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La Gaucha

Long before we started our trip to Argentina in August 2021, the vision was already clear: us two, driving through Patagonia on a Land Rover Defender. Why exactly a Defender? It simply embodies exactly what you need on an adventure trip through nature, away from civilization: easy handling, outstanding robustness and maximum reliability - combined with its incomparable charm. Whether with sun, snow, water or sand - with a Defender you simply always go forward. Whether it's a steep climb or a slippery descent - it always gets you safely to your destination and if something happens, it can be repaired by any mechanic who has a clue about diesel engines - at least provisionally, until the next workshop. No matter how clear it was, it was then only a vision. When our travel plans became more concrete, the vision matured more and more into a plan. We used the last weeks before our departure from Germany to do some online research: used Land Rover Defender located in Buenos Aires. We visited different websites and made the first contacts. But soon we got to the conclusion that the definitive search has to take place once in Argentina, in person. We spent our first quarantine week after our arrival in Buenos Aires searching through all online available offers of used Defenders. Not long after our arrival we found what we were looking for. We called the owner of that Defender, Mauricio, to clarify the details before we met on one of the first free Saturdays in the west of Buenos Aires, to check his car. In South America, it is normal not to meet at home for a first car check, people find a place in the middle of both interested. So we had the idea to meet in the parking lot of a shopping centre. When we arrived, however, it quickly became clear that this idea was a real flop: unfortunately, the shopping centre had only an underground parking lot with a clearance height of less than two meters - too low for a Defender. So we changed plans and met Mauricio in a side street behind the shopping centre. He showed up with his muddy Defender, excusing himself for not washing it - but the mud stains gave her a very authentic look =) Otherwise, his Defender from 2001 stood sensationally and shimmered in elegant dark blue. Comfortable black leather seats and an on-board computer with monitor were almost too much luxury for our expectations. The only downside was a thick crack in the windshield, but we though - that could be easily replaced. After a test drive, we were already blown away and said goodbye to Mauricio thinking ´this could soon be our Defender!`. Mauricio still wanted to check with his family whether they really wanted to sell it or wait – the truth is that he was selling it with a heavy heart. A few days later, we had already agreed on the price over the phone, and getting really excited, when a detail started going around our heads: Mauricio's Defender had the as-new TD5 engine, the first of the Defender generation which was electronically controlled and had to be checked via a scanner in case of a defect. The more we researched and the longer we looked into the issue, the more this feature turned out to be a potential problem. So we asked Mauricio for some time to think about it, and we spent that week researching all the experience reports in Internet forums, phoned Defender owners, and asked garages and mechanics in the south for information. In the end, the opinion of most people we asked was clear: for our project, it was better to keep our hands off the new TD5 and rather look for an older, but much easier to handle TDi engine. After a lot of back and forth, reason finally prevailed and we decided with a heavy heart against Mauricio's Defender and went on the search again - now with the focus on models with TDi engines built up to 2000.

We saw two more Defenders, this time in La Plata, which is about half an hour outside the capital in the province of Buenos Aires. First, we met with Juan, who introduced us to his light blue Defender from 2000 – this time we were dealing with a TDi engine - and he even let us drive it ourselves, which took us by surprise. This is very unusual in Argentina, but of course it was very convenient for us. So on the test drive we covered the first kilometres ever in a Defender and it felt terrific. However, we could see it straight away that Juan's Defender would need some work done: new turbo, extended driver's seat adjustment for our long legs, and most important, a little interior renovation - except for the black leather seats. Also on the outside you could see what more than 20 years had done to it, especially since Juan didn't know exactly how many owners it had had before him. The price was lower than Mauricio's offer, but in the end we were not 100% convinced by his Defender, so we cancelled the deal with him as well. At the second visit in La Plata, the inspection was done after a few minutes. The red Defender from 1996 was offered by a used car dealer, who unfortunately had almost no idea of his offered vehicle. The red Defender was unfortunately in a bad condition, which suggested that it had suffered quite a bit in the last years. We felt a bit bad about how some of this vehicles so special, so old are so easily left to die. Disappointed and disillusioned, we started our journey home and let the subject rest for a while before we found another candidate, closer than expected. In Quilmes, of all places, the suburb of Buenos Aires where Marina´s family lives, a dark green Defender was on offer: year of construction 1997, county version, 200,000 km, 2nd owner and in a sensationally maintained condition. We could hardly believe it and we contacted Luis immediately. Price-wise it was a bit higher than the models we had seen so far, but still within our limit. And when we visited Luis a few days later, we had goosebumps. Luis had bought the Defender from a German about 15 years ago and had kept it in his garage ever since. He didn't travel much and actually he didn't wanted to sell it. It was his children who suggested that it was time to finally change to a more modern vehicle. He would never have thought that someone would answer so quickly to his ad, and we couldn't believe that such a gem had been lying dormant in his garage, in Marina's hometown all this time - coincidences do happen! After a test drive with Luis we already loved it: this will be our Defender. After that we started looking for a mechanic who knew something about Land Rover. Again, we were surprised to find one specialist in Quilmes. We visited Gastón's workshop, and he showed us full of joy his Land Rover treasures, on which he just tinkered. When we told him we had one that we liked he asked from who it was. It turned out he knew the green Defender very well, and he said to us: "You can buy it with your eyes closed!”. Gastón gave us a good feeling from the beginning and a certain basic trust in his opinion, so that we agreed with Luis a few days later on the phone. Now we only had to wait for the agreed handover date. Until then, there were still some formalities to take care of and then it was finally time. After the money transfer and the official transfer our vision started becoming real. We really had our own Defender - a Land Rover Defender 110 2.5 TDi, 4 cylinders, 113 HP! Our first drive led us of course to Marina's house and as we were showing her sister Lucia our new gem her dog Simon suddenly came running out of nowhere and jumped in through the open back door. That was a sign and with that our Defender was officially part of the family - or rather she was, because from then on we named her "La Gaucha"!

