A Short Film About a Chilean-plated Van and its Lone Inhabitant

I have been so excited to share this story with you guys since the day it showed up
in my inbox. Jamie's is the story of how and why she ended up where she is now, living
in a
van by herself in Chile, working on a research project in public schools and chasing
waves whenever
she can. Hers is an honest one, to the bone, which are my favorite stories to share.

After befriending a young German filmmaker, the two of them made
a short creative film on Jamie, her life in Chile and her thoughts on traveling
solo and the inevitable loneliness that can come with it. Keep scrolling for an intro
to the film written by Jamie, followed by the nine minute flick. Cheers!

Jamie writes about her life in Chile on her blog infinite juice.
Her research lives at Start-up Schools Chile.
You can find and follow her on Facebook and Instagram as

I’ve spent the past six months living out of my van in Chile’s capital city. I bought the van back in March, knowing that I’d need to be mobile for the research project I am working on. I’d need to visit public high schools throughout the length of Chile, and I didn’t want to be tied to an apartment in Santiago.

But more than that, I was curious. I wanted to live simply. I wanted less things. I have a year to spend in Chile, and while I’m on the other side of the world, away from family and friends and everyone who knows me, I want to experiment. Living in a confined space that moves could ostensibly be my 21st century version of Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. This would be my expedition into Waldenism and thriftiness and minimalism and let’s just see what happens.

This film partially documents how it all went and is currently going for me. And here’s how the film came to be. I lived in a dirt parking lot at the entrance to a park I frequently describe as Santiago’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park. I found the spot, as most of us van people do, on iOverlander. Although I wasn’t there all the time, this parking lot was my home base for when I needed to visit schools in the area or teach workshops. I called it, more or less, home.

I was visited by a near-constant stream of other overlanders, passing through Santiago on their way to Patagonia, or trying to sell their cars at the end of their long journeys south. There were, of course, lots of German families with those souped-up box houses, built on top of lifted truck beds that sat on top of massive tires. I made friends with a French Canadian couple and their two dogs, as they tried to sell their 1980’s motor home before heading back to Canada. There was one Swiss guy and a Danish couple who made the park feel a little more like a street where we parked our homes. We shared pasta dinners on a folding table we would set up in the middle of our parked vans.

When I was not in the parking lot, I was spending all of my free time in the water. It was my first or second month in Chile and I didn’t have too many friends to speak of. I got lucky and I met a legendary group of Chilean surfers. We were on our way to Puertecillo, and we stopped by this big property in Santo Domingo. And I met the Chileans that live in this big house that feels like a ski cabin—there is almost always a fire burning in the fireplace. But if you walk out the front door, you can see sand dunes with the ocean stretching out behind it. These guys became my best friends down here. They took me surfing, and showed me how to drink maté, and I met their families.

When I first met the guys, they were building a 4-story tree house out of recycled materials they found on the property. They had recruited a construction crew via Workaway, so there were always backpackers staying at the house, sleeping in the big bedroom they all shared. Nadine was one such Workaway. After I met her, she proceeded to buy a retired public transportation bus and spend the next four months converting it into a mobile home.

And I also met Leve, a 20-year-old German who came to the house to help with the filming project the guys were just getting off the ground. We got to know each other, watching the sunsets, enjoying the unimpeded view of the ocean from the 4th story of the treehouse. We talked on the way to check the surf in the back of Jaime’s van.

Leve heard my story. He saw my van. I told him about my research project, the public schools I visit, and the workshops I teach. When he asked me if he could make a documentary type thing about me, I said yes.

He followed me around for two days. We woke up early to surf and drove to Santiago, to one of the schools I work with. That night, we ended up at the parking lot. At the end of this day, Leve interviewed me. We made tea and went under the sheets in my van—to cut the background noise—and recorded the audio on my iPhone.

Leve and I both wanted to show my life as it is, not as I want it to be portrayed. I didn’t want to be the van-inhabiting variety described in that New Yorker article. So we did our best to show the reality of my nomadic lifestyle. And in my opinion, no documentation of a solo van dweller is complete without some mention of loneliness.

I’ve made friends—other people who pass through the park and stay for a week or a month. I try to visit my friends in Santo Domingo as much as possible. But the majority of the time, I’m alone. I’m cooking alone. I wake up in my bed alone. I go to coffee shops and work by myself. I drive by myself to the schools I visit, listening to NPR.

And what I said in the film is true. Being by yourself, in another hemisphere, everything gets the volume turned up. The colors are more pronounced: the dark times are a little more gray and blue. The best times a little more brilliant.

I think that’s all I can say for now. I hope you enjoy the film, and that it comes across as honest.

And lastly, I never said this to Leve, so I’ll say it now. Thank you for documenting this hectic time in my life. I may move to another country. I may sell my van. My research project will end in November. But I’ll always have this film. For your first foray into documentary-making, I think it’s beautiful and impressive. I really enjoyed watching your creative process. I think we achieved what we set out to achieve—it’s unique and artsy for sure, and experimental.

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