November - draft
Santiago, Chile, Entry Notes;
Suggested Packing Materials; and Miscellany
This is a preliminary
and still evolving list concerning planning for the December Patagonia
trip. Since this is preliminary, I invite your comments and questions for
the next revision. Bear in mind the some of the things I pack you might
not need, and vice-versa. "Your mileage may differ" and
your own good sense and the benefits of experience will prevail when it
comes to packing your own kit. Remember that such things as toothpaste,
shampoo, most common batteries, common pharmaceuticals, and whatnot can
be obtained in many of the places we will visit (albeit sometimes at greater
expense), so it is not necessary to carry everything.
notes. The Chilean government “reciprocates” the $100 visa
fee that is charged to Chileans entering the U.S., so you can thank the
U.S. State Department for this situation. When you first fly into Chile,
then you will need a crisp $100 bill (cash and only cash) to get that stamp
before even going to Immigration. You do not get this visa before
leaving the U.S., and you do not need it when crossing into Chile overland.
1. Certain elements of this subject
will be covered in a separate message restricted to participants.
2. If you plan to use credit cards
Contact your issuing agency and let them know that you will be on travel
so that their "fraud protection" schemes do not lock out the use of your
cards. Make sure you have proper PINs. Funds advance with cards
typically have 1-3% surcharges. Some ATMs are in Spanish only.
Many smaller towns will not have ATMs. Copy the card numbers and emergency
security phone numbers (not the 800 numbers - most card companies have
international toll-free call-in numbers). Make sure your card has
international ATM affiliation.
3. Suggestion: Make one
or two 3x5 cards or equivalent for a quick reference card for shirtpocket.
These are approximate exchange rates for 20 October 2003 and may change
before our arrival.
appx $1 / 644 pesos
100 CL peso US $.16
500 CL peso US $.77
appx $1/ 2.85 pesos
1 AR peso =
The Santiago Airport (Pudahuel)
Note: Chile can be rather rigid
about prohibiting food imports. Sealed backpacker food is fine but
even unopened packages of jerky or other meat or fruit products are officially
forbidden. By the way, “jerky” comes from an Andean Indian word,
“charqui” but the charqui you get in Chile is likely to be, well, you just
don’t want to know.
a. Fill out
the form provided on the plane. Once it is stamped by Chilean Immigration,
DO NOT LOSE THIS DOCUMENT, EVER. It is your key to getting out of the country
if you ever wish to leave through the Santiago airport. If you lose
it, you will be forced to explain why to the Chilean International Police
and it may delay your leaving the country. Don't ask me how I know
Climate (did I say "windy"?)
If you have read the Lonely Planet or other guidebooks and calibrated for
December, you may have a clue about the regions and their conditions. Herewith
are my observations on typical conditions, and suggestions for clothing.
I am probably not calibrated in the same way you are, since I live at 7,600
feet in Colorado, and our comfort perceptions are going to be different.
b. You may also have
to fill out and sign a “SAG” declaration that you are not bringing food
materials into the country. We will fill out a new SAG declaration
every time we re-enter Chile. (SAG = Servicio Agricultura y
Ganadería, the “agriculture and livestock service.” )
c. Even before the Immigration
booth you will stop at a little booth on your right which sells the visa
stamps. I will plan to go ahead to get you into this line.
d. Next: the long
lines for Immigration, and the stamp. The officials here are polite but
generally rigid, and usually speak decent English. I will plan to
go through this booth first and be available to “backtrack” to help if
any issues arise. I don’t anticipate any at this time.
Santiago – airport and metro
area. December is usually the beginning of summer. It can heat up
significantly between our 01 arrival date and when we leave on 25
December. Expect temps in the 80-90s, moderate humidity. Rather like Los
Angeles in July, including the smog. Short sleeves are common but
I wear thin cotton long-sleeves, which then have greater versatility through
the rest of the trip. Subdued colors are traditional and help keep
the gringo tourist from being targeted as quickly. We do not wear
shorts, or red suspenders. Evenings in Santiago cool off a bit in
early December and may sometimes call for a light jacket. Rain is possible
but not very likely.
Toward the Lake District –
first driving day: Temperatures tend to stay warm as far as Temuco
or so, by which time the chances of summer drizzle or rains increase.
Santiago clothes, with a light waterproof windbreaker nearby, should do
it. Daytime temperatures along this stretch seem to average in the
80s through December except with occasional rain, fog, heavy overcast.
Osorno and the Lake District –
driving day 2: Summer varies between sun and overcast, with daytime
temps in 70s to 80s, sometimes quite windy particularly further south.
Summer rains are not uncommon. Have a waterproof windbreaker
or Goretex jacket available, though expect high seventies to be common.
