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Lakes District & Chiloé, CHI


December 26th, 2018

After too many hours on flights from Buffalo to Detroit to Atlanta to Santiago, we actually landed early, got a taxi and returned “home” to Tigger at Camper Travel, where we had arranged to have them install the new gasket for our toilet (it has been leaking for months so no water would stay in the bowl) upon our return with the part.  They helped us right away and we then moved ourselves to the mechanic that Doug had arranged with to all install the truck parts.

Upon arriving at Del Pacifico, he told us “no we cannot do all that work”!  WTH – he’d given us a freakin’ quote!  Anyway, he did give us the name of another establishment about 1 km away and they helped us right away.  They managed to remove and install the new torsion bar mounts, all good;

then they removed the old fuel pump and despite a small addition to the top of the new one that appeared not to affect the workings, installed that successfully.

As the work was not done but 6 when they were closing up shop, they let us stay overnight inside the garage.

So the next morning it was time for the airbags – they removed the old ones and it turns out the new ones we brought were not the correct ones.  Doug had reached out to the 4×4 place that had installed them back in the US and was advised of the part number however they were not the same nor were the connection holes.  There appeared to be no way to make them work.  It was disappointing and frustrating for sure as you cannot get these in Chile or Argentina. (We discovered later that Amazon had sent us the wrong part.)

We left the garage around ten and made our way to a mall to do some grocery shopping and then began making our way south – destination: Ushuaia, Argentina (the southern tip) before the end of February.

After leaving the big city, we realized we should have topped up our propane tank but saw on iOverlander that there seemed to be places going south to get this done.  We stopped driving around 3:15 at a Copec station, did our laundry at the self-serve machines and had some internet time.  Around 7, Fran returned to Tigger and lo and behold wasn’t there a camper in the parking lot that she recognized.  Will was inside and she invited him over for a beer when he was free.  He was driving up to Santiago to pick up his wife who’d been in the States for a while.  We’d met him and Cate back in Colombia last year.

Will came over for about an hour and we caught up before turning in for the night.  Despite being at a truck stop gas station, we slept pretty darn good and were actually not awake too early on Friday. Before leaving Doug replaced the overhead light in his “bedroom” with the one we brought back and the TV cable outlet that had been damaged back in Peru.

Today we made our way to Parque Nacional Radal Siete Tazas  (7 cups) for a hike.  It was an easy one and did not take as long as expected and was worth the 25 km  / 15 mi of dirt road each way to reach it.

We were on the road again by one  and began looking for propane – had no luck at three different stations.  At one place, we didn’t have the right connection and at another they told us LPG for vehicles is not supposed to be sold to foreigners for use in their motor homes – although we’ve done this before.  At the third she was able to connect but said it was leaking…. We’ll try again tomorrow.  We drove 150 km / 93 mi further and spent the night at a Shell truck rest stop. While at the station, Doug replace our defective outdoor motion sensor light with the one we’d also brought back with us.

So after a pretty good sleep at a gas station, we turned north a bit back to the city of Chillán as there were two or three chances that maybe we could get propane; first place was a bust; no one there and the second place, a Lipigas, we had to wait ten minutes for them to actually open and then the female attendant tried to fill the tank without an adapter but was having issues connecting it so Doug fiddled with it a bit and it worked! (maybe that was the problem at the other place?) We are good for another four months or so!  Amazing how something that seems so simple, can be so trying.  Ah, first world problems, right?!

We then made our way southeast to the small town of Villarrica in the famous Lakes District of Chile to see the view on the lake which is backed by the conical Volcan Villarrica.  It began to rain and it rained hard for a couple of hours before lessening and finally stopping before we arrived.   We knew of a wild camp spot on the lakeshore and it was actually facing the volcano although the top was covered in cloud.  After doing a few things, we both went for walks, picked up a few items we needed, it rained a bit more and then we spent the night there.

We awoke to clear skies and the volcano came out in most of its glory; the sun was coming up almost behind it so it took a couple of hours to actually see it and by mid-morning clouds began to gather again. (sorry not a great photo)

Doug began to remove and replace the sewer hose door we’d brought back as well as the sewer hose “hose” (the part the actual sewer hose sits in); this proved to be quite the job and it turned out the “hose” we brought back didn’t look like it would work.  He worked on getting rivets out and getting the door ready to reinstall when we find the right one.   It was late morning by the time we left and we drove about 130 km / 80 mi to the city of Valdivia where we wanted to see the giant sea lions.

Parking was a bit of a challenge due to construction including the two parking lots at the waterfront but we drove away from the waterfront and found free Sunday street parking and walked back.

The South American sea lion is perhaps the archetypal sea lion in appearance. Males have a very large head with a well-developed mane, making them the most lionesque of the eared seals. They are twice the weight of females.  Males are grey/chocolate brown coloured and females are orange or brown and both have upturned snouts. Pups are born greyish orange ventrally and black dorsally and molt into their adult colour.

