Border Shenanigans And Breakdowns In Bolivia

By Shannon Cronyn

While we weren’t excited to be leaving Brazil behind, we arrived at our hotel in Corumba hoping to celebrate the actual day of my birthday, relax in a real bed, and make sure all our ducks were in a row for our border crossing into Bolivia. Knowing this would likely be our most difficult crossing to date, I had searched the Internet for weeks about land border crossings for Americans entering Bolivia and felt like we had everything we needed. With this fleeting confidence bolstering our spirits, we enjoyed a couple of days in Corumba eating our faces off (the hotel buffet had both cake and piranha soup for breakfast!) and otherwise relaxing before packing up Masi again and heading toward the border. New country, whoo hoo!

I was visibly nervous (a bad thing to be at an international border) and Danny tried to assure me it would be okay. Give them only what they ask for, one thing at a time, smile, be friendly….breathe. Turns out we could have been adorable alpacas bearing gifts of salteñas (delicious Bolivian pastries) and they still wouldn’t have let us cross. The border official flipped through our documents and said, oh no, you have passport photos with white backgrounds, we only accept photos with red backgrounds. Plus you’re missing this, this, and this. Ugh here we go… We tried to remain calm as we explained that we had everything that was stated on the website including the photo with white background. To which they replied that the rules had recently changed and the website was not up to date. *Face palm* We breathed. Okay, no big deal, we just go get our red background photos and make a few extra copies and come back. So we did and came back again the next morning. And guess what? This time, they told us they couldn’t use the red background photos, it was now white!

Now we were really annoyed and asked how the rules could have changed overnight. The border official waved a CD ROM at us by way of response. Well then. They also told us that they now couldn’t issue us a visa anyway. They only do it in emergencies when you can’t get visas at the consular office. Had we gone to the consular office? No we hadn’t. So at their suggestion, we drove back into Brazil again and stopped into the Consulate General de Bolivia to ask about getting a visa. No luck. The consular wasn’t there and wouldn’t be for a week and besides, they were out of visa stickers and didn’t know when they’d receive more. *Face palm* Not feeling like driving back to the border again that day we checked back into the hotel and briefly researched driving around Bolivia altogether before deciding to give the US Consulate in La Paz a call to see if they could help. We explained the situation and the woman on the phone said she would call the border office to see what was going on. Best I can guess, she told them to stop screwing around and to give us a visa because she called back and said that it would now be fine, they knew we were coming and we would get visas. Whew! We were still nervous the next day as we walked into the border office for the third time, but third time’s the charm right? We did have to make a few extra copies of stuff but at last they were piling all our documents into fancy manila folders to send to La Paz (very serious) and printing our visa stickers. And after all that, the two border officials couldn’t even decide which color pictures to use! *Eye roll*

Red backgrounds are the most flattering.

Red backgrounds are the most flattering.

At long last, we were officially in Bolivia! After waiting around for the customs officer to make Masi official (this involved checking all her VIN and chassis numbers three times) we hit the road toward Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia we learned. Our plan was to spend one night there and then continue southwest to Sucre and eventually the famous Uyuni salt flats. But Masi had other ideas. The morning we were to depart we got gas, some food for the road, and were not even out of the city when Masi blew another valve and started making generally awful noises. We apologized profusely to the girl we had promised a ride to, dropped her off at the bus station, and lurched back to the hostel. And so began the next chapter in Shannon and Danny’s VW Bus Maintenance Saga. I will preface this by saying that even though breaking down sucks and for us has usually involved expensive repairs, it has brought us into contact with some of the most awesome people in South America and maybe on the planet. The VW Kombi family is just like that. This shared love of something so quirky and impractical (I mean really, the bus is a bread loaf on wheels prone to all sorts of mechanical problems no matter how impeccable the engine) means that no matter where we go, help will come, homes will be opened, and food and stories will be shared. This time in Santa Cruz was the epitome of all of that.

Chillin' with new Kombi friend, Juan Pablo and his sweet orange bus. 

Chillin' with new Kombi friend, Juan Pablo and his sweet orange bus. 

A quick search on Facebook revealed that Santa Cruz did in fact have a Kombi club so I sent a message asking for a mechanic recommendation. I received a response within the hour from one of the group admins, Juan Pablo. Don’t worry, I can help, he assured us. He asked where we were staying and said he’d stop by that night for a chat. Amazing. He came by with his friend Giulio and the four of us talked VWs and traveling over beers. He left saying he’d be back in the morning to take us to his mechanic, Don Edil, a VW specialist. To sum up, Edil opened up Masi’s engine block and discovered that we needed to rebuild the engine as well as do some work on the transmission. Womp womp. This was not good news at all. The only thing that made it bearable was how awesome the Santa Cruz Kombi peeps are. The first couple of days, Juan Pablo drove us around and made sure everything was clear and fair while talking to the mechanic and dropping parts off at the rectification workshop. And when JP had to leave town on business, his friend and fellow Kombi club member stepped in. Fernando Cabrera.

This man is a saint, truly. Telling him this will illicit a humble blush and a shake of the head but perhaps that is what makes it all the more true. For a whole week Fernando carted Danny and I around with him, alternating between running to auto parts shops for us and making business stops for him. Always stopping somewhere for lunch and then at the end of a long day we’d end up at the market buying beer and wine and meat for the grill. Evenings were spent talking about music (Fernando plays guitar beautifully), VWs, and family. Our hearts were full to bursting. And when our hotel reservation was up, Fernando insisted that we stay with him and his family, making up a bed in his daughter’s room for us. He didn’t tell little Raquel that he was going to do this so when he called her in to mom and dad’s room to sleep she gave the most wonderfully indignant look a five year-old can give. Don’t worry, I bought her a giant box of Crayola crayons as a thank you.

Pre-BBQ drinks and conversation with the one and only, Fernando. 

Pre-BBQ drinks and conversation with the one and only, Fernando. 

After all the parts were bought for Masi and we had not much else to do except wait, we decided to squeeze in a short trip to Samaipata, a small town a couple of hours outside Santa Cruz. It’s a beautiful place, nestled amongst lush, fertile hills (meaning lots of fresh veggies and local wine!) and a popular jumping off point for exploring cloud forests, watching condors, and also exploring the Ruta del Che (a tour through some of the last few villages where Che Guevara last lived and eventually was killed). After a long, bumpy bus ride up into the mountains, we arrived exhausted and hungry at El Pueblito, an awesome hotel up on a hill overlooking the town and next door to a winery (Uvairenda 1750—really delicious!). We got a warm welcome from the owner who offered to make us some sandwiches even though the kitchen had closed. We scarfed them down then enjoyed a bottle of wine from the winery while watching the season finale of Game of Thrones in front of a roaring fire. After all the Kombi shenanigans it was just what we needed.

The charming "square" at El Pueblito Hotel in Samaipata.

The charming "square" at El Pueblito Hotel in Samaipata.

Our first day in Samaipata we did a nice little hike up in the hills and had a lovely lunch at La Vispera, an organic eco-farm retreat with guesthouses, camping, and a slow food café where they pick the ingredients for your meal from the garden after you order. That evening we headed down to the square for the kick-off of the Aymara New Year festivities. We had been told that ceremonies would begin in the square after which the whole town and hundreds of other Bolivians and tourists would gather up on the ruins outside of town for a huge all-night party (food, drinks, music and dance presentations) that would culminate with the final ceremony at sunrise on the ruins themselves. It was a long night that turned out to be rather damp and misty so we were thrilled when the enormous bonfire was finally lit. The rest of night alternated between watching the music and dance presentations, drying off in front of the fire, and drinking sucumbé, a beverage made with hot milk and signani, a Bolivian brandy distilled from grapes. Sounds weird but it was actually really really good and one of the only drinks that I can have more than a third of and still feel fine. As dawn drew near, we made our way out to the ruins for the sunrise ceremony. Unfortunately, the morning was thick with mist and clouds so it was not the dramatic experience we had hoped for. Exhausted, we caught a cab back to town and slept the rest of the day before catching another bus back to Santa Cruz.

Foggy sunrise ceremony to celebrate the Aymara New Year.

Foggy sunrise ceremony to celebrate the Aymara New Year.

On the way, we stopped off at Ginger’s Paradise where we were supposed to meet Juan Pablo for the night and then ride with him back to Santa Cruz in the morning. But without cell service we didn’t know that Juan Pablo’s plans had changed and he wouldn’t be coming. So there we were, wandering around this purported paradise in the dark (no electricity here!) and finding no one. Finally, the owner’s son and another volunteer showed up and explained what had happened. At least there was a bed for us the night. We declined an offer of leftovers that we had already seen in the kitchen swarming with flies, and flopped down on a lumpy mattress in the attic of the main house and hoped that morning would come quickly. The place was decidedly not a paradise. Thankfully we were the only ones there because it was clear from the dozens of small mattresses and sheets piled in the corner, guests all slept next to each other in one room, more flophouse than idyllic eco-paradise.

Waiting for the bus the morning after Ginger's Not So Paradise. 

Waiting for the bus the morning after Ginger's Not So Paradise. 

Back in Santa Cruz, we had only a few hours before Danny had to head to the airport to catch a flight to Cartagena for our good friend, Jon’s, bachelor party while I stayed behind in Bolivia. (See, I told you we never learn…) But thankfully, Fernando and his family took me in as one of their own. It felt good to be so easily folded in to their routine of pancake and tea breakfasts, family lunches, and quiet evenings at home or visiting friends. That weekend, Fernando’s wife, Veronica, asked if I’d like to join her for a cycling event. Yes please! She helped me rent a bike and helmet and the three of us (us two and Gabriel, Veronica and Fernando’s son) set off for a really fun ride with hundreds of other people on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. The best part? Free choripan after the race! (Choripan = chorizo sausage on a French roll, yum!)

Gabriel, me, and Veronica at the start of the race. 

Gabriel, me, and Veronica at the start of the race. 

When Danny returned from the bachelor party, we were approaching three weeks in Santa Cruz. Masi was back to normal (running like a champ and no more popping out of first gear!) and so we wrapped up our final day with Fernando and the family with a chicken adobo lunch cooked by me and gifts of coffee (bought in Cartagena), wine, and Crayons for little Raquelita. It was a tearful goodbye as we set off leaving such a beautiful family behind. With only ten days left on our entry visa, we had to hustle to cross the border into Peru which meant, sadly, that we would miss Sucre and the Salar de Uyuni. But at least our hard won visas are good for ten years! Masi was purring like a kitten and we wasted no time driving north to Cochabamba.

Gabriel showing off those selfie skills. We miss you Cabrera family!

Gabriel showing off those selfie skills. We miss you Cabrera family!

After nearly three weeks in Santa Cruz we were excited to stock up on food and camp again. There was a great campsite just outside of Cochabamba that we had read about on our trusty iOverlander app and we pulled up in the late afternoon sun ready to settle in for a few days before continuing on to the craziness of La Paz. But would you know it, the owner shook his head and said we couldn’t stay because a group of Mormons from the States had rented the whole place until August! With only one more option, we left as the sun sank lower in the sky to try and find El Poncho’s Ecocenter. One frustrating drive later (our mapping app tried to take us through a friggin’ rock quarry and after driving in circles in the ever waning light, a truck driver finally pointed us in the right direction) we pulled in to Poncho’s exhausted and in need of a drink. The next few days were actually unexpectedly pleasant. The place was really well done, more of a weekend retreat than a campground, and we had a few meals prepared by their onsite chefs. Danny and I both had some work to do so it was a pretty uneventful week and then we were off to La Paz.

The dining room at El Poncho's built completely by hand with local materials.

The dining room at El Poncho's built completely by hand with local materials.

Oh good lurd, the traffic in La Paz. Coming from the south, you approach the city from El Alto, the sprawling city 1000 feet above La Paz, also the location of the world’s highest airport at 13,300 feet (AND also what Danny’s suspects is the world’s highest Subway). The quiet highway abruptly turns into a manic, seething mass of trufis (van taxis), cutting you off, stopping on a dime to let someone on or off, and generally giving Danny a few dozen more grey hairs. Then the traffic down the hill, 1000 feet into the giant bowl that is La Paz. It’s pretty impressive actually, the way the buildings creep higher and higher up the side of the bowl until it’s only accessible by stairs and cable cars. Stop and go, pulling the e-brake every time we’re stopped to avoid stalling, and finally we pull in to our hostel. It was crap, I won’t go into suffice it to say we moved to a very nice hotel (the Stannum) for our final night in La Paz before crossing the border. I’m sure La Paz has so much more to offer than what we saw in our brief two days (we searched for a place to sell us car insurance—no luck, put some food in our faces, and almost saw World of Warcraft but at the last minute doing nothing sounded better) but that will have to wait for our next trip. We’ll be back Bolivia, don’t you worry!

Sprawling La Paz seen from our room at the Stannum. 

Sprawling La Paz seen from our room at the Stannum. 

Up next, Peru and encounters with police at Lake Titicaca! 

Brazil Continued: Iguazu Falls, Bonito, and the Pantanal

By Shannon Cronyn

With the back and forth between Ubatuba and the mechanic in Sao Paulo, we determined that to keep to our roughly determined travel schedule we needed to head west. The northeast beaches of Brazil will have to wait for another trip! So we turned toward one of the most famous attractions in all of South America, Iguazu Falls.

A couple of days driving and Masi was feeling okay. But nothing had prepared us for the sudden loud clamor from the engine—our alternator belt had been shredded to pieces and we were unable to drive any further. Luckily, we had a couple of spare belts with us and we headed off again. At our next stop we checked the belt and what do you know, it had twisted itself inside out. These things should last at least 50,000 miles so thinking that this new problem was likely due to some error the mechanics made while changing our alternator in Sao Paulo, we tentatively continued hoping the belt would hold. And of course, number two belt shredded about 50 km outside of Foz do Igauçu leading to us struggling in the dark on the side of the highway to put on the third belt of the day. Thus was our arrival to Foz.

We set up at a wonderful campground outside of town very near to the entrance to the falls. The next day was bright and sunny, perfect weather for visiting the falls. Arriving at the entrance felt very much like arriving at Disneyland. Hundreds of people milling around the ticket windows and lining up for the double decker buses that brought visitors into the park. One windy ride later, we disembarked and caught our first glimpse of the falls and those wily coatis—long-tailed relatives of the raccoon who have learned that the hordes of tourists around the falls are a far easier source of food than hunting for it the forest.

First impressions.

First impressions.

Eager to get up close and personal with the falls, we carefully picked our way down the damp mossy path down to the viewing platforms. Now, the falls straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina so there is some debate as to which side is better and most people try and visit both sides. Since we couldn’t afford to waste the space an extra stamp would take in our passports, we settled with seeing only the Brazilian side. And it did not disappoint. I think you get a much more broad, panoramic view of the falls from the Brazilian side and there is still an opportunity to experience the deafening roar of the Devil’s Throat, where nearly half the falls’ flow plunges more the 350 feet into a U-shaped chasm. We went out to the end of the viewing platform and if it hadn’t been for our rain jackets we would have been soaked to the bone. Now wanting to get dry, we headed up and out, past floating butterflies and rainbows shimmering in the waterfalls’ spray.

Still grinning from our experience of the falls, we settled at a table in the restaurant area to eat our packed lunch. Having read that the coatis are extremely aggressive when food is around (pretty graphic posters of coati bites are featured in the park), we hunched around our meal and kept vigilant watch for the sneaky thieves. It was rather a humorous environment—park rangers ran back and forth with brooms hissing and swatting at the coatis while less vigilant tourists screamed when the boldest coatis scrambled onto their tables to grab burgers and fries literally from their hands. I still think they’re pretty cute.

After our visit to the falls, we stopped in at the bird park across the street. What seemed like a gimmicky tourist trap was actually a remarkably wonderful experience. Parque das Aves is well worth a visit to see hundreds of birds, especially the macaw enclosure where hundreds of bright blue, yellow, and red parrots swoop and squawk right above your head. I’ll let the photos sell the place! 

Back at camp we made plans to move to a hostel in town. Our friend Gareth put us in touch with an American guy named Neill who was staying at the hostel while looking for his own VW bus to buy and fit out for traveling. He spoke Portuguese and knew a lot about Kombis we were told. Well, turns out Danny’s Portuguese and knowledge of Kombi engines was better but Neill is a pretty outstanding guy anyway. We had a fun few days hanging at the hostel talking travel and VWs and making some repairs to the alternator pulley (involving a Woodruff key, world’s smallest auto part) so we wouldn’t keep shredding belts. Neill also took us on a field trip to Paraguay! Technically Americans need a visa for Paraguay, but because Ciudad del Este, one of the most popular free trade zones in South America, sits directly across a bridge from Foz, we were able to walk in and out without getting stamped (deliciously dangerous!). This was where Neill was stocking up on all his tools and gear for his van so we took advantage of the trip and bought a cheap inverter so we could charge electronics in the Kombi. We were briefly tempted to stay longer in Foz and build furniture for Masi alongside Neill and his Kombi but we decided to press on. My birthday was coming up after all and we had a couple of weeks of adventure planned to celebrate.

Our first stop after Foz was the small town of Bonito in the southeast part of Mato Grasso do Sul. We had heard amazing things about the area and it absolutely lived up to the hype. Some people might be turned off by the fact that you MUST buy tour packages for all the natural attractions in town ahead of time (they’ll turn you away without a voucher) but we felt that this system was just responsible tourism, ensuring that the beautiful caves and rivers stay pristine for generations to come. We set up our base at a quiet campground outside of town—we were literally the only ones there—and booked up our next few days with excursions. Our first day we drove out to see the Gruta do Lago Azul (the Blue Lake Cave). Since it was late in the day, the cave was pretty dark so the lake wasn't as bright a blue that you see in all the travel brochures. But I love caves and it was cool to hike down into one and imagine what it would be like to swim out into the dark corners of the lake (something we would actually do later in the week in another cave!).

A little dark and grainy but you get the idea. 

