Thursday, October 13, 2011

Warning to budget driving travelers, Chile is freaking expensive and they won't let us leave

Day 1 in Chile, after leaving the boarder late around 4 pm we detoured around Santiago, to get near the coast. Our first night was spent at a toll booth just outside Vina del Mar. Wasn't as noisy as we thought, we had a good nights sleep and next day we arrived in the town early and had to wait in front of the tourist office because there late. When the lady arrived she gave us in English, info on places to stay, see and recommended a seafood restaurant up the coast in Concon, because the ones in town are expensive. First we checked our the Wulff Caslte, that was free to enter, it was having a 2 month long free knitting class for all and a tour guide took us upstairs, which had stunning views of the Pacific. Next we visited the Fonck Museum that houses interesting photos and information about Easter Island. After a long morning of site seeing we drove up the coast to Concon, to have lunch. After lunch we check out a few obscure camp grounds south of Valparasio, and decided to turn back and stay in the city to call it a night.

huge casino on the coast
Wulff Castle hangs over the ocean

Day 2 was spent just exploring the colorful UNESCO city of Valparasio, checked out all the back alleys and its unique art work or graffiti depending how ones looks at it. We took a funicular (kinda of elevator but slop) up to see the colorful rundown homes on top of the city.  Had a late lunch, seafood again for about $40 usd not as good as Concon. After we decided to drive down Chile and re-enter Argentina down south (what a mistake) so we filled up and it cost a whopping $110 for 60 liters. We drove alone the coast as long as possible than started to head inland towards Hwy #5 the panamerican, I wanted to stop off in Santa Cruz to check out this cowboy town, but got lost and spent way too much time and gas searching. Now we are back on the Pan-Am its getting dark and we just stop off at a gas station to rest for the night.

plaza Victoria

check out the wiring on the streets

independence celebrations 

yup kings alive in Valparasio
Day 3 Bright and early we are back on this nice paved hwy with tolls of $5 at every 100km interval and I start to notice the price of gas rising at every station we pass. We made a stop near Los Angeles, to see the waterfalls of Aslto del Laja, it was very easy to excess and free to see. Back on the road with more tolls and need more gas at this point we at just under $250 bucks in tolls and gas for a 500 km stretch of hwy. We exit the Pan-Am just before Temuco and head for the boarder as we drive towards the Andes, the views change to snow covered alps. We reach the boarder at 7pm, when we enter the officer they tells us we can't pass tonight because of icy roads. So we are stuck in Chile for another night and decide to just camp out at the boarder crossing with all the other truckers and travelers, picked up a bottle of Chilean wine and cooked pasta in the van and turned it in for the night.

these couple where selling hot empanadas at the gas station

camped out at the boarder 
locals entertained everyone with song and dance

Day 4 After a cold night we wake up and wait for the immigration office to open. They're about 15 minutes late and already loads of people from the tour buses are waiting inline. Lucky for us they had a separate line and we got our papers alone side the truckers but they still wouldn't let us pass until 11am don't know why. Meanwhile local Chileans waiting kepted us all entertained with music and dance after all it was Chile's day of independence and there stuck at the boarder, you think it would put a damper on their holiday plans but they all seem happy, just love the Latino culture. Back to Argentina after a an expensive 4 day detour.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Road to Chile via Mendoza

After a busy week its back to what we love most. Hot springs of Cacheuta just 45 minutes west of Mendoza. We camped out at the small village of Colonia Suiza just 10 minute drive from the spa $8 bucks  per night. At the campsite to our surprise was the American family we had met in Cafayate. We spent a total of 3 night at this site one day at the spa and another enjoying the river the runs behind. Overall its a nice campsite great views of the river and nice size would have been great if only the owner would clean the washrooms once awhile.

I didn't blur my stomach out thats where the camera got wet

Next we headed to Septima winery for a tour but when we arrived we just missed the English tour by hour so we went to Villa Potrerillos to spend the night on the lake and return next morning for the wine tour. While on the  lake we really need a shower after leaving the campground of Colonia Suiza because it was so dirty and plus the owner never burned wood to warm up the water. We found a private home on the lake charging $1.25 for a hot showers so we tried it out, very old but clean and the water was perfect. Next morning we headed back 30 km's for the wine tour at Septima bodega that cost $6 each and included a tasting.

this is where the good stuff goes before the oak barrels 
they bottle an average of 3000 and hour

Back on the road towards Chile on hwy 7 we originally plan to stop at one of the many ski resorts but when we saw them lacking snow and icy we decide to just head for Chile. We did however make a stop a Puente del Inca taking in the mineral bridge formation over the Vacas river.

