Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chile: Week 1

This is what we came for...well maybe the ones under 100 meters tall.

The beginning of this trip has been pretty fast-paced.  The morning I flew out started at 6:30 with the alarm going off and my parents and sister driving me to the airport.  Soon after 8 in the morning,the trip went over its first speed bump with me not getting my boat on the plane.  The American Airlines desk turned me away.  After 2 hours of begging and pleading, I tucked my tail between my legs and checked in sans boat.  Luckily, both Tango and Baer got their boats on without issue and I was able to set up a Jefe Grande through my friend Raul in Chile before I left the States.  After a short, uneventful flight to Dallas and 6 hours of layover, I met up with Tango and boarded the plane for Chile.  About 45 minutes later, after sitting at the gate wondering if we were ever going to leave, the captain informed us that the plane had a mechanical problem and we would be switching planes.  We de-boarded, found the last bar open, sat down, ordered food and let the inertia of the trip wash over us.  It had begun.  We waited about 2 hours and finally got on our way.  9 ½ hours later we arrived in Chile.

That's a nice surf-ski you have.  First moments in Santiago.
Since our initial touchdown in Chile we have been on the move.  After passing through customs and meeting up with Raul and Baer at the airport, we quickly stopped by our hostel, met up with Wes and headed out to go car shopping.  We parked and walked about 30 feet onto the lot before finding a 1990 Mitsubishi Delica that looked like it might do the trick nicely.  After combing the lot and the neighboring lot and researching online, we to check out the engine etc., and decided that luck was on our side.  $4000 later we drove away with our rig for the trip. 
Packing up the Delica

Baer and Wes getting ready to put there cash down for the Delica.  Too bad it's real money

Day 2: Car? Check. Day 3: load gear, buy a rack and get on the road.  Destination:  Rio Claro.  We all thought that our luck with finding a vehicle so fast was almost too good to be true, but determined to take it as long as it lasts.  We drove about 4 hours south of Santiago, stopping a few times along the way to make sure our new rig was in good shape.  The landscape south of the city is amazingly beautiful, much like California, but with a background of huge jagged mountains.   My first glimpses of Chile reveal a combination of some of my most favorite places in the world.

Typical bland Chilean countryside

We turned off the interstate and started to follow the Rio Claro up into the mountains.  Even from the road we could tell the canyon was deep.  Every direction we looked, mist-covered mountains framed the sky and the canyon dropped steeply off to the side.  We were finally out of the city and in real Chile!  After a few km of some rocky road, we stopped and unloaded for the run.

First test of the Delica on the roads to the Claro
We separated out our boating gear from the pile of bags in the back of the van, geared up and walk for about 1 hour through the Chilean backcountry to the edge of the Rio Claro’s basalt canyon.  The Claro is one of the most unique things I have ever seen.  The water runs down an old lava tube that collapsed millennia ago, creating several deep, winding and extremely committing gorges.  We spent the afternoon enjoying the Vientedos section of the Claro.   The section consists of 22 drops in under 2 miles of river, with everything from a clean 20 ft. waterfall to a tight, 2-boat-wide, 100 ft. long slot drop.  The Vientedos section was a great first run giving us all a little taste of what Chile has to offer.  I hadn’t been in my boat in about 2 months before this run and after the first 20 ft. boof-stomp, I was jarred into the realization that I was in Chile.  The run went smoothly until Tango broke his boat on one of the bigger drops.  It was a little spicy for Tango, who was forced to charge through the drops before the 6 inch gap in his boat let too much water in.  Everything worked out fine and we floated out the last half mile to some take out beers.

Unfortunately, the gorge is so tight that on our first trip down we did not spend the time to take pictures.  I have some good helmet cam footage which will go up in a few weeks and I will try to get some pictures on our next trip down.  I can’t wait to go back to this place and explore the Entrada section in the next few days.

Getting ready to drop into the canyon
View from the take-out
In the evening, we set up camp and enjoyed some food under the South hemisphere sky.  With no clouds, I threw down my sleeping bag and pad and got my first taste of the totally foreign night sky.   This is what I am here for.
Dirtbag sleeping were he is comfortable.
We woke rather late in the morning and milled around camp for a bit.  Our Chilean friends Raul, Nico and Jose had to head back to Santiago early, so we took our time packing up, expecting to follow them into the city later that day to complete some paperwork.  We loaded up and started the drive down from the Claro to the interstate.  About 30 km into the drive and many km from the nearest town, we rolled to a sad stop on the side of the road.  We had run out of gas.  We knew all along we were low on fuel, but with the idea of our first kayaking of the trip and our Chilean friends leading the way we decided to ignore the gas gage and push on.  That idea had backfired badly and Baer and Tango started the long walk down to town.  Wes and I waited in the car. 

Several hours, a nap and countless dust showers from passing cars later Tango and Baer arrived with some gas and we loaded up once again.  The drive into Santiago was painless, but the van was starting to show signs of some issues.  The temp gauge was erratic and there were some not-so-comforting sounds out of the clutch.  We decided to have a mechanic look at it.

The following day, Baer and I met with Raul to finish the paperwork to allow us to go to Argentina and look for some insurance for the vehicle.  Tango and Wes took the van to a mechanic.  We met back up later afternoon with bad news all around.  After several hours of trying, Baer, Raul and I had not been able to find any insurance and the paperwork necessary for getting into Argentina was getting held up in the Chilean system.  Tango and Wes had even worse news.  The van had a blown head gasket, broken radiator and was missing the fly wheel cover on the clutch.  Begin holding pattern.

Currently we are waiting for the mechanic to give us the total for all the work he is doing on the rig.  Hopefully we will get away with only a few hundred dollars of repair.  We’ve been staying at La Casa Roja in the Central District of Santiago, counting the hours till we can get on the road and go kayaking again.  The wait has been interesting.  I have never spent so much time at a hostel in all my travels.  Life here, if you allow it, seems to be a slow decline into Groundhog Day status.  People show up at Casa Rioja all day long, many starting or ending their South American journeys.  Faces pass by quickly and the hours seem to slip by without warning.  I’ve been fighting of the urge to slip into a life of sleeping until 2 and not doing anything all day.  Hopefully, the van will be fixed soon and we can start south.  Our next move will be back to the Claro for a few days, then onward to the south!

Few more pictures of the trip so far:

We have arrived

Spending money

Comfy back seats.

About to sink some money into this heap.

He might have been less excited if we knew what we know now.

Not a bad rig.

Scrounging for a van.

100 meter falls on Rio Claro.


  1. Yeah, brother! Sounds like a real adventure. So glad you guys are down there and thanks for sharing the photos. Your captions are my favorite! Keep it comin'

  2. Sweet Gordon! Thanks for bringing us into your world! 9-5 in front of a computer gets kinda boring!