A little dark and grainy but you get the idea. 

The following day we woke early for our snorkeling excursion in the Rio da Prata (Silver River). We arrived at the Recanto Ecologico Rio da Prata just in time for the guides to brief our group on the day’s schedule. In a nutshell, put on a wetsuit and snorkel, get in the river, and be amazed by the fish! The Rio da Prata is fed by underwater springs and the water is so full of minerals that it’s one of the most crystal clear rivers in the world. Which makes for excellent fish watching. And there are fish by the hundreds! It was incredible to float down this serene river amidst schools of fish. The amazement just didn't stop. We even spotted a caiman semi-submerged on the bank. He kept to himself though and held still long enough for the whole group to take a look as we swam by. We felt it best not to linger. After about an hour in the water, the clear part of the river meets up with a rather muddy part. Our tour ended there and we returned to the Recanto for a delicious buffet lunch. Our verdict? If you could do only one thing in Bonito, this would be it.

But that didn’t mean we were done. Birthday week adventures continued that afternoon with my first ever ATV ride through muddy jungle trails! Danny and I each got our own (with sturdy helmets of course) and we followed our guide out onto the trail. The couple in front of us preferred to drive at leisurely safari speeds so we had to hang back long enough to give ourselves space to speed through the muddiest bits. That feeling of badassery didn’t last long though—I went too fast into a turn and ended up tipping my ATV over and pinning myself between it and a tree. Those things are heavy! Thanks to my helmet, I came away with just a scratched arm and decided to take it a bit easier the rest of the time.

The next day was to be the grand finale of our Bonito adventures! We were going to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to abseil down INTO A CAVE! Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a weird obsession with caves and cave-like places in general thanks to National Geographic Magazine’s periodic issues on cave systems. Up ‘til now this fascination was fed only by building (awesome) tents at home or scouring the beaches of my childhood for any dark cranny that could conceivably be called a cave. And now, I was actually going to descend into one! And it was going to be HARD, not like those dinky caves with railings and cement that just any old person could explore. How hard, we really had no idea since the training session consisted of ascending and descending a rope from a platform 30 feet above the ground. They made us do it twice to make sure we were fit enough to handle the real thing. Our first suspicion that this so-called training session was less than adequate was when we arrived at the cave entrance. This one was called Abismo Anhumas (the Anhumas ABYSS! EEE!). I’ll pause here to thank my hero of a husband for doing this with me. Bless him, his fear of heights never stops him from doing anything heights-related in the hopes that this type of exposure therapy will work someday. That said, however excited I may have been, he was equally not at all excited and pretty terrified. But he did it for me and I love him for it.

So the ABYSS. We were in line, shifting uncomfortable in our helmets and harnesses. The couple in front of us asked whether we had seen the hole yet. We hadn’t. So we stepped out of line to walk around the viewing platform to behold a giant gash in the side of the mountain with green ferns and other plants spilling over its sides. In the darkness of the opening you could barely make out two abseilers who had begun their descent and were disappearing into the shadows. We got back in line and made small talk with the couple in front of us—Simon and Gaby. He’s British, she’s Brazilian and when we met them were wrapping up their last vacation in Brazil before moving to NYC! These two deserve their own post really but for now I’ll just say that I’m really glad that I struck up a conversation. Since you descend into the cave in pairs, Simon and Gaby went first. Once they were safely at the bottom, it was our turn.

Let’s just say that this rope climbing business was waaaaaay different in the training gym. Now we were dangling over a dark hole, the safety of the bottom 250 feet down the rope. Here goes nothing. Gripping our descenders, we squeezed and gently fed the rope through as instructed. It was a harrowing trip down. We only had the security of the cave walls for the first bit before we were literally hanging in mid air in the cave opening. Danny had his eyes squeezed tightly shut and I coached us slowly deeper into the darkness of the cave. At last we were grabbed by the guides at the bottom who lowered us to the solid ground of the floating dock. Oh yea, there’s a lake down there. A deep ass one that hides incredible stalagmite cones and the bones of unfortunate animals who have unwittingly stumbled to their deaths. Once on the dock, we changed into our swimsuits and wetsuits for the snorkeling portion of the tour. While we waited for the rest of the group to get ready, I took in my surroundings. The cave was vast. What little light made it in through the hole at the top illuminated fantastic mineral formations and shimmered off the water near the dock. But looking deeper into the cave there were only shadows. Now it was time to get in the water. It was cold and eerie. As we swam further out into the cave, the guide illuminated the cones beneath us and I had the feeling of flying. The tallest cones rose nearly 200 feet from the bottom of the cave floor which wasn’t visible despite the guide’s powerful flashlight. He told us later that the deepest part of the cave is nearly 300 feet deep. Back on the dock we changed into dry clothes and got into an inflatable raft to explore the cave from the water’s surface. Drifting slowly into the dark I imagined I was in the Horcrux cave from Harry Potter. The guide took us around the whole cave talking quietly about the formations and different minerals as our eyes strained to appreciate the weird scenery illuminated only briefly by flashlight. 

At last it was time to leave the same way we came in, on the ropes. We had heard that sometimes the wait at the bottom is very long since it can take up to an hour for some people to ascend. We were prepared with cookies and a thermos of hot water for tea. When our turn came we jokingly asked the guides what the record is for getting up. It’s a minute and half they said. Yeah, no. We did it in just over 30 minutes but man what a 30 minutes it was. A sweaty, grunty, whimpery 30 minutes of raising hands above the head and knees to the chest and then standing up. Over and over and over again. At the top we were cheered by Simon and Gaby who invited us for celebratory drinks. We spent a delightful afternoon together drinking entirely too much and sharing stories and promised that we would visit them in NYC. To date, they are settling in in fantastic fashion (thanks largely to our exhaustive email detailing the best of New York City) and we are supes jealous.

From Bonito, we continued north to the southern Pantanal, the wetlands of Brazil and home to myriad creatures including jaguars, caimans, giant otters, capybaras, macaws, and toucans. Once we left the main highway, we skidded through some muddy sections of dirt road to arrive at the Pantanal Jungle Lodge. My birthday week adventures continued with a three-day tour package that included tours by Jeep and by boat to spot animals in the wild. In the first couple of days we saw a lot of capybaras, caimans, and little green parrots. Occasionally a toucan would appear and a British girl in our group would leap to her feet in the back of Jeep shouting “Toucan!” and pointing. She loved them so much and it was delightful. The giant otters were tougher to spot. Hours on the river and we only saw one briefly as she came out from her nest in the reeds to get a better look at our boat. Apparently the locals are more afraid of the giant otters than caimans or piranha because the otters are incredibly territorial and will fiercely defend their nests from intruders.

The jaguars are not to be trifled with either. We didn’t see one but it was just as well since the guide was visibly nervous after finding fresh tracks during one of our hikes. One of the best moments was spotting two blue macaws during our river boat tour. We had resigned ourselves to not seeing them since they tend to hang out in an area only reachable on horseback so we were thrilled to see them in a palm tree as we rounded a bend in the river. Another highlight was eating our freshly caught piranha for dinner one night! Those suckers are super easy to catch—turns out all you need is a little fresh cow heart and you’ll have a meal in minutes. They’re also quite delicious. Side note, we fished those piranha out of the very same river we had swum in earlier that day…the guide didn’t tell us about the piranha until after we were done swimming. He sort of shrugged and said they don’t bite unless you’re literally hemorrhaging blood into the water. In the end the only ones being eaten were the piranhas so I guess it worked out all right.

The Pantanal was a perfect culmination to my birthday week. Still high from our near two-week nature immersion, we rumbled on to the Brazilian border town of Corumba to celebrate the actual night of my birthday and to prepare for our crossing into Bolivia. Spoiler alert, it went really well. Until next time!

Sao Paolo, Ubatuba, and good lord we love Brazil...

By Danny Cronyn

Sad to be leaving the tranquility of Ilha do Mel and the magical B&B we found there, the road called us onward, further north to another favorite from this trip- Ubatuba. Besides being the most Dr. Seussy-named town we’ve stayed in, it gripped us the moment we made it there- which was not without some retrospective fun on the road.

To get to Ubatuba you must, in most cases, drive through Sao Paolo and hopefully not during rush hour. Sao Paolo being a city of 13 million people, and massive in relative size, navigating the outer rings and making it through during morning rush hour is no small feat. As this was Brazil, there were touts selling their wares (selfie sticks and sugar snacks) in the congested morning traffic. The driving wasn’t extraordinarily dangerous, just wicked hectic and luckily we merely glanced off the behemoth and were not going straight into Sao Paolo’s belly just yet.

The road opened up to us as we pressed on north and east past Sao Paolo and onto Ubatuba on the coast. We found a great roadside kilo buffet (dear god we miss kilo buffets) with rice, black beans, fish, hot sauce, sushi…ermagerd so good. We stopped there three times on our way back and forth from Ubatuba, it was that good. Rolling hills on the two-lane highways gave way to more rural one-lane roads and finally to what we call the Ubatuba death road, that descended almost vertically straight down along the cliffs to the pristine beaches below. Imagine a road graded at about 45 degrees, with tight switchbacks every 30-50 meters that were all 180s. The decline + switchback combo was too much for ‘ol Masi as I had to bank, then coast into neutral and brake Brake BRAKE while turning the non-power-steering wheel 180 degrees and pump the gas to avoid stalling the engine. Even with my unparalleled driving skills (9 out of 10 dentists agree), Masi would stall out and I’d have to jump start her again on the fly as coasted down this hair-raising slope. Eventually we made it down, only to find out from locals that everyone avoids this road and there’s a much nicer coastal road (think highway 1 or coastal highway, for west and east coasters) that could’ve taken us into town without the tax on our nerves and brake pads.

But it was all worth it, in the end. In Ubatuba, a sleepy beach town in the off season and a hot spot for Paulistas (Sao Paulo peeps) in the high season, we found yet another home away from home. We navigated to a camping/hostal spot we found on iOverlander that had great reviews, and was conveniently located right across from the beach. Welcoming us into his home at Golfinho Tropical, was our soon-to-be friend Daryl. The main double-door, rustic blue entrance opened up into a courtyard filled with stone mosaics done by Daryl himself, surfboards for visitors to borrow, tiny grassy knolls, beach cruisers, and most cutely a few wildish guineau pigs and bunny rabbits. This being coastal Brazil, the entire bottom floor of the house was built with an open floor plan so it felt like one big family room, with folks watching the impeachment process of Dilma (crazy times!) in the family room, chess being played on the dining room table, and us cooking in the kitchen. Daryl and his wife Denise (pronounced Dee-neeZ-ee because it’s Portuguese) were of South African and Brazilian heritage, respectively. Both their kids, Josh and Jordan spoke with funny Saffa accents in English (isss it?) and in perfect Portuguese- such a great mix and more proof how small and beautiful the world is. We loved Golfinho Tropical, Daryl and Denise and the family right away. We camped out back in their gravely yard, with maracuya vines hanging off the walls and almost complete silence since we were the only ones camped there our entire time (the hostal was busy every weekend though).

“A few days” turned into a few weeks pretty quickly. Breakfast in the morning, followed by a bit of work and lazing about, with a jaunt to one of Ubatuba’s scores of white sand and remote beaches in the afternoon. Some days I helped Daryl out with construction projects around the house, or his wordpress site, then would work out with their oldest on the beach once the sun set. We’d be invited for drinks across the street at a beach bar, to go to a local night fishing hole (Shannon caught a monster fish that fed us all that evening!) with the entire family, or to take their youngest as our fishing tour guide around town…where we first encountered the slippery and poisonous “bagre” fish. We’ll never forget the kindness and fun times of Ubatuba, and we know it wouldn’t have measured at all without our family there, or Denise’s great stories in the morning over pots and pots of coffee. We know one day we’ll be back (well…we did go back only weeks later) once we have a family of our own, just to see them again.

I can’t recommend Ubatuba highly enough, remote beaches within reach with cold beer always waiting for you, good food in town, awesome hikes, and some spectacular people. This was also the first place we saw all-you-can eat sushi places that had different prices for men vs. women. Sexist? By definition, yes, but I mean that’s just funny.

Unfortunately and also fortunately, we had to leave Ubatuba so that we could make our way back to Sao Paolo and catch a flight back to Miami for a work contract. We’d be seeing some friends and my parents there, for the first time in nearly a year, and flying business class to do it- so life was pretty good despite having to leave our beach paradise. We had a hot tip on a friendly hostel where we may be able to leave Masi for a few weeks while we were away, so we navigated to the Sampa Hostel in the Vila Madalena in Sao Paolo. Quick note on driving in SP, just don’t do it if you can avoid it.

Sao Paolo (henceforth referred to as “SP” for pure laziness reasons) was developed from old coffee farms, which (shout out to all my coffee farmer readers) are normally built into stepped and steep hills because of coffee bean growth things and stuff. I don’t know, I’m just trying to say SP is hilly as all get-out in places, and when you’re driving a heavy metal box with an underpowered engine and gear box that jumps out of first- it’s not very much fun at all. We finally found the hostel after much ado, and were glad to be welcomed in as new friends by the friendly owner Deborah and another soon-to-be buddy, Gonçalo. We parked up Masi, grabbed huge beers and settled into the friendly backpacker vibe there. We got some great hints from Gonçalo on local spots (chief among them- Coffee Lab in Vila Madalena, sweet jesus that was great coffee), museums (the afro-brasilian museum was amazing- did you know Brazil “imported” 4x the number of slaves the USA did?), and neighborhood music and drinking spots. A few short days there and we were already hooked- we loved Sao Paolo. We’d be back soon, but had a flight to Miami to catch!

Landing in the States was amazing after so much time away on the road, speaking Spanish and Portuguese. But well, this was Miami…so there was still much Spanish being spoken, so we didn’t feel too far away from the road behind us. I got my first haircut in 18 months (just a little trim), had my crap beard coiffed a bit, and even bought some new professional shirts for my work engagement. After the work was done, just four days and we stayed in a super nice five star the entire time, we got to meet up with an old co-worker and friend, Lisa, that had recently relocated to Miami with her husband and newborn. Was great seeing Lisa doing so well, and a special treat for us to just sit for hours and chat over brunch and at her apartment’s palatial pool. We did have to leave though, when our friends from NYC interrupted by actually showing up.

Friends Drew and Roger from NYC flew in just to see us for our short stint. We had a stinky Airbnb in South Beach (the armpit of the armpit of Miami), which worked out just fine as we’re all a bunch of mutants when we’re together. What I did not know though, was that Drew orchestrated a weekend full of other friends that would surprise us that same day, and help us be glad that we were leaving them all- too much partying for us road folk. Shout out to Randy, Sarah, Gio, and Simon for all coming down and making us regret being even loosely considered friends with you. Luckily, we had to leave them because my parents were picking us up to go to a relaxing Key West weekend.

Was excellent seeing my folks, despite feeling severely under the weather, and spending a weekend in Jimmy Buffetland. We rented a cosy AirBnB in Big Pine Key, with our own yard and herd of Key Deer- little cute guys that will bum rush your yard if you leave the gate open (which we did one night and had to herd them all out). We had relaxing meals, drinks out on the town, wine on our porch, long talks, and even did a sunset cruise where we saw a couple propose and got to tell my folks that we’re planning on moving back to Baltimore when we get back. Sorry if anyone didn’t know, but them’s the breaks- we’re Baltimore bound! All in all, most excellent to see them, and heartbreaking to say goodbye as we ventured back to SP. Luckily I have rad ass parents and they’ll be making another visit but in South America next time.

Back to SP, another leg of my work contract and probably the nicest hotel we’ve ever stayed in (the Emiliano), and back to get Masi from the garage we left her in for some “minor” repairs, like replacing the bushings and changing a steering rod. Turns out, none of this was done even remotely correct and leaving the garage we basically turned right back around to have them re-do all the expensive work that was just (reportedly) finished. Ugh.

In chapter two of this post, we finally make it out of SP and speed (very slowly) toward the Pantanal and Bolivian border.

Last Tango In Buenos Aires And Our Introduction To Brazilian Beaches...And Portuguese!

By Shannon Cronyn

After the near-insanity we had experienced waiting for repairs in General Acha, our sheer glee at being on the road again was palpable. But there we were, late in the afternoon, General Acha and Juan Manuel ever shrinking in our rearview and our beloved friends awaiting us in Buenos Aires. Normally, we don’t ever choose to drive at night for safety reasons but given the hot hot heat of the summertime Argentinian pampa and the promise of beer and ice cream from Brendan and Bridget, we said, f—k it, let’s drive!

The tension of the first kilometers gradually wore off as Masi rumbled happily along and we let ourselves relax at last. Night fell and with it, a cool breeze and some light rain. As we drove, the sky put on a show for us. Nearly 360° of crackling lightning as far as we could see, illuminating cloud formations and sometimes striking the ground in the distance. We both had never seen anything like it. It was a surreal drive if there ever was one. We diligently stopped every 100 km, giving Masi a rest and keeping our fingers crossed that she’d make it the 700 km to Buenos Aires. At nearly 3am, we pulled wearily into a parking spot outside Brendan and Bridget’s Airbnb that we’d be sharing for a couple of weeks. Hugs, smiles, and excited chatter eventually gave way to happy sleep as we settled onto our air mattress.

This was the second time we had been in Buenos Aires this trip and it was like coming home. Having the time for a place to become familiar is one of the greatest blessings of this trip and BA will forever be one of our favorite cities. Over the next couple of weeks the four of us cooked a lot, made twice-daily trips to the ice cream shop (BA has hands down THE BEST ice cream and they know how to pack a cone ‘til it’s nearly falling over), sweated it out at in a Crossfit class, practiced tango in the living room and went to a couple of milongas (tango dances), took a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class (Brendan’s first, Bridget and I watched), and attempted, unsuccessfully, to find a climbing gym (about the millionth time in South America that the Internet says something is there when it actually isn’t).  We also got to meet up with our good buddy Gareth again! He and his friend Katie were traveling together and the six of us enjoyed some lazy park days complete with Mölkky and Pimms in a thermos, a drumming/percussion dance party (La Bomba de Tiempo—amazing, don’t miss if you’re in BA), and the subsequent dancing in the street with hundreds of other people.

