Ruta de Siete Lagos

Disappointed about Bariloche, we decided to drive north, along the route of the Seven Lakes – an area we had not visited before. First we skirted around Lago Nahuel Huapi, crossed some more dry Patagonian pampas, and reached Villa la Angostura – a bustling tourist town that looked more like what we remembered Bariloche to be way back when… Yet, we did not stop to look around: we would be coming back within a week to get our truck serviced by a well recommended mechanic in Bariloche, who just happened to start his vacation when we arrived at his place. “Come back next week Wednesday, and I can help you then” he told us, and so we will.

Bariloche lost its charm, but its surroundings are still pretty.
Lago Nahuel Huapi, with Bariloche in the distance.

Ruta de Siete Lagos, (which also happens to overlap the well known #40 – that Argentinian north to south artery we traveled on before) meandered through thick forested mountains – part of the enormous Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Along the roadside, one could see an abundance of lupine plants, now bursting with seed pods. Behind the lupines, the taller greens of scotch broom (gorse) closed the gap between the road and the forest: what a colorful sight that must have been in the springtime, all that purple and yellow along the road!

Lago Lacar

Not far outside of Villa la Angostura, the road splits off to one that leads west to the Chilean border, and Ruta #40 going north. On all sides, clear blue lakes drew our eyes down the steep wooded mountain sides. Despite the heavy vacation traffic, we enjoyed the drive north in perfect weather. When, by mid afternoon, we found a sign advertising a free National Park campground, we drove down to check it out – and decided to stay.  We were not the only ones there.  Many campers were tucked away in the bushes, while we picked a spot with a full view over the shallow river. From here, we could see fish jumping after a hovering insect, and a kingfisher on a tree branch, eyeing that fish small enough to spear. We took a hike following a narrow path along the river, until a few fallen trees blocked our way. Heavy winds and forest fires take a heavy toll on the trees here. There will be enough firewood for all the campers, and then some!

Even though the campsite was pretty full, it felt like we were by ourselves along the river.
Fuchsia wants to grow everywhere, even on a tree trunk in the water
The end of the trail.

The nice thing about Argentinian campers is that they are peacefully quiet: they make a campfire, maybe try to catch a fish, prepare their barbeque, cook, eat, and drink. We heard no loud voices or music, except for a few campfire songs …not bothersome at all. However: a few environmental lessons would not be out of place, like, if nature calls you to go in nature, do it at least a good distance away from a natural water source, and please bury your stuff, and/or wrap up your dirty toilet paper and dispose of it properly, because it looks gross to come across those dumping grounds during an otherwise enjoyable walk. Someone else’s toilet paper is the one thing I refuse to pick up. And please don’t rinse your porta-potty holding tank in the river, close to where your neighbor is filling his water kettle or doing the dishes a minute later. We would not even take soap to these essentially pristine waters.

Anyway, we continued the next morning and soon entered San Martin de los Andes, another popular mountain town with characteristic wooden buildings and multilayered roofs, and an abundance of flowers. Especially roses! Roses do so well in this part of Argentina; they seem to grow effortlessly without any signs of diseases, and bloom abundantly. It is the most popular plant here – both in the gardens and along the sidewalks. Maybe roses are so healthy because they also grow wild here. This time of the year the wild rosebushes were starting to color their leaves yellow, their fruit red. I wish the rosehips would be easier for us to consume – not having to go through the process of removing all the seed, to be left with just a thin skin that cooks into a delicious syrup or jelly. So, most of that fruit will be left for the sheep and other animals to devour.

Restaurant Tio Paco in San Martin de los Andes typifies an example of the regional building style.

Even with all the people crowding the streets, and even though the town discouraged camping vehicles to hang around, we stayed for a couple of days. The terraces were inviting, as were the shady parks, so we had lunch at one place, drinks at another. We found a spot to sleep at the edge of town between an Argentinian family in an old patched-up bus, and a Brazilian couple in a sleek Sprinter campervan. Both being Sprinter owners, we connected with the Brazilians. It was the weekend of Carnaval: they, hailing from Rio de Janeiro, missed the annual celebration, just like Thijs does, who is from the south of the Netherlands, where Carnaval is also celebrated. They heard that there would be a carnaval kick-off in San Martin, starting at 5PM at Plaza San Martin, so we all went there. 5PM, no action yet, but a gathering of beer trucks encircled a stage…after about an hour, a young woman started singing ballads…nice voice, but it did not feel like carnaval. People, drinks in hand, stood around and talked, sat and observed…kids climbed the statue of San Martin…after another hour we went back to our camper.

