April 15-16: a daring detour and lots of luck


Harry and I were ready to go. After four days of waiting for la bestia‘s release, we received her back from Toyota Bruno Fritsch in Concepcion — and in much better condition: her steering massively improved; key parts changed; no rattling sounds anymore; and her brake sensor repaired. Some issues are still pending, but they will need to wait until we’ve made it to Buenos Aires next month.



Bad traffic and lots of rain and fog had begun to weigh down on our mood. It was about time we left.



Valdivia near the Pacific Ocean greeted us with sunshine and a maritime atmosphere not unlike what I remember fondly from childhood vacations on the northern German coast. And indeed, back in 1909 Swedish South America explorer Carl Skottsberg wrote: “Valdivia […] is a German town. Everywhere you meet German faces, German signboards and placards alongside the Spanish. There is a large German school, a church and various Vereine, large shoe-factories, and, of course, breweries…”



I went for a stroll across the small fish market. I wish I had had a frying pan or, better even, an oven handy.



My best guess is that these were herons, and like me they were definitely in the mood for some fresh fish.



To my surprise, Valdivia also boasts its own multi-story tourist market offering a cross-section of typical Southern American handicrafts. Many of the items on sale reminded me of those I’d come across in Peru and Ecuador. In fact, what the merchants were selling was probably from there — or straight from China.



Harry took a keen interest in the small colony of sea lions hanging out next to the fish market. He wasn’t scared at all; in fact he seemed to ponder hopping onto the platform. I am glad he didn’t follow through.



And then, on our way to a nearby campground, we saw him: Boris Becker! Or did he see us…? I very much doubt, however, that anyone in Valdivia actually remembers Germany’s greatest tennis player of all times; instead, for them this red-haired guy is most likely just another eyeglasses model.



Unfortunately the rain caught up with us, and so I spent most of the afternoon holed up in a cafe where I had two slices of delicious cherry cake, as well as an unintentional overdose of caffeine.



On April 16 we were woken up by a songbird that sang incessantly for over an hour. And: by more sunshine!



It was time to pay a visit to the arguably most famous local brewery: Kunstmann (which, sadly, has recently been bought by a large brewery conglomerate). At first we only wanted to take a peek, but then the Honigbier looked too good. In combination with a fresh salad topped with candied apples, this counts as breakfast, right?



We continued toward the Pacific shore where Harry met some local dogs eager to play on the beach.



Next, we took the ferry from Niebla to Corral…



… where we were amazed to spot a lone freighter registered in Hong Kong.



The subsequent coastal drive was a wonderful reminder of our days on the US-1 in northern California in September 2015.



Then the paved road ended and a sign read “natural reserve.” On iOverlander, however, the road is marked as continuous, so we continued without much ado.



Half an hour later I had my first doubts. If the temperature hadn’t been in the lower 60s (F / around 15C), the scenery could have easily convinced me that we were back in Ecuador.



The first roadblock came in the guise of a fallen tree blocking the mud slope. I admit I was quite excited to finally put la bestia‘s winch to good use…



… and within twenty minutes the path was cleared.



The next obstacle we had to overcome was: a river. Not a creek — a proper river. For five minutes I was undecided whether or not to drive la bestia straight into the water. Then I took a deep breath and steered her right into it.



… and we made it! My heart rate was as high as if I had just run up a hill. The water had reached up to one third of la bestia‘s doors, leaving the undercarriage and exhausts completely submerged. In hindsight, this was probably a pretty stupid move…



… although the truly most stupid move was yet on the horizon: I had simply forgotten to check how much gasoline I had left in the tank. And so we literally crawled through the natural reserve–now surrounded by absolute darkness–for another three hours in the hope of somehow making it out and to the nearest gas station 50km away.


Argentina-Chile 17Apr16

We did it (or rather, la bestia did it); we arrived in Osorno five hours later than planned and are now officially in Patagonia!



I even found a small restaurant run by a Bavarian emigre where, just before 11PM, I was graciously served the night’s last beer.

My frivolous detour across Reserva Costera Valdiviana taught me a few important lessons: (1) never drive into a natural reserve area late in the day and without back-up; (2) always carry extra fuel — even in seemingly tranquil parts of Chile; and (3) carry alcohol as a last resort.


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