As the summer days rolled by, we became painfully aware we would have to say goodbye to Brendan and Bridget for the third and final time. They were selling their beloved Pepe to another traveling couple and getting on a plane home to South Africa and then Australia where they’d be setting up their new post-living-in-a-van life. There were more tears of course and promises to meet up again either on their continent or on ours. But first, it was me who had to say goodbye. My sister and her husband just had their first baby, a beautiful girl named Evanna, and I had planned months prior to fly home to Southern California for the birth. She arrived early, little scamp, but the trip had been booked and I was excited to meet my first niece and spend time with my family. Of course Danny and I never learn that we don’t do well apart and it was a heart wrenching goodbye at the bus station. And so for the next two and a half weeks, I was in California and Danny was working hard on a consulting contract in Buenos Aires teaching Latin American marketing execs how to be better at their jobs. It was a bittersweet and difficult period, one that we don’t intend to repeat (even though we do a few months later, told you we never learn). I returned to Buenos Aires at last and we both wanted nothing more than to savor our first moments back together and above all get our butts back on the road. Groceries bought, gas in the tank, and eager to make tracks, we started off, this time to a new country and a new language. Yep—Brazil!

Three long driving days, three gas-station nights, and one smooth border crossing later, we arrived in a small beachside town on the Southern coast of Brazil called Garopaba. The American couple we met at Sergio’s in Trevelin had recommended it to us and after weeks of the dusty Argentinian pampa and the humid summer heat of Buenos Aires, we were thrilled to find a campground where the sound of the waves would lull us to sleep at night. In between sleeping late, strolling the beach, and discovering our first taste of fresh Brazilian sushi and yes, even an American burger joint started by an actual American, Garopaba was exactly what we needed. A few days later we had to get on the road north to meet up with another great friend who would be meeting us in Florianopolis.

It was a short drive from Garopaba to Florianopolis, or Floripa as Brazilians call it. We pulled into the tiny airport and there he was—dapper as ever with his side swept hair and stylish travel duffel, Tall Paul! It was our first friend visit since Sean came to see us in Buenos Aires months ago and we were stoked to show him a good time. We had booked an Airbnb for a week and truly we were all most happy when we were sitting around together, eating, drinking, and playing guitar in the hammocks outside. Gareth and Katie made an appearance as well and there more than a couple nights spent sipping caipirinhas (thank you Gareth!) and singing into the wee hours of the morning. We even had a Disney sing along—it was epic, mainly thanks to my having had more than a half a caipirinha and Paul’s princely singing voice. Floripa also has dozens of stunning beaches so we spent a few days exploring them, most notably Praia Lagoinha do Leste. About 90 minutes of hiking up and down over a mountain and we arrived on a pristine white sand beach that was blessedly devoid of both tourists and touts. It was a perfect day and we didn’t even mind that much that we had to hike back because the fishing boats taking people back to town were full.  We filled our remaining time together with good food, great laughs, and even a bit of skateboard watching (the 80’s empty pool skateboarding trend is alive and well in this part of Brazil). Soon we had to hop in Masi and drive north to Curitiba so Paul could catch his flight home. We spent one night in a two-star hotel in the city center (bad idea, nothing going on except nefarious characters loitering on street corners) and the next morning managed to squeeze in a visit to the lovely botanical garden before heading to the airport. (Shout out to Paul for being so awesome and coming so far to pay us visit. We miss you buddy!)

Then it was just us two again. Still beaming from the adventures of the past week, we stocked up on food and drove a little outside of town to a super tranquil campground where we planned to hole up for a week. Danny had some work to do for consulting clients and actually ended up giving a livestream presentation inside the van during a hailstorm! Ice percussion be damned, he pulled it off because he’s just that good. So it was a productive and relaxing week. Being low season, there was nearly no one there and we spent a couple days swimming in what felt like our own private pool. The only negative (and this didn’t make itself known until weeks later) were these tiny little black flies called borrachudos. Their bites draw blood but don’t start to itch until days later. Not knowing any better, I scratched them. Turns out this makes them a million times worse and I ended up with scaly, weeping patches of skin around all my bites that didn’t go away for weeks. So yeah. Avoid those suckers at all costs and don’t scratch! Danny also noticed that in the dish-cleaning area of the camp, in the ceiling above the sinks, we had an additional friend- the Brazilian Wandering Spider, aka, the most venomous spider in the world. It was scary enough being bigger than the size of your hand, venomous, and striped and furry…but added a next-level horror factor when one night we found a literal trail of blood dripping from its ceiling hole, likely from a frog it killed and dragged up there.

Curitiba is a on a high plateau surrounded by lush green forest that descends to the coast. Our next stop was to drive down the mountain to a tiny beach town called Pontal do Sul to catch a ferry to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). We had heard this place was a “can’t-miss” in the Curitiba area and we wholeheartedly agree. With Masi safely parked in a campground for a couple days we hoisted our packs and boarded the ferry. Ilha do Mel is 93% nature preserve and no cars are allowed on the island. There are no roads, only a network of sandy trails that wind through lush forest and emerge onto white sand beaches. We were taken by it’s magic as soon as we stepped off the boat. We hadn’t booked anything in advance since there are dozens of pousadas and hostels on the island so we set off to explore and find something we liked. After about an hour of stopping in to places and finding that they were closed for the season (we were there in low season) or much too expensive for what you got (when $10 dollars a night sounds expensive, just imagine the state of affairs), we were directed by a fully booked hotel to check out Pousada de Charme. The moment we walked through the gate we felt like we had entered paradise. The owner Claudio beckoned us enthusiastically in, which was a welcome change from our reception at the other pousadas where we were treated more like intrusive bothers rather than potential customers. This place was beautiful, unique, and obviously pricier than the other options on the island. But after chatting with Claudio for a few minutes we were sold. Sometimes you just have that feeling you know? Turns out Claudio and his wife Vaninha turned their family plot of land into this luxury bed and breakfast a few years back. Their warmth, attention to detail, and fabulous food (made by Vaninha, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef) all add up to an experience that you want to have again and again. At one point Danny and I looked at each other and we both agreed that this was a place that we would happily come back to, hopefully with family and friends. So we settled in to our cozy bungalow (with the most comfortable bed we had slept in since our own in NYC) then were met by Vaninha who brought us our happy hour snack—delicate spring rolls in rice paper and a local fruit sangria in a pitcher. We took it out to the private deck overlooking the beach and sat quietly for a while soaking it all in as the setting sun recast the lighthouse in shades of pink and orange.

The next day we woke to an unbelievable breakfast spread of fresh fruits, yogurt, bread, cheese, and a made to order smoothie and omelette. After breakfast we took a walk along the beach to a Portuguese fort that was finished in 1769 and has since been restored for tourists. The views from the battlements atop the mountain above the fort were also stunning. That afternoon, we asked Claudio and Vaninha if they had any time to talk with us about their life and how they created their bed and breakfast. We told them we’d like to build something similar someday and when we happen across a place that fits our vision or aesthetic we have to know how it came to be. They graciously sat with us for the rest of the day (even missing their boat back to the mainland to keep talking) and told us all about their life and the vision and process for creating Pousada do Charme. We found we agreed with much of what they said and left the conversation feeling full of ideas and energy about the future. As people, Claudio and Vaninha are that rare couple we felt we wanted to emulate, in their passion for life, for each other, and their family. It was a special couple of days and we hope we’ll cross paths again someday.

The next morning we checked out of our room to hike the rest of the island. Our path took us through forest and out onto beach a couple of times until we reached the southern end of the island and the Enchanted Cave. The cave was, well, a cave, though the hike was what made the visit worth it. We had lunch in the second of only two villages on the island and caught the last ferry back to the mainland where we camped for the night. The next day we started off early to our next destination and also the most fun to say…Ubatuba! We’ll pick it up next time with Sao Paulo rush hour traffic and why Brazil is really good at grading their roads. Not. 

On Hitchhiking, Specifically In South America And More Specifically On The Carretera Austral And Route 40 (Ruta 40)

By Danny Cronyn

This missive comes mostly from a place of desire for improvement and optimization—of constructive criticism in hopes that generations of future backpackers can make good on the vibrant expectations of what past hitchhiking cohorts have provided. This also comes from a place of being disappointed and disenchanted with the current stock of unappreciative scenesters looking to thumb rides for free on the roads today. Here we go...

Dear Hitchhikers in South America and especially those on the road to/from Patagonia (specifically the Carretera Austral and Ruta 40 outside Calafate, Chalten, Trevelin, Bariloche, El Bolson, etc),

Let me preface this by saying I have purchased and driven vehicles in different parts of the world over the last decade. I’ve picked up hitchhikers in India, across Central and East Asia, Africa, and all over the Americas (north and south). I’ve hitchhiked myself as well, when it became either a mechanical or economical necessity...hence the impetus for penning this here blog post.

Hitchhiking is not a mode of public transportation. It is not a way to get from “here” to “there”. Possessing a thumb and backpack is not your entry price to the world of free travel. Your sociopathic desire to save money on air/train/bus transportation while not offering money for gas to the kind people that pick you up is not “the way it works”. Having nothing to offer is why you would hitchhike, not a chic new way to do things.

Briefly, hitchhiking should not exist to you in the same way that soup kitchens should not exist to you. If you had the money to take a taxi to a homeless shelter, it doesn’t make you an adventurous eater or frugal for dining there, it makes you a real jerk. There is no hitchhiking ecosystem, since there is ostensibly only one side: people who have worked hard, saved, and laid out real money for their own transportation which they improve, fill with gas, and fix (often) when it fails them. You, hitchhikers, have done none of this yet still think by holding out a sign or thumb you’re entitled to free transport.

You paid for an airplane ticket to South America, you pay for meals in restaurants, you pay for nights in hostels and some even pay for hotels (!!!). You come armed with nothing but a sense of entitlement and serious case of bad travel etiquette. You are a freeloading, mooching, grifting, scabby, and sometimes worst of all, boring lot of bad travelers...but here I am willing to try and help out future wannabes by trying to dissuade them.

The situation is this, in South America, that there are far too many hitchhikers now, since it has evidently become vogue to do this, and far too few people who can pick them up. In the olden days, VW buses and Defenders rumbling down to Patagonia on terrible roads would pick up the itinerant hitchers out of a sense of community and transcendental travel spirit. The current class of hitchers though, realizing this, has figured that they can take advantage and use the Overlanding Oversoul to their advantage and just skip purchasing bus tickets all together—offering nothing in return.

The shoulders of roads out of every town now are littered with hitchers, sometimes literally waiting in lines, to get picked up by people like my wife and me, and our fellow overlanders. Like I’ve stated, they bought food and room/board whilst in town, but set aside nothing for transportation (making them jerks, not poor). Out of the tens of dozens of hitchers that we’ve transported, sometimes for distances of hundreds of miles, do you know approximately how many of them offered money for gas? Approximately zero of them. Exactly zero of them. Some have even forgotten to thank us. Our friends picked up one hitcher that was awesome, a true professional that came armed with stories, stickers, and a small donation for gas, but he was the exception that proved the rule.

So, what to do? Here’s a helpful FAQ for you, to help you decide whether you should hitch in South America.

Q: Can you afford to buy a plane ticket to South America, along with food, room/board, and entertainment but not yet for transportation?

A: You’re a great little saver, keep going, you’re almost at “ready to travel” level!

Q: Can you theoretically afford to pay for travel, but prefer the adventurous spirit and kinsmanship of bumming rides?

A: I admire your spirit, make sure to split gas with your ride-givers (or at least offer the maximum you can afford), polish your A-game chatting and storytelling, and do make sure to profusely thank them for their generosity.

Q: Did you arrive on the shoulder of the road by hitching from somewhere else, do you use Couchsurfing or sleep in your own tent, and are you self-sufficient and a real world traveler?

A: You don’t need this FAQ; you know what to do. You’ve got great stories and no one minds picking up someone with those.

Attitudes are shifting about hitchers thanks to the lot currently out on the road. If you’re reading this and considering doing the same, please heed my advice and get the hitchhiking image back to “lovable tramp” from “scheming cheapskate”.

Rant completed.

On Breaking Down and Being Lifted Back Up - Dedicated to Pinky Tosi

Last we touched base with you, our ever-faithful reader, we were leaving the land grab spot of Mount Fitzroy cum Climbing town of El Chalten and pursuing our route up north. We hoped to make a solid dash across Argentina, through some old stomping grounds and Buenos Aires, and be on our way to Brazil within a few weeks. We already made plans for Shannon to fly out of São Paulo to the States so that she could be there for her first niece’s birth, so we had an end date and a schedule to keep! Let’s go!

On our way out of El Chalten, we passed the familiar lineup on the shoulder of the road of hitchhikers, looking to catch a ride north along the famous Ruta 40. We decided to pick up a couple of them, one German diet specialist and an Israeli who was financing his voyage by playing poker in casinos throughout South America. That they both ostensibly had money, but decided to hitch and not chip in for gas cemented my view on today’s hitchhikers…look out for the dedicated follow-up post on this coming next! We hauled these two, ourselves, and Masi back to a favorite wild camp spot along Ruta 40- next to a river in a quiet cleared area. Decent conversation, a roaring fire, and increasingly good home cooking from us two (our spice game was really starting to get on point) made for a good night in the wilderness. In the morning we cooked breakfast, packed up, and were ready to go except for these two hitchers taking their time…ugh, we were tempted to leave them just for their bad manners. We wanted to make it close to the Chilean border town of Perito Moreno that day and had a lot of KM to cover.

Eventually we did get on the road, and made it all the way to Perito Moreno- a sleepy border town with not much to report. We dropped off the two hitchers, wished them well, despite once again not getting an offer of a little gas money after more than 500km of chauffeuring them. Although we were miffed at once again having bad hitchers, I was mainly concerned with a now-feared feeling coming from the accelerator pedal and engine…what some in the VW community call the “dreaded bog” in relation to performance. Press on the accelerator and there’s a hesitation, followed by nothing, followed by an uptick in RPMs, followed by a slowdown. It’s like there’s chewing gum all over the acceleration system, and it just gets worse and worse. Of course correlation is not causation, but I can’t help feeling like the extra two meat sacks (and their luggage) in the Kombi for over 500 km were to blame.

After camping in the nicest municipal campground we’ve encountered the entire trip (side note: they had free gas stoves there, and the Argies who used them would NOT turn them off after use, meaning out of eight stove tops it was not unusual to see four of them on full blast with blue flames shooting up and NO ONE around- so weird and unsafe), we continued up north back to our absolute FAVORITE camping spot in Trevelin at Sergio’s eco-vineyard. We covered some fairly uneventful miles and pulled into Sergio’s with our fingers and toes crossed he had room for us, and luckily he met us with a smile and a camping spot for the next four days. His place is truly an oasis for overlanders, and I cannot speak highly enough of his hospitality, the tranquility of camping there and how relaxing it is. While there, we met an American family traveling in their Infinity SUV they shipped down from Albuquerque (anyone considering overlanding in SA, we think this is a supremely bad idea…besides being likely more expensive just to ship than buy, there are zero Infinity cars down here, meaning no parts if something goes wrong). We exchanged travel tips with them, played Möllky together on the huge green vineyard lawn, drank beers together, and even broke in Sergio’s new brick & clay pizza oven with my first ever attempt at pizza from scratch. I must say, I made a delicious friggin' pizza.

Before leaving Sergio’s I also resolved to fix the dreaded bog issue, or at least get to the heart of it so that I could describe the fix to a mechanic. I read blog after blog on what it could be (think: google medical symptoms and how you’ll self-diagnose the plague), checked our VW Idiot’s manual along with detailed German motor maps. After a few days of tinkering, taking apart and reassembling the carburetor (not easy for me), and adjusting some fuel mix settings…I made the noise and feeling go away!!! It was like being a magician, or the smartest man in the world for just one minute. Oh how I was proud.

As they say, pride before the fall.

It turns out, not to bury the lede here, that the ultimate issue was not at all the carburetor, fuel, or mix involved as most postings would have me believe, but was actually due to a failing valve in our engine (please DM me if you’d like a detailed explanation). What transpires in the next six weeks or so, we fixing everything but the issue which leads to disastrously un-fun times.

Here’s what happened next: we leave Trevelin/Esquel area, and soon enough are back on the road and I begin to feel the dreaded bog creeping back into the pedals. The sound is terrible, the engine is choking, and the performance is abysmal. Indeed, I did not nip anything in the bud as I suspected previously. We hoped to hop straight from Sergio’s camping spot, to another favorite campground up in Bariloche, but Masi was not having it, so we ended up back in my least favorite fake hippie town of El Bolson- this time it was summer and the camp ground was swamped! We lurched into a spot, and right off I got busy trying to remedy what was not-the-actual-problem and had little success. I re-regulated the valves, advanced and retarded the timing, checked the fuel lines, replaced filters, replaced spark plugs, changed idle and fuel mix again…all without much effect, of course.

Shannon and I were feeling down and out, considering options and about to start asking after mechanics, when all of a sudden…Bridget jumps from around a corner and does a little jazz hands “hey it’s me” kind of number. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it turned out that Brendan and Bridget had finished climbing in Piedra Parada (where we had been previously with them on our way South), and were on their way back to Buenos Aires to sell their beloved T3 VW, and stopped into Bolson for a pit stop on the way. How fortuitous and just the bright spot we needed! We spent a few days catching up and drinking and laughing before they had to head off once again without us, but we made plans to hang out in BA before we moved onto Brazil and them back to Sydney. We couldn’t travel with them because, well, Masi was refusing to budge at this point. A local mechanic came to the campsite, after no less than a dozen others refused, and towed Masi to his garage. His expert take was that too much gasoline was making its way to the cylinders and drowning out the spark. He was wrong. He fixed something, we replaced the spark plugs again (with the wrong kind), and drove off feeling tenuous at best about Masi’s shape.

