Bittersweet Frey

Frey sounds like Swiss chocolate and the truth is not so far away. It is a group of granit spires planted on a dome shaped and snow covered mountain up above Bariloche but from the city the famous climbing spot may very well look like a goblet of ice cream topped with Chantilly cream and sprinkled with chocolate chips.

The outline of Frey's spines

The outline of Frey’s spine

We had returned from Valle Encantado on Saturday and we spent Sunday afternoon at Esteban and Silvia’s lovely house situated on the heights of Bariloche. Esteban is the son of a cousin of my grandmother whose father emigrated to Argentina in the beginning of the 20th century… They had very kindly invited us for a “domingo asado” (Sunday barbecue), a traditional and popular activity very much part of the Argentinean culture. Their wooden house is nestled in a large and lush garden at that time of the south hemisphere spring: high dark pines framing the Nahuel Huapi lake, blooming fruit trees standing alongside dense bushes and beds of aromatic herbs lined up along house.

Even the trees are shivering in Bariloche ;-)

Even the trees are shivering in Bariloche

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That afternoon we were introduced to the technology of self-built, portable solar ovens, we admired Silvia’s art of stained glass, we commented on the Higgs boson discovery and the “faster than light neutrinos” (they both worked at CERN), we tasted their home-made yoghurt and bread as well as mint tea and candied peaches from the garden and we were told about the story of an Austrian mad-doctor, friend of the president of Argentina who was working on atomic fusion on a uninhabited island of the Nahuel Hapi lake after World War II.

Magic forest on the way down to Bariloche

Magic forest on the way to Frey

Rivière spectre

Dead bamboo, living trees

Dead bamboo, living trees

On Monday morning we left Bariloche for the second time. We took a bus to Catedral, the town main ski resort and hiked up to “Refugio Frey” with food for five days. The Frey hut is very well located at a pass dropping on one side to a small lake (and our daily bathtube) and on the other side to the access valley covered by deep, enchanted forests. The bivy places set up with small stone walls against wind are spreaded over a gentle slope above the hut whereas on the opposite slope stands the “Aguja Frey”, the nearest spire with the largest number of routes. The Frey hut is well visited by backpackers undertaking the three days Jakob trek around Bariloche.

The weather is about to change

The weather is about to change

Louis in the "Diedro de Jim"

Louis in the “Diedro de Jim” on “Aguja Frey”

Stephan jamming on the Aguja Frey

Stephan jamming on the “Aguja Frey”

At the Frey hut we came across a swedish guy met ten days earlier in a bus and passionate about paleontology. We got to know Alan, the friendly hut warden and climber, willing to buy any climbing gear since imported goods are unaffordable in Argentina. We also met a bunch of climbers coming from the Petzl Rock Trip: two Brasilean boulderers not afraid of long approches, the famous Daniel du Lac and his girlfriend, a group of cheerful Argentinean climbers returning at night from their climbs (we are not yet generalizing…) convinced of having spotted Adam Ondra in Piedra Parada; after investigation it seems that they are the only ones (however it results that pro climbers in general are smaller and skinnier than expected by their fans and Daniel du Lac is the exception that proves the rule since he is taller than me).

Last days climb on the Aguja Frey, "Lost Fingers"

Louis climbs the “Aguja Frey”, “Lost Fingers”

Louis after the long traverse

Louis after the long traverse

The master of the place, a female condor

The master of the place, a female condor

Compensation for the hard climb of the day

Compensation for the hard climb of the day

Louis rappeling from the Campanile

Louis rappeling from the Campanile

Our climbs:
– Aguja Frey (1850m), “Diedro de Jim”, 50m, 5b
– Aguja Principal (2410m), “Ruta normal”, 150m, 6a
– Aguja El Abuelo (???), route mix: “Conflicto de generaciones” and “Anonimo Yankee”, 100m, 6b+
– Aguja M2 (2000m), route mix: “Llegando al cielo sin morir” and “El fin de los dias”, 45m, 6b
– Campanilo Esloveno (???), “Fonrouge-Bertoncelj”, 120m, 6b
– Aguja Frey (1920m), “Lost fingers”, 120m, 6b

More  pictures can be found here.

