After first catching up with Trepic as they began their epic adventure across the world in their 79 Series LandCruiser, REDARC reached out to find out how their travels have fared across South America on four wheels.
Picking up where we left off
We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived into South America. Apart from a lot of weekend camping trips in Western Australia and our test run across Australia, we hadn’t really done much of what we now realise is called “overlanding”. Shipping to a foreign country turned out to be a pretty easy experience. Everyone was incredibly helpful and within about 6 hours we were at the shipping yard with a team of Chileans wanting to help us out in any way they could. They were fascinated by the car we’d built and for an hour or so kept asking us to open drawers to take photos.
This hasn’t really stopped and we quite often feel like animals in a zoo. When we built our car we built it based on camping in Australia, which for the most part is always outside and all by ourselves. Over here, we are rarely by ourselves, and we are not accustomed to sharing our personal space with others.
Quite often we’ll be brushing our teeth or cooking breakfast and turn around and there’s a crowd of people standing around staring at us, pointing and/or taking photos. Every now and then someone thinks we are a food truck and asks “what are you selling? Some days you just want to be left alone but for the most part it’s all really good fun and a very easy way to meet the locals which gets us invited to parties or told where the best camping spots are.
Built for tough Australian conditions
Not only was the car built for the Australian isolation but also for the Australian weather conditions. After about 4 weeks of procrastinating in the warm middle region of Chile, we finally bit the bullet and started heading south through the stunning lakes district and into the wild and remote Patagonia region.
This was where both us, and the car, were very much out of our element (or actually in the elements is probably more accurate). The further south we went, the windier, rainier and colder it got. With a daily average wind speed of 80+ km/hr, 6 out of 7 days of rain a week and maximum daily temperatures of 6 - 12c we started to wonder “perhaps we didn’t give our design enough thought?”. The rain itself wasn’t too bad, we were dry in the rooftop tent and our newly acquired electric blanket kept us nice and toasty. But the wind was relentless. It was so strong that we couldn’t put up our awning and custom wind protection we made specifically for this kind of occasion. We couldn’t even cook as the stove kept blowing out. Luckily our electrical system worked brilliantly!!
The 2000W inverter was on most of the time as it ran the electric blanket all night and for the 2 months we lived on nothing but toasted sandwiches which also ran from the inverter. By the end I can confidently say that Solène is a master toastie maker. One day, after perhaps a couple too many beers and a craving for something not stuck between 2 pieces of toasted bread, I decided to cook half a chicken in the sandwich press.
It may have been the beers but it tasted pretty good. Overall we thought Patagonia, without any sunshine, would be the worst for our battery levels. But since it was so cold the fridges didn’t have to do any work and the lowest percentage the batteries read on the Manager30 monitor was 80% the whole time we were there.
A diamond in the rough
It was down in the very south of South America that we found out another thing that we had made a mistake about. 70 series Land Cruisers are not as common as we thought. In fact there’s only one country in South America that does sell them and we of course found this out the hard way. We were on what started as a fun little excursion to see some penguins in the middle of Tierra Del Fuego [Interesting Fact - home to the world’s largest shearing shed!!].
We were doing about 70km/hr along a rather corrugated gravel road when we felt a bit of a wobble and then looked out the window to see our back right wheel rolling past us. Strangely enough I had a feeling it might happen as spare wheel studs were the one thing I kept forgetting to buy in Australia before we left. I kept saying to Solène “it’s OK, we’ll find them in South America, these cars are everywhere”. Oh how wrong I was!!
It took us 3 days calling every part shop in the nearest town (200km away and on another island) and trying to explain to them, in Spanish, the dimensions of the bolts we needed. Finally we managed to get a tow truck to pick us up and take us to the port so we could get the ferry back to Punta Arenas to visit 4 shops to buy the last 5 wheel studs in the city that would fit. But good old Murphy was having a great old day when on the way back the tow truck’s diesel tank decided to fall off, dumping 200L of diesel on the road. The driver didn’t seem too worried as he laughed, kicked it off the road, opened another beer and kept driving.
Apart from that, we’ve had smooth sailing. We’ve seen some absolutely incredibly beautiful sites and landscapes and after a while you start to become rather desensitised to the beauty. We’ve seen thousands of waterfalls, pristine glacial lakes, epic glaciers, massive volcanoes, live volcanoes, ancient ruined cities, amazonian rainforests, petrified forests, and loads of funny animals. We’ve driven up to 5000m above sea level and learned another thing that the car has absolutely no power at that altitude. It took us 8 hours one day to drive 180km on a nicely sealed road, just because there’s not enough oxygen for the engine to suck in.
Peace and quiet is the new perfect
The camping is quite different over here to Australia. In Australia we would often spend hours trying to find the perfect camp spot. Over here, it’s much more populated and mostly the best spots are fenced off. It took us a while to relax a bit and stop trying to find the “perfect spot”. Often we are only just looking for a quick place to camp and have learned how to find free spots in these built up areas. We’ve slept in monasteries, police stations and petrol stations, but we’ve found that the best places are cemeteries. They are quiet and you have the whole place to yourself…sort of.
The other difference here is the landscape. I’m sure there are plenty of ultra-patriotic Australians out there that think we have the most beautiful country in the world. But after only 6 months in South America we can no longer agree. For the most part, Australia is incredible in what it offers. It’s clean, easy to travel around and offers what almost nowhere else in the world does, isolation. But it’s the individual sites here that just blow you away - 50km long glaciers, pristine glacial lakes and 3km deep canyons. It’s hard to explain just the level of spectacular places that are over here and with such extreme variety. One of the more amusing sites was a town in the middle of Paraguay called Nueva Australia. Some crazies in the early 1900’s decided to come to the middle of the Paraguayan jungle and start a new Australia because they didn’t like the old one I guess? So we popped in there for a pie and sauce, and you wouldn’t bloody believe it. They sold them!
As beautiful as the sites are over here though, if you aren’t in one of these national parks or at one of the well maintained facilities near mountains, lakes, volcanoes or beaches the amount of rubbish is staggering. People here don’t seem to have the same love and care for the land. For that reason we still think Australia has the best camping in the world. But we will however reserve judgement until we’ve seen the other 4 continents.