It looked like we returned too early: for the whole month of April and deep into May the weather in Holland remained frigid. Springtime seemed an impossible wish. In addition to the disappointing weather, we were told that our boat, our summer home, which had been in winter storage with a work order to have the hull treated for rust, and repainted, had not been worked on because of lousy winter weather conditions. We will be homeless until the boat is back in the water. To make things worse, our old Volvo needed to get some bodywork done to pass inspection, and the garage could only do that job three weeks later.
The good news was that we could make ourselves useful watching our three-year-old grandson at his house, and we could use the family car when needed. It is good to be with our family again. We celebrated King’s Day, Easter and Mother’s day together. Our grandson now thinks I am Wonder Woman, who can do anything. I wish I was, but it is a great compliment to get.
With continuous rain and cold, it did not look like progress could be made on the boat, so Thijs decided we’ll lower her back in the water and live with the primer spots decorating our hull for a while. Maybe in June, when we will be away for a family reunion, the work can be done (…fingers crossed…) We moved into the boat, but remained docked at the wharf, waiting for good weather. When, finally, there were a few beautiful days in a row, we set off towards our marina closer to Amsterdam…but within 10 minutes the engine alarm started screaming: it overheated with a failing cooling system…so back to the wharf we went. Now Sander, the main man was out sick. A long holiday weekend followed, delaying the arrival of necessary parts. And we still wait for the repair to be done.
But we did not sit still: we scoured the World Wide Web and joined some African Overlanding groups to get some better ideas about travel conditions, searched and found a (somewhat) appropriate vehicle (not comparable -and longingly looking back to- what we had in the Americas). Soon we will take possession of a Nissan Navara with Bimobil camper… We know, we’d rather have found a Toyota Hilux, but they don’t come up for sale with a decent camper in this neck of the woods, so we will make improvements on this one to turn it a trustworthy overland travel home.
So you wonder why we didn’t just ship our MB Sprinter?
Our Sprinter was registered in the USA. As Dutch nationals/residents we are not allowed to drive in Europe with a foreign registration – we’d have to import it, even when we plan to take it to Africa after the summer. To import the truck, a lot of the specs are different and would have to be altered – which may not make the vehicle better. We found the high cost of shipping, in addition to the needed alterations and importation prohibitively expensive.
Our Sprinter was also a heavy weight 7T truck (which in Europe requires the driver to have a truck license). Even when staying on the main drag, the road conditions in Africa are different and a bit more difficult than in the Americas, where, unless you chose to drive the Amazonas or Central American jungle roads during the rainy season, the average road may be rough, but not impassable. Africa has more soft roads where, when stuck, you have to dig and push your car through. We’ve done that on our first Trans- African trip. This time we know that weight can hold you back, especially with increasing age and the chance of traveling alone (in 1978 the few people that traversed the continent stuck together to help each other along the trickier sections). This is the first time we’ll drive a 3.5T, 4X4. We’ll see if it makes a difference.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.