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

Pisco Paul’s Peruvian Pursuit [Video] – Peru Hop from Lima to Cusco

He thought it was going to be a relaxing tropical vacation. And then Matt sent him the 2.5 week itinerary…and told him to pack a hat. A wool hat. Because it’s gunna be cold.

A trip to Peru in August isn’t a tropical vacation. 

It’s not exactly relaxing either. Why would you sleep in when you could be out exploring a desert, or sand boarding down sand dunes, or hiking the world’s second deepest canyon, or hanging out with penguins (from afar)? 

You can have a lifetime of experiences in just a few weeks in Peru – and explore one of the Seven Wonders of the World while you’re at it.

So that’s exactly what we set out to do!

Pisco Paul’s Peruvian Pursuit started in Lima. In Lima, we boarded a Peru Hop bus and let the insanity of a non-stop two and half week trip through Southern Peru commence. 

I’m talking…

…a nearly 5000 meter altitude gain meeting “Juanita” the Incan ice maiden in Arequipa – panoramic views of Lima and Puno –  exploring deserts and mountains – the best dang clay oven Andean bread you could ever have – partying in the small but mighty desert town of Huacachina – losing it in underground slave tunnels – getting caught up in the stories of ancient Peruvian cultures –  witnessing smoking volcanos – more pre-5:30am wake-ups than are reasonable – hiking the world’s second deepest canyon – the only Peruvian desert oasis – coming pretty close to dying during dune buggying – sandboarding down sand dunes – 2 horrible night buses – 2 awesome boat rides – the chance to admire penguins, sealions, and boobies – lots of packets of Ritz cheese crackers – delicious (alpaca) crepes in Arequipa – catching sight of magestic (but ugly) condors – visiting floating islands made out of reeds on Lake Titikaka – so many pisco sours and cervezas – a few cold showers – hiking along railroad tracks – having an eagle sit on your head – and basking in the beauty and glory of Machu Picchu

Those words up there can’t do those two and a half weeks justice – and I know it. Just watch the video, okay? Be warned though, you might have the sudden urge to book a ticket to Peru. And who are we to blame you!?

If videos aren’t your thing (or you suffer from super slow internet like we do sometimes), Matt put together this picture album just for you!

Our Route:

Lima – Paracas + the Ballestas Islands – Huacachina for the sand dunes- Arequipa – Colca Canyon – Puno – Lake Titikaka – Cusco – Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Cusco

For 10 days, we travelled with Peru Hop from Lima to Cusco. For simplicity’s sake, we booked all of our tours and excursions through them, and were pleased with all of them. We didn’t use their hostel recommendations, rather, we opted to book our own accomodation in each city and town. And we DIYed our trip to Machu Picchu because of time and budget constraints. 

– Cyn and Matt

Salento, What’s To Love? [Video]

If Salento was a person, Salento would be a free-spirit bohemian cowgirl. Dirt under her fingernails, and flowers in her hair. She’d be playful and passionate and partly old-fashioned. As she milked the cows, and trained her horses, her whimsical water-coloured tattoo would peak out of her poncho. She’d smell of earth and rainbows and festivals. 

  
Salento is one of the most special places I’ve ever been to. And even though I actually barfed in the back of a cramped mini-bus while we were stuck in horrendous weekend traffic on the side of the mountain, it was so worth it.

On weekends, tiny Salento has a fantastically festive vibe. Tons of people from surrounding cities make their way to enjoy this bohemian cowgirl of a place. While I normally despise hordes of people in tiny places (or any place, actually), it was charming here. Really.

  
The energy was fun and relaxed. Old men and women pushed little kids around in circles on tot-sized Willys jeeps. Big Willys Jeeps shuttled people to and fro. People ate and drank and were merry. Even the street dogs were happily chowing down on giant scraps of food.

  
We especially enjoyed going into all the little shops, dreaming of the things we’d buy if we were here just on vacation. I swear, we’ll have to go back just so we can outfit ourselves and our home in all things Salento.

   
  

After the weekend, Salento was quiet. The festive energy was gone and it was purely natural. 

This place, and the nearby Cocora Valley — one of my favourite places on earth — are a dream.

The Cocora Valley is home to the sky high Quindio wax palms, a symbol of Colombia. These trees are pure magic. 

The more we hiked, the more it felt like we had stepped off earth and into the pages of a Dr. Suess book. Join us there for a moment, will you?

I’ll tell you more about how to get to Salento, the coffee tour we did there, and hiking around the Cocora Valley later. For now, I hope you’ll just sit back, watch the video, and then let your mind take you somewhere magical.

— Cyn

Panama City’s Urban Forest: Every City Should Have One

Amidst the high rises, the traffic, and the slums lies a gem in Panama City. It is in fact, the lung of the city.


A few days ago, Matt and I went to the Metropolitan Natural Park / Parque Natural Metropolitano de Panama for a short hike. The fact that you can hike in the city was pretty awesome. Even more awesome though?

The animals that we saw!

When we first entered the park, there was a pond to our left full of very curious turtles. If you know me, then you’ll know that I just LOVE turtles. Basically, my love affair started on a cruise through the Eastern Carribean when my mom, sister and I went snorkling. I think we were off the coast of St. Thomas but I was a total tourist for that week and I can’t remember where we actually were. Anyway, during our snorkling adventure, I came across a magestic sea turtle who was eating sea lettuce all alone.

It was love at first sight – and my love for the sea lettuce eating sea turtle has expanded to a love for every turtle. Even normal pond turtles.

Which is what I think that the turtles at Metropolitan Natural Park were. Possibly they were red ear sliders because they had some red on their ears. But to be honest, I’m probably making up the name of them.
Anyway, these guys were awesome! They were so curious. They poked their wise old faces out of the water when we were near, and swam-shuffled up to us! It still makes me smile and laugh thinking about them!

I’m not totally naive, and realize that there is the possibility that they’re frequently fed by humans and have thus become accostumed to humans…and associate us with food. Still, I like to think they’re simply curious.

One animal that we saw was definitely not fed by humans. At least judging by how scared one of them looked when we were near.

Matt and I had been walking through the park for about 2 minutes after we hung out with the turtles (and missed a sloth in the tree above, whoops), when we heard this sort of chirping noice. We both thought it was a bird. What the heck else chirps?!

Geoffroy’s tamarin, that’s what!

These little tiny monkeys were up in the trees, chirping and chitter-chattering away.

Until about 5 minutes ago when I was reseraching for this blog post, I’d never even heard of a Geoffroy’s tamarin. It’s such a cool feeling when you see an animal that you don’t know the name of. It instills a sense of awe and wonder. It’s basically what I imagine children feel like every single day until they grow up and get bored with the norm. That’s why I think it’s important to travel!

This first-hand realization that the world is still a mysterious and intriguing place is pretty powerful. Do I sound like a mad-man right now?

Anyway, as we continued our hike, a little 4 legged creature ran across the path behind us. It was about the size of a little pigglet. I don’t know what it was, but maybe it was a capybara or a lowland paca. It was a quick little guy and had no intenion of being seen by humans. I didn’t get a picture of it, so no, you’re not overlooking it in the picture below!

 

Besides the benefit of giving city dwellers a break from the concret jungle, the forest in the middle of the city is home to so many animals, and types of plants, and the trees help clean the air and give oxygen. Every city should have one!

— Cyn

To get to Metropolitan Natural Park / Parque Natural Metropolitano de Panama, we took a taxi for about 15 minutes from the Marbella neighbourhood and it cost us $4 one way.