Michael Jackson is a rear-wheel drive Mitsubishi with a majority of its weight (engine, passengers) over the front wheels. Although the van has a high clearance and the tires have good tread, there are some limitations in its ability to navigate more adventurous train.
Most driving so far has been on relatively smooth, paved roads but Friday was quite an exception, starting with a trip up to a lookout point for Vulcán Villarrica. The volcano is one of the most active in the world (according to our local volcanologist) and recently erupted only two years ago. This means the few kilometers of road to the lookout are largely composed of volcanic ash, which made for a noisy drive with our stacks of metal kitchen dishes and outdoor chairs clattering every time we hit a pothole. There was also the nervewracking experience of fishtailing on a washboard section while passing a car coming the opposite direction. One area in particular was freshly covered in soft, fine-grit gravel and caused a car ahead of us to spin out and get stuck. However, thanks to the brute strength and determination of a few strong men, including one dashing Brit, the car was pushed back to the more compact part of the road and we were on our way once again. Day saved.
Once we reached the lookout, the volcano was engulfed in clouds but we enjoyed views of the lake below, had a snack, and took some pictures with Michael Jackson. After awhile we were approached by an older man of authority who seemed to be asking us to move. Once he realized we spoke English he began to do the same and was indeed requesting we move the van from its unauthorized parking spot. Oops. He then asked us where we were from and told us he was a volcanologist and had studied in Vancouver, BC. After some friendly chit chat and volcano trivia, he said there was a parking area a little further along the road which we could use if we wanted to stay. Upon our investigation, however, we had no idea how to get to said parking area as the road was so bumpy and pot-holed we would have bottomed-out regardless of the path we took to get there. We made an unspoken unanimous decision to turn around and head back down the hill toward Villarrica and then to Puerto Fuy.
While driving south to Puerto Fuy the scenery was beautiful as we followed the Seven Lakes Circuit. There were several miles of serious road excavation and construction with subsequent traffic stops on the route, but at least these gravel roads were relatively smooth compared to the morning drive.
In the evening we decided to camp at Huilo Huilo, west of Puerto Fuy. Although the campground scenery was nice and there were interesting trails meandering through the woods and to a waterfall lookout, it was incredibly stressful finding a campsite. The access road through the campground had a few steep hills and deep potholes, and it was difficult finding a site we could easily drive in to, let alone a site with enough flat ground to level the van. We spun out multiple times just getting in and out of our designated site and never did manage to get level (although we semi-solved that problem by stuffing a few articles of clothing under the downhill side of our sleeping pads when we went to bed).
Un/fortunately, this day of driving was likely just training for some of the roads ahead when we get further south in to Patagonia. Fingers crossed for Michael Jackson continuing to be a stellar road trip companion!