Sunday, December 4, 2011

International travel with a kayak and buying a lemon vehicle in Santiago

International travel with a kayak and buying a lemon vehicle in Santiago

Gordon Klco making the Garganta look beautiful, photo by Chris Baer
Asheville North Carolina to Santiago Chile with a kayak

I am always apprehensive before flying with my kayak.  This trip to Chile was no different. I actually was adding to the gamble by driving from North Carolina to Georgia the night before the flight. Once arriving in Georgia in the early morning I had a couple errands to do. I picked up a roll of Gorilla tape, a new pair of Dickies, mailed out a check and paddle, and the biggest errand, find a storage place in Georgia to leave my truck. (the new nineteen eighty-four  F150 still doesn't have a name, if you have a good name leave it in the comments below) I managed to get all of the errands done just in time for the rain to start coming down. That meant that I got to arrange the storage location and do the final pack in a down pour.

My "Grandma, or wave ski, or kayak" whatever it needs to be called to get on the plane, photo by Chris Baer
I called for a mini van taxi four and a half hours before my plane was scheduled to depart. After a funny conversation with the cab driver about my "grandma" in the big black bag in the back of his mini van, he dropped me off at the terminal. The check in process is always risky with a kayak, the boat simply does not fit into any of the specified sizes. Some kind words,  use of the always persuasive "don't worry I do this all the time", and checking in with all of her associates, the baggage person finally gave my "wave-ski" a baggage ticket. My apprehension vanished, my boat was checked, it is all under mycontrol from here...

The Posse in a cab to the used car lot, Photo by Chris Baer
Finding and buying a used car in Santiago

Day 1
Arrive in Santiago and find out that Casey Tango and Gordon Klco have had their flight delayed 3 hours, worse Gordon was not able to get his boat on his flight out of Denver. I make my self comfortable in the Santiago airport and await there arrival. Four hours later I bump into Raul.  Raul is Gordon's contact in Santiago and I had bumped into him in CO a few years previous. As Raul and I start to chat Casey and Gordon made there way out of customs. The base of the team was together and all the gear was there minus Gordon's boat. We loaded Raul's car down with gear, and headed to Casa Roja, the hostel that we would base out of while in Santiago. Upon our arrival to the hostel a head popped out of one of the windows, it was Wes, our fourth. I felt like we were ahead of the ball having all of the people and almost all the gear in one spot. Raul was willing to up the ante one more notch as we piled into his car and took off to check out a couple used car lots before it got too late. We pulled to the back of the used car lot, and parked fifty feet away from our dream rig, a Mitsubishi Delica. The price was right, and it ran better then any 1990 Mitsubishi van from South America could be expected. We left the car lot with dreams of rallying the van all over South America.

Shelling out the cash for the Mitsubishi Delica, photo by Chris Baer
Day 2
Raul was busy in the morning, and we had a couple unanswered questions about the van. So we caught a taxi over to the car lot and checked out the Delica one more time... it looked good. That evening Raul meet us at the car lot and we bought the Delica... Raul bought the Delica. In Chile you need a RUT# (a social security number) to buy any expensive items. Raul was lending us his RUT # and technically became the actual owner of the Delica. We turn over a $1000 U.S. a piece for a 1990 mini van in... OK shape. We hop in our new whip and took off back to the Hostel. We all needed a good nights sleep, we were going to go kayaking on day three.

The Rio Claro

Day 3
Wes, Tango, Gordon and I wake up early, and head into the automotive district to put a kayak rack on the van. An hour later our van was looking pretty good, kayaks and paddles strapped to the roof rack, and everything four dudes need to survive in Chile for two months packed inside. It was actually happening... we were heading south on Rute 5 toward the Rio Claro. As we came to the town of Molina, the fuel tank only had a quarter tank of gas for the 50 km drive into the mountains. We had a quick conversation about whether we ought to stop for gas. The group agreed that we ought to stop, but our Chilean comrades were leading the caravan and had no intentions of slowing down. We finally stopped 20 kilometers out of town for beer. There were no more gas stations on our route into the mountains, and our drive to go kayaking got the better of us.

