Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
In our last Travelpod entry, we mentioned that our van was in need of some minor repairs before continuing on the adventure-laden Carretera Austral. We were fortunate in identifying a first-rate mechanic at 'Automotora Santiago' in Coyhaique, who managed to get us back on the road in fine form. After five days of superlative vistas and side trips, which we will relate in a forthcoming episode, we had come to within about 65 km of our final destination at the southern end of the Carretera. Adrian and Tanja had warned us about this particular stretch of the road where the washboard was sure to destroy what remaining shock absorbers we might have, and where there was often room for only one vehicle at a time. Few vehicles journeyed through this area, but those that did often seemed to be driven at higher than safe speeds
Suddenly a red Ford pick-up truck came barrelling around the blind curve at great speed. As he braked hard on the gravel he started fish-tailing all over the road. For us, the choice between a certain head-on collision and a possibly dangerous slide into the gravel on the roadside was quickly taken. As we swerved to the right, the pick-up struck our rear side near the bumper and pushed us over the edge of a deep drop off. Immediate thoughts of "game over" entered our minds, but instead of rolling into the ravine we came to an abrupt halt as the front passenger corner of the van smashed into a group of trees with a sickening crunch.
The pick-up driver watched from a safe distance as we struggled to get out through a door that was tilted wildly skyward, while gas from the propane tank underneath was spewing out voraciously. When the other driver noticed that we were uninjured, he informed us that since he was in a big hurry, he had no choice but to press on. It was 5 pm and raining, so we pleaded for him to assist us, but to no avail. Under duress, he provided us with a name and address in nearby Cochrane - both turned out to be fictitious.
In the next hour, one other pick-up truck drove past, but didn't as much as slow down upon seeing us
At eight the next morning, our two angels picked us up and we met their boss at the bridge construction site. He too was very sympathetic, and immediately gave his consent for support. A few other curious workmen decided to "come along for the ride", but proved to be of great assistance in clearing the debris and attaching the ropes under the van
The damage was not actually as bad as we had originally feared: the windshield was smashed and partially popped out; the back bumper was almost torn off; the passenger door could not be opened due to damage around the frame; the fibreglass luggage rack was quite badly shattered in several places, and there was some undetermined damage to the propane tank or valve system. However, when we turned the key the motor started up almost instantly, so engine damage was thankfully not evident, and the rest of the van appeared to be remarkably unscathed. Gabriel and Pedro refused to take any official payment for their assistance, but they gratefully accepted a generous tip. Having our faith in the Chilean people fully restored, we set off - rather slowly and cautiously - on the 400 km rough drive back to Coyhaique, once again in search of that top notch mechanic.
How strange - Mike's life was taken by some trees as he tried to make his emergency landing, while our lives were saved by trees almost exactly six months later. We will never understand why.