Finally we arrived. The streets aren’t paved with gold, but the museums are full of it; and conversely, the streets are full of art. Bogotá, ‘una ciudad 2600 metros más cerca de las estrellas’, which is ‘above your expectations’ and ‘mejor para todos’. These are tag lines from the Instituto Distrital de Turismo .
Bogotá, a city with art in the streets and gold in the museums. At 2600m, it’s a ciudad 2600 metros más cerca de las estrellas and above your expectations.
Bogota became our home for 10 weeks in 2008, and we had really been looking forward to our return to the city this trip. So we booked an apartment in Teusaquillo for 2 weeks, searching for museum gold and street art.
‘When we lived in Bogota’ , as we often refer to that previous visit, we really enjoyed the friendly and helpful people we met. But we were there for major repairs on our truck, and had little time for any other activities. We saw the inside of many workshops but this time we were determined to see something of the capital city of the country that became our favourite on our first Pan-American trip.
Here we share what we did in 2 weeks in Bogota.
El Museo de Oro
Bogotá Gold Museum: This shows the modern, organised display you will find in this very impressive museum.
The Gold Museum of Bogota is famous. In 2008 it was closed for extensive renovations. We were very disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to visit.
This time it was right on the top of our list. In fact, we visited it on our very first foray into the historical centre of Bogota. And what a pleasant surprise – people over 60 were admitted free. We love it when this happens. It feels like such a gift of respect.
There are over 30,000 pieces of gold work from pre-Hispanic cultures on display, as well as around 20,000 objects of ceramic, textiles, and precious stones. We love the ancient history of South America, and the craftsmanship collected in the Gold Museum is almost overwhelming.
I don’t know what it was like pre-renovation, but we were totally impressed by the display of this vast collection, and the information provided (including the audio-guide I took).
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
This is probably the most beautiful, intricate, and treasured exhibit in Bogotá’s Gold Museum. It tells the story of a raft going out into a lake to present a gift of precious stones and metals to the gods – by dropping it over the side.
If you have spent any time checking out dare2go, you will already know we are great fans of street art. And Bogota definitely didn’t disappoint! Our first street art sightings were as we drove into the city on our way to our accommodation. We saw one large piece in the process of creation.
The volume of street art in Bogota is overwhelming. Simple daily tasks like going to the corner shop, on the way to the supermarket, or looking for a cash machine, always took longer because we were constantly stopping to admire and photograph yet another amazing piece of public art.
Much of Colombia’s street art evolves out of the troubles the country has seen. We experienced this in Comuna 13 in Medellin , and it was again obvious with many pieces in Bogotá, especially along Calle 26.
It’s always good to just walk in a city, and see what you find.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: some of the street art to be found in the locality we called home for 2 weeks in the city.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: Some more street art from this locality, on the way to the supermarket. Damning comments on humanity’s priorities.
Walking the Streets – Teusaquillo
Bogotá has 20 localidades (localities) and Teusaquillo is the 13th. It is located just out of the city centre and we found it to be a convenient walk to many of the places we wanted to go.
One day, we went out walking in search of a supermarket and an ATM. We found them, but also found the National Museum.
Another day we walked, in a different direction, to a Carulla – this is a rather upmarket supermarket chain in Colombia, but it sells good bread. To reach it we walked along the ParkWay. It is an avenue divided by a large park, built in the 1950s to beautify the city and create green areas. There are also bike paths, which we rode along on our bicycle tour.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: The beautiful ParkWay, constructed in the 1950s, bringing green spaces to the city. Photo: Wikimedia
The streets surrounding our rental were also full of street art. Avenida 28, with its huge street art gallery, was within easy walking distance. We visited it several times.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: this locality has a long history of migration. Here we see urban architecture with a British influence.
Walking the Streets – La Candelaria
The 17th Localidad of Bogotá is known as the Historic Centre. Therefore, it has hostels, hotels, restaurants and lots of tourists. But it is also a beautiful historic area and we spent a lot of time just wandering around it.
Plaza de Bolivar is the original centre of the city, where Bogotá was founded on August 6, 1538. The Congress of Colombia, the Supreme Court, the Mayor’s office, and the Cathedral of Colombia surround this great Plaza.
There are many museums and we chose to re-visit the Botero Museum.
And lots and lots of fantastic street art!
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
Cycling is a very popular activity in Colombia. In 2008, we were surprised and impressed by the closure of major arterial roads and city streets on Sundays and public holidays, for the use of cyclists, walkers, runners, skaters and so on. It seemed like a very innovative idea, which we hadn’t seen elsewhere. Now it is popular in many cities in South America.
So we opted for a bicycle tour on a Sunday. I hadn’t been on a bicycle since we left Australia almost 5 years ago. But you know what they say: a skill that is learned and never forgotten is “just like riding a bike.”
Our tour was with Bogotravel , but there are other options and we don’t necessarily recommend this company as a standout – we have no point of comparison, and there were aspects of their service, which we found a little disappointing.
But the actual tour was a great experience. Felipe, our guide, spoke good English, and looked after us all very well. We shared the tour with 2 friendly German girls.
The tour included fruit tasting at a local fruit market, cycling through historical areas with colonial architecture, some city parks, a coffee shop with tasting available, and Avenida 26 – the largest street gallery of graffiti in Bogotá. It began at 10:30 and lasted around 4 hours.
This post has turned out to be a much larger Bogota street art gallery than I had expected, despite the fact that I have only included pieces from outside Candelaria, the old part of Colombia’s Capital. I will leave this more popular historic centre for a second street art gallery from Bogotá.
You can find outstanding street art all over Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. This gallery concentrates on murals we explored outside of the city centre.
The street art scene in Colombia is very alive and diverse. Street art has been de-criminalised in Colombia and Bogotá, in particular, attracts a quite a lot of international street artists, who leave their mark on the city’s walls.
The reason I am concentrating on murals outside the tourist part of the city is simple: I want to encourage you to venture out and keep your eyes open! To give you an orientation, I have included specific locations in each street art photo description.
But you will be forgiven if you cannot find each and every piece shown in this gallery. First of all, some pieces won’t be around indefinitely, as they are on walls surrounding sites destined for new construction work.
Other murals will have deteriorated and lost their appeal, so street artists might simply paint over them. In the very short time we spent in Bogota, we witnessed five new pieces in the making and one being completely repainted – and we didn’t even go out that frequently!
The bright colours of this new piece on Avenida Medellin (south side, somewhere between Carrera 86 and 72) caught our attention the day we arrived in Bogotá. Here it’s still very unfinished, but a week later we came past it again.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
It’s a shame that we never got to see the fully completed picture!
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
But that’s all part of the fun when you go out to explore a city for its street art! It’s an ever evolving scene, with new outstanding murals popping up in the most unexpected locations.
A little Spanish knowledge might help you to understand the messages included in many murals. Often they refer back to Colombia’s violent past or the current state of government. The more you know about the country’s politics the better you will understand the messages told through street art.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
I often speak about making memories. You see, I have a theory that the more different experiences you have, the more memories you make, the longer life feels to be. Since becoming nomads, we hardly ever make statements like: “Hasn’t this year flown by?” In fact, it seems like much more than almost 5 years since we packed up our lives in Australia, flew to Europe, and began building our home for this life.
It’s all the places we’ve been, all the sights we’ve seen and all the people we’ve met that become the memories we make. As we approach the end of our time in South America, I am reflecting on some of those memories – taking them out, one by one, to enjoy their flavour again.
Making memories with people you meet, places you go, and sights you see make for a fulfilled year. The more you have, the longer your life seems to be.
I would like to share some of my best memories from 2017 with you, month by month.
The year started with excitement: my sister and her husband were coming from England to spend 3 weeks on the road with us. I hadn’t seen her since we left Australia in March 2013. It was a joyous reunion full of laughter and tears.
They arrived in Cusco and we shared the Sacred Valley with them before driving to Puno and Lake Titicaca, and then to Arequipa. Some of my favourite memories from Peru, on our first South American trip, are from these places. It was so special to be making new ones with my sister.
