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And so we reached our last day in Chile. The landscape, that had looked so dry when we had driven through it a month earlier, now looked distinctly green, compared to the really dry north where we had been.

Apparently deep in thought, digesting the glorious sights we had seen, we forgot that, even along the Pan American Highway, it is good to keep the fuel tank above half way full. As we were also running low on money, we passed by a petrol station that did not accept credit cards, thinking that we’d soon find another that did. Wrong!

As the fuel gauge approached empty, Leo slowed down to optimum speed, coasting down hills – anything to conserve fuel. We stopped at a small hamlet – Puenta Huentelaquin, some 38 km north of Los Villos where, according to the map, we would find our next petrol station. As we were convinced that we did not have enough fuel to get to Los Villos, we hoped to persuade people in the hamlet to sell us a few litres of petrol. We were in luck! The local tyre repair man had two very old pumps from which we were able to fill up the car – a close call!

We made only one stop today (S107), the last of the trip, at Pichidangui. How we wished we had more film and I made a note to return here on a future trip (see 4 June 2003) and to read up Fred Kattermann’s book Eriosyce before doing so.

Our original plan was to spend the last night at the El Parador cabañas near Calue, but as we had made good time, and Marlon’s flight to Brazil required a 6 a.m. check-in, we decided to spend the night in Santiago. However, we had to go to El Parador to return some spare car parts that we had borrowed on the way up and to cancel our bookings.

We arrived in Santiago, around sunset and made for the Airport, hoping to find some basic and affordable accommodation, but somehow got caught up in the flow of traffic, ending up in the centre of Santiago, surrounded by endless lanes and rows of busses.

We spotted a hotel sign, found a place to pull up and tired but happy booked in, to finish off the remainder of the red wine we had had on board while we did our final packing.

There’s not much left to report for the next day, other than that we made it safely to the airport, nearly missed the car-rental rep as he arrived just as we had to go to through customs into the departure launch.

It had been a fantastic trip: we had seen lots of marvellous plants and scenery, met some wonderful people and made some lasting friendships.

In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’ll be back!’

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