It wasn’t long on the road to Bariloche before Masi was up to her old tricks again: hesitating badly, not wanting to go up hills at all, lacking any power whatsoever. We kept pulling over for small adjustments, 20 minutes at a time, that seemed to move her down the road another 30/40/50km each time…but it was getting worse. I was adding more air, then fuel, then current (nifty trick of shorting the main battery and adding another transfer to the coil), but nothing had a lasting effect. And then…I felt a crack come from within the gear box and suddenly I was making large circles with the shifter and was stuck in third gear (better than fourth, not as good as second!). I pulled Masi over, parked her facing down a hill, in case we had to push start her- and we did-, and inspected the issue. I had no clue. The engine was dying and I only had one gear. We push started her down the hill and I built up enough speed to make third gear work and we prayed we could make it the next 70km into Bariloche and find a mechanic. We made it exactly 58km before encountering a hill sufficiently big enough to stall us out. First tow of the trip! We paid a relatively small amount, by US standards, for the tow and looked up a VW mechanic in Bariloche to get dropped off at upon arrival. Thus started one of the coolest couple weeks of our entire trip.

PRO TIP- if you’re driving a VW and stopping in Bariloche there is but one man to see there, and his name is Pinky Tosi. Factually, Pinky worked on VWs for decades, knows everything there is to know about Kombi motors, and has a workshop stocked with everything one would need to build a new Kombi from the ground up- from industrial torque wrenches to spare engine blocks. Personally, Pinky is the man. He severely injured his back years ago in a head-on collision (he was clinically dead for a bit, but that’s his story to tell), and while he can’t directly work on VWs anymore, he will instruct, mentor, and teach you anything you need to know about fixing it yourself under his watchful eye.

As the tow truck pulled in, he came out and welcomed us in as friends and informed me that this was place the place to get Masi fixed, and that another couple of Kombinauts (who were in a similar situation) would be our companions and novice mechanical buddies for the foreseeable future. Pedro, from Switzerland, and Eva, from Lima were also traveling the continent in their awesome T2 and were broken down, so we’d be helping each other out for a while and Pinky would tell us how. Over the next couple weeks, Pedro and I helped each other pull engines out, take them apart, put them together, clean, sand, polish, make parts runs, and do everything we could to make our Kombis run again. They had new cylinders to put in, not a small task at all, and Pinky identified our issue (within seconds) as having a broken selector (the little articulated finger that chooses gears) and we needed to pull the engine and part of the transmission to get to it. The mechanical tutelage was priceless, mostly fun, and always given in a generous and selfless manner. Imagine in the United States, two strangers pulling up and someone devoting the better part of their every day to instructing them on how to fix it…without ANY mention of money? This man Pinky was working on his canonization.

We did finally pull apart Masi, and Pedro’s T2 named “Chota”, and put them back together. Pinky signed off on the results, Masi was running well and the gears felt like brand new. Before leaving, we all pitched in to buy supplies for a famous “pollo al disco”, or basically a chicken dish cooked over a fire with massive amounts of butter and white wine and garlic. Saying that it was “rich” is an understatement. Add bottles of red wine, for us, not the chicken, and at least one bottle of whiskey, meant that us merry gang were up until 2am in Pinky’s garage laughing and arguing about the state of the world (my Spanish experienced an inverse relationship with amount of alcohol consumed). Pinky outlasted us all, and I think outdrank us all as well, and the following day even made Pedro and I coffee with whiskey in the morning to chase our unbelievable hangovers away. It was truly a special time at Pinky’s and we’ll never be able to thank him enough for everything he did for us, allowing us to crash in front of his place, welcoming us into his home and garage, and giving us memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you Pinky, much love from us, and we will set a similar example for Kombi travelers when we make it back to the

With much sadness we pressed on from Bariloche, half-hoping that everything was sorted. As I stated previously, this was not to be the case. Despite fixing the gear box and selector issue, the blown valve (which was still undiagnosed) was still there. After a troublesome exit from Bariloche- far enough away not to turn around, and close enough to feel super frustrated- Masi and the dreaded bog became reacquainted. A night spent in a wild camp, a morning of me re-re-regulating the valves that now showed me something was seriously off with our clearance there and cementing that more work needed to be done…and we pressed on.

Here’s an easy trick to move this all along, I’ll just paraphrase: a few more camp spots in the next few days as we could only move about 20-30km at a time due to overheating valves and loss of compression, I fear breaking then sucking in valve/ring pieces to engine block and cam shaft, we give up in Puelches (millions of Puelches, Puelches for me, millions of Puelches, Puelches for free, LOOK OUT), take a second tow into next town called General Acha, proceed to have worst week and a half of our entire trip while waiting for valves to be rectified and camping outside a dusty sandy mechanic office.

Highlights of General Acha and its awfulness: Juan Manuel the mechanic will tell you that he’s working on your ride, but will actually take a five hour siesta instead, everyone takes five hour siestas, the Petrobras gas station has aircon, wifi and decent medialunas making it the coolest place to hang out, no toilets or showers (except for when the kind asado grill restaurant owner let us shower inside his restaurant), and at night (like a biblical plague) large frogs come out of nowhere so they can get run over and add to that “murder town” feeling that we enjoy.

When I say that this was one of the worst places I’ve been, was treated very poorly in comparison to other places I’ve been, and only respect this place for giving me a definitive answer to the question, “worst place in South America?”, please know that I’ve done some traveling and putting my stamp on this town comes with weight.

I’ll spare you the nitty gritty of how we got our valves packaged, sent to the next town for rectification, back to General Acha, and then inside Masi again…but suffice it to say that the second we were ready to go I peeled out of there with all the middle fingers up.

Do breakdowns provide for interesting new friends and stories and love and wonderfulness? Yes, 100%, for sure, Maestro Pinky proved that…but do they also provide opportunity for unscrupulous, non-VW, sheisty folk to try and take advantage of travelers? Also yes. This was a post about both.

Smooth sailing from here on out boys!

The End of the World, an Exciting Glacier, Mount Fitzroy, and Ice Cream

From Puerto Natales, the five of us became three when we left Brendan and Bridget, and soon when we arrived in Punta Arenas the three of us became two when we left Gareth. After more than two months of traveling together, from Buenos Aires all the way to Patagonia, Gareth had been our constant companion, my fireside drinking buddy, and official monster mascot of the group. He was headed onto Ushuaia and Antarctica (leave that place alone for anyone considering it!!), while we were destined for some alone time and then back up north toward our next, faraway destination of Brazil.

We spent a quiet New Years together in an AirBnB outside Punta Arenas, cooked in an actual kitchen, watched US TV shows on cable (something we never did while at home—the super channel has a decent lineup!), and generally just rested and prepared for what was next. We also dropped Masi off to take care of an oil leak, which turned out to be due to a bad engine-reconditioning job so it took a bit more time and cash than we would’ve hoped (this theme comes up again).

While in Punta Arenas, miracle of miracles, who should we cross paths with but our dear friends, Angela and Trevor from NYC! We had both known we would be somewhere in Patagonia around the same time, us on our trip and them on their honeymoon, but we could never have imagined that we would be driving past the airport at precisely the same time they were landing! Due to differing travel schedules, we only got to spend a short three hours with them in the airport but it was completely worth it. Nothing like sharing great conversation and laughs with some of the best people we know at the end of the world. 

Missing these two gems!

Missing these two gems!

We also decided that week that we’d become fishermen/fisherpeople, so we checked out the local tackle shop place where they sell that kind of stuff and came away with two poles (I was told we need those), reels (also necessary), and a bunch of hooks, weights, bobbers, and things with feathers on them.

Before leaving Punta Arenas, we also got to meet up with our old hitchhiking, farm-working, molkky-playing, French friend Paul. He was checking out the end of the world as well, but this time with a gaggle of French friends from home. We all agreed to meet out in the relative wilderness to do some camping and play one last game of molkky. We spent a great night out in the woods, broke out the molkky and even our new fishing rods in the morning—but caught nothing (this theme comes up again).

After saying our final adieus to French Paul, we pointed Masi north with her butt hanging off the end of continental South America. We’d first head back to Puerto Natales, the jumping off point for Torres del Paine, to lay up for the night and do some research on more hikes and camping spots around Torres National Park. We ended up staying in a great estancia on a lake an hour or so inside the park, which we heard was good for fishing. With high expectations, backpacks full of food and plenty of energy to catch all those Patagonian trout, we embarked on a full day fishing hike around the massive lake—just us two experts. Long story short, we ate our packed lunches, lost around $20 worth of lures (damn rocks and lake weeds!), but definitely got through our 10,000 steps. No fish.

After some really awesome camping, hiking, and just enjoying the great outdoors, we continued north toward the famous Perito Moreno glacier outside of El Calafate. We wild camped on the side of the road one night, and arrived into town the next to be greeted by massive (like 4-5 hour) lines for gasoline. Apparently Petrobras ships were being blockaded in Argentina, so ~%50 of gas stations had nothing. Womp womp, but this is also one of the benefits of being mobile and not having a plan—we could wait this out. We decided to see the glacier then come back to town a night or two later and hope the gas situation was resolved.

The Perito Moreno glacier is about an hour or so outside of town, and I can’t recommend it enough. You know how they say a fire is TV for people in the bush, or that a rotisserie chicken stand is TV for dogs? If that’s so, then this glacier is TV for penguins and also people who enjoy big chunks of ice falling off and making big sounds. It was amazing. Seriously great day, and one of the best organized and maintained parks of our trip so far. Downside was that you can’t camp in the park, and it was a little pricey for just a day’s admission, but totally worth it. Also, you don’t have to feel bad about ice chunks melting and global warming (which exists and if you don’t believe in it please immediately stop reading this and send me a message so I can cut all ties with you) because the Perito Moreno glacier is one of the only ones in the world that is actually growing. It stretches for nearly 100 square miles and is absolutely stunning. We spent four hours there and still had to tear ourselves away.

We spotted a nice wild camp spot by a river on the way to the glacier, so we pulled off on our way back to camp there underneath a bridge (overlanders and trolls alike know that bridges by rivers are great spots to camp due to shelter from the elements). A cyclist from the US named Walter was already setting up camp there so we made our greetings, set up our camp, made a fire, and invited him to share some food, chocolate, whiskey, and stories. We had a bunch of laughs and marveled at how grizzled and tough the cyclists we’d seen are, and talked about life back in our old lives for a bit. No matter what some snooty travelers will say, there’s nothing like someone who speaks your language, comes from your home country, and gets the trip you’re on—we don’t choose to seek out Americans or English speakers ever, but it’s really great to happen upon a good soul from your home.

We all went our separate ways in the morning—Walter onward toward Peru (do the KM on a map, then imagine pedaling every single one of them…..craaaazy!), and us back into town to camp and plan next steps.

We found a great little overlander spot outside of town, made it our home for a few days while Shan1 recovered from a bug, we waited out the gas strike, and made repeated trips to the local ice cream parlor.


Glaciers. Patagonia. Torres. Fishing. Kombis. Epic. Friends.

These are just mere words compared to the incredible, mind-blowing, best of class ice cream that El Calafate has. For real, it was the best chocolate ice cream of my entire life. That’s like eating the best hamburger or spaghetti or simple delicious thing ever. If you go to Calafate and eat one pint of ice cream but miss the glacier, NO ONE WILL BE MAD AT YOU.


From Calafate we were headed straight north to El Chalten, the famed home of Mount Fitzroy and a mecca for the climbing set. Also tons of nature and hikes and fish just waiting to be caught.

Exiting Calafate, there were literal rows of hitchhikers, hippies, and travelers-without-transportation looking for rides. It’s been a long time coming that I owe the world a missive on “hitchhiking and how it’s not a thing”, but that will have to come later. The long and short of it, concerning Patagonia and the Route 40 drive, is that there are many, many, many more hitchhikers than there are vehicles to transport them. Why? Well, succinctly, because people are super cheap, don’t know how to travel, and somehow think that flying down here to hitchhike is kind of fulfilling our wish (us, as vehicle owners) to pick up random people and take them where they want to go free of charge. This will turn into a full blown blog post, meant for the appendix, where I just rant and rant and rant.

Being the excellent people we are, and looking to help out a fellow human, we pull over to pick up someone. Our criteria so far on the trip is absolutely no more than two people at once, too hard on the engine, and preferably a single person. We end up pulling over for a very kind, respectful, young Dutch man who is taking some time off before pursuing a graduate degree of some sort. We tell him we can take him as far as we’re going, but we will be camping somewhere random that night. After an hour or so, he seemed agreeable enough so we asked him if he has a tent and would like to camp with us…and that we’d also be fishing and catching oh so many fish. He liked the idea, and had never in his life been fishing, so we decided to all camp together and teach this young man a life skill: how to cast a rod into a river and come up with nothing for hours on end. It was fun, we shared food, made a big fire, laughed, played a dice game, some Israeli card game he knew (Aneef/Yassef??), drank some decent whiskey, and traded stories until our poor little table exploded underneath us and we all laughed ourselves to sleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling like I had caught Shan1’s bug from Calafate, so we broke down camp and jetted straight to Chalten.  It was a beautiful drive (that I couldn’t enjoy as I was turning green), and we made it into town only to find it brimming with dirty ass dirt bag climbers (nothing but love you guys!), hordes of Asian tourists on buses (both Chinese and Korean), and roving packs of Israelis straight off their IDF gigs. What I’m saying is that Chalten is a bit of a shit show, and if not for the amazing nature there, it should not exist. We said our goodbyes to our polite young Dutch friend, then booked ourselves into a somewhat lavish pousada (all camp sites were full or incredibly expensive for being packed) so I could be sick for a day. Once recovered, we bought supplies and drove into the mountains to see some waterfalls (thumbs up) and even farther to access the trailhead for the Lago del Desierto hike. It’s the furthest trail from Chalten, and actually sits right on the foot border between Chile and Argentina. Being so out of the way has its advantages, as we saw almost no one on the entire day hike out to the north end of the lake (where we camped overnight), and almost no one on the way back. The one couple we passed on the way there was a Polish couple walking across the border into Chile. They didn’t look so great so we actually waited for them to finish and got concerned when night fell and they weren’t emerging out of the dense forest (seriously dense, and also almost no trail markers meaning we got lost for a solid hour). Eventually they did and we had a nice fireside chat with them. Next morning we woke up early and I bounded out of the tent ready to catch some goddamn fish.

This was to be my day—within minutes I had caught two decent sized rainbow trout, and was feeling pretty damn chuffed. Our working theory is that since this lake was catch and release it remained pretty well stocked aside from the fish we saw the friggin’ game warden taking out of the lake—c’mon dude, he was wearing his badge and everything, AND carrying a rod and cooler.

Photo op before being released back into the lake!

Photo op before being released back into the lake!

Besides nearly going insane from the horseflies on the hike back, we had an awesome time exploring the countryside and would hit up Chalten again for sure, but would skip the town entirely.

After four or five days there we bounced out to continue back up north and even saw an armadillo on our way out of town (cutest of God’s creatures??) and a monstrous Black-chested Buzzard-eagle. We were excited to make tracks back north, and will continue on next time!

This chapter is dedicated to Brendan Murton, his zinger got me to write it.


Ruta 40 and Torres Del Paine

Faithful readers, we have arrived together at the highlight of our trip so far, the crown jewel of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine. Now this is not to say that there haven’t been other epic times up ‘til now, but I deem our Torres trek the highlight because of the combination of stunning and unparalleled natural beauty and the physical accomplishment of completing such an arduous and demanding trek.

We five (us, Gareth, and B+B) had been talking about and planning this trek since we met up in Bariloche so we hit Ruta 40 in Argentina with a renewed sense of excitement now that we were actually drawing near to the trip. But first, Ruta 40—a 3,107 mile long road that stretches from Argentina’s northern border with Bolivia all the way down to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the continent. We picked up Ruta 40 at Perito Moreno, just east of the Chilean border of Chile Chico. The road, mostly paved, and sometimes painfully not, would take us past some of Argentinian Patagonia’s most famous natural attractions but we had agreed to bypass them until after the Torres trek since we wanted to finish by Christmas and before the summer hordes descended in January.

The next couple of days were, well, desolate. The road stretched out to the horizon. Nothing to see but flat grassland, clouds, guanacos (smaller, more graceful relative of the llama), and the occasional ñandu (a relative of the emu and ostrich). We were so excited to see other life forms that we’d shout, point, and hang out the windows of the van every time we saw one. It was eerily beautiful and quiet and we’d go for hours without seeing another vehicle. Our routine was basically drive, get gas, drive, find wild camp, repeat.

At last we approached the Argentina/Chile border (for the third time) and crossed back into Chile to Puerto Natales, which is where everyone going into the park takes time to organize their gear and buy supplies and food. We gave ourselves a couple of days at Hostal Rio Tyndal (simple hostel, creative camping spot, but epic host) to get sorted. It was the first trek of this length for Danny and I so we took cues from Bridget and Brendan as to what type and how much food to pack. Basically, unless you have buckets of cash to spend on guides and sherpas, you’re carrying all your food and gear into the park with you. This, in our opinion, is the more fun/legit way to do it. If you have never carried 8 days of food on your back before, it's heavy. And I wouldn't know. Danny, wonderful man that he is, took most of our food and heavy items and I was tasked with carrying our sleeping bags, tent, and other lighter things, which for me, were still pretty weighty. But I was looking forward to the shape my legs were going to be in once we finished. 

