Despite not being particularly high, the mountains around Santa Fe are still interesting to drive through. Once again, our plan to not drive in the rain wasn’t going well. With holes rotted through both wheel arches, a wet drive meant a wet cab inside and all of this fuelled the current mushroom that kept trying to grow under our floor. The positive of rain at least is that gave our engine a helping hand in climbing the mountain roads that afternoon. Up to the town of Santa Fe, the road is easy enough, but as you continue on past the village it gets steep and narrower. The peaceful valley is interrupted by the screams of passing engines working hard. As we climbed yet another hill, the rpm gauge touched 6k and I couldn’t help but remember that the last time that had happened our engine had exploded in protest. Our stuff flew around inside as we tried to maintain the momentum we needed to keep going around the hairpin bends, so much so that the our newly filled water garaffon fell over and dumped most of its contents on floor. Why worry about wet wheel arches from the rain when you can chuck an entire 20 litres of water on the floor from the inside? After this eventful approach, we were both relieved when we pulled into the big flat parking lot of the viewpoint where we planned to stay the night.
We arrived in the drizzle and so didn’t get to see much of the view we were supposed to be having but it was nice to enjoy the cool mountain climate and watch the cats bounce around the car park, exploring. We were the only people here and we enjoyed a cool quiet night.
The morning sun cleared through the clouds and reminded us that despite a higher election, it was still incredibly hot in the day. Our plan was to visit waterfall Loma Grande, a short distance further down the road. While we could have driven, it was a sizeable hill and after a stressful drive yesterday it seemed easier to leave here where she was and walk. It’s hard to photograph how steep the roads are, but hopefully once you spot tiny little Ruby in the image below, you’ll have an idea.
Capturing the amazing views however, was a lot easier.
It’s less than a kilometre and a good quality road but the gradient is so steep you end up doing the downhill shuffle walk that slowly ruins your knees. A hot sun reminded us that we would have to repeat this going uphill to get back after.
Soon we reached the turn off from the main road and followed a small footpath down into the jungle. It was a relief to be out the sun as we slithered our way down the hillside. After 20 minutes or so we could hear the sound of water and we emerged at the base of the cascade.
After a muddy and sweaty descent, we didn’t waste any time in jumping in our our private pool. The water was cold, clear and perfectly refreshing. We hoped no other hikers popped up unannounced as I for one hadn’t brought a bikini and therefore went for the no clothes option, but out here with nothing but the rush of the river and the sounds of the birds it seemed unlikely.
As lovely as it was to swim, the rather refreshing temperature meant we didn’t stay too long before we started our hike back up. It would have been much better if the downhill part was after, rather than before, as by the time we reached the van again you wouldn’t know we’d just had a wash. We arrived, dripping, to a bunch of locals who looked like they were trying to film a music video. A little later some park rangers appeared. They were friendly enough and after having said that we needed to sign into the park, they produced a large logbook from the car. We signed ourselves in and told them that we might just stay one more night, which was no problem at all.
Really, we could have left there and then and returned to the town but after such a lovely peaceful and cool night, and the prospect of driving the road out again, it didn’t take much to persuade us to stay. We decided we would drive out in the next morning where we could hike up one of the smaller mountains to what looked like an incredible view, before dropping back down the coast, one last time.
After a lovely night, I was rather upset to turn the van on to a rather lumpy sounding engine. After my brain started, working after a moment of complete panic, I realised it was idling incredibly low and reseting the ECU codes brought us back to normal levels. Despite all the work we put in, we still had that persistent idle air code and it appeared that the strenuous driving from before had upset our delicate computer. With the engine now running normally, we left. Having driven the road already once, we were now aware of the particularly steep sections and so the drive out was not nearly as stressful as the one in.
With so little time, we were torn. Partly we wanted to get going so we could reach the beach that night, but we also wanted to hike Cerro Tute, for it’s gorgeous 360 degree views. It seemed a shame to drive all the way for just one waterfall, nice as it was, but after chatting to a hostel owner in the town he told us we would need around 5 hours to do the hike. This meant we wouldn’t be able to drive far after. In the end, we decided to pay a 4×4 taxi to drive us to the start of the hike. This saves a lot of time that would have been spent hiking a drivable road. For $10, our driver dropped us at the start of a now much shorter route up the hill, despite the taxi reaching it without a problem, I was glad we had left Ruby safely back in the town square.
Now we only had around a half hour steep hike to reach the summit. In the midday sun it was still a tough, but as it was only a short way it was definitely worth the views that we got from the top.
With the day creeping away, we headed back down. We had two options, return on the route we had driven in; a very hilly experience. Or take a footpath back across the hills, according to maps.me. This was not only shorter, but also cut out around 200m of elevation. The only problem was that we had no idea if the route existed, we were simply basing it on the map and who knows if that’s accurate. We decided to risk it however, and left the mountain on the other side, picking up the correct path.
We walked along with no issue for the most part. A split in the path caused us to end up in someone’s garden a bit further along the road than we should have been, but never mind. We walked down the road a little way to pick up the second path. This was less distinct and for a moment looked like it would peter out into nothingness, but we kept going and with the help of gps we kept to our trail. Once again we arrived in someones garden, who kindly let us refill our water bottle before pointing out where the trail continued. While we passed through various properties, we didn’t meet a single person on the path.
As we got close to the end, it began to rain and the red clay route got slick beneath our feet. Luckily for us, we were nearly at the end and before long we emerged onto a dirt road that lead us easily back to the village. At the ran we wrestled out of our sodden clothes, before heading out of the village.
We hadn’t made it too far before Lee demanded that I pull over because he had a tick on him. There wasn’t many good places to stop so we drove a little way further before he became even more insistent I pulled off on the side of the road in the rain.
“What!?” I asked. “What is so bad?!”
“I have ticks crawling all over me!”
And so we stood in the pouring rain, me armed with a tick tool and him with his pants hoisted up into a rather fetching speedo look, on the side of the road. He wasn’t exaggerating. They were everywhere. We must have spent the best part of an hour removing them, I reckon around 40 or so. Now that our nice dry clothes were soaked all over again, a local appeared with an umbrella to see if we were ok. It was little hard to explain the situation, but we reassured her that we weren’t broken-down and she left. I had been luckier and we only found a couple on me. As it was rather cold standing there in the wet, we kept on going, knowing that another tick check would be required later.
Down in Santiago, we stocked up at the supermarket and I picked up an amazon order from Unoexpress, before deciding where to go. Lee wanted to power down to the coast, still 4 hours away. I was in favour of the nearest not horrible campspot. The rain was coming down hard and the visibility in Ruby isn’t great in the rain, let alone once it’s dark too. We drove one hour further, to reach the Sarigua National park. It looked like some rather nice camping, and free too, but not wanting to head in there after dark we settled down in the parking lot and attempted to dry ourselves out. No mean feat in a small soggy camper. At least though, I had my amazon order to cheer me up, as I systematically inspected parts of Lee I had never looked at in so much detail for potential escapee ticks.