VW Combi (food or) beer trucks are very popular!
Saturday night Carnaval kick off was very muted and a bit disappointing.

Before turning around at what we considered the end of our route along the seven lakes, we had to satisfy our curiosity about Junin de los Andes, a small town north of San Martin which, in comparison to the latter, would be more laid back and simple; not as expensive as San Martin, and automatically a town that attracts a more alternative crowd…but we made the mistake of going there on a Sunday. It definitely was laid back: everything was closed and hardly a soul was out on the streets. We hung around for a couple of hours, trying to decide what to do, and in the end we just gave up and drove away. We backtracked on the road to San Martin, and continued on until we reached the big open lakeside campground that we’d spotted before on the way up.

Along the road to Junin de los Andes
Lago Machónico

Again, this was a free National Park campsite without any amenities. Everyone just drives in and find themselves a satisfactory spot, for one night or a whole vacation. I was amazed at how easy the system worked, how clean the place looked without a garbage disposal system, and how peacefully everyone co-inhabited the space. So, even though we were camping here with a hundred-something other campers, I found it a very positive experience that we had not encountered in many other places so far. Before we left the next day we walked the trail along the lake’s edge across from the campsite, to discover wild cows that fled for us like deer spotting humans, and horses crossing the water to get to greener pastures. We passed calafate bushes rich with berries, and multitudes of long dead fallen trees. We walked along pebbled beaches and reed filled lakeshores, through grassy fields in the middle of the woods, and admired the wide vistas across the clear waters. And then it was time to continue our drive back towards Bariloche.

The amazingly busy but peaceful campground along Lago Villorino
Look at that tiniest of campers! For short persons, I’m sure.
Camping libre: free campsite at Lago Villorino
Lakeview during our walk

We made one last stop in Villa la Angostura, the town that looked interesting and popular, enough to make us halt. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at Tinto, the bistro that is said to be owned by the brother of our (Argentinian born) Dutch Queen Maxima. I had a grave lax dish, and Thijs had a well cooked trout with an orange sauce. It was pricey but delicious. With the robbery reputation of Bariloche (“don’t leave your camper unattended at the parking lot, you will get it broken into…”) we decided to do our necessary grocery shopping in Villa la Angostura before our last leg back, heading for the mechanic, for a service job.

Downtown Villa la Angostura along Ruta #40.
Lunchtime at Tinto Bistro in Villa la Angostura

However, when we arrived at the mechanic, he was not available yet; too tired from his vacation. We should come back tomorrow… The next day, at the moment we were at his door, we received a message that he was held up by other commitments, we should come back next day. Tired of the busy, expensive, and this time noisy nearby campgrounds, this time we drove out of town to a beachfront to spend another night. It was a beautiful location that coincided with clear skies and quiet winds: perfect weather, perfect place! Here we made up our minds, if we should go back to the mechanic one more time, or cross the border to Chile and find someone there: the trip back to the mechanic would take an hour one way, and even if we would be helped that day, the service would need longer than one day…would he continue his work on the weekend? When Thijs asked through WhatsApp message, he didn’t receive an answer. So we decided to go to Chile instead. But that is another story.

At around 5pm, when the winds pick up, the kite surfers come out.
A peaceful end of the day at the beach of Lago Nahuel Huapi, several kilometers outside of Bariloche
Clear waters and mountains with snow peaks
The end of a glorious day along the lake.
Goodbye Argentina, we really enjoyed our visit.