The South American sea lion’s size and weight can vary considerably. Adult males can grow over 2.73 m (9 ft) and weigh up to 350 kg (770 lb). Adult females grow up to 1.8–2 m (6–7 ft) and weigh about half the weight of the males, around 150 kg (330 lb).

We had a quick bite to eat and returned to Tigger to drive inland and south where our next stop was located. Doug spotted a hardware store as we left town and managed to find the right thing he needed to finish the sewer hose door repair. We drove about 90 km / 55 mi and stopped at; you guessed it: another gas station for the night.  Here we had hot showers for just over a dollar each, used the painfully slow WiFi for a bit and then spent the night.

Monday, December 31st we made our way on the early side to what is a popular waterfall here in the Lakes District:  Saltos de Petrohue.  Enroute we drove through a wetlands area and spotted a few black necked swarms – one with little ones.

We arrived  at Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales before ten and found the parking lot for the falls.  Upon entering the visitors centre, Doug learned it was temporarily closed due to an accident on the trail and should reopen in about an hour.  We settled in the parking lot to wait and saw three busloads of people leave; two cars arrived and Fran told them it was closed for a bit and they went in anyway and came back saying they were told it could be closed all day….so she went inside and asked two different people who both confirmed it was going to be closed until tomorrow.

We drove back in to the little village of Ensenada to a possible campground but the spots were too short for us and then they offered to let us park in their parking lot but as it was undercover; we tried to get power but our transformer is acting up: again! So we left and found a spot on the beach on Lago Llanquihue, the second largest lake in Chile, with an overcast view of Volcan Osorno and hope it will clear up and we’ll see it before we leaving in the morning to go back and do the waterfall hike.

After setting up we realized there was a free WiFi signal there! – not strong but it worked for a few hours.  The rain began again and we spent the afternoon indoors as the wind was quite strong.  We were quite amazed at seeing people actually getting into the lake – it was barely 15C / 59F out and the wind was cold!

Doug did go for a walk at one point and got us a treat to celebrate NYE.  We did manage to stay up until 11 and it was a pretty quiet night except for some dogs at various times.

2019 – January 1st

Today we awoke to full sun and after breakfast we made our way back to the park where we learned that it was not an accident that closed the park the day before but a robbery of the office!  We did two short hikes (we’d thought they were going to be much longer for some reason) and enjoyed the Saltos de Petrohue which are not really a waterfall but more chutes and rapids of glacial water.

We drove back through Puerto Varas south and stopped at a Copec station that was said to have fast WiFi and spent the afternoon and night.  As it’s a holiday today (and has been for five days here in Chile – we’ve been told New Year’s is a bigger deal than Christmas here), nothing in Puerto Montt, our next stop, will be open. We thought maybe a chance of getting the transformer fixed or replaced there so we took advantage of some down time to get stuff done.  Doug finished the sewer hose door replacement job, Fran did some cleaning and housekeeping and then we both spent time online.

The countryside in the Lakes District has been quite green and there’s lots of agriculture.  We’re not seeing vineyards anymore.  The PanAm, Ruta 5, continues to be in good condition but there are a lot of tolls on this southern part, unlike north of Santiago.  The drivers are good and know how to change lanes which is refreshing after the northern countries.  For a country that has lots of RV driving around there are surprisingly few established campgrounds that have all services.  There is a good deal of wild camping including gas stations like we’ve been utilizing.  We have come across campgrounds near parks etc but they rarely fit “big rigs” or offer internet and/or “hot” showers as an amenity and seem to charge too much for what they offer.

Despite Chile being the most expensive South American country we’ve been to so far, cellular data is still pretty cheap.  We get 4.5gb with 250 minutes of calling for about $12 which lasts a month.  Our Google Fi data is $10 a gig with free messaging and 20¢ a minute for calling.

Thursday, we drove to Puerto Montt in the hopes of having the transformer fixed or if necessary, replaced with a new one.  We began by driving to an electrical mechanic we found in iOverlander and Lukas referred us to an electronics shop/repair place downtown.  Parking down there was a non starter so Doug dropped Fran off in front of the shop and went to find parking.  The technician said one of our 110 sockets was dead (which we knew) and that the other only had 50V coming out.  He said he could fix it if we left it overnight.  Fran left it and met Doug down the street at McDonald’s and we went for a walk on the malecon

We spent the night at a local Copec gas station again.  We had hoped for showers but they had no hot water and their WiFi sucked.  We spent a surprisingly quiet night as the afternoon was quite noisy and after breakfast went to the Lider (Walmart) to shop and made our way back downtown to retrieve the transformer.  Unfortunately, he was unable to repair it but somehow it now had 110 V in the one working socket.  We think we may have forgotten about the fact that we only had one socket working last time we plugged in and didn’t try both – oops! That what happens when you don’t hook up for a month!

