A Travellerspoint blog


Chapter 6 - Leaving Chile. Kind of. Sort of. Eventually...

By Neil

sunny 32 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

“No Bus”, said the lady in the Andesmar Bus office in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile.

Nik and I had been travelling gradually up from Cape Horn at the bottom of Chile, and San Pedro de Atacama was our last stop in Chile before heading south east down to Buenos Aires to meet up with my sons, Alex and Michael. However, the Andes had different plans.

It was in January 1817 that General Jose San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins (that great South American Patriot), first crossed the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago in order to liberate Chile from Spanish Rule. We were planning to cross east of San Pedro de Atacama over the 4,320 metre Paso de Jama pass and go to Salta in Argentina, then south to Cordoba and then into Buenos Aires. Piece of cake. 5 days. No problem.

We’d taken a great tour the day before to Valle de Luna (Valley of the Moon), and Valle de Marz (Valley of Mars). Two amazing geological features just outside of San Pedro.


Valle de Marz, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our guide, Pablo, had said that the Paso de Jama pass was open and that, worst case, they might delay us a bit in order to snow plough the road, and put down some salt. But on the Monday night, it snowed. We didn’t get up there but here’s what it probably looked like.


“Do you think it will be open tomorrow ?”, I asked the Andesmar lady.

“Quizas”(Maybe) she said. “ No Se” (I don’t know), she continued.

So, Tuesday morning. We’re in San Pedro de Atacama and Alex and Michael would arrive on a flight on Sunday.

Time to look into various options. Time to get googling. There was an internet café at the bus station with two free monitors. The woman in the internet café was helpful.

“No hay Aeropuerto en San Pedro. Hay un Aeropuerto en Calama, pero no hay vuelos a Santiago” she said, letting us know about the lack of an airport at San Pedro and that Calama, 70 km’s away had no flights to Santiago.

“Para un vuelo a Santiago, es necesario ir a Antofagasta”, she continued. So we started looking up flights from Antofagasta to Santiago, and I checked with the Bus office to see if we could get a bus the 340 km’s to Antofagasta. All good. After lots of checking, we could get a bus to Antofagasta, a flight to Santiago (Nikki pointed out that, whilst we wanted to travel by land mostly, it was ok to fly back), a bus over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza, and then a short 17 hour bus ride to BA. Getting in at midnight Saturday night.

So midday we’re on a bus for the 340 km trip to Antofagasta.

Antofagasta is a mining town that is pretty much ignored by the Lonely Planet guide, however, it was the imposition of a 10 cent per tax on the Compania de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Antofagasta that was the trigger for the War of the Pacific. It was during this war between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia (1879 – 1883), that Bolivia lost it’s access to the Pacific.

Maps showing South America before and after the War of the Pacific (1879 to 1883)

But wait, there’s more. Antofagasta has a number of claims to fame; the highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in Chile (USD 37,000 – That’s a lot (it’s USD 51,000 per capita in Australia)), dancing on the beach, a mammothy thing, and an honourable mention in the worst vegetarian food of the trip


Those of you who’ve travelled with me know that I like to be early for flights to allow for the unexpected. Like in Antofagasta, a water main that had exploded overnight closing off the main street and a number of other streets. Although it was close, we made the “Sky Airways” flight, and all was good.

However, at Santiago airport it was time for a travel lesson. There are always taxi touts at airports looking for business. At Santiago airport, it’s taken to a whole new level.

Not only are there taxi touts. There are minibus touts. And normal bus touts. Imagine, if you will, that you are at a market and you want some apples, oranges and an avocado. Then imagine that, instead of walking around the different grocers, that they surround you and are all yelling, no screaming at the same time for you to buy their produce. Then that you decide you’re going to go the supermarket to get your fruit, but they wont move. You gently move through the crowd, which results in a little meanness coming into the touts. Once you’re in the supermarket it’s all ok. But getting there is decidedly uncomfortable.

It was a lesson to us walk directly the taxi counter in airports and don’t think about minibuses or airport buses. It was a serious and salutary lesson.


However, once in Santiago it was time for some food porn. After the food in Antofagasta, the Bocanariz restaurant was very nice and with some great wine.


Bocanariz restaurant, Santiago – January 26th 2017 – One month on the road.