Uruguay – Part One

“Tourism Week” started on the day we crossed the border from Argentina to Uruguay, where kilometers long lines of cars waited to cross from Uruguay to Argentina. We considered ourselves lucky to head in the other direction. In Uruguay, politics and religion are completely separated, to the point that the week of Easter – a holy week in most of Latin America – has been renamed “Tourism Week”. At that same moment we were confronted with the economic difference between these two neighboring countries: Argentina’s currency is weak with an incredible inflation rate, their money is not very desirable in its neighboring country, unless they pay a steep exchange rate. Uruguayans, on the other hand, can live like kings across their border, which explained the one way traffic. So when we arrived in Uruguay, we expected a richer, more developed country than Argentina – where we’d enjoyed excellent roads and modern looking towns… We were surprised how much less prosperous Uruguay looked: generally the houses were smaller and simpler, their landscaping less cultivated and, beside the toll roads, we found ourselves rattling over dusty dirt roads. This, while Uruguay is named as one of the two wealthiest and most expensive South American nations….we were puzzled. Just like Argentina, most of the countryside consists of cattle pastures and fields that grow animal feed like corn and soy, albeit at times a bit less homogeneous and more natural looking. However in Uruguay, the gentle hills also held patches of eucalyptus forest, its wood becoming another source of income beside the beef industry. Could that make all the difference? In addition we saw herds of horses, grazing on pampas plants and tufts of grass, or galloping along in the distance, throwing up dust, living their lives as they should. Uruguayans love their horses; I’d think everyone here owns a horse like people in the Netherlands own a bike. We passed so many riders along the road, that we concluded that this must be the reason why they have so many unpaved roads: horses and hard pavement don’t go well together.

As we got closer to the coast, quaint thatch- roofed farm houses caught our attention. Most of them were small and unassuming, but so charming. The roads were on and off good to bad, the towns were simple.

Already in Peru we’d heard about a lovely campsite near the coast, owned and run by a Dutch couple. In need of some wifi connection, a load of laundry done, and hopefully some information about what to do and where to go, we decided to go there first.

At the gate of la Chacra Holandesa we were greeted by Jan, Marieke, and their two dogs. We joined several overland campers on the grass near a sparkling pool, beside a field occupied by a handful of horses and a giant pig that thinks she’s a horse. The chacra’s population was completed by a harem of roaming chickens, guarded by a few too many roosters and some cats.

Chacra Holandesa

Every day around five o’clock, after the chores of the day are done, Jan settles himself with a cigar and a glass of wine in a chair under the poolhouse roof: a silent invitation for a get-together. Tales of destinations and experiences went around… We found out that we missed an interesting part along a northern route, and what else we should visit. The coast should definitely be on the list. So after a few days of rest we decided to drive north along the coast, which in many places was still the way we remembered it from our first trip in 1978: with sand dunes, pine forests and strips of summer houses (some of them the cute, cottagey, thatched roofed kind) along white sandy beaches. Except for Punta del Este, which is reminiscent of a downsized Miami Beach, most coastal towns were laid-back and simple with low-rise apartment buildings and old fashioned villas.

Punta del Este

Our northbound endpoint would be the Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa, at thirty-some kilometers south of the Brazilian border. There, the beaches are grand and wild, the coastal forests untouched, while a historic fort and leftovers of the town of Santa Elena add to the attraction. The park can also accommodate an incredible amount of campers. Maybe this would be the place where in 1978 we experienced Easter weekend (?) when we were joined by campers in old fashioned trucks, loaded up with the family’s brass bed and other home furnishings, and old T-Ford type cars (in that time in Uruguay, every car was antique) got decked out with tarps as makeshift tents, and where we saw the first motorcycle-tent construction, and a legion of gauchos servicing the grounds… So far, we had not found or recognized the exact spot. On the other hand, we passed so many pine forests along the coast, that it could have been anywhere …. My appreciation for the geo-location option, nowadays embedded in my photos, was asserted once more: we didn’t have that in 1978. I need to dig up my photos from back then, before we return in September.

Google maps is great in directing us to impossible roads: in the past, google brought us to a stepped street; on a non existent shortcut through dense jungle; and up a street so steep that our truck just stopped, so we had to back up with our front wheels barely touching the road which made steering impossible… This time google directed us through the backstreets of Punta del Diablo to reach Playa Grande in the National Park. We had to turn around when the road became a deep river gully which, even while walking was a climb along narrow ridges. After we returned to the main road, we found the official main entry, where, as expected, we paid an entry- and camping fee and received a map of the park, as well as a desinfecting dip to drive through. On this map, the road connection between Punta del Diablo and the park was non- existent.

Past the grand entryway we drove a rickety potholed road to the long stretch of Playa Grande beach, where we found ourselves alone on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Except for the terrible road condition I wonder why no-one else picked this beautiful spot. The beach below was almost deserted. We passed a few dog walkers, a decaying whale carcass, and further down near the cape that separates the park from Punta del Diablo, some more people. We climbed the dunes and walked the path that brought us to the touristy fisher town, where at that moment a crowd was fixated on a surf competition, sipping maté tea through a bombilla (metal sifoning straw) out of their cuias (maté cups) while holding a thermos of spare hot water tucked under one arm.

