Patagonia 2003

4 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. 

 Initial conditions
       Visa 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. 

 Funds and changing money

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.

Chilean Pesos  appx  $1 / 644 pesos

100 CL peso   US  $.16
500 CL peso   US  $.77
1000 p                      1.55
2000 p                      3.11
5000 p                      7.76
10000 p                 15.53
20000 p                 31.06
30000 p                 46.59
50000 p                 77.65
1,000,000          1552.00

AR peso  appx  $1/ 2.85 pesos

1 AR peso  =              US$0.35
5 pesos                             $1.76
10 p                                      3.51
20 p                                      7.03
50 p                                   17.57
100 p                                 35.14

 The Santiago Airport (Pudahuel)  Wickets:

 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.

 Entry Process: 

  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 this. 

 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. 

 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.

 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: 
      Crossing 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 common. 
      The return 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, cameras, electronics
  - 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 appearance. 

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 cotton shirt
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). 
Lightweight balaclava
Light goatskin driving gloves
Polypro zip Turtleneck,  Patagonia brand, lightweight
Second Coolmax t-shirt 
Cotton t-shirt,  University of Wyoming logo
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 key 

Leatherman combo tool with lanyard and belt pocket
LED 4xAA flashlight

First aid kit

Razor/toiletries kit

Vehicle tool kit 

Garmin 176 GPS set 
   - data cable, power cable 12 VDC

Pelican case with combo padlock:

" Office" supplies -stickies, 3x5 cards, pens, envelopes, maps, guidebooks, etc

Camera gear
35mm Pentax SLR with 28-200 lens, 1A filter, sunshade
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; plug adapters
4 sets x 4 NiMH AA batteries, 1800 and 2100 mAH
Smith & Wesson 6904 10mm with 4 spare 10-rd magazines
Just kidding!!

IBM Thinkpad 600x  laptop with standard AC power supply and 90 watt inverter 12 VDC=>120 VAC with auto and airline input plugs
8 blank CDs for burning backup  photo files
2 floppies
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 cards
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




 Since you 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 published rates. 

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. 
       There 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 - Part 1 

            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.” 

       Some Chilean rules and background: 

       1. Seat belt use is obligatory for front seat folks – not that you would do anything differently. 
       2.  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. 
       3. 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. 
       4. 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. 
       5.  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 that. 
       6. 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. 
       7.  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. 
       8.  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. 
       9. 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.   

       OK, so we get started: 

       First, 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. 

       My 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. 

       We 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 fire me. 

       Whether 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. 

       Running 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. 

       As 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. 

       If 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....