Pichilemu

Chile Redux Part 2: Solo Road Tripping

Brant and I left Rapa Nui and spent 3 more days chasing surf together in Chile. I chronicled what we found in my previous Chile post, Chile Redux, Part 1. After I dropped Brant off at the airport, I was scheduled to have only a few days left in Chile myself…

At this point it was Monday and my flight from Santiago back to San Francisco was that Friday evening.   My plan was to spend the rest of my time in Reñaca catching up with my Dutch cousin Matti – remember her from my time in Chile back in 2014, which I wrote about in a post called Welcome to Chile. I had returned the Dodge Durango when I dropped Brant off at the airport so I was now cruising via public transport, but this isn’t so bad in Chile as Santiago has a good subway system and the intercity buses are cheap and very comfortable. The plan was to hang with Matti and her husband Berner for a few days, surf the beach at Reñaca and then fly back to SF that Friday.

By late Monday afternoon I made it to Reñaca and met up with Matti at her apartment. She had some good news for me: her restaurant was open and doing well, plus she had adopted several new pets: 2 cats and a dog. Matti is an animal lover. When she first arrived in Chile she spent some time working at an animal shelter so it is no surprise that her pets are adopted off the street. The dog’s name is Bella and she looks kind of like an Australian shepherd mut of sorts. Bella has the best temperament of any dog I’ve met.   She never barks and is very chill, actively seeking to avoid confrontation with other street dogs when I took her for neighborhood walks. She must’ve learned these conflict resolution skills from her tough days as a stray! The first of her two cats is a female tabby named Jules. Of course, and unknown to Matti although Berner had his suspicions, Jules was pregnant when Matti adopted her off the street. Matti kept the single surviving kitten, a jet black cutie named Billy. I affectionately named her 3 pets, whom eagerly await her every arrival to the apartment, “The Farm”. And a further update as I write this in June: much to Berner’s chagrin, it turns out that Bella was also pregnant when Matti adopted her off the street. Bella had a puppy named Sami and now The Farm consists of two dogs and two cats… Matti is happy, Berner was right and The Farm gets bigger!

Matti and me with Bella

Matti and me with Bella

Jules and Billy

Jules and Billy

Sami, Bella's pup and the newest addition to the Farm who wasn't born yet while I was visiting Matti

Sami, Bella’s pup and the newest addition to the Farm who wasn’t born yet while I was visiting Matti

 

The last time I visited Reñaca, Matti and her husband, Berner, were in the midst of creating Matti, the sandwicheria that is named after my cousin. Now the restaurant is open and serves delicious gourmet sandwiches, salads and deserts. The shop is small because the restaurant is to-go only but everything is top notch quality and very tasty. Matti has several employees working for her and her Spanish has improved even more since last time I was in Chile; she is now truly fluent in Spanish. Matti and Berner came to the concept of quality, to-go food by studying the market in Santiago and the business model seems to work well in affluent, beach-side Reñaca. They have plans to create more Matti Sandwicherias in other locations, including Santiago. Meanwhile, the restaurant that Berner and his family own, Delirio, also continues to be lively and do well. I’m very proud of my cousin!

Matti working in the kitchen of her sandwicheria

Matti working in the kitchen of her sandwicheria

Matti Delivery, Renaca, Vina del Mar, Chile

Matti Delivery, Renaca, Vina del Mar, Chile.  Delirio, Berner’s restaurant. is the adjacent building in the background.

 

Matti and Berner had to work much of the time I was there, but that was no problem as I just spent time surfing the Reñaca beachbreak. There wasn’t much swell, but Reñaca was still pretty fun for groveling and catching a bunch of short rides with other groms. Of course I checked the surf forecast constantly, and by midweek it was clear that there was about to be a long run of good swell for Chile. I started having doubts about flying back to California that Friday…

Back along the boardwalk in Renaca

Back along the boardwalk in Renaca

renaca beachbreak

The beachbreak at Renaca never was really good for the few days I surfed it, but I still had fun schralping the small, fast waves with the groms.

 

The big decision I had to make was whether or not to fly back to San Francisco given I had a job interview with a solar financing marketplace lender scheduled for the following week. The job opportunity came to me without me really looking for it thanks to a friend’s recommendation. The job itself was as a product manager, a perfect blend of my technical and finance skills, and a direction I thought I might want to move my career once I was ready to restart. Plus the company was growing fast and working towards the environmentally noble goal of bringing solar energy to more households across America. However, there was a big question I needed to answer: was I ready to start working again in Oakland, given Donna and I still had plans to move to Singapore together while she finished up the second half of INSEAD? I spent many hours talking to Donna, my dad and my stepdad about what I should do. I was surprised when both my dad and stepdad gave me the same seemingly irresponsible advice: stick with your lady, keep the sabbatical going and find a job later. I took their advice, cancelled the interview entirely (after I had previously pushed it back 2 weeks to stay in Rapa Nui) and extended my return ticket another 2 weeks. The bonus of my irresponsible choice to pursue life instead of career for the time being: I would be scoring more Chilean pointbreak surf!

The plan was a repeat of what Brant and I did, head to the Promised Land, but this time I’d be solo. I rented a Wicked Campervan, this time instead of Elvis I got “Vansky”. I drove to Pichilemu, where I knew from Instagram that my friend Kyle Thiermann would be. My first night there I slept in the van in the parking lot at Punta Lobos and the next morning the surf was good. I found Kyle in the lineup while surfing, the most awesome way to meet up with a surfer friend in a far away destination! Kyle is a professional surfer and personality behind Surfing for Change, a non-profit that aims to spread the message of environmental activism through surfing media.   Recently Kyle has decided he wants to be a big-waves surfer and so he was in Chile to tackle the juice at Punta Lobos. His main sponsor is Patagonia, and thus while in Chile he was hanging out with other Patagonia sponsored surfers including Ben Wilkinson and the surf jefe of Chile, Ramon Navarro. After the session I cruised with Kyle, Ben and a few others back to a beautiful house with an amazing view of Punta Lobos where they were staying. We had a good lunch and watched as a new swell filled in and Punta Lobos grew in size.

Vansky, my transport and home for the next week and half

Vansky, my transport and home for the next week and half

The back of Vansky. The Spanish says "Honk your horn if you made love last night" ... now it makes sense why I kept getting honked at by passing cars!

The back of Vansky. The Spanish says “Honk your horn if you made love last night” … now it makes sense why I kept getting honked at by passing cars!

Punta Lobos with a solid swell filling in

Punta Lobos with a solid swell filling in

I snapped this photo of Kyle, Ben and the crew while we were eating lunch together. From Kyle's Instagram account.

I snapped this photo of Kyle (rightmost dude), Ben Wilkinson (next to Kyle) and the crew while we were eating lunch together. From Kyle’s Instagram account.

Shortly after lunch Ben and Kyle were frothing to get back out into the water. The waves were now 20 foot plus on the faces with good shape: this is what they came for and I felt like charging too.  I drove Vansky to the point but somehow lost the crew as they prepped for battle. I was on my own.   I cruised over to the Los Morros and plotted how to paddle out.

