Hidden Gems of South America

Sometimes travel is all about expectations. If you go somewhere because travel websites or guidebooks talked it up and you’re expecting amazement, beware – it may not be all you’ve built it up to be!

Here are some places that for us were just the opposite – we stumbled on them because we happened to be nearby or someone mentioned them to us in passing. You probably wouldn’t fly all the way from North America or Europe to visit some of these spots, but if you’re in the area they’re worth a detour!

Salinas, Ecuador

If you Google Salinas, Ecuador, you’ll get images of a seaside resort city billed as the “ultimate retirement destination.” I’m sure it’s nice there, but that’s not the place that I’m talking about. Search instead for “Salinas de Bolivar” or “Salinas de Guaranda” and you’ll find a tiny hamlet nestled in the highlands of Central Ecuador.

Many of the locals here work in cooperatives making cheese, chocolate, and salami. There are no campgrounds in town, so we camped in the parking lot of the cheese factory, and the next morning saw the farmers from the surrounding countryside delivering milk jugs strapped to donkeys and llamas. The factory offered a variety of yummy European-style cheeses. Some have even dubbed this town “The Cheese Capitol of Ecuador“.

Morning milk delivery

Morning milk delivery

Chocolate is also made in Salinas, and we stocked up on several bars of dark chocolate for about half the normal price.

Instead of going back the way we came, we continued on the dirt road as it climbed higher into the Andes, eventually crossing Highway 491 to enter Chimborazo National Park. This was a pretty drive, even though it was an overcast day. On a clear day the views of the volcano would be spectacular.

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Located a few hours from Bogota, Villa de Leyva is a popular weekend destination for people from that city. With a sunny, cool high altitude climate and lots of nearby attractions including hiking in a nearby national park, mountain biking the back roads of the valley, and several cultural and paleontology attractions, Villa de Leyva is a great place to unwind for a day or a month.

Villa de Leyva is set in a rural valley, surrounded by mountains with great hiking as well as cultural attractions.

Villa de Leyva is set in a rural valley, surrounded by mountains with great hiking as well as cultural attractions.

The Salt Cathedral — Zipaquirá, Colombia

This mine has been actively exploited since pre-Columbian times, and is still in production today using modern automated techniques to extract salt from the underground rock structure. In colonial times the work was done using traditional methods, and miners began carving altars and crosses out of the rock to help increase their likelihood of surviving this dangerous occupation.

Over time these carvings became more and more elaborate, and eventually evolved into the tourist attraction that it is today. The underground setting is spectacular, and the lighting makes the whole thing a stunning underground tour.

The cross in the background is 170 feet high.

The cross in the background is 170 feet high.

Colonia, Uruguay

Just across the river from Buenos Aires, Uruguay is like a diamond in the rough. High fuel prices and an apparent relative lack of corruption mean the highway quality is consistently top-notch.

The town of Colonia is a great place to visit for a day or two. A well-preserved walled city in the center features shady, cobbled streets, waterfront restaurants and lots of museums. It’s the kind of place that invites an afternoon of strolling the streets taking in the sights and wondering at the inexplicable derelict cars from the fifties and sixties that dot the roadways.

The streets of Colonia feature sidewalk restaurants, shade trees, and classic cars

The streets of Colonia feature sidewalk restaurants, shade trees, and classic cars

Urubici, Brazil

We spent a few rainy days here, and enjoyed ourselves none the less. Located in the highlands, this region is one of the few parts of Brazil that receives snow in winter, and people visit here just to have a one-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing the white stuff, even if it is just an inch or two of heavy wet snow.

Even if folks from the US, Canada, and Europe might scoff at the snow, Urubici is still worth visiting for its great hiking in beautiful scenery.

This overlook is near the highest point in Brazil. It was foggy and overcast, but beautiful nonetheless.

This overlook is near the highest point in Brazil. It was foggy and overcast, but beautiful nonetheless.

San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina

This was one of those places that just felt like home to us. Located in the mountains of Central Patagonia along the Argentina’s famous Ruta 40, San Martin, according to locals, is what Bariloche was 30 years ago.