First, a bit about the layout of the park. The central mountain range is surrounded by a looped trail or "O". The front side of the "O", where most visitors begin their trek consists of what is called the "W" so named for its shape. But the "O" can in fact become a "Q" if  you include the tail-like trail that extends from the southwest corner of the circuit. The bottom of the tail, 15 additional kilometers from the more popular starting point, is where our intrepid group planned to begin. Also, to help you follow our journey, I should note that all along the circuit are campgrounds where we'd stay (it is prohibited to camp outside of these campgrounds). Some are free and some are run by private companies that you have to pay extra for. The private campgrounds, or refugios, even have cabins with real beds and hot prepared meals that you can shell out extra money for. And all of the camps have little kiosks where one can buy candy, snacks, deodorant, boxed wine, and the like. So, not as remote as I had thought but as the days wore on, I admit that I was glad that cookies were readily available after hiking for 8 or 9 hours.  

Day 1: The Tail and Camp Italiano - 24.5 km (15.22 miles)

After spending one night at a campground inside the park, we left the vans at the ranger station and set out on the tail. On clear days hiking the tail gives you extra time to ogle the mountain range as you approach. The tail ends at the place where the ferry drops most other visitors off to start their trek but for us this was only the halfway point of day one. Already pretty bushed but eager to make it to our first camp of the week, we scarfed a soda and a Snickers and continued on to Camp Italiano. This was to be the base of our hike the following day up into Valle Frances. It was only our first day but Bridget and I wasted no time establishing ourselves as the slow pokes of the bunch (slow and steady wins...the Snickers?). Danny, speed demon that he is, had already been at camp for an hour but was waiting for me at the bridge to cheer my last few steps into camp. 

Day 2: Cuernos - 16.5 km (10.25 miles)

We woke amidst the crowds of other campers, packed our packs, and left them at the base of the trail to hike up into Valle Frances. We completely lucked out with the weather. Torres del Paine is notorious for having sun, rain, and snow all in one day but the sun shone warm in bright blue skies as we made our way up along the river, past glaciers, to an incredible 360° view of the mountain range. Since the sun had been warming the ice all day, on our way down we were treated to an avalanche or two (from a safe distance of course). Quick stop to eat a granola bar, gather our packs, and march on to Camp Cuernos. We arrived to yet another bustling campground, which we had come to expect on the crowded and more popular front side of the trail, or the “W”.  We cooked dinner and spent the rest of the evening chatting with other hikers and drinking the boxed wine that is sold along the way. 

Day 3: Torres - 20 km (12.42 miles)

Morning finds us scarfing oatmeal and throwing our gear back into our packs to hike to Camp Torres, just 45 minutes from the famous granite towers for which the park is named. Usually, people have two opportunities to see the towers—once in the afternoon when you can still see where you’re hiking and again in the wee hours of the morning so you can watch the sunrise and turn the towers pink. Although some of our party (me in particular) had limped exhausted into camp, with rain forecast for the evening and following day, we decided to take advantage of the still clear weather to go up and see the Torres.

Day 4: Serrano - 18 km (11.18 miles)

It’s a good thing we saw the Torres the day before because we woke at 3:30 am to the sound of pouring rain making a trek up for sunrise pretty pointless. Back to sleep for a few hours then up early to make the long hike to Camp Serrano. This would be our first day on what’s considered the back side of the “O” or “Q” trek. Since fewer visitors to the park have the time (or energy, or will, what have you) to make the complete loop, we were really looking forward to not having to say “hola” to 50 people a day or dealing with crowds and trash or loud, drunk parties until the wee hours. And truly we enjoyed the solitude and change of scenery. What had been views of lakes and craggy, snowy peaks on the “W” now gave way to a softer landscape—rolling green hills and open valleys and fields of wildflowers. Still it was a long day and we shuffled wearily into Serrano to set up camp, cook dinner, and play a few dice games with our fellow trekkers.

Day 5: Dickson - 19 km (11.80 miles)

The next morning we headed to Dickson. We had been looking forward to this stop since it was to be our chance to celebrate Christmas (on Dec 23rd) with a meal inside the refugio. Side note—along the trail there are both free campgrounds and paid campgrounds, with the paid ones offering actual beds and bathrooms, hot showers and meals indoors which is a luxury when the icy Patagonian wind picks up. So with the prospect of a proper meal injecting a little more energy into the group, we set out. This didn’t last long. About an hour in, we approached a massive hill. Whatever hopes I had about the trail leading around it were dashed as I spied other trekkers on its face, trudging their way up. Truly this was the hardest stretch of the whole week for me—30 to 40 min, I don’t know really, of straight up, my pack feeling heavier with each step as I used my hiking poles to drag myself to the top. Tip: counting your steps helps give you something to focus on aside from the pain. Danny was already at the top to congratulate me but it wasn’t very restful since now we were exposing to whipping, ice cold wind. Welp, nothing to do but bow our heads under the wind and continue on. Yet another day of limping into camp. But oh! Dinner! We five, plus new friends Tamara and Lammert from the Netherlands, enjoyed every moment of being inside the toasty warm quincho, feasting on our Christmas lasagna and drinking boxed wine. We fell into our tents full and happy.

Day 6: Los Perros - 9 km (5.59 miles)

We woke the next morning (Christmas Eve) to some light snow. The view up to the mountains where we would be hiking was dusted white. We hurriedly packed our things eager to beat the wind and snow to our next camp, Los Perros. This was where we would prepare to cross the pass, the highest, windiest part of the entire trek. We were prepared to stay two nights if necessary since the park rangers will close the pass if the weather is too bad. Thankfully, most of the day was spent winding through lush forest which protected us from the wind and snow. But the peace and quiet of the trail dissipated when we arrived at Perros. The pass had been closed the previous night so there was now double the number of trekkers at Perros. With the rain and snow, everything and everyone was cold, wet, and muddy. We managed to find a spot inside the crowded cooking shelter and set to work preparing our second Christmas dinner which included rehydrated soup with real cream that I found at the camp shop (what a treat!). We bedded down for the night and tried to get restful sleep in preparation for the pass the next day.

Day 7: Refugio Grey - 22 km (13.67 miles) 

Merry Christmas! We woke to good news—the pass was open. We scarfed breakfast, packed and headed out. More snow had fallen overnight so as we made our way higher we found ourselves hiking through it up to our knees. But it was stunning. Everything white and crystalline, the air pure, and miraculously, no wind! Danny reached the pass first with Lammert and Tamara. He told me afterwards they celebrated with hot tea and danced to Christmas music. Then we began our descent into Refugio Grey, the last stop on the trek for us. As we got lower, the snow turned to rain and thus, the trail turned to mud. It made for treacherous hiking and I think we all fell at least a few times. The mud wasn’t the only obstacle that day. We also encountered not one, but two, suspension bridges over deep canyons. Danny, who was an hour ahead of me at least, said he had considered waiting for me at the bridge because he was terrified to cross. I don’t have a problem with heights but even I was nervous and got a touch of vertigo as I crossed the swinging bridges. No time to stop in the middle and take pictures of the glacier, just keep my eyes up and walk. After a day of hiking in snow, mud, and rain, we were all pretty miserable once we got to Grey. Though it wasn’t part of our plan, we decided to shell out again for dinner inside the hotel (yes, there is a hotel at Grey) just so we could have a spot to be warm and dry and maybe steal a spot by the fire. It had started to snow again—we got a white Christmas after all—but we were cozy inside. The whole evening was joyous and celebratory and we fell asleep looking forward to hiking out the next day and getting back to town for a shower and burgers.

Day 8: Hiking Out and Puerto Natales - 11 km (6.83 miles) 

The next day, December 26th, the storm had cleared and we were treated to stunning views of the park as we hiked out. Everything was blanketed in white and the lakes were like glass. We soaked it all in, a little sad knowing we were leaving this place behind. Back in Puerto Natales we luxuriated in hot showers and had those burgers we had been dreaming about. Our last night in town we finally did something we had been talking about the whole trip down to Patagonia—we had a lamb roast! Under the tutelage of Oscar, our lovely host at the hostel, we spent the better part of a day roasting and basting (with a mix of olive oil, rosemary, garlic and mint) our lamb. It was an epic feast with tons of side dishes and shared with a merry group of friends. Truly a fitting finale to the incredible weeks spent with Gareth, Brendan, and Bridget. Needless to say our goodbye the following day was tearful (like, really, a lot of crying) but we parted knowing we would see each other again somewhere on the planet. And so, with hearts full of gratitude, we said farewell and pointed Masi south for the last time. Punta Arenas here we come!

South, South, And More South—The Carretera Austral

Hello dear friends and family. In an effort to get caught up on our blog posts, I’m jumping in to help tell the tale of our South American adventures. Last we left you, we were wrapping up our time in Futaleufu, the friendliest town in Chile. Still high from our few days of rafting, cake consumption, and campfire laughs, we loaded up Pepe (B+B’s VW Vanagon) and Masi and took the gravelly, dusty road out to meet up with the Carretera Austral, Chile’s famous Southern route.

Nice to meet you Carretera!

Nice to meet you Carretera!

A note on the Carretera, or Chile’s Route 7—it was started in 1976 under the Pinochet regime in an effort to connect the remote Patagonian communities with the rest of Chile. What began as a mostly unpaved road over fjords, past glaciers, and over steep mountains is now a more or less (sometimes a lot less) paved road that stretches 770 miles from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. For anyone driving in South America, this is a road trip not to be missed. Keep reading to understand why.

Up ‘til now, we had been fairly lucky with mostly paved roads. But now we steeled ourselves for what was sure to be a bumpy ride. For us it was all part and parcel to experience the magic of such a remote and wild place. Our first driving day on the Carretera saw us winding past lush forest and icy lakes. That first night we spent wild camping by a river in La Junta—also the town where Danny and I spied an extremely pregnant dachshund resting behind the counter of the gas station minimarket. The owner proudly showed off photos of the handsome dachsie father-to-be and we left thinking how cool it would be to add a Chilean dachsie pup to our family…

How we spend most of our nights in Patagonia. 

How we spend most of our nights in Patagonia. 

In the morning we were off again, this time to explore Parque Nacional Queulat, made up of Valdivian temperate rainforest (read cold and wet and full of amazing moss and plants with giant leaves) and home to the Queulat Hanging Glacier, Danny’s and my first! The hike up to see the glacier was stunning—it began with a river crossing over milky greenish-blue water (the result of minerals from the glacial runoff) and wound through the lush, mossy rainforest up to the viewpoint for the glacier where we partook in what has become a favorite ritual thanks to Bridget: tea and Toddies! After a filling dinner of campfire empanadas a la chef Brendan, the pizza dough king, we called it a night and headed out the next morning for Coyhaique, the biggest city along the Carretera.

The next day’s drive took us past more temperate rainforest, one aptly named the Enchanted Forest. It was raining so we didn’t stop, plus we had a mountain to get up and over. The steep and twisting mountain road eventually gave way to wide open valleys blanketed in pink, purple and white lupine. While not a native species, it was a joy to drive these roads just as the lupine was blooming. We stopped for the night at an eco-farm campground just north of Coyhaique. The owner, Nacho (or Nacho 1 as we would come to call him), welcomed us enthusiastically and immediately grabbed Danny for a guitar jam session. He also gave us a tour of his organic lettuce farm and treated us to an educational maté ritual. Overall a beautiful and relaxing stop before making a pit stop in the “big” city.

Coyhaique. What to say? It’s a big city and we usually prefer to avoid them at all costs. However this visit was made necessary by needing to refill cooking gas tanks and do some grocery shopping. Unfortunately, we ended up staying a bit longer than we wanted because some shoddy mechanic work we had done in Buenos Aires caused Masi to break down. It took us the better part of a day to track down an electro-mechanic, but he was able to fix our girl and we were on our way again with only a bit of time lost and a couple more grey hairs.

The next day we arrived in Cerro Castillo, a town that gets its name from the stark mountain rising from the valley. And yes, it looks like a castle. In the morning we set out on a hike to its base.  Now, here is where I’ve learned that expectation setting is everything when it comes to hiking. This was a tough one and had I known I think I would have handled it better. It’s basically four hours straight up to the base of the Cerro with a very exposed, windy, and icy cold final stretch. That said, the views were stunning and made it all worth it. Ramen noodles, tea, and photo ops at the top, then back down.

At last we reached what was to be the final stretch (for us) of the Carretera Austral. Though the road continues south of Coyhaique all the way to Villa O’Higgins, there is no way to continue further (cuz the glaciers are in the way) which makes doubling back necessary. So instead we turned east along Lago General Carrera intending to cross the border into Argentina to continue south. We had been looking forward to Lago General Carrera because they are home to the Marble Caves, stunning rock formations in the middle of the lake that you can visit by boat or kayak. But our excursion was made a bit more somber by the news that Doug Tompkins, the co-founder of the North Face, had died on the lake in a kayaking accident only days before. Before we started this trip, we had seen the documentary 180° South and learned more about his life as a climber and conservationist. Suffice it to say that he was a large part of our inspiration for this trip and we are grateful that we have had the opportunity to see first hand why he was so passionate about preserving Patagonia for future generations. 

Photo cred to the ever talented Brendan Murton. 

Photo cred to the ever talented Brendan Murton. 

After a successful kayak to the Marble Caves, we hopped back in the vans and went in search of a suitable camp spot for the night. It took us longer than we expected but as is often the case when looking for that perfect wild camp, our efforts were rewarded. We ended up on a small beach with incredible views of the lake and mountains in the distance. Another round of tea and Toddies, a shared meal and good campfire conversation later, we turned in and prepared for the drive to the Chile/Argentina border the next day.

Our wild camp at the edge of Lago General Carrera.

Our wild camp at the edge of Lago General Carrera.

The drive would take us along the edge of Lago General Carrera, which, you guys, is huge (over 100 miles long). And stunningly beautiful. See below for evidence of the vast, turquoise body of water. We had a great time taking it slow and stopping every so often to pile out of the vans and take pictures. We stopped for the night in Chile Chico on the Chilean side of the border. Our campground host, Nacho 2, treated us to stories of his early life as a rock star and policeman (we tried not to think too hard about what being a policeman meant during the Pinochet regime) and also helped us build a roaring fire and roast a huge rack of ribs for dinner. We bid him adieu the next day and made our way to the border, Argentina, and famed Ruta 40. Next stop? Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine!


Farm work, Thanksgiving, White Water Rafting, Climbing, and Pre-Patagonia

OK, so yes we've been having way too much fun and we are still way behind on the blog and getting way-behinder as the days pass. Here is my attempt to distill down the most awesome rocking parts of our trip, accompanied by photos, to get us up to current day. It's a strange thing how being so far behind disincentivizes one from writing more, versus wanting to catch up- oh the human pysche, and oh my laziness. I promise you faithful readers, friends, and family that we are having a blast and are very safe. Love you all.

Last we left you, we were bidding adieu to Bariloche, to our Peruvian passenger Maricel, and briefly to our dear friends Brendan and Bridget while we met up with another friend of the this blog- good 'ol French Paul, our passenger from Punto Choros to Valparaiso, Chile. We had kept in touch with Paul all this time, as he said he'd eventually be WOOFing somewhere near Bariloche and we hoped to see him again. Turns out, he was working at a farm (HUGE by American standards, but actually only a subplot by Argentinian/Patagonia standards) and helping to do some work on the 5,000 hectare piece of land they had- or about 12,300 acres.

We were all glad to see one another, we brought some food, drink, and stories to share, along with our crazy Welshman. Paul was living with another volunteer, Morgan (an 18 year old British girl taking a gap year), in a tiny cottage on the property- no TV, no wifi, only power during certain hours, and weekly there was a food drop of mostly fresh veggies from local farms (so many leeks). Shan1 and I stayed in Masi, while Gareth was gifted the broken down caravan camper that sat on the property- really cool use of an out-of-work vehicle: a stationary, small, apartment. The first evening, we played soccer with the farm family kids (there was a full time Argie family living on the property, a Swedish mom and Argie dad with three very rough tumble farm kids that we loved), cooked a great dinner together, and stayed up late drinking what we had brought. We planned on taking off the next day, but were really enjoying our stay there and I asked Paul if we might be able to do some work and stay another night. Given that we were self-sufficient, needed no food or assistance, it was basically work in trade to hang out another day. Along with Paul and Morgan, we three helped dig a long irrigation ditch, find, and fit the pipes that would be laid inside, as well as hack through some pretty hearty roots with an axe. Tough day of work that was rewarded by another great dinner, drinks, and the first time we played our now-constant companion game: Molkky. Simple, Finnish, fun, can drink while playing- instant hit. We stayed up way late drinking whiskey and playing with our headlights. The next day we all hung out for a bit after breakfast, then said our goodbyes knowing that we'd made a great friend in Paul and that we'd see him again somewhere else in the world.

Next! We set off to El Bolson to meet back up with Brendan and Bridget (B&B), and continue our mission down south to Patagonia. Just to prepare you...lots of stops along the way.

El Bolson is a town on the Argie side of the border on the way down/up from Patagonia, so it gets a lot of travelers and tourists and is 'appropriately' outfitted. The town also has a very 'hippie' reputation, which I can say is only due to people not understanding what the hippies were all about. I will get into this later...because I can't help myself. After spending one night camped at a brewery, beer was super average and expensive, we met up with B&B at their campsite- an apple orchard with plenty of space and few occupants...perfect for a sweet hangout and impending Thanksgiving day feast. After touring the town a bit, we spent a few days settling in, making preparations and then getting a shopping list together for Thanksgiving, American/Welsh/Aussie/Saffa/Argentinian style. Despite not being able to find turkey (although we had JUST fed one on the farm we stayed at days before...a scary, pregnant, female), we made an absolute feast for all of us. Two types of grilled chicken over the fire, corn, asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes, purple cabbage, and a freshly made apple cake courtesy of Bridget- all accompanied by a classic US of A playlist featuring The Boss, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, and anyone singing about the stars and stripes. A great meal, wonderful friends, and certainly an unforgettable Thanksgiving. Still to this day....thank you Brendan, Bridget, and Gareth for helping us two Yanks celebrate.