In my previous post I mentioned that Mataveri on Rapa Nui had the most difficult exit of any wave I’d surfed and big Punta Lobos the most difficult. Even when Brant and I had surfed Lobos at half the size it was kinda sketchy. I had learned previously through observation of the locals that the preferred way to get out at Lobos is to jump off the very tip of the outside morro, timing your jump to be during a lull, lest a wave come and smash you into the rocks behind the jump-off spot.   What I didn’t realize is that this is really the only way to get out once Lobos gets much bigger than about 15 foot. For my first attempt to get out I tried the “cheater” way of getting out by jumping off the inside part of the second rock. This route is much safer because if a wave hits you, you won’t wash into rocks. It works when Lobos is medium sized, but as I learned when Lobos is big, like it was this day, the sweep of waves down the point can be too strong to allow a paddler to make it to clean water. I jumped off this cheater section and paddled my ass off for 15 minutes only to be swept over a mile down the vast point without every being able to get past breaking waves. I made it to the beach a good quarter mile from the point itself and spent 20 minutes walking back to the top of the point. I decided to try again at the same spot, still lacking the courage to jump off from the riskier but correct spot. On my second attempt I managed to make it to clean water, but only after I’d been dragged two-thirds the way down the point. It was another 20+ minute paddle back up the point. Once I was out there I caught 2 waves and then the sun went down. It was a humbling experience, but I learned.   I also learned that Kyle, Ben and the other pros had all taken jet skis out to the lineup!

Bigger afternoon surf!

Bigger afternoon surf!

Los Morros. Getting in requires swimming across the channel to the left and getting up on the ledge, then jumping off the backside tip of the Morro to the right

Los Morros. Getting in requires swimming across the channel to the left and getting up on the ledge, then jumping off the backside tip of the Morro to the right

Surfers getting ready to swim across the channel. This gives a better perspective of what's it's like!

Surfers getting ready to swim across the channel. This gives a better perspective of what’s it’s like!  Those are big waves breaking beyond Los Morros.

 

That evening I hung out with Kyle and his crew. We had a pizza dinner and I was invited to stay in the nice house with them, so I didn’t have to sleep in Vansky. They were up the next morning, keen for more big wave surfing.

The house had a rather nice view of Punta Lobos, don't you think?

The house had a rather nice view of Punta Lobos, don’t you think?

Posing with an alaia that I found in the house. I've always wanted to try surfing one of these.

Posing with an alaia that I found in the house. I’ve always wanted to try surfing one of these.

Ben Wilkinson's asymmetrical gun. I saw him crack some serious off the lip turns on this thing in 20 foot surf.

Ben Wilkinson’s asymmetrical gun. I saw him crack some serious off the lip turns on this thing in 20 foot surf.

 

I rose with them and drove with Kyle in Vansky to the point. The waves were even bigger and the conditions even better, very clean. I snapped a few photos and got ready. Ben Wilkinson was the first one out. Kyle was right behind him. They both quickly and deftly climbed down the cliff, paddled across to Los Morros, clambered to the outside morro, waited briefly for a lull and made the jump into the water, both of them making it out quickly and cleanly.   The tide was low now, which was making things easier, at least compared to the previous afternoon, but it was still a harrowing experience. I made my way out to Los Morros and began to wait for a lull. A few other surfers with 10 foot boards joined me to wait for their window of opportunity. Mistakes were made.   I saw one guy too exposed when a set came and he got swept off his feet by the rush of whitewater over the rocks and flushed into the crack between the two Morros where his leash got tangled around a rock and he was stuck for about 30 seconds, getting pounded by waves and unable to get free. Eventually his leash came free and he was instantly swept away, gone down the point. Another guy got swept into the same crack but at least avoided the leash entanglement.   The procedure resembled the game Mario Brothers: the surfers, behaving Mario or Luigi while trying to jump across perilous obstacles, would creep and then run forward when they thought they saw a calming in the waves and either commit to the jump or rush backward to safety on a higher part of the rocks when they realized waves were coming and making the jump into the water would be a bad idea. A few guys successfully made it out. I played it super safe, and spent a long time on that rock. The entire time the tide was rising up and it seemed to be getting more and more difficult to find a good opportunity. Eventually I seized upon a window and made it out to the lineup with my hair dry. Ben paddled past me in the lineup and I exclaimed that it had taken me 45-minutes on the rock to get the balls to make the jump, to which he replied, “Glad to have you out here, but mate, that was longer than 45-minutes!”

The morning session: big and clean. When it's breaking that far beyond Los Morros, you know it's serious.

The morning session: big and clean. When it’s breaking that far beyond Los Morros, you know it’s serious.

 

The waves were solid and dudes were charging. I was stoked to catch five waves, all of them 15 feet or so, and make it out of the session without any scary moments. My takeoffs were about even with the Los Morros and I milked the waves far down the point. It would’ve been easy to milk the waves all the way to the beach, but then the paddle back would’ve been too long and I may not have made it back out. My board felt undergunned; it’s amazing how quickly even an 8’2” feels small in big surf. The guys getting the big set waves were fearless and it was cool watching them commit to dropping in on big waves behind Los Morros. Kyle was one of those guys and I saw him take off deep on one and pull into a huge backside barrel and get completely swallowed.  Kyle has a YouTube channel that he put a video up about the session, you can check it out with this link. At the beginning of the video, he’s actually in Vansky riding with me to Punta Lobos, although you never see me.   Around minute 1:00 you can see the big barrel I saw him bag and get swallowed by. And around minute 5:00 he describes what happened on his 2nd session on this day, when he mis-timed the rock jump off Los Morros with Ben and they got swept into the rocks! Gnarly!!

Instead of sticking around for more of Punta Lobos after the morning session I decided I’d had enough of the big stuff and it was time to head someplace else. I ate a solid lunch in Pichilemu and then drove north. At Puertocillo the surf was good, as expected, and I stayed the night there in the van after being treated to an amazingly colorful sunset.   The next morning I was up early and I drove a little further north to another location I’d originally went to when I was in Chile the previous autumn. I checked the wave from the overlooking cliffs and I could see that it was good. There were a few surfers out as well as a jetski that appeared to be ferrying them back to the takeoff zone after long rides down the point. I parked the van, jogged 20 minutes along the beach out to the break and paddled out. As I was just making it beyond the first breaking waves, I noticed the jetski heading straight towards me and wondered if I was about to have an issue with the locals for surfing a ‘secret’ spot. I shouldn’t have worried, though, as the jetski rider greeted me with a friendly smile, invited me up onto the back of the jetski and brought me to the takeoff zone.   I caught the first wave that came to me and surfed probably about 150 meters down the line, getting barreled along the way. As I was paddling back to the point the jetski again picked me up and towed me back to the takeoff. Apparently I was in the rotation with these guys and I couldn’t believe it, I was in utter astonishment at how awesomely friendly these Chilean locals were! In total I got about 5 or 6 rides back up the point before the jetski and the other surfers left and I was alone. I surfed for a couple more hours until exhaustion set in.

Looking good!

Looking good!

Amazing sunset

Amazing sunset

Ground level view

Ground level view

Another pointbreak. Note the jetski in the water down to the lower right.

Another pointbreak. Note the jetski in the water down to the lower right.

Selfie up on the cliff after the session

Selfie up on the cliff after the session

 

At this point it was time for me to head far south to “The Promised Land”. I spent the entire afternoon driving Vansky towards the south until I found a decent spot to park and sleep. The next morning I took some photos of decent waves I found nearby and then kept moving south.

Overlooking beautiful Lago Vichuquen during dusk

Overlooking beautiful Lago Vichuquen during dusk

Early morning photo of a spot near where I camped. This is an unnamed break and if it were not that there is a better wave nearby, it might actually get surfed occasionally.

Early morning photo of a spot near where I camped. This is an unnamed break (at least to my knowledge) and if it were not that there is a better wave nearby, it might actually get surfed occasionally.

