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Road Trip through The Americas

Zopilote: Please tell us about your current trip!

Arnauld: To have an own van was already a dream of mine since I was a teenager to me it is a symbol of freedom. Finally my girlfriend Heidi and I bought a VW Transporter 4WD in 2013. We transformed it, step by step, to a camper according to our needs.

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At the same time that we were looking for a van, we got the idea to do a longer trip through South America. In the beginning it was more a crazy idea than a real plan. But we told ourselves: “If we don´t do it now, when would be the right time?” Later as a family it would be possible but a bit more complicated. As a pensioner- we didn`t want to wait so long. So we decided to look more precisely for this travel and saved money for our journey. In 2015 we booked the cargo ship for us and the Van from Hamburg, Germany to Montevideo, Uruguay.

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After 6 weeks of adventure on the cargo ship crossing the Atlantic ocean, our first step was driving along the east coast of South America to Ushuaia, Chile, the most southern city in the world. After that the real trip began- from the south to the north- (VON SUED NACH NORD) with Halifax in Canada as our final destination.
To give you a bit better of an idea of the details of the trip it went something like this… It all started on our way through Patagonia, the Chiloe island and Pucon, the region of the Volcanos. We drove across the most incredible passes of the Andes, through the desert of Atacama to the Altiplano, back down to the Amazon Basin to the North of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Actually we just crossed the Darien Gap to the surfing paradise of Central America, where we are traveling right now (July-August 2016).
The next steps will be Mexico and the west coast of Baja California across USA to Vancouver. After that, we will have to cross Canada or the north of USA to the east coast, where we will take a cargo ship back to Europe in our country, Switzerland. This is how our plans are looking like that moment, but we will see at the end of the trip, if all our plans will turn out as we define them now.

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Zopilote: Now, you are half way through your trip. What was the most memorial moment?

Arnauld: The question is really difficult to answer, because on one side the trip travelling by ship and on the other side the roadtrip through the different climate zones and the several cultures. We try to keep the answer short.
The Cargo Ship stopped in several cities of Europe, Africa and South America but to most impressive stop was the city of Freetown in Sierra Leon. There were lots of people on the seashore, children, animals, smoke up on the roofs and a mist covering the city. We looked more exactly to the situation in the town and realized that all the poor people expand the field with tied trash bags an build the slums on it. Those impressive pictures made us aware of how lucky we are and in which luxury we live at home.

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On the more positive sides. The most beautiful hikes that we did were in Pantagonia. This region with the national park “Torres del Paine” and the famous glacier “perito Moreno” (National Park Los Glaciares) were part of the most awesome landscapes of our trip.

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All the time we had nice surprises with animals. Our encounter with toninas overas (black and white dolphins) and penguins on our way to tierra del Fuego or with a finnwhale at the cost of Chile. Maybe the most fantastic and lucky moment was in the Amazon Basin in Peru, when we saw a jaguar in the wilderness along the river “rio Madre de Dios”.

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The most beautiful road we drove through was definitely the famous “ruta de las lagunas” between San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) and the salty desert “salar de Uyuni”. This “off-road” route crosses a fantastic landscape with red sandy volcanos, colorful salty lakes with flamingos and lots of guanacos. The altitude on the road (between 3600 and 5050m) and the very cold nights were a challenge for us and especially for our van. That´s why it was a very emotional moment when we reach the end of this route on this flat white salty desert of Uyuni in a sunset after four fantastic days.

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Surfing was all the time an issue during our trip in South America. To this topic you will find –our top 4 Spots: The Wall (North East Argentina), Pichilemu (Central Chile), Perto Chicama (Peru), Playa Los Najaros (North Colombia)

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In central America Surfing was our main focus. We want to thanks you again Zopilote Surfcamp for the possibility to stay in your yard, a wonderful two weeks ;-)

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Zopilote: What are some of the benefits and detriments of a long driving journey like this?
Arnauld: A lot of people think about making a long trip like this and discover a part of the world. But in the end, there are not many who take the step and abandon the secure life and his comforts of our home. For us, this trip ment to give our notice for our jobs. Give up our apartment and our little luxury that we had andto leave our family behind for a while. In the beginning we had for sure small doubts and asked ourselves if it is the right choice to give up all this things only for a trip!
But this thought quickly faded as we drove one way to Hamburg. In a trip like this, you will dive in to a new world and have an unusual life with new occupations and tasks. Of course during the trip the “everyday life” came. There were days which we don´t feel like driving or tired and saturated because of the many impressions. The fact that we live 24h together in the small van. It can happen that this is a little bit stress and that one of us want to kick the other one away on another planet.
But to be honest, all this things are small details that you may have to deal with. For us this trip was a really big life experience. Certainly one of the best thing we did in our life. Our main occupations were to be ready for new experiences everyday. To meet new people and see new cultures. Drive through beautiful and amazing landscapes, enjoy the freedom and take time to think about our life and the future. All these things made a trip like this so memorable because we like to be on the road of this world, it will not be the last time, for sure!

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Zopilote: Many people perceive this to be a dangerous trip, have you ever felt unsafe?
Arnauld: Yes of course there are moment, that we didn´t feel safe. But this is part of the trip and the real question is what to do to get this bad feeling away.
There aren´t everywhere campground and we get at the beginning of the trip this impression of unsafety above all with wild camping. The best thing is to ask the locals if the place is safe or if they know about a safe place to stay. We didn´t stay more than one night in the same place for wild camping and in big city we go all the time on campground or of the parking lot of a hotel after asking. We avoid to drive in the darkness and we try to find a place to sleep soon enough. With the time, you get experience and you can trust your feeling. Then there is some smartphone application from travelers for travelers like for example I Overlander. With this you can plan your sleeping place a little bit better or if you don´t find anyplace by yourself and you have often a solution ready.
For sure we hear about robbery, but there are also a lot of travelers one the way. We think that it´s happen really rarely and you need also to be unlucky. Fortunately until now we never had to do this really bad experience. That´s why we try to continue to travel with our principles.

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Zopilote: When planning a roadtrip like this, what would you recommended?
Arnauld: We think, that you have to find a camper which you can imagine to travel and to live inside for a long time by each weather. The experience shows that is really important that the vehicle isn´t overloading and you have to be carefully with. For the spare part speak with your mechanic, we take only some services part with us, nothing else.
For us was important that copies of all our documents was saved on the net, so you can get it everywhere if you have a problem. You have also to organize persons of contact at home in the domains of the medicine and the mechanics.
For the planning of the raodtrip, we think that it isn´t really important how many time and how exact you plan the trip, because at the end, a lot of thing change during the trip. We made only a rough plan of the route, and we let us drift. We change often our plan because of the meeting with other travelers, tips, weather and interest. So stays the trip always spontaneous and exciting. But enjoy the planning of the trip, because this is one of the nicest delight.
Don´t reflect too much, just do it and enjoy your dream.

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