Back To Fun

I’m going to try something new and set a timer for an hour and write about the past 2 weeks. Once the engine mount was back together and Jon had recovered from a bad cold, we were ready to go to the mechanic in Santiago and get a new clutch. Problem was, we had cancelled twice, the owner had started to think we weren’t serious, and the next day was a bank holiday. So we apologized, waited 2 more days, drove away from Las Varas on a Friday morning just to meet the owner of the shop and check out the place. Even though it was in a less than pleasant part of the city, once inside the gated compound, the staff were very friendly and it all seemed like a good shop and they just specialize in clutches & transmissions. Although we know our transmission isn’t perfect, the parts aren’t available and so we were just going for the clutch. We arranged to come back on Monday to start the work and it was to be completed in a day.

We headed back up into the mountains, this time above las Varas to the Valle Nevado area to the east of Santiago. We hiked around all weekend and just chilled out mentally getting ready for the following week. We both have seen and always dread being one of those trucks taken apart in a workshop collecting dust while it waits for parts or has some unsolvable issue. For us, that would be pretty tough and you feel helpless when you turn it over to someone else. On Sunday, when driving in to the park in downtown to be closer to the mechanic for the morning, a car passed us with a Chilean couple hanging out the window waving. Within an hour, Luis & Loreto had emailed asking if we wanted to get together for dinner. Turns out they are building a truck like ours. We shared some messages and said we’d wait till after our truck work was completed.

Monday morning, we pulled into the shop and the work started. We were told we couldn’t stay there even for the day so we had to pack a daypack and were out on the streets. Jon was very uncomfortable with this as he likes to keep an eye on things. But what could we do? We walked from there to a park where the museums are located only to find them all closed on a Monday. Even the park was closed- no enjoying the grass on a Monday. So we walked to the Plaza de Armas and sat on a bench trying to figure out what we wanted to do all day. Luis happened to call and when he found out where we were, he said it wasn’t a great place to be and by the way, don’t trust any mechanics. He said he would come and meet us in 30 minutes. Then there he was with his cute little white dog Curry and we started a friendship. We went for an early lunch and while sitting in the cafe, my heart was racing and we were both so worried about our truck. Then some pics started coming in from the mechanic who said they were having trouble getting the transmission out in order to reach the clutch which Jon knew was really tight with the box on. Oh great! Luis suggested we take the subway back to his apartment and then he would drive us to the mechanic so he could see what was going on and better communicate with the them on our behalf. They live in a really nice part of the city and we felt fortunate that he was interested in helping us. Once back at Importadora Santiago, where our truck was, we were relieved that they had just gotten the transmission lowered and Luis was impressed with the shop and staff. We had a look at the new clutch that they were going to put in and it looked like good quality parts. But Nicolas did inform us that it wouldn’t be done in a day so we would need to pack a bag. He also said that the rear oil seal, which Jon had wanted him to replace, was impossible to get to and he wasn’t going to be able to do it. Luis invited us to stay at his place and we could also go out to dinner and meet his girlfirend Loreto.

So we left in Luis’s car to head to his mechanic to see if he could replace our oil seal. Plus, we got to see his truck. He’s finished the subframe and is getting ready to start the habitat box. I regret that I didn’t get any pictures of it. Luis & Jon talked with a couple of mechanics but really, it is a serious project to dig into the oil seal, one that could ruin our engine if not done perfectly as it requires taking the crankshaft apart. It felt overwhelming and we were beginning to lose faith in the truck with what feels like one hassle after another. But right now, we would focus on the clutch and getting our house back. There was a lot of traffic getting back to the other side of the city and we were all starving by that point and mentally fried.

Luis & Loreto

Late that evening, we had a great dinner out for Peruvian food and huge pisco sours and it was nice to relax after a long, stressful day. It’s also nice to inspire others who are in the building stages of making a dream happen. We felt really thankful to have met Luis and Loreto. They’ve done a lot of traveling over the years and it was fun to swap stories. And staying in his nice apartment was great.

The next day it was raining. The mechanics couldn’t work on our truck because it was parked outside as we were too tall to fit in the garage. That meant…. another day. We just blobbed out all day and hung out with Luis. I certainly wasn’t feeling like a million bucks from that stressful day, the pisco sours and the wine that followed. We felt bad for Luis, having to acommodate us another night. But, I dealt with the delivery of our pick-up truck to Vero Beach and Jon approved the final designs for the camper shell that we’re having built so that we can have a camper in the USA as well. We shared pics of our build with Luis and he showed us pics of his truck and the day sort of evaporated. He even made us a pasta dinner.

The next day, we got breakfast together and then said goodbye for now and Jon & I walked all over the city until 4pm. We stuck to the higher end parts of it with some really pretty parks, we had Chinese food for lunch and sat on the benches in the sun. Because we had been losing some antifreeze, we scouted out some parts to make a pressure gauge to check the system in the coming days. Then at 4pm, we took a taxi to get our truck. They were getting close to being finished with the clutch install. It all worked out. The guys at Importadora Santiago did a great job and we were thankful to have this project done and get outta there!

