Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chile by car

As we had to wait for our autopilot to be repaired and returned to us in Chile, we decided to rent a car and take a tour of Chile by land. We experienced such a variety of landscape, people, and temperature. Unknowingly, we were travelling during a festive holiday period and had a labourious time finding reasonable, if any, accommodation. Most towns and cities were packed with people and traffic, making it difficult to get around.

Chile has great roads and terrific signs almost everywhere - it would be hard to get lost along the roads (but maybe in some of the cities with much smaller and less frequent signs). Along Chile's PanAmerican highway, there are many toll booths and on our journey we paid a total of $82,100 Chilean Pesos which equalled about $160. We found hotel rates and general prices to be about equal to or higher than Victoria BC prices whereas we had been expecting cheaper.

Throughout our travels, we drove through many small crowded beach towns such as La Serena and Bahía Inglesa with its white sandy beach. We also went through 3 highly recommended cities (Valdivia, Valpraiso, and Viña del Mar) but because of all the people and traffic it was hard to really appreciate them so we did not linger long. We enjoyed Santiago, with its old colonial buildings right next to its modern sleek buildings - such a contrast - and we had a delightful quaint hotel that felt European; it was right beside a beautiful park that we strolled through.

So many people at Bahia La Serena...

A highlight was going through the Atacama Desert, the driest desert of the world with some areas of no recorded rain. Ever! It was not what we expected for a desert. The Atacama has such a varied landscape from sand dunes, totally smooth rolling hills of striated colours, flat areas with sage brush, and areas with moon-like sharp jutting rocks. The many colours we noted included black, grey, white, tan, green, pink, red, and even purple - a real eye treat! Even though we were travelling during the south's summer, the desert was only about an average daytime temperature of 27 degrees.

How many colours can you count?

Mining is also very, very extensive throughout the desert. Nitrates were highly mined until the Panama Canal was built but now copper is mined extensively. We saw areas of hillsides streaked with layers of chalk/gypsum and Jordan wrote on the road with it. Several old adobe mining villages were present. We also drove past huge mining projects that have changed topography on mountainous scales.

Jordan atop 1 of the smaller mining trucks

Upon reaching Arica at the northern border of Chile, we had planned on crossing into Peru to see the ruins of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, the only border crossing between Chile and Peru was inaccessible due to the closure of the flooded bridge from heavy rains experienced earlier a ways upstream (Andes). We then decided to head towards Bolivia where we could cross into Peru from Bolivia.

Once again, no luck as upon reaching Bolivia, we were told that we could not take our rented car across the border as we did not have proper paperwork to take the car out of Chile. So we walked across the border - just to get our passports stamped with Bolivian stamps! That turned out to be a mistake as it then became difficult to re-enter Chile.

As it turned out, the Bolivian officials are not very concerned with officialdom. They had left for "lunch" to a city 1.5 hours away. But in actuality, they had left for the day to celebrate the festivities of the holiday period (Carnival). After a lot of driving and running around, we, along with a backpacking couple, finally found someone to stamp our passports with the required Bolivia "exit" stamp so that we could properly enter Chile.

We also found out that it was raining extensively in Peru and many people were stranded up on Machu Pichu because of washouts, etc. So all in all, it turned out best that we had not made it to the ruins. Maybe we will try again when we are on the Atlantic side of South America.

We returned to Arica for the night and then headed back towards Santiago, this time along the coast for part of the way where we saw several areas of seaweed being harvested. We stopped at an ancient cemetery beside the highway in the middle of nowhere where wooden structures were falling apart from age.

Sandy desert on 1 side, Pacific Ocean on the other

Driving by the ESO Paranal Astrophysical Observatory (www.eso.org) one day, we thought it would be interesting to check out but tours had to be pre-arranged so we were not allowed to enter.

