Posts Tagged Coyhaique

Fleeing the Scene

Posted on March 6, 2012 by 6 Comments

A quick trip to the town square, and things were completely different. There were no more tents and police in full  gear were roaming at every corner. The square had been cleared. There were no civilians.  It was an eery feeling.

I asked both the police and the tourist office about the blockades (now open ever 2 hours).

I headed back to the cabin and we finished loading up the car. After 11 days in Coyhaique, we had a plan. Not a perfect plan, but a plan to get out nonetheless.

We passed 3 abandoned (but still smoldering) roadblocks on the way out of town.  Then we came to the big one that normally blocked off access to Argentina. The trucks were still parked on both sides but we squeezed through and were able to pass it without issue. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but the truckers are the ones that are controlling most of the roadblocks. So, it isn’t surprising that they looked rather comfortable around their asadas and mates as we crept between the single lane between them.

We couldn’t believe the luck– no waiting!

Then, we had to wait. The border control office in Chile (Coyaique Alto) was not open. They were conserving their diesel for their generators. After about an hour, they fired up the generators and we were allowed to go through the process of exiting Chile. High-fives all around.

What we didn’t anticipate was trouble entering Argentina. Despite crossing about 20 borders (twice before into Argentina), these officials insisted we needed a notarized form that said that Bode was our son. And one that said that Jason and I were married. My reaction– think! Jason go to the car and look through our paperwork…do we have anything?

While Jason looked, I explained calmly that we didn’t have anything, and that we had no gas and we couldn’t go back to Chile. I told him I thought I could dig up some photos of Bode’s birth, but he declined. 45 minutes, with frustrated looks from all the Chilean/Argentines who can usually go through this process in a matter of minutes.  They explained that child-trafficking was a big problem and that we simply would not be allowed in the country. Finally, he made a phone call, and eventually we were allowed in. On to customs.

The woman at the aduana office asked for our exit papers from the last time we were in Argentina. What? We don’t have those, never did. They take those when you leave. According to her, they should have given us 3 copies. Umm, nope. They dug through all the papers that we’d brought in looking for Bode’s birth certificate. Nada.

We explained the 2 entry and 2 exit points we’d used in Argentina before, and told her we should be in the computer. So much for these countries with a computer system being easier. We were in there all right, but it took 2 women and another phone call for them to figure out they could just print those out and write in the name of the entry point. Jason signed 4 copies, they kept one and gave us the other 3. We still don’t understand that bit, but whatever – we were in.

We scratched our head about how we could have such problems getting into Argentina a 3rd time, and why it was both the immigration AND the Customs. If this was our first entry into the country and couldn’t point to those other stamps and already have the car in the computer system… we’d have been screwed.

We were not surprised to find that there was no gas in the closest town (not on the map). But we found the town restaurant/mini market and had dinner. We lingered and watched Casino Royale in Spanish with the proprietors. They kindly let us park out back for the night. We were to leave the next morning at 10 am and go ’til we ran out of gas. Fingers crossed some person we’ve never met would buy us gasoline and meet us in the middle of nowhere.

He did. Phil is our new hero.

We went all the way to Rio Mayo and filled the tanks, bought a bunch of beer, and booked it over the municipal campground.

Phil’s driven all over the world and has no plan of stopping any time soon. Aside from escaping Coyhaique (by buying all the cooking oil off the store shelves), he regaled us with stories of driving across the globe. Mongolia sounded pretty amazing. It’s on my list.

As the beer flowed and night fell, a few more cars pulled into the camp site. Wait – I know that VW! Then another… wait, we know that VW too!


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Filed Under: Argentina, Chile

The Kindness of Strangers

Posted on March 5, 2012 by 9 Comments

On Fri, Mar 2, 2012 at 5:09 PM, phil wrote:

Hi guys.

I have been here 10 days now.
I’m going to try tonight to get through the border via ‘coyhaique alto’  ( the  ruta  240 )
I have bought cooking oil (my truck is diesel)
Apparently the road block should be opened at 18:30 tonight for 30 mins.
So I try.  I will keep you posted of progress.


lets keep in touch,  us  ‘real’  travellers  (ie  years !!!!)  should really stick together.