Trying to leave Chile, again.

The pass through the Andes between Santiago (Chile) and Mendoza (Argentina) used to be the Uspallata pass at over 3,832 metres until the 3,080 metre Tunel Cristo Redentor (Tunnel of Christ the Redeemer) was built at 3,200 metres in 1980. The road up from Santiago is the most amazing road I think I’ve ever been on. 24 hairpin bends. Astounding scenery. Plus I redeemed my soul when I went through the tunnel. We arrived at the Chilean/ Argentinian border post at 10.45 am.


The 24 hairpin bends on the way up from Santiago o the pass

“12.15 pm” I said to Nik, with my 1.5 hour estimation of the time it would take to get through.

But no. I’ve travelled a lot but this was the weirdest border crossing I’ve ever done. The bus pulled up at this large shed, with a shallow conical roof. We get off the bus and line up at the passport control window. That’s all fine. It takes an hour but it’s all fine. Except you don’t go through. Once your passport is stamped, you walk back to the bus, the bus then drives 50 metres to the customs check. Out of the bus again, everyone with their hand luggage, and they start going through it. A woman’s mobile phone is pulled out, she’s told to unlock it, then the customs man takes it away. 5 minutes later he brings it back and hands it to the woman. This happens a number of times.

Then two polystyrene cups are handed down the line of passengers and people put money in cups; one cup for Chilean Pesos and one for Argentinian pesos ! Why ? A bribe ? Customs duty on a mobile phone ? No idea.

They check our bags and seem vaguely interested in Nik’s iPad.

It’s midday at this point. When it seems that my 12.15 pm prediction could be right, the customs people find two large black plastic bags of new clothes, complete with sales tags, someone was trying to get over the border. I think they were confiscated.

We eventually pulled away from the border post at 1.45 pm.

Leaving Chile. Piece of cake. Eventually….

And Alex and Michael arrived safely on Sunday afternoon.


Alex, Mike, and me in the hostel in Buenos Aires, Sunday 29th January 2017

Posted by capetocape2017 13:54 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Chapter 5 - Chile: Ced the Red, Pinochet, and Now

By Neil

sunny 34 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Balook, the Gippsland Highlands, Victoria, Australia – mid 2015

“The secret police broke down the door and threatened Pen and her husband. They said ‘Leave Chile immediately or you will be killed!’ That was 11 September 1973.” We were sitting around the table in Richie’s kitchen at his house in Balook. He had bought the house from Pen’s father, Cedric Ralph, locally called ‘Ced the Red’, because of his long association with the Communist Party of Australia.
Cedric Ralph: 1907 – 2007

“Pen’s husband was the son of the head of the British Communist Party and September 11th 1973 (9/11….) was when the Coup d’état led by General Pinochet wrenched power from Salvador Allende. Pen and her husband were living as academics in Santiago at the time.”

“Pen was taken straight to the airport with no time to pack any of their belongings. Her husband was taken away by the police. Pen didn’t know to where. She was put on a plane and thought she would never see him again. Then, just when the plane was taxiing down the runway, it suddenly stopped and a car drew up alongside. Stairs arrived and just as quickly as her husband had disappeared, he was thrust onto the plane. The plane took off and they were out of Chile, escaping the purge that was to follow under Pinochet’s dictatorship. It made the papers in Australia.”

At the time we had this discussion, I didn’t know that Nik and I would be spending a lot of time in Chile and so didn’t reflect much about the experience of Pen and her husband in Chile in 1973.


In a way, it is difficult to really understand the ideological, political and military conflicts that were occurring in the world in the 20th century. Chile was just part of the overall struggle.

In another way, we can see the same contests for power continuing to play out on our TV’s each night as footage of the war in Syria continues.

With startling parallels to the government of Gough Whitlam in Australia, President Salvador Allende instigated significant reforms in Chile during his term of office. This included the nationalisation of Chile’s copper mine (owned by US interests) that, even 43 years on, still produces over 50% of Chile’s foreign income.

However, in stark contrast to the change of power between the two mainstream Australian political parties, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, that happened in the Whitlam affair, for the Chileans this change of government marked the beginning of a reign of terror by Pinochet, which lasted from 1973 to 1989.

