In my memories forever...

„Donīt start to compare - every 200 km passing by, you could believe you are in any different country of that amazing planet, but Chile is just unique - accept it as it is!"

words by: Uli Hoelzl, photos by: Uli Hoelzl, Pierre-Yves Mottier, Diego Larrain & Flora Bikich

Intro: „Missis, please fasten your seatbelts. We get ready for landing.“ I just woke up, a bit dizzy from the long flight and the timechange. I rubbed my eyes and I glanced outside the window. Wow, I was totally stunned by the view I got. Snowcovered, ice covered mountains, volcanos, 5000 - 6000 meters high, totally uninhabited. We were just flying over the „Cordillera de los Andes“ of South America, the second highest mountain range in the world.

The plane made one last turn and we flew into the next valley which was totally surrounded by those mountains. Then suddenly  under us this immense bowl-shaped city jammed in between the andes and the coastal cordillera. A town with 4,5 million people inhabitants, Santiago, the capital of Chile. Since a long time it was a big dream to make a trip to Southamerica in our European winter, especially to Chile. I had heard so many fascinating stories, about so many great sailing and surfing-spots. This year I finally had the opportunity to travel with two friends from Switzerland to this Spanish speaking country.

What did I know about it? Just the facts everybody can read in a travelguide: It is a 4300 km long strip of coast on one side (meaning a coastline of 7000 km!) and mountains on the other side, reaching from Peru to Cape Horn (declination from 19°South to 55°South). Chile is the most develloped and educated country in South America and 75% of Chiles 15 million people population live in the central agricultural region of Middle Chile. They have the Andes, glaciers, volcanos, the Atacama desert which is the driest desert of the world, Patagonia with the „Torres del Peine“ National Park, rainforests, the windsurf- and sufspot Pichilemu etc. But what I discovered the following six weeks was just more than a great diversity of landscapes and great windsurf conditions. There was a certain ambiance around this country which just makes you wanting to come back, very friendly people with an incredible hospitality!

First two weeks: I was very lucky this time organisationwise, because my friends arrived a couple of days earlier than me and they had already organised a rental car. This is actually not a problem. Normally there are a lot of „car-dealers“ at the airport, who want you to rent a car. You just have to bargain very hard, still it stays pretty expensive. For our big Hyundai van we paid 40 USD per day. But the car is the only expensive thing there!

Pierre-Yves a friend whom I got to know in Australia came to pick me up from the airport and we just made a short trip downtown. There we had to organise our entry-paper for „Topocalma", one of the best spots. It is located in a private Hacienda and you just need a paper which allows you to enter for a certain period as they donīt want to have more than 35 cars inside at one time. At least they say so, but in South America everything is different in the end.

I had a very positive impression of Santiago. Very alive, dressed up business people beside skateboard kids, multicultural ambiance, nice buildings and a lot of old culture, good nightlife. After we had everything organised we headed off. The next week the wind should be blowing more at the southern spots of the country so we decided to go to a spot called „Curanipe“ first.

It is located 350 km south of Santiago. So driving south the Panamericana N°5, the big highway from north to south, I got my first impressions of the country. Inland it was very hot, over 30 degrees, sweating in the car. Outside the window an agricultural landscape like in Austria passed by, but the driving was much more relaxed, smiling faces in the cars besides me. It was possible to stop everywhere we wanted besides the street, either to buy  „pan“,  „queso“ or fresh fruit (incredible good looking fruits) or to use the natural toilet beside the next tree. For me it is just such a great feeling of freedom to arrive in a new country, sit in my car and just drive along with good music and let all the new sensations, scents, colours and impressions influence you. The road and our intuitions would just take me to the right places.

After 300 km we turned off the highway and continued the next 150 km on the small streets and dirtroads leading to the coastline. Driving over the Coastal Cordillera towards the Pacific Ocean the landscape changed immediatly. Passing by little rivers and lakes, typical wooden „mountain“ huts, and big forests, most of them artificial forests. The sun was sometimes hiding behind some foggy clouds, the coastal fog, and also the temperature went down at least ten degrees. During this trip I got to learn that Chile has a big problem with its deforestation. Only in the National Parks and „reservas nationales“ the native forests were protected. Everywhere else they cut down nearly everything. It is a shame! The wood industry is one of the big branches of Chileīs industry. Only during the last years they got aware of the situation as erosion was becoming a big problem and now they started to plant all the artificial forests. But you cannot compare them with the natural ones and the energy you find there!   Cruising through that area I had once the feeling of being in Canada, then in Denmark, in Austria, and after two more hours driving suddenly the smell of saltwater!  After four months missing exactly that smell my heart was „jumping“ observing the ocean and the waves cruching towards the rocks. Above it the cliffs with cornfields, pines, green grass fields with horses enjoying their time. What a view!

