1st - 3rd December 2003
Back on the road again we made our way to one of the many reserves in the area, Reserva Nacional Radal Siete Tazas, south of Santiago. Coming off the Panamericana at Molina, there is a 50km dirt gravel track, fairly rough in places, which leads into the park. It was a long old drive and we were relieved when we found a rustic campsite a couple of kilometers before the Radal entrance. Amongst woodland, it looked peaceful and fairly sheltered from the elements.
We were just about to start putting the tent up when Ed noticed we had our second flat tyre of the trip. So before we could sit down and have a beer, the wheel had to be changed. He had nearly finished his graft for the day when another couple staying at the campsite came over to see if we needed any help. We were the second car that day they had seen with a flat tyre. Sylvan and Karolin had been travelling around in their camper from Switzerland, having shipped it to Halifax and driven all the way down to South America. They were headed on a similar route to us, finishing up in Buenos Aires on 5th January 2004, and were the first young couple we had met doing a trip similar to ours.
We spent a nice evening with them sat in their camper, drinking wine and marvelling at the luxury of an inside kitchen, heating and thinking how nice it would have been to have had a proper bed. It must be nice to just pull of the road and have a quick kip without having to put a tent up. But then there were a few places we had been to, where they could not have driven to, especially parts of the Southwest Circuit in Bolivia. And they said that a lot of the poor roads had really shaken up the interior of the camper. There are pluses and minuses for everything.
After a restful night we got up to walk in the park and see the Siete Tazas, a series of cascading waterfalls and pools that have been carved out of the black basalt rock by the Río Claro. At the administration to the park you have to climb up steep steps to register your vehicle and passport numbers before being allowed through the barrier. Once those formalities are over, it is a scenic drive a little further on, past a waterfall, to the start of the walk to see the "seven cups" themselves. You can't quite see all seven pools and waterfalls but you can see most of them and so get the general effect.
There wasn't much wildlife to be seen in the park, apart from a couple of bright green lizards - too fast to catch on camera - and a few huge spiders. The spiders were well camouflaged in the leaves and the only reason we spotted them was because we heard some rustling in the bushes and went to take a closer look....Sue was glad we had our roof tent!
The walk around the cascades does not take too long and we were soon on our way again, back onto the main drag heading south - conscious of time, we needed to get a fair few miles under our belt. Just north of Chillán, we stopped for the night at a Paramedic/Breakdown station. It was right on the Panamericana, but guarded round the clock and they had no problems with us camping there. It was free and they had spotless hot showers. After some dinner, we chatted to the paramedics for a while who were pretty intrigued by our tent and thought we were a bit mad and then went off to bed.
It was then a quick drive into Chillán in the morning to have some breakfast, check our emails and stock up with some food. The town is supposedly one of central Chile's major artisan zones, with a daily open-air market selling a huge selection of local handicrafts and fresh produce. Whilst the fresh produce was indeed colourful and plentiful, the selection of local crafts seemed somewhat wanting. We bought lots of fruit and veg - including the most delicious cherries ever - and some fresh chile sauce and then continued our travels south, hoping to reach the Parque Nacional Conguillío before nightfall.
About 85km south of Chillán, just off the Panamericana, is the Salto del Laja, a miniature Iguazú Falls, where the Río Laja plunges 50m over a cliff. It is a nice walk down to the falls and then back up to its edge, although unless you want to be drenched from head to toe, you won't want to go too close to its base. Ed did to his cost....
We were hoping to have lunch there but there were signs everywhere saying "no picnics", apart from one spot just away from the falls where they charged you to sit at a picnic table!
The PN Conguillío was still a fair drive away so we didn't spend too long at the falls. We were now entering the Chilean Lake District.