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The Fairy Tale of the Enchanted Valley

Once upon a time, there was a land without a name. Vast spaces devoid of people, stepplike plains, glaciers, fjords, deserts, lakes, impenetrable forests, canyons, mountains.
Nomads called Tehuelces travelled these boundless spaces from east to west, following their hunting habits.
Magellanes was the first European to encounter them in 1520 and he was so astonished by their average height of 1m80 that he gave them the name “Patagons”, after the giant in the novel “Primaleón” that appeared in 1512 in Salamanca, Spain. (The European average at that time was 1m50).
In the centuries that followed, the Mapuches, another indigenous tribe with its  origins in today Chile, slowly displaced the Tehuelces due to their superiority in war techniques and the use of the horse brought by the Europeans. For the central government in Buenos Aires the Mapuches though signified an important resistance against the advance of the Hispanics in the 17th and 18th century. Nevertheless this resistance was broken with the “Campaña del Desierto” in 1879, a war against the indigenous population with the aim of colonialising Patagonia, resulting in a genocide of 20’000 people.

The deserted other side seen from Bariloche

The deserted lake side seen from Bariloche

During all times, Patagonia attracted the people. First Englishmen appeared in their conquest of the seas during the 16th century, then European scientists thirsty for new discoveries in the 18th and early 19th century, then missionaries that brought the cross and finally exiled people who did not have any other place to go. After the “Campaña del Desierto” in the 19th, the land was distributed to soldiers and landlords from Chile, Yugoslawia, Wales, Poland, Scotland, Denmark, England and Holland. The few indigenous people that survived the war were enslaved.
About twenty years ago a new race of conquerors appeared in Patagonia, the millionaires.
With their fortune, they could acquire large parts of land in very little time: Patagonia has become a topic at the table of the rich.

But before anybody is able to buy land, someone needs to sell it. The local government played an important role in selling Patagonia to foreign investors. They kept silence when indigenous communities claimed land they had been cultivating for years and in other cases they gave crucial information to the potential buyer (for example about the original owners of the ground) as if they were an real estate agency. It is not a surprise that many officials really opened their own real estate agency after leaving the public sector. Between 1996 and 1998 a particular government official authorized the sale of 8 mio hectares near the boarder region, which corresponds roughly to twice the surface of Switzerland! (Selling real estate in a area within 50km from the boarder has to be authorised by the state.) Even nowadays a clear policy on the subject of selling homeland is missing and many people fear for the sovereignty, the environment, the rights of indigenous populations and simply for their future; but Buenos Aires is a long way from Patagonia and although that part of the country is important economically (gas ressources, wool and meat production, mining, tourism) the number of voters is bigger in a single suburb of Buenos Aires than in the whole Patagonia with a population of 2 millions people.

Magic shadows on magic mushrooms

Magic shadows on magic mushrooms

The four biggest foreign landowners in Patagonia own a terrain big as half of Switzerland. On a larger scale, 10% of the surface of Argentina (270’000km2) is owned by strangers (2006).

The Benetton family, known for its textile industry, possesses more than 1 million hectares and it is the biggest landowner in Argentina beside the state. It is one of the major producers of wool and pork meat in Argentina, but also it is involved in forest managment and less publicly advertised because of the environmental issues, in mining. The family members consider their land as an investment which has to give a return. In 2002 a scandal with a dislodged Mapuche family biased the sales and the image of Benetton. By offering 2500 hectares to the indigenous community, the conflict could be mitigated (the land was restitued only in 2007), however tensions continue up to the present day.

Douglas Tompkins, who travelled Patagonia in young ages and even opened a route on the Fitz Roy, made his fortune as founder of The North Face and Esprit brands. He is the biggest private owner of natural resources in Chile and received the nickname of “Lord of the Water”, since his lands are situated on top of an incalculable amount of ground water. It is said that Patagonia shelters one of the main reserve of fresh water in the world. In the south of Argentina and Chile he owns more than 900’000 hectares, principally with the aim of nature preservation, in the sense of “Deep ecology“, a movement which propagates the return to the nature, much in contrast with the idea of some Chileans to populate the land to the very last bit. His territory cuts Chile in two parts which created considerable controversy.
Rather than investing in a private jet, he buys more land in order to protect it. Much of his land has now the status of natural park and in Argentina his land donation to the state is among the biggest in the Argentinean history.

Ted Turner, media mogul and  founder of CNN bought more than 40’000 hectares pushed by his passion for trout fishing. He is also among the biggest owners of private land in the USA.