There’s also a Belgium couple here somewhere in a huge like really big camping car.   I met them 3 days ago but they were looking for somewhere to stay.

There is a nice quiet camp site at bottom of dirt track that leads to the national parque (which is closed – park not camp)
It’s about 1 or 2 kms out of town northwards.


From: Angela
Sent: 02 March 2012 17:36

Hey Phil-

We’ve been here about 8 or 9 days now, too. We are about 10-20 liters short on gasoline to make it to Rio Mayo. We’re trying to find some, but not having any luck.
How did you find out about the road opening? I hadn’t heard that, but we are wanting to leave as soon as we can. Let us know if you get through, and about the gas situation in Argentina. We have some friends in El Bolson who say there is no gas there either.

Are you heading north or south? We’re going south, so hope to catch up with you soon!

Good luck!

On Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 2:00 PM, Phil wrote:

i  just bought 158 litres of diesel.  yippee.
i stayed last night this side of border.
jst got here at 1pm.

there is a small village five kms this side of border.
it has a ypf  station.   but no fuel this morning.
opposite the ypf is supermarket.  they may sell you some fuel.

so the big issue is if you can get through the road block.  it is about 3kms from town centre.  i am guessing they will open it again tonight at 6;30. you could drive or walk there and confirm.

i will stay here tonight as i have internet. if you do not send me a message after say 8pm then i will assume you have got through roadblock and heading for border at Alto Coyhaique.

tomorrow i will drive and wait approx 30kms from here  of course with fuel for you ~gasoline.

if you do not arrive with me by  12ish  [ midday ] then i will start driving back towards border to find you.

good plan ?


From: Angela
Sent: 03 March 2012 14:26

This is sounding like a good plan. We’ll ask around about the roadblocks today, and confirm with you later this afternoon.

Where exactly are you? Rio Mayo (RN 40) or Alto Rio Mayo (RN 51 south)…or send your GPS coordinates so we know what our goal is.

Also send us the GPS coordinates of where you’ll think you’ll be waiting.

If we make it through the border tonight, we will stop at the little town (small village five kms past the border) and try to buy fuel. If there is no fuel, we will sleep there in our bus. Then, tomorrow morning at 10 am we will start driving towards Rio Mayo. We are certain we will not make it without fuel.  If we do not arrive by 12, then you will know that we are on the side of the road waiting somewhere between the border and Rio Mayo.

We will send you an email tonight to confirm when we leave Coyaique.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!


From: phil
Date: Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Small town 5kms past border :    S45.55403 W71.51834
Fuel station at Rio Mayo             S45.69055 W70.25615      (where I write this from)
Distances   :      to border                         53.5kms
Border to fuel station   :  121kms

I  will wait approx  30kms  from here  ( is that about right do you think ? )  approx gps :   S45.59679 W70.55459

I can only buy 23 litres of fuel, will that be enough ?????


from    Angela
date    Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 3:52 PM


I doubt we can make it to your waiting point unless we can get more fuel. We believe we can drive about 80 km from Coyhaique (maybe a little more).

We will stick with the plan to start driving from the border town at 10 am tomorrow. We will certainly run out of gas before 11am. So, if you don’t see us by 11am , just start toward us. No need to wait in that random location since we won’t make it. 20 liters of gasoline should be plenty to get us to Rio Mayo!

If we can get gas tonight, we will drive all the way to Rio Mayo and find you.
When we get there, the beers and fuel are on us!

We have heard that the roadblocks will be open every two hours today for private cars, so it looks like we should get through. We are hoping to leave in the next hour, but will let you know for sure when we do.


from    phil
date    Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 4:00 PM

See you tomorrow.
Somewhere !!!!
I’ll assume plan is good to go but I’ll check emails again in morning before I set out from here.
Good luck.
By the way – the route to the border is very scenic !!!!  (aren’t they all !!)


from    Angela
date    Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 4:21 PM

We are leaving now. Can’t wait to meet you in the middle of nowhere!