Crossing the Andes:
from Osorno area over to Argentina can range from high seventies before
the climb, to maybe fifties at the pass. Rain is common but not assured.
The weather is extremely variable here, with wide swings in temperatures
through the day and night. The elevation of the pass is not high
and it is open all year.
Into Argentina: This part
of Argentina is in the "rain shadow" and tends to be considerably drier,
sunnier, and warmer in their summer. Once we get out of the
forests near Villa La Angostura, wind is likely to greet us. There is still
occasional summer rain and overcast. Cool mornings probably in the sixties,
up to eighties common during the day, with early December being significantly
cooler. Elevation and local topography affect wind and temperatures.
Be flexible and layered. These conditions will probably last until we pass
Esquel on the way back into Chile. Expect biting horseflies ( called
tábanos) occasionally when the wind is not too strong.
Back into Chile: From comparatively
dry Argentina we cross back toward the "Wet Andes" in Chile, which
get dumped on by the Roaring Forties of the Pacific. Although occasionally
clear and sunny, the most common situation is overcast and drizzle, with
temps in the low seventies to fifties in December. Rain gear nearby
is the word of the day. This is a gravel road and dust will be with us
from the time we leave the Esquel area until we get close to Coyhaique.
The drizzle doesn't seem to do much to keep the dust down. If we
can see the local mountain features through the drizzle, there are some
great snowfields and glaciers. Some people say parts of this section
(Quelat Park area) are a lot like South Island of New Zealand. We
come and go from rain-shadow dry to soggy valleys on and off until we reach
Chile Chico on the south shore of Lago General Carrera, where we are poised
to go back into Argentina. The last 50 miles of this section is usually
dry and typically very windy.
Ruta 40 in Argentina:
From the town of Perito Moreno until we re-enter Chile near
Puerto Natales, we are in dry-steppe country not unlike some sections of
New Mexico or Nevada. Early/mid summer daytime temps in the north,
around Perito Moreno, may reach 80, dropping to the fifties and possibly
lower at night. By December the winds can be 60 - 80 mph at
times. Stepping out of the vehicle to answer a call of nature can
be a challenge. By the time we reach Calafate, a Gore-tex jacket
might be worn quite often as long as the wind is up.
Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
national park. Mid December CAN still be rainy and
cold. Or it can be comfortable for shorts and t-shirts. Or there can be
summertime snow. It would be unusual to get down to the thirties in Pto
Natales but it happens. More commonly we would see stiff wind, days
in the seventies, nights perhaps in the forties, and rain or overcast quite
trip up the Atlantic coast of Argentina is expected to be quite ... surprise...windy.
As we proceed north and inland there should be increasingly warm conditions.
My packing list -
just a draft - your needs may differ
- Locking Pelican case for laptop,
- Large daypack
Hold baggage: Locking
military duffel, sealed with zip-tie/cable tie while in transit - extra
cable ties for return trip. Padlock while in-country. Second
duffel or equivalent either packed in the first or used to distribute overall
weight so that no bag is more than 50 lbs.
Arrival wear: As if I came
from my Colorado office - buttondown shirt, Coolmax t-shirt, dress-office
Lee jeans, lightweight gore-tex boots. Definitely not a backpacker
Plus packed clothing:
Second pair gray Lee jeans: reasonably
durable yet presentable, gray to not show too much grime, not as
dense and slow-to-dry as blue denim jeans.
Second presentable no-iron buttondown
Light cotton flannel shirt
Medium weight wool shirt-jacket
Gore-tex parka with hood
Wide-brim "Seattle Sombrero" style Goretex
hat (incl neck strap for extreme wind).
Light goatskin driving gloves
Polypro zip Turtleneck, Patagonia
Second Coolmax t-shirt
Cotton t-shirt, University of Wyoming
Army PT /running shorts, nylon.
Doubles as swim suit for hot springs visits.
Flipflops/shower-shoes. For that
occasional dubious shower or floor, and for hot springs.
3 pairs thin Coolmax sock liners. Wash
and dry quickly, keep socks reasonable.