The wave that Brant and I surfed a few weeks back.

The wave that Brant and I surfed a few weeks back.  Obviously nobody out; there was a kind of morning sickness on it.

 

By midday I made it to one of the best waves in the region and also one of the most secluded. I met a friendly local who was also checking the wave and he showed me a better way to get down to the wave than Brant and I had previously discovered. The wave was pumping fast, thick barrels down the line, akind of like a Chilean version of Deadman’s, a wave I surf in San Francisco. There were only a few guys out, many of us blowing takeoffs but getting nicely pitted on the ones we made. One pro was out and he was killing it. When I finished up and got back to my car, I discovered I had one flat tire and another that was pretty low. It took me a few minutes to realize that this must’ve been the work of one of the locals out in the water, who obviously knew that the obnoxiously painted Wicked Campervan housed a foreign gringo here to take his waves. I later learned that a group of the Promised Land locals are known for these kind of shenanigans, and to be honest I can’t really blame them; I wouldn’t be very happy on my uncrowded waves being visited by foreigners either.  Advice to anybody renting a Wicked Campervan for surf exploration in Chile: bring one of those cigarette lighter powered tire pumps because locals may let the air out of your tires.  At any rate, I resolved to hang out for a bit, make lunch, and take some photos of his previous wave before I changed the flat tire to the spare and limped to a filling station to fill the tires up with air.  Whoever did that to me at least didn’t get all 4 of my tires, which would’ve left me in a much worse position.

A path through the forest leads to the wave.

A beautiful path through the forest leads to the wave.

Umm, yess please.

Umm, yess please.

Takeoffs are harder than they look. And they look pretty hard.

Takeoffs are harder than they look. And they look pretty hard.

chile redux part 2-25

Another post session selfie. This is the shit eating grin of a stoked man who just got some good tube time.

 

The next 5 days I spent down south surfing several different amazing left pointbreaks. I stayed at a quant little hostel perched right in front of one of these waves, it’s amazing that such a nice place exists there.  Here’s the website.  Anyway, Brant and I had camped at this spot a weeks earlier, but it was different this time: the waves were bigger and there was much fewer people. Two Australian surfers stayed at the hostel and most sessions were just the three of us on the wave. We’d wake up a little after sunrise, eat a nice Chilean breakfast meal made by Carlina, chat in Spanish with Ruperto, Carlina’s husband, and surf a morning session until we were too tired to paddle more.   Then lunch, a siesta and it would be time to take Vansky off to check some of the neighboring pointbreaks. One other wave in particular was working well, a wave that was dormant when Brant and I were here previously now had ample sand and was producing 500+ yard rides. It is amazing what a difference sand can make!

The upstairs of the hostel.

The upstairs of the hostel.

Sunset view from the hostel balcony.

Sunset view from the hostel balcony.

Waves like this broke all day long with nobody around.

Waves like this broke all day long with nobody around.

I snuck my camera out to take a few pics of Louis, one of the Asutralians who was at the hostel with me, surfing. He was stoked on the photos -- the only he has from a long surf trip he's on.

I snuck my camera out to take a few pics of Louis, one of the Australians who was at the hostel with me, surfing. He was stoked on the photos — the only he has from a long surf trip he’s on.

This is the wave that was dead flat when Brant and I were there previously. Now the sand was in and the rides were loooong.

This is the wave that was dead flat when Brant and I were there previously. Now the sand was in and the rides were loooong.

Another sunset shot from the balcony of the hostel.

Another sunset shot from the balcony of the hostel.

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Me barrel hunting during the golden hour. Since I got good shots of Louis the previous day, I convinced him to snap a few of me.

Me barrel hunting during the golden hour. Since I got good shots of Louis the previous day, I convinced him to snap a few of me.

And a third sunset-ish shot from the balcony of the hostel.

And a third sunset-ish shot from the balcony of the hostel.

 

Eventually it was time to head north again. I could see from the forecast that down south was going to get some rain and north winds, which would likely wreck the waves at the southerly points, but it seemed that only a few hundred kilometers north the winds would remain relatively light.   We were heading into the weekend, so I contacted Samuel del Sol to see if he would be going to his house on the coast that weekend to surf. He said he was busy and couldn’t make it, but he put me in touch with his friend Matias who would be there. I got ahold of Matias via WhatsApp and we made plans to meet up.

I hammered the entire drive out in one long haul after a morning surf session. At some point I picked up a Chilean hitchhiker who was trying to get to Antofagosta to visit his grandmother. He seemed like a young, poor farmer and eagerly ate any snacks I gave him. We chatted a bit, but mostly we just jammed out to rock music I was playing on the stereo from my phone. I dropped him off in Pichilemu, ate dinner, and finished the last 2 hours north late in the evening. I stayed in the van high on a cliff overlooking a good wave.

Lago Vichuquen from the opposite side. I took some sketchy dirt road around the lake this time.

Lago Vichuquen from the opposite side. I took some sketchy dirt road around the lake this time.

Sunset over the ocean with a blanked of clouds

Sunset over the ocean with a blanked of clouds during the drive back

 

The next day I met up with Matias and his crew. Matias lives in Matanzas and is all about kitesurfing and watersports, although I’m sure he kills it at skiing too.   His crew of friends included a bunch of other Santiago based dudes who are also friends with Samuel del Sol and were out at Matanzas that weekend to surf. Most of the Santiago guys were actually pro or former pro skiers. Jorge Martinic was the elder and used to be on the Chilean national downhill ski team and was now doing some ski coaching. His family had a house in the neighboring town of Natividad and that’s where most everybody was crashing. The Carvallos brothers, Ben and Nick, are twins aged about 23 and in the process of transitioning from downhill racing to big mountain freeriding. Their plan was to spend the following winter in the Alps, so we chatted about skiing in Chamonix and Switzerland. Henrik von Appen is the current Chilean downhill champion, a solidly built, strong dude whom it made sense would be an awesome downhill racer. I was super stoked to connect with these guys (thanks Samuel!) and I know I’ll be in good hands next time I head to Chile on a surf or ski trip!

Now cruising with this local crew of extreme sports aficionados, we headed to a hard to access left pointbreak known as El Secreto. We cruised along dirt roads for awhile and then booked across the beach in Matias’ light Toyota 4×4 truck for a mile, then we climbed up and over some bluffs to find lumpy but good waves. The dudes were impressed with some of the late drops I made; it was good to see that all the surfing I’d been doing lately seemed to be resulting in improvement!   Afterwards we headed to the house to refuel and relax for a bit and then we cruised to the nearby pointbreak. This time I avoided the long beach walk since I was with guys who had 4x4s! The fog was in but just thin enough that once you were out you could see everything you needed to in order to surf. The waves were going off: it was low tide, dead calm winds and plenty of swell. My first wave resulted in 2 barrels and a 500+ yard ride.   I did laps. I took off really deep and barrel rode into oblivion. There was never a crowd and everyone got the waves they wanted. It was a sick final session to end the trip.

Getting ready to surf El Secreto with the boys

Getting ready to surf El Secreto with the boys

Benjamin Carvallo took this shot of me with Vansky and my quiver for the chile trip. All of these boards got some tube time.

Benjamin Carvallo took this shot of me with Vansky and my quiver. All of these boards got some tube time while in South America!

 

I stayed with the guys that night in Jorge’s house and it was good to get to know everyone even more. The next day was Sunday at time for me to go. My flight was in the evening and so I drove back to Santiago, returned Vansky, got to the airport and flew back to San Francisco. And thus ended what was probably the best 10 days of surfing I’ve ever experienced.

