We’ve covered some serious ground in our Overland travel lately, over 1500 miles to be exact! After some long, drawn-out email chains with the shipping company that will send Old Grey back to the states, we found she’s shipping from Buenos Aires early – nearly two weeks early.
It doesn’t seem like much time to cut from a year’s worth of travel in Latin America, but since we have the entire country of Argentina to explore, this new schedule change means we need to haul some serious ass and get to Argentina.
Overland travel is no easy feat, and we knew going in that it wouldn’t be a cake walk. This brazen style of exploring requires lots of round-the-clock critical thinking, stealth, a bit of luck, and an extreme tolerance for things that go awry. As is true with lifestyle travel in general, you can have the perfect plan in place for how you’d like things to go, only to see it change completely within an instant.
Frankly, we’ve been missing home a lot. Between this and dealing with struggles that are inescapable in Overlander life, we’ve had it a bit rough out here lately. However, for every bout of severe stress, there’s been equally positive experiences. This is the last chronicle of our Overland adventures in Chile – from middle to south.
WHAT’S UNAVOIDABLE IN OVERLAND TRAVEL? REPAIRS.
Typically, travelers are drawn to the historic colonial city of La Serena for its laid-back coastal feel, its museums of pre-Hispanic Chilean history, and a fetching colonial square. Despite being a place of history, La Serena is also well-developed and full of upscale housing complexes, casinos, and chain stores. Though it would have been nice to have more time to be bedazzled by it all, we sought this city out not for its sights, but for its development.
Old Grey is old, and like all machines she needs upkeep. We knew it was only a matter of time before we would have to replace a worn-out CV boot. In general, the CV boot is a rubber part that covers the joint between the axle and the wheel. This rubber “boot” keeps lubricant concealed on the joint, so that the joint can spin the wheel and propel you forward smoothly.
Old Grey had needed this repair for a while. Though it’s not an issue that is completely detrimental to a vehicle, we had put it off long enough. Especially since we’ve drove through tons of river crossings, dusty sands, bumpy 4WD roads, and harsh conditions that can easily destroy a CV.
Back home, such a repair can cost as much as several hundred dollars – not something we were looking forward to spend. But even in a colonial city like La Serena, there’s honest mechanics. One afternoon, Scott headed out on the search for a repair shop while I worked away on my freelancing gig back at camp. In just a few hours, he returned with a completed repair job and a healthier Old Grey.
It was astonishing to both of us – a repair that would have taken many hours or even days back home, one that would have cost us an arm and a leg, only took 3 hours and cost just $36 USD in La Serena. That’s for both the parts and the labor. Stroke of luck #1!
The Relief: Cactus Beach
With a threatening rain storm behind us now (so we thought), rolling our way south again truly seemed to calm our nerves. Still in the region of Chile that was experiencing spring time, greenery was exploding everywhere along the coastal highway of the Zona Central region.
Though it was spring here, the farther we would go south, the more winter we would encounter. After all, we were headed towards the south pole.
It was time for a bit of desolate nature to calm our homesickness and take solace in. Especially before we would reach the icy mountain passes of Patagonia, we needed all the sunny shores we could get. Just south of La Serena, we located yet another beach camp gem on the iOverlander app, right on the Pacific coast. Stroke of luck #2!
Luckily the sun was shining bright the day we made our way off the highway and towards the sea to camp. What made this Overland camp unique was its towering, slender cacti that could stand 4 or 5 feet high, each surrounded by bright red wildflowers.
On a hill above the ocean where we made camp, tall green grasses were sprouting in every available space there was. Bushes were in full bloom, and the larger ones were home to dozens of singing sparrows. From a farm nearby, a few goats and donkeys roamed along the hills around our camp.
The sound of the waves crashing on the stony beach below was calming, despite them being completely relentless when they splashed above the jagged rocks at high tide. Especially with a bright, yellow full moon hanging overhead all night, it was a fantastic place to enjoy our last bit of Chilean spring.
THE CITY OF ART – VALAPARAÍSO, CHILE
The stress of balancing freelance work with increased drive time was beginning to take a serious toll as we made our way to the next city. Especially in Overland travel, the balance between work and play is not so easily achieved.
It can be a constant struggle trying to schedule enough time to be productive, and enough time to explore the new location you’re traveling in. Had we not parked our wheels in one of the most beautiful cities of Chile to get ahead on such things, we may have lost our wits.
Valaparaiso is a place unlike any other. Its quirky colonial (and sometimes withered) architecture is carved right out of the steep mountains surrounding its port on the sea. This city’s coastal position brings with it a long history of pirate-like fisherman, making it a sort of seaside rest stop since before the 19th century. Even our large, colorful hostel was once a fisherman’s saloon.
In addition to a lively past, Valaparaiso is a city that is covered in some of the world’s most epic street art. Wandering this place is like walking through an enormous city-sized art gallery, with vibrant masterpieces around every corner and down every street.
This modern form of art is embraced here rather than outlawed. The result is countless waves of color on the sides of buildings, over the front of houses, and even on the sides of service trucks.
We realized within one day that Valaparaiso is a sort of testament, to what truly happens when there’s freedom in creative expression. Making such an art form illegal only suppresses something that is more beautiful than any plain building could ever exhibit. At the same time, this type of art provides a glimpse into the vibrant culture of its creators.
To check out our album of street art pics from Valaparaiso and around the globe, see here!
