Benjamin Bloom, May 08, 2015
Before beginning this post, I would like to start by saying thank you to the three friends of mine who had the balls to join me on this trip. They were forced to make “real world” sacrifices that would go against most people’s instincts. They quit their jobs, scraped together every last dollar they had and took the plunge so for that I am grateful. I can only hope they got as much out of the experience as I did.
Patagonia has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I never really knew much about it, where it was exactly or why I even wanted to go there so bad but something about it was engraved in my brain. Last year I finally decided to go for it and booked a round trip plane ticket into Santiago. All I knew was that I wanted to drive as far south as I could, making most of the trip on the Carretera Austral, also known as Route 7. I decided to try something different this trip and plan almost nothing. All I had booked was my plane ticket and a pickup truck. No itinerary, no campsites or hostels, no plans. This lack of planning was far outside my comfort zone but I figured this was the trip to test my luck.
We flew into Santiago the day after Thanksgiving, drinking the entire 22 hour flight and sleeping through our entire first day. Not the best way to start a trip but for three guys that just quit their jobs to backpack around Chile, we couldn’t help but celebrate a bit. We spent some time traveling around the cities of Santiago and Valparaiso. After drinking way too much beer and eating pounds of french fries we headed south to Pichilemu to surf and get out of the city. Pichilemu sits on the beautiful coast of Chile, reminiscent of California hundreds of years ago. It’s mostly undeveloped with rolling golden hills and never ending beaches. After two weeks of traveling around central Chile, our fourth member joined us and we headed south.
The start of Route 7 was about 1200 miles south of Santiago so we spent the first two days doing some intensive driving. We had to cross into Argentina and then Back into Chile to reach the road. To save money on taking a ferry to reach the northern point, we crossed over at Futeleufu and headed towards La Junta. As we kept driving back into Chile, the sun began setting and we started to get desperate for a camp site. As we were driving around Lago Yelcho someone spotted a small dirt road heading down to the water. We decided to give it a shot and it ended up stumbling on a enclosed beach right on the lake. Heaven. We parked the truck, unloaded our stuff and started shotgunning beers. The gods of Patagonia were looking out for us.
The next morning we packed up and headed on to finally reach Route 7. We decided to head north to Chaitén so we could say we drove the entire road. Chaitén got hit by a huge Volcano a couple years back and the town was definitely still recovering. We swung by the hot springs in Park Pumalin before heading back down to La Junta to find camp for the night. We noticed the Rio Palena on the map and decided to drive along the river and see if we could find a place to sleep. We found another small road heading down to the water and decided to stick with the theme from the night before. As we drove down we discovered another amazing, waterfront spot to pitch our tents. Another night of fishing, cheap beers and camp dinners was exactly what we wanted.
After another great night of sleep we packed up and headed west to the coast following a tip we got from a local dude about an awesome little beach town. Two hours of driving and a river crossing later, we finally got to the coast. It was completely untouched with lush mountains rolling into grass covered sand dunes. The coast was rough and rugged, much like we imagined it. Unfortunately a little too rough for our little pick-up which ended up getting stuck in the sand on our way out. With a bit of man power and a few beer boxes, we ended up getting it moving after about two hours only to reverse about five miles out onto solid ground.
Once free from the clutches of loose sand, we headed back towards Route 7 with the plan of continuing south. The funny thing about plans is that sometimes they don’t work out. When we reached the road again we were told that a huge landslide had taken out an entire chunk or Route 7 and that it was now impassable. The only options were to wait until who knows how long for the road to clear or to drive 750 miles back into Argentina and then back into Chile to reconnect with Route 7. It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong. To be continued.