Chile,  La Ruta de Los Parques,  Travel

‘Are we on Plan F yet?’: the first six weeks in Chile

Ask any of my friends and family, and they’ll tell you that I’m a planner. From weekend trips abroad to group dinners in London, I tend to be the organizer. So it would surprise no one that for these six months in South America, I’ve got a spreadsheet with dates, tentative route, logistics, potential activities and so on.

Early on, I got the idea for a second spreadsheet tracking our ‘actual’ versus ‘plan’ (which we’ve reworked at least 5 times anyway). Comparing the two spreadsheets shows the extent to which almost nothing has gone to plan these first six weeks.

But, I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, here are a few examples of the plans that haven’t gone to plan, and my verdict on our adaptation.

Buying the truck

The plan: Meet up with the previous owners of the camper in Santiago the day after we arrived on a Tuesday, complete all the paperwork and checks and be on the road by early the following week to explore Valparaiso and more of the Central Valley.

What actually happened: The morning of my flight to Santiago, the previous owners messaged me saying they were stuck in Argentina. There was a snowstorm in the mountains, and the Chilean-Argentinian border would be closed for at least a few days, so we wouldn’t be able to complete the transaction that week.

Rather than just stick around Santiago and wait, we rented a car so I could learn how to drive manual, and headed to Valparaiso and La Campana national park. We ended up doing all the camper paperwork and checks the following week and were only 3 days behind the original plan by the end of it.

Hanging out in Valpo

Verdict: The actual was much better than the plan. Valpo’s steep, narrow roads would have been very difficult with the camper, plus the extra time meant slightly better weather as we got deeper into spring.

Kayaking in the Chepu wetlands

The plan: On Chiloe island, Claire really wanted to go to an area called Chepu and kayak the wetlands. The area is known for its ‘bosque muerte’ (dead forest), an area inundated by the tsunami which followed the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, the 1960 Valdivia earthquake.

From online research and the tourism office in another town, we knew there was at least one kayak operator in the town and I even messaged him to ask about it before we arrived. So, we stayed the night before at a nearby campsite ready to kayak the following morning.

What actually happened: The campsite owner gave us directions to the kayak operator (aka someone’s house with a sign outside) and there was no one there. After wandering around this tiny town of six houses, we managed to find a local who was working on his garden and asked him if he knew anything about renting kayaks. He told us that both the kayak operator we knew about, and a second guy with a boat called Fernando, had gone to the nearest major town for the whole day.

So, being quite disappointed, we were on the river dock just having one last look at the distant wetlands when a boat appeared from around a corner. There were three people on it, who looked like they were headed out for a day of fishing. We flagged them down, and with a few questions and a bit of negotiation, we ended up with an hour-long private boat tour of the bosque muerte.

Our boat tour through the wetlands

Verdict: Actual and plan were different, but the end result was basically the same. Kayaking would have been more fun to be able to get amongst the trees, but the distance from dock to forest was actually quite lengthy. I think we were able to see more of it by boat and were also able to ask more questions about how it came to be. It was pure luck we managed to get to the bosque muerte at all, for which I’m still grateful.


The plan: For various reasons in the first few versions of our itinerary, we had both agreed to skip Futaleufú. It’s a town about 80km off the carretera austral near the Argentinian border, so it’s quite a detour. Plus the main draw is that the Futaleufú river is a world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking destination, which neither of us is particularly passionate about.

Since we had to re-plan yet again with a rental instead of a camper in mind, we decided that since we were already going to be so close to it, we should at least stop by for a day and do some rafting. So, we booked a rafting trip and a hostel for one night.

What actually happened: Unfortunately the Futa is currently closed because it’s too high and dangerous, so we ended up rafting a smaller nearby river instead. And because we’ve loved our hostel and the people so much, we’ve ended up staying not one night, but three.

We also did some of the most incredible horseback riding up a mountain, hiked to a beautiful rock formation with stunning views of the nearby valleys, and spent a day learning how to river kayak with one of the owners of the hostel.

Horseback riding by the incredible Lago Espolón.

Verdict: Actual was way better than plan. Futa is a joy and I would revisit in a heartbeat.

Big Mo

The saga of Big Mo will have to be a different post because the ways in which camper life has not gone to plan is truly epic. Plus, the verdict is still out. He’s currently undergoing repairs back in Puerto Varas while we’ve continued on in a rental, but we’re hoping he’ll be fixed by the end of next week.

In the end, all the plans that have gone awry have led to unexpected adventures, more than a few surprises and only add more flavor to an already intense experience. I have no doubt there will be plenty more twists and turns, but this journey is already proving to be life-changing. I’m incredibly grateful.

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