With all the places we’ve been and all the experiences we’ve had in 2017, my favourite memory is still the time spent with my sister. Here we are just sitting and having a chat in Cusco.
Chinchero: a small place in the Sacred Valley. It has ruins, a church built on Inca ruins, and this very colourful market. We visited in 2008, but it was lovely to revisit with Bron & Bob.
First we had to leave Peru – we had been 2 months in the country and needed another 3 months to travel slowly north. The only option for more time in Peru is to leave and come back. But you seem to be able to do this as often as you like. So we left Arequipa (possibly the most beautiful city in Peru) for Arica in Chile. We exited Peru and returned the next day, then began moving north.
The coastline of Peru is not very inspiring, so we were happy to leave it near Paracas, where we headed inland to Ayacucho – a city recommended to us by a Peruvian we had met along the way. Of all the cities we visited in Peru, this one has a special place in our memories. It has a violent history that it has overcome. Its people are so happy to have visitors, but it’s not yet over-run. A great place to have visited before it’s really discovered!
There are many things to do and see, in and around Ayacucho, including a Wari ruin site. The Wari started our ongoing interest in pre-Incan sites in Peru.
Ayacucho is a lovely colonial city, high in the Peruvian Andes. It has transformed itself from its violent past to be a city in waiting – for the visitors to come. A beautiful memory from 2017
Just one example of the amazing, colouful Andes. No wonder these mountains are one of the memories I like to take out and revisit from time to time. These particular mountains are on the way from Pisco to Ayacucho in Peru.
Although we had no intention, nor inclination, to return to Lima, we were glad that life interfered and brought us to that city again. We revisited the Larco Museum on Juergen’s birthday, and it was even better than the first visit in 2008! Months later, memories of the beautiful environment, the food in the restaurant, and the well-organised, informative and amazing exhibits are still clear in my mind.
We revisited the Larco Museum on Juergen’s birthday and had a special lunch in this lovely environment. Revisiting this museum was an incredible surprise – it was even better than the first time.
In March, terrible floods hit Peru. Because of them, we had to change our plans many times due to not being able to take the roads we wanted to. At other times we just had to wait until a particular landslide had been cleared so that we could proceed. It gave us time to be grateful for the life we lead and to think about the local people, for whom this devastation was a tragedy. Memories are not always beautiful.
Remnants of Peru’s catastrophic floods along the Pan-American Highway. They may have inconvenienced us a little, but were devastating to the country and its people.
Ultimately, we reached La Selva and enjoyed what we experienced of the Peruvian Amazon immensely. So many memories of green forests, butterflies and birds, and mountain landscapes; interspersed with semi-flooded roads that gave us pause.
Our fifth month in Peru; still finding more interesting sights and making lasting memories. Now we were heading slowly back towards the coast. But there was much to see along the way, some more memorable than others.
Karajia: we came there to meet up with some overlanding friends we had met in Argentina. We found them, but also a quite amazing burial site – decorated sarcophagi on a cliff face. This unusual place is fixed indelibly in my brain. Sometimes a sight stays as a full-colour memory that pops back up unexpectedly. This is one of mine.
Karajia: we had no expectations for this sight. But it amazed us. How did they get those sarcophagi, with a body inside, up on the cliff face? Just one of the incredible memory making sights of 2017.
This road is only just wide enough for Berta – one wheel on each white line! Was it worth it? Yes, the scenery was incredible. Would we do it again? Not on your life!!! No wonder it’s one of the strongest memories of the year.
Nearing the end of our 3 month visa, we ended up on the north coast of Peru at Swiss Wassi . We only had a couple of days before our visa expired, but it was so nice that we drove to Ecuador for 2 days and then returned with another new visa for Peru.
We decided it was the time and place for a holiday, after the long journey through Peru . Sometimes you just have to stop for a while and process the many memories you’ve been making. We stayed 3 weeks in this beautiful place, sharing stories with many other interesting travellers as they came and went.
The perfect place for making perfect holiday memories. Sunsets over the Pacific Ocean like this – every day. Swiss Wassi in northern Peru.
We arrived in Ecuador in the last week of May, and revisited Cuenca, Vilcabamba and the Ingapirca ruin site , before heading north towards Bogota. Ecuador is a small country and diesel is very cheap, so it was a small thing to drive halfway through the country to visit a festival.
And what a festival it was: The Celebration of Octava de Corpus Christi in Pujilí . It is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our time in Ecuador, and was responsible for the making of many colourful memories.
June found us back in Ecuador, revisiting memories of 2008 – until we reached Pujili for it’s Corpus Christi Festival. Then we found the highlight of the month – an abundance of colourful memories to be made.
We returned to Cuenca after the festival. Spending time there provided us with many new memories. It also evoked the pleasant memories we had made in 2008. Revisiting a place you have loved has a lot of advantages.
From there we went to the Pacific Coast of Ecuador – a place entirely new to us. The two highlights of our time on the coast were meeting Peter & Maria in Salinas and whale watching in Puerto Lopez. The memories are ours to keep.
We really enjoyed returning to Cuenca, and made a lot of new memories while revisiting some of the old ones. This is the flower market, with plenty of Cuenca’s colonial architecture as a backdrop.
The coast of Ecuador was a new experience for us. Being befriended by Peter & Maria in Salinas was a lovely start to the memories we made along the way.
After a very brief stop in Quito, we arrived in Ibarra, and finally met Graham. He is an Australian expat, who has lived in Ibarra for 13 years. He invites overlanders to stay at his property overlooking the city, where he has a nursery. We had stayed there in 2008, but he was in Australia at that time.
One morning Graham asked: Do you want to come up to the lookout? Sure, I answered. So we all piled into his pickup, and wound our way up a gravel road. We finally stopped at this beautiful meadow. It had views down into the city and up to a snow-capped volcano. This is Graham & Amalia with Leah in front. Behind are other overlanders who shared the experience he gave us.
We stayed for over 2 weeks – another ‘holiday’ at the end of our time in Ecuador ! It’s a beautiful place and we have great memories of time spent telling stories over a cuppa with him, Amalia and their delightful 4 year old daughter, Leah. There were also other overlanders, who joined the group. They all came and went while we were there. We also spent time with a German couple, Jens & Kristina, who are living nearby.
More new friends we met in Ibarra. I think Jens and Kristina might be suffering a bit from ‘parked overlander syndrome’, but we shared some great stories of our adventures over lunch.
This was truly a time of relaxing friendships. It’s the memories of times like these that help us during other times, when we don’t meet any overlanders and don’t get to speak English (or German) for long periods, except to each other.
We had been looking forward to returning to our favourite country of our previous trip since arriving to South America. And here we were in Colombia, at last…
A repeat of a photo we took in 2008 in the San Agustin archaeological site. We remembered it well and enjoyed it again.
Down into the tombs of Tierradentro. Some of the experiences that are most scary, make the most indelible memories.
We also made wonderful memories in Salento , where we entered the coffee region. Our plan was a few days, but we ended up staying at La Serrano for 2 weeks. It was interesting because it’s a hostel, guest house and overland camping site. Among the guests there was a mixture of countries, ages, and transport modes. We had many communal gatherings where eating, drinking and story-telling were the priorities. The included breakfast made this a daily..
At this time of the year, most travel bloggers publish an annual review of their travels. Here is ours, but with a twist: places we visited in 2017 but did NOT write about.
You might ask: why did we leave out some places we visited? Well, the reasons vary. Some locations never really inspired us; in several cities we didn’t spend enough time to write anything comprehensive (we’re just not ‘city people’); other places are so popular that they have been covered by dozens of websites – we didn’t have anything new to add…
Our end-of-year summary: places we visited in 2017 but did not write about. Here we explain why these locations weren’t mentioned on our blog.
The majority of places we didn’t report about, are in Peru. This might sound like we didn’t find much worth writing about. On the contrary: in 2017 we published 18 posts from Peru , but most are either very specific or cover our time in the east of the country – away from the Pan-Americana corridor.