In Curanipe we met our third travel companion Diego, a very nice half swiss half chilean guy, who lives in Switzerland. His parents were political refugees of Chile during the military dictatorship of General Pinochet (1973-1989) and escaped to Switzerland. Diego still had many relatives in Chile and was visiting them every year. It was great to have him travelling with us. Speaking Spanish perfectly even with the right accent he made a lot of things a lot easier for us and we especially got a lot of contact to the local people with his help. What he told us about his parents' story and the time of the dictatorship was just terrifying and horrible. So many peolpe just disappeared that time and were killed with no reason or just for a different political opinion. How much did I learn or hear about that in our „healthy"  European world? Anyway: Good, that those times are over for Chile now!

Near Curanipe at a place called „Las Sirenas“ we found a very nice cabana for about 10 Euros per day directly on the beach where we stayed the next 10 days. In the beginning we where still lucky with the wind. We got to sail a couple of days with only some other people. One Swiss couple and some Chilean people from Santiago. Good sideshore conditions for 3.6 m to 4.5 m, decent swell, nice waves. There were not full down the line conditions, a bit choppy, but good for 2 powerful turns. Unfortunately we didnīt get wind on the mainbreak of Curanipe, which is supposed to be really good, but we had great surfing sessions there. Just the cold water makes you loose the feeling of your feet after one hour without booties. I soon learned that surfing is always, just always possible in Chile. It is never flat!

We enjoyed life in the little fishermens village and got used to the local habits, playing pool, buying fresh fish from the fishermen, buying cheap meat, fresh veggies and fruits, two kilos of the best “frutillas“ (strawberries) for one Euro, good wine, local rum (pisco). So we ended up having „pisco-frutillas“ nearly every evening in front of the fire observing the night sky of the southern hemisphere.

In the mountains: Unfortunately the wind died after one week and after we had explored all the nearest surfspots we decided to go for a trip in the mountains in the region of the „lake district“. It is a famous region with many over 4000 m high volcanos sourrounded by many beautiful lakes, located 500-900 km south of Santiago.

There were much too many National Parks to visit there for our short time so we decided to go just to one big one – a kind of an insider tip: „The Parque National Conguillio“. This park was created in 1950 to preserve the unique Chilean „uracaria tree“. Alpine lakes, canyons, native forests sourounding the snow-covered volcan Llaima. The last eruption in 1957 created new rivers and beautiful new laggons. We camped in the middle of this famous auracaria forest near the big Conguillo lake enjoying stunning sunrises, orange light on the snowcovered mountain tops We couldnīt climb the Vulcano as we didnīt have the right equipment like crampons and fully wintercloths. But one day we started before sunrise, searching our way through the mystic foggy auracaria forest. We made it in a 8 hour walk – meeting no one else – to the top of the Sierra Nevada, also a snowcovered, but dead vulcan of 2800 m. We were rewarded for our physical exersise with an superb few. The best of it all was that we were able to watch the Condors gliding majesticly through the air. One off them just sailed three meters over my head with his wingspread of 2 meters! I was pretty scared and too fascinated to make a photo. But this picture will stay in my memories forever!

By going back we visited the very busy little cities of Villarrica and Pucón on the edge of the Volcan Villarrica. These cities are famous touristic places for the locals and you can do everything there: watersking, climbing, riverrafting, horseriding, guided mountaintours, relaxing in hot pools. But after one evening enjoying ourselves in some bars we were off as we couldnīt stand those many peolpe after the lonelyness and peacefulness in the mountains. This was just a glimpse I got from the diversity of Chileīs beautiful landscapes, mountains and National Parks, but our time was too short to go further south and anyway, the ocean was calling!

Topocalma: The weather forecast looked good now for our most important destination  „Punta Topocalma“ situated in an private Hacienda only three hours from Santiago. The last little village where you can buy food and water is 80 km with dirtroad before the entrance. So we filled up our car and got ready for the best time of our stay in Chile. The spot we found was just breathtaking: perfect sailing and surfing conditions, not the easiest ones, lot of current and very gusty winds, but I think one of the best waveriding conditions in the world. And all this packed in a wonderful surrounding. Side-offshore wind which gets accelerated by a little mountain upwind, sometimes very strong, powerful waves, down the line conditions for many, many turns, nice sections for arials and nobody else seen there!

