Day Two With Our Campervan – Tornquist to Puerto Pirámides

Do you know what kind of thing a Guanaco is? Ya, I didn’t know it was even a thing either until I saw it on the side of the road.

  
It’s a relative of the alpaca but these guys are not domesticated – wild and free, jumping fences all over Argentina.

Here’s the story of how I got to know what a Guanaco is.

Our alarm went off at the hateful hour of 7am. No way were we making the same mistake again. 

Because we were camping opposite a factory, we felt a bit weird about sticking around to make coffee for ourselves. We quickly packed up our roadside bed and headed off to the nearest gas station to refuel our car and ourselves. 

Most of day two was spent driving through boring flat terrain. At least the sun was shining brightly instead of rain. We were even able to cook lunch on the side of the road.

Our goal was to make it to a proper campsite BEFORE it was pitch black. We’re learning lessons left, right, and centre here.

The campsite we had our eye on was on a peninsula – Valdes Peninsula – that was home to penguins. 

The main thing though was that we arrived before dark so we didn’t have a repeat of yesterday’s failed attempt at finding a campsite.

And so…Matt drove over 1,000kms and more than 11 hours. 

We paid our park entrance fee, and headed to town. And it was there on the side of the road that we saw our first group of Guanacos.

We did make our goal. We got to the campsite (which took a bit of finding) at 15 minutes to 7pm. The showers closed at 7pm – and we were desperate for a shower after sleeping on the side of the road! Before we even parked Peppy, we ran into the shower.

After our rushed but hot showers, we set about finding a good place to park for the night. 

And hereto we learned another lesson: Peppy can’t drive through soft sand.

Oh ya, she got stuck. But luckily not for too long. The crisis was averted by Matt’s driving skills and my pushing skills.

Truly, we’re novices at this Campervan-I got through Argentina but at least we’re quick learners!

So, we toasted a successful day with a glass of kind wine and then cooked dinner out the back of our van while the sun went down. 

 

As we were finishing dinner, our oblivious neighbours cranked their annoying music. So we packed up and moved to somewhere quieter. The amount of freedom in being able to do that is incredible.

– Cyn

Day One With Our Campervan – Buenos Aires to Tornquist

Today, the first official day of our new free life, was marked by poor time management. And don’t you worry, I can hear y’all rolling your eyes, shouting BUT YOU’VE BEEN TRAVELLING FOR ALMOST 9 MONTHS AND HAVEN’T WORKED IN LONGER!!

We slept-in…we woke up at 10am. A good sign, on the one hand, that our van stays dark and cool and quiet. But it was also a sign that we really need to utilize our alarms again — something we try to avoid unless we have an early morning bus to catch and generally don’t need because South Americans have little concept of shared space — if we ever want to get going at a reasonable hour. 

Now, ever since we entered Chile, 10am wake ups have been pretty normal. But we had about 6 hours of driving to do, so a lot, and we didn’t want to roll up at a camp site in the dark. So we should have set off way earlier. Like 8.

But hey-ho. 

We made a bee-line for the campground exit at 10:40am and headed to Wal-Mart (yep, they have them in Argentina) to pick up supplies for our adventure. With a bill of about 1,300 pesos ($180 CAD) and not $180 worth of stuff (thanks stupid inflation, you asshole), we set off on our next task: shoving food in every nook and cranny in our van. Space is at a premuim in old Peppy, let me tell you.

Now it’s about 12:40pm and we’re ready to hit the open road. And open this dang road was. It was flat and full of cows for the WHOLE DAY. Heeeeyyyy Argentinian beef industry, I see you. 

  
We saw nothing interesting – expect for the fact that I think cows are adorable and interesting… To make the flatness a bit worse, it was raining from morning to when we went to bed- alternating between a horrible drizzle and simply pissing it down. 

Although actually, we did see some GIANT birds which shocked the crap out of me and Matt at their first appearence. I don’t know what it was…and I didn’t get a picture for you, but I wish I couldn’ve. It was like a HUGE heron or something from another planet hanging out in all the cow pastures.  

A little bit about our route….we were driving from the outskirts of Buenos Aires to a tiny, one-well-illuminated- street town called Tornquist. The plan was to camp in Tornquist at a campground because there are some pretty hills there. We could hike for a bit or whatever once we got there. A little rain couldn’t deter us.

However…as the day worn on, it was getting later and later. (Obviously!! I can hear you shouting.) Our 6 hour drive was turning into 7 hours…then 8, then 9, then 10.

It was taking so long. 

