Dreamers Caravan // Argentina & Chile
To blog or not to blog- that has been the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer retracing our steps of 1.5 years ago? Or to take arms against the full hard-drives, and by posting end them?
Ok- so enough with butchering of Shakespere. But Adam & I have been in serious overlaod looking at the past year and a half that has not been blogged, but we are diving in, and rededicating ourselves to sharing (in the long form) the twists and turns of our rambling on the Open Road.
This blog is from our time in Northern Argentine Patagonia in August 2015.
Refreshed and lusting for our life on the road, we four returned from our stateside visit to Villa La Angostura, Argentina with our friends Connan & Cali (who are now on a journey of their own: We Are Nomads). For 3 months time our van, tucked beneath a plastic tarp, sat in wait for our return. Unwrapping our van felt like a present once again, this gift to have access to see the world at large, so slowly travel through places both simple and grand. There is nothing quite so exciting as embarking on a new leg of a journey. New roads and adventures ahead, the plotting and planning giving way to the supple current of slow travel. After a few days of catching up with our pals, and moving back into the van, we were acclimated to the idea of living in so few square feet of space and ready to hit the road once again. Heading up the famed Ruta del Siete Lagos- Route of the Seven Lakes- is a divine stretch of good pavement connecting the village of Villa La Angostura with San Martin de Los Andes just 60 miles away. And no, we didn’t drive 60 miles with Sierra on my lap- this was on a short jaunt on a dirt road.
I clarify this because over the years we have received much praise and some stinging criticism on how we live our lives and how we raise our children. In sharing our life with the world at large, we realize this is something we have by circumstance agreed to. That not all who read will see things how we do. (Yay, diversity!) But in reflecting on this, it is so strange how ten (or a hundred) wonderful comments do not hold a candle to, say, one disparaging remark. That the negative can easily override the positive; a reflection for the world at large, not just this personal introspection. It is a skill we are still developing- to open our lives to the outside world, share from a place of love and listen without letting it effect us deeply. Non-attachment is a difficult practice. So here we are, being real, and vulnerable about our life, sharing with you how we are choosing to live beyond the standard diet of modern American life.After 10 days of rain, the clouds parted for a bit, so we stretched our legs at a pullout on Rio Pichi Traful. Yes- we are thooose people who pull out for every scenic viewpoint or farm stand. This is what we do it for; not to jam from one point to the next.Aaaand then the rain started again. Vanlife is not a weekend adventure, one that is planned only for blue skies. It requires discomfort often, financial frugality, constant reassessment of the circumstances, and adaptation. A willingness to accept what comes, and decide the best course then. The rewards to be reaped in that equation are as innumerable as peaks in the Andes!The rain was melting the little snow that was on the ground, making every venture outside a sloshy, squishy experience. Boots for kids on, jacket- check, splash-splosh “jumping in muddy puddles is fun!” the girls get little screen time, but when they do- Peppa Pig is a favorite.
In our own adult lives, we experience this too. We find the dichotomy of social media and the desires to be disengaged a constant challenge. Every few days we visit a gas station or cafe with wifi and share pictures, or occasionally get a hotel room for hot showers and heat in the night. On the road, we do not keep phone service, or have internet for the van. Daily we ‘connect’ to each other, not a signal.
From a silently moving river, beyond the jade surface my eyes focused on the current pushing hard in the flashing depths, drawing the eye down water. The river narrowed into a swiftly moving channel, which erupted off the ledge in a spray of whitewater, and fell to a forest of rocks below, the resounding clamor rising with the mist.
Adam, is our man with the camera. The one who perpetually documents our adventure, and spends the hours behind the screen to select which of the 5 billion images are worthy to share. Once in a while I (Emily) get a shot from behind the lens that makes the cut. August in the Southern Hemisphere is winter. Winter in Patagonia is cold. Cold in the mountains means snow, and we were stoked to see what winter adventures we could find as a family. Having essentially avoided winter for the previous 3 years, it was a concerted effort to step up our layers and blanket situation to properly ensure comfort. Our 1990 VW Westfalia has no additional insulation, no heating while we are parked, and when the top is popped a thin cotton tent (with a few well earned holes) allow a few unwelcome gusts of Patagonia’s famous wind to sneak in. We brought back a Mr. Buddy heater, but were unable to fly with canisters or locate any for purchase. So that little comfort sits stowed below the bench seat, taking up precious space.
