Friday, January 3, 2014

Meet Otto

Written by Karen.
I have always read travel blogs that featured an old VW camper van with the tiniest bit of envy.  I loved the idea of traveling around in a vehicle that also served as a tiny, fully functional house, stopping whenever - or wherever - one wanted. It seemed to be the very definition of total traveling freedom.

Although we have traveled fairly extensively in our 1984 VW Vanagon, Chinook - and with no disrespect or disloyalty directed towards Chinook - he is not a camper van in the traditional sense of the word.  In order to satisfy my long-held dream, I wanted to be able to sleep and cook inside a Vanagon, have running hot and cold water available in a sink, a working refrigerator, have numerous electrical sockets and task lights, and be able to stand up and stretch in a Vanagon. And, I wanted to do all of this in an older VW camper van.  Nothing else would really do.  It always seemed in my imagination that this would be the coolest way to explore the back roads of Europe, South America, Central America or the United States. As a result, this has been on my bucket list for years.  

Now we are about to tick that box.  Meet Otto.  He's German through and through.  Diesel powered. Stands tall.  He's a deep shade of red.  And, he's all ours for the next three weeks.

We picked up Otto in Cologne, Germany on a chilly, gray and drizzly morning. I didn't notice - or care - that we were both getting wet as Adam and I waited outside the train station at the designated hour. I was nearly giddy with excitement.  Meals of baguettes, cheese and wine inside a VW camper van while camping on a remote stretch of a Breton beach continuously danced about my head as we both turned to look as every VW camper van rolled past us.  Was this the one? 

Finally, Otto pulled into our view.  His diesel engine purred. I nearly swooned.  We met Otto's owner, Sebastian, who gave us a thorough tour of Otto.  How to switch the refrigerator from electricity to gas to battery back to electricity.  How to turn the safety gas lock for both the refrigerator and the stove while driving.  How to hook up the electricity at a campground.  Sebastian is a VW camper van expert of the very highest order.  He not only knew every mechanical detail about this particular 1990 VW camper van, but he was also able to compare and contrast the different features between Chinook and Otto by using his encyclopedic knowledge of this type of vehicle.

It all seemed intuitive and relatively straight-forward as we listened intently to Sebastian explain the nuances and little considerations necessary for a successful driving relationship with Otto. 

Lastly, Sebastian explained that if we should have any mechanical breakdowns on the road, we could call him for 24-hour phone assistance. We would be responsible for fixing the problem so that we could continue on or drive back again to Germany.  Geez.  I could see Adam getting a bit nervous.  Flashbacks of mechanical breakdowns with Chinook while driving around the western United States immediately came to both of our minds. And now we were about to embark on a lengthy road trip with an untested older VW camper van.  In short, Otto really would be all ours for the next three weeks - for better or for worse.  

I shook my head trying to clear those thoughts from my mind like spiderwebs from the rafters.  There was no room in my bucket list fantasy for any breakdowns.  Particularly since we were headed for the more remote areas of Brittany on the Northwestern coast of France.  After all, with Sebastian giving Otto the mechanical once-over, I was certain that Otto would have no mechanical difficulties.  We took the proffered set of keys and shook hands.  We would see Sebastian again when we returned Otto in three weeks - same time, same place.  Shades of Chinook - they are cousins, you know.

Adam took the wheel first.  Our first camping stop would turn out to be the Eifel Forest in Germany.     
Otto basking in the sunlight
Otto hooked up to fairly standard electrical cable on a grassy campground overlook.

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