3 pairs Smartwool light hiker socks
3 pr Military boxers
2 cotton bandanas
2 mil handkerchiefs
Small synthetic "camp towel" - for
initial wringing/drying with overnight clothes washing
2 pr reading glasses
1 pr clear lens glasses
1 pr sunglasses
Document wallet with loop to wear inside
front of trousers
Dogtag, chain with spare vehicle and padlock
Leatherman combo tool with lanyard and
LED 4xAA flashlight
First aid kit
Vehicle tool kit
Garmin 176 GPS set
- data cable, power cable
Pelican case with combo padlock:
" Office" supplies -stickies,
3x5 cards, pens, envelopes, maps, guidebooks, etc
35mm Pentax SLR with 28-200 lens, 1A filter,
35mm film assortment
2 sets spare CR2 batteries
Lens paper and solvent cleaner
Nikon 4500 4 megapixel digital camera
with 1A filter
1.5 GB in Compact Flash card assortment
Nikon battery charger, 100-250 VAC autosensing
AA NiMH battery charger with 12 VDC attachment;
4 sets x 4 NiMH AA batteries, 1800 and
Smith & Wesson 6904 10mm with 4 spare
IBM Thinkpad 600x laptop with standard
AC power supply and 90 watt inverter 12 VDC=>120 VAC with auto and airline
8 blank CDs for burning backup photo
Cardbus USB 2.0
Powered USB hub
3 GB Digital Wallet with CF card adapter
and universal power supply
PCMCIA card adapter for compact flash
Compact flash USB reader and cable
Laptop USB lamp
Extension cord and AC plug adapter set
for Chile and Argentina (Euro standard type)
......more to come
asked about cash: The short answer version
1. I almost never use travelers
checks anymore. Too hard to change and the rate is worse than cash.
I might consider $500 or so as an emergency stash but not for any that
I intend to use.
2. In Spanish cash
is called "efectivo." I have some Chilean
money on hand. Still, everyone would also be wise to get a little
before you go, but not via the airport money changers. One of the
Day 1 activities is to take our dollars and go down to the money changing
street in [to be revealed in due time]. It is fairly safe, so not
to worry. In my experience, this has been the best places to change
money in all of Chile, with the rates sometimes better than the official
Of course, at the cambios, you have do
your own counting, but I have never been shorted. If anyone is uncomfortable
with that, then going to a regular bank is OK but lots of paper and standing
in line. Alternatively I could go alone or with one other person and we
can do all the changing for everyone.
3. Credit cards are not terribly
popular with many merchants in Chile because the banks charge merchants
10 percent for use of a card, which is terrible. However, big
grocery stores (called "hipers" -- pronounced eee-pair), major chain
stores, and most gas stations accept cards so that is where I use
them. The first place we will stay in Santiago will accept them but
I think we get a tax break (pay no tax) if we pay in dollar cash there.
The rental car company payment will be covered in another message.
Trip Support Shopping - Rancagua
I may have mentioned that on our first day on the road I plan to stop at
the big chain hardware and grocery stores in Rancagua. There is a hardware
department store similar to a U.S. "Home Depot." These stores are
close to the main highway (the Panamerican highway, also known as Ruta
5) and are rarely very busy. They accept American credit cards and
they are more polite and patient than in Santiago. It is there I
plan to get many of the things that support our trip that I do not want
to haul down there. That includes food materials (some perishable
snacks, some nonperishables for the cache for the long haul in the outback;
bread, ziplock bags, plastic cutlery, cheeses, yogurt, fruit juices, soap,
paper towels, and so on ); a basic shovel, a tow/recovery strap,
some fuel cans and a funnel, motor oil (it is terribly expensive in Chile
at about US$4 a quart/liter), a case of bottled water for each vehicle
(which we can drink and replenish along the way) and so on.
If you have special grocery needs or wants, or questions, let me know.
The hipers are not that common but they are very clean and modern and fairly
comprehensive. You may want to consider now consider what foods you
may wish to get at this time.
is a possiblity that I may be able to borrow a few items from a Chilean
friend in Rancagua, including such things as the shovel and tow strap.
Driving in Chile and Argentina -
If you already know some of this, or have differing observations,
or just don’t like the pontificating wise-guy’s opinions, please
bear with me anyway. I guess I should preface this with “in my admittedly
limited experience” and “your mileage may differ.”
Chilean rules and background:
Seat belt use is obligatory for front seat folks – not that you would do
It is illegal for the driver to smoke, use a cell phone, or use a GMRS
radio for that matter. The shotgun/front-seat passenger has an important
role to play in this trip, and will be responsible for much of the intervehicle
communications. That rider should get good with the GMRS radio, good at
reading Spanish-language signs, good at looking out for the carabineros,
good at looking both ways at train crossings.
Speaking of level grade train crossings: most are not guarded
and you are usually obliged (legally, anyway) to stop, even in the middle
of the desert where no train has run for 20 years.
International Driver License is obligatory. I have mentioned before
that you should bring two, and if you have an old, expired one, fine.
In theory you have to also have a US state driver license but I recommend
making it hard to get to, so that you don’t lose it. The international
license is “sacrificial” and by that I mean if you happen to get a ticket,
you will have to surrender your license for a chit that when paid
in court, gets your license back. The implication is that if you have a
second or third international license, well, you get the idea. And since,
ah, wink-wink, not one of us speaks Spanish, and can’t communicate with
the carabineros, perhaps we will never have to test this approach.