With a ski area nearby, hiking trails, and judging by the number of bikes for sale, lots of mountain biking, San Martin would be on our short list of places to visit again.

With mountain biking and skiing, San Martin felt just like home.

With mountain biking and skiing, San Martin felt just like home.

The Carretera Austral, Chile

Stretching 770 miles through rural Patagonia, this mostly unpaved route passes through some of the most picturesque scenery found anywhere. The area is remote and very sparsely populated with farmers and ranchers who must be largely self-sufficient due to the long travel times in the area. There are fantastic camping opportunities everywhere, and numerous hikes access alpine lakes and glaciers.

The area is also known for as a world-class fly fishing destination, and an handful of high-end lodges cater to foreigners on fishing holidays.

If you go, budget at least 10 days to explore this amazing region!

Between the rough roads and the nonstop photo opportunities, progress was slow, but it gave us time to enjoy the amazing scenery.

Between the rough roads and the nonstop photo opportunities, progress was slow, but it gave us time to enjoy the amazing scenery.

Trinidade Beach, Brazil

We originally planned this as a one or two night stopover, but between the beautiful beach and enjoying time with our friends from Adventure Trio, it quickly stretched into four days.

We believe that this section of Brazil’s coastline is littered with many more beautiful beaches, but we couldn’t pull ourselves away from this one to find out for sure.

One afternoon we walked to a restaurant and enjoyed a 3 hour meal with our toes in the sand.

One afternoon we walked to a restaurant and enjoyed a 3 hour meal with our toes in the sand.

Casa Nacional de la Moneda — Potosí, Bolivia

Potosí has been a silver mining town for hundreds of years, and it’s said that enough silver was pulled out of the mountain there to build a silver bridge all the way to Spain. Coins minted at the Potosí mint found their way to all corners of the globe.

Today co-op miners still risk their lives to pull out enough ore to support their families, but the mine’s heyday is long past. One of the best museums that we visited in South America pays tribute to that heritage. Located in the building that formerly housed the mint, the giant mule-driven silver pressing machines can still be seen. An excellent guided tour explained the regions history in detail.

This museum makes a trip to the otherwise somewhat bleak town of Potosi worthwhile.

This complex wooden gearing is a mule-driven press dating back 250 years. It's still in the same location as when it was constructed.

This complex wooden gearing is a mule-driven press dating back 250 years. It’s still in the same location as when it was constructed.

Parque Cretácico (Dinosaur Park) — Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre, just a few hours from Potosi, is a much nicer place to spend time. It’s the constitutional capital of Bolivia (La Paz is home to most government administrative functions) and is the source of most of the political activism in the country. With a sunny climate and markets featuring a variety of fresh foods, Sucre is a good place to relax for a few days.

Dinosaur footprints were discovered during excavation at a local cement factory just outside the city, and a museum was built to showcase this amazing find. The story goes that roughly 70 million years ago, a flat muddy plain was traversed by all types of dinosaurs, including the gigantic brontosaurus. As layers of mud covered previous tracks, new tracks were laid over the old ones. Eventually geological forces folded this plain, and today visitors can stand at the bottom of a 300 foot high vertical wall and visualize dinosaurs walking across the ancient mud flat.

This is the rock face where the footprints are. Imagine this as a mud plain 70 million years ago with dinosaurs walking across it. Then through geological movements it was crushed into a V shape. There's no telling how far down it goes, and the other half exists somewhere nearby.

This is the rock face where the footprints are. Imagine this as a mud plain 70 million years ago with dinosaurs walking across it. Then through geological movements it was crushed into a V shape. There’s no telling how far down it goes, and the other half exists somewhere nearby.

The Best of South America

This post was prompted by someone filling out the contact form on our website. It always makes us feel good when we hear that other people find our travels interesting, especially those planning their own trips!

So without further ado, these are some of the highlights of our travels in South America

Galapagos Islands

Wildlife so thick they have to stack it.

Wildlife so thick they have to stack it.