The Coast of Peru
…is basically one big desert – with a few rare green spots around water sources. Last trip, in 2008, we mostly followed the Pan-American Highway along the coast, with only 2 detours into the mountains. Back then, we found the coast not only boring, but also very depressing and grey.
The coast of Peru is over 2,400 kilometres long; nearly two-thirds of it looks as boring as this stretch of road. Enjoy the ride!
This time, we were earlier in the year, before the typical ocean mist arrives in late March or early April, which is responsible for the depressive atmosphere. The sun was shining, the ocean sometimes looked almost blue, and some of the sand and rock colours came out much more clearly. But, in general, we were still happy to get away from the coast as often as we could.
Yasha had planned to write a short gallery post about the coast of Peru – in the end we didn’t find it worth it. We encountered a few interesting places, like the Ité Wetlands . We also crossed a few green valleys full of agricultural crops like olives, rice, and grains – wherever there is some fresh water the nitrate-rich sand can actually produce unbelievable yields. The coast is also full of isolated beaches, many not safe to camp overnight. Hence, overall we couldn’t get very exited – once again.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
Peru’s Capital Lima
For a long time, we were certain we wouldn’t go back to Lima. But then Yasha caught a really bad gastric bug she couldn’t get rid of, so we decided to drive into the capital city for its better medical facilities.
We based ourselves at the Hitchhikers’ Hostel in Miraflores, a more up-market suburb near the ocean front. Right around the corner was a large medical centre, which Yasha visited every morning for a check-up.
We met a number of interesting travellers at the hostel, so more time was spent with chats than with going out. We had explored most of the city’s sights in 2008 and weren’t overly keen to go back. Except for one museum, the Larco Collection , which we had enjoyed tremendously in 2008. What a nice surprise it was: since then the museum has been renovated, the entire collection has been reorganised, all exhibits are now much better labelled (in multiple languages), and the flow of the history is really easy to understand.
The famous “Kiss” statue along the beach front of Miraflores.
Lima has some very upmarket shopping centres – as to be expected in a capital city.
Coastal Tourist Attractions near Lima
Many tourists come to Peru for 2 or maximum 3 weeks – we spent over 6 months in Peru. Tourists often fly directly from Lima onward to Cusco to visit the Sacred Valley . If they have time to spare, some might decide to visit the famous sand dunes of Huacachina, or Paracas and Pisco. All these destinations are quick and easy to reach by bus from Lima.
By the time we reached these places we had driven well over 1000 kilometres through a similar looking barren landscape – without any popular tourist attractions and the accompanying crowds. So to us the above mentioned places offered very little appeal.
Sunset at a beach in the Paracas Natural Reserve in Peru.
Yes, there are a few interesting archaeological sites near Paracas, the small museum at the park entrance has a number of nice exhibits – but nothing really worth writing home about (from our point of view).
The dunes we drove past in the south, were much more impressive. All they lacked was a small green oasis in the middle – the picturesque feature of Huacachina. I still remember being caught in traffic jam caused by smelly tourist dune buggies – not what I’m travelling for! That was when we decided to leave the coast and drive inland .
The oasis of Huacachina attracts countless tourists. They come mostly for sand boarding and dune buggy drives.
Popular Sights in Southern Colombia
Sanctuario Las Lajas
Almost every Pan-Am traveller stops off at the sanctuary of Las Lajas, outside Ipiales in the South of Colombia. In 2008 we actually didn’t even walk down to the church, because we couldn’t find parking for our truck camper. The car parking situation has now improved, so we walked down to the church.
Well, it’s a rather “kitschy” neo-gothic construction. For the locals the reported miracle is of much larger importance. You can read about it on Wikipedia . For us it is just another church, made more impressive by its location on a narrow cliff spanning across a deep river gorge.
The location of the Las Lajas sanctuary is probably the most outstanding feature.
Plenty of devotional plaques compete for space along the path leading to the Las Lajas sanctuary.
Laguna de la Cocha
Some travellers visit Laguna de la Cocha outside Pasto, the second largest lake of Colombia. It’s a nice place with lots of picturesque little wooden houses around it, which almost remind me of Switzerland or Austria. It’s now a protected environment, but under pressure from tourism and farming. Trout farming and fishing are the main source of income; we bought some yummy smoked trout.
The small wooden restaurant houses on the shore of Laguna la Cocha look actually very idyllic.
Along this way you come past the provincial centre of Sibundoy, where the unpaved Trampolino de la Muerte begins. We highly recommend veering off the main road and visiting the central plaza of this small town! It’s filled with amazing wooden statues, carved from tree roots and nicely painted. They are reminders of the indigenous heritage of this region. These statues, and some of the murals, are a precious, unexpected find!
A group of carved statues in front of Sibundoy’s church.
One of the many carved statues in the square of Sibundoy.
The economic and political centre of the south is the city of Popayán. It’s a clean city with a beautiful historical centre, full of white-washed houses. But one thing you have to realise: most of these colonial buildings were meticulously reconstructed after Popayán’s devastating earthquake in 1983 .
The old colonial cathedral in Popayan, white as all buildings in the historic centre.
Sun reflection of the white buildings in Popayan’s historic centre.
But we spent over a month around this city – so that can’t have been all! Or?
Well, in a way, that was all that we found worthwhile writing about. You see, our first week was taken up with medical appointments, for which we stayed with friends in Envigado – at the edge of the city. If you’ve been on the road as long as we have, check-ups like this have to be scheduled along the way.
Then we ran around (or drove in taxis) to get our Colombia visa and vehicle permit extended – more days without sightseeing. And honestly, the most interesting sights in the centre of Medellín were covered by the walking tour. Although, I might add another dedicated street art post for the inner city.
Some beautiful street art in Medellin. Maybe I will publish another street art post.
But we made an effort to see a few attractions outside the centre. One day we went to the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM). But our timing couldn’t have been worse as all temporary exhibits were closed for replacements. (Why? Why can’t this be staged so that only one at a time is closed?) Let’s just say the small permanent exhibition left us a little underwhelmed…
Our overall impression of Medellín: it’s big, very big. And the hills are steep, very steep. That’s because the city sits in a narrow valley. And its buildings are tall, very tall! Well, at least in many parts of the city. The majority of Paisas (the..
Inspiration for the New Year from Overlanders: different countries, different vehicles, and different life stages, all on the PanAm for different reasons.
A New Year is upon us. We thought it a good time to bring you the 3rd post in our series, where we share stories from overlanders. They answer the question: What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
Here are 6 new stories: North Americans, Argentineans and Dutch; in a variety of vehicles, including a ‘Beetle’; from retired couples to a young family. All have different reasons and different experiences that they share here.
We hope you will find inspiration from them to live your own dreams this year.
Llevados por el Viento – Guided by the Wind in a ‘Fusca’
Summer snow at Cotopaxi National Park.
We are Jor (Jorgelina, 31) and Gonza (Gonzalo, 38), a couple from Argentina, who decided three years ago to leave our comfortable lives in a small town in South Brazil to travel the Americas. Unlike many people, we had cool and fun jobs… but it just was not enough for us, to save some bucks every year and travel for a few weeks. Traveling became our absolute passion and so eventually we had to try out living constantly on the road.
We already had a VW Bug, a 1980 ‘Fusca’ (as they call it in Brazil) and the decision to travel in it was pretty quick and without much thought. To be honest, we did not want to spend more money on a newer but unknown car (we had the bug already for 10 years) and we also did not want to spend much more time, either saving money or preparing a new ride for our adventure.
A 1000 days have passed, and we are still rolling and living happily on board our Beetle. A few weeks after we began the trip, we already knew we wanted to keep going, so slowly we started to update our car with furniture, appliances, a roof top tent, etc… We learned by need, what we wanted and really needed.
Nothing bad has ever really happened to us, except many mechanic problems, due to the mileage and age of the Bug. But we have always learned from them, and it has usually brought a lot of friends into our lives. A classic VW will always attract attention; many good, kind people approach us and offer us meals, lodging, gas or just want to get a picture taken with us and the Fusca.