Our thin blanket was replaced with a down comforter and flannel douvet, plus a few other alpaca blankets. Hats and long johns, gloves and boots, waterproof jackets and snow pants- for four- now had to find a home in our tiny adventuremobile. Moving back into the van was a fun game of jenga for sure. Organization slowly emerging from the piles of random stuff with no home.
Our little road warriors snoozing between destinations. Here (in August 2015) Colette is 4.5 and Sierra has just 14 months! After arriving to camp, our routine is we move the safety seats to the front, pull out the table, read books, cook dinner and play inside when the wind is howling, shaking the pop-top on the van.
Oh yes- we woke up like this! Camped on the shores of Lago Villarino was free and dreamy. Just look at that! It is the getting out of our warm bed after a cold night (slept with hats and sweaters on!) that is the hardest part. We find some running around with the kiddos really gets the blood pumping!
Offering our children a childhood unplugged is what this adventure really boils down to. Time and space for throwing rocks into water, and watching the ripples circle out, for learning to walk amongst the pine cones.
Of course, there are the mountains of scientific research that show rates of childhood obesity, ADHD, and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have skyrocketed as kids time outdoors has decreased in the past decades. Children today spend on average half the time outdoors than they did 20 years ago! Free time and free play in the outdoors aids an increased life-span, greater well-being, fewer symptoms of depression, lower rates of smoking and substance misuse but also an increased ability to function better at work and home. Sunlight provides vitamin D that helps make healthy bones, and protects against heart disease and diabetes. Being outdoors improves distance vision and lowers rates of nearsightedness, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Environmental education fosters creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual development. Green plants & vistas reduce stress and increase attention span. Even ‘risky’ outdoor play encourages creativity, social skills and resilience.
The importance is measurable in scientific terms, but more than the world of graphs and charts, is smiles and deep peace. Of connectedness and understanding of interconnectedness. Henry David Thoreau, Jane Goodall, Charles Darwin, Florence Merriam, John Muir, Rachel Carson, David Attenborough, Alexander von Humboldt, Diane Ackerman, John James Audobon, Dian Fossey, are a handful of the incredible minds inspired by our natural world.
We offer the opportunity to see the natural world, in heat and cold, with thin dry air and in humid lowlands, as playground and school ground, for the brutality and beauty it offers, for the peace it provides and curiosity it inspires. Perhaps our girls will make an impact such as any of the above visionaries.
San Martin de Los Andes at the north shore of Lacar Lake- a tourism heavy town with about 25,000 people. Most folks use this as the outpost for Chapelco ski resort in winter months. The streets are draped with chocolate shops, and fancy restaurants offering Patagoniain cuisine- local wine (Malbec por favor!) venison, trout, lamb, wild mushrooms, pasta and chocolate or (this being Argentina) dulce de leche on something- crepes perhaps- for dessert. Being on a overland adventure- not a vacation- we gotta stick to budget friendly spots (when we do eat out) and found a solid pizzeria.
Patagonia is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. We spent many months in Southern Patagonia, and in places like El Chalten- home of the famed Fitz Roy peaks, we saw innumerable rock climbers with their gear heading out to the most stunning peaks we’ve seen. We dreamed of venturing further than simply hiking amongst the rocks, we wanted to commune with them. So when back in California, we invested in some gear that would allow us to adventure deeper than ever before. It is never too late to learn a new skill, or birth a new passion- and rock climbing was something Adam & I had been dreaming up for a while.
That being said- climbing is not new to him. Growing up within walking distance to the “Devil’s Punchbowl” Adam would often free climb up past sport climbers on ropes. His strength and skill as a teenager I have no doubt of, but looking back, he is thankful to not be tucked into a wheelchair. It was a combination I believe was 80% budgetary, 20% badassery.
