Category Archives: boondocking

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New Directions : Argentina

I’m so glad that our most southern campsite was close to perfect, it seemed fitting somehow. Stepping out of the van in the morning, our breath was visible in the air and the frozen grass crunched under our feet. It was time to finally head north, the race was on. We had to get Oscar to his new owners in Uruguay, and pronto.

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Back in Argentina, the driving days were relentless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADriving, driving, driving

Still, we found some pretty nice spots to pop the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bridge camp – Rio Chico

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Route planning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA gallant effort, but the wine to workout ratio is still about 100:1

The days weren’t without incident. We had our first legit flat tire in over a year. Changing the tire with our tiny jack, in the blustering wind and with trucks ripping past, was a balancing act to rival my high school gymnastics prowess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALong days

We were ooohhing and ahhhing when we were finally reached the coast again. The startling blue colours of the ocean were a sight for sore eyes, after the monotonous landscapes along the Ruta 3.

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The Peninsula Valdés was a well timed reprieve from the boring miles. The marine animal life in this nature reserve is amazing! The magdalena penguins had just starting arriving for their mating season, so we were lucky enough to catch sight of some of the early birds.

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The elephant seals were a crackup. The big fellow in the photo below was making his move towards the little lady, but it took at least five attempts. He had been cruising past, hooting and hollering and flaunting his masculinity, but no one really seemed to care. He was left to try a more direct approach. From what I could gather though, she still wasn’t very keen. In the animal world, I guess size does matter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Big ol’ poser

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe called these guys (Rhea) ‘moo moos’ because they look like the aussie emu. Not to be mistaken for cows.

After dinner we drove in the dark to a deserted carpark just outside of Puerto Pirámides. When we got up in the night to wee, we could hear a hollow blowing sound coming from the ocean… could it be the whales? In the morning, just as the sun was rising, we walked with our breakfast and coffee down to the viewing platform. We watched maybe 10 southern right whales with their babies cruise past, I have never seen so many whales in one place. It was a very special moment.

There was also a very noisy, and very entertaining colony of seals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToo early!

As we were walking back to the van, Mark suddenly took a knee. He was a bit wobbly and off balance, so it was a very cute and funny moment! After I stopped laughing and realized it was actually a proposal (in Spanglish) and not a joke… I said yes. After spending everyday (and almost every hour) together for over a year, I love this guy more than I thought possible. We are so happy and excited to be moving onto the next chapter of our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFiancé’s

As we gradually edged closer to the Buenos Aires city limit, the scenery changed dramatically. After a long night of driving in the dark, we awoke surrounded by the welcomed greenery of the Argentine pampas. We were a bit shocked to see so many people out and about, the Ernest Tornquist Provincial Park seems to be a popular hiking getaway for people from the big city.

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It was hard to believe that we’d be back in Australia in just over a week, and that we only had Oscar for a few more days. I was definitely aware of feeling sad, but we were mainly preoccupied with selling the van and filled with excitement about the things to come.

The Salt Flat Saga : Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

We had to shout at each other to be heard above the howling wind. The flying sand was stinging our faces and got into our eyes, noses, mouths and ears so that we could barely see, and had difficulty catching a breath.  With all of this going on, we were trying to dig the van out of a foot of soft sand which had blown in and engulfed what should have been a road.  To make matters even worse, the fast flying sand was creating a static charge, so that every time we tried to open the car door we were zapped with an electric shock.

This is probably the craziest situation we’ve encountered since starting our trip. Visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats was supposed to be a simple two day drive, but things don’t always go to plan.

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The drive to Uyuni started out quite well. We left Sucre early and puzzled our way through Potosi without too much hassle. We soon heard on the grapevine that the road to Uyuni was blockaded by protesters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe normal route to Uyuni… no big deal

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We were discussing the situation with a roadside restaurant owner when a truck laden with vegetables stopped for lunch. “These are my friends.” He said. “Follow them, they know another way.” This was the start of our hassles.

Firstly, the old truck was so weighed down with onions and potatoes that they had trouble climbing the steep grades and had to stop halfway up every hill to cool off.

It was already sundown by the time we reached their secret bypass through the desert.

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Unfortunately the deep sand proved a little too much for the heavily laden truck. Not knowing the way, and feeling obliged to help, we endured the freezing cold to unload the veges and dig their truck out of the sand.

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We finally arrived at the town of Uyuni, about 7 hours and only 112 kms later, frozen to the bone and tired. We found the place we had been looking for, grabbed some pizza and then collapsed into a deep sleep in the van on the street.

Uyuni 07Room with a view

The next day we learned that our troubles were not over. Due to the blockade, there was no fuel in town. We thought we’d find people selling it in plastic containers, trying to make a buck. But no such luck, the town was dry.