Joseph Lewis, 6th richest man in the UK in 1996 due to his activities in restaurant chains, golf courses, textile industry, biotechnology, gas extraction, etc… built his own paradise near El Bolsón: an entire lake of 600 hectares encircled by mountains, hidden in a forest of Alerce trees, many of them older than 4000 years. His property extends over more than 14’000 hectares. He is heavily contested by some inhabitants of the region and loved by others. Nevertheless, he has been polishing his image with gifts to the local community such as hospitals, emergency vehicles, libraries, an aerodrome, scholarships and good salaries so that locals gave him the nickname of “Tío Joe”.

Way Lard, the grandson of the inventor of the chips, owns the chips company Lay and Pepsico Inc. and makes big profits with VIP tourism and vineyards.

The list of foreign landowners is infinite, some are certain (Jacobo Suchard (Nestle), Swarowski family, etc.), some are just rumors (Silvester Stallone).
Finally, Patagonia has always been owned by strangers. And as the former president Menem put it “Lo que sobra en Argentina es tierra” that is “There is land to be wasted”.

Last sunshine on the river Limay

Last sunshine on the Limay river

As a matter of fact, we also experienced at first hand what private property in Argentina means. Every now and then throughout our trip we heard about a climbing paradise near San Carlos de Bariloche called “Valle Encantado” (the enchanted valley). Rumors about a river crossing with an inflatable boat, a compulsory permit to enter the private ground and an interdiction to camp made our undertaking as difficult as would be the climbing of the tower of the “Rapunzel” occupied by a short haired princess. We started with what seemed to be the easiest one of the three quests that had been imposed on us: the permit to enter the private property. The magic crystal ball (internet) told us to go to the “Club Andino Bariloche”, the local mountain club, where they gave us only a telephone number which never answered, a dead end. In the different sport shops that we inquired we only obtained a vague description of an office that we could not find. It was as if some dark power would put obstacles in our way, we were getting crazy! Finally a phone call to a contact that we had obtained two weeks earlier in a shop in Salta (!) could solve it. We finally found the ominous office, but it was already closed that evening.
The next day we were supposed to leave, having solved none of our quests but we still had a distant hope of reaching our paradise. We were already sitting in the bus station waiting to be driven to our plan B climbing spot Villa Llanquin when the miracle happened: out of boredom we started to ask in the tourist office whether they had heard of Valle Encantado, only the be provided with the crucial information of what phone number to call for the permit,  how to cross the river and where to find a place to spend the night. We had found the fairy godmother! After some phone calls everything was arranged. After all we decided to spend a day in Villa Llanquin, waiting for Adrien who we had met in Arenales to join us and then headed together to Valle Encantado. Adrien in the meantime was able to obtain the permit to enter the private ground.
On the next day, we took the bus to km 1201 on the “Ruta 40” and were dropped along the river opposite to some vacation cabins for rent and above all opposite to the incredible natural rock sculptures of Valle Encantado.
We cried and whistled trying to find out the magical saying that would awake the ferryman and finally we were successful. Luis, the guardian of this little paradise made us cross the turquoise river to the “estancia” consisting of some central buildings such as a winter garden, some verandas with big fireplaces, a house for the “asado”, a chapel, a kitchen and the more remotely located wooden holiday cabins. We chose one of the cabins and headed directly to the property next to the one we were, where the actual climbing areas are located.
We spent the next few days climbing these incredible vulcanic rock formations and enjoying the little paradise of Valle Encantado situated next to the beautiful river Limay.

All the climbing is on the other side, but how to cross?

All the climbing is on the other side, but how to cross?

Crossing the river with Adrien, Louis and Luis

Crossing the river with Adrien, Louis and Luis

Adrien lost in structures ;-)

Adrien lost in structures 😉

Louis in very technical "canaletta"

Louis in a very technical “canaletta”

The fairy tale should end here: the three brave climbers found their enchanted rockwalls, had hot showers every day and slept in real beds every night.
But as we learned later, the “estancia” is the property of the Van Ditmars, a family that has its origins in Holland and is also known as a big seller of Patagonia. Van Ditmar people were often leading the negociations between local landowners and the magnates (Joseph Lewis, the Benetton family) willing to acquire land in Patagonia. On top of the reward for the negociations, the Van Ditmar family is now administrator for many big landowners.
In the particular case of Valle Encantado it is said that Van Ditmar acquired it from an old lady in exchange of a flat in the city, a property that is now worth several millions of dollars… that is how it works in Argentina!