Punta del Diablo

How to describe the town of Punta del Diablo? Along the Playa de Pescadores- the most popular part- the streets run helter skelter with the dunes. The dusty roads are scattered with quaint, loosely built open front restaurants, interspersed with small stores, and the occasional cottage. Maybe the buildings were constructed with whatever was found on the beach. Old Volkswagen buses, and young people selling jewelry on the streets or making music made me think of the hippie times. Away from the bustling center, cottages of various sizes and styles varied in curb appeal: some could have been built in the middle ages, some were airy and contemporary. Over time I grew to appreciate the place.

Punta del Diablo

Beside a large restored Spanish fort and some Santa Teresa settlement houses the National park also boasts botanical gardens with an impressive conservatory. Impressive because it looks grand, old and overgrown. Upon entry into the octagonal center, one cannot help but look up and notice the windmill shaped structure that supports four glass roofs. Natural stone pillars and arches leak mosses, ferns and vines. Through an archway we entered a lower side wing, where raised beds displayed a wild array of potted plants rooted in green undergrowth. Another wing displayed taller plants in straight borders, centered by a water canal edged by potted plants. One room looked like an indoor pool, where tropical plants shaded the water for the fish below.

Fortaleza Santa Teresa

Behind the conservatory we took a narrow path into a patch of old growth forest, which led us over a narrow bridge to a small hill, where a statue of an indigenous warrior was displayed: an ode to the Arachanes people that  inhabited these lands until the colonial immigrant people basically extinguished them and all other Uruguayan indigenous inhabitants. Contemporary Uruguay is a very white country.

On a drive around the park we discovered we were not the only ones camping here. Although our spot on the southern side was deserted, we found the most popular spot -with an access road ten times better- on the northern side, where at least a hundred campers hung out under the trees, in close proximity to bath houses and a camping store. We however, happily remained at our lonely spot overlooking the ocean…    

Upon return towards Montevideo (from where we plan to fly back to the Netherlands for a summer with family) we chose an inland road that would pass by some vineyards. The dusty road brought us over rolling hills to a lovely vineyard where no-one was home. With our recent experience in Mendoza, where one could visit most vineyard bodegas without making appointments, we never thought to need one here in Uruguay, so this is what you could get. But no big deal, there was another one not too far from there. We arrived at the grand entry of the Garçon wineries, where a guard asked us for our reservations. Which we didn’t have. Thijs later told me he’d tried to make reservations for wine tasting/lunch the night before, but when a prepayment of $80 pp was demanded, he decided to go our usual way. It didn’t work this time. Is that why Mendoza wineries are more popular? For us they are. We don’t need to taste the wines. So we moved on through cattle country, over rolling hills and dusty roads. We spent a night at a rare of-the-road flat spot near a riverbed and soon found ourselves back in Atlantida, where Chacra Holandesa was crowded and welcoming.

Road to the wineries

The old city center of Montevideo is not overwhelmingly large: one can see most of it in one day. We took the bus, together with our host Marieke, who needed to go into town for her own reasons. We criss-crossed the town and walked down the Avenida 25 de Mayo. At one point you can see the water from three sides, the fishing pier straight ahead of us, and on both sides waterfront  peeping through at the end of the streets. Traffic was relaxed for a nation’s capital, and the shady parks felt comfortable. Pompeous Renaissance and  Neoclassical buildings, plus a scattering of Art Deco facades bring back memories of good old times when money must have been plentiful for the chosen ones. The economy is pretty good now, and slick modern architecture stands proudly beside the historic monuments of yesteryear,  but neglect seeps through the walls of some smaller buildings. At the Plaza Independencia we descended under the statue of José Artigas, and found his impressive black granite underground mausoleum: the remains of this national hero solemnly accompanied by two honor guards.

Statue of José Artigas
Mausoleum of José Artigas
View towards the Plaza de Independencia

Museum of money and gaucho….no idea how that combines!
A peek through an open door
School children in uniform

Thijs went on a quest to find himself a typical gaucho beret, so he could keep his head protected against sun and wind, although we already have this as a gift for our youngest son in mind, who we think might appreciate this fine woolen cap. There are gaucho stores in Montevideo that sell a generous range of these berets: ridiculously wide cotton and woolen berets, as well as more moderate sizes, in a variety of colors and materials. Thijs proudly stepped out of the store with a black woolen one and was immediately photographed by a passing tourist. He generously posed for the picture!