It is, and will continue to be, like a slap in the face to this comfortable, safe, Australian POM to realise just how tumultuous, dangerous, and scary life was around the world in the Post World War II world when America and Russia (and China), played their massive game of “Power Chess”.
America felt that Allende was leaning far too much to the left and backed a Coup D’état by Pinochet. This was at the same time that the US was supporting the dictatorial governments of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

General Pinochet greeting US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976

Pinochet’s government was responsible, during its 17 year reign for the direct murder of over 3,000 people, the imprisonment of around 40,000 people and the torture of 30,000 of these. The methods of torture were brutal.

However, the relationship of the Chilean people with Pinochet and his legacy varies between strange and truly bizarre. Some examples are:
- Whilst there was a return to democracy in 1990, Pinochet remained the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces until 1998.
- He was never convicted for any crimes. He was only arrested in London in 1998 (and released when, get this, Jack Straw, the UK Home Secretary, overruled the House of Lords decision to extradite him to Spain to stand trial (I didn’t even know the Home Secretary could overrule the House of Lords !)). Later he was put under house arrest in Chile 2 years before his death.
- Chile had incredible growth during the years Pinochet was in power which became known as the “Chilean Miracle”.
- 60,000 people filed past his coffin to pay their respects upon his death.


Nik and I have now travelled nearly 4,000 km’s from the bottom of Chile, Cape Horn, to the capital, Santiago. We’ve been on a dry ferry up the Chilean Fjords for 4 days (I wish those Chilean Truck drivers hadn’t got so pissed 3 years ago and decided to have a BBQ in a cabin. It took a day to put out the fire and led to the alcohol ban). We’ve climbed up the side of a Volcano outside Puerto Varas. Hung out in Casa Cheuca outside Talca, and now we’re in Santiago.

We’ve travelled from a latitude of 56 degrees south to 33 degrees south.

Our first stop in Santiago was at the amazing “Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos” (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Just the name of the museum is a reflection of Chileans views on the Pinochet years.

The entrance to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights

The focus of the museum is to ensure that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is never again disregarded, as it was in Chile between 1973 and 1990. There was an English audio tour available and we spent over 2 hours moving through the amazingly detailed display of events leading up to, during and after the Pinochet era. A photographic memorial on a wall three stories high, of the faces of the thousands of victims sat at the centre of the exhibit. It was incredibly moving. An interesting element to the museum was that it appeared to try and only display facts, trying to avoid judgement or blame (although many fact spoke for themselves).

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is exemplary in its portrayal of what happened and how it happened, and leaving it to the individual to decide what they, individually, should, could, or will do to ensure it never happens again.

Particularly moving is the entrance way with the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights written.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

How a country deals with its past atrocities is a measure of its level of civilisation.

Posted by capetocape2017 11:47 Archived in Chile Tagged pinochet Comments (2)

The Uncertain Blogger

overcast 15 °C

Unlike Neil, I haven't found my groove with the blogging of the trip. I have been writing an electronic diary of the trip details, but only to keep account of the logistics and details that we are likely to forget as all of our hotels, hostels and b&bs meld into one amorphous shower, bed and bad breakfast. I have had a couple of ideas for writing about the trip, but not in a connected or themed way. My writing is sporadic and depends entirely upon my mood, recent events and who may have annoyed me most lately. So for my first post, I have included a post from some of my personalities which may crop up over the next 12 months, or not. Because I haven't made up my mind yet.

The flukey photographer


Cape Horn immediately prior to disembarkation. We were greeted by hail, but then had an amazing and clear half an hour on the cape. The last 3 visits by the Stella Australis were unable to disembark due to weather, so once again our luck with the Patagonian weather has been extraordinary.


De Agostini Sound where we disembarked for Aguila Glacier. The weather was glorious, so much so that we got a little sunburnt on the walk to the glacier.


Magdelena Island contains contains one of the largest colonies of Magellanic penguins in the world. When we arrived they were nesting their chicks across the entire island, sharing it with the predatory skuas and enormous dominican gulls.


Farewell to Ushuaia at sunset, a slightly misleading concept as the sky remained light for the entire night, never receding to more than a dark dusk. The cloud formations over the fin del mundo were striking for our entire time in Patagonia.


Street art along the foreshore in Punta Arenas.

