Checking into Chile

Greetings, dear friends, from Coyhaique (Coy-eye-key), Chile.

We left Argentina behind on Wednesday, after a successful couple of days heading north up the trusty Route 40. On Monday, we had our first taste of the dusty and vast wilderness of the western ribbon of Argentina: hundreds of kilometres of nothing but shrubs, rocks, and the occasional llama-like guanaco.
Imagen 288

By evening, we had reached the small oasis of Gobernador Gregores, hanging out for so long in the cosy cafe at the local petrol station that we struck up a friendship with the waitress, Margoth, and spent a wonderful evening with her and her husband and daughter.
Imagen 306

Despite the lack of traffic travelling between these remote outposts, we gradually wove our way towards the border, and celebrated with a relatively short day’s hitch over the border into Chile Chico. After a minor panic on Jo’s part at our guide book’s warning that the following section required three days’ supplies due to continuing lack of road use, we had relatively little trouble securing a ride with Walter to Cochrane, wending our way along the second largest lake in South America as we drove. We had been planning to go on to Caleta Tortel, a unique village connected only by floating walkways, but we were intercepted by Sergio, his wife Alicia, their son Mauricio and friend Lenin, heading to their utterly secluded lakehouse retreat by Lago Chacabuco. We stayed with them for one night, drinking in the silence.
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Our drive with Walter had taken us past a fairly large swathe of recently scorched earth, obviously the result of a forest fire, and we stopped for a while to watch a helicopter bomb the periphery with water.
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We wouldn’t have thought much more about it, but Sergio was something of a two-way radio enthusiast, and we received regular updates about the fire’s progress. There was no risk of it heading our way to the lakehouse, but nonetheless it was a little disconcerting to see the clouds on the horizon reflecting the flames after the sun had set.

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Many a firefighting crew passed us as we were heading out of Cochrane – clearly the work was continuing.

Not to be put off by our initial windswept night´s camping in week one, the tent had its second outing in Cochrane on Friday night. The temperature was better than before, the wind insignificant, and the tent proved waterproof in the temporary rain. However, apparently there was no requirement for ‘quiet hour’ for the local stray dogs, and the multitudinous chickens had a ‘roost off’ for about three hours straight. The tent has been firmly packed away again.

Points of cultural assimilation this week:
Ripio – unpaved/gravelly – as in ‘this road will ripio your car windscreen, and any attempts to think normal thoughts, to shreds.
– When agreeing to spend 24 hours with a Chilean family, do not expect to understand more than 13% of what is spoken. Of that, be aware that 90% of what you think you have understood, you haven’t.
– The ‘four seasons in one day’ summary of Patagonian climate is absolutely true. Yesterday we experienced a cool Spring breeze, bright sunshine, settling snow and horizontal rain.

We finish with some useful advice picked up in the loos on the border between Argentina and Chile:
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Hasta luego.

Total number of lifts: 14
Week Two distance travelled: 1313km
Total distance travelled: 2633km

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  1. Good to hear of your progress! Going pretty well!

    As regards to Colombia, I can only really offer some pretty standard hitchhiking advice, which you’ll know all about already: be patient. In Colombia though this applies more so than the other countries you’ll be passing through, at least in our experience (we’ve hitchhiked in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina, both south and then back up north). This is because in Colombia the rules of the road are much more strict. Truck drivers can take up to three people, including themselves. So as a couple, this can mean you’ll wait a little longer as most drivers in Colombia seem to have companeros, so there’s only one free space. But there definitely are solo drivers, only you may have to wait a little longer. Also, private vehicles are not allowed to take passengers who they don’t know. I’m not entirely sure why, but in practice, when we’ve been stopped in private cars people have just said we’re family (even though we’re clearly not…though I did, bizzarely, manage to share the surname of one driver), and the Police tend to laugh it off and let you on your way. Drivers of large loads are also not allowed to take passengers on top of the cargo. That said, our first ever big hitch in Colombia was on top of some cargo (for four days) and the Police did bust us. Once we explained that we are poor travellers and that our driver was helping us, and that no money was involved (this is important), the police let us all go, no fines for anyone. The police, much like pretty much every Colombian we’ve met (in total 7ish months in Colombia during our travels), just want to help people and will bend over backwards to do so.

    Also, this has meant that despite all of the road regulations, pretty much every driver who has picked us up in Colombia has willfully broken the law in order to help two smelly, ragged total strangers.

    We’ve been told that it’s better to ask in truck stops and petrol stations for rides. In practice this hasn’t worked for us. Well, technically the first time did, but after three hard days waiting in a service station near Barranquilla. We did get a ride the length of the country though! The second time we tried this we gave up after four-ish hours and went back to our old favourite of thumbing on the side of the road. The waits really are a lot longer in Colombia, but you will get picked up. And, though I’m biased as a half Colombian (I’m way more English, as my poor Spanish will reveal), the Colombian people are mind-bogglingly, life-changingly kind. We’ve slept in houses of people who have nothing but extreme kindness to offer.

    We’ve also found that it’s possible, walk out to the outskirts of any cities towns you get dropped into. If you’re around the hubbub of a town, it’s better to find out if there’s a petrol station a few kilometers out and go for a stroll to it. You can often sleep around these if you don’t get a ride (that said, we only ever waited more than a day that once), and I think being more isolated and less crowded is definitely an advantage. Plus you can talk to drivers when they stop to fill up.

    The word for hitchhiking changes as you travel around Colombia, but so far we’ve found that “autostop”, “abenton” and trusty old “adedo” all work. Failing that, flail wildly with your thumb and you’ll eventually understand each other.

    As for Venezuela, we’ve heard very little except that you’ll almost definitely die. I have to admit I’ve been falling for this myself lately (in the news there is genuinely a lot of violence right now) as the possibility of us having to actually hitch there grows (we’re looking for a boat back to Europe). But, people have told us that we’re going to die in almost every country. Not once yet have we suffered death. Or even violence beyond the odd middle finger. There are a couple of hitchhikers who have been in recent years, and though I hate to recommend this blog, there is some useful information amongst the pretense:

    Anyway, I hope that helps! Sorry for rambling (and for all the brackets).

    Go well 🙂


  2. Thanks Anthony, that´s very helpful. Like you said, I´d wager that, as in Colombia and elsewhere (I hitched through Iran and Pakistan on my route from England to Malaysia a few years back), you´re more likely to find friendliness than death.

    If you do pass through Venezuela, let us know how you get on.


  3. I’d love to hitch through Iran and Pakistan. I’ve heard only wonderful things. One day! Good luck in the deserts north of Santiago!


  4. Absolutely amazing…what faith! You are walking it. Walk on, thumb on, live on–a great tonic before my op today. Hurrah, I’ll take your lakeside wilderness with me into hospital, blessings, Dana

  5. Good to follow your exploits so far. Hope this week in Chile has been equally adventurous! Happy Birthday on Monday Jo: its bound to be memorable. Love Chris & Mark

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