Besides berets, maté cups and bombillas were also sold at the gaucho stores

All too soon our departure date arrived. We drove to the storage facility, where our camper joined over a hundred other overland vehicles, waiting for their owner’s return to continue their journey. We plan to be back by the end of September, when the drive south to Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, followed by a trip north along the Chilean border should finalize our South American exploration. But for now, we look forward to some family time in the northern hemisphere.

Sunrise at Chacra Holandesa

Along the way, there were some down to earth fishing spots

Quarantined in Cusco

The morning of Peru’s lockdown, I looked out the window and saw a number of new arrivals; travelers that just made it inside the compound in time to take advantage of the conveniences and safety the camping had to offer. We were now a diverse, international group with toddlers just learning to walk and talk, school aged kids, adult children, parents, young couples, single adults and people in their retirement age. Among us we counted members of Canadian, Colombian, Chilean, Danish, French, German, Mexican, Swiss, US and, like us, Dutch nationalities. Plus – last but not least – the Peruvian family of Milli and Edgar, who run the campground. That day everyone learned about each other, and looked for a more or less permanent spot. Through time, several language-based quarters took shape, roughly divided into French, Spanish, and German speaking groups. Jorien, our single Dutch compatriot joined us with her bus to share a sun/rain cover.

During the first meeting we learned about how we could cope with the corona virus in Peru.

We had no idea what to expect of Covid transmission danger or symptoms. We assembled to talk strategy. Since every household had their own unit, we could assume to be safe inside. However, the shared bathroom and kitchen would be a contamination risk. Milli promised extra cleaning and sanitising there. We were all expected to do our part with regular handwashing and social distancing. Since taxis wouldn’t run anymore, the young and fit volunteered to do the grocery shopping and carry the load of heavy produce up from Cusco’s 3399m to Quinta Lala’s 3700m altitude. Milli could get the printed permit for them to go shopping or go to the bank. Those that went out did so with caution – with the obligatory mask and sticking to strict Covid rules.

On Tuesday March 17th, the second day of the lockdown, we celebrated a first birthday. With a long table in the middle of the common area, everyone gathered in a large circle around it and performed a happy birthday song in the language of the different nationalities present. We showered the retirement aged birthday girl with field bouquets and improvised presents. After a thank-you speech from her, we enjoyed a choice of cakes, drinks, and chat.

Everyone still had to get used to social distancing. This bothered two families among us to the point that one chose to move to a higher level right during the birthday celebration. It didn’t go well: the track was steep and slick, the camper was large and not built for these conditions. After three failed attempts, an SUV truck drove up and pulled the camper with a tow strap. The distraction dampened the celebration a bit, but after cake and some shots of good pisco, all was forgiven and forgotten.

Second try for the camper to go up the hill…
Already after the first try, the efforts to drive up the hill left a damaged road.
Milli, Edgar and some more family members immediatly gathered rocks to repair the road.

Over time a tight community took shape. Children shared their toys, babies shared a blanket, and restless adults installed a slackline. Through a whatsapp group, calls for help brought us together: “who has silicone caulk for my leaky roof?…I spilled tea on my bed; anybody with a hairdryer?…anyone have a saw?… some plywood?…I need a haircut…does anyone know how to weld?…
After we found out that Jorien, our Dutch neighbor, just started her two year plastics awareness mission in South America and already had to cancel her first few presentations, it didn’t take long to organize one at the camp, with her beamer, a projection bedsheet, and audience. Jorien informed us about plastic pollution and how it affects especially the ocean and its sealife; the presence and danger of microplastics in every organism; and what we can do to reduce plastics in our life. She offered a mini-workshop about making one’s own toothpaste and deodorant.  

Jorien at her presentation. She filled the time with yukelele music while some among us worked on fixing the sound installation
Everyone enjoyed an informative evening, where we learned a lot about plastic pollution.
Soon a mini workshop followed.
Mixing baking soda with coconut oil and essential oil to make deodorant, or how to make toothpaste.