Climbing is still hard even with such a nice view

Climbing is still hard even with such a nice view

A lot of the routes demand a lot of stamina, 35m of continous overhang

Many routes demand a lot of stamina, 35m of continous overhang

A reminder of the European labiate

A reminder of the European labiate

PS. Our experience in the Valle Encantado was very positive, although there is something I did not mention before. In June 2011 the volcano Puyehue erupted and covered large parts of Patagonia with a thick layer of ash. Half of the cattle of the affected areas died and the rest has a diminished life expectancy. Valle Encantado has been greatly affected by the eruption as well. The whole place was covered with a layer of up to 30cm of very fine ash. When the winds blown in Patagonia as they often do, the sight is obscured by the flying ash, a natural disaster which will take at least 15 years to disappear.

Some more pictures can be seen here.

References:
Gonzalo Sánchez, “La Patagonia vendida”, Marea Editorial, 2006.
Wikipedia, “Patagonia”, 16. Dez 2012.

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Tradclimbers Paradise – Arenales

Chile and Argentina are so long that we, geography idiots, had to simplify things a bit to orient ourselves. We assumed both countries to be one-dimensional and directed along a north-south axis. In addition we defined four reference cities (somewhat relevant to our climbing destinations) regularly spaced along that axis: Salta/Antofagasta, Mendoza/Santiago, Bariloche/Valdivia and El Chalten. The distances between the reference cities could be expressed in km (around 1500 km) or in bus hours (15 to 20 hours). But luckily you do not need to use this memorizing trick. From your computer or smart phone you can just take a look at the Google maps at the end of each post and scroll Argentina/Chile up and down.

The Arenales valley

The Arenales valley bordered by monumental fans

From Tuzgle to Los Arenales we first headed south-east to Salta (which evidenced the fact that our initial assumption was wrong since it took us almost 9 hours to get there). The road descending from the Altiplano crosses over beautiful landscapes. The valley sides reproduce endlessly the same erosion patterns and alternate variously coloured sediment layers whereas the valley bottoms are carpeted with lush vegetation. In Salta we experienced rain again after one month of draught before moving down a notch on our imaginary map to Mendoza and 150 km west of Mendoza to Tunuyan in the heart of Argentinean wineyards and orchards.

A condor very, very close to us

A condor very, very close to us

Stephan in the Fuga de Cabras

Stephan in the Fuga de Cabras

Rest day... too cold

Rest day… too cold

In Tunuyan we went round and round to find a grocery store open during the siesta time (2 pm to 5 pm) with little success. We drove the last 70 km to Los Arenales with Yagua, a “gaucho” and taxi driver for climbers from Manzano, a small village at the foothill of the Andes and for our sake with a shop open during the siesta time. Manzano changes its face on weekends when hundreds of “mendocinos” flock to Manzano and spend the day grilling next to their car, wandering in the streets, riding horses or eating ice creams.

First pitch of the Torecilla

First pitch of the Torecilla

We're getting higher on the Cohete

We’re getting higher on the Cohete

12 km away from Manzano on a gravel road the “refugio” of Los Arenales awaits the climber. It is set down on the valley bottom like a spatial module with its half-cylindrical roof and its patchwork construction of wood beams, concrete and metal sheets. In the background monumental fans rise on the valley sides. The “refugio” is not guarded but in spring and summer it hosts a joyful and always renewing troop of climbers. The occupants at the time of our arrival were: an American couple and two American guys, all staying in Los Arenales for more than one month and growing goodly beards, a fluctuating group of Argentinean guys, generally returning from their climbs at night, two Swiss from Massongex + three French guys from the Pyrenees, on their way to the Petzl Rock trip, an Argentinean couple of half-professional climbers, leaving for El Chalten and a good weather window and last but not least hordes of tiny birds and mice exploring the “refugio” in search of food.

Louis appearing from the fog

Louis appearing through the fog

Offwidth pleasures

Offwidth pleasures

Stephan on the Cohete

Stephan on the Cohete

The spring had not completely taken hold of the place since it had been snowed 40 cm in the preceding days. Nights were still cold and despite the strenuous approaches the first pitches in the morning often turned into local anaesthetics for the fingers. The wind was blowing hard over the tops of the massive granite spires bordering the valley. Whereas the cracks, dihedrals and ledges made up our playground, the clouds were putting on a show in the void next to us, billowing up the steep walls, tearing off on sharp ridges and swooping down deep gullies.

