Driving to Patagonia – First Miles

Okay, folks, I know it’s been awhile. The problem has been the internet. We can’t usually get a strong enough connection to post, let alone look anything up. So here’s what I’m going to do – I’ve been keeping a word doc journal alongside my notebook. And whenever we have internet signal strong enough to do so, I’ll try to post a flurry of updates. Unfortunately, photos may have to wait as those take a million years to upload. But the good news is that you can see some of our photos on our instagram account. So, until next time…

 March 4th, Day 1

Our first day on the road was long and tiresome. We left Santiago around 11 in the morning, not as early as we had planned, and spent the next 10 hours driving steadily south on Ruta 5, the main thoroughfare bisecting the country from north to south.

Our trailer, having arrived only two days before, necessitated our late departure. The last two days spent in Santiago were a whirlwind of packing and shuffling things about as we tried to maximize the various compartments. It was both encouraging and discouraging work, as we found things that worked well and things that needed further adjustment. Luckily we’ll have at least 3 weeks in civilization before we begin the Caretera Austral, the Southern-most highway in the world, and the entrance to the great wild expanses of Patagonia.

Leaving the city was bittersweet. The day before we brought our puppy, Peppa, to the sitter, knowing we most likely wouldn’t see her for the next two months – and just after we bonded with her! Olivia was in tears as we drove off from the sitter’s house. But, we were all looking forward to leaving the heat and dust of the city for cooler, greener regions.

It was several hours before the trash at the side of the road disappeared and longer still before the heat dissipated. Along our drive, we saw many places that had caught fire recently, whole hillsides dead and brown and houses burnt husks. During the previous weeks, Chilean news had spent hours agonizing over the terrible fires that were consuming entire towns in the Bio Bio region, through which we later drove.

Along the way, we also had occasion to point out some of the oddities and idiosyncrasies of Chilean highway travel to my parents, who were in the car with us. Such things as the ever-present hitchhikers, the lane-crossing pedestrians (lunatics, if you ask me), the roadside fruit and vegetable stands, the family-run snack and drink huts, and the sorrowful little memorial houses built at the site of some unfortunate person’s demise.

Early in the afternoon, we were pulled over by a routine carabinero inspection point. Two policemen  waved us down to the side of the road where they inspected our car paperwork, including the circulation permit, the inspection certification, the insurance proof, and Mark’s license. To our surprise, one of the policemen told us that we needed to have our driver’s license certified back in Santiago, and in the next breath, he told us nevermind, that we were perfectly within the law and it was no big deal. This was not something we had heard before, but with the policemen’s blessing, we continued on our way without looking back.

We arrived late into Pucon. Exiting the highway, and approaching Lago Villarica, we were struck with wonder at the volcano that dominated the near distance. As the sun slipped below the horizon and rounded the other half of the world, we saw the snows atop the volcano change from pale yellow to orange to lavender. By the time we reached the small town of Pucon, the sky was black and the first stars were winking into view.

Check-in was complicated by the fact that we were all tired and hungry. And fishing out the right key from the jingling carabiner that held the trailer keys – all 16 of them – proved to be a challenge. After unloading our overnight bags, and receiving our wristbands (a lot like what you’ve have put on you in the hospital), we went up to our rooms to freshen-up before meeting back at the restaurant at half past nine.

The Gran Pucon has two restaurants – a sports bar and a buffet-style dining hall. We choose the later and I picked up sandwiches from the former to bring up to Mark and Oli who were watching cartoons in the room. I joined my parents in the dining hall and was not disappointed. The buffet was generous and well-appointed. I opted for Consomme de Ave (chicken soup), chorrillana (French fries topped with steak tips and caramelized onions), and an arroz con leche (rice pudding) for desert. The food wasn’t fancy but it was filling, warm, and tasty. The same could be said about breakfast the following morning. Visiting Americans won’t be disappointed by the options here, as most hotels in our experience offer sparse morning fare.

We spent only one night at the Gran Pucon Hotel but it was restful for us. I left the curtains open to the reflection of stars on the waters of the lake, and fell asleep curled up next to Oli in the twin bed we shared. Mark, took the other twin and slept deeply as well. My parents, on the other hand, were assigned to a small, cramped room that was stifling hot. Perhaps there was a mix-up, but the fan Dad tried to call down to reception for, ever arrived.

Compared to my parents’ room, located on the east side of the hotel, ours, facing the lake on the north, was very nice. The rooms had tall ceilings and ornate molding from another era. The doors were solid and towered above us as we moved from hall to bed chamber to bathroom. The bathroom, tiled from floor to ceiling was reminiscent of a turn-of-the century bathhouse in both size and fixtures. Although the pipes rattled and moaned, the water was hot and the tub relaxing.

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