Impressed, others came out of the woodworks with their specialties, and it turned out we had two MDs, a female mountain climber who reached the top five peaks, a zumba teacher, a kickboxer, a diesel mechanic, a movie director, several musicians and tango dancers…and I probably forgot someone. One of the doctors informed us about viruses and building resistance against a virus, the other helped in minor emergencies; we enjoyed a tango performance and could participate in (socially distanced) Zumba and kickboxing. Cooking and baking recipes were exchanged, and the technically interested were happy to help each other with any mechanical problems or tools. Under protest of those taking Covid 19 seriously, we had regular tea and campfire meetings – we all figured that since we’ve been locked up together for weeks now, we were not contagious. Sure, the ones who did the shopping runs could introduce it, but as they were checked by police to take only the direct route to the market or the ATM, wear a mask, disinfect hands, and keep moving, that chance was small.

Camping playground: slackline
Camping playground: tree swing
Homework, however, must go on
The toddlers have their own playgroup
The bigger kids could amuse themselves without adult help
The older among us had coffee meetings
Together you can solve mechanical problems
Jorien learned about the mechanics of her newly aquired camper van. Just three weeks before she took posession.
There were kickboxing classes…
A doctor’s checkup…
Dance classes….
Haircut…there was time for everything, and someone capable enough to help out

We had another birthday party. This time there were three to celebrate for – the youngest turned one, the other eleven and the last one…(?)… maybe twenty…something? This time we came prepared to keep our distance with a hand on a stick to give presents or high five each other. The children loved this joke and ran away with all the  gloved sticks.

Happy Birthday. Here is a present in my extended hand!
The social distance hands-on-a-stick were a success
One by one the three birthday-ers received their special moment
Happy birthday!

Tourists, stuck in hostals downtown, were caught loudly partying into the night. Neighbors called the police, who stopped the parties and had everyone tested. Two of the tourists tested positive, so the hostals were shut down. Tighter restrictions followed for the whole region. We were not allowed to take any more nature walks on the estate grounds of Hacienda Llaullipata, or to be loud with music or voice, and everyone should be back in their units after dark. Shopping trips were reduced to one person only, which was later reduced to just the camping management. Milli could take orders and, with a special permit to drive, Edgar could go by car to do the shopping…. Until he was caught trying to get some of our empty gas bottles filled. His car as well as his driver’s license was taken because he only had a permit for grocery shopping.  After paying a hefty fine, Edgar eventually got his license and car back. In the meantime a family member took over the errands, so no worries.

The trail we were not allowed to walk anymore
An attempt to fill those foreign gas bottles got Edgar into trouble
Extra work for Milli and Edgar: taking care of the grocery orders.

The first campers started leaving: the German neighbors on our other side moved to a rental appartement in Cusco to have more space for their two adult kids and three dogs. Then the Swiss couple wanted to catch an evacuation flight leaving from Lima. Together with a hundred or so other Swiss they boarded three busses to drive the 20 some hours to Lima. We received notice from them that one of the busses had a collision in the mountains, but they were OK. We vowed to only evacuate when we could fly directly out of Cusco. Yes, leaving Cusco started crossing our mind, partly because our son in the Netherlands expressed his reasons of worry, and partly because our embassy offered a one-last-chance to get help evacuating. The French made plans to ship their campers back to Europe, after driving in convoy to Lima. In Cusco at that moment, about 250 hotels and about 250 restaurants were closed for business, as well as a few hundred craft and souvenir stores. The severe shutdown slowed the infection rate, but could not stop it. Peru suffered, and without enough hospital beds, medical specialists or supplies, it would be better not to get sick. When at last a plane was arranged for us to fly to Lima, where a connecting flight was waiting, we took it, albeit with a heavy heart. After almost a month of quarantine, we cleaned our car, gave away our food supplies and said goodbye to our friends. Milli arranged a taxi to bring us to the airport, where we joined a long line of evacuees, waiting for the airport to open its gates and let us in.

When Jorien went out for grocery shopping, she shared these pictures of a deserted Cusco
When Jorien went grocery shopping, she made these pictures of a deserted Cusco.
A last hoorah before I leave!
A goodbye tea before we leave.
Thank you, Milli and Edgar, for everything you have done for us, and for keeping our camper safe until we can return!

It was a most special flight. Thijs had managed to reserve front row seats, so we would be the last in, and the first out. There was no service whatsoever on board, and the plane landed in Lima on the military airfield beside the connecting plane to Amsterdam. Out of caution, we had paid extra to get in first class, where again we had front row seats. Like on all seats on the plane, we found a huge bag with snacks and drinks to carry us through the flight, since again there was no service on board. The best thing about this seat was that you could lay flat, and I slept all the way to Amsterdam.