Surely you’ve heard the phrase mi casa es su casa used as a welcome. Come in, use the bathroom. But we have never had such an deep and easy bond to truly flow with another couple. Like instant family, where you dance around the kitchen sharing 3 meals a day, and nobody gets annoyed if the one bathroom is occupied when you gotta go. Fate led us to Cali & Connan’s doorstep (read about it at the end of this post). Busy working, scrimping and saving for their own grand voyage (follow their instagram) , Cali & Connan weren’t able to adventure out much with us, but truly opened their garage-turned-apartment to us; in the unpredictable weather of Patagonia’s winter, this home base was a deep blessing.
Connan under his own VW- a Brazilian made model that was giving him a hell of a time. Love the coffee bags wall treatment. Sierra snuggled up with Bali, a Pit Bull they rescued in Nicaragua some years earlier.Hearing we were back in Argentina, our pals Katie & Greg of Crepe Attack headed from where they were in Cordoba for a long 1,000 mile+ haul to join up with us in Villa La Angostura. So now three sets of van-enthusiasts were piled into Cali & Connan’s garage-apartment avoiding the rain that fell and fell and fell.
Our dear hosts suggested we make raclette for their arrival dinner! Adam & I had never had raclette, and after learning it was French/Swiss we knew that Greg would love it. So we prepped according to their guidance (cheese of course, and potato, onion, meat) and of course brought some unorthodox ingredients into the mix (because egg, bell peppers and zucchini are delish). After a day of lounging at the now quite full garage-apartment- we and Crepe Attack took off for some snow fun at Cerro Chapelco, the ski resort nearest to San Martin de Los Andes up the dreamy scenic route. But in the parking lot of the grocery store, Greg spotted his first vehicular problem of their entire trip (lucky them!) which was an engine seal leaking oil.
Deeming it super risky to drive with the problem, and itching to get out while there was a break in the storm, they drove the few clicks back and parked their ride at Cali & Connans, then we piled ALL their stuff into our Westy for 6 people PLUS all our snowboarding gear. After a few hours we made it to Chapelco and camped in the parking lot- us 4 up top (I would not recommend this for long term travel), Greg & Katie downstairs- and woke up ready for breakfast then the slopes!Matt at Camp Illustrated sketched up this shot of Katie eating media luna‘s in the back of our van.
Adam was stoked to inaugurate his Burton split-board.
Although there is innumerable peaks in Chile & Argentina, resorts and easy access to the mountain tops are relatively few. Skiing & snowboarding is still considered a luxury sport. Fresh snow, and just a few folks out to enjoy it. Here we go!Colette was super excited to spend the day learning to ski with both Adam & Emily. We checked Sierra into the kids zone, which was her first ever situation where she was being watched by strangers. On the slopes with Mama, Colette quickly picked up the basics and was excited for each new lift. We affectionately call Sierra Luna, this green eyed little love cake, “little fuzza’.” She was pretty happy to get out of baby jail for the lunch break & join us at the Westy for a meal. Hers being mostly nursing. Back on the slopes & charging!Adam and Greg went a little deeper than the kiddy-slopes, and were rewarded richly in white gold. We saw Augusto’s bus down in the bushes below the parking lot for a couple days before meeting him. He moved away from the big city of Buenos Aires with his dog Rayen to snowboard for the winter in Patagonia. One day, when he was up on the mountain the bus rolled out of the parking lot and down into the bushes below where he has remained living ever since. He knows these mountains well and invited Adam into the backcountry to see it from a locals perspective.Connan said the time had come to say goodbye to the few dreadlocks he had going, so his love Cali obliged- a bit apprehensively! In a house with so many foodies, including one Frenchman, whose instagram moniker depends on his nations most popular desert of crepe… We had been Crepe-attacked before, but once is never enough.
In our almost 3 years on the road (at the time of this blog, it’s now been almost 4.5 years since we first departed) , we had never caravanned for more than a week with other overlanders. Not because we dislike traveling with others, but simply by virtue of truly linking up schedules and interests with other travelers. Emily’s grandfather used to say, vacation with others is like fish, it starts to stink after 3 days. Well, we learned that is not always true, it just takes the right company!
