Doing The Numbers, Santiago, Chile

Four and a half years ago, we started living on four wheels after more than 20 years living afloat. In a couple of weeks, it will have been 13 years since we retired to travel full time sailing the open seas. And a week after that will mark 30 years of married life and over 36 together. It’s a lot of years in total but we have so much more we want to do together.

Unless we’d worked a few years longer to be able to afford a brand new US made truck like ours AND have it converted to 4×4 because the US doesn’t sell them, we weren’t going to be able to get anything like what we wanted unless we imported one from Europe at least 25 years old. That’s the rule. So as you already know, Jon searched one out and we had it shipped over at age 30 as it met the specs we wanted.

While the Vermonster had relatively few miles put on it during it’s 30 years as a firetruck- 42,000 miles, we have now put on about 70,000 more traveling up & down the east coast during the build, across the US to Mexico and up & down the west coast multiple times during Covid, back to Baja, then up to Alaska, down to Panama and then thankfully, a ship to Buenos Aires. But now we’ve covered all of Patagonia and most of Chile & Argentina on washboard, potholed, rough dirt and rock roads that have chewed up our tires, shaken the truck to bits and rattled our teeth at the same time. Well, all of that has taken its toll and we’ve now got several issues to sort which is keeping us busy and sort of glum.

When we were contemplating the reality of buying an older truck, the internet lore said Mercedes trucks were sold the world over so you could nearly always find parts and the engines went forever and, and, and…. Well, the reality is that yup, they were sold all over the world in hundreds of different versions and they really do keep them running as long as they can until they can’t or until they can’t get parts for these geriatrics. Chile didn’t import these 4×4 trucks so we have a really hard time getting any parts here and a lot of the really big items you can’t even get in Europe anymore because they haven’t made them since who knows.

After leaving the 7 Cups waterfall park with Ivan, we moved to a very basic campground together so that we could all do some projects on our vehicles before Ivan flew off to Spain. It was neat coming down the park road that morning seeing a few tarantulas, finally! Our projects were almost fun projects because we were doing a lot of painting to freshen things up. We painted the black understorage boxes, Jon removed the fenders and steps and hood so that I could spray all of those with the cans that we’d brought from the US for this purpose, the truck got a good wash and we just relaxed with Ivan and enjoyed his company and one more paella. It was a noisy campground because we were surrounded by heavy equipment crushing rocks and the like, the only saving grace were the aromatic eucalyptus trees that gave us a buffer. But we were the only ones there because it’s definitely off season now and the carefree feel of summer fun is done. I hate places that have nowhere to walk but this one came through with one walk up a hill to a view of something other than construction noise and clutter. We were already starting to go nuts being near the city.

But then we parted ways and Jon & I headed in to downtown Santiago to meet up with friends Liesbet & Mark who ironically we met on the same day that we met Ivan in Mulege, Baja a little over 3 years ago. We’d stayed in close touch and finally, it was time to meet again! And the only reason we met Ivan was because of friends Neil & Pat, whose quality build website for a truck similar to ours affectionately named “Cloud 9” become our inspiration to create one of our own. We became friends long before we met in Nicaragua last year to celebrate Neil’s birthday. Knowing our passion for hiking, they said we just had to meet their friends Sandie & Karsten and we finally did in Baja, which was the start of a wonderful friendship. Then they introduced us to Ivan and Ivan introduced us all to Mark & Liesbet and the rest is history. It is a close knit community just like a sailing community and we cherish these friends we have.

Japanese Garden within the Metropolitan Park in Santiago

We spent 3 nights together with Mark & Liesbet parked in the best campspot in downtown Santiago on a quiet, one way street next to the Metropolitan Park, one of the largest in the world I think I read. It reminded me of picking up a mooring at the yacht club in downtown NYC, a few blocks from Zabars and Central Park, for next to nothing per night. Or of anchoring right next to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. It’s just one of those great opportunities that you can get to put your house right smack in the middle of where you want to be for a bit.

Our living room was the park and we sat out together for hours just enjoying catching up and meeting other travelers like a family from Switzerland. Ritchie, Abigail and their daughter Zoe have been traveling since she was 7 months old- now she’s 5! We also took a couple of walks and ducked into the largest mall in S. America to get some groceries for our get togethers. We stuck really close to this area and didn’t venture further into the city, maybe at a later time but right now we for some reason aren’t in the mood. We did witness a huge dog walk in the park hosted by the military post that is located within it on a hilltop, promoting fitness and cleaning up after your dog! Every dog got a bandana, a water cup and a dog bone shaped plastic bag holder for their excrement. It was actually really well organized, well attended and nice to see all of the local city folk out enjoying the day, the park and their dogs.