P1140325

Investigating whale bones

Yes, it was a lot of money (about three months worth of our normal budget) but it was so cool. I’ve never been anywhere before that you had to be careful where you walk because you might accidentally step on the wildlife. From arid moonscapes of hardened lava covering entire islands to lush, cloud covered volcanic peaks, the archipelago is justifiably famous.

We lived aboard a smaller tour boat with about 10 other guests for a week. It was great to relax and not have to worry about shopping and cooking for a little while, and the tours on the islands were varied and educational.

Quinn enjoyed a week out of the van, and the other guests on the trip were very friendly and welcoming toward him. It’s definitely a part of the trip we’ll always remember fondly!

Traveling with Friends

Time with friends and family is precious

Time with friends and family is precious

Long term travel can be lonely at times, even for a family. We treasured the times we were able to spend time with new friends, meet up with old friends, and especially when our families made the extra effort to join us for a part of our journey.

Patagonia

We weren't the only ones enjoying the views.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the views.

Being from Colorado, we love the outdoors. We’re most at home in the mountains, hiking, biking, or just soaking the alpine sun and fresh air. You’d think that when the time comes to take a vacation, we’d want to do something we can’t do at home – go to the beach or experience city life. On the contrary, some of our most enjoyable vacations have been when we travel somewhere to be in the mountains.

It’s no surprise, then, that we loved Patagonia. With another beautiful lakeside camping spot around every turn and small mountain villages that made us want to rent a house and move in, Central Patagonia reminded us of home. And perhaps that’s what we needed after two years away.

Peninsula Valdez, Argentina

Another sunset from our campsite.

Another sunset from our campsite.

One of the best things about overlanding is the ability to camp in remote places – you never have to get back to your hotel at the end of the day because your hotel is with you all the time. And some of the best places are wild camps. Just find a level spot on the beach and call it home for the night. Or for the week.

Peninsula Valdez is one of our favorite such spots. Somewhat remote and desolate, its numerous sheltered bays serve as home to mother whales and the calves while the babies are taught how to be whales. We spent four fantastic days camping on a beach on the peninsula. We played in the rocks, went for walks on the beach, and yes, watched the whales.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

With the cold air and the white salt, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for an actic landscape.

With the cold air and the white salt, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an arctic landscape.

“Like nowhere else on Earth.” That’s the official tagline for a destination I’ve heard advertised on TV. But that’s exactly what comes to mind when you experience the world’s largest salt flat. Let your 7 year old drive? Sure. Leave your car in gear and jump out to walk alongside it? No problem. Get a 4 ton van up to 85mph? Yep – It’s the smoothest, flattest surfaced we’d driven on in months.

When the sun begins to dip below the horizon, the cold bites at your nose, and all you can see for miles is salt plus the occasional hill rising from the plain the scene looks like nothing so much as a frozen lake with islands in it. Bundle up in your down and walk out onto the salt to marvel at the bright red sunset, then retreat into to your cozy sleeping bag. It’s a harsh, yet spectacular environment.

Rio de Janero, Brazil

The view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain makes it obvious why Rio is considered one of the world's most beautiful cities.

The view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain makes it obvious why Rio is considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Set on Brazil’s coastline and justifiably famous for it’s amazing beaches and backed by thousand foot jungle-clad cliffs, Rio is stunning. Views abound from the many lookouts including the famous Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain. On the subway it’s common to see people clad in business attire alongside beach-bound surfers. Topped off by a wide variety of international food and yet maintaining it’s laid-back atmosphere, Rio should be on every traveler’s hit list.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina

This is a small fraction of the falls.

This is a small fraction of the falls.

Off the beaten path it is certainly not, but there’s a reason why Iguazu is considered one of South America’s biggest tourist attractions. It’s not one single waterfall, it’s thousands of them covering a huge area. We spent two days there – one on the Argentina side and one on the Brazil side. Sure it was crowded and touristy, but we’re very happy to have seen this natural wonder for ourselves.