Our only option was to drive 110 km further on to another town that was sure to have gasoline. We had just enough fuel in the tank to make it, but only just.

It turns out that the road from Uyuni to Atocha is a horribly corrugated gravel road that shook the van like crazy and jarred our bones for hours. This was where we hit the sandstorm.

Uyuni 08 Uyuni 09No gas here

We were stuck in the middle of the road and unable to see more than two metres in front of us. We were worried a 4×4 would come screaming through at any minute and take us out. It probably took us close to an hour to move the van back onto firm ground, but it felt like so much longer, all the while being blasted by gale force wind and sand.

We were sitting in the car catching our breath, and wiping the sand from our eyes when help arrived. Once again, a local who knew another way said “Follow me.”

He set off at a cracking pace through the desert as we struggled to keep up. We only got stuck twice more before finally making it through to Atocha.

Uyuni 12 Uyuni 13The windows were closed but this sand still found a way in

Once in Atocha we asked for directions to the gas station.  “Just drive through the river, about five kilometres.” We had to ask a few times to make sure we heard right. We did.

Uyuni 14The river/road to the gas station

We made some calculations to figure out how much fuel we would need over the next few days, unfortunately the gas station wouldn’t fill our spare containers so we had to siphon the full tank into our spare bidones and then return for more.

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After another chilly street sleep in the van we hit the road to return to Uyuni. Luckily we picked up a hitchhiker who once again knew another way. It was a lot longer in distance, but it stuck to firm roads all the way and got us there pretty quickly.

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Back in Uyuni, Bec got horribly sick with a stomach bug. The staff at the Toñito Hotel were great to us.  We’d been eating at their restaurant and using their bathrooms while we slept in the street outside. So they knew what we’d been through. They let us book in early to a room, even sending up soup and hot water to help Bec recover. A good rest, a hot shower and bit of friendly help were just what we needed at this point.

So, we finally made it to the Salt Flats on the day that the blockade ended, making all of our hassles over the past few days essentially unnecessary.

Uyuni 17 Uyuni 18 Uyuni 19 Uyuni 20 Uyuni 21 Uyuni 22 Uyuni 23 Uyuni 24 Uyuni 25 Uyuni 26Uyuni 34 We met Stefano on the Salar, he’s travelling around the world on his 250cc Yamaha

We chilled out in the middle of the Salar for the day and then found our way to Isla Incahuasi, the cactus covered island in the middle of the salt lake.

The sun was just setting as the hordes of backpacker-filled Landcruisers left the island. We set up our bed for the night and watched as the sun set in a soft glow over the distant mountains.

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The night was incredibly quiet and clear with the most amazing starry sky I have ever seen. It was also brutally cold. But, we were warm and happy under our four layers of blankets and sleeping bags, hardly aware that the windows were covered in ice and our water bottles were frozen solid.

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The sunrise was just as spectacular as the sunset had been.

As we were having breakfast and boiling cups of tea, the crowds of people arrived once again. Our cue to fire up the engine, hit the open salt flat and get out of there.

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Being out on the Salar was really beautiful and peaceful, but it was a bit of an anticlimax after all the hassles we went through to get there.

When we returned the main road was open for travel, blissfully smooth and trouble free. We put in a long day of driving and made it to Tupiza late in the evening. We wanted to get to the border early the next day.

Our last hurdle for the week was mostly our fault. I thought we could buy our Argentina visas at the border, but it turns out they are only available online. So after being technically stamped out of Bolivia, we headed back into town to get our Argentina visas.  The internet was so slow that the visa website wouldn’t even load. After hours of trying, we finally decided to call Mugsie in Canada and ask her to do it for us. We finally made it into Argentina, 7 hours after arriving at the border. Just in time for dinner and another cold night of sleeping on the streets.

We look back on it now and laugh, but this past week has been exhausting. Just a few too many obstacles and a little too much adventure. Hopefully we can relax a little now.

 

Posted from Mendoza, Argentina

Desert Drifting : Northern Peru

I love those fortuitous little meetings that happen every now and then on the road.  We pulled into a random driveway in Zorritos and found Casa de Diego. This chance meeting worked out really well for us. We had only planned to stay a night before moving on… but Diego found plenty of reasons for us to hang around. North Peru 01North Peru 02Casa de Diego. If you are ever in Zorritos, you should try to to stay here. 

