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Uspallata, 80kms over border in Argentina 6.5.15

May 6, 2015

Near Los Vilos, 300kms North f Santiago. 1.5.15

Joan had a ball yesterday. The suburb of Santo Dominico at the end of the red Metro line has, in our estimation, the best grouping of top quality artisenal shops and stalls we have seen. There would be 30–40 shops showing works from various parts of Chile, many being made on the premises. All are of excellent quality. Buying gifts is difficult as the choice is so varied. We spent a good four hours there, even I, who abhors shopping, was taken aback by the choice on offer. it is a place we will return to next time in the city.

The bakkie has a new lease on life. It purrs smoothly on the autoroutes and will, I’m sure, take on the worst and steepest tracks with ease. Apart from the steering problem being rectified, Augusto and his crew repaired and strengthened a cracked chassis, put a new flexible part in the muffler silencing most of the embarassing noise, rectified brake problems as well as giving the old girl a thorough service. It was not cheap but it should see us through our next trip with little maintenance. We have done over 110,000kms in the bakkie since we bought it in 2010. The initial outlay has proven money well spent.

We enjoyed our stay in Santiago and makes us realize the necessity to have some fold up bags that we can chuck things in quickly when we feel like a little more luxury. Walking into a hotel with our essentials in a few shopping bags is a little downputting.

The Mito Hotel was a good choice and Carolina and Oscar great managers.

Oscar pointed our some areas to the north he felt were worth visiting and so we headed that way when leaving this morning. We will visit some of the places he mentioned before crossing back into Argentina by way of the 4750 metre Agua Negra Pass. That will test the old girl.

Where we are tonight is metres from the wild Pacific where 7 metre waves are pounding the shore. There was an amazing sunset I think partially to the clouds of ash in the atmosphere from the volcano erupting further south. We went around the base of that volcano after leaving Puerto Montt a couple of weeks back. All was quiet then of course. It is the area I mentioned being settled by German immigrants.

Valle Del Encanto. Near Ovalle. Central Chile. 3.5.15

The fresh water springs in this valley would have been a major meeting place for the Indian tribes over the centuries. Many of the rocks have petroglyphs and pictoglyphs covering their surface. They date back from about two thousand years up to 700 AD.  Some of the figures look like extra terrestials but Clemente, the guard, reckons the carvers were high on coca when they did their work. It is a beautful valley, enchanted as the name suggests. Pepper trees shade the streams leading from the springs while just above these the stark cactus-covered hills take over leaning towards the azure sky. It was not the intention to stay a night here but something about this place, mystical perhaps, made us feel we should, that it would be an experience we would remember. In Namibia, a few years back one night we camped under some quiver trees, the trees the Bushmen use for their arrow quivers, and the same feeling occurred then. I am sure there are places in Australia tha affects people the same way.

It is quiet. The little birds have stopped their twittering, there is no sound to break the silence. A full moon throws shadows on the thorn covered trees. We will sleep well.

Tomorrow we hope to cross the Paso Agua Negra. The guide books say it usually closes in March/April. There has been no snow of late, we hope it stays that way for a couple more days.Yesterday, once we left the TransAmerican Highway the country became very interesting. This area is called the Little Desert, it has vegetation whereas the Atacama or Large Desert has none. Cacti cover many of the hills. many having this crimson red flower on their sides at the moment. There is a large Indian population here, the houses are gaudily painted, the yards are little more dishevelled than further south. It has a living feel to it. Oscar from the hotel recommended us visit the town of Cambarbala. A very pleasant place with Indian motifs on the toilets as well as on fountains in the main tree lined square. We decided to top up with provisions at the local Unimarc super mercardo along with everyone else in the town after a public hoiday when everything was closed. Still, it’s a good experience and we are pretty good now at gettinng what we want. Leaving the town the cactus covered hills soon gave way to vineyards and citrus orchards. It is high and dry and must be perfect for these and other crops.

El Molle, West of Vicuna. 4.5.15

The best laid plans and all that. I couldn’t get a definite answer at Ovalle whether the pass was open so we drove the 120kms to Vicuna, the largest town before the ascent begins to the Paso Agua Negra. The trouble was the Garmin put us onto a route that started asphalt but soon descended to gravel, not bad but the road itself was a continuous series of sharp bends and hairpins. There wouldn’t have been a 100 metre of straight road the whole trip. Throw in a couple of passes, the highest over 2000 metres and it was a real test for me. It took over 4 hours to cover the distance. Buses don’t travel the route and the only cars we saw were two at the end near Vicuna.

Well, after all that, the Gendarmerie informed us at Vicuna the pass was closed and wouldn’t open until November. All that driving for nothing. Though they did have nice ice creams at Vicuna. That leaves us with a 500km drive south to take the same crossing we came over on. At least the road is 4 lane all the way, we should be able to have an easy drive.

Chacagolo. North of Los Vilos. 5.5.15.

Well we’ve ended up at the beach where we stayed last Friday night. This time there is no sea mist and calmer seas though the monstrous seas of last week  have left a harvest for the kelp gatherers who were out in force today gathering the seaweed and laying it out to dry. I think they are from a nearby enclave of fishing shacks.

A frustrating day today. There was a reserve on the coast that sounded worth a visit. It was an area of forest created by a moist wind off the ocean that only occurred in this small area. The forests were in small pocket of about 400 hectares. It is similar to the forests we visited way down south and this in a landscape of barren desert. But 5 kms along the corrugated road was a sign saying it was closed. We missed a similar sign at the turnoff. Nearby was a thermal spring mentioned in the guide books, Termas Socos, with camping and its own heated pool for visitors. It was only a couple of kilometres off the highway but the gates were padlocked and despite the young bloke at the nearby hotel trying to get it opened for us, the camp owners were not interested. So we had to kiss the soak in a thermal pool goodbye and get back on the highway. Disappointing.

Chileans have made good use of the steady winds just north of where we are. For about 50 kms there is an endless array of wind turbines slowly rotating. It’s a good thing there’s no orange bellied parrots over here, they wouldn’t stand a chance. I would say there would be 3-400 of them at a guess. The land is desert with few people living in the area.

We had a visitor this afternoon not long after arriving. Martin, an Italian on his 125cc Honda he bought in Lima. Nice young bloke, fed up with the Italian rat race and heading to Cordoba to start a new life. His parents emmigrated from Argentina to Italy  and he has relatives in Cordoba He has been trying to get over the Andes ever since entering Chile from Peru but all the passes have been closed apart from one where he was told he had the incorrect papers. He will cross at the same one we will tomorrow.

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