The “Circuito Chico” outside of Bariloche inside Nahuel Huapi National Park is a feast for the senses. It also helps that the sun decided to come out & bless this view. <<Clouds part, howling winds subside. Cue chirping birds. >> Roll film…
We camped on the lakes shore in a pullout, which I can imagine in summer would be quite busy- but this being winter- there was little passing traffic.
You can see why Nahuel Huapi National Park is a protected place for all to enjoy. Nahuel, in the indigenous Mapudungun language, means puma; huapi means island.Even before we departed, the work of raising our children was a job shared by both Adam & I. A traditional view of fathers is as distanced, disciplinarians, but like so many archaic notions, we seek to evolve beyond. As a father, Adam is a hands-on full-time cuddler, a reader of books, an answerer of questions, and Doctor Daddy when boo-boo’s occur.
Our climbing gear looking really new & shiny, time to break it in!Serendipitously Adam & Greg went on a walk after setting up camp, then discovered we were at a rock climbing wall, offering a variety of bolted routes at different levels. Looking up Greg said “Yeah, Katie and I have our climbing gear, we can teach you!” So that was it, our overlanding time together would be a whole new adventure with climbing at the heart of it (and food still being the belly of it!)
After an intro on the ground, Katie started to climb, and Greg was on belay.
Learning a new language to speak with the wild world is exciting, exhilarating, and a bit nerve-wracking.
Not long after getting up on the wall, monkey-man-Harteau was tapping into the muscle memory of his teenage years and getting bolder! In the shade of the wall, we watched on, Emily taking a turn climbing as well. We were hooked.
For Colette, world schooling means workbooks at the crag.
With Katie & Greg, we found our rhythm, sharing 3 meals a day, rock climbing all day, rambling to a new camp site when the time came. The best of times!
Winter in northern Patagonia was cold, washing dishes was a brave affair, where fingers routinely went cold. Oh, the luxuries of hot water on tap are wholly rejoiced when we encounter them! Yes, we could boil water, then wash, but sometimes reducing a step from the equation is just worth it.
Greg is a mechanical maniac. He takes things apart just to make sure they are functioning 100%. Not sure what he was working on here, but at least we got to put our high-lift jack from GoWesty to good use. Katie & I cooking, the boys wrenching, the girls playing; simple life at the lakes edge. Hide and go seek in camouflage. Owning a 30 year old vehicle requires a lot of updates when you live in the elements. Adam is removing the electric window and replacing it with a low-tech and more reliable hand-crank.
Babies are pretty much teething forever. First tooth, then another, then more, and more- little sharks, say I! You can see Sierra’s ‘twin tooth’ at bottom left- which is when two teeth fuse together when formed. What a special little fairy.
Tired of watching the adults have all the fun, Colette was ready for her turn on the wall.
It was an especially cold night, with slightly damp wood, at elevation. The fire was being finicky, so Greg hit the fire with the air compressor! Boom- the fire lit up and we enjoyed some caveman tv, bundled up in the Patagonian night.3 inches and falling fast, the snow we woke up to was otherworldly! Greg built his syncro (read about that here and buy his custom motor kit here) but we are only 2wd. With the snow falling fast, and us down a dirt road, we followed their lead out of the woods, lest we get stuck knee deep in the snow storm that was quickly covering the forest in blanket of silence and snow. The storm parted revealing vistas that took our breath away. And then the storm came back, so time to take a break from rock climbing, and hit the slopes again! At Cerro Catedral we slept in the parking lot and linked up with our friend Manu who restored & created Chanchita Bus, who offers custom adventures in his pimped out bus.
Colette went to ski school, Sierra to daycare, so Greg, Katie, Adam & I headed up on the slopes! Katie had lost a mitten, so had to ride with a plastic bag over one hand, ha!
A bluebird day from the top- divine!Adam scoped a line from the chair that would require a hike out and a view of his fresh tracks on the next chair up! A split board is actually two skis that snap together to make a snowboard, allowing the rider access to the terrain of their choice. Skins are applied to the bottom of each ski creating traction and grip to climb a steep snowy face. Once you reach the top, peel off the skins, roll them up, pack them away, strap the two skis together, then ride down. Yewww!
