After 3 fantastic weeks on another continent we are back on the compound – back on Paradise Island. The three weeks has gone fast, as expected – and although not terribly relaxing (the husband and I have tended to lean away from lie-on-the-beach-holidays of late) and while my Spanish didn’t quite improve so much as I hoped (turns out Chileans speak quite differently from Equato-Guianeans!) it was a mind-blowing trip. It started with a week driving around the lakes district (la area de los lagos) gazing at clear, cold water surrounded by snow-dusted mountains and volcanoes, followed by kayaking through the blue glaciers of los lagos in El Parque Nacional de Torres Del Paine, Patagonia, then trudging through the park in the most serious wind conditions of my life and finally ended with a few civilised days eating in Santiago where it actually felt like summer (unlike the south).
Only a week of the trip was spent with the self-drive – apparently the most stressful part of the trip according to the husband. Given as he has not yet driven in downtown Malabo – we finally received notification that his drivers’ license had been granted while we were away – I will keep you updated on whether driving in Chile is to be preferred. Notwithstanding that most of the information obtained prior to booking the hire car advised us that the best form of transport was buses, given my preference for hard-to-get-to locations, the husband finally relented and the hire car was booked. Accommodation was also booked in advance, and road maps purchased for an elevated price at the airport. For those of you who also find themselves driving in Chile some day, here are some tips which may be helpful:
1. Don’t expect there to be a sign for the town/location you are looking for – even if the town appears to be relatively large when reflected on a map.
2. Don’t expect there to be a main street in towns when turning off the highway – or that “just driving straight” will necessarily take you out the other side. Most likely you will end up in the suburbs, or on a dirt road, or at a cemetery.
3. Many roads (often without warning) even to relatively large town are dirt. Don’t kid yourself that four wheel drive’s are required… although they may in fact be preferable!
4. You may drive as fast as you like on these dirt roads. And overtake at any time you like.
5. When in doubt, just turn your hazard lights on. This will cover you for stopping in the middle of street if you’re lost/dropping off a passenger, have to break suddenly when encountering road works (we assume the abundance of these was linked to upgrading the dirt roads? Expect a 30 minute delay) or simply driving slowly along.
Simple right? However, I maintain that driving was the best way to see the stunning lakes area even if we almost didn’t make it to our intended destination at times!
After the hire car had been continually doused in dust for a week, we flew south to Patagonia. A good friend of mine commented that “Patagonia” sounds like the name of a mythical place – and after having been there and stood among the massive mountains, waterfall-lined valleys as rainbows cast across the skies – I can confirm her description to be absolutely apt. Patagonia, or more specifically, El Parque de Torres del Paine, exists in another world. In spite of the tourists, other backpackers and hikers plodding along the hiking trails – when one gazes around the turquoise, grey and blue lakes, around the jagged snowy mountains which rise up above bearing down, one gets the sense of being absolutely in the middle of the nature without human spoil. Antarctica is only a ‘short’ jump away, and really, southern Chile feels like the end of the earth. It is absolutely remote. It is not only the scenery but a sense that the place has its own personality, its own rules to do what it likes when it likes, and to change its mind seconds later. It is the feeling of being swept sideways into the lakes and off the trails by the driving wind at 90km/h and that your simple cabin with its high wooden beams and shaking floor is going to collapse onto you in the middle of the night. In essence, it is wild.
I am looking forward to going back. There is nothing like the remotessness of El Fin Del Mundo.
Now, back on the compound, back on the island, back to our “reality” although for how long it cannot be assumed. The drop in the oil price has meant a number of staff have been let go, and while there does not appear to be any immediate danger coming our way, one must always be ready for anything. Cannot say I am ready to leave this place just yet however!
Funnily enough, the week prior to the trip, I found myself being tapped on the shoulder by a feeling of guilt – the guilt of being so lucky to have the opportunity to lead this charmed life of ours – when others are in all manner of inferior, unhappy or difficult positions. It was the guilt of being able to travel once again and fulfill a few more dreams – when others cannot even contemplate doing so. Of course, it is not without sacrifices. Yet, the appreciation of our position is something which strikes me ever single day we are here – and more so following the trip.
We are just so fortunate.