Our climbs:
– Aguja Charles Webis (3450m), “Fuga de cabras”, 230m, 6b
– Aguja Torrecilla (3250m), “Universo mental”, 120m, 6b
– El Cohete (3300m), “Mejor no hablar de ciertas cosas”, 300m, 6b
– Aguja Charles Webis (3450m), “Escorpión”, 230m, 6b+

More pictures can be found here.

The snow three days ago is still there... we're frozen

The snow three days ago is still there… we’re frozen

Forced stretching

Forced stretching

Louis lost in a chaos of stones

Louis lost in a chaos of stones

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Video – Jammin’ the Crack, Atacama Style

Taking photographs in the mountains is an exciting activity. With every step you take in these great spaces, the surrounding transforms itself. The angles, the lights, the shadows, the depth, the action are in constant evolution and the work of the photographer is to put them into a relation that reflects his experience.

IMAG0189_1k

Wild West street art in Valdivia, matching the topic of our video

The effects one wants to create depend very much on the terrain. In mountaineering, where the slopes are generally lower angled, the photographer wants to capture the scenic ambiance in which the subject is moving.
In contrast in rock climbing, where the walls are vertical or overhanging, the photographer wants to emphasize the climber, the adrenaline, the void.
After all, these two categories often merge, opening up the way for the photographer to bring in his own creativity.

However in most of the professional pictures of rock climbing, the photographer is not part of the team, i.e. he takes the role of an outside narrator.
In our case this is hardly possible, since we’re only two to climb (and not soloing our routes). Therefore the two possible views are either from the bottom or the top belay, showing either the climber’s feet or head, which is very limiting.

In our latest video we tried to overcome the constricting composition of our photographs by using a technology called timelapse, a programmable trigger. Enjoy the result!

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Tuzgle – No Country For Old Men

On our first night in San Pedro de Atacama, on the valuable advice of a local climber met at the tourist information, we had had the best meal since we were in Chile. At the “Estrella Negra”, a small vegetarian restaurant, we had been served a colourful and tasty menu (I do not remember what exactly) accompanied with home-made bread and lemon/ginger juice. As we had left the three half new age half rasta young people running the place, we were  made up with Chilean cooking. In the next two weeks we passed by the “Estrella Negra” every time that we were back in San Pedro de Atacama hoping for a good supper and a stock of home-made bread but we always found the door closed. Looking back it seems that in our memory the repeated disappointments got the better of the delightful experience on the first night.

The saving edge

The saving edge

Promising rock features near Susques

Promising rock features near Susques

However we overcame it and the day after returning from Socaire we took a bus to Salta (Argentina). We got off at mid-way in Susques, the first town on the Argentinean side of the Jama pass and the starting point to Tuzgle, a crown of red tuff cliffs overlooking a “quebrada” at the foot of the “Cerro Tuzgle” volcano. The climbing potential in Tuzgle was publicized some years ago by a Petzl team in this movie.

The Tuzgle volcano and the entrance to the quebrada

The Tuzgle volcano and the entrance to the quebrada

Offwidth pleasures

Offwidth pleasures

In the bus we came across Julia and Egon, a couple of climbers (and route setters) from Ticino who we had shortly met on our first day in Socaire. After talking with us about the access to Tuzgle, they decided to join us without passing by Salta as they had initially planed.

Our kitchen in the shade of the never ceasing wind

Our kitchen in the shade of the never ceasing wind

A sport route with nice structures

A sport route with nice structures

In Susques we were dropped in front of the modest tourist office whose only and squinting employee turned out to be exceptionally helpful, efficient and honest. He organized a car and driver for the next day to transport us to the 75 km away canyon and answered very professionally to the dozen of practical questions that we asked (in South America you almost always get an answer to a question but it is often either incomplete or false since people prefer to invent answers than not to give any). He also proposed to look after our luggage during our time in Tuzgle and to personally check that the driver would pick us up five days later. We spent the evening in Susques trying to make unfriendly grocers smile, drinking warm beer and discussing average speed and road gradient with a lonely french biker linking up Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. The next five days we were cut off from the human world (except for three or four cars or motorbikes per day passing on the road) climbing in the shade, burning up in the sun, freezing at night, looking at blazing stars, cooking sheltered by boulders, taping, jamming, panting for air, stumbling into chinchilla tunnels, listening to the slamming of our tents in the desert wind.