OK, on the back of gratefulness, I got to say a word about El Bolson and what I perceive as THE reason to skip that fraud of a town if you can help it at all. John Lennon glasses, hemp pants, dreadlocks, and an obvious + copious drug trade does NOT hippies make. Listen dear people of El Bolson, if you want to really be the embodiment of that movement, talk to my parents, and figure out that making crap 'artisenal' jewelry and dropping acid doesn't make you a hippie. Besides the generally bedraggled look of the denizens there that may lead you to erroneous conclusions, the attitudes are the give-away. Tourists are marks to be cheated, people to condescend to, and in one instance we know of, people to be robbed/attacked. Our friends Johnny and Ruby (climbing friends of B&B and generally great people) were robbed at machete point while hiking there, and although surprising, we can't say that we could put it past those guys in El Bolson. Anyways, those fake ass hippies with bad attitudes could not hold us cool cats down, so on we go.

Oh, quick shout (just for memory's sake) on Brendan and my epic adventure to get some floras in El Bolson, talking with a guy who couldn't comprehend due to acid, end up drinking with a pregnant lady who insisted on us buying her beer, finally meeting back up with a guy with a broken wooden staff, and then ending up getting a random dude with a chainsaw to cut us our very own Molkky set. Inside baseball I know, but it was an awesome errand.

From El Bolson, we took a gear-check overnight hiking trip to an amazing locale up in the mountains with an awesome glacial river running through it (El Cajon Azul, the Blue Drawer), that I gladly jumped into from a height. The hike itself was average, but the camp site was straight out of a fairy tale- complete with trees filtering sun light through leaves, a babbling brook, and enough errant firewood to make a massive bonfire for our meal. 

After the brief overnight hiking trip we headed south again, but not before making several stops to get majorly awesome (think: four mountain dews at full extension type awesome). Just south of El Bolson is a world famous climbing spot called Piedra Parada. If you're thinking that Danny + Shan1 are not clkbers, then you are about 50% right- turns out that I am indeed terrified of heights still (confirmed several times over) and that Shan1 is actually a natural at both climbing and making me look bad. Bridget and Brendan are both avid climbers, wanted to hit this spot, and were gracious enough to let us come with them and lend us their gear, and more importantly, their expertise. We parked up in amazing camp site right on a lazy river, complete with rope swings for mega-sweet backflips, and spent our first night playing Molkii and cooking over a fire. In the morning we awoke to a herd of cows surrounding us and knew it was time to hit the mountain. I won't get into the actual adventure any more than to say I gave it the old college try, make it about 50-75% up both pitches that I attempted before falling off both times (on belay, of course). The second time I took a huge swing across the face of the mountain, to the delight of everyone below, and to the detriment of my lifespan. Shan1, as mentioned, was cool as a cucumber and finished out both pitches first time up, and did it such suave fashion that I think she should really join a gym when we get back home. Awesome experience, thanks B&B for the amazing time. 

From there, we headed into (believe it or not) the WELSH section of Argentina- Trevelin and Esquel. Turns out, like a million years ago or something some Argie visited Wales and brought back a few of those gingers with him. Knowing the Welsh a bit, they took advantage and set up shop, propagating red hair, failing businesses, and ridiculous accents in another part of the world. True to the reputation though, we found an honest to goodness Welsh tea house, complete with Welsh speaking grandma, to have a tea in with our resident ginger Welshman Gareth. 

The real treat though, was discovering Sergio's eco-vineyard camping just south of Esquel. Sergio is an Argie, went abroad to become a chef, came back to his motherland to start a vineyard and eco site. A truly magical place, super restful, and the amazing night stars (milky way, Sirius, shooting stars) kept us all up watching them for hours. We pledged to come back one day...which happened on our way back up from Patagonia.

Sergio's was only a stone's throw away from the Arg/Chile border crossing, so our next stop would bring us back to Chile and to one our favorite towns of the trip- Futaleufu (foot-a-loo-foo). Apparently, as we discovered just before getting there, Futa is one of the top five best places to white water raft in the entire world...some argue #2 just behind the Zambezi in Africa. We found a great, and deserted, camping spot to park up for a few days and then walked into town to see about food and white water rafting. We booked a trip with an affable guide named Christian after checking a couple places, and were set to raft the next day. We also decided to stick around for a few days as well, given that Bridget's birthday was 48 hours away and we didn't want to be on the road for it. We found the sleepy town (not yet high season) to be full of great locals that welcomed us in, an awesome little bakery/cafe that we stopped into at least once a day, and even a little pub/inn run by an Italian expat who worked on fly-making and running his inn. 

The white water rafting was a blast, and with a mix of class five rapids, a great challenge for everyone. Our guide was great, the river was empty except for us, and the five of us had a ball tackling some big rapids together. After the rock climbing, it felt like we were becoming the a real exxxtreme mountain dew crew. I would've loved to stay a bit longer to re-do the river (although at ~$100 it wasn't cheap), learn fly-fishing, and hang out longer in Futa.

The next day we decided to hang out for Bridget's birthday, and go to the BBQ/sheep roast that we were invited to after white water rafting. I will remember this night for the rest of my life. We all bought Bridget some small trinkets for her birthday, strung up some party items in the quincho at our campsite, and played music while playing dice game all together- just drinking and having a great time. After we celebrated together, we headed into town with dessert and boxes of wine for our mutton roast locals party. The party started out tamely enough, with tons of meat being roasted, and only a pitiful tupperware contained of limp lettuce as the sole veggie representative, and we ate our fill of meat while drinking beers with the white water rafting guide crew and other townies. Soon after sun set though, everyone started loosening up, mixing all together, the music got turned up and everyone got louder and happier. I don't know how it started exactly, but Brendan and I found ourselves in conversation with our guide Christian (who also owned the rafting company we took) advising him to buy the website domain ( Somehow a chant got started and took over the entire party, "ole...ole ole ole, Rapidos...Epicos...". As funny as it was, it also turned out to be a signal for our gracious hosts to suggest we move the party to a local bar. Welp, in typical kind Futa fashion, we were the only ones really being asked to go to the bar, but we laughed it off and went to where they suggested. Arriving at the "bar", it was really just an odd looking karaoke/gentlemen club with no one in it. The bar tender/proprietor even let us put YouTube videos on songs on their big screen until more people showed up and they eventually asked us to leave as well. Great night, we laughed all the way home.

PHEW. Catching up now...just a few short business quarters behind now, as we write from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Shan1 is now joining the writing team as well, so hopefully we should be at least doubling our output. Until next time!



The "Switzerland" of Argentina

Been a hot second or two since we last posted- and for good (bad!) reason- we’ve been stuck, stucker, and stuckiest on our way back to Buenos Aires and Brazil. The bright side is that I can cover about a month (and counting now) in a relatively short blog post.

Anyhow, back to the past we go! Last we left you, we were heading west to the Lakes District with a Welshman and his Peruvian friend in tow. Before leaving BA, we stopped by the house of Maricel’s (Gareth’s Peruvian friend who would be joining us for two weeks) uncle. Typical of Argentinians, they welcomed us in with both arms, we chatted for a bit, and were not allowed to turn down delicious food and drink before our trip. Her uncle even drove half of us to a big box store to do some pre-trip shopping. Super awesome peeps, very thankful to have departed BA on a high note like that.

The four of us officially on our way west (then due south to Patagonia), we drove again through the middle of Argentina, which is a great drive if you get off on sensory deprivation. We stopped at a few campsites along the way, one of which gave us a top 10 “worst night of the trip” with swarms of mosquitoes and biting flies that left us all chewed up and hoping for better down the road. After a few days slowly making our way toward the lakes and the Andes, we finally arrived in San Martin de los Andes- Argentina’s version of Vail or Breckenridge or Chamonix. Any of those towns it was not, it turned out.

We parked up in town in a parking lot right on the edge of the lake, at this time of year the wind was howling and still biting cold, and resolved to wild camp for the night. The town around us lacked any authenticity- it looked like someone had once seen a Swiss village and built a movie set based on it (think: the final scene of Three Amigos, or better yet Blazing Saddles…but Swissier). Main street crowded with North Face and Nike stores, dotted with price gouging ‘local craft’ shops. We somehow found a “Mexican” food place and stopped in for the first of many disappointing ‘ethnic’ meals. Overpriced, super odd, and not all that tasty- a simple google search would show them that the food they’re serving isn’t really Mexican, c’mon guys! It’s our fault for trying to find ethnic food because we’re homesick, but also a word of caution to long term travelers down here as well…not worth the trouble ultimately.

While this town, and the subsequent towns like it in the lakes region were disappointing in their veneers (literally, like chalets built out of concrete and stucco with one thin layer of wood paneling to give the look of authenticity) and commercialism, they more than made up for them in beauty. That first night in San Martin portended things to come for the next few weeks, and I (for one) could not have been happier.

From there until we left to head to Patagonia, we slept in epic camp spots on the edges of beautiful lakes, nestled in the foothills of the Andean mountain chain. We were in the Lakes Region, north of Patagonia. While no one ever joined me, my routine was wake up, do my little workout routine of pushups and situps or squats, then jump into a freezing cold lake- an excellent way to wake up. Each morning, or sometime during the day I’d attempt to jump in every lake I saw, just became my thing.

After our frigid night on the lakeshore in San Martin, we continued south along what's called the Seven Lakes Drive planning to find a camp spot along the way. It was an amazing drive, and really started noticing the landscape we all think of when we imagine “Patagonia”: emerald hills, wildlife everywhere, life climbing out of every crack and nook, exploding and vibrant. It was all of that I promise you, but nothing at all compared to the transcendental, primordial beauty of Patagonia that we would come to witness. We hiked the four of us on a trail that I still think we pretty much made up, but had a good go of it for a few hours before returning to Masi and trying to find a campsite. What I can remember from this stretch during that day was pulling into yet another completely empty campsite, being quoted a price that would indicate there was imaginary competition, and the guy finally telling us the temperature would be too low for tents and Gareth & Maricel would have a really hard night outside. Also, that guy looked exactly like Sean Connery, the Argentinian version, it was amazing.

Eventually we camped in Villa La Angostura, them in a hostel, and us two in Masi in a campsite in town (begrudgingly). It’s great to have friends join the trip for all the obvious reasons, but I will say that concessions have to be made once they’re there- those wild camp spots we would’ve camped at before are now out of the question with two people in tents. Just something to think about when you ask people to join- make sure they know what they’re getting into!

From Villa La Angostura, we made our way down to Bariloche, where Maricel was catching a bus back to Buenos Aires (a 24 hour bus…I couldn’t believe we got that far away already!), and we were set to meet up with our old friends Brendan and Bridget once again! Of course it was sad to leave Maricel, but we were also preparing for our long and quasi-dangerous leg into the wilds of Patagonia in our ill-suited girl Masi, so having convoy companions like Brendan & Bridget (B&B from here on out) was an awesome prospect.

A big ‘ol hug goodbye to Maricel, nicest Peruvian royal Caribbean worker I know!, and big ‘ol hugs to B&B as we met up once again in Bariloche.

OK, we are woefully behind on this blog for several reasons…but I’m going to try and pick up the pace in the next episode- just needed to get this out first.


Uruguay: Definitely A Country

Hello beautiful people, thank you for keeping up with us- I know it's a chore to be this far behind us (we're about two months behind right now) and still care...which is why these blogs are so delightful. Just think how dry they'd be if we were timely- so I guess count your blessings and stuff you guys.

Anyways, Shan1 and I left you whilst enjoying Buenos Aires where we were joined by a ginger Welshmen and non-ginger Aussie, Gareth and Sean. Only a few days to hang out and enjoy BA, where the opening hours for bars made for some very late and dizzying nights for us all, before boarding a ferry boat destined for Colonia, Uruguay.

Carriages and cobblestones in Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Carriages and cobblestones in Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Word of advice: book these ferry trips ahead of time if you're looking to go from BA to Uruguay, since they fill up quickly (likely less so, now that you don't have to cross borders to get advantageous currency rates), and are weirdly way expensive. It was kind of a hassle to do, since much like all of South America, the build-a-good-eComm-website craze has not yet taken over. If I decided to stay down here, I'd build a year 2000-esque business and just make people decent websites out of goDaddy templates. I'd be a millionaire in no time.

Bought tickets, waited in line, took ferry to Colonia, pretty straightforward. Colonia is a great little tourist spot, we found. Old walled city, cobblestone streets, cafes, lots of places to grub some food, and plenty of welcoming hostels. We spent the day walking around, looking at some of the antique cars, chatting, and mostly just waiting to ride and/or die the next day and go to Montevideo. Sean and Gareth both watched "Best in Show" for the first time ever as well, what a film. Oh, highlight of Colonia was easily this huge creepy poster of what looked like Gareth with a cut out black mask eerie.

Gareth's masked doppelganger, mustache and all.

Gareth's masked doppelganger, mustache and all.

Then we went to Montevideo. I can honestly say I was looking forward to seeing this place, what I thought would be a smaller, more progressive, more beachy version of Buenos Aires. Not so much really. I shan't write about Montevideo too much other than to say it was nice and fine and I wouldn't go back unless I had to. We stayed in an awesome AirBnB though, made some wonderful meals all together, and hit up a few local spots for drinks after days spent walking all across the vast city. Nothing too impressive, especially after BA, and a bit underwhelming all over. Politically though, Uruguay IS super progressive and were one of the first countries in the world to legalize same sex marriage on the federal level as well as legalizing marijuana consumption and cultivation. Way to go you back to making your city cool again OK?

Epic Sunday roast in Montevideo—thank you Chef Gareth! 

Epic Sunday roast in Montevideo—thank you Chef Gareth! 

OH YEAH! On our way out though, we arrived at the main bus terminal to take the three hour bus ride back to Colonia to catch our ferry, and found the entire terminal was blocked in by a protest. Not cool. We waited around in some decent heat, while the Uruguayans drank their mate (they love the stuff even more than Argentinians), but sneakily climbed onboard the first bus to bust the blockade. Few hours later, we were in Colonia and ready to git 'er done on the ferry.

BACK TO BA, met another AirBnB hostess in Palermo neighborhood where we'd be staying the next two weeks or so. Got our stuff sorted, then headed right back out, around midnight (when things are getting started in BA) to a Pearl Jam pre-party (the live show was the next day) at a bar across town. Just so happened a good buddy from back home (JC, I know you're reading this) had a friend in BA for the show as well, so we were lined up to meet him too. Well, after about an hour of being in Pearl Jam only bar, with my buddy's super duper turbo drunk friend screaming in my ear, I remembered, "Oh yeah, I don't even like Pearl Jam that much". Hey, don't get me wrong, I like them the same way every casual radio listener from years 1993 to 2001 likes them, but I don't LIKE THEM LIKE THEM the way every single person in that bar did. The night devolved, another 5am performance.

Next day was a mess, as we discovered "Pearl Jam in Buenos Aires" really meant they were playing an HOUR BY CAR outside the city, and there was no real public transportation option out there. Context, that's like saying you're playing NYC and actually your gig is at the Hot Topic in the Paramus Mall. We persuaded a taxi driver to take us, skirted the gay pride parade happening that day (two days in a row a crowd of peeps blocked our way, it's a streak), and went to the show. Great tailgating happening everywhere, with choripan and large beers being sold in front yards- I will say that Argentinian Pearl Jam fans have zero problem wearing the band's shirt to the gig (a no-no in the US and also everywhere else ever).

Olééé olé olé olé...Pearl Jaaam, Pearl Jaaam!

Olééé olé olé olé...Pearl Jaaam, Pearl Jaaam!

Eventually we made our way inside, found the bathrooms (which for Argentinians were conveniently located everywhere there is a wall, because the dudes there pee on everything), and then tried to locate the place where beer is sold. You know about beer? At music shows? It's like popcorn at movies, or turkey at Thanksgiving, or an eye roll after someone rolls their RRRRs when saying "burrito". YEAH WELL, they don't serve any alcohol at big shows in Argentina, thanks for making me see a band sober it was...actually not terrible at all and I didn't have to pee once, so all in all...yup. Pearl Jam was good, Eddie Vedder drank more wine than than 20,000 people, and I gained a newfound respect for how cool a dude he is, even if I don't plan on listening to much Pearl Jam. Thank You Gareth for your wonderful present, we shall always remember (because we were super sober), the BA Pearl Jam show with much fondness and also because of the...


Preface: I've driven cars, tuk-tuks/rickshaws, and motorcycles in Kazahkstan, friggin' Russia, Botswana, Cambodia, Vietnam, even INDIA YOU GUYS, and this insane, third-dimension existing, speed-me-to-the-afterlife loving, nightmare of a cab driver was BY FAR the most scary ride of my life. Seriously. It was literally crazy, like impossible and you wonder how this is being accomplished (scary level, that is), kind of crazy. Besides requisite high speed, non-obeyance of general road rules, and disconcerting amount of texting while driving (the holy trinity of bad driving) this guy was actually creating his own lane IN BETWEEN actual lanes. Imagine, two lanes on a highway, it's tarmac, you're near a major capital, there are lots of cars, and this guy was literally trying to fit between the two cars in the two lanes and creating his own third lane, IN THE MIDDLE. It that didn't work, and often it didn't and we were maybe an inch away from cars on both sides, he would switch out and gun the engine down the shoulder which sometimes had huge 2-4 foot dropoffs. I feel as though this is like trying to describe a bad dream where it's never going to be as scary as I want it to sounds, but let's just say I texted my rickshaw partner from India, Tall Paul, right after we got let out and told him I just had the scariest ride of my entire life. That's saying something, since vehicular manslaughter isn't really even a crime in India (don't fact check that).

Now back in BA, we partied a bunch more, had some great nights, Shan1 got to dance some tango, we walked around the city for days enjoying the sights, I rolled some jiu jistu in a local gym, and we reluctantly bid farewell to Aussie Sean from Brisbane (aka, Brisvegas, BrisneyLand, Brisbekistan).

Now we needed a fourth! Luckily, Gareth's friend Maricel from Lima came to join us for our ride west and south to the Lakes District in Argentina, and then to Bariloche to start our trip to Patagonia. Until next time (phew, only two months behind still!).

On Buenos Aires, Our Favorite Capital Thus Far

Pitting Buenos Aires against our only other capital city we've visited, Santiago de Chile, is like comparing the well-dressed Italian guy who works with your wife, tells great stories, speaks 4 languages, and you're afraid she secretly is having an affair with him, and your brother's friend who really enjoys How I Met Your Mother. What I'm saying is, Buenos Aires got swag, and we loved the crap out of it- sometimes we were sitting at a corner cafe enjoying a coffee or afternoon beer, and thinking, "this feels just like Brooklyn". We moved from Brooklyn, got madd love for it, and identify it as the "IT PLACE" in the world right now- YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE SEATTLE.

Sunset views from the Park Tower Hotel in BA for our one-year anniversary. 

Sunset views from the Park Tower Hotel in BA for our one-year anniversary. 

So how'd we get there? Glad you asked. It gives me great pleasure to plow through many days all at once in such short (blog) time. We drove there. Across about 1,000 miles of nothing but cattle and fences and grass and nothingness- such is the north central. It's like Nebraska + Cows x How I Met Your Mother. We drove straight across, only stopping to sleep in gas stations and take snacks. There's literally nothing to do on that drive, except pray that it's over. Actually, one story real quick...

Just before entering the city, we camped about 300km outside in creepy little beach town, free of charge and right on an inlet pond. Nice enough, woke early in the morning and drove out of town heading east still to arrive in BA by mid-afternoon. No sooner had we exited the beach town and made it onto the main drag, then we were stopped by a check point in the road. Hmmm we though, no way they're looking for us, the people who intentionally only bought three days of insurance and let is lapse a week ago? No way, prolly looking for drug lords, drug mules, or people who haven't seen the original Die Hard (RIP Rickman/Hans Gruber). Instead, turns out they were looking for idiots with foreign plates and lapsed insurance. As we got pulled over, I confirmed with Shan1 that we both now know 0.0 Spanish, and will smile our way through this. 


1) Licencia (that's driver's license, you guys)

2) Padron (that's car ownership docs)

3) Seguros (that's insurance)

Hey, we had 66% of those! I'd take those odds to Vegas any day of the week. Unfortunately, the officer didn't see it the same way, and we had a problem on our hands. After much back and forth in hand signals (no clever!), we agreed that I should talk to his commanding officer. As I got out of the car, Shan1 had the "I guess I hope I see you again" look in her eyes while I crossed the street into an out-of-sight guard post. Well, turns out that my previous travels aided me well here, in that I was able to finally soften the commander up with my famous Irish charm, sincere apologies, and about $60 USD in cash (in reverse order), paid in the form of an informal "multa" or fine. The alternative? Well, at every guard checkin Argentina, you'll see several cars quarantined with 'sequestered' written on them with tape over their doors. Since insurance offices were closed for a few days I didn't want to wait around while our transport and house languished by the side of the road. Oh right, his first 'multa' suggestion was around $120 USD, and I told him it was a bit he came right back with, "OK, how about half that?". DEAL SIR. *Handshake* *Knowing glance* *Cash exchanged* *Officer gives thumbs up and comments on how clever and worldly I am* (liberties have been taken with this dramatic retelling)

ANYWAYS. Insane driving into BA, like COME ON YOU GUYS type driving. Imagine this scene: one lane each way, driver behind me passes with cars coming other way, at the same time the driver behind that guy attempts to pass him on the opposite shoulder, car coming opposite way goes right in between them. People must die driving this way right? Yes, indeed they do, it's on the news and stuff.

K. We arrive into Buenos Aires, a sprawling city of over 12.8 million, and it takes well over an hour to drive from outskirts into city center on the highway. As elections were happening, everything was road to building top covered in campaign stuff- GO STOLBIZER!  We finally navigate the maddening city traffic patterns to our hostel, check in, and head straight to bed- sleeping in one for the first time in a long time. To say this hostel (not hyper linking because they suck) was a good example of the west's decline is an understatement. Early 20 somethings of every country met here to listen to Maroon 5, drink jaeger bombs, and generally experience BA much the same as New Jersey folks do in Times Square. I dislike most hostels, some are very OK and good breeding grounds for single-serving friends, but some are lousy with youngins simply looking to binge drink and make out with a foreign someone from the UK or even Scotland. My favorite line from our time there was a drunk gentleman yelling/asking at the top of his lungs "YO TOMMY, WE DOING THIS?". I digress.

There, the day after, we met Gareth! You may remember him from such roles and episodes as Minister at our Wedding, Danny Goes to Africa, Burning Man, Running with the Bulls, Let's Drive to Mongolia, and Tall Paul Tries to Drive a Rickshaw. Gareth would be joining our trip for the foreseeable future, and we were overjoyed to see a friendly face. He had just finished a six month tour as IT Guy (official title) on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, so we were excited to learn about rudders, propellers, uniforms, and also if Love Boat is ever coming back (jury still out). We all hung out for a few days, walked the city, had an amazing hamburger and an entire bottle of Limoncello, dropped off our kombi for some maintenance work, and even had what Argentinians think is Indian food. Great to reconnect with an old friend that I think of as a brother, and have him share our trip with us for a while.

Mustachioed twins. 

Mustachioed twins. 

Although Gareth had just arrived, we were also awaiting our friend from Brisbane, Sean, and his arrival in a few days. You may remember Sean from such episodes as Tied-For-First-Drunkest-Skeleton at our wedding Halloween party (shoutout to Adam Carullo for making it a race to the bottom on that one!), Running of the Bulls, and Sean Comes to America for St. Patrick's Day. Great man, great friend, loves his Chevy. Sean actually showed up right during Shan1 and my first wedding anniversary, so our proper reunion was bit delayed while we celebrated at a very posh hotel and had a fabulous meal. Special moment to also shout out to Shannon's grandparents for the super generous gift: Cynthia and Romeo thank you so much, it was extravagant and perfectly-timed and we'll never forget who made our first anniversary such a special weekend, LOVE YOU.

Directly after our blissful wedding weekend, not linking to our anniversary restaurant but instead this one because it was a superior meal , we needed to make plans to get us all from BA to Uruguay so we could see beautiful Colonia and Montevideo. We also had to be back in time for Gareth's favorite thing ever- seeing Pearl Jam live. Next blog episode: we do the things I just said we were planning to do. Cool? Cool. Coming at you soon- we have wifi for a few days, so get your brain ready for mucho mas meanderings. 

Get your passports ready...Up next, the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay! 

Get your passports ready...Up next, the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay! 

Into the Argentina we go! Part 2

I know we're setting a dangerous precedent here by posting twice within a few days, but hey, we've got a few things to say and we're still over two months behind at this let's get to it!

After our second stint in Santiago (Stgo for short, which I kept mistaking for a shorthand for a saint named "Go", which I thought was odd...anyways), we bounced out of country with much excitement, since it had already been two months in the just one country. Plus, we were pretty much dead tired of eating hot dogs and drinking carmenere. The road into Argentina from Santiago pretty much goes straight to Mendoza, well known by wine lovers as the home of Malbec and vineyards galore. The road to get there...well yeah, a bit twisty. Over 25 hairpin turns and up a mountain we went, but good lord was the drive beautiful. One of the most scenic drives I've ever done, the snow capped mountains, blue bird weather, etc...surreal. We even saw a snow fox right at the top of the pass.

Our first border crossing with Masi was pretty official, since this was a really popular tourist route. Well actually, it was kind of odd, in that it was the only border in the entire world that I've crossed where you could drive straight past it and NO ONE stops you...for like another 20km. We misunderstood where we were supposed to pull over, so I suggested just to keep driving until someone turned us around, which eventually happened. The police officer actually laughed at us and gave us directions back to the border, which struck me as 1) funny that I could drive right by it, and 2) super permeable and a good note for when we decide to start our drug smuggling biz. We spotted a lime green argentinian kombi driving on the way back and had a very brief chat with them- always great to see other crazy kombi peeps. Once at the actual huge border crossing (that one could totally drive right by, again), we queued and waited our turn to get stamped out, stamped in (the Chilean and Argentinian agents literally sit right next to each other, so the no man's land is like 4 inches...nice), and get Masi thoroughly searched. Couple funny things about the customs agents were that they thought Shan1 and I are brother/sister because we have the same last name (not a custom to take your husband's name in SA) and they gave us sorrowful look when we explained we only have ONE last name. "Solemente uno??", asked the customs with a 'poor poor boy' look on his face. Sorry bros, we keep the overhead to a minimum in the states, good luck with your stupid family history Hernan Bustamente Pedro Alejandro Gonzalez de los Andes.

I digress. Oh, Masi checked out clean too, although they didn't seem too concerned about a thorough check and just asked a few questions about our bags and their contents. Good-two-shoes Shan1 voluntarily told them we have dried fruits and nuts (NOT THE NUTS SHAN1, DEAR GOD) which they then felt as they must confiscate since we offered 'em up...and promptly threw out our entire stash. I still have not recovered from this act of sabotage. Once the nuts were dispatched, we got waved through, and were on our way to Mendoza.

Beautiful mountain passes and windy valleys let way to serene plains and massive vineyards after several hours, and although fuel was running low we pushed Masi into Mendoza on fumes alone. We found a camping spot on the outskirts of town using our trusty iOverlander app (can we get them to sponsor us?), and pulled in around dusk. The great thing about iOverlander and other user generated content apps that pull from wise crowds is that we're all using and contributing in much the same way, so you often find like minds that go to the same place.

"Hey! iOverlander??"

"Yeah, totes McGotes"

That's how that little ditty goes, and it provides the modicum of comfort, the germ of friendship that you need on the road to just start getting to know other rad people. Well that, and wine. Wine is also good.

Camping spot was pretty decent, if a little out of the way in relation to Mendoza central, but on our first walk out to try and change money (blurb on that whole thing to follow) we passed by another couple in a yellow-ish '83 Vanagon Westy, that looked a bit more dialed-in than us...not that we're out of sorts, but some peeps just have the 'GOT THIS' look that time on the road eventually provides you. We popped by their site to say hello, and thus began our friendship with Brendan (Aussie) and Bridget (South African). Besides being great kombi folks driving around an '83 westy with throwback California blue plates, they're similar age, attitudes, liked cooking, telling stories, and hanging out being rad folks. We got along super well immediately, and although we were months from starting our trip and they were months from ending theirs (they were on the road for 15 months already at that time and still had 3-4 more months), we compared notes and saw we were all generally heading in similar directions. Although I KNOW THEY ARE READING THIS, I'd still say they're genuine bright lights in this world, and it was our privilege to travel alongside them for so long- no duh, they pop back up again later on down the road.

Anywho, Mendoza is a chill little city, friendly people, lots of great cafes, restaurants, and bars. We walked around quite a bit, checked out their casino (I refuse to play robot roulette, stay out my vices you dirty machines for this man makes his own luck), got Shan1 her ice cream fix, and had some very decent food in town. We also needed to change money, which brings us to this interesting, but now moot, topic of the Argentinian Blue Rate or Why Not to Fix Your Dumb Currency.

So, for those not in the know...Argentina is pretty bad with money and stuff. Just google 'argentina politcal corruption' or 'argentina corruption' or I guess 'Argentina'...whatever, they're real good at being bad and also bankrupting their country. For that reason, the central bank eggheads decided to take their currency off the int'l freemarket and fix it to what they think it should be...which is about 60% more than what literally everyone thinks it should be. Thus, the Blue Rate, which is the black market rate, which is pretty confusing. Anyways, Argentina is your cousin that gambles and is also colorblind and thus doesn't know blue from black. Literally everyone in the country buys and sells knowing the blue rate (example: weird how many things add up to $2 USD, if you convert using the blue rate), and money changers take over entire streets of Buenos Aires in the open despite the supposed illegality. Although there exist restrictions on how many USD you can keep in your bank account, since the US Dollar is king, AND you cannot take out USD from any ATM in the entire country, this does not stop anyone from finding alternate routes. One that we took was ferrying to Uruguay for the day and getting dollars from ATMs there to exchange for 60% higher back in Argentina. Roundabout way of saying, it's kind of a hassle, and paying in cash with blue rate exchange saves you a ton of money. To make it real for all the liberal arts majors...say your dad donated $100 USD to your kickstarter for your one-man show, the Argentinian government would give you around 950 pesos while some dude yelling "CAMBIO CAMBIO CAMBIO" on the street would give you 1,600 pesos, straight up. Yes, that example was spot on, I KNOW you guys.

 Anyways, this forces one into changing money at the same shady, flickering halogen tube light deli place where you are buying box wine and firewood. Actually, that dude was pretty nice, and gave us a good rate. Why is this all moot now, and was once a huge friggin hassle for us? Argentina had general elections whilst we were there and elected a new president who decided, against tradition, to float their currency and get back into the global market. Newspapers would report this decreased the value of their money greatly overnight, but no one was really trading at bank rates except for banks- so it's a non-issue really and everyone can go back to doing just a little less math (breathe easy liberal arts guys). Interesting times indeed, and also means that when you do change money, you change a butt load of USD 100s to get leverage and better blue rates and then subsequently leave with an enviable gangsta roll of pesos. Sidenote: Argentina please get with it and make a denomination higher than 100 pesos, for realsies. 

We wiled away a few days at our camp site, exploring the city, chatting with our new couple friends in the evening and planning out next steps. We decided to all leave the site together, go into neighboring Maipu, rent bikes, ride to vineyards, eat empenadas, and generally be like four people on a billboard for Newport cigarettes. A magical day ensued, and rather than describing how awesome it was, I'll save it and just say that it's an absolute must if you're in the area. We had a blast, and don't let anyone ever tell you riding a bike becomes less fun after four glasses of wine. We camped out at out-of-season kids/family park (?) that was strangely abandoned or not well run at all at least and got to cooking a bomb handmade pizza meal (all Brendan, the doughmaster). Some dudes eventually showed up to tell we weren't safe in our current location in the quasi-abandoned kids park and we should move closer to the entrance where the annoying lights and barking dogs are. K. 

Next day we all headed in the direction of some great thermal pools in Puritama, which apparently is a huge Argentinian destination even for a Tuesday afternoon. We chilled together, talked lives, and marveled at the swimwear in this part of the world- lots of 'hungry bums' as Brendan put it. After all afternoon in the pools, and sitting in the shadows on mountains with condors flying overhead, we all took off to look for a camping spot for the night. We located a great spot on a cliff's edge, cooked up some great tacos together, listened to music, and talked into the night. Before parting company in the morning we exchanged podcast tips (prospective travelers: podcasts are your friend!), made cursory plans to meet up once again (we were going to Buenos Aires to pick up some friends), and took the necessary pictures together to make it all real and memorial. Good times, great oldies.

NEXT: we head to Buenos Aires, pay our first bribe, find a welshman and an Brisbanian, go to a Pearl Jam show (1995 called, YES I KNOW), and make our way to Uruguay (better of the two 'Guays). Stay tuned lovely people!


Into the Argentina we go! Part 1

OK, so yeah we promised to be better at posting, then followed it up with a month of silence- it's kind of getting abusive at this point...cycles of broken promises followed by flowers and candy and blog posts- WE KNOW. This time though, we have a great excuse: we were mostly in Patagonia which is known for its incredible beauty but also has seriously crappy wifi (wait for the one-star review Patagonia, just wait for it).

Anyways, last we left you we were heading back to Santiago via a sleepy coastal town called Punto de Choros (translates to Mussels Point). Of course we wanted to get to the beach as quickly possible, so we planned out an aggressive driving route- it's cool we can go 55mph top speed- and wanted to cover 1,200km in just two days driving. Suffice it to say, super bad idea. First night we drove into the desert outside San Pedro, and found a camp spot on iOverlander (another shoutout to such a great app) just next to an observatory on a hill. Apparently the Chilean desert is world famous for science star nerd people who fight over Picard and Wookies and the like. Anyways, we parked next to a bunch of Brits and Scots who were staying up all night to watch stars, FOR FUN, and they were all on vacation from their professional jobs as star nerd watchers. They weren't very friendly, and even rebuked Shannon's attempts at asking after their interests. Whatever dudes. I also cleaned out some stuff in the engine, and discovered how to locate and clean the oil sensor (foreshadowing alert!).

After a nice night of sleep under some pretty amazing stars- you can see the friggin milky way with your bare eyes down here, you guys- we took up our 800km driving day with a sense of stoicism and naivety that we'll never have again. This day changed us as kombi people, and we'll never be the same. K, let me break it down for the non-metric peeps (all us USA'ers): 800km = 500 miles...meaning a pretty decent day of driving, like Baltimore to Boston or a San Diego to LA round trip twice, except in a Geo, or Neon, or Festiva, that weighs two tons and has an engine that sounds like an airplane landing and needs a break every two hours. Tough driving, is what I'm saying. Can't stop won't stop driving type driving. It was a rough day.

As we pulled off the main highway, 740km into our drive, and onto a desolate gravel road that led us out into the beach, the oil emergency light shone bright red in the cabin and I pulled over with much stress. It was dark, around 9pm, we still had an hour to go to get to the beach, and oil light problems usually aren't nice ones. Upon inspection of our engine, it turns out both the smog hose that comes off the carb and the oil sensor that plugs into the engine block had mostly come undone. Smog hose...I dunno, but the oil sensor was all me (chekhov's gun), and had spurted much oil all over the place. I tightened it, replaced smog hose, and we set off into the night- me feeling very much like I graduated with a civil engineering degree.

ANYWAYS, under the cover of night we drove into Punto de Choros, and asked around the sleepy town about camping spots and heard from a young lady that her uncle ran a joint right down the road. Tio Dogui welcomed us in close to 11pm, showed us a place to park in his sandy enclosed backyard, and hurried us into his very homey home for a late night dinner that he had on the stove. Frankly, we had no idea what was going on, he was running around, Shannon looked as confused as I did, but the wind was at near hurricane levels outside, and this gentle old hippie (yes, this bad ass) had already served us fresh bread, some sort of meaty stew, and was asking us questions about life and our travels before we could figure out what to do. His warmth and hospitality was truly at dizzying levels, and we came to see over the next days that it really was hard to tell the difference between guests and family in house. Eat, much needed whiskey drinking, followed by exhausted sleep. 

