A fairly chunky proportion of the reason why I decided to quit everything in the UK and go travelling was because I utterly fucking despised every single minute and hour (apart from going for coffee with the crew) of everyday in the career I was “working” (loosely put) back at home.
Heading away travelling was meant to be my time for reflection and figuring out what I actually wanted to do. I’ve done none of that (whoops), but what I have done is bought a van in Colombia and I’m going to drive it to Argentina.
And I love it! Perhaps this is my calling…to be a white van man!?
But whilst I sit around wondering whether a life stuck on the M62 in a van is the life for me, why don’t I update you on my v-antics (get it?) so far…
The (Iron) Lady Herself
It’s a Chevy Astro (ooooooo fancy! I hear you call, right?). After some research it became apparent that a van from the US or Canada is best to get your hands on because it’s much easier to transfer ownership remotely when it comes to sell it. Rather than buying a Colombian car which would mean I’d have to return to Colombia to sell it after Argentina; an additional 16,000km? No thanks!
Through the facebook group “Panamerican Travellers Association” (join this if you’re considering driving the americas) I found a guy from Switzerland caled Marc who was driving his Canadian van from Argentina to Colombia. We settled on a price of $5000.
The van is a basic white van, not dissimilar to the humble Ford Transit we see so often in the UK, but with the monstrous 4.3 V6 engine that those gas guzzling north american folk love to have. And she certainly got some bite, and I don’t mean when you accidentally trap your hand in the door (ouch).
I decided to adopt her from Marc under the same name, so she’s called “The Lady”. And what a lady she is. Powerful engine, smooth automatic transmission, air conditioning, armrests….the lot!
Marc did an amazing job converting the original van into a campervan. In the back there is a bed that pulls out to double, plenty of storage and a small kitchen with hob, sink, shower and fridge. The electrics are powered by two solar panels mounted on The Lady’s head like a handsome fascinator ready for the races. The solar panels also allow me to charge all appliances powered by USB (phones, tablets, hair clippers etc).
The Linda Barker in me picked up some home furnishings in an artisanal market in Otavalo, Ecuador. Made of pure alpaca wool, some might say these kitten-soft colourful furnishings clash hideously (see here), but I say you can never have enough colour in your life and I think it makes the bed more sofa-like and cosy for those rainy days.
To save him having to explain a patio dining set in his hand luggage at customs, Marc kindly donated me all the contents of the van. So I’ve got outdoor chairs and a table, crockery, pans…a full set! Even a 10 tog duvet which is a luxury here in South America (normally, no matter how cold it is, a hideously thin mickey-mouse themed shit-sheet will suffice).
So Far, so Good?
The Lady has been mine now for 6 nights and it’s been nothing but romance. It’s such a cool experience vs traditional backpacking. Having my own space, being able to carry as much useless shite as I like (Shannon….do you need anymore mirrors from Peru?) without worrying about the zips on my rucksack giving way and my belongings bursting open at any moment “Alien” style. Plus being able to stop off in a small village that looks cool to grab lunch and scare all the locals with my “giant-like” stature. Just picture me running around after crying children shouting “I just want to be friends!” Fantastic stuff!
An obvious pre-conception that I had, was that I might die on the lunatic roads of South America. However, after thinking it over I decided that I trust my own driving much more than putting my life in the hands of a bus driver which is what I’d been doing in Central America.
Now I’ve got the van and I’ve unleashed my obviously perfect driving skills and etiquette upon the roads of South America, I feel much more confident about the whole thing, consider me a cultivator of incredible driving etiquette if you will. “Fuck this”, “Fuck that”, “Get the fuck out of my way!”, “hurry the fuck up!”, “Hija de una puta!!”….things like this all contribute to better and safer roads.
Whilst there are some absolute cunts on the roads here (as with the UK), it’s really not that bad and I’m sticking mostly to my approach of only driving in the daylight outside of rush hour which is serving me well.
But I’ve certainly picked up some survival tips so far…
- Speed Bumps. Both Colombia and Ecuador love to surprise drivers with speed bumps. Doesn’t matter if it’s through a small village or on a main 100kph motorway…the lesser the signage and road markings, the better! Directly round a corner? Superb! I genuinely feel they are more of a punishment than they are a mechanism to make you slow down. Lunatics.