We left to the unfamiliar territory of Brazil to embark on an unlimited journey. Although, for now it is meant to be only in the Americas, time has stopped being a variable. The day was March 21st 10.00 am local time and the first 48 hours were essential, since it was then that our most important lessons of the trip already occurred.
On the highway, while Jor was driving and Gonza taking a nap, a strong bang was heard from the back left: our tire had literally left the car, with the screws and everything gone!!! It was Sunday afternoon, so our expectation of finding a tire shop open was low. Jor hitchhiked into the next town, found the home of the tire-man and came back with a used tire to replace our broken one. In two hours we were back on the road, and the lessons learned were vital. First: do not fear to ask for help, as most people are very willing to help out travelers. Second: you can never be too prepared; shit happens and you need to be prepared for exactly that.
Home is where you park it. Laguna Piquecocha. Yauyos National Park.
Reaching the Mirador Olímpico at Huascaran National Park.
We, Betty and Gerard, are an “older” couple from the Netherlands. When we were young we didn’t have the opportunity to travel. We started a family and worked till we were around fifty. At last we had the possibility (time & money) to realize our travel dreams.
First we walked a long distance path (E2) from the Netherlands through the Alps to the Mediterranean (2.400 km). It changed our pace and orientation in life.
That went on while travelling in Europe with a VW-Camper and during our desert trips in Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania in a Toyota Landcruiser HZJ78.
In 2002 we bought a Toyota Landcruiser HDJ100 and had it rebuilt into a tiny campervan. This way we had the ultimate combination of driving comfortably and an excellent off-road vehicle: TOY!
Since then we have been exploring the world: Libya; South America (Venezuela, Brasil, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina); more sand dune-trips in the most beautiful place of the world, the Sahara-desert; all around Africa (East down and West up); Mongolia (Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan); the Middle East (Turkey, Syria); Australia all over the place, and from there we drove back home via East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey & Europe; and last year we made a roundtrip on Iceland.
Now we’ll go back to South America. In 2002 we had an expedition-like driving experience. This trip, however, we want to take our time going up on the Pan Americana. Travel some months and go home some months to spend time with our children and grandchildren.
We love the encounters with people, as well as driving and being together in breathtaking places.
And the worst thing that happened to us? In East Timor a rat (on the ship from Australia to East Timor) had bitten all of the most important wires. It was a mess! But we had the luck of finding an excellent mechanic. After a week we could drive again.
To travel like we do, you have to be flexible and inventive. But being open and trustworthy leads to real deep moments of joy. It is fascinating to witness a tiny bit of other cultures. And most of all: we feel privileged to experience the beauty of our planet, but also to recognize her vulnerability…
In general, we do some very rough budgeting. Our expenses fluctuate between €25 and €60 pp/day.
TerraTrekkers – a young family, adventuring around the globe
Our family on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, Thanksgiving Day
We are Sonja and Chris from Seattle (United States) and we’re traveling south to Ushuaia with our children Ben (age 6) and Emma (age 3) in our Toyota Tundra with Four Wheel (pop-up) Camper.
We’re doing the route fairly quickly: we left home in June, and joyfully raced south to meet up with family members who flew into Southern Chile for Christmas. We’ll then spend another month exploring Patagonia before selling our vehicle and then traveling on to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe by plane.
We broke our trip into two segments: In 2016 we drove from Seattle to Prudhoe Bay (Alaska) as a ‘test trip’ to see if we could tolerate being together (in such a small space!) for extended periods of time. We loved it, although it was definitely an easier adventure as Chris originally hails from Alaska and we have family in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. This year we pointed the truck south to finish the remainder of the journey.
Chris and I have always enjoyed adventurous travel and we’d talked about a trip like this for at least the last decade. But we were always busy with work, renovating an old house, and eventually having children. One day we looked at each other and said: “Are we going to make it a reality, or should we just table the discussion for the next 25 years until careers are waning and children grown?” That pushed us into active planning and saving mode, although we didn’t depart until more than three years later.
One thing that kept us going with planning and saving was reading about the adventures of other overlanders on their blogs. We particularly loved Flightless Kiwis (From Series 1!), not only because they have the same (excellent) names as our children, but also because they’re quite witty and take amazing photographs. Desk to Glory is another favorite, written by a fantastic Canadian couple.
Our savings plan, plus the fact that we rent our house on Airbnb, are what have funded the trip (and allowed for a ‘re-entry fund’ for when we return home). For a long time, during our preparation phase, I almost didn’t believe that our plans would reach fruition. We dubbed it “GA17” (The Grand Adventure of 2017) and talked about it in secret, late at night.
In hindsight, I wish we had longer for the Americas – 8 months seems criminally short. Our favorite times of the trip have been when we’ve been able to settle down and re-establish our comfortable daily routines. In Costa Rica we rented a house and the kids attended local schools for a few weeks. They loved having other peers around, and we enjoyed having a bit of child-free time! Naturally, a trip like this is all about compromises: we don’t do as much hiking as I’d like and my son really wishes we’d visit more water parks.
We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs (the camper can feel very small with four people, particularly when it’s hot and humid!), but by far my favorite part of this trip has been watching our two children really come together as buddies and confidants; I hope it continues after we return to Seattle. We feel very lucky to have been able to embark on this adventure and look forward to seeing what’s around the next curve in the road. Happy travelling!
We bought our truck and camper in 2015 and spent a year modifying the interior to sleep our family of 4. It’s been a fantastic workhorse. Location: Hidden Flamingo Lake, Lagunas Route, Bolivia
My father (in the red shirt) and a few buddies did a similar trip in 1973 on motorcycles so we’ve enjoyed hearing his stories and following in his footsteps. Location: Huayna Picchu, Peru
Standing atop a Mayan pyramid at Caracol, Belize June 2016
Like most U.S. citizens, Mandi and I (John) were wholeheartedly committed to achieving the American Dream until a business trip in 2008 altered our course, eventually landing us on the Pan-American Highway. It is a convoluted story, much like our route, which can be tracked back to a tiny cafe in the small town of Apalachicola, Florida, just outside of our former hometown of Tallahassee. Truth be told, when we first heard of Luis and Lacey (Lost World Expedition ) and their then current drive through the Americas, we thought they were nuts. Approximately four years later, 7 since the fateful business trip, we set off on our own journey along the Pan-American Highway on the 2nd of May, 2015.
Before this trip, our travel experience was non-existent, cruises being our predominant exposure to foreign lands. While we had camped for years, starting with a ground tent and progressing through several different RVs, the idea of full-time living out of a 4×4 vehicle had never been considered. Hell, our passports didn’t even have a single stamp, yet driving through multiple continents, and personally meeting our neighbors to the south, has proved to be the proper segue to changing the way we live.
Two and a half years into our journey, we can absolutely attest that a trip such as the Pan-American Highway has an immense impact, in many ways more profound than we could have ever imagined. Our desires became evident well before the first mile was driven and evolve as we progress. At first, like so many others, we felt the need to press on and to experience as much as we could. Now we refuse to forsake a place, or moment, for the sake of another. We also avoid big cities, much like back in the U.S., realizing we have never fully felt at home in them. Maybe it’s because both of our lives began rooted in small towns, nurture proving a lasting impression deep within our psyche. The many truths and agonies that have percolated up while we have been traveling are a testament to travel itself, possibly becoming one of the greatest benefits. Bearing witness to the lives of others has shaped our world view, the kindness we have received has touched us, unimaginably so.
There have been times that had us questioning our commitment to this endeavor, breakdowns being the biggest bane to our lifestyle. Living in almost perpetual motion may not be for everyone, but for those of us who have succumbed to its embrace, it’s hard to imagine any other. Not every sunset is phenomenal, or place remarkable, and we have witnessed strife between different groups of people while simultaneously receiving the utmost of care from both of those same groups. We have grown to fully trust our instincts and are slowly getting better at accepting kindness, an unexpected struggle. When asked which our favorite place is or what our favorite experience was, we have no answer. While there are many standouts, our journey is the sum of its parts.
