook. And strangely enough, we suddenly have a very different ’problem’, because we now have to make a tasty meal with as many vegetables as possible. In the end we make a starter of avocado, a main course of pasta with enough vegetables to meet the recommended daily allowance four times and a dessert of plums. We eat until we are completely stuffed and then show the man the peels of the vegetables. It is OK, we can enter Argentina.

Gekleurde bergenIt is about five o’clock when we arrive in the small town just after the border and look for a campsite. Unfortunately that is not so easy. We can only camp on a lawn at the gas station. We are now almost 10 hours on the road and very tired. Riding to the next village with the risk that we cannot find any campingspot there either, seems like a bad idea. And well, after all the adventures of the last days with dirty toilets, cold showers and illegal camping, we can do this as well!

And so the first 1250 km are on the odometer of the brand new Volkswagen camper and we have had some good adventures already! Next time more of Argentina with Ton and Marijke.

Distance to the gas station in Las Flores: 46,370 km (28.813 miles)

Click here for photos!

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| Leonie | Argentinië, Chile, ZUID-AMERIKA

3 Reacties (Comments) - Colourful mountains

  1. Celine en Leon

    We lopen een beetje achter, maar wat een leuk verhaal weer van het meneertje, de poema en de guitige chinchilla’s :) dikke kus!

  2. Anja

    Wauw,ben al een week aan het lezen over jullie prachtige reisavontuur. T Is werkelijk schitterend wat jullie allemaal zien en meemaken. Ik blijf jullie met plezier volgen,en hoop dat jullie een veilige voortzetting hebben.

  3. Jan en Mariët

    En wij vonden Noorwegen al zo ruig…..
    Prachtige foto’s weer en en genot om jullie avonturen te lezen!! Dikke