We were welcomed by a masthigh swell. Out in the water! What a great feeling it was to catch a big, big hill far outside, building up, reaching its full hight, and then just go, go, drawing my turn in the clean glassy water, then a cutbuck, rainbow in the spray, bottom, cutback. Just amazing!

We all came from the water with a big smile. But now where should we spend the night? It didnīt look like as there were any places we could rent. First we actually had another „touristic“ problem. We got stuck in the sand with our car. But there were some people on the beach, who immediatly came to help and pulled us out. We got into conversation with them and they were totally pleased that we could speak Spanish and showed big interest where we came from, how long we planned to stay. They told us about some other crazy European windsurfers who were here some years ago. Anyway in the end they offered us to camp in their backyard of their „holiday house“. The house was a little wooden hut consisting of one room where all the 15 people – mam, dad, grandpa and grandma, their children from 3-18 years and their friends – slept on matrazes on the ground. But they had everything they needed. A little fireplace to bake bread, a „fall loo“ some yards away (with great view to the spot) and a basic cold shower in the outside. For sure we accepted their offer! This were not the only experiences of unbelievable great hospitality of the Chileans!

But before we could build up our tents we had to clean the „garden“ from the shit of the cows, horses and poultry. Then we were able to share that finally nice place, so close to the break, with the childrenīs most loved „Chancho“ - a pig who took care of all the organic waste. We spent three superb weeks at that place sharing our time integrated in the family. They teached us how to bake bread, prepare all specialities made out of corn, we played with their cute children, had them around the fire every night, simply said, they just got good friends!

We led a very simple but happy life there. Living outside 24 hours a day, sleeping outsides with millions of stars above us. The sea feeding us with fish every day. Surfing in the morning, sailing in the afternoon. The life going in the rhythm of nature and the elements, the moon, the sun, hightide and lowtide. The question of the important things in life was rising. All the "western luxury" was of very less importance. How little we needed to be that happy! Just living with the nature, sailing and surfing, fishing, collecting shells, walking along the beach, making necklesses, reading. Or just relaxing and observing the ocean, and being. Being yourself.

Unfortunately it was not the best wind year in Chile. So we didnīt get to sail all the other well-known spots like Pichilemu or Matanzas which are nearby. Pichilemu should be really great, but it needs a lot of wind and a huge swell to work. But I got my best surfing session there although it is pretty crowded in February. Matanzas is a bit more side-onshore, there is supposed to be good waveriding combined with good jumping. But with the weather situation we had, Topocalma was the safest place because of the local thermic. So we mainly stayed there. Anyway, from what I saw I am sure that the waves are the most powerful and cleanest of all the spots. But also here we had a lot of windless days, with the typical coastal clouds and the fog. Then it got pretty chilly and sometimes we didnīt get to see the sun the whole day. But a worldclass surfingspot „Puertecillo“ was very close, also in that Hacienda.

Then Pierre-Yves and Diegos last days were coming as they left a bit earlier than me. With the afternoon-thermic we still got some great late sessions together. As soon as the wind turned offshore, the waves got glassy and the light of the setting sun was dazzling on the water, it was our time to go out. Passing over the first shorebreak waves and then jumping over some masthigh waves always made my heart beat faster. The sets were arriving in perfect lines. The spray was shining golden-orange in the evening light. The fullmoon just rose over the land. One bottom turn and cut back after the other. Only the sound of your rails "ssst" cutting a perfect turn into the section. Sometimes it got dark when the shadow of the rising wave in my back was falling on me. Laughing faces, shining eyes, motivating shouts of my friends. Not being able to stop. Going out again and again. The dying wind made it already very hard to pass the four meter waves. Darkness was already lying over the ocean. Sharkfeeding time! And time to sail back to the beach! De-rigg in the darkness. The smell of saltwater in the air. The sound of chirping crickets. Warm beer on my salty lips. The light of the shining moon on the radiating faces of my friends. Barbecue and fish was waiting for us! "Bush-TV-Time". What a great luck to have this experiences together with my friends! Moments we all won't forget for our lifetime. Engraved in our hearts!