Every technique is allowed...

Every technique is allowed…

Egon in one of the sports route

Egon in one of the sport routes

Atletic crack

Athletic crack

Without any topo, the grade is given by the eye

Without any topo, the grade is estimated onsight

Dulfer in extermis

Dulfer in extermis

Since the water of the small river flowing down from the volcano was not drinkable, we had taken all our water with us. We drank or cooked our 18.5 l to the last straw whereas Julia and Egon survived with 16 l.

Our base camp, next to the diamonds

Our base camp, next to the diamonds

Egon showed a big interest in creating a topo of the discovered routes and with our common effort we ended up with this proposition:

ToposTuzgle_EN

More pictures can be found here.

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Jammin’ the crack, Atacama style

The Atacama desert. One associates this region with heat, dryness and death.
This may be true for some places within the Atacama but does not apply for the whole desert region. The Atacama desert covers more than 100’000km2 and the annual average precipitation is variable. The dryest place near Antofagasta has 1mm and San Pedro de Atacama near the Salar de Atacama has 35mm of rainfall (as a comparison in Switzerland Lausanne has around 1250mm and the dryest place Ackersand near Zeneggen has 521mm).

Flamingos in the Salar de Atacama

Flamingos in the Salar de Atacama

Even if there is very little rain in the region of San Pedro de Atacama, the desert there is not that arid i.e. deprived of live. Small rivers flow down from the snow covered volcanos of the Andes and feed the underground water as well as the different salt lakes, providing the necessary liquid for plants, trees, flamingos, “vicuñas”, rodents, birds and people.

Gaviota adina

Gaviota andina

For us climbers the water plays a very important role as well, since in the course of time it eroded the volcanic tuff stone and created some up to 30m deep and several kilometers long canyons called “quebradas”. And most interesting for us is the fact that the canyon walls are often cracked from the bottom to the top: a paradise for crack climbing!

The Nacimiento canyon

The Nacimiento canyon

In the “Disney Land” like town of San Pedro de Atacama we collected the necessary information from a local climber who we met by chance and decided to spend first two “warm up” days in the smaller “quebrada” Jerez near Toconao and then five days in the much more extensive and developed “quebrada” Nascimiento near Socaire.

The next morning we hitchhiked to Toconao, the “place of stones” and headed directly to the canyon.
A small stream curles through the sand filled canyon which is a rest of what was used to irrigate vegetables and trees higher up the gorge.
We were not disappointed, several pure crack lines bordered the path and we immediately sprang into action.
Since the description of the routes was far from complete, we often had to judge by the appearance if the route was feasible or not, with mixed results…

Either you block or you fall

Either you jam or you fall

An easy crack up to the roof

An easy crack up to the roof

Louis in the twilight

Louis in the twilight

Pure lines!

Pure lines!

We were not used to the hot and dry desert climate, leaving us parched after each pitch we climbed. Climbing in the sun was beyond question since the holds became as hot as the coal for the “asado”.

Camping was not allowed in the “quebrada” so we stayed in a small hotel in the deserted town of Toconao. Very in contrast to San Pedro which is totally dedicated to the hordes of tourists, Toconao has preserved its ambiance of village at the end of the world: a place where sandy winds wipe the streets and where dusk devils lurk behind every corner.

Atacama feeling

Real Atacama feeling in Toconao

Victim of the desert

Victim of the desert

Due to the lack of public transportation getting to our second destination, the “quebrada” Nascimiento was somehow more tricky. We opted to take one of the touristic tours heading to the “Lagunas Altiplanicas”, a sightseeing trip proposed by at least 50 tourist operators in San Pedro de Atacama.
The tour dropped us on the way back and as soon as we entered the canyon we were caught in the realm of the Atacama. We spent the days climbing the cracks in the narrow gorge, the evenings admiring the sunset over the Atacama desert and the nights dreaming with the shiny sky above our tent.

David & Goliath

David & Goliath

The milky way

The milky way

alittlebithigher.wordpress.com

alittlebithigher.wordpress.com

The climbing was incredible and except for the basic idea of reaching the top of the route, crack climbing has little in common with most of the climbing in Europe. We had to apply all different jamming techniques: finger jams, hand jams, palm jams, arm jams, knee jams, leg jams not to be forgotten body jams.