Below is a video I cobbled together of clips from my 6 weeks in Chile & Rapa Nui.  It’s 15 minutes long because I didn’t care to edit it down to something meant for mass consumption… it was more meant for me to remember the good times later on!

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Categories: Chile, Pichilemu, Promised Land, Reñaca, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chile redux, Part 1

I didn’t intend to return so soon South America. Only 8 months prior Donna and I had kicked off the Radical Sabbatical by spending a month in Argentina and then I spent 2 weeks in Chile visiting my cousin and chasing surf and snow while Donna went to Shanghai to brush up on her Mandarin.  My short time in Chile was awesome and I knew I’d return someday, but I never would’ve guessed how quickly this vague resolve would actually happen. The impetus was that one morning, while I was at Donna’s house in Fontainebleau after coming back from The Alps, I received a call from my college friend Brant Chlebowski. He told me he was heading to Chile for a weeklong surf trip followed by another week in Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island), where his Chilean friend Patricio del Sol, whom I also vaguely knew from UCSD computer science days, would be getting married. Brant wanted me to come along on the surf trip and be his +1 at the Rapa Nui wedding. After an initial hesitation that was extinguished by Brant sending me a YouTube link of a live performance of Bob Marley’s Wake Up and Live, I pulled the trigger. It was a gooooood decision!

 

Traveling with Brant meant this would be a proper surf trip. Yes, there was a wedding to attend in Rapa Nui that would certainly be good times, but we were really excited to surf long Chilean left-hand pointbreaks and sample the raw power of Rapa Nui. My previous trip to Chile left me with good foundation of surf knowledge that I hoped to translate on this trip into exploring more locations while connecting with better swell and conditions during the Chilean autumn. I had learned on my previous trip to Chile that March, April & May is often the best time for surf in the country, so although it felt weird heading back to Chile after only having been there 6 months prior, it also felt like the smart move for scoring good surf. And then there was the utter unknown beckoning me to go to Rapa Nui. I feel like Rapa Nui, with its mythical monoliths and intriguing history, is one of those locations that most people would like to visit, but never end up actually making the trip to. It’s “on the list” but then other places take precedence. In-the-know surfers are further intrigued by photos of Hawaiian style juice meeting amazing – and obviously dangerous – lava rock reefs and points, epitomized by videos you can find on the Internet of the likes of Laird Hamilton, Kohl Christenson and Ramon Navarro scoring amazing waves.  Surfline has a “Best Bet” from May 2013 with some good info and photos. The funny thing is that for me was a friend-of-a-friend’s wedding that nudged me into this epic surf trip!

 

Brant and I quickly found our rhythm. We met each other at the airport in Dallas over beers and then got on the plane to Santiago. Once in Santiago we headed to the Wicked Campervan rental lot and were dialed into “Elvis”, which would be our wheels and home for the next week. For ~$90 per day we’d procured a Mitsubishi L300 converted into a campervan, provisioned for adventure and topped-off with obnoxious paintings of Elvis all over both sides. This would ensure that every Chilean local would know we were foreigners, not exactly what you want when trying to discreetly surf amazing waves! Elvis is what the van Donna and I rented in New Zealand should’ve been: so much bigger on the inside that all of our surfboards, 7 in total, would fit inside while on the road and so that two grown men could both sleep inside without being too close for comfort.

Elvis, the Wicked Campervan

Elvis, the Wicked Campervan

Chile part 1-14

Elvis’ other side. A very conspicuous surf exploration vehicle.  Note the turf matts, which were an awesome addition brought by Brant.

 

As soon as we had our wheels we hit the road for Pichilemu and arrived in time for an evening session at Punta Lobos. There wasn’t much swell, but the waves were fun and I could already see that the sand was much better than when I was there the previous September. Back then the only part of Punta Lobos that was working was the Diamonte section on the inside of the points, but on this day the waves were breaking much closer to Los Morros, the two iconic hump-shaped rocks at the top of the point, in the Mirador section. We stayed in a hostel that evening (not yet ready to commit to van life, I guess) and got a little bit of a late start on the road the next day.

Surfers, it’s worth it to check out this Surfline Spot Check on Punta Lobos, narrated by none other than Ramon Navarro.

Pichilemu, with the Mirador section small but working

Punta Lobos

Brant and two of the hostel peeps

Brant and two of the hostel peeps

 

The plan all along was to head south of Pichilemu to the Promised Land of Chilean surfing. This is what I love most about surf trips: the adventure of exploration and reward that constitutes searching for, finding and surfing awesome new locations. In order to respect the Chilean locals of the Promised Land – and to not ruin the sense of adventure for those who want to live it as much as possible themselves – I’m not going to use any actual place or wave names in my writing here. This blog post is, after-all, bound for the Internet at large. Maybe I’ll drop a clue here an there for fun, but I definitely don’t want to be “that guy” who puts up photos of waves and then spells out exactly what they are called and where they are. In some respects I imagine Chile being a little like California was 50 years ago and we should try to preserve it that way for as long as possible.   If you really want some info, you can give me a call, but don’t plan on met telling you any good info unless you already have a plane ticket booked!

 

The first spot we found I’ll call Penis. When Brant and I surfed it late during the afternoon of our second day after a few hours on the road we were the only ones out. The waves were fun (nothing epic by the standards to come) but we were frothing so hard on the session we surfed into the dark. On my last wave it was basically dark and I somehow managed to get axed by the lip and blown-up by the impact. I kneed myself in the nose pretty hard, and double-buckled my brand new 5’6” Hypto Crypto! What a bummer, this board was made for fast, powerful pointbreaks and it was gone on the second day of my trip to Chile!   I’m now skeptical that Hayden’s “Future Flex” technology really results in any kind of “stronger” board.

Brant checking the wave we called "Penis"

Brant checking the wave we called “Penis”

Getting suited up for a session at Penis

Getting suited up for a session at Penis.  This would be the 3rd and final session my Hypto Crypto would experience.

Eventually I gave away the buckled Hypto to the guy running the campsite, who I imagined would make sure it wound up in the right hands of a local grom

Eventually I gave away the buckled Hypto to the guy running the campsite, who I imagined would make sure it wound up in the right hands of a local grom

 

After the session we had some bomb empanadas right by the where we surfed and then continued south in the night. We ended up campeing off on the side of the road after another hour or so of driving. Our first night of man-cramming into Elvis also resulted in the consumption of half a bottle of pisco and two good friends catching up on life. Good times.

 

For the next 4 days we hung out in the Promised Land and surfed 4 different pointbreaks. Sometimes we were the only ones out! The swell was not big, ranging from 2-3m of 14 to 16s energy, but this was more than enough for plenty of pointbreak fun. We roadside camped at first but eventually found a paid campground with bathrooms right by a point that seemed to have better sand and pick up more swell than the other spots.

Left Pointbreak

Left Pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Late evening session

Late evening session

La Joya del Mar is a nice hotel run by a Californian and his wife.  If you head down south, its worth checking this spot out for a good meal, or if you wanna drag your lady down to southern Chile, I highly recommend staying here

La Joya del Mar is a nice hotel run by a Californian and his wife. If you head down south, its worth checking this spot out for a good meal, or if you wanna drag your lady down to southern Chile, I highly recommend staying here

This is why I highly recommend staying at La Joya del Mar if you're coming to surf Chile with your lady

This is why I highly recommend staying at La Joya del Mar if you’re coming to surf Chile with your lady.  The rooms are just as nice. And yes, that’s a left pointbreak off in the distance.