The crew at Importadora Santiago

We bolted as the sun was setting to get north of the city to a quiet spot where we could sort of get ourselves back together. It had been such a whirlwind. One thing we aren’t used to is tons of noise all the time and we’d had that in the city. The clutch seems good, some noises are gone that were really concerning us. The rear oil seal, Jon will come back with from the US and he will change the lower part of it on his own. The upper part is too risky to touch. The transmission is OK if handled gently and we will continue this way for now. Checking the antifreeze twice more, the level is staying the same so we are wondering if the cap had somehow loosened and taking it off and on again solved the problem. We will see.

We love Argentina skies

So… excited to start having fun again, we headed up the Christ the Redeemer pass after it had been closed for a couple of days for snow so the truck backups were significant. It took so long to get up there that we ended up parking for the night at the top of the Los Caracoles switchbacks in the icy snow. What a contrast to walking around the city parks the day before. It was a cold night but not in our camper because the insulation is amazing. We got up at 5am to get going across the border to Argentina. It’s interesting because this is the first time we’ve seen a border where everything is in on one huge building that you drive into. You check out, then in in one building and I guess it makes sense because of all the snow they get up there. The Chile side of the pass has a ski area and a defunct ski lift that actually passes right over the road! Can you imagine being on a chair lift with your skis dangling and then riding over a highway? Not only does Chile put roads in incredibly remote places, they put ski lifts over those roads…..

Coming back to Argentina felt a bit like coming home. It’s like going back in time and the pastel colors of the mountains, the paucity of people, the wide, long views and the relaxed feel is something we really like. We felt high as kites and so relieved to be back moving again. It reminded us of the way we felt when we arrived to Buenos Aires last July a day ahead of the ship the truck was on and we had this feeling of relief & excitement to be on a new continent. Or of the day we arrived to Greece with the ship that our boat was on sitting in the harbor on a whole new continent. It is a huge buzz. We stopped at a canyon recommended by friends Mark & Liesbet and did a beautiful hike up into it meeting no one. The colors of the tall grasses were so pretty.

Then we moved down to the town of Uspallata to park beside friends we met in Santiago, Ritchie, Abigail & Zoe. We slept like the dead that night because it was quiet and we were in a lovely place, on the other side of the pass.

Military Base

Behind on our exerise, we set out on a great walk the next morning through the hillsides ending up accidentally on a military base. We had just taken pictures of it from up on the hill thinking it was a picturesque farm because there were so many horses. Walking along, a gun laden soldier stepped out of the bushes to say hi. We were kindly escorted off the base but got a good tour of it and everyone was very friendly to us. They keep about 50 horses and mules there for some reason. After all, this is Argentina.

Incredible colored rocks!

We moved up to our first taste of colored hills- the Cerro Siete Colores. We will be seeing a lot more of these as we move north through S America. We spent the rest of that day and next just enjoying being in those beautiful mountains. At one point we took a drive from Uspallata up toward a mountain pass just to explore and charge our batteries some but the weather up there was icy! There was supposed to be a mini Grand Canyon but we couldn’t see a thing! So we took a few pics and headed back down to warmer temps.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get to meet up with Mark & Liesbet again but they kindly dragged their feet in Mendoza to make it possible. We headed their way down to the famous Valle de Uco just below Mendoza where much of Argentina’s Malbec red wines are produced. We made plans to meet up at the municipal campground in Tupungato and Jon & I made a stop for a wine tasting at the Giaquinta winery on their recommendation. We sat in barrel chairs and tasted 5 wines and for once, we liked all 5. We thought they were delicious and we enjoyed talking with the staff in our broken Spanish. We bought a bunch and arrived to the campground to meet up with Mark & Liesbet where they had prepared yet another awesome dinner. This time it was ossobuco with butternut squash risotto. Truly a gourmet meal and we all joked that the only “problem” was we couldn’t have a whole bunch more! It’s so nice to be served!

We spent yesterday walking in the park grounds of the campground admiring leaves then driving a few kilometers through more golden leaves and more vineyards to a historical town of Manzano which was at an even higher elevation. We stopped at Bodega Azul to taste their wine and bought some there. The leaves seem to be at about peak and I was filled with nostalgia walking around this town because at some angles it felt a little like New England. But then there are the Andes in the distance. I love those mountains. We visited a ham producer and bought some delicious lomo, cheese and sliced ham. It smelled so good in there! The campground was empty and peaceful just like the village but cold too. Then Jon & I made paella and we had another great evening together drinking local wine and reminiscing our mutual previous sailing lives. Lots of fun.

Now we’ve driven 230km further south to the Atuel Canton area which promises to be beautiful. We’re parked by a resevoir with ducks and a lonely dog that we all feel sorry for. At one point this evening, I stepped outside with a small bowl of food for the dog at the exact same time that Liesbet stepped out with a small bowl of the same. There are a lot of stray dogs but usually they appear well fed, sometimes fat, and generally cared for. But this one was a heartbreaker.

It feels really great to be experiencing new places again. It’s why we do this. Even though we tell ourselves that the hard parts are part of the adventure, we can’t find a way to like them. But this was another perfect case where the kindness of others made it easier and an experience in itself. We hope to see Luis & Loreto again & are thankful for all they did to help us out. And we’re enjoying Mark & Liesbet’s company traveling around together for a bit. Within a week, we will be looking for a weather window to cross back to Chile in preparation to fly out to the USA!

Well, the hour is up and then some!