And we never even stopped for food – t’was a day of peanut butter and nothing sandwiches follwed by peanuts and chocolate and bread-y things and I don’t know how we didn’t starve. It actually wasn’t bad though…it was the food of freedom, after all!


So finally it’s 8pm and we’re at a pretty nice gas statio, topping up our gas for the 3rd time, debating about whether we should continue on our just camp at the gas station for the night. 

That my friends, is the ultimate freedom: being able to sleep WHERE YOU WANT/NEED/AT A GAS STATION CAUASE THEY HAVE A BATHROOM cause your whole house is with you.

 We decide to push on because:

  1. It’s still light out and we’re optimistic that we can drive 200km  (or whatever, nobody was counting anymore) in 40 mins beca about 80 km an hour average  tells us so (??)
  2. There’s no wifi, we’re not tired, and have been told/basically promised there’s wifi at every campsite and we don’t want to sit in a gas station starting at the roof of our van
  3. Subconsciously we’re both afraid that if we turn our little butane burned on to cook dinner we’ll blow the gas station – and us – up

Neither of us talk about number 3. That. We don’t have to. Canada trained us to be terrified of any kind of flame at gas stations.

And so we drive. For a million more kilometers.

And by we, I mean Matt. Because I can’t drive standard, and EVERY CAR IN SOUTH AMERICA IS STANDARD. For our readers from not Canada…we call manual transmissions “standard”.

I’m an automatic gal all the way…and by virtue of that, also a permanent passenger who gets to be chauffered around Patagonia by her husband.  😀 Lucky me ’cause I hate driving!

Now that we’ve detoured here, let’s get back to our journey.

We roll up in the pitch black raining mess of 10:00pm at some random national park. We can’t see ANYTHING through the rain, save for a sign for pizza restaurant. Matt gets out to ask someone where the campsite is…it should be right around there but we can’t see anything.

In the dark and in the rain, he gets a loud knock at the window and a wag of the finger from the guy. Basically, “get off my property”. 

Thanks for the help! But I guess that’s what you should expect from a person who keeps his dog outside in the rain. 

So, we carry on a bit further into the national park and see a sign for a fancy hotel. Great, we can ask in there! 

The hotel was fancy!! We pull up and a nice, friendly waiter in the hotel restaurant tells us there’s a campsite 500m down the road. We’re nearly there. 

It’s around 10:30 at night now. We’re pretty tired and hungry.

We drive on and see the sign for the camping. It’s a long, windy driveway through some giant gates, similar to those found surrounding National Trust estates in the UK. We drive up, park, knock on the door and a voice comes from behind us. 

Unfortunately, we had failed to see the group of 40 kids who were here on some kind of school trip. They were in the dining area eating dinner (at 11pm because Argentina is weird like that). Their teacher told us the campsite was closed for their use only. 

We only had one choice. 

 

our first night was spent with a field on one side and a factory on the other
 
We found a decent enough place, with a field on one side and a factory on the other, parked, made peanut butter sandwiches (again), brushed our teeth, and went to sleep. 

It was nearly midnight. 

– Cyn and Matt

650 km – rain – 10ish hours

Day Zero With Our Campervan – Buenos Aires

I’m currently sitting in the Andean Roads campground in Buenos Aires admiring our Campervan. Sure, she’s not as fancy as a VW but she’s ours for 32 days…33 if you count today, day zero, our bonus day of sleeping in her!

We might not have a firm plan for where we’re going to go over the next month, but at least we have a name for our van. 

Her name is Peppy because…she’s “got a bit of pep” as Matt exclaimed when we took her for a test drive to a nearby restaurant. 

So there you go, meet Peppy!  

Day Zero has been spent with Matt organizing all of our belonging to fit into Peppy. It’s a tight squeeze because well…look at her. 

  
  
The table is the bed. The bed is the kitchen. And every crevasse has our things in it – not that we had a lot to begin with, but it seems like lots. 

Tonight we get acquainted and figure out how the bed works, and how not to suffercate ourselves while keeping mosquitoes out of old Peppy.

  
Here’s to Day Zero!

Cyn

…Edit…

Peppy got a little more action today. We cooked our first Campervan meal: pasta with tomato sauce and zucchini, onion, and red pepper. A meal I’m sure we’ll be eating well…everyday. It’s pretty funny cooking out the back our van!

  

Travel has many problems yet budgeting isn’t one

We’re asked on a not so regular basis how we manage to control and check our travel budget. It’s a fair enough question and one that I’m always more than happy to answer.

