In Puerto Varas, we (Turk, Canook, Swiss, and I) decided to rent a car to drive north. We were all sort of tired of buses, and figured having the car would give us the chance to stop off and see a few things along the way.
The Hertz rental office was like this tiny little cubical tucked under the stairs in a largish office building. We went there at around 11 am, and the door was locked, and there was nobody around. We asked the building security guard if the office was open, and he told us, “Oh yeah, definitely. He probably just went to the bathroom or something. Just wait five minutes.”
We waited, 5, 10, minutes, and nobody showed. We inquired with the receptionist at one of the nearby offices, and she told us that, “Well, the Hertz guy probably went to lunch. I’d try back this afternoon.”
So we went to lunch. I should probably say something here about the cuisine of Chile. It’s not good. Their most popular national dish is something called a “completo”. It’s a hot dog, topped with diced tomatoes, sauerkraut, and mayonnaise. Now, I’ve been known to enjoy a hot dog now and again (huge props for Portillo’s!) but these aren’t even good hot dogs. They’re universally boiled, not grilled, and chicken, not beef. Among the completo’s redeeming features are its price (around 1 USD, usually) its easy availability. For a small increase in price, you can also get a “completo italiano” (why it’s supposed to be Italian, I have no idea) that comes topped with guacamole. This is an absolutely essential upgrade, but it still only partially redeems the completo.
I feel like there’s a fortune waiting to be made by the person who introduces actually-good hot dogs to Chile. On the other hand, I’ve met Chileans who claim to quite enjoy completos. Maybe if you grew up with them, you just wouldn’t know what to do with Portillo’s, Pink’s, or a deliciously illegal “heart attack” dog. Anyone feeling enterprising?
Other Chilean food tends towards heavy, greasy meat dishes or sandwiches. You can also get lots of things “a lo pobre” which means it comes topped with a fried egg and a side of French fries. Health food central, this is not. Empenadas are also widely available, but I prefer the Argentinian version, which has a flakier pastry crust and more varieties of fillings available. I have had a few good meals here. I had some delicious, albeit pricey, Chilean sea bass. There’s also a traditional soup called ajaco that I quite enjoy.
In any case, we returned after lunch to find the car rental office still closed, and were told “he should be back any minute” by a couple other office workers. Eventually, after another good hour of killing time, we were finally able to rent a car. The Hertz guy was perfectly helpful, he just doesn’t seem to spend a lot of time actually working.
The next morning, we picked up the car bright and early at 8am, and set off. The combination of cold, rainy weather and substandard Chilean backroads made for pretty miserable driving for the first half of the day. We drove to the Puyehue national park to see the Petrohué waterfalls, which were cool, but looked nothing like this when I saw them. I have some photos on my disposable camera, which I still need to develop. We also drove as far as we could up the Osorno volcano. We got as far as a little lodge at the base of the ski lift, by which point the weather was near white-out conditions.
I really don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with such strong winds, driving hailstones horizontally through the air. When you tried to get out of the car, the wind would either rip the door out of your hands, or force it shut, depending on which side you were on. We got some coffee and soup at the ski lodge, to seek if the weather would clear for photos or a safer drive down. Inside, the wind was actually forcing water in around the weatherstripping on the windows and everything was cold and damp. The soup was delicious, though.
We drove down carefully, and headed back to the main highway (Ruta 5, which runs north-south through most of the length of Chile), after which the driving improved considerably. In the afternoon, we took a detour to the Aguas Calientes hot springs near Entre Lagos. It was still cold and drizzling, but it was quite pleasant to sit in the thermal pool and get rained on.
The Turkish guy, Baki, and I took turns driving. He’d lived in the USA for 5 or 6 years, and attended university (studying genetics) there. Our rental car was a little Toyota hatchback, and with four passengers plus their luggage, it was a tight fit.