Boarder was easy to get to and we traveled through a 3km tunnel to reach the immigration offices. This maybe the most complicated boarder since our trip and we thought it would be easy, with 2 countries so closely related (like us and the Americans). We had to visit a total of 6 windows and get just as many stamps on the same paper. Crazy I know, oh yeah if you bring food make sure to check off your bringing, there are stiff fines. I didn't and they made me fill out a new form. They confiscated some garlic and some old banana peels we tossed in the garbage. They are serious about this so be careful when entering Chile.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Busy 5 days 5 provinces reached Mendoza but some dumb kid filled up the Sienna with diesel

Day 1. After leaving the warm waters of Termas de Rio Hondo for Cordoba, the drive took alot longer than expected. Half way we need to fuel up in some small town don't recall the name but when we drove up to the gas station. A young boy asked what kinda of fuel you need I say "gasoline", he tells me to pull up to the pump and he smells the fuel cap and starts to pump gas as its filling I ask again "gasoline correct?" he responded with a nod of the head. We pay and leave but less than a kilometer down the road the van just dies. I wave down the next passing car and it was a off duty officer, he gave me a ride into town to talk with the gas stations owner. When I arrived the owner knew right away even in my poor Spanish what I was explaining that the boy filled our car with the wrong fuel. The police officer was kind enough to drive me back and pull us to the station and we bought him the most expensive wine ($5 bucks) at the gas station for his troubles. The workers began draining the diesel from the bottom and after an hour filled it up with gasoline but the car wouldn't start after countless tries, I started to worry van might be damaged and we might be stuck in this shit town indefinitely. It was a Sunday so all the mechanics were closed, later the owner had me and the boy push the van to the tire shop 100 meters down the road. They bled out more fuel and made a contraption to pump fuel directly to the engine with only a rubber tub and a 2L coke bottle. After a few tries the van started with loud bang and loads of white smoke. After the 3 hour delay we back on the road and arrived late night in Cordoba city. We stopped at YPF to ask directions to the municipal campground and the worker was adamant we not stay there because it dangerous, he recommend us to spend the night in Villa Carlos Paz. Its about 30 minutes outside the city and we stayed at the only open campsite the ACA (auto club argentina) the worker charged us the members price $12 bucks for the night.

kinda reminded me of Las Vegas old strip 20 years ago
Day 2 Villa Carlos Paz, it was a cold nights sleep so we woke up early and visited the town. It was nice, clean and quite at this time of year as we biked around the low level river and explored the centre. After a few hours in town we decided to head back to Cordoba to see how bad the municipal campground was. After about 2 hours of searching (map location was wrong) we found the site and nobody was camping, only the gate man and plus the location was far from the centre and we both felt uneasy so left for the Bavarian town of Villa General Belgrano. We arrived in town just before dark and liked it right away. I've never been to Germany but I can imagine its similar because this town was founded by Germans in 1930's. Today its a touristy town for locals with great bakeries, restaurants, shops and microbreweries. We didn't spend the night because the campground was charging like $15 bucks. (mistake that was) We left that same night and spent the night a gas station just 30 minutes outside town, nice place with wifi and clean washrooms. 

Day 3 Early morning we're back on a long dirt road to the Villa de Merlo, don't know why we continue taking these roads. After 4 hours of rough gravel, uphill, and rattles we covered only 80 kms and reached the paved road towards town. The road was a steep down and curvy but the scenery turned from dusy dry desert to lush green valley. We found a municipal campsite just uphill from town at a whopping $23 usd, but we took it for night. After that long dirt road we had a hot shower, cooked lunch and checked our e-mail, that was one plus the campsite had wifi. Later that night too tired to cook we drove into town which is only one long main street we settled for pizza at a bar restaurant with the most people inside.

never had pizza with nuts before and don't think we will again
the look of satisfied
Day 4 Next day we had an late lunch and  and set out for the long drive to Mendoza, Argentina's wine capital. After 5 hours of driving we stopped off at a local Walmart in San Lois to pick up some supplies, we drove until the fuel light came on and stopped in La Paz to spend the night a GNC station we need gas but all they sold was natural gas but we spent the night because we didn't want to search for gas station in town at night. This GNC was ideal for truckers it had clean WC, showers and internet in the 24hr cafe that was very busy.

one of the best amenities gas stations to date

main gate to San Martin Park

antique shops in Plaza Pellegrini, popular for taking wedding photos
young couple posing for a photo in lovely Plaza Espana
Day 5 Arrived early in Mendoza city, not much of the old city remains today because in 1861 the city was leveled by a massive earthquake and now the current city is very easy to get around with its wide streets and sidewalks. It felt alot smaller than its population size would say, thats partly because most of the people live in the suburbs, giving the city a smaller feel than its sub 1 million residents. We found private camping in the huge park of San Martin that takes up half of the tourist map. We paid again $23 bucks a night but right in the city. We quickly got on our bikes and started to explore the park and found loads of people, walking, rollerblading and biking around the large man made river which even had people rowing in. After that we say the down town core had some icecream and bought some beef and wine and went back the campsite to call it a day. Next we are heading over to Pacific coast in Chile.

no day is complete in Mendoza without wine and BBQ
lunch at one of the posher suburb towns Chacras de Coria