It Just Got Real

When we were building our truck, the dream of driving through S. America was just that- a dream and it kept us motivated to make the transition from boat life to RV life. We got it completed, set off in the middle of January 2020 from N. Carolina bound for the Baja and southward. Then covid hit. Many months later, with ongoing closures & restrictions, the dream began to feel more like a pie in the sky and we wondered if we’d ever get on our way. Then of course life resumed for most everyone and we did get rolling through Central America this past February, with a goal to get to S. America once and for all!

Well my gosh, the waiting is finally over! We are elated to have the shipping behind us as we sit near Buenos Aires inside our truck after 1 month 3 days of anticipation! We feel so relieved and excited for all of it- having been through it and also looking forward to what is next. Patagonia this coming summer here we come!

It was a long month but we feel like we really packed in all we could and made good use of our time. We often thought about our bed and how much we missed it but we are thankful for the opportunity we had to do some lovely diving, visit our loved ones and do something else we love— carry around piles of luggage! Well not that part but it is a means to an end. Truck parts and us parts!

Together with Ivan, we tried to stay in Panama until our trucks got on the ship but the ship was late leaving Veracruz and then unbeknownst to us, it went to the DR first before backtracking to Panama. We were so anxious and kept thinkng about how our vehicles were fairing sitting in the direct sun all closed up in the port and who knows if anyone was going to molest them there. Like boats, it seems your vehicle takes on it’s own personality and you get so attached to it. Well after a week of waiting and our rented apartment and rental car time was up, we were all going nuts boiling hot so we flew to Curacao anyway for a week of diving. If it was necessary, we could fly back in a jiffy. It was really hard having to leave everything last minute such as flights and hotels because the prices go up but such is the way with shipping, you just can’t predict anything well. And you’re living out of a bag which gets old. It became a routine several times a day to check the progress of the Opal Leader, the ship that would carry and ultimately deliver our truck all the way through the Straits of Magellan to Buenos Aires. What a ride for all involved! We’re jealous that it got to Patagonia area before we did.

Having done 2 previous trips to Bonaire years ago, Jon & I had fond memories of shore diving and after a week of Utila’s boat dives, we were tired of that rushed routine. We weren’t sure if Curacao would be as good as Bonaire. Well, we can report that it is in our opinion just as good. You get the Drive, Dive, Eat, Sleep, Repeat package and then you’re ready to dive all you want. We rented a simple beach house where we could cook our own food, we had the pick-up truck, we brought all of our own scuba gear and all the dive sites are marked out on the map. You just gear up and slip in and dive until your tank is empty. I just loved it. The only difference was this dive shop set up was only for business hours whereas in Bonaire it was 24 hrs so you could swap tanks anytime you wanted… So we had to plan our tanks a little more and we tried to always carry enough for 3 dives. The travel BC’s worked great and we’re very happy with the fact that we now have all our own gear. Of course this meant we had to carry this bag of gear onward for the following weeks too….

We did numerous dives, 2 colorful night dives and some good snorkeling. The reef was vibrant with a lot of life, not as much variety as the Pacific was for us but still pretty great. Laying in the pool colored water, face up or face down, the beauty of it all just gives me the biggest buzz. It always did. After an hour or so down deep, we would come up to 20 feet and then just poke around for a good long while under there looking for the small stuff. That’s when you see the most it seems, including 2 frogfish sitting side by side. It was a divemaster leading a group that pointed them out to us otherwise I don’t think we would have found them. I just love that time in the shallows looking closely at things until you get that hollow sound in the tank. Then we come up! We really enjoy diving with Ivan and we have a similar diving style which makes it easy. I was thinking about scuba and how it is similar to ocean sailing or flying in that you have specialized equipment that allows you to enter a world that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to live in. It feels very freeing. We are committed to fitting in more of it as we travel around.

After Curacao, we parted ways with Ivan for 2 weeks and headed to Florida to visit Jon’s mom. We rented a third vehicle in Miami and drove to her for a week of catching up. We’d had a mountain of packages sent there which we bought a suitcase for, thus adding to our luggage. We took walks together, went out to eat, Mariette cooked us some really nice meals, we worked out in the gym, did some shopping, played with the dog and Jon fit in some sonny-do projects like replacing a toilet! I see we were really bad about getting pictures except for the dog! It was really hot out and this is the first time we couldn’t run outside or even ride our bikes. Maybe we’d hit our limit for heat after so many months of broiling. I also got to see my nieces Michelle & Nichole and family in Melbourne which was great. Our family is so spread out that get togethers don’t happen often enough.