Cheap Wine

Aging at Domaine Bousquet

Aging at Domaine Bousquet

Last but certainly not least is the abundance of cheap wine in Chile and Argentina. Sold in the grocery stores everywhere, we quickly got used to a new price scale. Everyday bottle of good, drinkable wine? Less than $5. Want to splurge on a nice bottle of reserve malbec? $7-8. We visited the Domaine Bousquet vineyard outside of Mendoza and bought their grand reserve for about $10 per bottle after the case discount. We looked it up online while we were there, and a those bottles go for $24 in the States. I was at a liquor store this afternoon and bought an Argentinean bottle on sale for $12 that I paid $3.50 for there. Sigh.  Enjoy it while you are there!

Jen and I discussed this post for awhile over dinner this evening and we agree that “best of” memories are very dependent on the situation. A ho-hum place can yield a great experience just by meeting a bunch of really cool people and having a good time together. A place that gets five stars on trip advisor might be the worst experience of the trip if you happen to get ripped off there.

We also, of course, came up with some great experiences that I missed here, including some specific museums and other places we visited. Stay tuned – that will be the subject of an upcoming post!

A big thank you to all of our readers, and especially to Diana who is planning her own trip and was the inspiration for this post! If you have a topic you’d like to see covered here, please let us know in the comments.

 

Re-adjusting to life in the US

After a quick trip across the US from Philadelphia (complete with stops at, yes, you guessed it, several train museums along the way) we are settling into our new community of Montrose, Colorado.

We got to spend a day at Witt's uncle George and aunt Bobby's house where Quinn got to run a really great train layout.

We got to spend a day at Witt’s uncle George and aunt Bobby’s house where Quinn got to run a really great train layout.

Back in Colorado!

Back in Colorado!

Our "stuff."

Our “stuff.”

Headed from Denver to Montrose, with our stuff.

Headed from Denver to Montrose, with our stuff.

Moving into the house that Witt's parents helped us build.

Moving into the house that Witt’s parents helped us build.

Haven't seen many of these in the past couple of years!

Haven’t seen many of these in the past couple of years!

We only had two days in Denver, and it was bitter-sweet. We were able to get together with a few of our friends, and it was great to see them. But we only got to spend a few hours with them, and with everyone’s busy lives, being five hours away isn’t that much different from being in South America. But we do hope get some visitors our way this summer.

Montrose is a town of about 25,000 people located five hours west of Denver. Traditionally it’s been a ranching community, but over the past 10 years they’ve really started to develop a tourism infrastructure, building a whitewater kayaking park in town as well as expanding hiking and mountain biking opportunities.

Some people have asked us how the re-entry has gone, and to be honest, overall it’s been pretty easy. When we returned from Africa over 10 years ago, going into a supermarket was overwhelming – we’d been used to something the size of a convenience store being something to look forward to!

In Latin America, and especially in Chile and Argentina where we spent the last months of our trip, large supermarkets are common and can be found in almost any medium sized town. Some of them are even owned by Wal Mart, and it shows as soon as you walk in. I have noticed that the prices of everything here in the US seem to have gone up since we’ve been gone, but I guess that’s to be expected.

Being here during the presidential election season isn’t exactly fun. Some of the candidates seem to try to prey upon and even stoke fear and hatred of anyone who is not American. That kind of thinking goes against everything we’ve learned as travelers.

In moving to Montrose, we’ve decided to eschew our previous corporate lives and with that forego the cushy healthcare and 401k plans that came along with them. While traveling we had a travel medical insurance policy that cost us roughly $2000 per year. In Montrose, which by unfortunate coincidence has one of the highest private insurance costs in the country, we’re paying almost $1400 per month to get a high-deductible plan under the ACA.

Twice in South America we went to a hospital or clinic for treatment for an injury, and both times (in Ecuador and Chile) the treatment was quick, easy, and free. I’m not saying these countries have perfect healthcare systems; I’m not sure how easy it would be to access care for major or ongoing medical needs, but it sure seems better than paying an extra mortgage payment for what amounts to catastrophic coverage. I try not to think about it too much. Just writing this makes me want to move to Mexico! Okay, that and tacos.