STORMS AND REST STOPS IN ZONA SUR
Rain storms had been on our tail since La Serena, and we may have gotten too comfortable in our Overland travel thinking we could beat the storm. Despite being lucky with a few days of sunshine, the rain had caught up with us full force after leaving Valaparaiso, and it was coming down in buckets.
Pushing our way towards the region that harbors Chiloé Island (the region of Chile known as Zona Sur) heavy rain turned into constant heavy rain and high-speed winds.
We had two days, according to our plan, to reach the city of Puerto Montt. This is the small port town where we would hop a ferry with Old Grey and head to Chiloé Island, a place that is unique to northern Patagonia and one that we have always wanted to explore.
Our drive through the first wave of the rainstorms were cold and intense. Even during a calmer period of the storm on our first day, we searched high and low for a wild camp with no success. Miles of fenced-off vineyards and other agricultural land made it nearly impossible to find a good camp spot, and there were virtually no campgrounds on this stretch.
Though stealth camping brings a nice rush and we very much enjoy it, there’s no sense in cutting fences and trespassing. The only wild camp we found in this highly-populated area turned out to be completely trashed out, and littered with garbage. It was time we did what all Overlanders have to do sometimes – sleep overnight at a rest stop.
With the rain still pouring, we employed a new method of protection by propping up our beach umbrella over the tail gate while we cooked our meals. Of course, it only allowed for quick grilled cheeses or hot water for ramen noodle dinners. For two nights straight, the storm got increasingly worse, with the wind blowing so hard that the rain was falling vertically, and Old Grey rocked from side to side the entire night.
Somehow we managed to sleep, and were grateful to wake up to clean hot showers at both rest stop facilities. Headed into Puerto Montt, the highway was scattered with tree branches that had been thrown about by the wind.
Camping in the rain… it really sucks.
This is how we realized that having a camper for Overland travel is a wise decision. When your clothes and equipment are continuously wet and cold, your mood finds a way to reflect the feeling.
Old Grey may be equipped, but she’s more of a place to sleep than she is a shelter from bad weather. Locating a small deserted campground near the shipping port for Chiloé Island, we could barely even cook anything with the weather the way it was.
Checking the forecast, we saw that this region had several more days of rainstorms. Apparently, the boats won’t sail to Chiloé Island if the weather is bad. We also found that we could be stuck waiting for the storm to let up before we could even board the ferry to the island.
Likewise, if the boats weren’t sailing, we could be waiting on Chiloé Island for days before we could return – assuming we could have made it there in the first place.
After some consideration, we let mother nature take the win, and decided not visit Chiloé Island. Instead, we would make our way towards Argentina a few days early.
CABAÑAS AND VOLCANOES IN PATAGONIA
Another stroke of luck brought us to a cabin right on a massive lake called Lake Llaquihue, that happened to be nestled between two snow-capped volcanoes.
Volcan Osorno and Volcan Calbuco are prominent landmarks in the Lakes District of Chile (Los Lago Region), and they made our change in plans extremely worth it. Just a few hours from the Argentina border, this place was one that we couldn’t help but stay a couple of days in, and that was before we witnessed the views. Yay for stroke of luck #3!
We woke up to lambs playing on our cabin’s porch, and goats and llamas wandering about freely on the farm. When the storm clouds finally cleared, the view of Volcan Osorno right from our door was absolutely breathtaking. The farm was well taken care of with its own a staff, and the owner was extremely friendly. It was a nice break from rainy Overland travel and our rushed adventure as of late.
Luckily for us, it was off season and so we got an excellent deal for our stay. Our last day in Chile, the rain began again, this time even more relentless than before.
We were encountering the Chilean temperate rainforest near Argentina. It is strange that Chile not only houses the driest desert in the world, but also some extremely lush forests and lakes. This time of year though, they were cold as ice.
We opted for a small A-Frame cabin on our last night, just 30 minutes from the border. But, the stresses weren’t over yet.
Where to buy car insurance for Argentina?
Overland travel sometimes requires a bit of finagling to find what you need. In both Peru and Chile, it was easy to buy each country’s car insurance for less than $15 USD, and it could be bought online or at the border. In Argentina, however, you are straight up turned away if you don’t already have the general (more expensive) insurance for South America when you arrive at the border crossing.
Our last city before leaving Chile was a small, unattractive commercial town called Osorno. Through all of our research, we could not find an insurance company that would sell the general insurance here, only the Chilean insurance. We had no choice but to risk it at the border, and hope that perhaps there was an insurance establishment along the way.
By sheer luck, as we drove the backroads of rural Osorno, we found what we had hoped for. Business-savvy farmers actually sell the insurance for Argentina right from their door, and you can buy it from them much in the same manner you could purchase a chicken or some produce! The tiny establishment didn’t look official, but it was surrounded by semi-trucks picking up the insurance too.
We got three months of the necessary insurance for about $35 USD. Documents in hand, we crossed into the Argentina side of Patagonia successfully.
WE’VE FINALLY MADE IT TO ARGENTINA!
Argentina is our 26th country, and the adventure is far from over! Through the trials and tribulations, and the confusion and the stress, this is what true Overland travel looks like. Driving in another country is not so easy. It’s best to leave everything you’ve ever known about traffic laws and official motor vehicle documents at the door, because it’s always a different ball game, especially in Latin America.
Old Grey ships soon, and we have thousands of miles to go before that happens. Chile was a place of extreme contrasts, stunning nature, and experiences that will be a part of us for eternity. This is the place where we’ve learned to be Overlanders, and the place where we have defined what adventure travel means to us. We are eager to see what journeys are in store for us in Argentina, and for our last couple of months on the South American continent.
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