Life in a van in winter can be a soggy affair. Properly drying everything over the small propane stove is not ideal, but much better than wet and soggy clothes in the frigid morning! Careful not to burn the insoles of the boots! Books are transportive and can also be supportive! With out supremely limited space, we have to select books carefully. Anthologies are the best choice, as there are many tales within only one cover.
These two- on their 2 year adventure honeymoon- had been trying’ to make a baby. Since we now know the result, we can say they did make their little babe -Thibault Alerce Blachon- in Patagonia! I recall Katie being extra hungry, and I said, well that’s to feed the babe!
After a few days in the snow, we headed back to the rocks again. Katie was on lead, climbing up a crack that required some major focus, and a whole lot of faith, to keep pushing up. Reaching the crux, she took a good fall spilling a few curses before and during her journey onto the rope. She was spent for the day, but soon triumphed this route! Learning to trust your partner in climbing is a good metaphor for trusting your partner in life: you want to climb on your own, you want their encouragement to go higher and reach farther, to provide any insight if they can see something that perhaps you can’t, but most of all to know they will catch you if you fall.
Even though this route looks quite wimpy, consider it is our first week climbing! It feels quite different when you are ON the rock.
Adam leading “El Viaje.” At a playground in Villa La Angostura, we encountered this sweet Argentine family that had just a few weeks earlier moved into their homemade adventure-mobile. I misplaced the paper that had their names on it (one of the daughters I recall was Valentina); we share this story because they too had a dream to show their kids the world. Working as a tractor driver on an industrial farm of corn and soy, they had made their dream come true by working hard, saving, and improvising with what they had access to- their humble abode was not decked out to be an Instagram fantasy. The mother had recently purchased a sewing machine, and was making hair scrunches to help supplement their income on the road. We love meeting other big dreamers on the road, that have put their dreams into action. Dream it, do it!Colette sharing a cup of mate, the drink of friendship.We first met Stevie Anna whilst driving down a dirt road some months earlier- we looked forward and saw a woman on a bicycle, and wished we had room for one ourselves, we passed then saw her frantically waving in the rearview mirror. Stevie, from the US as well, followed us on Instagram and couldn’t believe we were driving down her random dirt road! We reconnected some months later, with her boyfriend Carlos, and headed out for a climb.
Climbing is a challenge- the mental challenge, the physical strain. Add cold winter in Patagonia to that (grab tighter hands! Wait, are you grabbing? I can’t feel you!”) and you are suffering for your joy, earning that view. Stevie, who works in the outdoors world- mainly in expedition support and pr- is currently planning a solo horse trek for November 2017 until March 2018 across 1,000 miles of Patagonia- she is calling her upcoming adventure Patagone. So excited for this next adventure of yours friend!
Colette is in charge of the hydration-station. Water bottles by the good folks at Mizu. Getting itchy, as us travelers do, we decided to continue our caravan across international borders. With our eyes on the island of Chiloé, we crossed the Andes by the good international highway into Chile. We found some overpriced hot springs and soaked in other peoples sweat for a bit (ha!). The prices for pretty much everything in Chile are much higher than in Argentina, but there is also greater access to imported goods, as their tariffs are much lower. Generally considered the most stable economy in South America, Chile also is much easier to use credit cards at most gas stations & grocery stores. Argentines in need of a new computer head to Chile if possible, but then have to carefully hide their imports before the border crossing back in.
In ‘Pastisse’ the Crepe-attack VW, Katie patiently accepting Colette’s hairstyling.
Over the Andes and through the woods, to Chiloé we go! Chiloe is Chile’s second largest island (after Tierra del Fuego). The Chacao Canal separates Chiloé from Puerto Montt on mainland Chile, which is shaped like a long green bean- the bottom 1/3 of a nation being an archipelago of 5,919 islands!
