‘To almost lose the van once may be regarded as misfortune, but to almost lose the van twice looks like carelessness’ – with thanks to Oscar Wilde, I couldn’t have said it better myself. We’re both fine, and feeling very, very lucky!
We have just been to Villa O’Higgins, which is as far south as it is possible to get in Chile, without crossing over into Argentina. A couple of hundred kms south of Cochrane on a narrow, windy unsealed road, with a 7km ferry trip across a fjord about halfway down. There’s an interesting village, Tortel, on the northern side of Routa 7 which is vehicle-free – it’s accessible only by steps and boardwalks. We went there today as we headed north.
So it was all going without a hitch until we met a bus on a narrow bit of the road, plus there was also a rock on either side of that particular bit, making it impossible for the 2 vehicles to pass without some manoeuvering. We backed the van down the road and to the side to let the bus pass, and couldn’t get out of the very soft edge of the road. In fact, the rear wheel was pretty much spinning in the air, and the front wheel had fortunately got wedged on a rock that held it in place and stopped the van from tumbling over the edge. This was the downside of the slope, which just went down the mountain into a river. So we stayed put and hoped that someone with a hefty 4WD and a rope might come along and help us out. We grabbed our passposts, some cash and a couple of credit cards out of the van ( and afterwards we remembered all the other things we should have grabbed, like the van’s original registration papers and the extensive record of all the border crossings it had done with us). One car stopped and the driver spoke English, so he was able to organise other people who also stopped to help. One guy got out his brand new snatch strap (I hope it’s the only time he ever has to use it), a guy with a 4WD Nissan ute offered to help pull the van out, and 3 guys got behind the van and pushed. Success! I hooted and hollered like a mad woman, someone praised God en espanol, we were profuse in our thanks to everyone, told them how much we loved their country, and we were all good to go our separate ways. I guess it’s some kind of measure of how serious it all was that we didn’t even think to take a photo until we were some way down the road. We stopped on the way back today and got some.
We headed straight for the free army-run ferry across to O’Higgins. It runs 3 times a day at this time of the year, with the last one for the day going south at 6pm. We joined a long line of cars, more than one ferry-load, but we found out that if there is more than one ferry-load, the guys will take another trip. So we got across to the other side with the second load just before 9pm. The possible camping spots near the ferry dock were taken, and we headed further south. Found one possibility, but after our recent near-disaster, Greg was reluctant to drive on soft ground, so we went another couple of kms and found a great spot in a dry creek bed. We would never, ever, ever have even considered such a place in Australia, but what can I say? We were tired, it was getting late and anyway, what were the chances that it would flood?
Well, er, excellent, as it turned out. It rained all night and I woke just before 8am to Greg yelling ‘F@^K! Wake up! We have to get the car out of the water!’ He never swears, so this was serious! He had got up for a wee just before 6.30am and it was all fine, but later on the sound of water where it shouldn’t have been made him look out the window, to see a raging torrent of water in the previously dry river bed. It was around a foot deep when he moved the car … and The One Time we needed the car to start, it did!
Dumb, dumb, dumb, but we were so lucky that we managed to get out when we did. We lost some stuff that we’d left outside overnight .. 20L container of fuel, our Ice Box cooler with food in it, and the previous night’s washing-up – some plates, cups, cutlery and cooking pot that were on loan from Wicked Campers. Greg waded in freezing thigh-deep water to rescue our shadecloth/groundsheet thing and our folding sink, which had caught on bushes at the side of the water, but the rest would have floated a long way down.
Anyway, we drove to Villa O’Higgins. The surrounding mountains had white stripes of waterfalls rushing down to join all the other floodwater. Rivers and lakes were full and flowing fast, and the lakes had lines where their usual blue water had been joined by tannin-brown flood water. And it kept on raining. V. O’Higgins was awash, and there were some very bedraggled-looking hitchikers walking along the road, trying to get a lift anywhere! We went to the only shop that was open, walked through the cloud of tiny insects hovering around the boxes of rotting fruit and found a cooking pot to replace the one we’d lost. It’s the same brand, but a bit bigger.
Headed 8kms south to the end of the Carretera Austral Southern Highway, then turned around and drove north. Caught the last ferry of the day, at around 7pm, and pulled off the road several kms north of the dock, on a nice, solid, not-too-windy viewpoint by the side of the road. No vehicles passed us until around 9am this morning.