I consider myself a prudent driver and somehow, in Argentina, I’ve managed to avoid any road accidents—an impressive record given the recklessness of so many Argentine motorists, a topic on which I’ve written at some length.
|My long-ago confrontation with Buses Don Carlos on the Carretera Austral. At that time, the narrow road had steep edges, so almost everyone drove down the middle.|
I’ve been less fortunate in Chile, though I generally consider it a safer place to drive. Once, on the Carretera Austral, I had a blind-curve bus confrontation that effectively demolished my own car and left me with broken ribs. A few years later, on the same route, I rolled a rented SUV when a tire blew on rough gravel (at that time, in 2001, almost the entire route was rough gravel), but I managed to avoid injury.
|Not the SUV that I rolled.|
Nothing quite so serious has happened since, though I later lost another car when I loaned it to a Santiago friend and an uninsured driver blasted through a stop sign, forcing her into a sidewalk telephone pole. She, fortunately, was uninjured and my own insurance company reimbursed me for the damage. That enabled me to buy my current vehicle, a Suzuki Grand Nomade with far lower mileage, so in that sense I actually came out ahead.
|My current car on the southern segment of the Carretera Austral, almost none of which is yet paved.|
On my current trip, there’s been nothing to match those occurrences, but other issues have manifested themselves. For one, Chile’s prosperity has meant a burgeoning fleet of modern automobiles—most notably SUVs—apparently owned by people with a great sense of self-entitlement (Yes, my own car’s an SUV, but I like to think I’m more considerate and I have pragmatic reasons for owning it). Many appear to be people from urban areas—probably Santiago—who think they can drive as fast on gravel as they can on a freeway.
That’s significant because a couple weeks, as I drove at a reasonable speed on a remaining gravel stretch of the Carretera Austral, south of Villa Cerro Castillo, one of these jerks passed me at high speed and threw a rock that hit my windshield. At first, the sound seemed worse than the actual damage but, in the following days, a crack appeared that’s now progressed almost all the way across the dash.
|The windshield's due for replacement on Monday.|
It doesn’t really affect my driving, because the crack does not obstruct my view of the road. When, however, the car next receives its annual revision técnica inspection, it would not pass and, therefore, I’ll now have to replace the windshield in Santiago. This will cost money and time that I’d prefer to devote to other parts of my trip, which ends on April 14th.
Another lesser issue was more easily but oddly solved. One of my tires was clearly losing air and, before leaving Puerto Varas for a nine-hour freeway drive to Talca, we pumped up the pressure (Anecdotally, it’s interesting that, even in these metric countries, the default option for measuring tire pressure is pounds per square inch). I thought a nail or broken glass would be the culprit but, on Thursday, the local Firestone store found no such thing—instead, apparently, air was leaking from a loose seal on the tire. It’s not a big deal like the windshield—remounting the tire cost only about US$5—but it’s a reminder that bad roads (like much of the Carretera Austral) can cause unanticipated problems.
Support Southern Cone Travel!
If you've found this article entertaining or otherwise useful, please consider clicking on an ad to earn me a few pennies.