I’ll preface this post by saying that, a) I’m a project manager by profession which meant that, b) from the outset of deciding to travel I knew I’d have that whole budget thing hanging over me constantly if I didn’t plan on how I could monitor and control it. 

By controlling and monitoring the budget in a simple way I could then put it to the back of my mind and focus on the important things like lobster meals, snorkelling with sea turtles, mountain hiking in Peru, finding lost cities, driving through deserts, etc, etc…

Here’s how we’ve put our travel budget to the back of our mind:

1) How Much Dollar Do We Need?

We decided on our approximate daily budget range and decided on how long we wanted to travel for. We then simply multiplied x by y to give us the golden number of dollars we’d need to save up before heading to Nicaragua on March 12th 2015. Yes, the harder part was saving and, for us, this happened over many a moon.

2) Find A Tool To Rule Them All

The project manager in me thought, “there must be a simple application or online tool that someone else smarter than me has built to make my job easier by removing all the arduous admin work involved in keeping track of expenses and our budget.” Or something to that effect.

Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “Yes Matt, there is.” And there was much rejoicing. By me. Quietly. On my own. 

Cynthia by this point had delegated this entire budget monitoring project to me to ensure she could focus properly on googling “how long is too long to spend at a beach in the sun?” Followed closely by “Is there ever a ‘too long’ to spend at a beach?” She’s yet to find the answer.

Anyhow, THE tool. We use the incredibly easy to use Trail Wallet. It’s an app created by travelers for travelers and I cannot recommend this enough. 

3) Learn To Use And Set Up Trail Wallet

This step is pretty straightforward because, well, the app is just so perfectly easy to use.

  • First, watch the helpful video on the Voyager Apps website to get to know all the features of Trail Wallet.
  • Then, go to your newly installed app and add a new trip and give it a name!
  • Then, if you have your magic budget number already you can enter in a start and end date and then enter in your total trip budget. Don’t worry, you can edit all these at any time so if your trip goes on further then you can extend that end date. If you win the lottery and your budget increases, you can increase it!
  • You can then enter in currencies. We started with Nicaraguan Cordobas and then added new currencies as we moved onto different countries. We also used Canadian Dollars as this is our home currency. (p.s. When you’re connected to WiFi, you can update the exchange rates.)
  • Exit out of there to your home screen and then click on your trip. The next screen is where you’ll have all your information handy to you.

Once we completed all this, we were trained up and ready to start tracking expenses and therefore ready to begin monitoring and controlling our year-long travel budget! Waahooo!

4) Start Tracking Those Expenses

Yes, for this gem of an app to work and for you to end those sleepless nights wondering how much money you have to spend per day today and how much you have left in the piggy bank… You do need to enter in EVERY expense.

Just simply go to your trip homepage, click the plus sign, enter in the amount, ensure its the correct currency (hint: don’t mix up those Colombian Pesos for Chilean Pesos!) and, if you like, select a category (see below) of expense and add a note. 

That’s it. It’s quicker than writing it down on putting it in your notes. Plus, the app will subtract the amount from your trip and daily budget and it will tell you what your “adjusted budget” (see below) is now. 

So, so easy yet nice and effective.

5) Keep On Repeating Step 4 So You Can Monitor at your Leisure!

That’s right, we enter every expense so that now we can still see our daily budget as it was at the start of the trip yet now we can also see our adjusted daily budget (if you tap on your budget that appears on your trip home screen) to see how it’s increased over time because of all those days that have come under budget, again, waahoooo!

In settings you can add, edit and remove categories. We like categories because we can use the apps built in charts function to see precisely where our money has been going. We use big catch all categories like “accomodation” and “food/groceries/water”. We’re up to 12 categories now and it’s no surprise that accomodation and food is where most of that money has gone.

——————–

So, that’s how we do it. We found and downloaded an app and we use it on a daily basis. 

The project manager in me is content because I can monitor and control our budget very very easily. And Cynthia and I can always sleep without worrying about unanswered questions surrounding money when traveling. We’ve always got the answers in our Trail Wallet

— Matt

Valparaíso, Don’t Ever Comb Your Hair

A few hours from Santiago, charming, colourful, and creative Valparaíso is calling your name.

This seaside city all but defies words, inspiring feelings and wonder and an unusual curiosity.

The country’s most famous poet once said

Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you. – Pablo Neruda

Having walked around the city a little bit, I can see why. Perhaps you can too.    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
Please, don’t ever comb your hair. 

– Cyn