Collateral damage

Collateral damage

Louis in the "cobra crack"

Louis in the “cobra crack”

More than 200 routes are bolted, often only the belay if mobile protection such as friends and nuts can be used, giving a certain spice to the ascent.
After five days, a lot of routes climbed and a lot of skin left on the rock it was time to move on. We hitchhiked back to San Pedro de Atacama, happy and alienated.

Some more pictures can be found here.

Louis on the plate

Louis on the plate

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How to buy a car in Chile… and sell it back three days later

One day between two surfing sessions in Huanchaco we had a brilliant idea. We would buy a car, travel with it across Chile and Argentina and sell it before flying back to Switzerland. We could drive from one climbing spot to another without worrying about bus schedules or carrying our 90 kg luggage from bus terminals to hostals and back or organizing transfers from where public transportation stops to remote climbing spots. Since we had to pass by Antofagasta in the north of Chile to receive our gear we would buy the car there, on our way to the Atacama desert and its canyons of ocher, cracked sandstone.

We looked over a few websites listing cars for private sale in order to get an idea of the car market in Antofagasta, read that blog informing about the paperwork one has to go through when buying a car in Chile and leaving the country with it and that article explaining how to assess how roadworthy is a car when considering to buy it.

Once in Antofagasta (we arrived on a Wednesday) we visited a few garages selling second-hand cars and called several private person selling their cars on the internet. We soon figured out that relatively recent (less than ten years old), second-hand cars were expensive (starting at 5000 Sfr in a garage and at 3000 Sfr from a private person). Thus we had two options (1) buy a relatively recent but expensive car from a reliable car dealer and take the risk to loose time/money selling it back or (2) buy an old but cheap car from a private person and take the risk to break down and lose time/money to repair/sell it back. We chose the second option, answered to some more ads from the internet and arranged two appointments with private persons on the following day (Thursday).

Taking a number is a Chilean national sport

A long queue in front of the immigration office

On the same day (Wednesday) we went to the tax office to obtain a RUT number which identifies a tax payer and which is required by anyone who among other things buys a SIM card or a car in Chile. What happened next is a story inside the story that is worth telling since it illustrates all the bother that bureaucracy, laziness and incompetence put together can cause to individuals.
A clerk (let us name him clerk A) redirected us to the civil registry office. At the civil registry office clerk B explained to us that we first had to go to the immigration office to get a work permit. At the immigration office the waiting line in front of the building was so long that we returned to the tax office convinced that there had been a misunderstanding (the author of the blog was clear about obtaining the RUT number at the tax office).

Back at the tax office, after having explained again that we were travelers willing to buy a car, clerk C told us with a firm tone of voice to address ourselves to another office and helpfully indicated the way to us. Ten blocks away at that other office that was a kind of pension fund clerk D confirmed to us what we knew from the beginning namely that the right place to ask for a RUT number was the tax office. Back again at the tax office containing ourselves we were able to obtain the right form from clerk E which we filled out and handed to clerk F who again questioned us about who we were and why we needed a RUT number. He asked for our address at which the central tax office in Santiago would send the RUT card within three weeks (you get a provisory RUT number for the meantime). We provided the address of our friend Marius in Valdivia which was however refused by the system. It turned out only an address in Antofagasta could be accepted. When we proposed to provide the address of our hostal in Antofagasta clerk F hesitated and asked the chief clerk for help. The answer of the chief clerk was that we needed a written agreement from the hostal owner. The tax office was closing shortly after so that we resolved to come back the next day with the agreement before our two appointments.

At the hostal the manager had no objection and signed a business card with name and phone number. The next day (Thursday) at 8.30 am we were sitting in front of a clueless clerk G. He called the chief clerk for support who ignored the business card, refused to call the hostal manager and asked for a notarial agreement instead. At that point we bursted out and demanded to talk to the chief of the chief clerk directly. We were introduced to his secretary to whom we explained the situation from A to G. The chief of the chief clerk probably heard everything through the ajar door and when we entered his office accompanied by his secretary without even looking at us he nodded. Ten minutes later we were leaving the tax office with a provisory RUT number.

