Our final days in South America

Why is it that things fail in waves; that it is never just one thing that stops working? The engine sputtered, especially after a good day’s drive. Since it started near Bariloche, we’d been in garages in Bariloche, Puerto Varas and Osorno to check it out. On top of that, all of a sudden, our Webasto diesel stove started acting up, and the Webasto heater must have thought it would be fun to join in the malfunctioning. The newly installed air conditioning decided to blow warm air, just at the time we needed some cool. To top it off, we got a flat tire. Why? Was it because we found people who were ready to come and take our camper and (slowly) drive it back to the US? It certainly felt like our truck was upset about us deserting it and decided to throw a fit. Thankfully Thijs kept his cool, so he took the diesel stove apart and started tinkering around. After a day of cleaning and exchanging a few parts, we concluded that the kerosine – which Thijs thought it would make the stove burn better – was the culprit. As soon as the fuel supply was changed to good old diesel, both the stovetop and the heater were back to working. The flat tire just had a leaking valve that must have been either badly installed or had twisted on one of the rough roads. This problem was also easily solved, and while we were at it, we had the tires rotated and balanced, so that was back to perfect!

From Chiloe, we toured once more over the green hills of the lake district, hoping for a clearer view of the volcanoes across the clear water lakes. Then we turned towards the coast, where we meandered along a wide river until Valdivia, where a bridge allowed us to cross. Deep fjords and river arms broke up the coastline, making it impossible to remain within constant sight of the ocean. We cut through cool, green farmlands until the next opportunity to head north along the coast. We spent a night along the beach of Mehuin, a small resort town that was now, at the end of the summer, deserted except for another camper traveler, who told us they parked along that beach for days already. We, however, had an appointment in Santiago, coming up too soon….

We woke up with this beautiful view along the Llanquihue lakefront.
Early evening along the beach of Mehuin.
View over Quele, just north of Mehuin

The fuel supply to the engine remained a problem so, as recommended by the Mercedes garage in Osorno, we made an appointment at the official Mercedes dealer in the larger town of Temuco, a place where many MB Sprinter vans were serviced. Since we arrived there on a Friday afternoon, we had to wait and hang around town throughout the weekend, to show up for service on Monday morning.

There is really very little to do and to see in this town! While our laundry was done, we walked around downtown. The Museo Regional de la Araucania may be the only interesting place to visit, but despite the sign outside announcing the opening times, it remained closed. We walked the trails of the mountain that rose over the town: the Monumento Natural Cerro Nielol – and finally hung around on the generous parking lot of the supermercado Lider, which really is Walmart under a Latin name.

Chemamüll (‘wooden person: from Mapuche che ‘people’,  and mamüll ‘wood’) are Mapuche statues made of wood used to signal the grave of a deceased person. We stumbled upon this site walking the trails of the Cerro Nielol.
Outside the Lider supermarket, Mapuches offered an oxcart load of seaweed for sale

We spent the nights along the shores of a small river south of the city; an area that was clearly Mapuche indigenous territory. Although it came recommended as a good place to camp (it certainly felt safe) and we saw no postings about it being out of bounds for campers like us, we were not really comfortable staying so close to villages where no-one was eager to have us as neighbors.

We spent a night each at these two sites along a small river. I think we were on Mapuche territory.

When Monday came around, and the garage made annoyingly slow progress, we spent the following night within the boundaries of Kaufman Mercedes (something that is rarely possible at an official dealership) On Tuesday, work seemed to have come to a halt. After two days in the workshop, they concluded we needed a new O ring for the turbo resonator, which apparently was difficult to find around town, but that would solve our problem. Upon arrival the previous Friday, this was already brought up by Thijs as a possible culprit… if the dealership would have ordered that tiny part back then, it could have been flown in from the US or Germany already (!) Instead, an employee was sent on a local hunt from one parts-store to the other.

Kaufmann Mercedes garage is huge! And very well organized…but slow

After two days without progress, when we were close to losing our temper, a new O ring was suddenly found. At the end of that day, after a quick install, we could continue our trip north with a smoothly purring engine. We’d lost almost a week, so instead of continuing along the scenic roads, we had to take the toll road in order to arrive in Santiago in time to do the heavy cleaning, sorting and packing before the people who would take over our vehicle were due to arrive.

Along the toll road, getting close to Santiago

Santiago is a beautiful, modern city with many high-rise towers and green parks. Heavy traffic is led across town through a toll highway that often tunnels underground. Thijs chose for us to stay at Hostal Casa de Perros, in Vitacura, a quiet and comfortable neighborhood, in walking distance to good stores and a choice of restaurants. Claudia and Patricio were great hosts and very accommodating, letting us stay in and work on our camper, on the street outside their place. At times, Patricio would stick his head over the fence, inviting us to join him for a Pisco Sour, and Claudia regularly organized some kind of get together, which made the stay there unforgettable.

BBQ party at Claudia’s, with hostal residents and friends hailing from Chile, Peru and Argentina. Claudia and Patricio at the far end.

In between scrubbing and sorting, we still found a shop to resolve the air conditioning problem. Finally, when the whole camper was scrubbed clean, we moved out of our tiny home and into the hostal, just in time for Sam and Khalilah, our American replacement, to move in. Now it was time to introduce them to all the details of our camper: they needed to know the what, where, how and when of everything. 

The camper gets a top to bottom power wash.
Thijs explains to Sam the workings under the hood.

When all was done, we made some time to re-unite with some Chilean friends that we met during our Covid quarantine in Cuzco: Isabel and Martin treated us with a delicious BBQ dinner laden with choice Chilean wines, while Lucy and her little sister showed us their favorite toys. The evening went by too quickly, so we invited them to our good-bye pizza dinner at Claudia’s, and a visit in Amsterdam, a few months down the road.

For our final meal in South America, we had pizza.

When all was done, we did not stay much longer: though it was sad to close this American chapter, we also look forward to what comes next: we will see our family during the summer in the Netherlands and make plans for our next adventure, traveling around Africa.

On our way back to Europe; it was a very long (31hour) trip.
The map we had on our camper: The black line on the map shows the route we travelled between December 2014 and March 2023. The silver line was the route we traveled between December 1977 and September 1979.