Brant knows how to check a surf spot like a sniper

Brant knows how to check a surf spot like a sniper

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

My memory of the days down south kinda blend together and consisted of the usual camp/surf routine. We’d wake up and always make coffee first thing. Then check the surf. Then we’d make some breakfast, usually eggs with bread, to get fueled up for the surf session. Then we’d surf for 2 or 3 hours. Then we’d recharge the batteries with some lunch and then drive around checking more surf spots in order to nail down where we’d surf the afternoon session. Perhaps at some point we’d need to run an errand or two, which pretty much was either picking up more beer & food at the grocery store or fueling up the van. Then we’d surf the afternoon/evening session. We’d make some kind of dinner, usually pasta and drinks some Chilean red wine or beer. Exhaustion would lead to an early crash out in the van. Rinse and repeat the next day. This is the stuff real surf trips are made of!

Morning surf check, Brant with coffee in hand

Morning surf check, Brant with coffee in hand

Van camping!

Van camping!

Early morning sunrise going off

Early morning sunrise going off

Brant

Brant

Selfie

Selfie; taking photos in between laps

Chilean getting barreled

Chilean getting barreled

Brant

Brant

Brandon

Brandon

Brandon, hoping for the barrel

Brandon, hitting the gas

 

Eventually we had to start making our way north in order to get back to Santiago for the flight to Rapa Nui. On the way through we did have a good session at Punta Lobos, it was breaking at the Morros and both Brant and I got some long rides and did a few laps. This was our first experience with the complicated and sketchy process of paddling out at Lobos when its bigger: you have to jump off the tip of the rocks, which means perfectly timing your dash and leap so as not to get smashed into reef by the incoming waves.

On the drive back north, we chanced upon an amazing sunrise while atop driving on a dirt road atop a mountain ridge

On the drive back north, we chanced upon an amazing sunrise while atop driving on a dirt road atop a mountain ridge.

While the sun was rising, the clouds hung low in the valleys.

While the sun was rising, the clouds hung low in the valleys.

Boys will be boys

Boys will be boys

no comment

no comment

Posing in front of the mural at the Wicked Vans site in Santiago

Posing in front of the mural at the Wicked Vans site in Santiago

We ended up staying at a hostel for one evening in Santiago because our Rapa Nui flight left early the next morning. We checked out the bar scene in the Avenida Italia district on a random Tuesday night and it was pretty dead. Our alarms went off at like 5am and we made our way to the airport. Rapa Nui awaited…

 

[fast forward to after Brant and I returned from Rapa Nui, 3-weeks later… Brant had 2 more days and we went to go surf some more. I’m including these couple of days in this blog post because they take place back in Chile with Brant.]

 

We got back from Rapa Nui and wasted no time renting a car so we could go on a mini road trip to score a few more waves before Brant had to leave Chile for good two days later. The leftovers of the same swell we’d surfed in Rapa Nui were lingering around and we hoped to get the last of ‘em. We managed to rent a burley Dodge Durango right from the airport and stayed in the Bellavista Hostel in Santiago that night, which is a spot I’d recommend because the Bellavista neighborhood is probably the spot to stay in Santiago.

 

Early the next morning we hit the road and went to check on a wave somewhere north of Pichilemu that I’d surfed on my previous trip to Chile (again, see Surf and Snow in Chile). The wind was up in a bad way and the swell was probably too small for the wave anyway, so we drove a bit south to a well known but somewhat hard to find pointbreak also north of Pichilemu. The locals in this area smartly deface the signs and even swap them out to send gringos like us on wild goose chases on dirt roads through the forest, and we definitely took some wrong turns before we found what we were looking for!

Checking blown out surf somewhere north of Pichilemu

Brant, looking more grizzled and checking blown out surf somewhere north of Pichilemu

The locals ensure that you won't get too much help from the signage

The locals ensure that you won’t get too much help from the signage

We took a wrong turn and wound up in this spot, which was definitely not the pointbreak we were looking for but was beautiful nonetheless, so we enjoyed a beer before heading onward in our search

We took a wrong turn and wound up in this spot, which was definitely not the pointbreak we were looking for but was beautiful nonetheless, so we enjoyed a beer before heading onward in our search

 

It was late on a Sunday afternoon and most of the Santiago weekend warriors had packed it up to head back to Santiago for the work week, so the wave was relatively un-crowded and still showing good 6-8’ sets every 15 minutes or so; these were the leftovers of the big swell we’d seen in Rapa Nui. I surfed Brant’s 7’2” as a single-fin and it was a great call.   My second wave was a proper set and I took it all the way to the beach. I measured the length of the ride on Google Earth and I estimate it was about 700 meters!

 

Even though the sun had already set, I ran back to the top of the point and paddled out again. It was pretty much dark by the time I got into position to wait for a set. It got dark and I turned to paddle in and only to behold a most beautiful sight: on this clear night the full moon was just beginning to rise over the mountains directly behind the wave. The moon was bright and as it rose to higher to become fully visible the whole night seemed to glow. I knew that catching a wave would be no problem now, especially since the moon was directly down the line of the wave and would illuminate the wave face perfectly as I surfed. I waited and waited and eventually another set came. The drop would be the hardest part in the dark, but the bigger board served me well and I stroked in and rode one of the most unique and mystical waves of my life, again taking it all the way to the beach. The combination of a single fin, the full moon illuminating the wave, and the fact that the wave itself was an overhead, reeling and very long Chilean left in glassy conditions was surreal!

 

I came back to the beach to find Brant jumping up and down to stay warm by the car; I’d had the key to the Durango and he’d gotten out before the moon rose. I was frothing from my moonlit night wave and told him we had to get back out there for a night session. So we paddled back out, the full moon subtly illuminating our session for another 45 minutes!

 

We stayed in the nearby town and the next morning went back to the point. The swell had dropped considerably, but the waves looked super fun for a longboard session. Fortunately there’s a surf shack that rents boards and they had some logs for Brant and I. There was a friendly local hanging out named Filipe who used my camera to take photos and videos of Brant and I while we surfed, then I came in, traded the board for the camera and took some photos myself. It was a super fun mid-morning session and the day was gorgeous, a great way for Brant to end his trip.

Morning coffee at the hostel in the nearby town

Morning coffee at the hostel in the nearby town

 

One of the beachside locals

One of the beachside locals

Log-tacular left pointbreak

Log-tacular left pointbreak

Another local

Another local

Brandon

Brandon

Brant

Brant

Felipe running with his dog to go get some fun ones on the point

Felipe running with his dog to go get some fun ones

One one hand, you have a left point. On the other hand, another left point.

One one hand, you have a left point. On the other hand, another left point.

Brant left Chile on Monday, May 4. We cruised from the coast back to the Bellavista Hostel in Santiago and got cleaned up, then went for dinner at Uncle Fletch’s, which was conveniently right next door to the hostel.   The burgers we had were top notch, the recommendation from to go there Sam was spot-on: Uncle Fletch’s probably has the best burgers in Santiago. Also Brant was stoked that Felipe, Pato’s brother, cruised by and had a beer with us before he had to go. It was a good send off. I drove Brant to the airport and we killed some time having a pisco sours before he had to head through security to his gate. It was a great trip, a 2-weeker that turned into a month and we were both very stoked. As we said goodbye I remembered the e-mail from Brant that included a link to Marley’s Wake up and Live, an e-mail that had ultimately led me to pull the trigger on buying my plane tickets. My last words to Brant were: “We lived”; indeed we had.