There it is, our Nissan, all innocent (The one on the right 😉 )

Half an hour later we were meeting Mr. X who was selling his 1992 Nissan Sony for 1500 Sfr. The ad had been online for one week. Our first feeling of both the car and the owner was good. We went carefully through the check-list of the article to become aware of the condition of the car. The answers of the owner to our questions were satisfactory and the car despite its age looked like one which had been taken care of over the years. We drove through the neighbourhood putting our forearms to work to turn the wheel with no power steering. Mr. X hinted that for the travel that we were planning it would be better to change the oil, the oil filter and the brake pads and that he would take care of these costs by reducing the price to 1300 Sfr. We thanked him, promised a soon answer and left for our second appointment.

The second car for sale was also a Nissan of similar age and price but the inspection was finished much more quickly. We had a short drive during which we almost caused a few accidents. The brakes did not work at all with the forward gear in (it was an automatic) and worked poorly in neutral. The automatic gearbox was defective since it required some manipulation of the gas pedal to shift gear. The engine was covered with dirt and it seemed that no one had opened the hood since the Chilean-Peruvian war.

Last inspections and oil change before the trip

That afternoon we spent some more time in the city center looking for cars with a “SE VENDE” sign behind the windscreen and calling the owners but they all turned out to be expensive. Finally we called Mr. X, offered 1100 Sfr cash for the car and fixed an appointment the next morning at the civil registry office to make the sale official.The half an hour at the civil registry office surrounded by couples getting married and happy relatives waiting in the line was wasted time since we had to address ourselves to a notary to issue the act of sale (only if the buyer is not Chilean). Moreover Mr. X had to sign a statement authorizing us to leave the country with the car since the official registration of the car under Stephan’s name would take three more weeks. Before midday on Friday three days after our arrival in Antofagasta the car was ours. Departure for San Pedro de Atacama was planned for the next morning. In the afternoon we had the oil, the oil filter and the brake pads changed for about 100 Sfr. Later we met a local climber who advised us a small climbing spot close to town. Thus the next morning (Saturday) we wasted two hours looking for the “Roca Roja” and not finding it after driving some 50 km back and forth along the coast.

On the road!

At midday we were back in Antofagasta, bought a road map and left the city feeling quite frustrated. We drove the few kilometers uphill to the pass connecting the coast strip from the desert inland and drove another 40 km until the car stopped… It felt like if we ran out of petrol. None of the indicators of the instrument panel were working but we had gased up in Antofagasta. Stephan asked for petrol at some mining barracks standing close to the road but they had only diesel. We decided that Stephan would hitch-hike to the next petrol station, bring some petrol back and find the phone number of a breakdown service. Two hours later he was back driving the car of two helpful guys with no driving license with 10L of petrol in PET bottles. We all pushed the car shifting up the second gear and… it started. We thanked the guys and drove 20 km more until the car stopped again. Luckily we were only 500 m away from the entrance of the small village of Baquedano. We pushed the car along the roadside with more than 30 degrees celsius and noticing the amused faces of drivers coming in the opposite direction. At the village another helpful guy inspected the engine and was able to start it by spilling fuel on the carburator. He also drew the anormally low level of the fuel filter to our attention. He accompanied us to the home of mechanic of the village and waited with us for him to come back from work (like everyone he worked for a mining company).

We also felt like exploding, our car broke down in the middle of the desert, near a copper mine

The mechanic checked the engine as well but could not diagnose any defect. It was 7 pm, almost night and Calama the next city was 140 km distance and 1000 m elevation away in the desert. We drove the 20 km to the petrol station where Stephan had been a few hours earlier, refueled and noticed that the top of the petrol tank was perforated. A helpful truck driver also had a look at the engine. By sucking through the fuel filter he found out that it was partly clogged maybe by some tiny pieces of the petrol tank. Even if the fuel filter would have been easy to replace it was 10.30 pm and we were only 80 km away from Antofagasta. We came to the conclusion that we did not want to travel with that car.

Late at night in a gas station… a truck driver revising our car

We had a late supper at the canteen next to the petrol station with sleepy truck drivers. I slept next to the car, Stephan in the trunk and the next morning (Sunday) we drove the 80 km back to Antofagasta, taking twice a break to let the fuel level in the filter rise. We called Mr. X and explained to him that we did not want to travel with the car and that we wanted our money back. After a hard bargain and a new car inspection with the roles being pathetically switched he agreed to take the car back for 900 Sfr. On Monday morning we met at the notary, canceled the act of sale and retrieved our money. We sent our mountaineering equipment to Valdivia by road freight and at 2 pm we took a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. We were heavily loaded pedestrians again but we were feeling somewhat lighter…

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