We were told to be at the airport a six in the morning, only to wait until nine before the gates to the airport opened. Waiting in a long line.
In Lima we could walk from one plane to the other. This went smoothly.
One last check before boarding the direct flight to Amsterdam.
We were on the only plane arriving at Schiphol airport.

At 10:38 in the morning we arrived at a deserted Schiphol airport. Looking for our baggage belt, we saw we were the only plane on the screen. We rented a car and met up with our son and family outside their appartment– no hugs or touches yet. We borrowed blankets, pillows, sheets from him, and picked up extra clothing and towels from our storage. That should carry us through the first night on our boat in Friesland.

During the flight, I developped a bladder infection. I needed to find a bathroom every fifteen minutes. It was hard to find a bathroom along the empty highway. One roadside restaurant had a takeout window open, and while Thijs ordered us some food, I searched and found a coin operated bathroom open. What a relief! (In the Netherlands, public bathrooms always cost money) An hour later we picked up the key to our boat, and were ready to start our Dutch part of life in the time of Corona. To be continued….

How neat and flat it is here in the Netherlands. I almost forgot…
Good night!

Along the Brazilian Coast: Rest In Peace, Kakao

After a good twelve years together, we had to say goodbye to Kakao. We did not expect him to die so quickly. When we left Belém, he still acted normal. Yes, he got tired a bit earlier and liked to sleep longer, but at thirteen years – in this tropical heat, that would be expected, right?

When we arrived in pretty Alcântara, a quiet small town across the river from Sâo Luis, Kakao had no trouble hopping out of the camper and charming the local dogs with his friendliest stance. He went along with us on an evening stroll to explore the decorative cobblestone streets and admire the historic buildings.

The following day we braved the wild ferry ride across the river, with strong currents, and waves crashing loudly and high over the guard rail, shaking our truck like on a very bumpy road. That evening we explored the waterfront on the outskirts of Sâo Luis.

The next morning, Kakao chose not to join us for a walk through the streets of old Sâo Luis. So we left him to relax inside, while we admired the city’s stuccoed, painted or tiled fascades, its faded beauties, and stepped streets.

Before the morning was over, we left town, in search of a truck wash place – something that was now really necessary with all the dirt, soaked in salt water after this last ferry ride.

When we arrived in Barreirinhas, we could take a tour into the famous white dunes of the Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses. We decided against it because we doubted that any of the crystal clear lakes would still be as clear and present at the end of the dry season, and a six hour excursion seemed like a long time to leave Kakao behind. Instead we found a spot along a beautiful tropical river. We enjoyed lunch there at a perfect restaurant and stayed along the riverside for a quiet night. That evening Kakao, while on a long leash, lost his balance while reaching down to taste the river. He fell in the water and panicked when he could not crawl out. He did not want our help, so we had to lead him to a place that was easier for him to climb ashore. We still did not think anything was off when afterwards he could not jump into the truck without our help. He screamed and snapped when we helped to lift him up. We thought he was a bit traumatized…he never liked swimming…

Continuing south, we did see some white dunes, indeed with putrid green pools in the dips. Thijs got his climb in, while Kakao and I stayed in the car. After that, we drove a good stretch and reached the popular beach town of Jericoacoara at the end of the day.

Although we did not quite stay in the real coastal town of Jericoacoara – which is off limit for vehicles – we found a campground on adjacent Lagoa de Jijoca; the first real campground in Brazil! Kakao could roam free, chasing lizards within the confines of the terrain. He enjoyed a stroll along the lake beach, but getting into our camper was becoming a struggle, and this time even jumping out went wrong…

We could have stayed at this comfortable campsite, filled with friendly and helpful Brazilians, but we had a wedding date to make in Recife, and no idea what could await us, that could slow down our progress. The north-east landscape varied between savannah land with a thorn bushes, palm groves, cattle land and the occasional patch of forest. We enjoyed the small homesteads along the way; buildings and sites that brought back memories of rural Africa. We skipped the next few cities and spent a night at a firestation in Fortaleza. It was only after Fortaleza, when we stopped for the night at a serene lake (where a distant fisherman sung at the top of his lungs while rowing over the mirror still water) that we noticed something was seriously wrong with Kakao. We’d already improvised a ramp from our folding table, covered with a yoga mat, so he could safely get in and out of the camper. That evening he started walking in circles, with his head sharply tilted in the direction he was turning. I googled the symptoms and found that it could be “old dog vestibular syndrome”, a scary ailment that should spontaneously disappear in maybe two weeks. We decided to see a veterinary in Natal.