Looking back, we too can see how absurd it may seem to sell all of your belongings to drive from Alaska to Argentina. Our estimated travel budget of $80 per day took a lot of sacrifices over the 7 years we saved. Working two jobs, paring down to one vehicle, no television, spending almost every night in our home…the eventuality of walking away from pretty much everything we’ve ever known. It cannot be articulated, the allure of overlanding, living in a rolling 66 square foot home.
Jungle campsite in Veracruz near Lake Catemaco, Mexico March 2016
Exploring logging roads outside Valdez, Alaska August 2015
Joe and Josée playing tourists in Colombia’s picturesque small town of Barichara (July 2017)
We are Joe and Josée Parsons, retired US and Canadian couple. In 2014 we decided that life was too short and that we wanted to see the world while we were still “young” and healthy. But how, was the question! We had to find a way to travel, that we could afford and that was relatively comfortable.
It all came together when we saw a video of a German couple, who originally left on an 18 month overland trip to Africa and were still on the road 23 years later! We discovered a new word that opened the doors to a whole new world: OVERLAND. It was perfect for us.
Since Joe was already retired, Josée quit her job! We put our dream home up for sale, sold or gave away everything we owned, and registered for Overland Expo. We took a bunch of classes, met wonderful people, got inspired and confirmed that we were not crazy. Our house sold in January of 2015 and we put a deposit on our new home, a V1 XPCamper. There was no turning back!
Josée assessing the Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia, from the roof of the XPCamper, before going paragliding (June 2017)
We left Florida on May 5, 2015, in our truck; attended another Overland Expo; tent camped and stayed in Motels along the way until we picked up our XPCamper in Northern California. We have been enjoying the Camper Lifestyle ever since.
We figured that our first journey should be in our own backyard so the Pan-American Highway came as a natural choice. Not having to return, we travel very slowly with as many detours as possible, we are currently exploring Ecuador. After the Americas we will ship our rig,..
Walking tours are becoming ever more popular in cities around the world. Many of them are historic walking tours. The Medellín City Walking Tour (from Real City Tours) is also an historic walking tour – with a difference. It covers the most recent history of a city that was considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the last 2 decades of the 20th century, often at #1 on that list.
An historic walking tour with a difference, where we heard & saw a firsthand account of the trouble & violence, and the recent transformation of Medellin. (Photo shows a souvenir stall with small Botero figures.)
Our tour guide was Carolina, and she led 21 tourists (from Wales, USA, Australia, Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, France and Russia) around the sights of her city. It was an afternoon tour and it rained – a lot. But Carolina found us sheltered places as often as possible. She spent time describing the significance of the places on the route while we waited for the rain to ease.
As we left our meeting point at Alpujarra Metro station, the afternoon rain began. Carolina led us quickly to the nearby DIAN building, where we took shelter. She used this opportunity to introduce us to her Medellín. This included a brief, 400 year history lesson. She wanted to acquaint us with her people – the Paisas. She told us they are descended from people who fled from Spain: the Basque (political persecution) and Jews (religious persecution).
The group shot in Plaza de Cisneros. Notice the weather!
We then moved on to the first point of interest in the city of Medellin.
1. La Alpujarra Administrative Center
Around this the square stand state and municipal government buildings: the Governor of Antioquia’s office, the Mayor’s office (City Hall), the (new) Palace of Justice. In the centre of the square is El Monumento a La Raza (The Monument to Race); a huge statue by local sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancur, depicting the history of the state of Antioquia.
El Monumento a La Raza by local sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancur at La Alpujarra Administrative Center – first stop on our Medellin City Walking Tour.
2. Ferrocarril de Antioquia – old railway station
This was Medellín’s main railway station on the first railway in Colombia. It was originally built to carry freight, in rural areas, and to and from mines. But, when it reached the city, passengers also started to find it convenient. Once road transport became more popular, this old station lay in ruins. It is now renovated and valued as one of Medellín’s important historic sights. It has an old steam locomotive in a pleasant courtyard, with access to a choice of restaurants and cafes.
A full size steam locomotive on display at the old railway station – Ferrocarril de Antioquia – in Medellin. This was our second stop on the Historic Walking Tour.
The interior of the former Palace of Justice, now a multi-story shopping centre. From outside and in, it’s a very impressive building. Palacio Nacional – stop 5 on the Medellin City Walking Tour.
3. Parque de las Luces (The Lights Park)
Directly across the road from the old railway station, is the Plaza de Cisneros. The main market of Medellín used to be held in this plaza. Carolina explained that, after a fire, which destroyed the market hall, the area became a haunt of the homeless, criminals and drug users. It was a very unsafe area.
During the urban renewal in the early 2000s, these people were moved on and the area underwent an architectural transformation. It was believed that a change in the appearance would result in a change of attitude towards the place. And it did!
Parque de las Luces, part of the architectural transformation at Plaza de Cisneros. Our third stop on the Historic Tour of Medellin.
4. Vásquez & Carré buildings
Also in the precinct of Cisneros Plaza, these 4 story buildings were once the tallest in central Medellín. They also suffered in the fire and were occupied by the ‘low life’. They were renovated during the transformation. The Carré building was designed by the French architect Charles Émile Carré and is now the office of the Medellín Secretary of Education. The almost matching Vásquez was designed by his students.
At the end of the plaza is the Biblioteca EPM. This is not just changing the architectural landscape, but also adds an education facility – another tier to the plan for transformation of the city.
The Vásquez building on the edge of Plaza de Cisneros – once one of the tallest buildings in central Medellin.
5. Palacio Nacional
This impressive building used to be the palace of justice. It’s in the middle of the shopping area, and is now a multi-storey shopping centre selling mostly shoes and clothes. Carolina explained that this happened, against opposition, as it was a sure way to preserve the magnificent building
6. Veracruz Church
Don’t look, but…
Carolina proceeded to explain that the area around the church is rife with prostitution. After the couple take care of business in nearby pay-by-the-hour hotels, they can be seen entering the church to “wash their dirty hands”…
This church was built for foreign residents in Medellin and is the second oldest church in the city.
Iglesia de la Veracruz in Medellin – check out the ‘girls’, at the front of the church.
7. Plaza Botero
Fernando Botero is probably the best known Colombian artist and sculptor. His work is all over the country, but Medellín is his hometown.
This square – also called Plaza de Las Esculturas – has 23 Botero sculptures, all donated to the city by the artist. They are worth more than $US2milion……………each!!!
Carolina also suggested we pay attention to the parts of the bronze sculptures that are highly polished. This is where people really like to touch them. Since most of them are nudes, this is an interesting insight into human behaviour.
Botero Plaza – Botero names his pieces just as they are. This is one of of his many sculptures and paintings simply called: Man on a Horse.
Another man on a horse, this time in Parque Bolivar, the 9th point of interest on our Historic Walking Tour: Bolivar – liberator of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.
Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture, a huge backdrop to the sculpture park, was begun by Belgian architect Goovaerts. He left in frustration when people complained about the aesthetics of the building. It was completed by the locals and thus has quite a disconnected feel to the style of it. To see this you have to compare the street facing façade with the back wall, bordering Plaza Botero.
Rafael Uribe Palacio de la Cultura is on the edge of Plaza Botero, 7th point of interest on the Historic Tour of Medellin. This part is the Belgian architect’s design. When you see the whole building, the incongruity of the local government’s completion is obvious.
8. Parque de Berrio and Pedro Nel Gomez Murals
We left Plaza Botera and walked toward Parque de Berrio, following the Metro line. This took us past the mural painted by Pedro Nel Gomez (1899-1994). It is protected by glass and depicts the history and development of Antioquia.
The line is elevated and it gave us protection from the rain. Carolina took the opportunity to stop and explain more of the Paisa personality, including the way they deal with their history. She explained that they basically forget about the bad stuff and only remember the good stuff. She also spoke about the Metro; the people are very proud of it and value it highly. It is always very clean, free of garbage and graffiti.
