Last night, a woman stole my phone from my bag. I felt her do it, I saw her walk away, and I stood there dumbfounded. I was 100 percent sure she did it, but I was too scared to accuse her and confront her in case I was wrong. Next time, I hope I won’t give the other person the benefit of the doubt – better to apologize and leave with your phone – there’s nothing in it for the nice person.
I get that it could have been so much worse. I could have been robbed at gun point like another couple staying in our hosel was 4 weeks ago in Brazil. But it doesn’t take away the horrible feelings that I have.
I feel like such an idiot having done nothing. 11 months of pictures, gone. Even more if you count all the pictures that weren’t from our trip. Because I was stupid and cheap and didn’t buy more iCloud storage to back up my pictures. And when I finally went to do it, I couldn’t because something went wrong on my Mac in Canada. And so, I carried on travelling knowing that if anything happened to my phone that it would all be gone.
But I never thought anything wouldn’t actually happen.
Then it did.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the blog posts have been coming at a glacial pace – I’ve been slow as molasses (to borrow a phrase I love from my old colleague) to write. But I have ideas. Things I really wanted to share with you. Things I really wanted to write on this blog and illustrate with photos. And then when I was done, I wanted to print it all out and bind it like a book – something that Matt and I could flip through when we got grey and old and technology got away from us.
But now I have almost no pictures to share.
With you. Or with anyone.
And that woman stole your chance to continue on our Patagonia road trip with us – she stole your chance to visit the wonderful parks in Montevideo – to see more of Iguazu Falls, or any of Salta. Not to mention all the places I showed you a bit of but left so much more for later.
She stole from us, you and me, so much opportunity.
And that’s why I hate greed. Because for a little bit of profit and with evidently zero regard for another human being, she’s hurt me so much. It’s the same with greed of any kind. When a boss won’t give a raise, when an employer won’t pay the females employees fairly, when people are displaced so that natural resources can be exploited, they lose so much opportunity. So much of what could have been, won’t.
I suppose the only blessing in this situation – for me at least – is that it reminded me of that. That greed, in any form, really and truly hurts people, whether you know them or not. It’s a reminder to do more to live kindly.
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.
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.
Obviously, we went to Easter Island to see the Moai. They truly are giants!
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
Ahu Te Pito Kura
Ana Te Pah
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.
We stayed in a town called shrimps!! And saw a lot of penguins!!
Camarones is the Spanish word for prawn/shrimp (plural) and all throughout Central and South America we’ve seen towns named after the little fellas, which we thought…and probably forever will think…was so hilarious. I mean, who calls a town shrimp? Needless to say that when we saw we could finally lay our head to rest in a place called shrimp we took it.
The town itself was unremarkable save for the beautiful sunset. In fact, it was a one-shrimp kinda town. The even funnier thing about this town called shrimp was that it had a huge monument dedicated to salmon. Go figure.
Things in South America don’t always make sense to us.
Now I’ll be totally truthful with you: we didn’t go all the way to a town called camarones for a laugh. We actually stayed there because we had been slightly north in Punta Tombo to visit another huge Magellanic penguin colony. In fact, it’s the biggest in South America.
And indeed, the colony at Punta Tombo was more impressive than the one on Valdes Peninsula that we had seen the day before.
At both locations, people were seperated from the wildlife so you couldn’t walk wherever you wanted to. It wasn’t a huge deal for us but if you’re a photographer, or just generally hate being told what you can and can’t do while you’re a visitor in another country, it might annoy you. The reason for the forced seperation is probably because there are too many people who have tried to pet the penguins. Every single one of the penguins at Punta Tombo is there to nest and its good that we can let them nest and raise their babies in peace.
With that said, we got SUPER close to the penguins. They aren’t scared at all and some are even curious. Mostly they just ignore people though and go about their daily penguin business.
This is the second day we saw penguins, and awesomely, it won’t be the last!
In our last post, I was supposed to include all of this information about day 4 but I forgot! So here you go…a whole seperate post.
Magellanic Penguins! South American Sea Lions! Elephant Seals! Guanaco! Rhea!
These days were filled with more animals than driving, most of the kind that we were never taught about in school.
Unfortunately, the ones we weren’t taught about – like the rhea (a small ostrich type land bird) and the guanaco (related to the alpaca) – are a bit hard to get pictures of using an iPhone. So, all I really got for you were pictures of young sea lions/elephant seals (I don’t know which) play fighting on the beach and super up close shots of Magellanic Penguins. I hope that’s okay 🙂
This was the first time we’ve ever seen penguins in real life in the wild, and it was incredible! They are so darn cute.
Day three we drove around the Valdes Peninsula, which, like most of eastern Patagonia, was quite barren. We’d hardly seen a tree in days. The treeless views meant that we had no trouble spotting rheas and guanaco though.
There are also these funny birds that hate flying (but can) and have fancy little head pieces, which makes them look like they’re on their way to a British wedding. If their fru-fru head pieces have any survival value, I’d be super surprised.
They were perpetually crossing the road in front of us while we were on the Valdes Peninsula (and later we’d find out that they’d be doing through all of eastern Patagonia). They were rarely in a rush but when the started running, their little legs got going so fast that they looked almost like the Road Runner’s (not the same kind of bird, I just checked).
It’s probably worth mentioning that the day our dreams came true, a nightmare was unfolding for people in Paris. We caught a glimpse that something really bad was happening on an old tv in a great little bakery in Puerto Pirámides in the morning, but we couldn’t get the full story until that night.
We spent the night at a great campsite on the edge of Puerto Madryn, a place that had a huge beach and seemed quite energetic. If we had more time, I would have so been up for a lazy beach day.
Ugh you guys, I made a mistake and completely forgot to include even a single peep about day 4. Not really a problem, but the cover image is from Punta Tombo…not Puerta Pirámides. Sorry for the ghastly confusion.