We continued up the mountain and as we neared the put in for the Veinte Dos Saltos the road got bad. Everyone got out of the van to spot the line, clear rocks, and to lighten the load on our poor Delica. The "four wheel drive" section went rather smoothly and the hopes and dreams of the Delica were coming true. We parked the van and began a short hike to the famous water fall run Veinte Dos Saltos, (twenty two) that's right 22 drops in only a few miles.

Casey Tango's boat after his first run in Chile, photo by Chris Baer
Our group is rather big, starting with the Chilean contingency of Raul his brother Nico and their friend Jose, and continuing with the gringo contingency of Wes, Tango, Gordon and I. Our large posse started into the Veinte Dos, Raul and Nico where giving us a little verbal beta, and we were boofing off of blind water fall after blind water fall. Quickly we entered into a very committing basalt canyon. Half way through the canyon Tango reached forward and got a huge boof off a 10 foot drop and cracked his boat. Tango  started sinking quickly, in what he claims to be his most committing canyon he has ever paddled. Tango's attitude stays positive as he dumps gallons of water out of his boat every chance he gets. As we reach the take out of the run I look around to see huge smiles on everyone's faces.  I was personally really pleased, the Veinte Dos section was my missing section to running all of the Rio Claro.

Raul and I hiked back up to get the vehicles at the put in, and all we could talk about was what was to come. Our state side boating group was about to do a lot of Chilean boating. Once at the van I jumped in and took a good look at the fuel gauge, it was low... really low. The Mitsubishi Delica was definitely not running shuttle the next day, but I thought it ought to get us back to town. We camped for the night, both Chilean and Gringo groups.

Fill up the fuel tank, and the beginning of the end

Day 4
The Chileans put there priorities in order over the evening and realized they needed to head back to Santiago to get ready for the following day. That left the Gringos at the camp site to tear down. We also had to get to Santiago to finish the paper work on the van. We were most of the way out of the mountains when the van ran out of gas. Tango and I grabbed one of the large gallon water jugs and began hiking and hitchhiking towards town. We walked about five kilometers when a truck stopped and we hoped in the back of it. The driver of the truck was Chilean and new the roads well, we were in for a terrifying hundred KPH ride, whipping pass cows, kids, and passing cars.

Once we safely arrived in town we went to the grocery store. We had hitch hiked in with a empty gallon of water that was to be our impromptu fuel tank and bought another gallon jug of water that would double our capacity. Upon arriving at the gas satiation the attendant refused to fill the jugs, he said the police would catch him. Tango and I walked directly to the other gas station in town and had no problems filling the containers. Next order of business was catching a cab the 30 km back to the van, after a little persuading we found a driver. Once we reached the van we fueled back up and the van fired back to life. We were on the road again, as we approached Santiago the van started getting warm the thermostat was rising but stayed within a reasonable temperature. We pulled into Casa Roja, and got a room for the evening.

Day 5
Woke up and decided to split our resources, Casey and Wes went to take the van to a local mechanic to get checked out. The mechanic told them he had a couple things to fix, and it is going to take a couple days. While this is going on Gordon, Raul, and I went to get the rest of the paper work for the van finished.

Day 6
Check in with mechanic and have a couple drinks.

Casey Tango hitting the wall at Casa Roja, or maybe he is about to get locked in a locker, photo Chris Baer
Day 7
More drinks and talking with mechanic. Santiago was draining us, no one in our group is a city person and we all simply wanted to go kayaking.

The Delica obviously overheating, photo by Chris Baer
It's a lemon, how to get a tow in Chile

Day 8
The van got finished and the bill was very reasonable. We picked up the van in the evening, and started the drive back south to the Rio Claro. We kept it fueled up this time, but it started to heat up as we started into the hills. This time the warming of the van was accompanied with noise, we shut it down promptly and pulled over. We quickly diagnosed the problem in the dark and realized nothing was going to get fixed till the morning, we slept in a tree farm on the side of the road.