The Metro is an important transport link in Medellin, which was built against all odds. Therefore, the citizens are proud of it and treat it with respect; you won’t find any graffiti or trash on the stations or inside the trains (unlike in other cities).
From there we could also see the Coltejer Building – tallest building in Medellin. It is sometimes nicknamed the needle, because it sort of looks like one, and because it was designed for a textile company.
Then onward to Parque de Berrio, which was the original main square of the city. It is still a favourite meeting point for locals. The oldest church of Medellín, La Candelaria, is on one side of the Park and the Metro is on the other, providing a contrast between old and new.
Down the street beside the church, you can buy any Porn you like – another case of being close enough to “wash your dirty hands”, according to our guide.
The Coltejer Building – tallest building in Medellin. It does look a little like a sewing machine needle, with the eye near the point. It is so distinctive that you can use it as a navigation point in the city.
Another Botero bronze sculpture, this time in Parque San Antonio, the final place we visited on our Medellin Walking Tour. It is aptly named Torso Masculino.
9. Parque Bolivar
There has to be one of these in most Colombian cities and this is the one in Medellin – complete with a statue of the man himself, of course.
This is a park of contradictions: on the one hand there is the obvious presence of drunks and drug addicts; on the other hand people bring their families, and the children run around freely.
At the far end of Parque Bolivar stands the large Catedral Metropolitana.
10. Parque San Antonio and Botero’s birds
The park was purpose-built in 1994, as a recreational and cultural venue. There are a number of Botero statues and an auditorium for free concerts. During an event in 1995, a bomb was placed in one of those statues – a bird – and killed 29 people when it exploded.
Carolina told us that the city’s government wanted to remove the damaged statue as quickly as possible – an example of putting the bad things behind them. Botero found out and made sure it stayed. It became a memorial to those who died in the blast. Next to it is a new sculpture of the same bird. Carolina also told us that the park is not often used now for its original purpose.
Parque San Antonio and Botero’s birds: this picture tells the sad story, that is just too common in Medellin’s recent history. This was the final stop on our Historic Walking Tour of Medellin, and a fitting summary…
We recommend a visit to the once troubled, and now transformed, city of Medellín. And, although we don’t take walking tours very often, we also recommend this historic walking tour , as well as the Comuna 13 street art tour , when you visit the city. Both provide an insight into the recent past by young people, who lived through the violent times.
Note from the photographer: most photos were taken before or after the tour. The pace of the walking tour, and the wet and dark weather, really didn’t give much opportunity to take decent photos… So don’t be surprised to see blue sky in many pictures!
Street Art Expressing Peace, Love, Transformation, Hope
In my last post, I didn’t have enough room to show all the street art photos from Comuna 13 – it simply would have made it too long. The street art in this neighbourhood expresses a number of things:
1. the desire to end the violence and oppression, which plagued the neighbourhood for so long
2. the resulting wish for a lasting peace
3. the wish of the people for a real transformation of their lives
4. and their hope for a better future
The colourful and diverse street art of Comuna 13 in Medellín expresses the dramatic change in this community toward peace, love, transformation, and hope!
My last post covered the difficult past of Comuna 13 in some depth, and its dramatic change for the better over the last few years. I strongly recommend reading the previous post (it’s a touching story) before you admire the following street art photos! My last post also puts some of the next images into a better context.
As I explained in my last post, the street art in Comuna 13 initially developed, alongside the emergence of rap and hip-hop, as an expression of a fed-up youth. They didn’t want to be silenced any longer. Nowadays, most street art in this neighbourhood is brightly coloured, hopeful, and reminds people of their roots and connection with planet earth.
One recurring motif are birds, in all shapes and techniques. The bird symbolises both freedom and a connection with nature.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
You still find many street art pieces commemorating the not so distant past – but even these display a richness in colour that expresses a sense of optimism. Many of them can be found right at the bottom of the street leading into Comuna 13. Unfortunately they are sometimes blocked by cars parked in front.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
In the meantime, a number of local street artists have made a name for themselves well beyond the borders of their home community. Throughout Comuna 13, but also elsewhere in Medellín, you will find numerous works by ‘Chota13’, an artist who stills calls this neighbourhood home.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
During our time in Medellín we took a tour of Comuna 13 with Stairway Storytellers. We were interested in visiting this neighbourhood for its famous street art. But we discovered so much more! We heard many intimate stories about Medellín’s violent past, and its current change for the better.
We took the Stairway Storytellers’ tour of Comuna 13 in Medellín to see the famous street art. We also left with our heads full of many amazing stories.
Stiven, our guide, was young, very enthusiastic, and sometimes quite intense. But we loved him and his stories! They were very personal and touching. He knew Comuna 13‘s history first hand, because he grew up in this neighbourhood and still calls it home. And he’s proud of the changes he has witnessed in his young life. It gives him reason for real optimism.
The Recent History of Comuna 13
To bring the present into context, you have to know a little about Comuna 13‘s past. It was once the second most dangerous neighbourhood in the world; certainly the most dangerous part of Medellín, which was then the most dangerous city in the world.
If you are as old as we are (even if you haven’t watched the recent TV series, ‘Narcos‘), you will probably recall the name Pablo Escobar. In the 1980s and early 90s, the recurring TV news was often about yet another car bomb or violent shoot-out in the streets of Medellín.
To understand what follows, you need to get a picture of the topography of this neighbourhood. Comuna 13 basically consists of densely built, small wooden or brick and cement structures, which appear to be stacked on top of each other. They cover several steep hills, with hardly any road access. Traffic inside the neighbourhood is mostly on foot, up and down rickety stairs and muddy paths, with a few tracks wide enough for a bicycle or small motorbike.
One of the hills in Comuna 13. You can see how tightly jammed together most houses are – no streets. Note particularly the top houses: every floor juts out further than the one below – a typical Latin American style of building.
The neighbourhood encloses part of National Route 62, one of Colombia’s major roads to the coast. Traditionally, this road has been a main smuggling route for drugs, weapons, and other illegal contraband. If you control Comuna 13, you control what’s coming in and out of Medellín along this road.
The struggle for Comuna 13 didn’t end with Escobar‘s death. Due to its strategic position, guerrillas like FARC moved in. Their presence was eliminated in 2002 with the very controversial ‘Operation Orion’, which caused hundreds of civilian casualties.
After this fight, the government forces left a power vacuum behind. Rival drug gangs and several vigilante groups fought for control. They terrorised the locals, forced them to vacate strategically important buildings and pay ‘protection money’, and – when not killing each other – killed anybody who dared to oppose them.
Stiven told us that, as a kid, he had to leave his home well before 6 o’clock in the morning to get to school – long before the night’s gunshot victims had been removed from the streets.
Stiven brought some photo prints, which show evidence of the violent past of Comuna 13 – once the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world’s most dangerous city, Medellin.
Funiculars and Escalators Bring Real Change
Finally it took one visionary politician (yes, they exist occasionally) to jump-start a real change for Medellín: Sergio Fajardo, mayor from 2003 to 2007. He initiated an impressive infrastructure program for the forgotten poorer neighbourhoods of the city, in an effort to integrate them and bring peace to the entire city.
Money was found to build schools, libraries and public health services in those parts of town which needed them the most. Medellín was the first city in Colombia to build a Metro – a public transport system. To this day, its citizens are proud of it and use it with respect and care. Finally, Comuna 13 was integrated into this transport system by extending the Metro from San Javier with a funicular, the Metrocable, going further up into the nearly inaccessible hills, and giving people easier access to the city and increased opportunities.
Stiven explained the importance of the escalators, and the changes they brought to the community. I’m not sure if I remember correctly, but I believe they cost the city of Medellin some 6 million Dollars to install, and are the only free public escalators in the world.
The part of Comuna 13, which we went through, has a row of connecting escalators built up the steep hills. These are the only free, public, community escalators in the world! Previously, people who live on top of the hills had to climb down steep and badly maintained stairways to reach the nearest bus stop, medical services, or larger (and cheaper) shops. It would have taken them up to 30 minutes down, often much longer up. All supplies into the community would have had to have been carried up the same rickety paths.