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Filed Under: Argentina, Chile

The new field operatives

Posted on March 3, 2012 by 6 Comments

The good thing about the roads being closed is that we don’t have to worry about missing a gas line. There is no gas coming for now.

I began handing out cards with “gasolina?” written on the back. I started with folks we’ve met or done business with, then moved on to complete strangers.

The Chilean government keeps walking away from negotiations and it leads to bigger protests in the night. With that information, and the  possibility of the electricity going out in the city, I decided to call the Embassy. My intention was to ask if they had a source of gas in the area. You never know.

My ‘vice consular’ was very nice. She took our information, so now it’s official – we are in the area. They have not gotten calls from anyone so near the activity, so mostly she had questions for us about what we’ve seen and heard. We’ve unknowingly become the new ‘field operatives.’

The State Department has some other ‘field operatives’ in the area (though none where we are). Basically, these are covert spies who continually pass information back to the embassy about goings-on throughout the country. I was put in touch with a local (200 kms away) ‘warden’ who told us he had no gas either, and getting such a large quantity would be near impossible. Mind you, this large quantity we are looking for is 3 to 5 gallons.

My consular is very friendly and helpful, and actually a little concerned. There have been reports of violence and vandalism, which were probably just hoodlum teenagers. But she did think it best for us to keep the car safe, so we moved it back to our cabin. It is nice not to worry about it so near the plaza.

She’s in Santiago, and from 1200 miles away, is actually more concerned about our safety than we are. I was telling her that things seemed calm here, that the protesters were starting another rally and they had built a bonfire in the center of the plaza. She laughed  that I had referred to this as ‘pretty calm’.

But honestly, things aren’t too crazy. Office workers make banners and march around town during the day and people have set up tents in the plaza, so it is starting to look like what I imagine the Occupy movement to look like. These are just normal folks who are fed up. Support for the movement seems unanimous. At least it isn’t a free for all…yet. I think things may be worse in the port of Aysen, about 30 minutes from here.

We were told that there were “some hints” of possible government “movements” in the future. I’m not sure this will be a good thing.

The bakeries have all closed because there is no more flour – now there is no more bread.  There is still some canned and frozen food in the stores. I realized why – they are really expensive. A can of beans is about $5 USD – the normal price here. The butcher counter which normally extends most of the back wall of the large supermarket is down to about 2 trays of premium beef. We had filet mignon and a bottle of wine last night. I doubt there will be meat tonight. Time to go fishing.

We are quite used to making the most of what groceries we can obtain, and we’re stocked up on noodles.

We have a few leads on gasoline, but nothing has worked out so far. I think today we will know more. I’ve heard that they might open the roads tonight for a few minutes (passenger cars only). So today, we’re hopeful something might change. We’re going to pack up and hope for the best!


Filed Under: Chile

Sorry, Patagonia is Closed.

Posted on March 2, 2012 by 13 Comments

Life goes on in Coyahaique. You just can’t enter or leave.

We moved out of the bus, and left it near the gas station. We needed more space and also needed a bathroom and shower.

We’ve rented a cabin where we can cook and shower and other normal things. We go and check on the bus and make sure there is no gas line about 3-4 times a day. Bode and I sleep here, Jason goes and sleeps in the bus…just in case.

Bode and I bring him coffee if he isn’t back by 9:30, I also bring my uke or a book in case I have to sit in the bus for a few hours. But for days, there has been no line and we just lug all the stuff back and forth. Everyday, someone says ‘maybe today’. There is one other person sleeping and staying in their car—an Argentinean guy who seems to sit outside his truck and drink mate all day and night.

The store shelves continue to empty and get more and more bare. There are no fresh fruits or vegetables, but still some beef and yogurt. No one is panicking, but today looks like the last day of bread. Still, it seems a lot more civil than a Safeway in the U.S. the day before Christmas.

We watch and try to translate the fast-paced talking on the 24 hour news channels. But there is a big festival in Vina del Mar, and it’s back to school time. These things seem far more important than the fact that this region is blocked off from the rest of Chile and the entire region is shut down. The ‘live morning news’ shows broadcast out of Santiago just seem to show smiling hosts gyrating to techno music and talking about the latest celebrity gossip. Sound familiar? One of the big complaints here in the Aysen region is that the rest of Chile doesn’t recognize their problems.  Based on the way the news is treating this, I can see their point.

