R40 Norte 2004
Notes for Preparing Your Kit
4 March 2004 - draft

 Santiago, Chile, Entry Notes.  Suggested Packing Materials. Miscellany 
     This is a preliminary and still evolving list concerning planning for the 2004 Ruta 40N expedition.  Since this is preliminary, I invite your comments and questions for the next revision. 

      Bear in mind when reading the packing list below that some of the things I pack you might not need, and vice-versa.   Your mileage may differ.   You may, for example, prefer a .357 Colt revolver over a Smith & Wesson 10mm semi-auto.  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, centerfire cartridges, 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 necessary to remain for years and colonize the place, for crissake. 

 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, just as you can thank them for most of the significant screwups in the modern era. 

When you first fly into Chile,  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 and keeping a copy

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 advances with cards typically have 1-3% surcharges - sometimes more.  Some ATMs are in Spanish only.  Some don't work on the day you try to use them, but you will be assured that they worked yesterday and will no doubt be back in operation as soon as you leave town.

Unsurprisingly, many smaller towns will not have ATMs. Make sure your ATM bank card has international ATM affiliation such as Cirrus. Copy the card numbers and emergency security phone numbers (not the 800 numbers - most card companies have international toll-free call-in numbers).  Keep copies of that information and other vital data on a web-based email message to yourself, so that if you lose everything but the memory of your password, as least you can get to an internet café or other internet source and have a copy. Same goes for a scanned image of the first (photo) page of your passport. Keep a high-res digital photo of yourself on your email account so that in the unthinkable eventuality that the guerrillas kill everyone in your party and you are the lone and starving survivor, you may be able to reduce somewhat  the final indignity of dealing with the U.S. State Department over the issue of your being who you claim to be.  On this issue of U.S. consulates and embassies I wish to remind the relatively naive and trusting among you that those institutions, contrary to widely held belief, do not exist to assist the average U.S. citizen. 

3.  Suggestion:  Make one or two 3x5 cards or equivalent for a quick reference card for shirt pocket. These are OLD exchange rates for (20 October 2003) so you will need to update this sort of thing before 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 made from, 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 this 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 left which sells the visa stamps. 

  d.   Next:  the long lines for Immigration, and the stamp. The officials here are polite but generally rigid, and usually speak decent English.  They have been genetically modified to keep them smiling.  

 Climate  I will plan to fill this in later.  If you have read the Lonely Planet or other guidebooks and calibrated for your travel months, 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.  October is still spring.  Expect temps in the 60s to 80s - maybe.  Moderate humidity. Rather llike Los Angeles in March, including the smog.   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 tend to be cool in October. The rest of the trip will require a Goretex (or similar) jacket and perhaps in Santiago as well.  Rain is possible. 

My packing list  - just a draft - your needs may differ 


Aboard  (check with your airline beforehand to see how many articles you can carry aboard. Some schizophrenic airlines change their minds as you go from domestic to international travel)

  - Locking Pelican case for cameras, electronics
  - Large daypack that includes water and flashlight

Hold baggage:   Locking military duffel, the kind with the shoulder straps so you can carry like a backpack.   Use the side pocket for a copy of your travel itinerary and contact points. Padlock this duffel while in-country...so have at least one padlock.  Some airlines are limiting the weight of each piece to not more than 50 lbs.

Arrival wear:   FWIW.....as if I came from my Colorado office - buttondown shirt, Coolmax t-shirt, dress-office Lee jeans,  lightweight Goretex boots.  Definitely not a slovenly backpacker appearance, because we have to deal with the jackboot TSA puppets and their fascist brethren everywhere. 

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.  A bit of Scotchguard anti-stain water-resistant spray treatment sometimes helps.
Second presentable no-iron buttondown cotton shirt or equivalent
Light cotton flannel shirt
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 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. I prefer Pelican brand. 
    Check here  http://www.campmor.com  and see items  55871  and  29655 as 
   examples of minimum LED flashlight.  Get one that runs on AA rechargeable 

First aid kit - I plan to bring the squad-size first aid kit in my truck

Razor/toiletries kit

Vehicle tool kit 

Garmin 176 GPS set 
   - data cable, power cable 12 VDC, spare AA NiMH rechargeables

Pelican case with combo padlock:

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

Nikon 4500 4 megapixel digital camera with 1A filter
1.5 GB in Compact Flash card assortment
Lens paper and solvent cleaner

Nikon battery charger, 100-250 VAC autosensing
AA NiMH battery charger with 12 VDC attachment; plug adapters
2 sets x 4 NiMH AA batteries, 1800 and 2100 mAH

Smith & Wesson 6904 10mm with 4 spare 10-rd magazines
Just kidding!!

3 GB Digital Wallet with CF card adapter and universal power supply

Compact flash USB reader and cable

Extension cord and AC multiplug 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. 

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 (or was) the law and is still posted on many gas stations. 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:  120 km/hr (74 mph) on the highways, 50 km/hr (figure 30 mph) in towns.  You have to keep in mind what the legal limit is.   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 theoretically illegal) seem to work just fine. 
       8.  The Panamericana is a toll highway now.  Make sure each driver/shotgun has smallish bills (2000 peso notes or so). This can be one of the jobs of the "shotgun" (front seat passenger).    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 or just slow down  for vehicle 2 to clear the toll plaza, and so on with all the convoy.   You might think that a toll plaza might have public rest rooms.  Forget it. 
       9. Banish your notions that there will be fast food and nice free rest rooms every 20 miles.  Many (not all) of the service station rest rooms will have attendants or turnstiles and will cost 100 pesos or so. Cheap, but annoying, so be prepared with 100-peso coins.  The further 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.  Part of the reason for this is that it is very common for Chileans, like Argentines, to run into things on the roads. 

       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. 

      Whether in Santiago or in any other busy town or city,   if I am Vehicle 1 then 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.  Having more than two vehicles on this expedition is going to complicate things, so we must have a contingency plan for getting reunited when we are separated. 

       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. 

 to be continued....