Wheeling across Chile
You may know of our Ultimate Adventure (UA), where every year we take our staff, sponsors, cronies, and six lucky readers on a 4x4 summer camp–style trip of a lifetime in the U.S. Sebastian Varas from Chile was invited to the Ultimate Adventure 2012 with his LS-powered Willys, and he liked the UA so much he instituted the Twisted Andes Adventure in his home country.
The Twisted Andes Adventure 2013 is the first gathering of South American 4x4 enthusiasts from the website www.twistedandes.com. Varas is one of the founding partners of the website, which was formed 11 years ago and has become the premiere site for Latin American wheelers, with a huge following around the world. In this first year for his adventure there were 22 built 4x4s ready to romp 1,500 miles of Chilean countryside. Patterned after the UA, the trip required a team to live out of their rig for a week of camping, wheeling, and all kinds of weather, from blistering sand in the north to the freezing snow in the southern Andes Mountains. Varas built another Willys for the trip since he parted with the first one, and it was our transportation for the week.
There’s no question that the Chilean scenery is awe-inspiring. Taking in the view while covering 1,500 miles in eight days in some of the toughest-built rigs on the planet is a dream come true for any wheeler worth his weight in salt. We started in the capital city of Santiago and then towed the Willys north to Copiapoé where the Atacama Desert reigns supreme. In fact, this is where the Dakar Rally is now held, and the treacherous terrain means staying alert to stay alive.
It took two full days to reach Copiapoé, a distance of around 500 miles. We stopped halfway for the night, after swapping spares on the trailer at a roadside llanteria. It turns out the trailer spare was the wrong lug pattern, unbeknownst to us. Some participants drove to Copiapoé, while a few shipped their rigs and flew in like rock stars and the rest of us trailered on.
Day 1: New Trails, New Friends
Most of the participants had never met before, but all belong to the Twisted Andes website. When the call went out that the trip was being formed, hundreds of people applied. The four partners—Sebastian Varas, Gonzalo Bravo, Facundo Lozano, and Mariano Lozano—vetted the participants and selected two handfuls from around Chile and Argentina. The wheeling in the northern and southern parts of the country is similar to the UA (think Michigan or Florida): opposite extremes with the participants’ rigs built for their local area. In this trip though, having a ride that does well in all terrain would be critical.
Day 2: Pushing On Through the Atacama Desert
The second day of the Twisted Andes Adventure took us out into the depths of the dunes in the Atacama Desert. Of course, that entailed 20 more miles of sand, which resulted in Gonzalo Bravo rolling his Suzuki in a bowl. Fortunately no damage was done to skin or steel.
Once out of the mountains we made our way to the beach and headed south. Between rocks to climb and sandy beaches to skim, it was a long day—even longer for those in open vehicles, given the cold and wind. So we stopped for rest and recuperation. We opted for hotel rooms for the group because the temperature had dropped near freezing and it we hadn’t reached the destination till after midnight.
Day 3: Continuing South on the Chilean Coast
The third day on the Twisted Andes Adventure was called a road day, but only about 50 miles was on pavement. After packing up and leaving our beachfront hotel, we wound down the coastline on dirt roads and two-tracks to sandy beaches and craggy rocks we could climb on. The only fisherman within 50 miles from anywhere had a ’79 Jeep CJ-6 with a CJ-7 rear tailgate grafted on. He earned a 4WOR license plate!
As usual the wheeling took its toll on some vehicles and resulted in a broken hub, tweaked track bar, and even overheating issues. A few hills were conquered though during this full day of dust, dirt, and sand. As always, we kept driving until way past dark-thirty so we could set up tents in the dark and cook in the cold—another incredible day. There’s just something special about completing a long hard day of wheeling in some of the most challenging terrain on the planet only to follow it up with a nice warm meal in cold weather while hunkering down near the campfire.
Day 4: Treacherous Trails Through Fields of Boulders
The Twisted Andes Adventure continued down south in Chile, but not before another great road day. By this time our contingent of 23 rigs is down to 22. The tranny went out in the Hilux of Isaias Diaz. Stuck in fifth gear, he found a used one and swapped it out in a parking lot while the rest of us motored on.
Our goal was a rock trail discovered by Sebastian Varas and preran for this trip. While only a few miles long, it starts on cobbles and finishes on boulders the size of pickups. It is a rockcrawler’s paradise with multiple lines and degrees of difficulty.
The La Cebada Trail is in a wash right off the main highway. It starts easy and quickly morphs into a giant-killer. The damage count included an axle shaft U-joint, a front axle, a rear axle, a clutch, an oil pan, a gas tank, a steering arm, and more.
We scratched, skidded, crawled, and broke as we finished the trail and made our way to the next campsite by midnight, complete with a fire during the Chilean holiday. Once again we had a perfect end to a long day of epic wheeling and freezing temperatures with a nice warm campfire basking under the seemingly endless stars.