On the road since she was 20 months, our little wildling Colette is still excited to see the next place. Caravanning on the island of Chiloé and hunting for waves on a rare sunny day!This landscape may look warm, but believe-you-me this water is only 50 degrees and the air only a few notches above that! Still, a pleasure for the eyes to rest upon such beauty (even if there is no bikini involved). “Donde están las olas?”
“Recto, recto.” (Straight is always the answer when you ask how to get anywhere in South America.) But when we got to the spot, there were no waves to be found. So onward we push…A typical home.After a little while of driving down random dirt roads that looked like they might lead to the coast, we found a huge stretch of beach with offshore winds, ideal for surfing. We could see little waves way down the beach peaking and peeling so we decided to motor our caravan towards the energy. We found a little right hander, set up camp and jumped in the cold ocean. Only a surfer knows the feeling.
Initially bought from a second-hand store in Los Angeles, this fleece jumpsuit by Patagonia was first on Flynn (as the name written inside indicates) then on Coco in the Andes, and now Sierra. Who’ll get it next? We think it’ll have to go to Katie & Greg’s baby Thibault of course!
These are the nights… the nights that stay with you long after they have gone. Of wind gently wrestling the tent, the smell of garlic rising from the skillet, laughter filling your home, the clink of wine glasses being raised in simple celebration for the day, and children being passed from parents to friends seamlessly, of recounting the days adventure and plotting the next. Two VW’s in the wild, tiny homes on wheels, off-the-grid and free in the world.
Emerging from the bushes, we encountered this free-diver on his way to harvest the local specialty locos.
Locally called “locos” Chilean abalone (Concholepas concholepas) is among Chile’s favorite shellfish. Many upscale seafood restaurants all over Chile, especially in Chiloé, feature these mollusks with fancy pricetags. Yes, loco is Spanish for “crazy” but the name is derived from the local (pre-Spanish) Mapuche language. Comparable in appearance, taste and texture to abalone (which do not grow here), locos are smaller and are carnivorous, feeding mainly on mussels. Slow growing in these cold waters, it takes 4-5 years before they usually reach the harvestable size of 4 inches in diameter. They inhabit rocky coastal shallows down to about 40 meters and we’ve seen their shells dotting coastlines of South America from northern Peru to the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. Based on evidence from archaeological sites, they have been part of Chilean diet for over 8,500 years!
Putting the loco into locavore- Greg bought some mussels and some locos.A month prior on a cold and rainy day at Cali & Connan’s garage-turned apartment, we all gathered around the computer to download “Chef’s Table: Francis Mallman.” Inspired to make a meal to remember, Adam set out to make his own version of the Chilean speciality curanto. It wasn’t all we hoped it would be (wind + sand do not a tasty meal make), but it was the testing ground of future meals to be made!
Sierra: Geez, another kiss mom?! Put me down so I can run around and play!
Emily: Just one more smooch you tasty little dumpling! There have been so many hiccups along the way, it is hard to remember exactly what was going on here- nothing major, but when you have to empty out all your belongings to look at the engine, it always looks more dramatic then it is!
One thing I do recall is that a couple walked past and said we had better hurry as the levy road we were on was underwater when the ocean tide came in!
See all those stilted houses- the tides are dramatic as promised. Tocoihue Falls: we laughed and laughed as Greg called this “another fucking waterfall.” Overlanding humor I suppose.
While driving down a lush road, Adam spotted a cat-sized creature in the bushes. Peering out we were thrilled to behold the Southern Pudu- the world’s smallest deer! These creatures live in dense forest, eating bushes & shrubs; they are now endangered as their habitat is being encroached upon by- you guessed it- humans. Or perhaps the deer was more Sierra sized…
Katie & Emily route planning and comparing notes on the roads ahead. Where there was decent wifi, hot showers, beautiful places not to miss, over-hyped places to skip, a special restaurant to eat at… All those prized notes that gathered from other adventurers are a gold-mine of information.
And then like that- our month caravanning together was done. We went our way, they went theirs. A special time together, making memories to last a lifetime. Only the overlanding gods know when and where we will meet again! But one thing is for sure, wherever and whenever it may be, we know it will be a reunion to remember!