We made our way out of Puerto Montt to a truck rest area on the Ruta 5 for free hot showers.  It was quite misty today – reminded us of our year living outside Seattle – yuck.  Now we are heading to the coastal Island of Chiloé.

We continued down the Ruta 5 to the ferry terminal and literally drove right on the boat!  That never happens in BC!  After all the vehicles are boarded, you pay the attendant that is walking around and the ride took less than a half hour – cost about $20.

Upon disembarking we made our way to the city of Ancud to check out a museum where we saw the ship named Goleta Ancud which was the one used by the Chileans to pass through the Strait of Magellan in 1843 to claim their land at the “end of the world”

and the skeleton of a blue whale

Later we walked on the malecon

saw some cute clapboard homes

and the skies had cleared and it was very pleasant.  It felt like driving around the Gulf Islands and the Malahat near Victoria at times – just the trees were differfent: very few evergreens.

Now to get off the island you either return north and back through Puerto Montt to continue south to the Carretera Austral or take a ferry at the south end of the island over to Chaiten.  We looked into the ferry prices and they seemed quite high so we looked at going north and driving to Chaiten and it seems cheaper to drive around.

Before actually going south, we made our way further west to a beach where there are a couple of islands with penguins on them.  There are tours but we’d read that the boats seem to disturb them a lot – which we don’t like – but that you can also see them from the beach (as large does with the naked eye and of course, better with binoculars/zoom lenses).

The beach was fantastic – reminded us of the Oregon coast and some of the islands in BC.


We walked to the far end and on the islands we spotted a few penguins and tried to take pictures but it was extremely windy and even with a tripod (or Doug’s shoulder) it was difficult to get clear shots.  There are two types here:  Humboldt and Magellan.

We walked along the beach for a while and decided we’d like a chance at a Pacific Coast sunset.  You can park right on the beach but it appeared to us that the tide line came almost all the way so rather than chance that we drove up the road that runs along the beach to higher round where the national park has a overlook.  No one mans it and there are only info placards inside but there is a little balcony out back from which we could see the beach and the islands as well as spot penguins.  These were take with our 83x zoom camera – they were quite far away and it was windy but you can see that they ARE penguins!  🙂

We relaxed in the warmth of the sun before dinner above the beach (high tide mark on the beach looked a little too dangerous for our liking) and around 9:20 pm went out to check out the sunset.  Well it wasn’t great and it was blocked by a hill but we did see lots of penguins hanging out on the islands.  Guess they wait till the boat trips are done and then congregate unmolested.

It was a very quiet, dark night and we only had one neighbor; a local from Puerto Montt sleeping in a tent. After getting up we drove back to the beach to walk and have our breakfast with a view.

We then drove back to Ancud (the island’s second biggest city) and made our way south towards Castro, the largest city about halfway down the island.  The draw of this island of Chiloé is the large national park which covers most of the island and the wooden churches built in the 18th and 19th centuries – sixteen of them are now UNESCO world heritage sites.

The Churches of Chiloé are a unique architectural phenomenon in the Americas, and one of the most prominent styles of Chilota architecture.  Unlike classical Spanish colonial architecture, the churches of Chiloé are made entirely in native timber with extensive use of wood shingles. The churches were built from materials to resist the Chiloé Archipelago’s humid and rainy foggy climate.

Built in the 18th and 19th centuries when the island was still a part of the Spanish Crown possessions, the churches represent the fusion of Spanish Jesuit culture and local native population’s skill and traditions; an excellent example of mestizo (mixed) culture.

Along with their basic architectural design (tower façade, basilican layout and vaulted ceiling, hexagonal steeple), these sixteen of the seventy churches are significant for their building material, their construction systems and the expertise demonstrated by the Chilote carpenters, as well as for their interior decoration, particularly the traditional colours and the religious images. The churches are distinguished by an indigenous tradition of building in wood strongly influenced by boat-building techniques, as shown by the forms and jointing of the tower and roof structures. The orientation and location of the churches is deliberate: constructed according to the demands of the sea, they were arranged on hills to be seen by navigators and to prevent flooding. 

The Churches of Chiloé were designated UNESCO sites in 2000.

We took a bit of a circuitous route and visited one in San Juan

One in Dulcahue,

One in downtown Castro at which we could not find parking so it was  drive by

Then south of the city we saw two more.

So we made our way north again to catch the ferry back to the mainland and Puerto Montt.  As we left the city heading south, the Carretera Austral begins and the city is much nice on this side; the malecon here reminds us of the Sea Wall in Vancouver.

We began investigating the route of the Carretera Austral (we are now on the Ruta 7 as the Ruta 5 (generally known as the PanAm ends on Chiloé).  Turns out that part of the route is a ferry anyway (!) and it didn’t look cheap either.  Darn – we should have spent more time looking at the route closer.