- Keep your electricity bill down. People genuinely must seem to think that the lights on their motorbike/car are linked directly to their monthly electricity bill at home, because the amount of people on the roads without lights it’s utterly astonishing. And they all seem to like cars that have old hairdryers for engines. So you’ll be cruise (controlling, thank you) along at a steady speed, turn a corner on a main highway and be presented with a bike with no lights.
- Make up for lost time on the road. As a general rule South Americans can’t do things slow enough even if you asked them. It can be utterly infuriating. But put them behind the wheel of a car and it’s a totally different story. I think they are trying to make up for lost time when they arsed about spending 15 entire minutes (no joke) to withdraw $10 from an ATM earlier that day.
- Petrol is Cheap. I asked her “Gasolina a lleno, por favor. :-)” She sat there filled me up with 60 litres and then asked me for $19. I nearly asked her if she’d accidentally given me water until I remembered bottled water is more expensive than this.
- Police aren’t bad guys, are they? So I’ve been stopped so far 4 times in total by the police, and before mother sends a search and rescue to Ecuador…this is totally normal. Normally leading in/out of large towns, there are police stop points on the road. First of all I was so nervous I nearly pooped myself in the drivers seat. But then they were just interested in where I was going and wanted to see in the van to see what it was like. Only once have they even asked to see a document and even then they barely checked it before giving me the “siga, siga”.
- The Lady loves it on all fours. The Chevy Astro I’ve bought is a 4×4 and it’s such a good thing when you’re exploring national parks or campsites. I stayed at this lovely campsite just up in the mountains above Otavalo (where I got my Linda Barker face on). It rained overnight and in the morning had turned to mud. I needed to leave very early in the morning and initially got stuck and without anybody around to help the only option was pedal to the metal and we were off.
If you decide to take to the roads of South America, just follow those simple tips above and you’ll be good!
Buying the Van
Here’s for the boring bit…the process I went through of buying a van/car to drive around South America.
TOP TIP: buy a van from a Swiss guy because they are army-style organised and Marc had researched all the paperwork we would need etc. We agreed I’d buy the van 2 months in advance of the actual “exchange date” and in that time Marc kept me updated with progress on paperwork and any issues he had with the van (which were all minor). But here’s what we needed…. (ask me if you need examples of these to help)
CANADIAN REGISTRATION DOCUMENT
I now have all these documents and Marc can legally sell me the car by signing the paper (him signing it over to me means it’s officially mine) and notifying the Canadian Authorities of the change of ownership, the actual document will stay have Marc’s details because I’m not going to fly to Canada to pick up the new document with my name on. And so it’s also best to have a PODER:
This is a legal document recognised by all countries in South America. It shows that Marc has given permission to myself to drive the car under any circumstances. I.e. that it’s mine. You then take this generic template to a Notaria in whichever country you’re in and get it legally endorsed for about $2.
It’s safer to show this to police if you’re stopped rather than the registration documents which might just open up a can of worms over who actually owns the vehicle.
When you cross the border in a country both you and the car need a stamp/permission to be there both together and separately. There is a seperate office at each border to handle “Importaciones Temporal” (temporary importations). It’s here that you go with your driving license and PODER. The country will then issue the car with permission to be in the country as long as you are. Remember to “stamp out” the car when leaving the country too. So far I’ve been stopped 4 times by the police and showing this document from Aduana has been sufficient (also with lots of smiles of course).
This is a funny one. No insurance exists in the world that would cover you for all South American countries as a foreigner. But most countries offer a mandatory national insurance at third party level that can be easily bought at the borders. It’s surprising how these shops stand out when you’re looking for them. The other advise…. Drive carefully and NOT in peak times when possible.
TOP TIP: the document from Aduana will be in the name of the person who arrived in the country with the car and it depends by country whether you can change this document at an office inside the country or whether the person who’s name is on the document needs to leave the country in the car to cancel it (if that makes sense). So do you’re research. In Colombia, you can NOT do anything other than leave the country to cancel the document.
Therefore that’s why Marc and I had to drive to Ecuador together and go over the border together. Not until we were in Ecuador was I officially able to drive the car.
If you think you’d like some example documents, comment below and I’ll help you out.
So there we go, let the adventure begin! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about me and The Lady.