Brant outside the best hamburger spot in Santiago: Uncle Fletch's

Brant outside the best hamburger spot in Santiago: Uncle Fletch’s

Categories: Chile, Pichilemu, Promised Land | 1 Comment

Surfing and Snowboarding in Chile

Currently Donna and I are back in SF, with our respective South America and Shanghai journeys completed.  We spent this past weekend staying at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose attending the traditional Indian wedding of Donna’s friend Jessica to her now-husband Ganesh. It was fantastic!

 

I owe everyone a post about my last week and a half in Chile, which I spent searching for good surfing and snowboarding.  I was fortunate to find both!

 

Immediately upon renting the “Chevrolet” Trooper* I contacted a friend-of-a-friend who lives in Santiago with his wife and 2 young children.  Sebastian used to live in San Francisco and while in SF he met my good friend Haroldo, with whom I used to work with at Blackrock, while the two of them were surfing at Sloat Street at Ocean Beach.  When Haroldo found out I was heading to Chile, he graciously offered to put me in touch with Sebastian, who is an avid surfer and snowboarder, but who also works in Chile as a Financial Advisor, which meant we had a bit more in common than just being “surf bros”.  One thing I learned early about travelling is that a local connection can be a huge boon for getting dialed into the information one needs to know to find success adventuring in a new location or country.  Therefore I took Haroldo up on his offer and got in touch with Sebastian and, as expected, he proved immensely helpful and more importantly I made new lifelong friends with him and his family!

* Car people might know that Isuzu makes the Trooper, not Chevrolet, but for some reason the vehicle I rented for the low price of $23 per day had Chevrolet branding all over it.  This was a first clue there was something funky and untrustworthy about this car, but at this point in time I was mostly stoked to have some wheels!

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The “Chevrolet” Trooper

 

Upon calling Sebastian on a Saturday and letting him know I’d like to meet up with him, he suggested that the following day I drive to meet him at a town about 2 hours north of Renaca called Pichiquy, where he was staying for the weekend with his family to surf.  Without hesitation I got up early the next day and headed to Pichiquy.  By Sunday the beautiful, sunny weather I’d experienced in Renaca for the past two days became gloomy and the weather forecast called for on-and-off precipitation over the next week and higher than normal winds.  Fortunately there was still plenty of swell on tap (there’s hardly ever a shortage of swell in Chile!), which meant finding good waves would require being in the the right locations given stormy conditions.   On the coastal drive north that Sunday morning I passed many beaches and rounded many headlands, but didn’t see any appetizing surf and saw no surfers anywhere in the water.  However, as I came down the hill towards Pichiquy, I saw a sea that was smoother and lightly groomed by offshore winds with a small pack of surfers enjoying some excellent looking beachbreak.  I watched the surfers for awhile and then met up with Sebastian at the house he was staying at.  He explained to me that in Chile the incoming weather caused north winds and that north winds generally wreck most of the good surf breaks in Chile, especially the copious left points south of Santiago.  However, he told me that this particular location, Pichiquy, is a swell magnet and that north winds are good for the waves, which is why he was spending the weekend here with his family.  Local knowledge at its best!  Pichiquy also is home to two big waves: La Marmola breaks in the middle of the long beach and Punta Docas is at the north end.  The area that was good while I was there was the break in the middle of the beach, just north of a few exposed rocks.

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Great waves when I first saw Pichiquy

 

That morning I ate a light breakfast with Sebastian and met his family.  His wife, Magdalena, speaks great English, is also loves to surf and snowboard.  The two of them had two young sons, aged 2 and 7 months, named Andres and Beltran.  During typical weekend they would head either to the mountains or the beach with the family to enjoy board sports and the Chilean countryside.

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Sebastian and his 7-month old son, Beltran

That day I surfed 2 sessions, the first with Magdalena and Sebastian’s brother, and the second with Sebastian.  Afterward we ate a spaghetti meal together and Sebastian gave me a 6’6” rounded pin surfboard to use for my time in Chile!  I was super stoked to get the board because I didn’t have one and there didn’t seem to be any easy place to rent a good board.   Further, buying a good board would cost at least a couple hundred bucks and would be difficult to sell when it was time to go and impractical and expensive to bring back with me as airlines generally charge at least $150 each way for travelling with a surfboard.  Thanks Sebastian!

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The 6’6″ pintail rocket ship Sebastian lent me

 

The next day was Monday so Sebastian was back in Santiago for work, but I drove back to Pichiquy and surfed all day.  I got up early, packed a bunch of food and drove out, waiting to surf my sessions in between when the few packs of locals would paddle out.   It was off-and-on again raining and putting on that wet wetsuit over and over again was most unpleasant, but the waves were good and plentiful.   At the end of the day the clouds parted and I was treated to a brilliant sunset.

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Very nice A-frame

 

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Good barrels were out there!

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The waves got better and better throughout the day

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Panorama sunset pic, Pichiquy

 

On Tuesday the swell picked up a bit and I was pretty tired from the previous two days of being in the water for 5+ hours each day, so I slept in and decided to explore closer to Renaca.  I discovered a good plan for learning about where to surf when in a new place is to go to the local surf shop and hang out and I figured it would also be a fun place to practice some Spanish.  Right in front of the beachbreak at Renaca there is a surf shop and the owner and his friend were cool and they took me along with them to check the wave called Cap Ducal at the estero of the Vina del Mar river.  The wave looked like it had potential and there was even one guy surfing but they call this river “crap river” for a reason and things only seemed presently much worse due to the recent rain.  There was no way I was going to surf this wave because the water was greenish brown and I could smell the poo 50 feet away from the water.  I really couldn’t believe that one surfer, who was pretty good, would risk hepatitis surfing it.  The two locals from the surf shop didn’t want to surf it either and they took off to do a gym workout instead and said I might find waves somewhere to the north of Renaca.  I saw a few people surfing at a few spots in the Con Con area, but none of the waves looked very good and I ended up just driving around and taking photos.

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Cap Ducal, the rivermouth wave in Vina that can be very polluted after a rain

 

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Random wave shot, a few bodyboarders were here having some fun

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The locals were out surfing this wave in Con Con, not good but a place to get some bumpy rides.

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At the northern part of Con Con there were two bodyboarders tackling this closeout whomper

Wednesday the swell dropped and Renaca started to look pretty good.  I surfed two sessions one in the morning and one in the evening.  The craziest part about when I surfed Renaca were the overly friendly, borderline hostile sea lions.  There was a huge colony and they did not seem at all concerned with surfers as they swam all around me, getting very close and a few times even touching my board or booties.  It was actually pretty creepy — if one of these guys bit it would hurt like hell and give me who-knows-what diseases!  As far as the surf went, for most of my stay the wave was not really that good, most rides consisting of a quick, steep drop where you’d hope for a section to hit or if you were really lucky maybe a short barrel.  But I caught a lot of waves and had fun and I can see the potential for epic waves at Renaca under the right swell and sandbar conditions.

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Best waves I saw at Renaca were mid afternoon on Wednesday.

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The weather was rainy and there was no good place to dry my wetsuit; I ended up putting on a cold, wet wetsuit before every session, so miserable!

 

Wednesday night was the 3-year anniversary party at Delirio and I had a lot of fun with Matti and Berner, but staying up late was not conducive to an early rise the next day.   Matti, Berner and I ended up not even leaving the house until after 3pm.   This was the day were drove down to Quintay and later had a nice Thai dinner in Valparaiso, which I wrote about in my previous post.