Sew much travel...

Over the next 12 months, Neil and I are going to spend an awful lot of time on buses, trains, boats and camels. I was trying to think of ways to while away the time which would be suited to being offline, requiring little resources and able to be balanced on a saddle. I really enjoy sewing, but wasn't so sure about packing the Juki. And then mum posted this photo on line of a challenge that friend had given herself of stitching an item every week for a year...


So, with a bag of threads and a book of fabric, I am going to endeavour to stitch at least one item which represents each country we go to on the trip. It may be slightly easier for the larger countries where we spend more time, and slightly more 'interpretative' for those in which we have only 24 - 48 hours. Anyway, my first effort is below and represents our last flight for at least 4 months!


The star-crossed foodie

Don't get me wrong, I have had some amazing food when travelling. Some blow your socks off, foodgasmic moments of pure unadulterated tastebud pleasure. But to be honest, the food that I remember most, usually due to the laughter that has ensued, is the horribly bad vegetarian cuisine I have been served up in places where my ethical choice not to eat meat is not only misunderstood, but clearly creates utter terror and confusion in the kitchen. I have found that there are two variations on truly horrendous vegetarian dishes, trying too hard and giving less than no fucks at all. And so I bring you the Vegetarian Guide To Truly And Utterly Horrendous Food From Around The Globe! Over the next 12 months I (unfortunately) expect to delight you with an array of truly special 'dishes' on the spectrum from 'meatless=tasteless' to 'hide the carne, she'll never notice' and 'eat this reindeer steak or it will go bad for you'. I'm sure there will be a prize at the end....


Dish 1: Food for Life - Ushuaia
The first contender was of the tried too hard variety. They even had a 'vegan special' of the day - in Argentina! It was Seitan, here pronounced Satan, wrapped veduras with a side of potato salad. The salad was tasteless although strangely shiny, but the Beelzebub was a special treat of tyre rubber and off marmite. I didn't quite know what to do with this new taste sensation, so I pretended it was meat and fed it to Neil. To top it off my vegan coffee, which I thought might be a soy flat white, was in fact black coffee with cocoa powder stirred into it! Bliss!


Dish 2: Fusiones Gastrobar - Punta Arenas
The second dish of note was a polenta dish, described on the menu as polenta topped with mushroom and cheese ragout. Yum, yes? It certainly contained polenta. Lots of polenta mixed with something. Perhaps plaster. It had an intriguing lumpy texture, enhanced by large globs of dried polenta. It held its form so well that I did consider modelling a full scale replica of the albatross in homage to our recent visit to Cape Horn, however after a couple of bites (it was 4pm and I hadn't had lunch), I realised that I wouldn't need to find a banos for about a week and decided to have a lie down instead. I never did find the mushrooms....

The slightly too excited about new (old) techy stuff traveller

No, it is not what you think it is! This is in fact our amazing new Steripen water purifier! I was really concerned about the amount of disposable plastic water bottles we would need to buy throughout the trip in order to stay safe. As we are wanting to enjoy this beautiful planet not destroy it, I was looking for solutions that would give us a safe reusable source of water, minus the plastic. After much research, I found this device that kills bacteria and viruses in water using ultraviolet light, just stir for 50 seconds! We both now have rather fabulous water bottles from the Cape Horn cruise, which we can fill with water from any source and purify on the spot using the Steripen. More useful than you can believe when arriving sans water late at night after all of the shops are closed! And you should have seen the look the guy in customs gave me when I took it through....


And finally, is a huge thank you to Mr Google of all people. Two new offline capabilities have made an enormous difference since we last did any significant travel, being the offline maps and translator. We have downloaded the offline Spanish language pack which means we can translate in either direction with my phone whether we are connected to wifi or now. Likewise we can download selected offline maps and then use them once we get into a new location without needing to get online. As the GPS doesn't need WIFI either, we know exactly where we are at all times! How travel has changed from the days of desperately asking directions and hunting down a wifi connection...

