We were told that central Chile is like California 50 years ago and when we saw it for ourselves we understood why. The coast is lined with endless rocky points creating the perfect setup for waves but with hardly anyone around. Wildflowers blanket the fields while pine trees stand majestically on cliffs overlooking the sea. It was like an uncrowded slice of home on the other side of the planet.
Leaving Chile’s dry northern coast behind, we meandered down the sunny central coast, looking for waves and camping at beautiful little beach towns all along the way. In the quaint town of Maitencillo, we camped in the sand among a carpet of purple, orange, and yellow wildflowers.
The bigger city of Concon had some fun beachbreak and giant mouth watering made to order seafood empanadas with loco, razor clams, and crab.
We saw our first penguins in Concagua, hopping and waddling around on a rocky island just off the coast. We’re hoping to see lots more of these little buddies when we get further south!
The funky, artsy city of Valparaiso happens to be the sister city of Long Beach as we learned from a sign at a mirador. Valparaiso is a big port city but the hills that rise up from the coastline contain a scramble of cool ramshackle houses with art covering nearly every wall. We wandered up and along the steep streets checking out the art and enjoying the beautiful views of the city below. It was sort of reminiscent of San Francisco, except instead of trolleys Valparaiso has old ascensores, carts on a track that have been rolling people up the steep hills since the late 1800s.
While camping on the coast we ran into Dean and Vivian, a couple from Texas traveling in a huge truck converted into a house on wheels. Happy to have some companions for the holidays, we shared a wonderful Thanksgiving with them at a nice campground in Vina del Mar. Although we couldn’t find any form of cranberry sauce or a proper turkey, we made do with pan cooked corn bread (we really miss having an oven!), mashed potatoes, salad, corn, chicken, and for desert- bananas foster.
After recovering from our Thanksgiving feast, we drove a few hours north for a VW camping event organized by a group called Kleinbus. When we arrived in the evening we were happy to see our friends David and Andrea from Mexico who are also traveling in a van and had told us about the event. At around midnight the caravan of vans from Santiago arrived. They putted into the campground one after another and scooted into campsites among the trees like little bugs. We spent the weekend grilling, checking out the vans, torturing people with our bad Spanish, and drinking jote – a Chilean favorite of cheap red wine mixed with coca cola.
On the last morning the vans lined up on the beach for some classic photos, 32 vans in all!
Next up we headed to Pichilemu- Chile’s surf central. Host to a number of waves, the best is just five minutes south of town in Punta de Lobos. The waves here get enormous certain times of the year and the spot hosts numerous surf competitions. When we were there it was not yet summer so it wasn’t overly crowded and the waves were a good size.
We came across an awesome camping spot in Punta de Lobos owned by Anton, a hilarious snowboarder from Oregon. It just so happened that two other groups of people from San Diego were staying there as well so we joined forces and barbecued each night while enjoying more of Chile’s cheap fine wine. Aron was stoked to have some friends to surf with and I was ecstatic to have some girlfriends!
After the morning surf we would drive into town for some more of those amazingly fresh hot Chilean empanadas. We caught the weekly market and bought fresh strawberries, cherries, and avocados, all local, in season, and super cheap. We have been living on avocados and apples in Chile, two of the most abundant things grown here. Six avocados for a dollar- yes, heaven!
From Pichilemu we set out to explore the rest of Chile’s prime surf coast. We stopped for a night at this spot that Anton calls crabslaughter. Aron surfed some fun waves in the evening and we camped on a hill overlooking the friendly little fishing village.
Our favorite spot was Buchupureo, a tiny, beautiful town with a central square surrounded by only four blocks of houses. We camped in the beach parking lot with cliffs of pine trees in the background and the ocean out front. Aron loved this cold left hander and got it realllly good one day.
Back in Barra de la Cruz, Mexico three months into our trip we met Ana and Santiago, a couple of Chileans traveling north to Alaska. We made plans to meet up in Chile down the road and somehow everything fell into place nearly a year later. We met up with them in the little town of Curanipe where Aron and Santiago surfed the point break while Ana and I bought fresh fish at the local seafood market and made a lovely dinner.
The next morning, we drove out to their farm about an hour inland from Curanipe. Don Santiago, as he is known on the farm, studied agriculture and is running a large farm with all sorts of different crops and a huge irrigation system. Ana has a beautiful garden full of onions, lettuce, beets, peppers, and tomatoes. We saddled up some horses and went riding through the farm in the hot afternoon sun, past rows of corn, oats, and sunflowers- it was a lovely afternoon.
Don Santiago had promised the workers on the farm a big asado – a meat filled bbq – after they had gotten the farm up and running. After the days work he returned with an entire lamb and pig, both of which were roasted over charcoal on an enormous grill. The workers were so excited for all of the meat that they refused even a taste of the side dishes that Ana and I prepared. We were the first foreigners the farm workers had ever met and they thought we were pretty hilarious.
With our journey nearing its end, we have been debating whether or not to sell the van to avoid the money and hassle of shipping it back to the states. We posted online to see if there was anyone interested out there and that’s how we had the pleasure of meeting Ben and his family. Ben is a geology professor from California who is teaching at a university in Chile and wanted to buy the van to roadtrip back to the states. Ben and his family welcomed us into their home and spoiled us with homemade sushi, mac and cheese, and pumpkin pie while we sorted out the details of the sale.
At the last minute when Ben and Aron went to the customs office to do the final paperwork, they hit an impassable barrier and the sale turned out to be impossible. Long story short, Ben is in Chile on a temporary resident visa and Chilean residents cannot own foreign used vehicles. So here we are, still traveling in the van, broke but happy. We truly believe that everything happens for a reason and are grateful to still be on the road in our little house on wheels! We wish Ben and his family all the best in their travels as well and are happy to have met them. Next up- Patagonia!