Another thing I’ve noticed, especially when we’ve had television, is the sophistication of the American marketing machine. It’s not like they don’t have TV ads in other parts of the world, it’s that here the marketing efforts seem more focused, subtle, and pervasive. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but it feels a little bit sinister to me.

On the up side, Quinn is loving being in one place, having his own room, and being close to his grandparents. And I’m pretty sure his grandparents are happy to have him back!

How to Ship a Vehicle from South to North America

Quinn gives his cousins a tour of his home on wheels

Quinn gives his cousins a tour of his home on wheels after it arrived back from South America

Shipping a vehicle is always daunting. You’re dealing with big companies as a little fish – they ship thousands of containers and vehicles every month, and one little RV doesn’t impress them much at all. Add to that the stories of vehicles being damaged with no recourse available, and the shipping process can become very stressful.

Although I can’t take the headaches out of the experience, here’s how we went about shipping the Sparksmobile back to the US from South America.

We found a great deal on airfare back to the states from Santiago, so it would have made sense to ship from Chile to the West Coast of the US. We investigated that, but we couldn’t find any roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) vessels doing that route. Most everyone we talked to shipped out of either Montevideo, Uruguay, (to Europe)  or Buenos Aires, Argentina (to North America).

We contacted Martin Flores (operaciones AT capri-arg DOT com.ar) with K-Line and German Weber (gweber AT webersi DOT com.ar) and requested quotes. For our situation, Martin’s quote was much less expensive.

K-Line doesn’t post their schedule much more than 4-6 weeks in advance, so we didn’t get a ship date until we were just a month away from when we wanted to be on a boat. K-Line updates their schedules about once a week.

Our shipping charges amounted to about $2300 including port charges on both ends and a $200 destination change fee that most people won’t need.

Dropping our car off at the port of Zarate (near Buenos Aires) was fairly straightforward, and took about 3 hours. Here’s a complete write-up of the process that we received from Toby Conroy of Carpe Viam:

The company we shipped with was K-Line. It is a company out of the states. It has a different name in Argentina. The name in Argentina is Capricorn. We contacted Martin Flores, his email is: operaciones@capri-arg.com.ar. He is not an agent so you do not pay him a fee and you do all the work yourself but it is easy. All you have to do is contact him and send him all your paperwork and then he will tell you when to drop your car off at the port. Here is our write up for the port in Zarate, Argentina:

1. Drive past the port entry to the “caja” to pay the port fees. The GPS coords for the caja are: S34* 04′ 07.1″ W59* 02′ 48.0″

2. Right before the caja, there is a parking lot on the right. Park there and walk towards the coordinates. Ask for the caja if you don’t see it. You will not have any documents from Martin at this point, I would suggest emailing him the night before you go to ensure that he sent them over because he did not in our case. When you get there and they finally find your info, they will tell you how much to pay. We paid 1960 pesos. They only accept pesos, no credit cards. If you need wifi, there is a spot in front of the modular building outside of the caja. We used it to call Martin when they couldn’t find our documents.

3. Next, drive back to the port entry and park on the right hand side, wherever you can fit before the toll booth thing. GPS coords for port entry are: S34* 04′ 30.8″ W59* 02′ 05.2″

4. Go to the window of the building on the right hand side. You will need your passports. Here, they give you a temporary ID to enter the port. You both need them if you are both going into the port. Go back to your car and drive up to the toll booth. Hand them your temporary ID and the receipt for the port fees you just paid.

5. Drive straight until you reach another booth and park on the left hand side before the entrance to the parking lot/booth. This is aduana. The coordinates are: S34* 04′ 07.1″ W59* 02′ 05.2″ Go into the building and cancel your import permit. We didn’t get proof that they cancelled it, although we asked. They scribbled down in pencil on our import permit which port the truck was going to and the boat to load it on. Then they took the keys. It happens very fast! But they let us take a quick pic and say our goodbyes Then, they call a taxi for you and give you a ride to the entrance to the port where you wait for your taxi.