The view down onto the roofed escalators in Comuna 13, Medellin.
The Stairways Storytellers – Local Guides with Local Stories
Stiven put all these impressive changes into context. As well as explaining the meaning of particular street art pieces, he pointed out the economic changes that peace brought to many, the new small businesses, kids playing freely and happily in the streets (something he never had a chance to experience), and repeated the overall positive impression that “Change is possible”.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
One of the new businesses along the escalators in Comuna 13. Note the hard hat as a hanging flower pot. ;)
There’s at least one better way than taking a stairway to get down the steep hills.
Towards the end of the tour, he told us how he had learned English in a community school, which is financially supported by the Stairway Storytellers. It took him only a year and a half to get to where he is, and he now volunteers to teach beginner classes at the same school. It is his hope that a good knowledge of English will open up better job opportunities for the people of Comuna 13. Now people can actually go out to work and earn an honest income – the same people, who less than 10 years ago were too scared to leave their homes…
The bottom entry into Comuna 13 is full of different street art pieces. It also seems to be kind of a hang-out place; you can see everybody coming and going.
The beautification of this stairway (with holy figure) is part of a project Stairway Storytellers created and maintain as a youth project for the community.
The Street Art – Only the Most Visual Sign of Change
In the mid to late 2000s, the youth of Comuna 13 started to rebel against the never-ending cycle of violence, and to protest against how so many of their friends were turned into drug mules or drug addicts. Their initial way to express themselves was rap and hip-hop music, with lyrics expressing their daily struggle. This didn’t go down well with the controlling gangs, and many of the newly emerging rappers were quickly murdered.
The first street art slowly emerged alongside this new wave of rap music. It often depicted either the violent history, or expressions of hope. Now the street art has evolved into the most visible and colourful expression of the change, which is sweeping through Comuna 13. Some of Colombia’s best known street artists still call the neighbourhood home.
All under the slogan “Peace – Love – Transformation – Hope”.
Finally some street art! Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo.
What Inspired Them to Travel the World’s Longest Highway?
We asked “what inspired you to travel the World’s Longest Highway?” and received these inspiring stories from another 6 diverse Pan-American overlanders.
Welcome to our second post in the series, where overlanders share their stories about what inspired them to travel the Pan-American Highway. There are many reasons to take this route from Alaska to Ushuaia, and they are as varied as the people who choose to follow it.
Once again, we have a mix of ages from a young, adventurous French-Canadian woman travelling solo, to a German couple choosing to follow their dreams since their children have grown and become independent. There is also a mix of nationalities, including some ‘neighbours’ from New Zealand and a Turkish couple taking the drive on a motor bike. The group is rounded out by a US American couple who travel with Jaeger, their old Labrador, and a British couple on bikes.
We enjoyed reading their stories and we hope you do to.
The Traveling Beast – Joanie planning to take off in her Jeep, solo
Traveling solo, I had to master the art of taking selfies with a timer. This one was taken in Utah, close to Mexican Hat rock formation.
Bonjour! My name is Joanie and I’m French Canadian. My journey began with what was meant to be a weekend road trip with a friend back in 2014, but she ended up bailing on me at the last minute. Normally, I would have stayed home watching Netflix, but for some reason, something clicked in my head and I decided to go by myself instead.
I had never really done anything by myself before; I didn’t think I could or that I would enjoy it, but I had so much fun and met so many people that I decided to step it up and drive across Canada by myself, equipped only with a tent and a backpack full of camping gear. I was hooked!
This first big adventure lasted only two weeks, but learning that I could do things like that by myself really boosted my self-confidence. I could do anything I wanted to! I needed to do more so, during the next year, I went across most of the mainland United States, met so many awesome people along the way, and saw some amazing sights as well.
For a while I honestly thought that was it, but then came the idea in my mind: is it possible to drive to South America? I looked online and found that not only is there a lot of people doing that trip every year, but there is also so many communities of people traveling with their vehicle! So now my goal was clear, I bought a 2010 Jeep that I named Beauty and I modified it myself to sleep inside of it and store all my things neatly.
I’m a total nerd and had no experience at all with things like that, but it was important for me to do it myself and the overland community was a great inspiration! I am taking the winter to save some extra funds (I’m a programmer so I could work remotely along the way, but I will try to rely on my economies first), finish my preparations and I am leaving for my Pan-American solo journey in May 2018!
Picture of inside Beauty without the mattress on. For having no prior experience with power tools, I am very happy with what I managed to do!
And with the mattress on. It was important for me that it was cozy inside. I have since swapped the camping mat with a real mattress from IKEA that I cut down to size.
For now I only have Instagram , but I already registered the domain of the same name and it is one of the things I need to work on this winter.
WU-Tour – Wolfgang & Ulrike in a Sprinter
WU-tour in front of Mano del Desierto in Northern Chile. This is a popular site with overlanders, but we (dare2go) managed to miss it, even though we were in the vicinity 3 times!
We are two Germans, married for 37 years, who quit their good and fulfilling jobs to travel full time, with no time limit; just as long as we are healthy enough and we enjoy it. We just found the right space in life to do so: our parents are all dead, and our children are grown-up. When we left, our youngest was still studying (but you can calculate these costs), but now they are financially independent. Our eldest is living in our house in Germany. So we have the same address, someone trustfully looking after our property, and managing our German affairs.
Although we planned our travelling originally as a world trip, we don’t mind if this doesn’t happen. When we were young, we went backpacking to countries in Asia, South Asia and quite a few Arabic countries. Later, with the children, to most European countries, US, Canada, Iceland and Morocco with various campers. So we are not inexperienced…
Starting two years before going to South America, we began to learn Spanish intensively (definitely worth learning the language of the countries you want to understand more about), and it helps to keep our brain trained.
Moneywise we have to fill in the gap until we get our pensions – but with a bit of arithmetic that can be calculated. For us our health insurance is the most expensive part but, being German, we love to have some security…
Long-term travelling was no spontaneous idea: we have always wanted to do something like this, so we just enjoy our lives at the moment – and the advantages of internet, which makes it easy to keep in close contact with the ones you love dearly.
Wolfgang and Ulrike in the amazing landscape of Torres del Paine, in southern Chile.
WU-tour on the Salar de Uyuni, also a popular destination with overlanders.
Flightless Kiwis – back home after 3 years on the Pan-Am
For many this is the end of the road, but for us it was the beginning of a spectacular journey to the southern reaches of the continent. Ben and Emma (the Flightless Kiwis) outside the Prudhoe Bay General Store, Deadhorse, Alaska.
We are the Flightless Kiwis, Ben and Emma (two New Zealanders) and our Guatemalan street dog, Kaylee. Our Pan-Am drive was our first overland trip, but we don’t expect it to be our last.
We were sick of the 9–5 and it seemed like time to do something a bit different. Ben wanted to go on a classic cross-country US road trip, Emma wanted to visit the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. So we compromised, sold most of our possessions, and hit the road to drive from Alaska to Argentina.
It is difficult to say what the best things we experienced on the trip were. There were a lot. Like three years’ worth. The whole thing was an unforgettable experience.
We walked on glaciers, climbed volcanoes and watched them erupt. We adopted a dog, learned a new language. We saw the majesty and fury of Mother Nature at her best and worst. We explored salt flats, ancient ruins, canyons and caves. Camped in valleys, deserts, jungles, mountains and golden, sandy beaches. Swam in rivers, lakes, oceans, lagoons, thermal springs and cool, clear underground pools. Navigated winding mountain passes, miles of open highway and dusty, nameless tracks. We wandered together through wild places, huge cities and tiny villages. It was an eventful three years.
Despite all this, the things that we keep remembering are the people we met. The silly little things that happened. The food we ate, the camp spots, the hundreds of sunrises and sunsets, the dogs who befriended us…
Star trails and thunderstorms in an eerie campsite surrounded by the decaying skeletons of abandoned trains in the Bolivian Altiplano.
The worst thing we experienced? Preparing to come home, knowing that this adventure was over.