I know how lucky we are to be in this town. Everyone we meet has been very nice, and they make calls to see if they can find us the little bit of gas we need to make it to Argentina. We are in touch with some other overlanders who are north of us who might be able to help us with a special delivery… but they are starting to feel the effects all the way up to El Bolson, Argentina now.

We did get a bit of scary information last night. We were told that there is only enough diesel to run the generators for the city’s electricity for another few days. So, if you don’t hear from us, that’s why.


Filed Under: Chile

Mi Problema

Posted on March 1, 2012 by 8 Comments

Fast-forward 6 days past our “blog lag” and we’re still here in Coyhaique.

We camped in the fuel line for a while until the warning came… there was going to be a big protest that night and things could get crazy. Broken windows, cars flipped over and set on fire, etc. Not really interested in that option, we split and moved the bus across town. I’m not sure how crazy the protest was, but there was no more fuel line the next day.

Then, there was a rumor going around town that a truck had made it through the barricades and everyone in town jumped back in line. I walked the whole thing and it was about 20 blocks or so, circuitously wrapping itself in random directions around the city streets. We waited, and incrementally moved up whenever someone ahead gave up. We kept asking around and people seemed encouraged that the line was moving, regardless of the fact that there was still no gas. We’re a bit perplexed the whole thing.

This fuel line thing seems to primarily be a male activity. I’m not sure anyone even expects the gas to arrive – it’s just something to do – maybe even an excuse to get away from the wife, work, whatever. No one we’ve met seems to have any spare gas to sell or knows where to get any. No black market that we can find. Yet, no one seems all that concerned. People with fuel in their tanks are still driving the streets and going about their normal routine. It’s a small town, so I suppose a full tank could last quite a while if you’re just running errands.

The broken windows from the protests are mostly covered up with cardboard. Everyone around town has put the Aysen slogans in their windows (possibly to prevent them from being broken).

The road barricades have been blocking all trucks from entering the region for quite a while. Still, and maybe most curiously, the lack of food in stores doesn’t seem to incite any hint of panic in anyone. Back in the US, there would be full-on riots, fist fights in the store aisles, Marshal Law, and end-of-the-world type panic. Here… things are civilized. People try to help each other. The Patagonians seem accustomed to doing without. If there is going to be any sort of Armageddon, I might prefer to experience it here.

We’ve got a stock of food in the bus to last a little while. Bode will happily eat spaghetti for a week if necessary. And, you can still buy things like ketchup and soda for some reason. The stores have plenty of that. I bought some carrots from a lady on the sidewalk selling from her garden – so we’re good on carrots.

We’re still more or less in line for fuel – the bus is only a block from the station right now (progress!) but there’s no longer anyone behind us.

The word on the street is that an official from Santiago has come to the region to negotiate (and has already threatened to use the military), so people are hopeful there will be a resolution soon. But, from our experience, negotiations in Latin America are tricky things – they don’t end until everyone wins.

Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you know the tune.

Oh, Lord, stuck in Lodi again

– John Fogerty


Filed Under: Chile

Stuck in Coyaique

Posted on February 29, 2012 by 8 Comments

We spent a couple of days in Puerto Puyehuapi, trying to stay dry and waiting for gas.  We did a load of bathtub laundry that never dried and the gas never came, so it was time to go.

Our big question was “which way?” We could head north a bit and make a break for Argentina. The dull side of Patagonia. Or, we could continue on our way, the way we’ve been heading for 2.5 years. Again, this decision should have been made before we left the cabin.

We were told that roadblock on the south side of town would open at noon, so we jumped in the car and decided to go that way. We had 3/4 tank, and that would be enough to get into Coyhaique. We also have a few gallons of gas on the roof.

But, when your bus has been sitting in torrential rain for a few days, there is bound to be something wrong. Ours didn’t start, and a few replacement pieces were swapped around before Jason figured out it was the tachometer shorting out and killing the coil again. We don’t need that today.

