Friday, December 23, 2011

Chilean Misadventure Part 2:

The Delica's last ride

You could smell the death in the air.  Black smoke billowed out of the van and we all choked on the fumes as we peered inside, still in disbelief.  That was a good run, but not quite good enough.  Not only had the last several kilometers of dirt road obviously killed our van, but we still weren’t anywhere close to being done.  We still had 10, maybe 15 kilometers of dirt road left, followed by 30 some of pavement before we even had the option of a mechanic.  All of us were exhausted and it seemed we had officially used up our “Help Me” tokens for the day.  We all walked our separate ways to the little shade we could find on the side of the road and waited, every once in awhile looking at the smoke still pouring out of the van.

The road was quiet.  Saturday afternoon.  No one coming.  As I looked into the van’s engine one more time, I heard an engine off in the distance.  I quickly grabbed the webbing and carabiner (our trusty tow rig) and held it up as the truck got near.  They rolled to a stop, rolled their window down, and quickly asked me a question in Spanish.  I looked blankly at them…”Uno momento por favor. No entiendo.”  I waved at Tango who was sitting in the shade to come over.  After a quick conversation with Tango, the two men were out on the road sizing up our van for a tow (third of the day).  They were a father and son from the city of Curico, about 20 km north of Molina on Ruta 5, the main interstate.  They quickly attached the tow rope with some solid overhand knots and told us to load up.   As we drove, they offered the idea of us coming to Curico, which was a bigger city, and trying to find a mechanic there.  They were both interested in all our gear and what we were doing in Chile.  Tango talked to them about our trip and learned that Pancho, the son, was a university student.  We agreed to have them tow us to Curico and they told us they would take us to their house and lunch.  We were humbled by the generosity and so thankful for the help.  After about an hour and several stressful kilometers of interstate driving being towed about 8 feet behind another vehicle we arrived at the family’s home in Curico.  They fed us a huge meal and told us that we were more than welcome to spend the night in the spare rooms upstairs.  We couldn’t believe that they were so willing to help us and tried to show our gratitude as much as possible.

We spent the remainder of the day trying to formulate an escape route from the van.  We had all come to terms with the fact that the van was dead and the money that we had spent on it would most likely never be seen again.  But we had one small problem…What should we do with it now?  We kicked around the idea of filing off the serial numbers and burning it in some vacant lot somewhere, or blowing it up, or driving it off a cliff, but when it came down to it, we really just wanted to get as far away from it as possible.

We decided that we would tow the van back to Santiago and take it back to the dealer that sold it to us.  Maybe he could help us resell it, or even give us some money back.  After doing what we could to communicate that to Raul in Santiago and giving our families a call, we headed back to Pancho’s parents’ house for the night.  We were treated to late evening tea and sandwiches and went to sleep content.

Early the next morning, we were awakened by Wes.  He had decided to head to Pucon separately.  He packed his things and caught a taxi to the bus station.  Baer, Tango and I decided that we were all going to Santiago to deal with the van, and with the help of Pancho, we booked a tow truck for the following day.  We spent the rest of Sunday with Pancho and his friends. We walked around Curico stumbling over the language barrier and eventually becoming friends over the recognition that even though we came from different places, we saw the world from a similar perspective.  One of curiosity.   I will never forget that day.
We woke early on Monday morning and prepared the van for the tow.  We were finally going to be free of this thing!

We made the 3 hour drive up to Santiago, checked into the hostel one more time, and took the van to the dealer, dropped it off and waited for Raul to show up and talk to the salesman.

Raul showed up and arranged an agreement with the dealer.  He would fix the van and attempt to sell it for us.  A huge weight was lifted.  The van no longer was holding us underwater.  Driving away from the dealer we could all feel a sense of relief and excitement for the fact that we were back on track.  We spent the afternoon finding a rental truck.  Raul once again helped us more than we could ever repay him for.  He found us a truck, took us to his house and fed us a great meal.  We were all, once again, humbled by the support we had received.

The next day we got our new truck, loaded up and head back to Curico to pick our boats up from Pancho’s house.  We were finally on a roll and headed back to the Claro for some kayaking.

