Driving around South America ordering meals, buying gas and reserving hotels is one thing - trying to do business in a country where you don't speak the language well and are unfamiliar with the flow of commerce is a whole different matter.
That is what faced us as soon as we hit Punta Arenas. Selling a used vehicle from outside the country is virtually impossible in all of South America - you are only allowed to register vehicles from the country where you purchased the car, which makes your vehicle worth only its scrap value if it comes from outside the country.
There are a couple of exceptions - rumour has it Paraguay offers the possibility to sell freely, but the two guaranteed places to sell a vehicle are the duty free ports of Iquique, in the north of Chile, and Punta Arenas.
We were approached at least 6 times during our trip to sell Manuel, but, alas these restrictions prevented us from doing so; we found ourselves in Punta Arenas on Monday trying to figure out the process of how to unload our vehicle.
I had read that we had to find someone who had a license to purchase vehicles in the Zona Franca (or Free Trade Zone), and after some internet searches found two such people. I emailed them a couple of months ago and got replies, but when I followed up last week, I got no response - out went another batch of emails last night.
Then last night at the restaurant we began chatting with the manager, who when we told her what we were doing, asked for pictures of the car and said she had a friend that was a dealer and might be interested. We gave her our contact information and she said she would call us at our hotel late in the morning...
That made 3 irons in fire, but that wasn't enough. This morning we went to the lobby of the hotel to talk to Pablo at the front desk. We explained what we wanted to do, Bob slipped him some money and said there would be another $100 US if he could help us find a buyer. I had the name of a used car dealership that I had taken from the Internet - someone from Vancouver had shipped the exact same vehicle (a model year older) from Canada, and had sold it to this dealership last year!
Also, as we were walking around this morning, we found another dealership that was buying vehicles just three blocks from our hotel - turns out this was one of the two original dealers I had contacted by email over the past month! With these two leads, we sent Pablo to work making phone calls as well.
Bob continued working the streets throughout the morning, going into rental car places and travel agencies to try and get more leads, while I remained in our room, now our sales command centre, ready to field calls from our prospective buyers.
By 11:30 am, we had no calls, but Bob had found us an English speaking guide from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, when we would try and hit three or four dealerships in person to see if we could make a deal. Turns out he had wandered by one of the dealerships and talked to the lot attendant, who said that his cousin did the purchasing and would be back around 3:00 pm.
After a haircut (for Bob at least) and lunch, we met our guide, Rodrigo, in the lobby of our hotel. After explaining what we wanted from him (not your typical half day tour!) we headed out to our first dealership, Polo Sur Autos. There was definitely an element of apprehension and nervousness as we made our way there - it was hard to know how this was going to go.
After a 25 minute conversation in rapid fire Spanish, we were lowballed at the first place, so we moved on to the second dealership, where we were told to come back around 4:00 pm, as the owner was away.
Our third stop was in the Zona Franca, which is a specially segregated industrial area which has been designated a duty free zone. You can buy anything from vehicles, to paint to Hunter Douglas blinds, so we proceeded to the Nissan dealership (there are two in the Zona Franca), where we were told Manuel was too old and had too many kilometres.
As we were getting ready to hit the second Nissan dealership, Rodrigo remembered he had a buddy who worked for "the Indian" who might be able to help us.
Turns out, "the Indian" is some mythical figure in Punta Arenas, one of the richest men in the city, who runs several of the largest car dealerships and owns more than 1,500 houses in the city!
We walked into the nearby Mitsubishi dealership, and met Rodrigo's friend, who promptly went to work. After a meeting with his manager, the salesman came out and all 4 of us (Rodrigo, the salesman, me and Bob) piled into Manuel to the used car depot a couple of miles away, where we had our car inspected. While waiting Bob and I perused the showroom and saw all the junked cars with interesting brand names (did you know there is a car company called Great Wall?). We were told the car was good (no surprise there) and that they would have a price for us by 7:00 pm tonight.
That left the final dealership - we got there at 4:30, and the owner went into a 20 minute diatribe on how hard it was to import vehicles from outside Chile and that he was not interested. He gave us some For Sale signs and told us we should do it ourselves. Then he came out, admired the car, said he wasn't interested at all, but then proceeded to give us his best price. By now I was so confused with this guy that I just herded everyone back in the car and we got out of there!
Long story short, we are awaiting the price from "the Indian's" people and will have the car sold tomorrow, with cash in hand...
After that, we will start making preparations to leave for Puerto Williams on Wednesday.
I'm exhausted just thinking about today, so will sign off...
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain