Driving 'The Beast' through South-America

Sleeping in the great outdoors

By Isabelle Demaeght, December 5, 2018

Nature in Bolivia continued to overwhelm us. We became speechless at times. After Sucre, we drove to the highest city in the world: Potosi (at more than 4,000 meters). There we celebrated my 21,000th day in life). Potosi was once, due to the discovery of silver ore, a prosperous city but at this time I mainly saw the contrast between wealth and (much more) poverty.

Flamingos on the freezing cold plateau After a day in Potosi, the long-awaited Bolivian salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) followed. Also called the white desert, it was created after a prehistoric lake dried up and covers an area of more than 10,500 km². That it is an obligatory destination, we could see from the dozens of Land Cruisers loaded with tourists, all driving the same route. We drove our own route across the salt flats with the help of the compass on the GPS and spent the night there. This was one of Adriaan's dreams: sleeping on an immense plain with not a soul around, enjoying the silence (and the cold, in this case).

Isabelle on the salt plains Lots of tourists on the salt flats Still: A flower in the desert Still: A flower in the desert. (A present from our neighbor.)

Spacious camping spot After Sucre, car troubles cropped up. When we climb steeply at a slow pace and are already above 3,000 meters, and the outside temperature is above 30 degrees, the cooling water starts boiling pretty quickly. We then have to take a break until the engine has cooled down. The garage owner we saw in Potosi claimed that European cars are not made for the Bolivian heights. He replaced the coolant but this did not solve the problem, it turned out later. On the salt flats we started our career in wild camping: park your car and tent somewhere on a nice spot and enjoy the silence. All beginnings are difficult: during our next experience (at 4200m) both our water and my toiletries froze and we both suffered from altitude sickness. A later night we were startled by the flashing lights of a police car. They came to closely inspect the car, we hardly dared to breathe... but they let us 'sleep'. (Below some pictures of our camping places)

Our 'horror' place at 4200m high where our water frozeOur 'horror' place at 4200m high where our water froze

Camping in a ghosttown We found a place behind a gas station where we could take a shower. It was a ghost town, once many people lived here now only some dogs.

Our first night in ChileOur first night in Chile. Close to a town we found a nice place on the coast.

Quiet place on top of a cliff Quiet place on top of a cliff.

Where police came checking on us Where police came checking on us in the middle of the night.

At 1800m altitude near the Thermas de Chillan At 1800m altitude near the Thermas de Chillan. Cold night.

Drinking at the lake Dining at the lake At a lake.

We only saw part of Bolivia. We wanted to see this part now because the rainy season starts next month and the salt flats will become mushy and difficult to drive on. Taking the seasons into account, it is time to head south.

The transition from Bolivia to Chile is very big. Our lives suddenly became 2 to 3 times more expensive. Chile is very civilized, progressive and gives a rich and western impression. You can buy everything in the supermarkets. We treated ourselves to a piece of 'Old Amsterdam' cheese from the Netherlands, at a European price. We drove for several days through the Atacama Desert. The temperature remained good due to the cold air flow from the Pacific Ocean.

We spent 2 days in Santiago because we wanted a solution for the coolant. The diagnosis of the second mechanic gave us 4 possibilities but whatever the outcome would be, we are not going to solve the problem in Chile. They only have petrol engines here and therefore no parts for diesel engines.

Driving south we enter the volcanic area. Snowy volcanoes tower above the green landscape. After the dry north, this mixture of volcanoes, lagoons and especially lots of green is very welcome. It is incredibly beautiful.


Our mattress problem has been solved for now. I got a cheap, thick mattress, which I inflate daily. Adriaan still sleeps on the broken mattress. We sleep at different heights on these uneven matresses.

We are about 100 days on the road. It doesn't feel like it. The digital contacts with my sons, family and friends ensure that Belgium doesn't seem hopelessly far away. Sometimes I miss the Belgian country with my comfortable bed but more than that I continue to enjoy the beautiful nature that we can experience every day.