We’ve been back in the U.S for over 2 months now. Finding the discipline to finish this blog has been difficult. Taking myself back in time to our road life requires putting myself in a different headspace from where I am now. It requires writing about the past while the present clouds my thoughts. I’m still catching up so it won’t be until the next blog post that I explore our reentry. Time is catching up to me faster now, that’s for certain.
As I reflect on our last few weeks of road life I feel more contemplative now than I did in the moment. Maybe those weeks mean more to me now than they did then. Here they are:
We left Temuco late in the evening and drove about 3 hours north to find a place to camp. It was our last night in the rig - and that realization sort of snuck up on us. A few days earlier, we made a decision to get an AirBnB in Matanzas, a small surfing town 2 hours south of Santiago. There we planned to spend the week getting LoJo (and ourselves) ready to ship. That meant we only had one more night to camp. We got really lucky with good, quiet camping in Salto de Laja alongside a river with a warm breeze and not too many people.
Last camp night in LoJo
It was our last night in the camper and it felt kind of weird. We were ready to go, but it felt sad to think it was going to be over soon. Way back when, in March of 2014, when we bought the camper in Colorado we spent our very first night camping at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. On the way there we stopped at a little liquor store to get a bottle of wine. John also grabbed a tiny bottle of tequila. He didn’t end up drinking it that night, and in the morning he set it in the little spice rack we have in the camper and said, “We aren’t going to drink this until we make it all the way to Ushuaia". That night Ushuaia seemed so very far away.
We started calling it Tequila Guy, and even took photos with it on the Solar in Bolivia. Tequila Guy stayed tucked in that spice rack as we drove mile after mile. In fact, it stayed in the spice rack for 818 days, 17 countries, and 26 border crossings. I don’t know why, but we didn’t drink it in Ushuaia. Maybe it was because we didn't camp our first night there. So, our last night in the camper seemed the perfect time to finish the little guy off. There was only enough for one small glass for each of us…and it was delicious.
Tequila Guy on the Salt Flats of Bolivia
Bye bye, Tequila Guy.
The next morning we broke down camp for the last time and made our way to the coast. We headed for our AirBnB on the beach in the town of Matanzas. We picked Matanzas for the sole reason that we knew an overlanding couple from San Francisco, George and Jenine (of Traveling the Americas), who had decided to make this little town 2 hours south of Santiago their new home. We wanted to see where it was that they loved enough to leave the U.S. for because we thought we might find “that” place too on this trip. A place to lead a simple, quiet life, far away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. We found a couple places we loved, but for some reason none of them pulled us in enough to stay. With time that may change, of course.
Matanzas is a one street town with small beach houses along the water that creep up into the hills. There are interesting, architecturally designed boxy homes with a couple boutique hotels and a few good restaurants. Weekends get busy in summer with people coming in from Santiago to kite board, surf, and lay on the sand. Little wind tents are set up as protection from the blistering wind that blows incessantly, and footprints disappear within a few minutes on the dark sand beach. There are few tourists. George and Jenine are building a small house up a bumpy dirt road in the forested hills with ocean views. They are expecting their first child, adopted a puppy, and have decided to make a whole new life for themselves here.
After a week we settled into the rhythm of the place and understood the draw of this small community. I remember talking to Jenine about what a big deal it must have been to move her whole life down here. She said it was people they met that drew them to the place, and they’ll stay as long as it makes them happy. Just like life on the road. It was a good reminder…stay in a place (or do something) for as little or as long as you want. That was definitely one of the best lessons of our road life. But now after 2 years in the camper, it is time to move on to our next chapter. John and I aren’t really sure what that entails. But whatever it is, we’ll do it as long as it makes us happy, as long as it serves us. And if it isn’t serving us, we know we can change things up whenever we want. This trip certainly gave us that clarity. If it isn’t serving you, your family, your marriage…change it.
Our time in Matanzas went by fast. We walked on the windy beach to "town" for dinner. I went to yoga every couple of days, and we spent a lot of time looking at the ocean, contemplating our future. We also got LoJo ready for the final journey home. The rig needed to be cleaned and emptied of fuel, water and food. The bikes, awning, roof rack and ax had to be taken off and crammed inside. We had done this all before when we shipped from Panama to Colombia, so the whole process was much easier the second time round. Janice and Gregor were sharing a container and shipping back to the U.S. with us so they joined us at the house for a couple days. We shared a few good meals on the beach with Jenine and George, reliving our collective time on the road. Who knew when we all met back in Mexico 2 years ago we would end the trip together, here on the beach in Chile.
I always seem to find a surrogate dog. This one was persistent. I cooked for him and he slept on the deck chairs at night. He took long walks on the beach with me. He hung around for a few days and then he was gone. I saw him in town at the end of the week and he barely looked my way. I seriously thought he might be the one. What a player...
