08 Aug Chile Day 1
We were in Chile. But we could have been at any airport anywhere…basically we were standing in a series of lines and talking to a series of people. Oh, and we had to pay $131 dollars to enter the country. The US, Canada, Mexico, ALBANIA and a few other have to pay a few. The fee for Los Estados Unitos is the highest, naturally.
As soon as we left Customs we were surrounded by people hustling taxis. I repeated “No nesesito, gracias” as we paid our way to the Budget rental booth, the guy knew who we were. Sadly they didn’t have any snow chains. But, we did learn what they were called, “Cadenas para Nieva” and that we could rent them from various places along the road.
Our first translation problem come shortly there after…”Sin Gas or Con Gas?” Water in Chile is always available with or without bubbles. And for some reason I’d forgotten the Spanish for “without.” I mean, “sin” isn’t that far from “sans” or “sanza” but for whatever reason – it took a bit to figure out what the clerk was talking about.
With waters in hand we walked out into what was most definitely a winter morning. Will lit a smoke and our jaws dropped as we got our first look at the Andes in daylight. They were so big, so rugged, and so close. We shot some film and wandered over to get our car.
The seats didn’t fold down, but we made due. The tripod didn’t really stay on the dash, but we made due. We were on the road doing a blistering 80km/hr.
We drove on a cross city freeway through the North of Santiago. The road ran parallel to the river that cut through the city and I was excited to see it. Our hotel was near it in the “Vitacura” disctrict and I’d thought it would be a good walking destination for us. It wasn’t really what I’d expected. It was small and fenced in. The banks on either side were covered in trash. The LA river is mostly cement, so I guess this isn’t too much different on the “overall beauty” scale, but I expected something a little different.
The exit from the freeway was interesting, it was a cross between a freeway offramp and an access road to a mall parking lot. It’s kind of hard to explain, but there were about 6 turns and merges from the freeway until we were actually on a legit surface street. We got a little lost in a residential area, drove in the wrong lane towards an SUV, and were shortly on the very windy, VERY mountainous road to Farellones.
But not before we got turned around by the Carabineros for not having chains. We were pretty sure we’d need them, we just didn’t know at what point we had to have them.
We headed back down the road to a group of 5 cargo containers we saw on the way up. I assumed this was where we would rent them. When we pulled up we saw the sign that said “_rent__ cadenas para nieva.” A tanned and leathered old woman fitted our car with chains while a bearded man tried to sell us various gloves and hats. It was cold. Like “Real Winter” cold. I was looking forward to putting on my riding gear.
I think I can safely say this was the gnarliest mountain road I’ve ever been on. We climbed 1000 meters in under 30 minutes through about 40 switchbacks. They actually number the curves there are so many of them. Aside from the trucks, tourist buses, people driving in both lanes, there were also dogs and horses on the road. And it was barely 2 car lengths wide. We took it slow and mellow, I was driving a Toyota Carolla after all…not the REXY.
Here’s a video I found online, the quality isn’t great – but I think the general idea comes through.
We arrived in Farellones without putting on the chains, there were some icy patches, but nothing that couldn’t be navigated past by driving in the opposite lane. When in Rome….
I kept an eye out for the street our lodge was on, “La Capilla.” We didn’t have a map or an address…because there wasn’t one. The woman who I booked it with said “transport will know where it is” but since we drove that wasn’t going to help us. I figured there would be a sign on it, or someone would know where it was. We found the street, parked and started to wander around. The street was covered with ice and we’d just as soon not drive back and forth on it…
We walked down the street and didn’t see it. We walked up the street and didn’t see it. We asked several people about it, no one knew. I saw a sign on another lodge that I recognized from the website. I figured if they were from the same management company someone there would know where it was. The place was empty. The office was empty. The door was unlocked.
We’d been on the road for a few hours…so we uh, “helped ourselves” to their facilities. On the way out I noticed a “no zapatos” sign… we laughed about someone finding our muddy footprints on their white tile floor later.
We called the manager, Laura. She didn’t speak English. She passed me to her boyfriend. He kinda spoke English. But only enough to confuse us. We wandered back and forth on the street more. His directions made no sense. We knocked on a few random doors and asked a few more people. No one knew where this place was…and most had never heard of it.
I spotted a guy we’d chatted to earlier, his name was Martin and he spoke pretty good English. I asked if he could call Laura and talk w/ her for us. He said sure, but then my phone wouldn’t dial the number. I still don’t really understand the dialing/number conventions in Chile. Sometimes you need the area code, sometimes you don’t? At just that moment, a woman in white top and checkered chef’s pants walked up the road towards us. Martin and her spoke in Spanish for a bit and it turns out that she worked at the lodge and had come to find us.
Yes! Almost there. We walked up the the car and she (Jessica) suggested that we put on chains. Since I’d rented the car, I figured it would be ok if I let Will take care of this. It didn’t take him too long, and earned him a sweet bloody thumb. As we drove down the road towards the lodge I told Jessica “nostortros estamos en Chile para mis cumpleanos de trenta,” “Cuando?” she relied “diez de Julio,” I responded.
We got to the lodge and discovered that it wasn’t even ON La Capilla, it was off small unnamed road that split off from it. There was no sign and no number. I don’t know how anyone would find this place on their own.
But the place…it was stunning. The lodge was on the edge of a ridge, snow covered mountains and valley were all we could see past it.
(I don’t seem to have my own pic of the place….maybe it was on my iphone)
Inside we met Clara who was the house-mom. She offered us café which we happily accepted. We sat in front of the warm fire and enjoyed the coffee and some cookies.
Then we geared up and headed for the hill. It was just after noon and we could still get a 1/2 day of riding in.