In the morning we awoke to a beachside paradise- the wind had subsided, the sun was up, and all the puppies at Tio Dogui's were out and playing, along with the old german shepherd matriarch Luna. We talked with Tio, walked around town (takes about 10 minutes), and generally lazed about reading and playing guitar in hammocks. Tio welcomed us in for lunch with the family and other guests there, it was inspiring to receive such a welcome. We hung out more, did some shopping at the neighborhood minimarket, and made dinner out of the kombi. Later there was a fire, and we got to meet Daniel from Colombia who was traveling on school vacation, and Paul from France who was traveling for 6+ months and working throughout Argentina. Good peeps, lots of wine, bed. Next day we all decided to take boats to go see the penguins on the nature reserve island off the coast of Punto de Choros, so we headed over to the docks to get tickets and reserve our spots. While waiting for our boat to get ready, the urchin fishers were hauling in their catch from a deep cold well of water just off the dock. They had a great little system, since harvesting urchins was only allowed during one time of year, they would 'relocate' urchins from all over into this one deep cold well of water, basically using it as a refrigerator until they were ready to harvest. So we watched divers go into the dark hole off the dock, then come back up with hundreds of live urchins at a time. One urchin fisher even came over and craked open a live urchin and offered us a taste. I'm not one for uni or urchin, but this live stuff was the absolute JAM, buttery and salty and smooth. Apparently it's also supposed to be the natural viagra, as explained over and over and over by the fishermen.

Boat out, saw some very cute penguins (did you know they are pretty decent climbers and actually nest in the cliffs and bluffs instead of on the exposed beach?), tons of cormorants, lots of seals, and even had the experience of boating along when a pod of dolphins were swimming with us, like feet away. Definitely worth the price of admission, please stop into Punto de Choros and visit Isla Dama, a CONAF site down here, same as Torres Del Paine. Flowers were blooming, the island was pristine, company was great, just a wonderful day, transcendent really. In the evening Shannon and I walked the beach, skipped stones, and were accompanied by our now faithful companion, the german shepherd Luna. Awesome dog, and she really felt a duty protecting us from birds, other dogs, waves, and even heights (as she freaked out when Shannon climbed a rock). Amazing place, highly recommend it.

We ate a local place, the food was very average, and we had to share the restaurant with some very boorish and drunk chilean and american expats who were very...punchable. After dinner we headed back Tio's, there was a full fire going, some Chilean overland bikers we traded stories with, and decided to offer Paul the French guy a ride to Valparaiso on our way back to Santiago.

Left the next morning, with Paul in tow in the back now, and headed south back to Santiago. Apparently, Valparaiso is nowhere close to Santiago, but whatever, ain't no thing. Mostly uneventful drive, about 500km down there and we left early so not a big deal. Dropped off Paul in the evening, then headed back into Santiago to pick up final paperwork and finally head to Argentina. Before leaving we met up with our good friend Jose again, went to his friend's modern art exhibition, that he helped produce, and got to go out to dinner with him and his father (the hungarian consulate from Arica who was in town) for chinese food in their old neighborhood in Santiago. Jose is great, his father was super warm and all around just another special night for Shannon and Danny surrounded by awesome people. 

 Jose's dad even called the caribineros (police) who manned the border pass into Argentina to check it was open for us, and we got the green next morning we headed to Mendoza via the mountain pass with 25 switchbacks on it. Peace out for now Chile!


Catching Up With The Cronyns: San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Hello folks! We're trying to get better at updating more often and at least get to the same country...currently we're in El Bolsón, Argentina on the way to Patagonia and Torres Del Paine. Let's catch up, you guys!

Last we caught up we were leaving Arica after a nice bout of altitude sickness and heading southernly toward San Pedro de Atacama. Itching to get back out on the road again, we burned out of Arica down the coast line, through some severely large canyons (we still think it's funny one of them is called Shrimp Canyon). No issues on the drive, not a ton to see, but we were heading south again and in a fine mood. We wanted to break for the day somewhere near the large mining town of Iquique, where we also wanted to get an overdue oil change. It took us waaaaay longer than we thought to find a mechanic to change oil, pretty simple job, but finally made our way and had it done. By that time it was wicked late so we checked trusty iOverlander for spots to wild camp. We ended up pulling into a yet-to-green sand gold course that was under construction, and sleeping no more than 100 meters from the waves on the coast. Beautiful spot, free of charge, and great cooking and playing campfire guitar together...just us two.

Enjoying the views of the Chilean coast before heading back into the desert. 

Enjoying the views of the Chilean coast before heading back into the desert. 

Next day we headed south and inland, we hoped, to the famous San Pedro de Atacama. Masi was in fine shape, the coast line looked exactly like the PCH or Highway 1 in California, and all was right in the world—truly inspiring views and surf on the coast. We hit the town of Tocopilla and made the turn inland to the exhausting desert. Winds picked up quite a bit, to the point of steering corrections and then finally to me literally holding the wheel at a 90 degree angle to compensate for the nonstop gusting. Because of an alignment problem and compounded by super hot desert asphalt and the open angle of the wheel on the road, it wasn't long before we had our first awesome tire blowout. It was legit—the entire tire blew out from the sidewall, and shredded the whole thing. So there we were parked on the side of the road, 100km behind and in front of us, in the desert, with a blown tire. It also wasn't until then that we discovered the jackpoint nearest the wheel was welded almost completely shut, and the jack we had would no longer work. I tried inverting the jack, using rocks to gain leverage, digging a hole under the wheel, but could not get Masi far up enough to get the spare onto her. After an hour of trying, then another hour of trying to flag someone down for help, a drunk Chilean (he was drunk because 1) I know drunk when I see drunk and 2) they had an open case of Corona bottles sitting out in the car and all four of the people in the car were drinking them) pulled over to lend us his working jack and also berate us for not understanding more of his slurred Chileno. Cool bro.

Tire back on, short of light, and an alignment problem, we decided to park it for the night in Calama and get Masi checked up on and aligned. Alignment guys were funny, new tire was bought, so we messaged our friend and ex-kombi owner Jose to let him know we had our first issue but we're ok. According to good 'ol Jose, he said, "Well guys, please get out of Calama as soon as possible, because it is basically the worst city in the entire world", and added that Calama is known as the city of the Three Ps: perros, putas, and polvo. I'll wait here while you google translate those.

After a very respectable camp experience in Calama, we bought another jack, and then attempted to head to San Pedro finally. Masi didn't want to start for the first time since we hit up 13-14,000 feet in Putre, and we were starting to get concerned. Getting her going still worked in second gear, so we punted on the problem until we got to San Pedro. Drive went fine and we arrived in San Pedro to see our real first tourists of the entire trip! Both welcoming and unsettling, as we had made it into a commercial zone. We parked up in a great little camping hostel (Hostal Puritama), and paid what we felt was an extravagant price for camping, use of kitchen (but no cooking allowed...womp womp), and crappy wifi: $20 USD per night. It's a hit to the budget starting out the day especially with so many free wild camps around. But there I learned how to change the timing on Masi, gave it a go, and she started firing up right away—so I was cautiously optimistic that I've made my first actual auto repair.

Hostal Puritama's seriously aggressive geese looking for a snack. Shan1 had to fight off the male with a plastic box. 

Hostal Puritama's seriously aggressive geese looking for a snack. Shan1 had to fight off the male with a plastic box. 

Our week in San Pedro was pretty relaxing, although still expensive and touristy and we were glad to get going at the end of it. Highlights:

-Cabalgatas (horseback riding) through the desert and getting my steed into a full out gallop across the open sands. Shan1 was a bit more intelligent and kept her horse to a nice trot

That's not how you ride a horse. THIS is how you ride a horse. 

That's not how you ride a horse. THIS is how you ride a horse. 

-A couple nights of wild camping that bookended a full day at the Termas de Puritama where we soaked in stunning natural pools at the bottom of a red rock canyon 

Spending the night near the termas the night before paid off—we were first to arrive in the morning and had the pools all to ourselves for 15 whole minutes!

Spending the night near the termas the night before paid off—we were first to arrive in the morning and had the pools all to ourselves for 15 whole minutes!

-Our tour to Valle de la Luna where we explored some awesome salt caves and watched the sunset from the top of the valley ridge 

The last rays of sunlight on Valle de la Luna. The human specks on the ridge offer a sense of how grand this place is. 

The last rays of sunlight on Valle de la Luna. The human specks on the ridge offer a sense of how grand this place is. 

-A great, and well-earned "nice meal out" where we FINALLY had good Chilean food: a rich pesto veggie risotto and a very solid salmon dish

-Watching a local football (soccer) game in the stands...not great level, but we felt like locals for a bit

-A tour to the salt flats where we saw our first flamingos, and then up to 14,000 feet to see a few volcanic lakes—beautiful and we were thankful to have plenty of coca and a fast bus driver to get us down this time!

14,000 feet and no altitude sickness, yay!

14,000 feet and no altitude sickness, yay!

After a week in San Pedro, we started our drive back to Santiago to collect our official ownership papers for Masi but had a magical stop along the way in Punto de Choros and made some new friends. Stay tuned.

So hey, it's been a while, I think we need to talk

So the first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have here goes- we're super bad at updating our blog. That's our bad, it's totally on us, and has nothing to do with you. Can we start over? Thanks. Glad that ugliness is behind us, let's never fight again.

Last you heard from us, we were departing the great vast northness of north Chile and heading to Putre, and then south. It's hard to catch up on so much, but let's give it a go yeah? Yeah? YEAH!

We departed Arica with little fanfair, but would a little good-bye parade be that hard to organize, you guys? Enhancement opportunities for mayors and heads of state in other cities/countries we'll eventually be departing from in the future. We pointed 'ol Masi, still running like a dream by the way, straight at Putre situated 14,000 feet above sea level and started the climb. When I tell you that climbing from 60 feet below sea level up to 14,000 in just three-four hours is a bad idea, please listen to me. Maybe you don't know, but our slovenly western bodies have no clue what's occurring at that altitude, and the following tale will illustrate that. But first, the road there.

To get that high, that fast, you really need to climb- which in an old VW kombi means second gear most of the time. Switch backs, gorgeous views, overtaking slow trucks and being overtaken by faster ones really spices up the trip. During one crucial switchback turn, meaning making a turn 180 degrees, a recently overturned truck carrying FRIGGIN SAND basically buried the turn in a couple feet of sand which had not yet been cleaned up. If you've been following our story or know our vehicle, you will know that Masi doesn't deal well with the stuff. Fortunately, I'm an awesome driver and had no choice but to drive and fish tail our way through the granular muck, so we gunned it through, high-fived and continued upward. We took frequent stops to let Masi cool off, to chew coca leaves (helps but only when you're chewing it), and take photos. Along the way we even met a Chilean guy biking the entire country, north to south in Patagonia and had a great chat for 30 minutes, gave him some water and made a new friend. Check out his facebook page at Ignacio Viajero if you're interested in his trip or think we're a couple of no-good liars. 

After a beautiful, if very steep drive, we arrived in the sleepy mountain of Putre to find some good eats and pick out a camping spot. We ate a decent meal, bought Shannon a rocking alpaca sweater (for like $10 USD, word to yo moms on the bargains Putre), and then drove back into some passes to camp out overlooking the mountains at massive altitude. The plan was to wake early, check out the highest lake in the world, then drive back down and continue south. The sunset was amazing, the moon rising like a rock star over mountain ranges above us was surreal, and really the only bad part was when we both woke up in the middle of the night with Shannon vomiting and me feeling like my brain was trying to exit through my eyeballs due to altitude sickness. So yeah, after Shannon's fourth or fifth time vomiting, and both us feeling like death, I made the decision to GTFO and drive back down a wicked steep mountain pass in the dark at 4 or 5am. Also, given that Masi didn't want to start the evening before and I had to roll her down a hill and jumpstart her, we were both scared she'd be too cold to get us to safety. Fortunately, Masi is awesome and fired up right away. The next three hours were white knuckle driving with me mostly in neutral as we coasted down steep passes to conserve fuel. The overturned sand truck mess was still not cleaned up, and even massive trucks were not getting up anymore and blocking the pass, so we waited to turn to attempt it. Again, me = awesome driver, and I nailed it first time. 

After coming down from our altitude nightmare, we decided to splurge and get a nice hotel right on the beach and get some sleep after going well over 30 hours without any. We napped, ordered room service, and planned out our next moves. Great hotel, PanAmerica Arica Hotel, and they had some boss ass cocoa flakes at the buffet for breakfast, so I was pretty amped. From there we took off to the city where everyone knows your name....Iquique! Halfway point, good place to meet a Chilean copper miner, and also get a desperately needed oil change.

NEXT BLOG: we get an oil change, slept in a golf course, then blew out a tire, jack, and stayed in the "worst city in the world". STAY TUNED YOU GUYS.



First we got to Arica...then we LEFT (<---Spoiler alert)

You know the 'ol maxim about driving 2,000 kilometers to Arica: you start out, then you get there.

Well, that's exactly what we did. We wanted to coincide our trip with our Kombi's old owner, and our new friend, Jose's trip up there and spend a day or two with him in his hometown. We arrived there the first evening a bit road-weary, but happy to see expanses of beaches, a chilled out surf town, and plenty of places to potentially camp right out next to the surf. As luck would have it, we got to play one of my favorite old games, "wrong way, right way", familiar to any friends or family that have visited me anywhere ever. To play, first you must go the wrong way (at least once), and then you go the right way. Equal parts stupid and unrewarding.

First, we wanted to camp literally on the beach so we scouted up and down the playa for an entrance where there were cars on the beach (don't look at their tires or the big 4x4 stickers on them, key to playing "wrong way right way"). Shannon got out, measured the sand was only like 2 feet deep or so, at worst, and then I gunned my little lady Masi from the dirt entrance straight out onto the sand. I must relate that those three feet we made it onto the beach were exhilarating. Unfortunately, if not for a kind passer-by with a tow rope, that's where Masi would still be since she apparently is a real no-talent ass clown when it comes to sand. Anypoops, we got pulled out (Shan1's first tow!), and headed to sands of less depth. We found some of those, only like a foot, at MOST, this time, and with a similarly glassy look in my eye I gunned Masi onto the beach for a second towing experience. This time we made it like four feet, at least. After that, we just wanted safety and no more digging and towing. So yes, we found a solid inlet road and set up camp maybe 45 feet from the where the waves were crashing.

Successful tow numero uno! 

Later that night, Jose and his girlfriend Marcela came to join us for a whiskey-by-lantern-light on the beach, we talked, then all retired for the night- not before Marcela told us that where we were staying on the beach was "really not safe at all". Ah well! Waves, beach, not-too-deep sand, what could go wrong?

KOMBI CAMPER ALERT: cover your damn cab air/intake holes with mosquito netting!

If anyone has read the above alert, they will notice that if you do not take caution and cover the cab air vents (obviously not the engine ones, although we saw Kombis with those painted over which kinda flies in the face of the whole "air-cooled" part of the engine) then intelligent 'squeeters will fly in, fly around your face and ears, and bite the fuck out of you all night long without any feelings or remorse or concern for your sanity. This night filled with mosquitoes and hatred for the insect world, was a terrible one. If I had transformed into a mosquito through some Kafka-esque magic, I doubt Shan1 would've spared me...such were the levels of pure and intense hatred toward those guys. I plan on tithing a part of my future salary to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, as I support their mission to rid the world (universe?) of mosquitoes #kill-em-all. At least, that's how I understand the mission of their charity. What I'm saying is that night was rough, you guys.

Well, we survived, woke up in the morning (as alive people do), and we were literally on the beach. NOT BAD. Vultures picking at trash piles aside (for real Chile, what the actual fuck), I was able to wake up in my Kombi, with my beautiful wife, on the beach, in Chile—and that does not a bad life matter how many itchy bites one has on his face. From there, we met up with Jose for a tour of the city, a coffee, a visit to a surf hostal, and then said our good-byes to Jose as he was flying back down to Santiago that evening. We then drove out along the coast of Arica toward a nice little camping spot we found on iOverLander (shout out to this app—it's the bomb and please port over to 'Droid!). The spot was right at the mouth of a cave system along a coastal road (think PCH for the Californians) and situated only feet from the surf again. We parked up Masi, unfolded our table, cooked a delish dinner, and had a pretty solid night. In the morning, about 7 fishermen literally woke us up by banging into our Kombi with their rods and tackle and what I guess were bulky turtlenecks. Not cool guys. Also, lots of trash on the beach as the light revealed, the beach looked better in the dark. 

Playa Corazones where we spent our second night. The caves in the background are closed until December 2015 due to being cleaned and de-graffittied, yay!

We then spent the rest of the week in Arica, buying much-needed mosquito netting for Kombi cab intake holes, a tow rope for absolute crap performance in the sand, a sound system workaround for shoddy music choices on the FM tuner, and general sightseeing. Highlights:

  • OLDEST MUMMIES IN THE WORLD: not even kidding you guys, these mummies are from 5,000 bc, putting those young studs from Egypt to shame
  • Terminal Agro: Sweet open air market, Terminal Agro was the name, and selling life curiosities was its game (Beware wild packs of roving dogs though, they'll get ya)
  • Sunsets

We stayed a few nights at El Buey Surf Hostel, a place owned by Jose's friend, Giovanni. Super chill place, we had it basically to ourselves while there, and only minutes walk to a really nice beach named Playa El Laucho, right where a resto/bar called Tuto Beach is located. Freezing water, hot sun, not too shabby. 

Lunch at Tuto Beach on Playa El Laucho. 

From Arica, our next destination would be Putre, where just above is situated the world's highest lake called El Lako Mas Higho...just kidding it's called Lago Chungara and don't look up whether it's the highest, everyone told us that it is and these colors don't run.