After a frustrating time in Santiago, where an overpowering virus of some kind kept me confined to a friend’s house – I don’t think she expected to spend nearly two weeks as my nurse – I was finally able to hit the road on Sunday, though I only made it as far as Talca, about 250 km south of the Chilean capital. The best thing was that I was able to spend a night at Casa Chueca, one of my favorite accommodations in the entire country – occupying a former vineyard, it’s spread over a park-like environment of seven hectares that was a welcome respite from the red-hot streets of Santiago.
Then, yesterday, I continued to Pucón – a longer drive but, the farther south I got, the weather continued to cool, though it was still very summerish. From my window at Hostería ¡École!, I have an obstructed view of Volcán Villarrica, which is presently closed to climbers, but barely any wisps of smoke are visible around the crater.
I’m only passing through here, en route to Puerto Montt to catch the Navimag ferry to Puerto Natales on Friday, with a brief stopover at Puerto Octay. For the moment, though, I’m going to post some observations on driving in Chile from the roughly 750 km I’ve driven in the past couple days. Some of this is anecdotal, so bear with me if I sometimes oversimplify.
1) Compared to Argentine drivers, many of whom are very aggressive, Chilean drivers are relatively sedate, but that can have its downside. Where there are three lanes on the freeway, the slowest drivers often occupy the middle lane, which means that faster drivers go around them on both sides. Where there are two lanes, they sometimes choose the fast lane; this is not something I adapt to easily, so I can’t afford even a short lapse in attention.
2) At this time of year, many young Chileans take to the road, but not many of them have cars – instead, they are hitchhiking, often in very dangerous spots alongside the highway. Given that I have hitchhiked these roads myself, longer ago than I care to admit, I sympathize with them but I rarely give anybody a lift now. They often travel in groups of three or even more, and think that I have plenty of room in my SUV, but I don’t – it’s full of books, papers, baggage and tools, or at least that’s my rationalization.
3) Some time ago, I wrote about the irony that, in Chile’s roadside servicentros, WiFi was usually free but they charged to use the bathrooms – usually a nominal fee, but there was always a person to collect before you could enter to relieve yourself. Fortunately, that appears to have ended; presumably, Copec, Shell and Petrobras have decided that their gasoline sales and concessions now pay well enough to subsidize the cost of cleaning the baños, and that people will make additional stops for convenience. That’s a win-win, in my opinion.
4) This has been a tough fire season, not unusual in the Chilean summer, but it was most notable in the Araucania region just north of the regional capital of Temuco. Near the town of Mulchén, where the native Mapuche have long been vocal about land claims and there have been instances of arson in the past, large stands of eucalyptus and Monterey pine – non-native commercial timber species – were virtually denuded. The eucalyptus have a chance to resprout, but the pines are likely to be a total loss.