The new Rig!
The next few days were filled with several laps on the Veintedos section of the Claro as well as a run down the Entres section.  The Claro is an incredible river and the Entres section is one of the most stunningly intense places I have ever been.  The canyon is deep, dark and super committing with some of the most unique whitewater ever.  Check out Chris Baer’s video for a look inside the gorge HERE

Baer in the middle section
Tango on the upper section of the Entre
View of the Entre Section
As the water on the Claro started to drop out we turned our sights south to Pucon and the many creeks of Patagonia.   We made the 8 hour drive south and arrived late on Friday night at my good friend, David Hughes’, Pucon Kayak Hostel.  Working with David this past summer I had heard lots about the hostel and I must say that being here is even better than the stories.  Located a few kilometers outside of Pucon, it is surrounded by classic rivers and creeks.  Since we have been here we have gotten to sample several of the Classics including: the Rio Nevados, Puesco, Upper Palguin and Maichin with more in our sights.

Not the best pic of Pucon, but you get the idea of just how beautiful it is.

The walk to the Nevados put-in is pretty ugly
Tango on the Nevados Slide
Baer putting the final touches on one of the best drops around.  Crack 20, Rio Nevados
Tango laying down a boof on the Wall Drop, Rio Nevados
Baer cleaning up the first drop of the Upper Palguin

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chilean Mis-Adventure Part 1

Sunrise on the Side of the road
The Departure:

This trip has been surprising to say the least.  Since our initial arrival, in Santiago we have been met with some pretty interesting problems.  The last few days have been some of the hardest traveling days I have ever had.  After leaving Santiago with a new head gasket on the van, several days of waiting in a hostel behind us and the thought of kayaking on our minds, we were stoked to get on the road.  The van hummed along on Route 5 for hours and we turned off the interstate thinking we would be at the take out campsite of the Vientedos section of the Claro by midnight. 

Instead, our road trip ended abruptly when the van suddenly died while climbing a hill about 20 km outside the little town of Molina.  With the van overheating and our nerves shot we crashed on the side of the road with plans to limp the van into town the next day.

The Push Back to Town:

The morning was cold, with mist hanging thick around us.  As the sun broke over the hills the mist receded and it slowly warmed up.

Sun burning off the early morning mist
Tango and I were the first up.  We hung our sleeping bags etc. out to dry on the van and sat on the side of the road, waiting for the others to get up and the temperature to rise.  We knew we were definitely not going to kayak. 

After the others woke up we tried to start the van with no luck.  The car didn’t want to turn over and the battery was getting weaker with every attempt.  We decided the only thing we could do was try to push the van as far as we could and hopefully get the attention of someone that would help us.   We tried everything from push-starting the vehicle to starting it in 2nd with no luck.  We ended up pushing the van for several km and then sat down on the side of the road.  Mentally and physically spent, we quietly hoped that someone would take pity on the gringos and give us a tow.  We got our break from a traveling produce salesman who charged us the rest of his day’s salary to tow us down to a mechanic in town.  We gladly paid.

Our heap arrived at the mechanic and we waited to for the prognosis.   The sudden loss of power seemed to be a bad sign and the fact that we couldn’t even get the car started all morning seemed even worse.  We were not hopeful.
Baer waiting for the Mechanic
We had a little time to explore the town of Molina while we waited for the van to get fixed.  The colors the Chileans use on houses and the street art here is incredible.  From full-on graffiti, to murals and advertisements, the colors and artistry of the street paintings are amazing.
Molina Street
Mechanic's Storefront
After adjusting the distributor cap, the mechanics gave the van a hesitant thumbs-up and we decided to make the trip back up into the Rio Claro valley. 

The Delica’s Final Play:

Fast forward 5 hours.  We find ourselves sitting next to a dead van even farther away from town, on a dirt road, mere km’s from the Claro.  The van had shown some signs of problems as we drove, but we didn’t have many options for a test drive.  We had decided to try the Claro road again for the test with the added bonus of whitewater at the end.  Instead of the smooth drive to the top we wanted, we had to push the van uphill for several km until finally darkness and exhaustion took over.   Again, we decided to set up camp and try again in the morning.
One of many tows
We woke early with the heavy weight of a dead van on our backs.  After some discussion we began pushing the van down the road toward the nearest village some 5 km away.   We didn’t get far. Two tows and a bunch of waiting later we were still stuck on the dirt road many kms from Molina.  This time there was no doubt the van was dead.
Wes facing our reality
Chile Misadventures Part 2 to come….

….and maybe some kayaking too