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The Delirio 3-year anniversary party

 

On Friday I put into effect my plan for a Chilean roadtrip.  My rough idea was to spend the next 10 days or so chasing surf and snow in the region of Chile that starts just below Santiago and extends another 300 miles to the south to Picon.  After the downpour over the previous few days the weateher was forecast to revert back to the normal pattern for at least a few days, meaning generally south winds and clear skies.  The wave forecast called for a few medium sized pulses of swell, so I decided my first destination would be Pichilemu, the surf capital of Chile.  I was on the road from Renaca by about noon and drove south, purposely taking a more coastal route rather than jetting south via the main highway.  Google had me taking some seriously back roads, some of which weren’t even paved, and there were points where I certainly would have gotten lost if it weren’t for real-time GPS on my Samsung S5 phone overlaid on the cached map, which would quickly reveal if I made a wrong turn.  I wound my way through a few coastal towns, the largest of which is called San Antonio and made it to Pichilemu by about 6pm.  I had time to search for the ideal place to stay and found a hostel called La Sirena Insolente that was very close to Pichilemu’s headline surf point: Punta Lobos.  At the hostel I met Nick, a young surfer and computer programmer who had been traveling through Chile and South America for the last few months.  He’d been staying at this hostel and surfing for several weeks and seemed to have the place well understood.  There were also a bunch of other young foreign travelers from Santiago staying at the hostel just for the weekend and we all went to dinner at a nice, cliffside restaurant.   Staying at a hostel for the first time in awhile reminded me of how easy it is to meet other travelers at hostels.

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After a week of rain and clouds, there was nice weather on Friday when I left Renaca.

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Overlooking Valparaiso

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Looking north towards San Antonio

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Chile can be beautiful and green in the winter. This is a shot from the car during my drive.

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Me plus the random hostelers. Nick is the guy closest to me. The rest were a mix of Germans, English, and Americans who were from a Spanish language school in Santiago and were visiting Pichilemu for the weekend. Average age was probably 23.

 

The next morning Nick and I checked Lobos early but it wasn’t looking too good so we decided to take the Trooper and explore an area to the north of Pichilemu near a small town called Navidad that was rumored to have a really good left point break.  This is one of my most favorite things to do: searching for good waves.  We wound up at a small beach pueblo called Matanzas and we felt like we were definitely on the right track to find the wave.  Then when I employed my strategy of befriending the local surf shop owner.  The owner was gregarious surfer dude and he invited us to come surf it with him later when the tide was lower.  Nick and I found this surprisingly amazing; most surfers are super protective of the “secret” spots but this particular local gingerly invited us along with him.  It is risky business to invite traveling foreigners to experience your local good waves because in these days of the Internet and easy communication a secret spot could easily be exposed and overrun with surfers.  Obviously though, Nick and I were stoked on the invitation and went along and we were treated to the best waves of my trip at this fast and hollow left point.  I caught a handful of good ones and found two barrels, but not all was good.  First the current at the spot was ripping and so constant paddling was required to clamor back up the point after catching a wave.  But worse for me was that about 2 hours into surfing, on one wave I successfully got a first barrel and then was greedy and went for a second barrel but ended up wearing the lip of the tubing wave on my shoulders.  This compressed me into my board and minorly re-injured my right ankle which I had sprained a month before.  I had to stop surfing and realized I would need to take it easier; my fragile ankle was not yet healed enough to surf intense waves requiring late drops or or intense curls.  I swam slowly to shore and after about 20 minutes I felt strong enough for the 45-minute walk back to the town where our car was parked.  Along the way I began thinking that it might be prudent to end the surfing portion of my Chile road trip.  I felt good after the day’s discovery and my surf session despite the ankle injury I was stoked.  Plus, I figured the silver lining was that instead of surfing I could go snowboarding, which is much safer for my ankle because my boots provide firm support.  It felt great to be in Chile!

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Nick looking at a set wave breaking just beyond the famous Punta Lobos rocks

 

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The left point at Matanzas showed some potential.

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Nick knows the perfect fuel to power a long session is ceviche from the shack on the beach!

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So much potential for waves in Chile

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secret spot

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secret spot

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I saw some amazing homes built on the cliffs overlooking the beach on my walk back to the car

 

That evening there was an amazing sunset.  Back at the hostel I enjoyed an amazing dinner cooked by a Chilean/Italian guy named Dino who was friends with Juani, the hostel owner.  Dino cooked a seafood risotto using a large disco over an open campfire flame.  Besides Matti’s chiken mole this was the best meal I’d had in Chile thus far.  In fact, upon reflection I realize that all the best meals I had in Chile were home cooked.

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Sunset on Saturday evening on the way to Pichilemu

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Dino making seafood risotto on a disco over an open camp flame. It was DELICIOUS

 

The next day was Sunday and I took it easy and took some photos of the inside part of Punta Lobos in the morning.   The swell had dropped and there was nothing happening outside the rocks, but the morning saw clean conditions and a relatively light crowd.  I should’ve paddled out then, but instead I went for a surf in the afternoon.  Punta Lobos gets crowded on the weekend as all the Santiago people head west to the beaches for some surfing.   Most of them don’t get up early, which I think is why the morning is less crowded.  During my afternoon session my ankle was still feeling weak and I found it difficult to get in the right position to avoid a late takeoff given the crowds, but I caught a few waves nonethless and enjoyed the pleasant day and being in the water.

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Smaller swell results in only a few mutant waves breaking right on the rock shelf at Punta Lobos

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Ripping the inside wave at Punta Lobos.

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Punta Lobos

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Club de Surf, every great spot needs a surf club

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Dog chewing on a bone at the shack I was taking photos at.

 

On Monday I decided I would head to the mountains.  Based on many conversations I had with various people the place I wanted to check out was Nevados de Chillan.  This mountain is the Mount Baker of South America as it consistently receives more snowfall than pretty much anyplace else.  Furthermore, the backcountry access is amazing and there is a 10,000 foot volcano to ascend.  I was stoked to check this place out as Monday and Tuesday were forecast to have some snow followed by low wind and sunny skies for the rest of the week, perfect spring skiing conditions.  And so I hit the road on the Trooper and quickly again Google had me in the backwoods and I followed plenty of sketchy dirt roads, the whole time hoping that the Trooper wouldn’t fail me.  But the car was a 1996 and had well over 180,000 miles, so I was concerned…

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The drive from Pichilemu south was very scenic

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One of the many dirt roads I found myself on thanks to Google Maps

 

 

Fortunately I made it to the main highway, Chile’s Ruta 5, before disaster struck.  The first thing I noticed was the temp gauge had crept up from about ⅓ to just over ½ between the “C” and the “H”.  I was concerned, stopped to check the oil and add water to the overfill tank, and then I kept going.  Shortly later I started feeling the engine lose power and the temperature hadn’t back down to normal, so I decided I stop and call the owner.  I stopped near an exit and the engine wouldn’t start again.  Crud, most definitely NOT GOOD.  I called the owner and he told me to stay put, that he’d send a mechanic, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen as I was solidly 5 or 6 hours away from Santiago.  With the sun going down, grabbed all my stuff from the car and began walking down the highway, off the first exit and into a town called Parral.  The strange looks I got as people saw this gringo with 2 backpacks and a snowboard bag with a surfboard strapped to the top were pretty classic.  I asked around for directions to the bus terminal, where I knew I could find taxis and hopefully a hotel, or worst case just take a bus to Chillan, which was only about 90km to the south and would certainly have everything.  A taxi driver pointed me to Residencia La Igualdad, which is run by a nice family.  It was like a 2nd and unplanned homestay.