Our van was loaded onto the Bangkok Highway on November 23 and we were supposed to pick it up in Jacksonville, Florida, on about January 5. The vessel ended out having mechanical troubles, and after a two-week vacation in the Mexican port of Veracruz, our van finally arrived in Baltimore on February 1 aboard a different ship.

The process for picking up the car is a little strange, because unless you’re authorized by the Transportation Security Administration you’re not allowed into a US port. That means you need to engage the services of an escort who is authorized (by means of something called a TWIC card). We hired Kurt Mueller for the task, who can be contacted through his wife Heide at Heide_Mueller@yahoo.com. Kurt charges a $175 flat fee for his services. He will pick you up anywhere in the Baltimore area, drive you to the port, and retrieve your vehicle for you.  (Thanks to Melanie Cahill and Justin Smith of Lost in the Americas for referring Kurt to us!)

Kurt had called the appropriate port personnel the day before I was to go to Baltimore and was told that the van was ready to pick up. When we arrived at the port however, Kurt was told that we still needed to get customs clearance. For some inexplicable reason, despite the fact that there is a customs office on the port we had to go to the customs office at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport to do this. This cost a few hours, but I was still able to get the Sparksmobile back by mid-afternoon.

The van arrived undamaged, with only the little convex stick-on mirrors stripped off, just as they were when we shipped from Panama to Colombia. I think if I were to ship a vehicle again, I’d buy a set of brand new convex mirrors and leave them on the dashboard for whoever wants them.

The van back in one piece at Jen's parents' house in Philly

The van back in one piece at Jen’s parents’ house in Philly

Our Van Build post-trip assessment

This post is a review of all of the systems and accessories we used in converting our van to a camper, for those thinking of building a van. Here’s what worked, what didn’t, and what we’d change.

The Sparksmobile

The Sparksmobile

The Van

Our van is a 2001 Ford E350 extended body with a Salem Kroger 4×4 conversion and the 7.3L diesel engine. We bought it used in 2012 with 78,000 miles on it and the 4×4 conversion already in place. The only problem we had with the van itself was a clogged fuel line that caused us to be very slow when climbing hills. It was a minor problem, but we didn’t know what was causing it and it stressed us out for awhile. With help from the Oaxaca Ford dealership and Calvin and Leanne at Overlander Oasis, we finally got it fixed. Since then it’s been only regular maintenance. I would have no problem taking this van on another trip.

The 4×4 conversion gave us no problems, although we stopped at Whitefeather Conversions prior to our trip where a former co-owner of Salem Kroger disassembled and lubricated the front hubs. This was purely preventative.

Colorado Campervan Poptop

The size of the CCV poptop is great for layouts like ours where the top bunk is the primary sleeping area. It’s tall enough to sit up in, and wide enough to be comfortable for two. The actuator motors worked through 700+ nights of camping on our trip.

We opted for fine “no-see-um” netting in our poptop which suffered a few rips along the way that we repaired with tent repair tape. The canvas held up well.

Auxiliary Fuel Tank

We installed a 20-gallon auxiliary fuel tank behind the rear axle. The tank switch failed, leaving us stranded on the Dempster highway with an empty rear tank and unable to switch to the main tank, and after a couple more problems with it I eventually removed it and gave it away. On our trip we never found that we needed extra fuel capacity.

Plumbing

We had no problems with our plumbing or our shur flo water pump. We only have a 14-gallon water tank, which from our experience was sufficient for about 3 days of being completely self-contained (drinking, cooking, and washing up) if we were careful. If I had it to do over again I would want a bigger tank.

We also have a shower that comes out of the back of the van. We can open the rear doors and rig up a shower stall with a tarp. Our Webasto Dualtop heater/hot water heater provides hot water. We only used the shower 3 times because of our lack of sufficient water on board (usually when we were near a source of fresh water we also had access to a shower) and the fact that the setup for the shower was time consuming. I wouldn’t include a shower if I had it to do over.

