The road to Banos Morales

My friend Eric and I were determined to get out of Santiago this weekend.  Neither one of us like the big city, and Chile has so much to offer.  We debated taking a bus somewhere, but our mismatched shift prevents us from taking too long of a trip (I have Wednesday to Monday off, he has Saturday to Thursday off).  In the end, we decided to rent a car for one day and explore the mountains south of Santiago.

The rental car was actually kinda cheap, less than $50 for one day.  Of course it was a little tiny economy car, but it proved itself worthy of our adventure.  We picked the car up in Santiago, discovered how frustrating it is driving in a city where no left turns or U-Turns are allowed.  After many right hand turns made our way to La Florida Avenue and out of the city.

The road slowly climbed up hill and eventually shrunk down from 4 lanes to 2 lanes and the building became farther and farther apart.  We snaked our way through a few little villages, over a couple interesting bridges, the whole time following a river canyon up into the Andes.  The road eventually turned to gravel and we questioned our choice of car.  We wanted to stop at various places along the way, but figured we would just hit them on the way back.  The road kept on getting worse, but the views started to become amazing.

The little car that could

Being Sunday, there were a number of other people on the road going for a hike or just sightseeing.  Most of them were in a truck or SUV, but whenever we felt like we were special and the only car on the road a taxi cab(!) would show up

Eventually we reached the end of the road.  There was a road block of sorts, I was hoping it was Argentina border, but it was just some guys charging to see the local hot springs.  They wanted about $10 from each of us for us to continue on, but we weren’t biting.  I’m sure we could have negotiated the gringo tax down to something reasonable and not much more than what a local would pay, but we didn’t really care and so we just turned around.

We stopped at pair of old decaying buildings on the way back.

Old army post or mining shack?

There are 2 buildings just like this, one was the dormitory and the other was the kitchen and office.  We really weren’t sure what they were used for, but looked like it was built to survive a direct nuclear bomb.  All the walls were built out of super thick steel reinforced concrete and brick, at least 12-18 inches thick.  I’d like to think that this was an old army outpost and try to imagine the life the soldiers had there.  It must have been extremely solitary, lonely and boring.  Just passing the time, watching the beautiful scenery while keeping an alert eye out for the enemy.  However, it was most likely a miserable mining camp filled with underpaid and overworked lower class slaving away in some local mine shaft…but I like the idea of a army outpost better.  The building obviously haven’t been used in many years and some parts were flooded and filled up with river silt (up to 6-7 feet deep!)

Our next stop was just  a little more down the road where a bunch of cars where parked.  There were signs advertising what we think said “goats” and another saying “cheese”.  We where guessing it was some sort of goat cheese restaurant (we were pretty hungry at this point), but it turned out that there was nothing there but a bunch of parked cars.  Thinking there must be some sort of fantastic sight, we hiked down an old snowbound road.  A hour or so later we stopped, only running into a few people who had hiked in ski’s attempting some late season downhill on the cheap.  The view was of course amazing.

The 'Alive' incident happened somewhere in these mountains...

We hiked, glissaded, and slipped our way back to our economy car and took off for home.  We were disappointed that we never did find our original goal of Banos Morales as this national monument was supposed to posses nice hiking trails, hot springs and restaurants that served delicious ‘healthy portions’ of the finest Chilean food.  At one point we stopped to take a picture and noticed 4 GIGANTIC signs that pointed to the turn off for Banos Morales; I have no idea how we missed that.  Even though it was too late to hike and enjoy a nice lunch, we took the turn off just to see what we missed.

What signs?

There was a neat little town, most remarkable to me for its lack of high brick walls that permeate the rest of chile, and a closing ranger station.  The guy working there encouraged us to come back some other time.  We agreed and reluctantly left.

A really cool house I want to live in, near Banos Morales

We climbed back into the car and made our way back into Santiago, vowing to rent a better car and explore more of the area.  I am still thinking of buying a 4 wheel drive truck, but getting stuck in the trap of Santiago has me questioning that decision.  I don’t know though, the endless switchbacking sideroads of just this one canyon really tempts me to buy a truck and just explore as much of Chile and South America as I can.  We will see…

Eric pondering the endless side roads.


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