Jon & I were somewhat distracted during this time by making plans for our upcoming trip back to the US in early June and by the anticipation of an appointment with a mechanic to have our clutch & transmission looked at on the truck. Once again from a distance, we have purchased a 2022 Ford F350 pick-up truck and are having a custom fiberglass camper shell built by a company Bison Overland out of Tulsa for the back of it. After going round & round, we decided we wanted a 4×4 camper in the US as well and going this route was the only option we felt would make us happy in the end without too big of a spend to store something for most of the year. Having Jon’s cousin Adrian test drive the truck in Phoenix for us was a big relief and now we’re having it shipped to Florida in hopes we can fly in and have our truck waiting for us when we arrive. It will take a couple of visits to build out the interior but Jon plans to make a simpler build than this masterpiece we live in now and we’re hoping to drive in style in a truck that actually has findable parts and is relatively new. It just feels right to have a vehicle in the US and one we can have fun in and actually live in while we visit family & friends really appeals to us.

It always feels very stressful having work done on the Vermonster because we live inside of it and don’t want to be displaced. So far down here, we’ve always been out in a day or able to keep staying inside it while the work is being done. Remember all the miles? Well, the clutch and/or transmission has been making some funny sounds, along with some vibration in the shifter and clutch pedal, especially in reverse & first gear. We think it could be a combination of both. Transmission parts are practically impossible to find but it doesn’t mean Jon doesn’t still search. We think clutch parts will be available. Meanwhile, the rear differential is leaking again because the seals that are available here aren’t good quality and upon checking the antifreeze recently, it appears we are once again losing fluid. So, there are lots of issues to tend to. One at a time. But then that appt had to be cancelled because Jon caught a nasty respiratory bug and the rest of us were dreading getting it.

We said goodbye with a handbump to Mark & Liesbet to try to not pass this bug to them as they were heading back across the border to Argentina. We so hope we can meet up again and make more memories, not being distracted with buying a new vehicle. We immediately felt lonely without them and so moved to a campground in the city hoping to be able to rest and then get to the mechanic a couple days later. But, it was a seriously nasty virus and Jon still needed more recovery time. I managed to skim by this one. But after a few nights at this noisy campground, all we could think of was getting back up to the mountains so we fled the city.

Crazy enough, in the foothills of the Andes, way less than an hour from Santiago, you can find peaceful bliss in a desert climate at Las Varas campground complete with cactus and miles of hiking right out your camper door. The weather has been sunny and warmish and we’ve been enjoying the peace, unlimited power & water, birds, hikes and a few overlanders passing through. We met another Korean/Aussie couple here traveling with a baby! With Jon feeling better, we tipped the cab to look around again for where antifreeze might be leaking and what do we find? A broken engine mount! This one holds the transmission end and carries a lot of weight. It feels like every time we look at the truck something is broken. And yet its such a wonderful home…. So…. we met the owner of the campground who called a welder that came and picked up our mount and took it to a pro who welded it up because as you know, there is no replacement part for that. And now yesterday, Jon put it back in and we both breathed a big sigh of relief and took a hike. We have 2 days to relax and explore more before driving back into the city Friday to have the clutch looked at.

Jon spotted that crack you can see there….

In 3 weeks, our visas expire and we have to be out of the country. To do this, we have to cross the Christ the Redeemer pass where Aconcagua sits looming in white. At this time of year you need chains to cross or risk a ticket and not being able to pass. Well we don’t carry chains because we didn’t plan to be driving these elevations in winter. And where would we store those massive things anyway? But we weren’t expecting the rigidity of Chile either. To have to leave just to come back again after lunch as we were told by a border official. Huh? And because we fly out of Santiago, we have to cross back in to Chile in order to store the truck and get ready. Or stay in Mendoza and hop on another flight back to Santiago. No pressure or stress there!

It’s so nice to wake up to sun and the birds singing. Good for the soul.

Needless to say, we’re not looking forward to the weeks ahead but hoping we can tackle some of these truck issues and have success at finding parts and good people to do the work. It’s taken us to so many wonderful places but we have so many more we want to visit. We’ve stood the test of time. Can our truck do the same? It is as old as we’ve been together, born the same year. Crazy coincidence.

We didn’t see an eclipse but the moon was beautiful!