We installed a separate faucet at our sink for drinking water which went through an Everpure water filter. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, we chlorinated the water we put into our tank. The filter then removes the chlorine. It was very convenient to have clean drinking water readily available and without having to purchase and discard hundreds of plastic bottles. We brought a few spare filters with us to last the trip.

Appliances

We debated for a long time over whether to spend the money on a diesel cooktop in order to avoid the hassles of filling a propane tank in areas where adapters might be difficult to find. In the end we opted for a Webasto diesel cooktop. It only worked right immediately after I took delivery of the van, and a few times after we stopped at XP Camper where Marc Wassmann helped me try to diagnose the problem. We called it our leftover warmer, because it would get hot enough to warm up leftovers before flashing an error code and shutting off. I know a lot of the high-end expedition vehicles use these, so they must work. I just had a bad experience, and I plan at some point to install a propane stove.

Our Webasto Dualtop heater/hot water heater worked great, and having heat in the van was very nice on the handful of occasions we needed it (Alaska in September, high altitudes in the Andes, and in Patagonia). It worked at 14,000 feet, which surprised me.

If I had it to do again I’d probably go with an Espar diesel heater, sticking with diesel because heating is so fuel intensive. With propane only used for cooking, you wouldn’t have to refill the tank very often. Since we didn’t use the shower much I wouldn’t feel the need to have the water heater component.

Our refrigerator is a National Luna Weekender Twin. It has a small freezer compartment which is really nice to have because you can make ice, and it’s good for keeping meat frozen. The compressor in our fridge failed after about 2 years of continuous use. We didn’t know what part had failed, and the folks at Equipt1 who sold us the fridge shipped new electrical components to us in Chile free of charge. When that didn’t solve the problem, we located a 12v-fridge specialist in Buenos Aires who was able to replace the compressor. I still think this is a great fridge and would happily buy another.

Electrical

We have a 100Ah Lithium Ion battery from Smart Battery. Going with Lithium Ion cost twice as much as an equivalent usable capacity in AGM batteries. They’re also 1/3 the weight and take 1/3 the space of AGM batteries. Our battery has a noticeable but small reduction in capacity after 2.5 years of full-time use. I am happy with the decision to go with Li-Ion. Depending on how much we use our computer and tablets, and how much sun our solar panel gets, our battery will last anywhere from 24 hours to about 3 days. I don’t feel the need to add any more capacity.

We have a 100W solar panel fixed to the roof and a Blue Sky Energy solar charge controller. Solar wasn’t a panacea, but we found it very useful. In an area with full sun it (in combination with the battery) will keep our fridge going indefinitely. In hot climates you’re always looking for shade to park in, so it’s less useful then. The solar is also nice when the van is parked for an extended period because it keeps all of the batteries topped off. If I was building the van again I’d probably go with 200W (or more if I could afford it).

We had a Cole Hersee 48530 dual battery isolator. After about 1.5 years it failed and wouldn’t separate the batteries properly. I replaced it with a manual switch I found in Lima, Peru.

One of our favorite items was our Fantastic Vent Fan. It kept us cool on many a hot night in Central America.

We haven’t had any electrical faults with the RV house systems.

Layout / Furniture

CCV built the interior of our van to our design. With the ability to use the “upstairs” as our primary sleeping area with our son sleeping downstairs most of the time, we were able to optimize the downstairs area for living rather than sleeping. We are happy with the layout. Photos are here.

The furniture is constructed of 3/8″ (I think) plywood and has held up very well. The drawers are secured with spring clips, and do occasionally pop out on rough roads. It would be nice to have a mechanical latch mechanism on the drawers.

Outside

We have a Fiamma F45 awning that worked great and was easy to operate.

We have an Aluminess rear bumper and tire carrier along with a galley box that holds our outdoor cooking stove. The bumper worked great, and Aluminess even built a custom platform on the inside of the door to the galley box so I could put our Coleman stove on it. With the EB van I tried to keep the weight on the bumper to a minimum.

We elected not to purchase an aftermarket front bumper, a winch, or offroad lighting. We didn’t miss any of those things.