Francisco, Gil, Nichole, Paula, Michelle, Kaylin, Marilyn and a couple of Michelle’s friends

Then we drove back to Miami to head to Boston. Bad weather delayed our flights such that we didn’t arrive till 2am, couldn’t pick up the next rental car until the next morning and we saw our original plan to walk around our old Boston neighborhood dissolve along with a decent night’s sleep. But we made it to Vermont the next day and got to spend a week visiting my family. Ann & Bruce were there too which was great. We did similar- walks, talks, maple ice cream cones, catching up and even a few bike rides since it was finally cooler. It is good to wrap our arms around our loved ones and get the connection that comes with being face to face even if it isn’t for a long time. It is worth the effort to get there for that. We also sold our car. We aren’t using it enough to make it worth keeping and now we don’t have to worry about it. The Thetford List-serv, the town’s email communicator is a gem. Every time I want to sell something I put it up there and it sells right off. We did our dermatology visits to keep up with all the sun we’ve gotten over our lives. It’s the kind of visit where you feel good going in and come out stinging with all the freezing and burning and biopsying. It’s the price of a life well lived outside. I don’t know any other way to look at it.

We always have fun walking with my mom

Then we drove back to Boston to fly to Buenos Aires. After weeks of anticipation, the Opal Leader had arrived with our trucks on it and was just waiting to be unloaded. Even though we always book the cheap seats, we were assigned really good seats with lots of leg room. I think its funny how your world becomes this metal tube for several hours blasting along at 500mph like a little microcosm. Even with good seats, we limped off the plane with stiff necks & backs and blurry eyes into a whole new world. Customs had no problem with all of our luggage and we made quick work of getting an Uber to a cute downtown apartment. That first day we did things like get SIM cards, cash and groceries and then turned in early because we were exhausted.

As you might already know, Argentina has been having economic woes. Not unlike arriving in Greece during their economic crisis, this one also has the currency turned upside down and we only really found out about it when we were in Boquete from some Argentinian overlanders. Basically, due to uncontrolled inflation, there are now 3 exchange rates. One is the official government one that is around 250 pesos to the USD. Then there’s another one for tourists using international credit cards which is around 380 pesos to the dollar. Then there’s the “blue dollar” rate which is around 500 pesos to one USD, preferably 100 dollar bills. Or move money to Western Union and make a withdrawal from there for that good rate. So…. in Buenos Aires we exchanged money for the blue dollar rate. It’s nuts but it is the accepted way of doing things during this time. So you walk away with stacks and stacks of 1000 peso notes. Storing them and counting them out to give to someone is almost comical and even the locals think so. Not being great at math, I have to be really careful with all the zeros. We’ve never had this before but I guess this is the part of far away travel that keeps you on your toes and learning more about what kinds of things other people around the world have to deal with day to day.

Then we had a day to tour around on foot. It felt so good to be moving and not sitting. The city is great with a good vibe, friendly people, neat architecture, plenty to do, open spaces and fun things to eat. It reminded us of Spain and I guess that’s a common theme.

We even fit another derm visit, at a very professional clinic with a great doc who trained in NYC. He said that after medical school, he took a year off to travel which some people thought was crazy but his grandfather thought was cool. He said that his grandpa told him that travel is like reading a book. If you stay close and don’t venture too far it would be like reading the first few chapters. The further you go, the more you do, the more chapters you will read.

Argentina’s version of the oval office

Then we moved to Campana, a small working town with a refinery, the customs office and nearer to the port. It reminds us of Greece. Everyone smokes and the town doesn’t appear to offer anything special. We reunited with Ivan over an IPA (yay they have IPA down here!) and got ready for the next day, the day we got to pick up the truck!!!

Part of the shipping process involves an agent on either end to help you through the paperwork. While it really shouldn’t take all day to get your truck back, it does. Nothing happens fast. So while Jon & Ivan were waiting at the port, I stayed behind in the hotel with… you guessed it- all the luggage because supposedly only the driver was allowed in the port. Except for when its OK to have more than the driver in the port. This was the case for the German couple we met yesterday who also were on our ship with their van. We found everything to be as we’d left it. We never had to give the keys over to the living space so that was a relief. We’d pictured the outside would be filthy after sitting in the port but it looks spiffy still. All of the notes and pictures that Jon left inside the driver’s cab helped them drive it (our truck has a few quirks). Everything inside was dry & fresh because I’d left DampRid containers around to absorb the moisture. I learned this from sailing. And Ivan’s thermometer showed that the inside temp got down to 31 degrees enroute way down south so we know there were some large temperature fluctations but everything seems OK. After getting to our campspot in town last night, we all went out for dinner. So we weren’t the only ones thinking this way about getting south for patagonia summer. I’m sure others will follow in our footsteps.

And that’s it! We’re whole again. We are in a totally new place that we’ve dreamed about for years and we are excited to start exploring some wilder, open spaces. It’s winter but the temps are fine and the sun is shining. We’ll head northward first toward Iguazu Falls, then turn back to head to Patagonia for Spring. It’s finally gotten real!

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