Step 1: Arrive, and have a weekend in Santiago.
After a hectic flight delay and pretty unhelpful Delta Airlines staff who refused to let us on our plane because we didn’t have visas to stay for 6 months (they never told us about that policy so I think it’s unfair), we were drained but relieved to be arriving in Santiago. Mauro, our air bnb host, had given us great directions so we took the bus and then metro through the centre to the the big hill that crowns the city. Nestling at the base of that hill is a little islet of calm which is cut off from the busy south by the river and is a few streets away from Bellavista, the young bohemian district. Mauro’s street in particular is a friendly family cul-de-sac with his grandparents living next door, who you can hear singing their favourite tunes and might bring you round pretty fantastic omelettes if you’re lucky.
When we arrived Mauro was chirpy and curious about our stories. His house is like a cave full of colour, with individual cosy corners. Our room was yellow, the bathroom a deep orange, the living room a mixture of the two and everything was covered with his distinctive artistic style (have a look at the mural in our room). He told us a play he had written and directed was on later that night and even though we knew I would probably struggle to understand it, and Tom wouldn’t get much at all we thought it was a great opportunity to watch some homegrown talent. And he’s a man after my own heart, oh yes, the play was called ‘Los Hombres Tristes’ (The Sad Men) about what society expects for men, and the limiting roles it gives them. Yes, as a feminist I think talking about how to also liberate men is just as important if we’re going to change the way society thinks about women, also for other beneficial reasons for men themselves obviously. One quote I remembered, which I got Mauro to give me correctly from the play: “They never let us play with dolls and that meant we learnt, too late, how to treat a woman” (“No nos dejaron jugar con muñecas y eso nos costo aprender lentamente como tratar a una mujer”). I think that’s pretty beautiful, and the play was too. Three dynamic, pretty much naked, young men cried and shouted and told us what they couldn’t admit to anyone else. I was very moved, and cried a bit myself, it’s very special when you see one man holding another who is suffering.
We couldn’t quite start our van adventure yet as we’d arrived on a Friday and most places were closed on the weekend, so we enjoyed the hospitality of our fabulous friends and went out dancing! Mauro also has three housemates, one who works at night so we never saw him apart from randomly in the day when we thought he was bringing back different prostitutes, but the other two are a couple who couldn’t be more lovely. Natalia is Mauro’s cousin and Alex was from the South, so had lots of advice for us there. They showed us how to make typical Chilean Piscolas, which is Pisco and Cola wehayy and we got Completos (hot dogs with avocado, tomato and lots of mayonnaise), Tom got the super large one which you have to hold with two hands it’s so big. Mauro invited round lots of friends and we went to a big gay night where I saw the most beautiful transvestites I have ever seen. We then spent a hungover Sunday going to the National Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, which has a pretty well designed mysterious basement.
Step 2: Get a Chilean RUT number.
Monday was the beginning of what we thought was going to be a hard slog to get through all the stages of getting a car and ended up being pretty easy thanks to some friendly strangers and of course, the internet. First we had to get our RUT numbers (I’m not going to go into detail on how to buy a car in Chile, there’s a really good step-by-step explanation at http://practicingforretirement.com/index.php/buy-a-car-in-chile/), this is like our national insurance number which foreigners can get in the UK too. In Chile you need it for everything, even getting a phone number, but especially for getting a car. We needed a Chilean national to come with us to a Notaria to say they sponsor us, but our housemates were all working in the day so we went online for help. On the PanAmerican Travelers Association page on Facebook I posted asking for help and pretty quickly someone replied saying their sister was in Santiago and we should message her and mention him (pretty helpful stranger!). Belen, his sister, also replied pretty quickly and said of course she could help us. So we met up with her mid-morning and headed to the offices. She was a slightly reserved in the beginning, asking us how we knew her brother (that was a bit awkward) but after we chatted to her as we went from one closed Notaria to another close by she warmed to us as she told us about her love for roller derby and how she wanted to visit the UK but to go to Manchester to visit Old Trafford. She’s pretty awesome basically, a small person with a lot of originality and I want to be her best friend. Anyway, we wanted to get her a beer to say thank you but we were never free at the same time so when we pass through on our way to Lima we’ll be ringing her up.
Step 3: Find a car to buy
After getting our RUT numbers and feeling pretty knackered we trundled back home and went back to looking at vans online (www.chileautos.cl) The first one we called had already been sold and our connection wasn’t great, my spanish still rusty so I wasn’t feeling confident. The second person I called had a resonating baritone voice, a veritable Santa Claus who broke us out of our afternoon-surfing-the-internet-after-a-busy-day feeling when he asked if we wanted to see the car now. Uh yes, and it turns out it was about two minutes from our house. We arrived at the headquarters of Channel 13 and met Joaquin, the voice who introduces the channel in the morning, just as charming and fatherly as you’d like. He took us to see the van, it all seemed very good. He was actually selling it for his son so that he can save for a house. We wanted to take it to a mechanic to get it looked at, we also wanted some time to stand back and take a breather, so we organised for the next day to take it to one which we’d found on iOverlander. iOverlander is an app where people travelling around the world living in movable vehicles help each other out by putting useful pointers on a map that everyone can see in an app, like places to sleep and have showers etc (they also use words like ‘big rigs’ and ‘a couple of kliks away’ which make us feel pretty cool).
Step 4: Get it checked out by a mechanic
Everything goes well at the mechanics, apart from he says the turbo doesn’t seem to be working and we will probably have to replace it and that could be up to 400 pounds. We look dolefully at Joaquin because we really want to buy it from him as he’s charmed us by saying he trusts us because he likes our faces and really seems like a genuine person. So with my still sketchy Spanish, but I have to say it’s especially difficult because I’m negotiating in numbers like 3million4hundredthousand pesos and I’m pretty sure I asked for just four thousand off first when I meant to say fourhundredthousand, we get there in the end and he says he wants to help us out and we get the turbo-fixing cost off. We feel bad later because the turbo ends up being in good condition (well we didn’t feel that bad).
Step 5: Exchange money and papers
That same day we took out 3million pesos from an ATM, using our Revolut cards, we were lucky they don’t have a limit on how much you can take out a day, and met Joaquin and his son the next day to first drop the money in his bank, and then go to the Notaria to exchange the documents. We had to pay 1.5% tax on the car, and some money for the exchange and that was that! The scariest thing was sleeping overnight with about 3,500 pounds taped to the underside of our bedside table.
All done. Apart from now we had to make a bed in the back of the van, which was also pretty easy after some overlanding advice. We went to a big SODIMAC Constructors (like a B&Q) in Las Condes and got the wood cut to size, we did quick measurement of the back of the van and worked out our plan, and then just put it together with some nails and a hammer. We got the height of our bed from the boxes we bought to put everything in and then headed to the big flea market, Persa Bio Bio, to fill them. We bought a gas canister, cooking utensils etc. Oh and we used Waze to get around, it’s really difficult in Santiago to navigate as most roads are one way, and can be pretty busy. Tom picked up the rules pretty quickly, although we’re still confused about some of them.
Then we went back to the house to say goodbye to the guys, and they gave us a chilean flag as a present, and then headed out of Santiago for the hills!