The most exciting question after the family baptism was whether she would fit through the gate of the courtyard parking lot of our apartment in Buenos Aires. So the critical moment came and less than 2 cm of air between her white roof and the gate wall let her just slip through - custom work, but with that she had her sleeping place in the safe courtyard for the coming weeks. Right on time, Mari had just successfully passed her driver's license exam, so it was time to go on tour. The first trip with the Gaucha took us to the Tigre Delta in the north of Buenos Aires and funny enough, we met her twin sister right next to us at the gas pump during our first ever fuel stop - what a coincidence, unbelievable! The first longer trip with the whole family was to Junín, where we spent the whole weekend. Shortly after Buenos Aires, we stopped in Luján, where one of the most important churches in the country is located, which is also a popular pilgrimage site - among other things, to give cars the divine blessing. Of course, we didn't want to miss out on this ritual and baptized her while parked directly in front of the church: may it remain faithful to us for a long time and always protect us and bring us safely to our destination. On the rest of the trip, we left the city for the first time and it quickly became clear that our Gaucha feels very comfortable on the Ruta (country road) and runs very smoothly despite its rusticity. The wind blows in your face with the windows down, at a chilled 90 km/h with a mate-tea in your hand - very relaxed traveling, it's definitely bearable! In the last weeks before our trip, several visits to Gastón's workshop followed to get the Gaucha finally ready for the trip: every now and then it loses some oil overnight, the rear door didn't close properly, a few elementary spare parts and tools were upgraded and once again all fluids were changed. Thanks to the great work of Gastón and our meticulous preparation, it could then finally go on 01.11.2021 on our 100 days long and 15,000 km wide road trip through the wonderful Patagonia.

The first days on tour in the Gaucha were certainly very special. The first time to rest, the first time to refuel, the first time to head for the destination, the first time to fall asleep and wake up in it. All these moments are associated with special memories. The nicest thing we realised after the first few days: it makes you feel pretty damn safe - whether on or off the road, as a sleeping quarter or as a shelter during rain and storm. After the first stops in Tandil and at the beaches of Pehuen-Co and Las Grutas, the first longer stay was on the Valdez Peninsula. In the middle of the national park, her off-road skills were required for the first time on more or less passable gravel roads - but she mastered all the tests with no problem. With her we will make progress on any terrain! Afterwards, we drove on the legendary Ruta 25 for many hundreds of kilometres through desert-like landscape, completely away from civilization. Unexpectedly fast we got into a precarious situation concerning the diesel procurement. Due to its age, it only tolerates the old, conventional diesel, which unfortunately is not available at some small gas stations. Here she proved her enormous capacity for the first time. The sheer endless drive with several gas stations without diesel brought beads of sweat to our foreheads, but the fuel needle stayed in the green much longer than expected. From this day on it was clear that we would get at least 800 km with a full tank on asphalted Ruta with fully inflated tires and from now on after each refueling the running odometer was set to 0 to have a current overview. With well inflated tires on the asphalt Ruta it also consumes surprisingly "only" just under 9.5 liters. Afterwards, the first Patagonian mountains were the next test, and here, too, the Gaucha proved to have enormous climbing qualities. In first gear, you can climb almost any incline - no matter how bad the route, how big the boulders underneath you or how tight the hairpin bend is: it's always uphill and we've never had to use the differential block, which you can engage in exceptional situations on extreme inclines or in deep sand or mud. The hills were directly followed by the blatant rain test. Three days of continuous heavy rain in the Los Alerces National Park put all the Gaucha's seals through their paces. And even though some of the rain pelted down on the aluminum roof, one thing was clear: you stay 100% dry in the Gaucha. Another privilege, which is certainly not minor given its age. Then came the legendary key-fishing action in Lago Puelo, which made it clear to us that it is definitely not easy for thieves who are after trying to steal the goods in the Gaucha. The windows cannot be moved from the outside, even if they are slightly opened - as we had to discover painfully =) In Bariloche and the surrounding area we felt with the Gaucha no longer alone, we saw many Defenders through the mountainous areas. Also in the more southern Patagonia around the glacier areas El Chaltén and El Calafate we met again and again Defender colleagues, who were surprised by the outstanding condition of the Gaucha. Only on the crossing to Tierra del Fuego we had a problem for the first time ever: The electronics went a bit crazy and let first the turn signal and later also the fuel gauge fail. Fortunately, we were able to have it fixed by an electrician in Ushuaia, after a queasy crossing, and since then we are on the road again with the best electronics. On the return journey the Gaucha proved that it is quite suitable for more: Four persons with full luggage find well place in it and manages enormously strong gusts of wind as well as wavy ferry crossings. On the Ruta 40 to the north, after a long, steep and winding downhill drive, there were problems a second time: This time it was the brakes, which had run hot and failed under stinking smoke - luckily we had already reached the bottom by then! After a short breather and a mechanic check the next day, however, the green light was given and we were able to safely make the return trip to Buenos Aires. Finally, it proved its sand qualities on the beaches on the Atlantic coast: you can cruise through fine sand with it without any problems and don't have to worry about getting stuck. Back in Buenos Aires, she also cuts a fine figure in the lively city, even though she's a real eye-catcher here and attracts a lot of attention. So she inspires us day after day anew with her many facets and is now indispensable from our trip and our life here! Gaucha, we <3 you!


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