10,000km of Small Van Living Through Argentina and Chile (in an Andean Roads Rental) – [Video]

32 days. 10,000 kilometres. 1 flat tire. 2 countries. 3 penguin colonies. 1 petrified forest. 2 glaciers. A boat trip to marble caves. 1 lesson in taking Mate. 2 new winter jackets.  Hikes through mountains. Emerald rivers, turquoise lakes, soaring mountains, breathtaking lunch breaks, vengeful Patagonian winds.

One unforgettable trip to the end of the world and back. 

About Our Route

On November 12, we set off in Peppy, a small rented Renault Kangoo. We drove from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (about 3,100 kilometres) down the flat, straight, and super windy coast of Argentina. It took us less than a week to do it. Ushuaia is the most southern city in the entire world but it didn’t feel remote at all. To get that remote feeling we so craved, we drove east from Ushuaia for a few hours, stopping to admire teeny villages and the beautiful scenery, before we began our northward journey.

We spent about 3 weeks criss-crossing the Andes from Argentina to Chile and Chile to Argentina, again and again. We’ve got pages in our passports full of stamps to prove it. Our favourite part of this portion of the trip was our time in Torres del Paine National Park. Though we didn’t do a multi-day hike, we spent a day doing shorter hikes to Grey’s Glacier and to a Mirador that first overlooked beautiful turquoise waterfalls and an hour later provided breathtaking views ofthe backside of the Torres. The next day, after free-camping in the parking lot of the fancy Torres del Paine hotel, we set off on a full day hike to the Torres Del Paine mirador. That national park was the most beautiful thing we experienced on our trip up the Andes.

Small Van Living

In a small van like the one we rented from Andean Roads, you don’t really live in the van. You sleep in the van but you live outside.

You cook and eat and drink outside. Sometimes on the side of roads, sometimes on the edge of mountains, sometimes in lush forests, sometimes on the banks of turquoise lakes, sometimes in the whipping wind, sometimes by the heat of a fire. 

You do everything outside. You’ve got to love the outdoors (and be lucky with the weather) if you’re going to enjoy small van living. It was awesome for us.

  
 

Now, when I say Small Van Living, I’m not exactly talking about a tiny travelling house akin to the tiny house revolution homes but on wheels. You know those adorable, super stylish, tiny houses that I’m talking about, right? Well, our Peppy wasn’t like that. After all, she was a Renault Kangoo

Basically, it looked like we were travelling painters/decorators, driving around in a little boxy white work van. Fortunately for us, the guys at Andean Roads did an awesome job converting the inside of the van into a functional, liveable space. By liveable, I mean it was really great for sleeping.

After every day of driving, the first thing we’d do when we stopped is put up the blackout curtains, and then set up the bed. Setting up the bed was easy enough: simply put the front seats in their most forward position, pull up the wooden flap to support our heads, move the mattress cushions into position, and put the sheets on. Matt pretty much always set up and dismantled the bed while I did…I don’t know what.

If we were going to be cooking out the back of the van, we wouldn’t set up the whole bed right away — just the front part. Our butane burner and foodstuffs were stored on the back right side of the van, while our clothes were stored on the back left, both under the bed once it was made. This meant that if we needed anything after the bed was made, it was a big of a pain in the ass to get.

When you’re living in a space that small, there’s constant Tetris playing, shuffling, and doing/undoing of things. It’s just how it is.

  
 

The lack of toilet/bathroom in the van didn’t make any difference to us. In fact, it was liberating.

We just peed wherever…the side of roads, behind trees, up hills, overlooking seriously gorgeous mountains. To be honest, I thought I might have a hard time reintegrating back into a city where you couldn’t just pop a squat the second you had the urge. Sans shower, our hygiene went out the window on days when we free-camped (because there are no showers at free campsites), but no matter. It wasn’t hot out so we weren’t sweating much and if we stunk, we stunk together. For the most part though, we did pay for camping, where we’d have toilets and hot showers.

  
  
Speaking of stinking, one of the best things about small van living was that we could just up and leave crappy/loud campsites on a whim. Which we did do on a few occasions. Another huge bonus about the small statue of our tiny camper van was that we could camp in places where big rigs (big fancy campers) couldn’t fit. In Puerto Natales in Chile, we camped in a quiet campsite/hostel that had more bathrooms than bedrooms and an indoor and outdoor kitchen. It was awesome and definitely wouldn’t have been possible if our camper van was much bigger.

Renting From Andean Roads in Buenos Aires

 

We were in Chile when started arranging our trip with Cris at Andean Roads. Everything was done by email, save for a Skype phone call to pay our deposit by credit card and to iron out any final questions. Cris was always quick to respond. From our first contact with ris by email to our last moments at the Andean Roads campsite in Buenos Aires with Sebastian, their customer service was top notch. We felt valued and important to them, which was so refreshing after a poor experience we had dealing with a different small campervan rental company based in Chile.

They gave us an awesome atlas book to help us on our journey and spent quite a while talking us through routes, and giving recommendations for stopping, camping, and things to see along the way. All of this was so helpful because we had no idea what we were doing or where we were really going.

I felt like the guys at Andean Roads truly go out of their way for their customers. They picked us up at the bus station in Buenos Aires (and waited nearly 2 hours for us because our bus was delayed) the day before our rental agreement officially started, and they let us sleep in the van that night so we could set off first thing the next day. When we returned the van, they paid for us to take a taxi to our Airbnb in Buenos Aires city. Like how nice is that!?

Returning the van was simple. Sebastian did a quick inspection, we told him about a tire that was literally disintegrating, and he picked his jaw off the ground when he saw we drove 10,000 kilometres in 32 days. There was a moment when he thought we did 2,000 kms more than was included but once Matt reminded him we had unlimited kilometres, all was good. All in all, we had a totally pleasant experience with Andean Roads. And their little Renault Kangoo, Peppy (our name, not theirs) gave us one of the best experiences of our South America trip: a 10,000 kilometre journey to the end of the world and back.

Here’s to many more adventures in 2016!

— Cyn and Matt

The Magic of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) – [Video]

What a place! If I could beam you there right now, I would, so that you could experience the magic of the island yourself. It’s so hard to describe. In fact, I’ve been mulling this blog post over in my head for months. I’ve started writing it multiple times. But, I fear — and I know — that I simply can’t do Easter Island justice. It’s truly magical and renders me essentially wordless.

And so, I suggest that you turn up your sound and press play on the video that Matt made below. It’ll give you a better taste of our trip to Easter Island that my words can’t.

It’s hard to describe Easter Island because it’s so much more than a tiny Pacific island. It’s so much more than its Moai. And it’s so much more than the beautiful Polynesian culture. Of course, if you took any one of those things away, it wouldn’t be the same. But the land itself, it’s got an energy about it that just makes you feel so alive.

What The Island Is Like

Rapa Nui is tiny – at its widest/longest, it takes about 30 minutes to drive from one side to the other. There’s only one town, Hanga Roa, and that’s where the majority of people live. Basically, aside from Hanga Roa and the occasional farm outside the town, the island is only inhabited by cows and horses roaming wildly. 

The island itself looks like it was pushed out of the water by benevolent and strong beings. Because 3 volcanos formed the island (in the shape of a triangle), there aren’t many beaches. In fact, there’s really only one.

Rather than soft sandy slopes bringing the island to meet the ocean, there are dramaticly black volcanic cliffs. You can see them in the video above.

They’re breathtakingly beautiful, don’t you think?

  

Rapa Nui Hospitality

 Honestly, it’s stellar.

From the moment we stepped off the plane to the moment we boarded a week later, we felt nothing but warmth. Benjamin, the man who owns and runs the hostel/campsite Tipanie Moana (where we stayed), met us at the airport. He greeted us with a big smile and put a flower lei around both of our necks. 

  
It’s part of Polynesian culture and we felt truly lucky to be on the receiving end.

I think that the hospitality that Benjamin, Cinthia, and the other good people at Tipanie Moana showed us helped make our time on Easter Island so special. Everyday, Benjamin would ask us how we were doing, if we needed help, and how we were finding our stay so far. The facilities – showers, bathrooms, and kitchen and dining area – were immaculately kept. And they secured little discounts for things like car rentals and cultural shows for us and the other guests. Even though we were  staying as cheaply as possible in one of their tents, we got five-star service (they even gave us a small lock and sleeping bags to use free of charge).

Everyone was nice. People smiled and said hello, and were just so warm and friendly.

Hitch-hiking culture is alive and well on Rapa Nui. To be honest, it’s no surprise since the island is so small, both in terms of population (about 6,000) and area. Our first day on Easter Island, we were walking along the coastal road (they’re pretty much all coastal) in the rain. A woman was driving by with her kids and she offered us a ride back to town. We happily hopped in and she took us all the way to the grocery store.  

People were always stopping to offer us rides – mostly we walked, but sometimes we accepted and nobody ever asked for anything in return. That’s how Easter Island is. Even the dogs would walk with us for hours on end and we never even gave them food. 

Spectacular Moai

Obviously, we went to Easter Island to see the Moai. They truly are giants!

  

  

   

   

 
    
They didn’t disappoint!

Our Self-Guided Week On Easter Island

As soon as we bought our Easter Island bible — A Companion to Easter Island: A Concise Guide to the History, Culture and Individual Archaeological sites of Rapa Nui by James Grant-Peterkin —  we knew that we would be able to have an amazing time seeing sites on our own (as opposed to paying for tours). 

The book never left us for that entire week. One day we did a self guided walking tour of part of the island – it was 7 hours and around 27 km and by the end of it, we’d picked up 5 dogs! 

  

Two other days we drove around the island. And because car rentals are for 24 hours, we’d rent the car in the afternoon and be able to catch the sunrise at Tongariki, or visit our favourite sites before the tour buses got there.

As we followed along with The Book’s recommended itineraries, we’d read the stories out loud about the Moai that we were seeing. It was awesome.

In no particular order, we saw:

  • Tahai at sunset
  • Rano Raraku aka the Moai nursery
  • Tongariki at sunrise
  • Orongo to learn about the Birdman competition
  • Ahu AKivi, one of the only restored platforms with Moain inland
  • The Rano Kay crater
  • The beautiful Anakena beach with gorgeous Ahu Nau Nau
  • Puna Pau, where the Moai’s distinct red Pukao (topknots/hair) were made
  • Papa Vaka
  • Ahu Te Pito Kura
  • Akahana
  • Ana Te Pah
  • The museum
  • A Polynesian dance performance

  
I’m sure I’m forgetting some spectacular sights in that list as well. I think that with a week, we had a really good amount of time to see the island at a relaxed pace. Anything less and we would have had to have rushed some things or just skipped them altogether, which would have been a shame. If we had a few more days, I could have tried surfing and easily spent more days on the beach. I don’t know if it’s possible to get bored on Easter Island but I don’t think it is.

— Matt and Cyn