The vet did not want to give us a diagnosis before keeping Kakao under observation for at least a week. We could better do this in Recife, where we planned to stay for the wedding anyway. So with the assurance that it was not an emergency, and a painkiller prescription (he cried each time we tried to help him) we headed to the referred vet in Recife, just one more stop away…

Just like in Natal, the vet in Recife gave us a vague answer with many possible ailments. She suggested CTscans, bloodtests, steroids and antibiotics (all with the help of Google translate, as no-one speaks any other language but Portuguese here!) We opted for bloodtests and medication. We chose to camp in a quiet water park not far from the vet’s office, awaiting the results of the bloodtests.

In the meantime we had to show up at the parents of the bride, who insisted we’d stay with them. They are the nicest people but did not really understand that we could not drag Kakao up to their apartment, and that we wanted to be near him as long as he needed us. When my sister-in-law Marina arrived, we moved to a location close to the hotel she stayed at. Here we could come and go as we wanted and still take part in the social activities. And we could take Kakao for walks on the beach.

We arrived in Recife well in time before the wedding. We even could celebrate Christmas with our new Brazilian family! But on Christmas day we decided to visit Fort Orange, an old bastion originally built by the Dutch, and later destroyed and rebuilt by the Portuguese. Over forty years ago, we spent quite some time there, adjusting our then brand new VW kombi for more storage space. I remembered the place as a quiet, clear water beach, where we camped in the bend, protected by the walls of the fort. When we came back here – this time during the holidays – it was crowded. Upon arrival, parking guards scrambled to point you towards one of the beachside bars or restaurants where they’d receive a tip. Parasols and large families crowded the strip of sand between water and shade trees. Loud music filled the air. We entered the fort; something I don’t remember we did back then, but then again, we heard the place had just re-opened after extensive renovations. Inside, the courtyard was quiet. The buildings looked sober. All rooms, except the chapel, were locked. We climbed to the top of the fortress walls and looked down… there is where we’d camped!…still recognizable.

Together with Suna and Chris, Chris’ mom Marina, and Suna’s parents, we explored a couple of beaches around Recife; places that we could reach with our camper so Kakao could also take part. He clearly still enjoyed the beach: he joined us on walks, lazed around in the sand and made some efforts to hunt for crabs.

Kakao stayed behind in the comfort of our air-conditioned camper when we went on an outing to the historic center of Olinda- named so since the location is just beautiful : O! Linda! While driving between Boa Viagem, where we stayed, and the home of Suna’s parents on the north side of Olinda, we passed the colorful houses several times and happily joined our family group on a walking tour through the quaint old town.

The prednisone made Kakao eat like a bear and gain weight (which after a while worried me because his legs are so weak) but he managed to reject one dose, then he deteriorated fast – not eating, stumbling and falling. To keep him hydrated, I used a syringe to squirt water into his mouth. The bloodtest result showed it was not an infection. So we still hoped for this vestibular syndrome to disappear. However after a second checkup, the vet concluded that the ailment was in the central brain: maybe a tumor, or a parasite… She upped the medication with antibiotics for a treatment that she said had been successful in some cases…

The day of the wedding, after two days of fasting, Kakao got up, drank a bowl full of water and ate a good portion of the rice and tuna I prepared for him. He looked more alert and stable. Was it the electrolytes I’d added that day? We took him on a short walk before we left for the ceremony. Coming back home after a few hours of wedding celebrations, he acknowledged us, but did not bother getting up. Several times that night he got himself stuck in a corner when trying to turn, and needed my help to get back on the bed. In the morning he would not eat, could not get up by himself, and stopped swallowing the fluids I squirted in his mouth. It was time to let him go… With the help of Chris and Suna we found a nearby vet who was willing to help Kakao pass, on a Sunday, on his own bed. He went peacefully.

Together with Chris, Suna and Marina, we buried Kakao under a coconut tree, with a view over the water. A circle had rounded: Kakao’s name used to be Coco. He is now surrounded by coco trees. Our first dog Linda came from the beach in Brazil and was buried in Virginia. Kakao, from Virginia, is now on the beach in Brazil. Afterwards we had a meal with coco for lunch, overlooking the view that Kakao will have from now on. All is good.

The view from Kakao’s resting place. Life’s end could not be more beautiful.