We had a great time at his amazing beachfront house/hostel, hanging out in the evenings with music and beers and getting some good tips for our route through Peru.  But the best part was having Diego as our personal tour guide.  He took us to the best surf spots, introduced us to all the locals and took us to the best bakery in town. North Peru 03North Peru 04North Peru 05North Peru 06North Peru 07

He left the best surprise until our last night when he took us to the hot springs on the edge of town. “It will be perfect for your aching muscles after all that surfing” he assured us, as if we needed convincing. “And this hot spring is really special at night time.” We couldn’t help asking why. “You’ll see.”

Four of us jumped in the van and Diego directed us through town and onto a random dirt road that we would never have found on our own. When we got there it was completely dark, not even a moon to light the way. “Should I leave the headlights on?” I asked him. “No we don’t need them. I have a natural light here.” All he was holding was a cigarette lighter and a rolled up piece of paper. I was confused.

He lit the paper and held it over the hot spring which lit up with a huge whoompf.  The hot spring is actually an old drill well for oil and gas exploration.  Now, hot water bubbles up from the earth below bringing a bit of natural gas with it.  And this provided our mood lighting for the evening. We had a good hot soak and I don’t know how many times we looked at each other in amazement and said “This is so cool.” North Peru 08North Peru 09North Peru 10

Next stop was Lobitos.  This is an odd little town with loads of good surf spots. It was first settled by British oil company workers and most of the old townsite was abandoned around the early 1900s. So now it is sort of like a ghost town reborn. There are oil wells everywhere, on and offshore. And much of the area is now a military zone. All of this made for a really interesting place to explore. We free camped at the beach for a few days and tried to make the most of the consistent surf. This section of coast is like a wave machine, they just keep coming all day. North Peru 11North Peru 12North Peru 13North Peru 14North Peru 15North Peru 16North Peru 17North Peru 18North Peru 19North Peru 20North Peru 21North Peru  22North Peru 23North Peru 24North Peru 25

The coastal desert of this region has been a real surprise for us. It just stretches on and on. We were driving through bare rock and sand for days, not a tree or shrub in sight.  But, every now and then we would pass through a town, offering a splash of colour and a chance to people watch as we drove by. North Peru 26North Peru 27North Peru 28North Peru 29North Peru 30Kicking rice.  

We eventually made it to Chicama.  More desert and more surf. No complaints from us, we love this style of van life.  We spent the afternoon cruising the dunes outside of town, watching the waves and checking out the amazing bird colony at an empty beach around the point. North Peru 31North Peru 32North Peru 33North Peru 34North Peru 35Boobies

North Peru 36Blue-footed booby

Later in the day it was time to hit the water.  This place is renowned for having the longest left hand wave in the world. Not sure if this is actually true, but regardless it’s a good spot. The swell wasn’t quite big enough for those famously long rides, but we had a lot of fun trading waves with the local grommets during the sunset session. And in the morning I had the place all to myself. North Peru 37 facebookNorth Peru 38North Peru 39North Peru 40North Peru 41North Peru 42

After an incredible sunset we headed into the dunes to find a camp spot with some protection from the relentless wind.  The ground looks firm and rocky, but venture from the well worn path and the soft sand underneath gives way easily.  We know from experience. After getting bogged good and proper we spent a couple of hours jacking up the car digging out the rear wheels and driving forward a few feet on scraps of carpet and planks of wood. On the third try (our lucky number in stuck van situations) we slowly crept up and out of the hole, eventually finding solid ground again… and had the most peaceful sleep we could have hoped for. North Peru 43North Peru 44Dusty but triumphant

North Peru 45Home is where you park it

Driving along the highway we could see what we thought were sand dunes stretching far into the distance. Turns out that they are the crumbled old adobe walls of the ancient city of Chan Chan. We were taken aback by the immensity of it all. It was built around 850 AD and was in use until the 1400s and apparently around 30,000 people lived here at one time. This makes it the largest known city in South America prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

We visited just one small area of the city which has survived the years in pretty good shape. Many of the walls are carved with patterns depicting fish and fishnets which were really important to the survival of the people that lived here.  They also had some form of irrigation and the remnants of an old well are visible still filled with water and full of greenery. North Peru 46North Peru 47North Peru 50North Peru 49North Peru 51North Peru 52North Peru 54The sacred well 

Sechin is another ruin just off the pan-american highway. The old temple found here might be the oldest ruins in South America… maybe more than 3000 years old. The stone walls were covered in carvings and in the museum they had a bunch of artefacts from the area, including a really well preserved mummy, and some mummified tattooed hands. North Peru 56North Peru 55

We had been in the desert for over a week, so as we turned left and headed up the river valley towards the mountains, the green valley filled with fruit trees was a welcomed sight.

As usual, we’re a bit sad to be leaving this area behind. The great surf, the interesting and odd places, the wide open spaces and eating the best ceviche everyday will be missed. But it’s time again for the mountains.

Posted from: Huaraz, Peru