Opportunities are in no short supply while traveling and making your plans as you go. However, the process of identifying the next _thing_, planning, pursuing, and enjoying the thing don’t usually line up so perfectly as to not create some sort of gap, which itself requires planning and pursuing. During long-term travel, the inevitability of these in-between times becomes a regular reality and adds a different cadance to life on the road. Sometimes, these times create much needed space for rest or they can surprise you in unexpected ways.
As we prepared to leave the vineyard, our minds focused on the next ambitious phase of the trip. We wanted to road trip through Patagonia, north to south. Driving a campervan across almost a 4,000 km expanse would be ideal, though we worried inspiration struck too late for us to reserve an affordable option. As I’ve learned repeatedly on the trip, everything works out in some way or another, and we found ourselves leaving the gates of the vineyard for the last time with a deposit on a month-long rental for a camper van. We had the van we wanted at a good price, all we had to do was wait about two and a half weeks. It’s strange thinking of weeks as being fluid downtime in our travels with little plans or intentions. With two weeks being a respectable vacation time in the US, calling two and a half weeks “disposable” feels wrong. So like always, we take a look around and make ourselves available and open to our surroundings.
Leaving the vineyard energized and ready to hit the road, Lane felt drawn to try something new. Our home at the vineyard sat just about an hour bus ride from one of the best surf spots in Chile, the coastal town of Pichimelu. Our first post-vineyard meal, we indulged in salchipapas—a deliciously-terrible Chilean favorite of french fries and cut-up hotdog. That’s all it is, yet it is everywhere and so very popular. We lounged in the glory of our comfortable B&B, and climbed up into a lovely reading loft with a view of the ocean and sunset. Lane secured a reservation for a surfing lesson in English, thank goodness. I absolutely love the water. I’ve spent lots of time in, around, and under the water. In most all situations—stressful or otherwise—I can handle myself around water. Nonetheless, Something about surfing made me nervous. I also couldn’t stop thinking of the frigid water temperatures we’d felt in northern Chile, and I didn’t imagine the situation was better down south. I nervously agreed to surfing lessons, bearing in mind the trip is all about trying new things. And honestly, what about the past several months of our lives hadn’t pushed me out of my comfort zone?
The next day, Ismael, our surf instructor, pulled up in a red truck loaded with surfboards, and cooling hopped out reveal bare, surfer feet. We hadn’t heard what a Chilean surfer bro sounded like until this moment, but we would be laughing along with his stories for the next two days. Ismael exudes a passion for his craft I haven’t seen in most people. He lives and breathes surfing, and he could recognize all his friends out on the water even though we stood on a cliff peering down towards ocean waves hundreds of feet below. He also tells stories and provides instruction with a level of animation and sound effects unparalleled by any kind of teacher I’ve ever had.
We piled into the back seat of the truck and greeted the other two surfing students we found inside. Chris and Keiko hailed from New York and also in the middle of a year-long trip around the world. Neither of us had met many other couple traveling long term from the US, so we excitedly swapped travel highlights, struggles, tips, and warnings.
Both Chris and Keiko put Lane and me to shame when we did our first surf lesson. Turns out they were from California originally and had both surfed a bit. We didn’t stand a chance, but we did our best to keep up. In between wipeouts, we talked and laughed over the waves. I never stayed on my board for very long, but wow, it was exhilarating when I did!
Ismael offered to take us out for another class the following day, and Chris and Keiko already planned to hit the waves again. We excited agreed, and I smiled at the fact I couldn’t wait to go surfing again.
The next day, after several hours of tiring and fun surfing attempts, the sun slowly sunk towards the watery horizon. Ismael waved us towards him and told us the final plan for the day. We’d paddle out beyond the largest waves and ride a big one to the shore. Excitedly, I climbed onto my board and did my best to maintain a proper paddling position as I tailed Chris and Lane out towards the open ocean. Soon, we were floating in calm water, a warm glow emanating from the edging sunset. We watched the experienced surfers near the cliff catch the final wave of the day. I often think back to this tranquil moment before one of the most exhilarating of my life.
Soon, Ismael gathered us round and asked who wanted to go first.
“I’ll give it a go!”, I heard myself yelling into the open air.
As I paddled closer, I asked whether I could simply ride the wave on my belly, holding my board like so. Ismael laughed and assured me this would be just fine. He held my board, steadying me in the water and he waited, judging the perfect wave.
“This is the best wave of your life!”, he yelled in my direction and both the excitement and the wave swelled.
So I did. Suddenly, I was careening towards the shore at the base of a huge wave. I screamed in delight and speed increase and the beach grew larger in my sight. Keiko worried I’d fallen when she heard the scream, but quickly realized it was just excitement. I rode the wave almost to the beach and wore a ridiculous ocean-induced grin on my face. I watched, anxiously, from the shore as everyone rode their waves one-by-one.
Ismael gave us hot chai as we shivered in our wetsuits on the beach, and laughed as he told crazy stories from his early days of surfing as a kid. A few years ago, he’d embarked on a round the world surfing trip and traveled to so many amazing places. Two things to note: he rode the best wave of his life here in Pichilemu, and he was very disappointed by Taco Bell in California.
Keiko and Chris were staying with Ismael, as he was a family friend, and Ismael invited us over for dinner that evening. He grilled fresh fish caught by his friend, and his girlfriend, Daniella, prepared a delicious salad. We talked and laughed through the night and multiple bottles of wine, appreciating the beautiful serendipity of travel.
Soon, we boarded a bus bound for Santiago. We enjoyed walking around, visiting museums, and eating well on our second trip to the city. On the first trip, we ate some of the best cheeseburgers and fries of our lives, so we couldn’t resist the temptation again. We also purchased two travel-worthy sleeping bags for our big van trip before catching a flight south to northern Patagonia.
Landing in Puerto Montt, snow capped volcanoes greeted us outside the terminal. We’d be returning to the city later before picking up our home on wheels. But first, a trip to Argentina (and a Chilean visa renewal) awaited us. We had nearly used up the 3 months allotted on our Chilean visa, so needing to leave and re-enter Chile before the start of our van trip led us to spending a pleasant and relaxing in Bariloche, Argentina. Bariloche is a Swiss-inspired town complete with plenty of Argntine flair spread along the shores of Lago Rio Negro.
We visited Argentina for the first for my friend’s wedding back in 2015. The country had seen lots of change and struggle since then, but we were excited to return. Argentina will always hold a special place for us. Our second visit to Argentina provided ample hikes, sunbathing on lake shores, and instead of rivers of Malbec (like last time), we excitedly indulged in Bariloche’s craft beer scene. Though we’ve had some good beer since we left Colorado, finding good drafts on our travels is harder than we’d like.
Our time in Bariloche prepared for van life in multiple ways. Hiking through the lake region in northern Patagonia left me even more confident we’d made the right decision to road trip Patagonia. And, my bargain Airbnb rental had acclimatized us to living in tight quarters (wow, online photos can be misleading).
We crossed the border back to Chile, knowing the roads south would bring us back to Argentina in a few weeks’ time. We gratefully checked into our charming hostel (with a normal ceiling), and relished sleeping in a bed before we converted fully to foam padding and sleeping bags.