Isla Mocha: When my friends flew home I still had 10 days left. I decided to explore a bit more of the country as sailing all alone on that spot was not real fun, and might be dangerous as well. I got in contact with another Austrian girl who was travelling around here for surfing and we made the quick decision to go to Isla Mocha. This is an absolute insider Tip. It is a little island 15 km in front of the coast near Temuco, totally autonom, no cars, only horses and for sure some sailingspots, reachable just per fisherboat three times per week or with a little propeller airplane. My friend was already in Temuco and so we planned to meet the next morning on the „airport“ of Tirua where the plane should leave to the island. So, packing quickly my stuff I decided to drive down the 800 km by night.

Three oīclock in the morning in the middle of nowhere I was fighting not to fall asleep. Suddenly all the red lights were flashing in the car, some strange sound and nothing worked anymore. Standing still. Great, and this all alone as a girl in South America, but I was too tired to worry. I searched for my had lamp and tried to figure out where the problem was. Then I heard the sound of a truck coming closer. I didnīt even need to wave  - the guy stopped immediatly. “Chica, que es el problem? Que haces por aqui tan solo?" Without asking him for help he checked my car, found that there was a problem with the belt and repaired it with the spareparts he had in his truck. It worked! And then he offered me to follow my car for the next 50 kmīs just to see if everything was alright, although he had to go in a different direction. Just incredible! So much about dangerous South America! Would that ever happen to me at home?

By sunrise I arrived in Tirua and was looking for the „airport“. Finally I found that dirtroad-like, sandy strip on a hill nearby the  fishervillage. Here I also met my friend Verena. One little airplane was there, and the crazy pilot as well, but he just wanted to fly this evening. There was no schedule he just flew over to the island more or less when he felt like. So as it was windy I wanted to have a session near the point by Tirua. 3.6, full power, side-on, 1.5 m waves, good jumping, but fucking cold. I could feel the difference in the temperature 800 km more south! Then we got ready for our little journey and back to the landing strip.

I asked the pilot if it was maybe possible to bring my sail- and surfboard with me in the plane. He looked at it, took it, held it beside the body of the airplane and said: “I guess so, no problem“. And then I couldnt believe my eyes when he unhinged the little door of the plane and put the board inside. There was just one more seat beside his, the rest of the – maximum three – passengers had to sit on the ground. 2,5 meters space in lenght alltogether. The pilot had to fly 3 times to get us and all of our equipment to the island. For 20 USD, back and forth. „No problem, right?“  I just couldnīt believe it that peolpe could be so easy going and helpfull! He was totally happy to have some European surfing girls around him (maybe as crazy as him). He enjoyed flying to the fullest, made some crazy turns, flew once all around the island.


Flight: fly to Santiago, with Air France (attention equipment expensive!) or Lufthansa: around 800-1200 Euros
Best wind period: October - February
Water temperature: 13-17 degrees Celsius
Air temperature: Inland around Santiago: around 30 degrees, at the coastline: max 20-25 degrees, cold nights!
Car: Check internet for best options or rent from guys at the airport, at least 20 USD per day. Buying a car is a bit complicated, not worth under 2 months
Spots (from north to south): La Boca, Matanzas, Puertecillo (surf only) Punta Topocalma, Pichilemu, Llico, Curanipe, Las Sirenas, Buchupureo (surf only), Concepcion, Lebu, Quidico, Tiruá, Isla Mocha – any many more to be explored!
Equipment: Waveboard between 65-85 litres, sails 3.6 - 5.8m. If it is windy- it is windy!

This island was the biggest adventure since a long time for me. There where no cars, only horse carts. One of those was our „airport-taxi“ bringing us to a beautiful beach where we put up our tents. People are just living there from their own agricultural products. Everybody specializes on something different. One family has cows and produces milk and cheese, the next ones have poultry, their neighbours sheep and horses, or they plant corn. And they just share! Great! But everybody collects the algae in that cold water and dries it on the beaches. A very hard work. And then they sell it for some pesos, that it gets exported to Japan and Europe to be used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry.

We spent great days there, exploring the island, surfing, horseriding on little horses which the locals just borrowed us, got invited to stay with a family in their house for two days when our tents were washed away by heavy rain, got to know the simple life. It was the perfect ending of my holiday. I never experienced that kind of hospitality anywhere else in the world! Chile and South America is definately a place where I will come back for more than „ just six weeks“!


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text: U. Hoelzl, photos: U. Hoelzl, P.-Y. Mottier, D. Larrain, F. Bikich Đ windgirls 2005