 

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I was heading towards Chillan when I broke down. I’m the blue dot.

surf and snow road trip extra 2

After breaking down, this is the view from the car out the window looking toward the town of Parral. The sun was setting and it was shortly after taking this photo that I decided to carry all my stuff into the town and abandone the Trooper. I was lucky it was a big town!

 

Over the next 48 hours I dealt with the bad situation I’d been dealt and what made the experience so pleasant was the family I was staying with, especially the owner Rene.   I had to speak entirely in Spanish, nobody here spoke English, and I explained to Rene what happened.  Upon hearing the car was still on the highway, he grabbed his truck and was able to tow it back to his house where I was staying.  He also went to work fixing the engine and discovered the car had no water in the radiator.  WOW that was clearly my problem; I had been adding water to the water tank but I should’ve been adding it directly to the radiator.  The battery was also dead (2nd time this happened; previously I’d found someone to jump me), so Rene got an extra battery and we were able to get the car started.  The root of the problem was revealed when we say the water we’d just added to the radiator leaking profusely out of the motor; clearly there was a coolant leak that caused the engine to overheat.  I conveyed all of this information to the owner and had confidence that we’d get the motor fixed in Parral and perhaps I’d even be on my way the next day.

I spent all day Tuesday hanging out with Rene and working to get the motor fixed.  That morning we drove the car a mechanic the knew both Rene and the owner.  Within an hour he found the root of the problem: a pipe from the water pump which had already been patched once had broke again causing the coolant leak.  So Rene and I drove around town until we found a welder who could fix the problem.  By 4pm the mechanic had the car fixed, but there was still a problem: lots of white smoke never stopped pouring from the tailpipe indicated a head gasket leak was likely allowing coolant to enter the cylinders.  The mechanic did a pressure test and confirmed this was the case; this engine was murio: dead.  Really not good.  The original problem being that the water pump pipe broke clearly wasn’t my fault, but I did feel just a little responsible for driving the car that extra few kilometers when there was a heat problem.  I called the owner and we talked.  He seemed understanding and said that he’d drive down tomorrow AM and we could tow the car back to Vina del Mar together, as he’d need me to steer the dead Trooper.  I agreed, but told him I wanted my rental deposit of 100,000 pesos (~$180) back before I’d go on the journey with him.  He agreed.  I stayed another night at the Rene’s house and had a nice meal with the family, where I watched Chile defeat Haiti in a soccer match.  Also I listened to Rene’s young son play the harpsichord, one of the most unique instruments I’ve seen played before me.

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At the auto shop. This is the mechanic who figured out a faulty water pipe was the cause.

 

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Rene fond this guy at a welding shop to fix the broken pipe

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This is the broken pipe after being fixed. The guy cleverly used dry ice to cool down the aluminum peace and fit the steel piece into it. Welding was not possible since the pipe was made from aluminum. You can see the rubber hose that was the original repair that broke.

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In Parral you could buy a bunch of different types of dog food.

The next morning I woke up to an e-mail from the owner stating that he changed his mind and he actually wanted me to pay him $1000 for a tow truck to take the dead Tropper back to Vina, plus another $1000 for the engine repair.  Welp, no doubt I wasn’t going to do that: besides being lied to by the owner the previous day, I really didn’t feel completely responsible for what happened.  Plus I didn’t like the way he changed his mind so suddenly and was demanding money after I had spent so much effort making sure the car was taken car of.  So I decided to just leave back to Santiago on a bus and ignore his requests for money.  The broken Trooper was the owner’s problem, afterall, and Rene and myself even spoke with a police officer who confirmed the same.  I had no responsibility to bring it back so Rene and I took it to a safe place, the gas station near the higway.  This was a bummer for the Trooper, but I really didn’t want to deal with the unreasonable owner it made sense to leave.  My goodbye to Rene and his family was heartfelt and I can reflect with sincere gratitude how nice they were to me and how much they helped me navigate this thorny situation.  I will always be thankful to them.

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In Chile stray dogs are not quiet as stray as they look. Chileans like to put sweaters on dogs to keep them warm through winter and generally people make sure no dogs suffer unnecessarily.

 

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Rene’s son Francisco playing the harpsichord

Back in Santiago I stayed at a hostel owned by the same guy, Juani, who owned the surf hostel at Punta Lobos.  He told me that there was a shuttle organized a couple times a week which would take people from the hostel early in the morning to Valle Nevado, which is in the Farallones mountain range, which is the range that is only about 1.5 hours from Santiago.  So I signed up and on Thursday was up in the mountains getting run after run at the uncrowded resort.  The snow was not very good, nothing fresh, and very icy in the morning but softened up by the early afternoon.  I found some awesome, long groomer runs.  Just after midday I skinned over to El Colorado resort and to the peak for a good view and a fun run back to Valle Nevado.  All in all it was a good day.

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The Valle Express chair leading me to the top of Valle Nevado. Coverage and conditions weren’t great, but improved as the snow baked in the sun and softened.

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Selfie at the top of El Colorado after skinning up.

 

On Friday I went back to Renaca to hang out and say goodbye to Matti, Berner and Matias.  It was a relaxing day and I had dinner with Matti at Delirio.  That Saturday morning we were lazy, had a nice breakfast and we said our goodbyes.  I headed back to Santiago and checked back into the hotel.  My flight was on Monday morning so my plan was to take advantage of what was likely the last powder day of the season the next day snowboarding with Sebastian.  He picked me up at the subway station and we went to his house in Santiago and then we drove up to Magdalena’s parent’s cabin at La Parva.  It was ski in / ski out!

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One of the few photos I took while back in Renaca to say goodbye to Matti and Berner

 

Sunday was an awesome powder day in the Farallones and at La Parva.  Sebastian’s kids were being watched by Maria, the nanny, and so the 3 of hit us it hard all morning and into the early afternoon.   Magdalena and Sebastian knew La Parva like the back of their hands and led me immediately to a long powder run on the south facing part of the mountain.  We lapped the route 3 times and carved out many fresh tracks.  For one run I took out my GoPro and captured a few sweet surf-inspired carves Magdalena laid down on the snow banks.  Such great style!  Also I saw a few people in the backcountry and some amazing places to ski just off-piste, most notably The Chimney – a long couloir that is the most prominent feature on the north side of the resort.  The snow warmed up by 2:30ish and I was tired so headed back, but first having one beer in the sun with a few of the mountain and Santiago in the background.  A very nice day!

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Andres and Beltran watching their parents get ready to shred the mountain.

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Magdalena, Sebastian and myself heading up for a powder descent

 

A fantastic day of snowboarding fresh snow ended my trip in Chile.  That evening was my last in Chile and I left my hostel early on Monday morning and commenced a 24-hour journey back to San Francisco.

The month and a half I spent in South America confirmed what I thought I knew already: this is a place that I could live; a kind of California in reverse.  While here I formed so many fond memories, learned, meet new family members and made new friends.  All of this will serves to build a strong desire to return and explore more!

Below are some more pictures from the mountain.  It was really great to see Magdalena lay down some sweet surf inspired carves!

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La Parva has the best Poma lifts I’ve ever used

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Magdalena’s boss Scott at the end of the Chimney couloir. Next time I return I definitely want to descend this couloir!

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GoPro stick action

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This run was awesome!

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Having fun!

 

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Sequence 1

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Sequence 2

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Dropping a small snow berm

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Such style!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Chile, Farallones, Parral, Pichilemu | 2 Comments

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