Later, we walked along a beach where we collected a few beautiful purple sea urchin shells. The next day, we went to see the largest swimming pool in the world (S33°20'57" W71°39'10.6"). Several years ago, I had seen a picture and always wanted to see it for real. Situated in the private residential resort of San Alfonso del Mar in the city of Algarrobo, we were not allowed access but we did snap a photo from a distance. It is 1 km long and holds 250 million L of water. This man-made saltwater lagoon keeps fresh seawater in permanent circulation, drawing it in from one end and pumping it out at the other. With water so clear you can see the bottom even at the deep end of 115 feet. We saw a sailboat on it too! This pool is in the Guinness Book of Records.

Pool with ocean and beach sand in front - sailboat on left

Next it was back to Santiago where we would leave the car for a couple of days to catch a flight on the 28th of February for another adventure!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Change of plans

Here we are, back at Puerto Montt Chile. Our auto-pilot would not work and we didn't want to hand-steer 24 hours a day for a week and then again for much longer heading north. So we returned after trying for a couple of hours to get it to work, but no such luck. Now we are waiting for it to be repaired in USA. Spent all day yesterday with officials preparing the paperwork and another 3 hours today. All should be shipped, repaired, and returned within 2 to 3 weeks maximum. Hopefully...

In the meantime, we will take some land trips while we wait for the auto-pilot to be returned.

Have you ever noticed the titles at the top of our blog postings - just below the large photo of Sea Turtle? "The Wind in the Willows", "I Am Drawn", and today I just added a new one entitled "Night Watch". Night Watch was written by a fellow Bluewater Cruising Association sailor, Carolyn Daly of SV Shannon, and was presented to us as a gift when we departed for our adventures in 2009. Please take a peek!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Puerto Montt onwards

Retrieving the anchor on February 1st at 07:45, we planned to stop at one more anchorage before reaching Puerto Montt Chile. But that didn't quite work out...

The SW wind did not happen as predicted and hoped for so we were once again motoring in glassy seas. These last 3 weeks have almost always been motoring with little to no wind or beating against a head wind. But we did have a couple of real great sailing days.

Then Jordan sensed an unusual ticking/slapping sound coming from the rear of the engine compartment. So he immediately stopped the engine, opened up the compartment, and discovered the culprit - the engine compartment ventilation hose had gotten snagged on the rotating shaft and spun tightly around it with disintegrating shards of rubber and wire all over the place. It took about an hour to free the shaft of the debris while we drifted with the tide.

We were now behind schedule and couldn't make a good anchorage before nightfall so we decided to do an overnighter. After an uneventful evening, we arrived back to Puerto Montt at 14:30 on February 2nd.

The last 3 weeks had been full of new experiences and unique sites, the memories of which we will carry on board for a long time.

Back at Puerto Montt, we got busy as usual catching up on gmail, blog, and calls to family, a list of boat job and stuff to get. We caught a taxi cab back to Club Nautico one day and the driver, Claudio, asked if we wished to join him and his family for dinner one evening. We were very surprised to receive such a kind invitation from a total stranger but we wholeheartedly accepted.

Two days later, Claudio picked us up at the marina and drove us quite a distance down the coast and out to his home. There was Claudio, his wife, and two daughters and lots of delicious food, fun stories, pictures, and entertainment by their young grandson. We were delivered back to Sea Turtle laden with homemade plum juice, red current jam, buns, and cranberry cake. Super folks!

We finished all errands today, including provisioning, and it was rather late (20:00). Too late to make a dinner. So we had a loaf of French bread, cheese, paté, and good Chilean red wine. Jordan said it reminded him of when he was young and single backpacking in Europe and he would get a bottle of wine, fresh French bread, and delicious cheese, then catch a train (he had a month long EuroRail pass).

Beautiful sunset at Puerto Montt marina, Club Nautico

Puerto Montt has been a great place to get things, get things done, and actually be at the dock (at a mere $9 a day). The last time we were at the dock was over half a year ago and the next time may be well over that. So with zarpe (exit permit) in hand, we are leaving Puerto Montt tomorrow morning for Isla Robinson Crusoe, part of the Juan Fernández Archipelago. This is about a 7-day passage north and about 300 miles off the Chilean coast.