Hasta la proxima


Posted by capetocape2017 11:02 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Chapter 3 - Blues Harmonica, the Stella Australis, and Cape

By Neil

overcast 7 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Augustin took a breath and started playing a blues riff on his harmonica. A few heads turned in the Darwin Lounge of the Stella Australis, a 100 cabin cruise ship, that we’d boarded in Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina 2 days before.
"Where are you from ?", I asked Augustin during a break in the music.
"Paris. I just finished my anthropology degree. Then I was travelling through Patagonia before I got a job two months ago as a guide on the Stella Australis".
We continued jamming to while away the time to our next destination.


Nikki and I had bade a tearful good bye to our friends and Nikki's family at Adelaide airport on Boxing day. The Adelaide – Auckland – Buenos Aires flight was painless and we were soon in our hotel called 248 Finisterra in the College area of Beunos Aires. Argentina and Brazil have amazing reputations for the quality of their meat, and it wasn’t long before we’d found a restaurant specialising in Parilla, the “cooking over coals” method for meat. The quality of the Malbec red wine was good and the mixed meat dish was enough to feed a small rugby team for a week !

It was September 2009 when Nikki and I gave birth to the idea of travelling from Cape Horn (at the bottom of South America) to the Cape of Good Hope (at the bottom of South Africa), By Land, Mostly… It was 3 years later that we’d looked at a map and realised that Cape Horn is, er, an island.


We’d decided that, if we were going to go Cape to Cape, that we needed to get to Cape Horn. Nikki eventually found a ship that does a trip from Ushuaia, down to Cape Horn, and finished at Punta Arenas, at the bottom of Chile.
The Stella Australis was built in 2010 and is specially designed with a shallow draft to allow it to sail through many of the channels that run through Tierra del Fuego. It is a handsome and very comfortable ship with, in comparison to the Antarctic ship we went on, enormous windows.



It was said that Ferdinand Magellan discovered the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in 1520 (the Strait of Magellan), the channel that runs between Tierra del Fuego and the South American mainland.
In 1525, however, Francisco de Hoces was sailing towards the Strait of Magellan when he got blown south and discovered there was another route from the Atlantic to the Pacific and he discovered Cape Horn (although maps exist, however, from 1412 showing the Cape).
Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, produces fearsome seas where the waves could reach to a height of 30 metres due to the meeting of the two oceans currents, and the shallow water around Cape Horn.
It was Sir Francis Drake who gave his name to the Passage between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica in 1578, although this was, once again, because he was blown south of the Strait of Magellan.

Cape Horn was hugely significant as a route to the Spice Islands around Indonesia from the 1600's, and subsequently by the "Clipper" class of vessels during the 18th to 20th centuries.
Charles Darwin’s ship, the HMS Beagle, gave its name to the channel at the south of Tierra del Fuego when he sailed through on his journey of discovery in 1830 that eventually led to him publishing The Origin of Species in 1859.
When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, almost all of the shipping that had passed around the Cape, stopped, and took the quicker, cheaper, and more reliable new route. (it was easy to get delayed by a week or more by the weather at the Cape).


It took 10 hours for us to travel down to the Cape and it was emotional to, after 7 years of thought, dreaming, planning, hoping, and research, finally be on the cusp of “starting” our journey. For some time, we also knew that it was not certain that the weather would be kind enough to allow us to actually get off the boat and set foot on Cape Horn. The last three trips that the Stella Australis had taken to the Cape, they'd not actually been able to get anyone onto Cape Horn due to the weather.
However, the weather at 6 am on Thursday 29th December 2016 was very good, although still cold (7 C), very windy, overcast with rain squalls. We got on our lifejackets and boarded the Zodiacs (small inflatable rubber dinghy's) to take us to the Cape.


Once on the Cape, we had to keep our life jackets on due to the changeability of the weather. It was possible that at any time we could be required to get back the Ship as soon as possible.
162 steps led us up to the Cape and then onto the Cape Memorial, an Albatross. Finally we were there !


This was, by far, the southernmost point of our journey; 56 degrees south. (the Cape of Good Hope is at 34 degrees and 24 minutes south). Before us stretches about 20,000 km’s of travel before we get to Anchorage Alaska, and then start to head west.

Next stop, exploring mainland Chile......

Log of information since Adelaide:
Number of time zones - 4
Number of countries - 4
Distance travelled:
- by air - 16,075 km's
- by land and sea - 430 km

Posted by capetocape2017 12:57 Archived in Chile Tagged cape_horn Comments (3)

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