Janice, Gregor, Jenine, George and us at the Surazo hotel/restaurant.
We had a date with a shipping agent at the end of the week so along with Janice and Gregor, we made our way to Valparaiso and loaded both rigs into their metal crates for the long haul across the ocean. The whole process was pretty easy. The shipping agent Julio, greased the wheels where he needed to, we lucked out with a "good" customs agent, and after pretending to drain our gas tank for a fake inspection, Gregor and John slowly drove the rigs into the container for the month long journey up the Pacific Coast.
Julio! You rock...even though you almost didn't show.
They measured us three times. They seriously didn't believe LoJo's big girth would fit. But it DID!
Squeeze out the driver's side window, disconnect the battery, and commando crawl the length of the container to freedom. Totally old hat by now.
And then the doors closed on Lucky and LoJo. I hope we see you in Oakland, CA!!
After LoJo and Lucky were all tucked in, the four of us made our way back to Santiago. We were all staying in Santiago for a week before our flights out of Chile. Janice and Gregor were going on to Buenos Aires before heading to the States, and we were meeting friends from home for our last week in Chile.
Our friends Al and Cheryl met us for a week to visit Santiago and the wine country. John and I were excited - friends from home and time in the wine country! We had decided to skip the famous Mendoza wine region in Argentina so the timing worked out perfect. Cheryl did all the planning (thank you, girl!!) so for the first time in a long time we felt like we were on vacation. That sounds weird, but it was true. Our road life rarely felt like a holiday. We were just living. But now we had friends in town, pool time scheduled, and no responsibilities worrying about the rig. We spent a couple of fun days in Santiago with them, exploring the city by bike, treating ourselves to a little shopping, and splurging on good food.
One somber afternoon in Santiago was spent visiting the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The museum was founded to reflect on and remember the human rights abuses under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Chile suffered immensely during the 17 years of the Pinochet dictatorship. Again and again, I found myself comparing Pinochet to Trump as we listened to the audio guide tell us how it all transpired. Condoning torture, censorship of the press, persecuting dissenters. It really made me sad. Because for much of the time we were down here, I would often think of our democracy, and how our checks and balances made us different than the openly corrupt, family-run elite dictatorships in Latin American. But something has changed. The afternoon left an impression on me because I wondered if I was looking into the future of our of own country - could it get this bad? It certainly tempered my feelings about returning to the U.S. An article in Politico makes the comparison as well: Pinochet. Chavez. Trump? Latin Americans have a message for the Gringos: Welcome to our world. Trump shares a defining, insidious trait with these Latin American populists as a group: the supposed championing of democracy, even as he erodes its very foundations.
Photos of the "disappeared" under Pinochet. His government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured 30,000.
We followed up the museum visit with a light filled, laughter filled, Rosé filled boozy lunch. Whew!
Then dinner. Happy Birthday WEEK, JD!
Hot sweaty bike tour of Santiago. Al had a melon head that day..
After Santiago we headed to the wine region of Santa Cruz, 2 hours south. We ventured out to an amazing property, Vina Vik, for John’s birthday. The hotel is owned by the same guy who owns several we saw in Jose Ignacio in Uruguay. Each room was commissioned by some hot artist and each one was themed differently. It was pretty amazing. We followed up John's rock star birthday with a fun couple of days in funky Valparaiso.
Vina Vik - the the Frank Gehry-esque serpentine roof on the hotel is made of titanium. An amazing property. It was like staying in a modern art museum in the Chilean countryside. Super, super cool.
Al & Cheryl's bathroom in the Azulejo room.
Birthday celebration #2.
Another boozy lunch...with a view. This is after lunch...Obviously.
Our meals were included but it was the Super Bowl while we were there. We wanted a super bowl party...and got it! The kitchen sent down American grub in the TV room. Cheryl & John played marathon chess. ?? I chowed. And beat Al at ping pong.
Ride through the vines.
Walking the port city of Valparaiso
Point of clarification, Valpo...Tourism is NOT worse than Trump. Trust me.
So happy we got to spend our last week with you two!!
Then it was over. We said goodbye to Al & Cheryl, checked in to a hotel at the airport, and got ready for our flight to LA. We were heading “home”. We were ready for life in a house again, ready for the comforts of our own culture, and ready to be moving on to the next chapter of our lives. It was strange. We were excited but kind of sad too. The years and years of planning for our big dream of driving the Americas paid off. And it is about to end. The big goal has been achieved. What's next?
I'll chronicle our reentry…with a wistful recap & video of the last 2 years in the next post. It is, without a doubt, 2 years we will never forget.