September 2023

After leaving San Pedro de Atacama we drove to Antofagasta, a big city on the North coast of Chile where we went to several big supermarkets stocking up on things we had missed such as nut free chocolate spread (I’m allergic), couscous, red pesto, good chocolate and we even found stroopwafels (a Dutch cookie). Chile is an expensive but modern country where you can mostly buy the same stuff as in European shops. After Peru and Bolivia this was quite nice. In daily life it’s often the small things that matter, even if you live in a van and are travelling the world.

We travelled further South in the direction of Santiago. Chile is a long and narrow country, its 4.329km long, but on average only 177 km wide. This means there are few roads and they are often straight for many miles. And in the Northern part of Chile the roads mainly go through a desert without any trees and very few bushes and a lot of dry rocks. Everything is basically different shades of grey and brown. Which makes for incredible boring driving. And the distance between Antofagasta and Santiago (capital) is roughly 1300 kms… Fortunately the roads are quite good.

We took a few breaks from driving South, camping at the coast. The coast is also dry and rocky but of course the ocean view made up for that, especially at Bahia Inglesia where we stayed 3 days. In September it is winter in Chile so it was too cold to swim and quite windy at the coast but it was nice and sunny and with temperatures between 15-20C it wasn’t too bad.

And then we finally arrived at Santiago. The capital of Chile has around 6 million inhabitants. But more important for us; an Ikea and a Decathlon! The first since Mexico, where we were in January 2022. By now some items really, really needed replacing. My thermal clothes had holes in them and my outdoor sandals had been stitched and glued together twice already. Kilian also needed new shoes. Because we are taller than the average South American person and because they just don’t sell a lot of outdoor gear, we hadn’t been able to buy new stuff. Our bedding was also falling apart. Since mattresses and duvets have different sizes here, we hadn’t been able to buy a new set of bedding, but Ikea uses the European sizes so we managed to solve that problem as well. When we started travelling we didn’t realise that it would be so difficult to replace these items, I think most people don’t. We weren’t expecting Ikea’s and Decathlons in every country, but also weren’t prepared for the almost complete lack of likewise shops and goods, or the difference in sizes. Secretly we were also hoping the Ikea would sell drop (liquorice) as they do in other European countries but unfortunately that wasn’t the case, although they do have the Swedish meatballs here as well.

We then spend 5 days at a campsite just below Santiago waiting till the Independence day festivities were over. Independence day (September 18th) is the most important holiday in Chile and although it is officially only one day, the festivities last at least 4 days and all businesses were closed. We needed to make an appointment with a garage to have some maintenance done. While staying at the campsite, which is basically somebody’s very big back yard, we were included by the family in the holiday festivities. They shared their food and their drinks with us, and they really know how to party! We didn’t get to bed until around 2 am and we had slightly to much to drink 🙂 We kept it to one night though, we have no idea how they manage to celebrate for days! Chile is also the country of wine and they don’t say no to other forms of alcohol either. Even children who are barely in their teens drink alcohol. And most of the family arrived and left by car…. All in all we had a good time with these friendly and hospitable people. They even kindly locked the dogs in their kennel during the day so Binkie could go outside without being eaten. At night the dogs were let out and Binkie stayed inside.

After 5 days we said our goodbyes and went to the garage and after everything was checked and some online search for parts etc. we got a quotation 2 days later. It was kind of pricy but after getting a second opinion at another garage and some changes to the quotation to lower the price, we agreed with it and booked the van in to the garage for the following week. Kilian will write a separate article about all the repairs. Meanwhile we camped in the garden of a hostel in Santiago close to a huge shopping mall (more stuff was bought), good restaurants and a nice park. After much hassle Kilian finally managed to get the water pump working again, at least for the time being since the cause of it not working is, and still remains unknown. We booked an Air BnB for a week while the van was in the garage. The apartment was down town Santiago. It was nice to be within walking distance of all the sights.

We visited the Plaza the Armas (every city in SA seems to have one), the shopping streets, a castle and a few parks. We went out to dinner a couple of times, but due to the high prices mostly ate at the apartment. We did go to the Wonderland cafe, you can probably guess at what their theme is…

One disadvantage of being down town in any big city however, is the amount of noise that never stops. Even though we were at the 17th floor, the street noise was still clearly audible. We went to bed listening to the sound of the garbage trucks and woke up to honking cars. So after over a week in the city we were glad to pick up the van and leave it behind us. Although some bad luck would quickly take us back, but more about that in our October blog.

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