But at this point, we’d missed the road opening.  A quick check at the gas station and still no gas – though the attendant said there was some in Coyhaique. He didn’t look like he’d ever driven a car. We headed for Argentina….for about 2 miles, then we swung it around and headed south.

After an hour and a half wait at the road block, the sun came out and we had an absolutely beautiful drive. The kind of drive where you are sure you’ve made the right decision.

We breezed by the next road block with only a 30 minute wait, and the 3rd with only a 20 minute wait. Unofficially, they close the roads for 2 hours, then let cars (but not trucks) pass before closing them again.

The roads are closed in strategic spots, limiting access to towns or gas stations, but in the magic of Northern Patagonia they are all beautiful backdrops.  And, we are set up for waiting. Lunch here, a game of frisbee there. The protesters don’t seem to mind, they are usually kicking around a soccer ball or grilling up an asada themselves.

But by Roadblock #4 of the day it was getting a little old. This wind had picked up and the tire burning was frankly dangerous. Thick clouds of black smoke was blowing right into the shelter the protesters had made, sending them all out into the storm. After an hour and a quarter, we were glad to pass through this one.

Since the port town of Aysen was the center of the conflicts, we planned to avoid it completely by taking a dirt back road. For some reason we were surprised that the protesters were a step ahead of us and had blocked the bridge into Coyhaique on this road too. Another hour and half wait. Meanwhile, they cooked an asada that smelled delicious.

We finally got to Coyhaique running on fumes and headed right into the center to find out the gas situation. The line circled blocks and blocks around town and ended up around the town plaza.

We learned from some guys in front of us that there was a line like this the week before. They had gotten into it at 8pm, the gas truck came at 3am, and they got gas around 4am.

So, we popped the top and got comfortable considering we had a prime spot in town (we even picked up a pizza and brought it back to the bus). Bode rode his scooter around the plaza until it got dark (around 9:30) and we settled in. Jason and I took turns staying up all night to make sure we didn’t lose our place. The locals were a bit cut-throat when given the opportunity to pass up someone in line.

Unfortunately, not much happened during the night and by morning we still had no gas.


Filed Under: Chile

Protesta Puyuhuapi

Posted on February 28, 2012 by 1 Comment

And then things began to get interesting.

I’ve forgotten to mention the multitudes of hitchhikers here in Patagonia. I’m uncertain whether it is due to lack of good public transport, or just an interest in making a free go of such a remote part of the world.

We are pretty loaded down in the bus with the worldly possessions of three, and usually the hitchhikers are in packs of 3 or 4 complete with massive backpacks. But on this afternoon we passed a single hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. He had his name-brand backpack and waterproof hiking boots, and it was just miserable outside. So we picked up Daniel from Santiago, hitching his third time through Patagonia.

Four days prior, while in Puerto Montt, Daniel heard there were protests in the Aysen region (where we are headed). He said there might be a roadblock. We traveled for a couple hours, and sure enough we hit one.

The protesters were nice enough, and let us know they would open the road in 2 hours. But now it was decision time.  Apparently, there were more road blocks all the way down to the next large town, Coyhaique. This blockade was right before the gas station (which was rationing the equivalent of about 5 gallons per car) in La Junta, and also just in front of a highway turnoff that would take us to Argentina.

For two hours we debated what to do. Daniel could only get minimal information but we were told that south of Coyhaique, things should be fine. There isn’t much to see from the Argentina side, and even through the rain, the scenery here in Chile is spectacular. The plan was always to stay in Chile for as far south as possible, so we decided to drive on a little farther.

So, when the road opened, we were first in line to get our allotted gasoline and then continued on to Puerto Puyuhaupi. We’d intended to go a little farther and camp, but the station here was out of gas, and the town was actually quite lovely. So, we got a cabin and decided to see if we could figure out what was going on with the protests, roadblocks and gas shortage. We could always backtrack to Argentina, but we really just wanted to continue to drive down the Carretera Austral.

We left Daniel with a group of other hitchhikers on the main square, all trying to get rides south. We’re not sure how far he got.

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Filed Under: Chile