Whoever of us wasn’t driving spent his time flipping endlessly through the Chilean radio stations. The car stereo actually had an aux jack, but none of us had the right cable to connect an mp3 player (Baki: “Man, Brendan, I was counting on you to be the kind of person who had that”—as if I really need another cable to carry with me). As far as I can tell, radio stations in Chile come in 3 flavors: mariachi music, latin pop, and a mishmash of 80s and 90s Top-40 hits of various genres.
Our crowning radio-hunting achievement came between Los Lagos and Mafil shortly after sunset. We were treated to, in succession, Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, Kriss Kross’s “Jump”, and finally, MC Hammer’s magnum opus, “U Can’t Touch This”.
Baki: Ok, so I thought my English was pretty good. But I really have no idea what this song is about. What is MC Hammer talking about?
Me: Uh… (as I listen, for the first time in my life, to the actual lyrics of U Can’t Touch This) He’s just bragging about his rapping skills. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Baki: But, what exactly, is it that we ‘can’t touch’?
Me: Just like, his flow. His rhymes are untouchable. You will never approach MC Hammer in rapping ability. And he wants you to know it.
Baki: So what you’re saying is that I really shouldn’t worry about it?
Sample MC Hammer lyric:
Pump a little bit and let ‘em know it’s going on
Like that, like that
Cold on a mission so fall them back
Let ‘em know, that you’re too much
And this is a beat, uh, you can’t touch
Later, we shuffled seats and I took a nap in the back. When I woke up, everyone was sort of freaking out. Apparently, with about a quarter tank of gas left, Baki had bypassed a service station, betting on finding one later. Now it was later, and no gas stations were in evidence. We were all kind of pissed at Baki.
The car had a digital gas gauge, and we were down to our last bar. We passed through one tiny town with no gas station. the final bar started to blink. We were already starting to make plans for hitchhiking to the nearest gas station and returning with a can. Baki was suitably apologetic, “Look, I screwed up, so if we run out of gas, I’ll go.” The final bar disappeared and an unpleasant orange light came on. I pointed out that Baki doesn’t really speak Spanish. “I should probably go,” I reluctantly volunteered. Baki shifted into neutral and let us coast down a long hill. “Nobody’s going to pick up random guys alone at night, anyway,” pointed out the Swiss girl, “I’ll go with Baki.”
Then, on the other side of the highway, we saw it: a giant yellow shell station! It was on the opposite side of the divided highway, with no obvious way to exit and cross over. We didn’t have enough gas to screw around getting it wrong, so we pulled over to the shoulder on our side of the highway. “Let’s just go ask them how to get to their gas station,” suggested Baki. He and I set out to cross the highway, trying not to get killed by a truck.
It was still raining, and I had a tricky time scrambling up the side of a muddy drainage ditch wearing the flip flops I’d put on at the hot springs. At the gas station, the attendants told us that, no, it wasn’t actually possible to get to their station from the northbound side of the expressway. But, they suggested, if we just kept going to the next town, there was a gas station there.
“Not far at all. Ten, maybe twenty kilometers.”
I was in agreement with Baki that it was unlikely our car had another 20 km worth of gas in the tank.
“Uh, do you have something we could put gas in to take back to our car?” (I don’t know how to say ‘gas can’ in Spanish)
“No, sorry. We don’t have anything like that.”
“Well, if we got our own things, (‘botella’ was probably the word I was looking for here) would you put gas in them?”
“Yeah, why not?”
The answer, of course, is that in the States, “it is unlawful and dangerous to dispense gasoline into unapproved containers.” Then again, in the States, a gas station would probably have gas cans.
So Baki and I went into the convenience store part of the gas station, and bought two 1-liter plastic water bottles. I chugged a bit, then dumped the rest out on the already rain-slick pavement. The gas station attendants thoughtfully swished a bit of gas around in the bottles, and dumped it, to remove stray water droplets. Then they filled them.
Laden with precious petroleum distillate, we crossed back across the highway, poured it into the tank and set out again. At the next town, we stopped and filled the tank.
We returned the car in Pucón and spent the night there. Apparently, there was natural stuff to see near Pucón but I was sick to death of cold rainy weather, so the following night I caught a long distance bus bound for Santiago.