The knot of Chile, the double overhand, it even works to tow vans, on dirt roads up hills and down highways,  photo by Chris Baer
Day 9
Wake up early and try to start the van, we crank the engine and get nothing. We turned it over some more, nothing, more cranking nothing , more nothing, finally the battery ran out of juice. There was almost no traffic on the road that early in the morning and we decided to try push starting the van. The van would pop, stutter, and idle while in gear on the down hills but as soon as the hill flattened the van died. Once the van stopped puttering down the hill, we would get out and push it to the next hill. After a few miles of pushing the van a local fruit vendor offered to tow us into town. We attached the van to his truck with a ten foot piece of nylon cord. Amazingly enough the fruit vendors overhand knots held and 30 minutes later we arrive at the mechanic in Molina. The mechanic diagnosed a couple of problems, first was an adjustment with the distributor cap, secondly there was a noise in the front of the engine. The noise in the front of the engine had been diagnosed by the mechanic in Santiago earlier in the week and we decided to get back on the road. As we drove back into mountains the van was missing a bit of power, and upon going down the first big hill the temperature shot up. We limped the van up a couple hills and it became very apparent there was still a major engine problem. Once again we slept on the side of the road.

Getting towed down the highway getting passed by a double decker bus, photo by Chris Baer
Day 10
Again we can't start the van, we push it and try jump starting it. We eventually get a tow to a steep hill and drop the clutch on the hill, the van starts back up but it is running real rough. We make it two kilometers and can't get the van up a big hill. Again we wait for a tow up the hill, once at the top we push start the van again. The van fires up and we make our last go at it. Another 4k and the van stops running for it's final time. We wait for another hour or so and catch a tow by a couple exceedingly nice men, Pancho and his father Jose. The Chileans offered up a tow to there house in Curico. We quickly accepted there offer, and arrive in Curico. Pancho's mother greets us at their door and makes us a great local lunch and treats us like family.

Street art in Curico, photo by Chris Baer
Day 11
The groups threshold is being pulled at from every imaginable angle. It looks like the van was the first one to give up. Wes was the next one to leave the group, he awoke and caught a bus to Pucon. Tango and Gordon are feeling the financial crunch, and I am wondering how I was able to pull off so many adventures with out this kind of epic failure happening. We crash at Pancho's house for a second night waiting out the weekend, and get a local Spanish lesson.

Hitting the reset button

The Delica getting loaded onto the flat bed tow truck for it's final adventure, back to Santiago, photo by Chris Baer
Day 12
Monday morning we loaded the van on a tow truck and make the three hour drive back up to Santiago. The tow truck driver drops the van back off in front of the dealer that we bought it from a week and a half previous. The auto dealer was quizzical on our return, Raul had spoken to him on Saturday, but I don't think the dealer really expected the van to get dropped back off. Raul showed up a little while later and spoke harshly with the dealer. A resolution was worked out, and we might be seeing some cash back for the van... I am currently writing it up as a very expensive life lesson.

Raul then packed us in his car and we took off looking to find a more functional vehicle... a rental truck. After a little internet shopping and a dozen phone calls we managed to find a two wheel drive pick up. The rental fee got reduced to an  amazingly low price of $44 dollars a day, not bad compared to the listed $65 dollars.

Pancho, Jose, and Erika sending us off in our rental truck, photo by Chris Baer 
Day 13
Wake up at Casa Roja, and have our rental truck delivered to the parking lot adjacent to the hostel. We pack the truck to the brim and take off once again to the Rio Claro. Five hours later were in our boats and paddling the beautiful Veinte Dos Saltos section.

Casey Tango sliding through Garganta del Diablo, photo by Chris Baer
Gordon Klco boofing through the upper Entres section, photo by Chris Baer

The next few days are filled with paddling the Claro, sleeping in the dirt, eating great self cooked meals, drinking cheap beer, and finally being on vacation.

Gordon Klco, happily sleeping in the dirt, photo by Chris Baer
Photos and words by
Chris Baer 


  1. great story. were undoubtedly a few days where there was no solutions, nor to the van, or to continue the journey in search of more rivers to fall.

    nevertheless, the days that passed through Curicó were pretty good, I learned much English and some Spanish you. the final mix a strange Spanglish and good friends with guys who never thought to know.

    I hope to continue good, down rivers and knowing Chile.

    casey greetings and Gordon and of course the fucking profesional chris baer¡¡

  2. great story. were undoubtedly a few days where there was no solutions, nor to the van, or to continue the journey in search of more rivers to fall.

    nevertheless, the days that passed through Curicó were pretty good, I learned much English and some Spanish you. the final mix a strange Spanglish and good friends with guys who never thought to know.

    I hope to continue good, down rivers and knowing Chile.

    casey greetings and Gordon and of course the fuckin profesional chris baer¡¡