As you figured, the carabineros are the police, without question the most
honest and decent (generally) in all of Latin America, and I have been
pulled over everywhere from Mexico to Argentina. You DO NOT EVER
even think about bribing a carabinero the way we do in Mexico and most
other LAmerican places. My biggest complaint is that sometimes
they will just pull you over because they are bored and want to talk to
somebody, or because you happen to be the 25th vehicle, or something like
When we take on fuel, you are legally obligated to get everybody out of
the vehicle. This is not rigorously enforced, but it is the law, and you
may be asked by an attendant to get out of the vehicle, so please understand
what they might be trying to convey.
Speed limits! This is on the final exam: 100 km/hr (63
mph) on the highways, 50 km/hr (figure 30 mph) in towns. Everybody
goes faster (70 on the Panamericana seems to be, well, almost OK ) but
you have to know what the legal limit is. There has been talk of
increasing the limit on parts of the Panamericana now that it performs
like an autobahn, which begs you to drive at 140 km/hr. The
carabineros use instant-on radars and photo-radars. The photo radar
system sends the vehicle registered owner the bill but you hope you
might be out of the country by then. The instant-on radars usually
have a pursuit vehicle working. It has been known to happen that you may
be pulled over and then the pursuit vehicle just takes off, in effect slowing
you down if only for a minute. The radar bands appear to be
X, K, and Ka, same freqs as used in the US, and our radar detectors (though
illegal) seem to work just fine.
The Panamericana is a toll highway now. Our first toll booth is about 40
miles south of Santiago. Make sure each driver/shotgun has smallish
bills (2000 peso notes or so). This can be one of the jobs of the shotgun
passenger. On our first driving day I think we will see about 4 toll
booths. As you approach the toll booths there should be little silhouettes
of vehicle types indicating the fee for each. We may be charged as a “truck”
or as a “car” depending on, jeeze, who knows? The lead vehicle will pull
over and wait for vehicle 2 to clear the toll plaza. You might
think that a toll plaza might have public restrooms. Forget it.
Banish your notions that there will be fast food and nice free restrooms
every 20 miles. Many (not all) of the service station restrooms will
have attendants or turnstiles and will cost 100 pesos or so. Cheap, but
annoying, so be prepared with 100-peso coins. The further south
we go on the Panamericana, the fewer the big service stations.
Know thy bladder, and plan accordingly.
10. When approaching a stopped vehicle
on a roadway, or an open drawbridge or similar road condition, it is very
common for Chileans to put on 4-way flashers to warn drivers behind them.
so we get started:
I think we all recognize the challenges of starting off in large diesel
vehicles we have never seen or driven before, trying to stay
together in the busiest city in Chile. While Santiago drivers are
decent by Latin American standards, they still drive like Latin city folk
and that means you won’t get a break. Buses and taxis are there make
money by driving as aggressively as possible. There are very few
useful signs that you will see in time to act.
plan for 2 December is for Bill and I to take a taxi over to pick up the
vehicles, do a couple of shakedown/familiarization laps around the
block, and then return to the hotel to pick everyone else up. Or I can
call on 1 Dec and have the vehicles delivered to us at the hotel.
Let’s do a little last-minute driving huddle, vehicle/fluids check, and
do a comm check on the radios before we go.
have about 3 miles from the hotel down the Alameda (main boulevard) or
a parallel street to the Panamerican highway. For reasons I
have never understood, actually getting from the Alameda onto the Panamericana
is always a pain. If I screw up the first attempt, you can always
in Santiago or in any other busy town or city, Vehicle 2 needs to
crowd my rear bumper. That keeps other vehicles from getting between
us and lets Vehicle 2 run a red light that isn’t too red quite yet.
with parking lights on is not common practice in Chile and daylight running
lights are considered an abomination. But I think we might
consider the parking lights option to keep us conspicuous to one another.
If I see Vehicle 2 with full headlights on, I will assume that the
GMRS radio doesn’t work and you’ve got issues back there.
in the civil parts of the world, you are usually expected to allow faster
drivers the use of the left lane for passing. Hog the left lane and
the driver behind you may flash his brights, use his horn, and possibly
even prepare a little gesture that you may not yet be familiar with.
we are starting with less than full fuel tanks then I plan to stop on the
south edge of the Santiago built-up area to top off. Then it is about
half an hour to the first toll station. Twenty minutes after that we reach
the city of Rancagua. We will have previously prepared a shopping list
for the big “Home Depot” and “Safeway” sized stores there. (Fresh
bread, cheese, bottled water, plastic cutlery, and so on for snacks and
whatnot for the next couple of days; fuel cans and oil for the vehicles).
If we were not able to get duplicate keys for the vehicles from the rental
agency, we can try getting them done while here in Rancagua. You
won’t see such grocery/hardware stores for a long time after this.
to be continued....