During our travels, the worst part was being away from home for the important life events of our friends and family. There were always day to day bad things that happened on our travels—it wasn’t some luxury cruise! Bad weather, nowhere to camp, medical problems, money troubles, bureaucracy. Sometimes it could be downright miserable. But facing negative experiences on our travels meant we grew and adapted and were better prepared for next time.
This trip has definitely changed our lives, for the better. We no longer feel tied to one place, to one job. We know what commodity is most important to us—our freedom.
We left home seeking a bit of a change, some adventure and excitement. Instead we found a new perspective on life, a whole community of like-minded friends, and a better understanding of who we are and what is important to us.
Relaxing after a day of island hopping in a desert ocean. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
Road Selfie driving a less common route through the Copper Canyon, Mexico. Guachochi to Batopilas. A beautiful and relatively new switchback road made for a great opportunity to capture myself with one of the most amazing Canyons in the world.
We are Amie (from Washington State) and Matt Leichtfuss (from California). The two of us met many years ago at a small surf camp in Nicaragua.
A few years later we moved together to Maui, Hawaii. We met traveling, and once we settled into our lives together, we started to talk about where and how we would travel together. We made a list of countries and talked extensively about why we wanted to go to them.
We also had Jaeger, our old Labrador, to consider. At 13 years old, we didn’t want to put him through too many stressful flights. Getting in a car and driving somewhere became the obvious means of travel for our family.
The next most important thing was to be able to surf. Then we considered expenses. With these three major considerations, we chose to drive through Mexico and Central America. We looked to books and blogs, for what others had been spending to create a budget. We saved for 3 1/2 years for the trip. When it came time to leave, we set aside 15,000 for a truck and build. With the remainder at $50 a day we figured we could travel for 2 years. We spent way less on our vehicle, leaving us a cushion. After 506 days on the road, we stayed mostly on budget.
Waterfall in the Parque Natural Mexiquillo off Hwy 40, otherwise known as route 666, the devil’s backbone. This place is more of an OHV area for local Mexicans from Durango and Mazatlan. We had fun driving around and enjoying the beautiful rock formations, canyon vistas and this waterfall.
Neither of us had ever “overlanded” before, although both of us had done car camping road trips. While researching for our big trip, we learned the term that apparently the rest of the world had been using for this type of travel: OVERLANDING. Learning that one identifying word was very helpful in the planning process, and solved some problems we were having finding good information about the trip.
We are now completely addicted to this way of traveling. We chose to overland in a 4×4 Toyota pickup truck and built a camper on the back. We sleep inside with our 6 surfboards strapped above our heads and all our gear below, and we have been able to go everywhere we desired. We explored far off the beaten path for waves and waterfalls.
Long-term overlanding is not without its problems. When we got started, without us knowing, our brand new AGM solar battery was sulfated. Since we set up our solar ourselves and had never done it before, we spent the first two months very confused and frustrated, traveling around with a faulty system we had spent lots of money to set up. That was definitely the worst thing that happened to us, as it negatively impacted us daily for months.
When we started on this trip we thought we would buy property in Central America, maybe start a business in some surf town we fell in love with, but we became hooked on seeing all the beaches and mountains. We realized that we would maybe never find a forever spot. Along the road, we have decided to continue overlanding. We almost went to South America, since that’s what everyone else was doing. It sounded so attractive to just keep going. But ultimately, we did not build our rig for the cold temperatures that we would have experienced. We decided to return to California to work and save again, while building a global overland rig from the things we learned about traveling this way, and our needs.
Also in Parque Natural Meiquillo. We camped on a small lake. The lights in the background are the local off-road clubs driving around all night in an otherwise quiet and tranquil spot – unless you happen to visit on a weekend like we did.
Kelvin and I up in the mountains, admiring the clouds from above and frequently greeted by inquisitive Llamas, on route to El Corazon in central Ecuador, after visiting Cotopaxi, Chimborazo and Quilotoa lake. A week of neverending natural beauty.
We are Kelvin and Suzie, from Bristol in the UK, who set out on our motorcycles (two 1996 Suzuki DR650’s) from Bogota, Colombia in April 2017, having flown them from London.
Before this trip, we had only ever accomplished several two-week trips in Europe on our sports bikes. We fell in love with travelling and decided to trade our speed demons in (Honda CBR1000RR and Suzuki GSX-R 750) for our DR650’s.
We had talked about doing a ‘big’ trip for a while but hadn’t planned anything. Then, one evening in 2016, while eating an Indian takeaway and drinking vodka with our friend Fran, she asked, “so when are you two going to go travelling on your bikes”? Even though we knew we’d do it in a couple of years, something about being asked that just sparked off the desire to go sooner.
I booked us tickets to the ‘Adventure Travel Show’ in London, plus entry to the Adventure Motorcycle Travel seminar. It was sitting in that room that we decided on South America for our first big trip, primarily due to ease of visas. We then booked to go to the HUBB UK meeting in June 2016 and the Overland Event in August 2016, all of which fuelled our desire to get going. As soon as we got back from the Overland event we booked our flights to Bogota, Colombia for the 10th of April 2017…no backing out now.
So far, the best things about our trip have been the people of Colombia and Ecuador, and the friends we’ve made along the way. We have been fortunate that nothing really bad has happened. There’s been a few breakdowns, me getting thrown off my bike into a ditch (a little scary but nothing broken) and bad cheese! Oh what I would do for a good old cheese platter and some Jacob’s crackers!
So, how has our trip influenced our lives? When we do get home we’ll probably throw away a lot of needless..
We asked fellow international overlanders “What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?” We are pleased to share the first 6 fascinating stories.
We’ve been asked this question many times on our travels. Our original inspiration was to see the Americas, slowly and completely, rather than on a series of short holidays. Flights from Australia are expensive and you can’t see much in 4-6 weeks. We discovered it gave us so much more than that. It gave us a new way of life. So we’ve asked fellow overlanders tell us: What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
They were asked to consider various questions including the impact it has on their lives – present and future. For us, this is the most significant consequence of living the life we do. During our first trip from Alaska to Patagonia , we found that life feels like it passes more slowly. Somehow, when you are out of a routine and making many different memories every day, a month can feel like a year. You don’t hear us say: Wow, this year went really fast!
We also discovered that it was financially expedient; we can live on much less on the road than we can in our home country. One of the reasons for returning to South America for a second time was that we had reached an age where jobs are hard to come by in Australia and the cost of living had significantly increased. So, while we travel on our savings, we can stretch them much further.
So, let’s hear what inspired these overlanders to travel the Pan-American Highway.
For No Particular Reason – Mia & Axel Ripping South
On a fateful day in May 2016, my brother Axel and I were about to part ways for ‘who knows how long’, after unsuccessfully breaking my mini pickup truck out of the gated mechanics, when a stranger came along and unknowingly changed the course of both of our lives forever.
After an awesome visit from Axel up on the farm I was crewing in Washington, it was time for him to head back to his truck in Portland and onto his then home in Gunnison, Colorado. I had offered to give him and his motorcycle a ride back down south if I could get my truck out of the locked and gated mechanics. So, we hopped on our bikes and ripped over to the shop to see what could be done. After a good half hour of scheming we had come to the conclusion that my truck was not going anywhere. Just as Ax was about to jump on his bike and peel out for good, a random guy showed up and OPENED THE FREAKING GATE.
It was on this ride from nowhere Washington to Portland, Oregon that we hatched a contender for the simplest plan in the history of simple plans: to ride our dirt bikes south as far as we could go.
Growing up primarily riding track and trails, we had very little experience on the road, but ever since I can remember it’s been a dream to rip south on two wheels. Back in the 90s our folks took me (the oldest) and my 3 other siblings on a long road trip from Colorado, where we grew up, through Mexico, Guatemala and into Honduras. My brother Axel, who is a decade younger than me, was still in diapers, so I’m sure he remembers nothing whereas I got a nice taste for the possibilities.
On January 21st 2017, we set out on 2 Honda XR dirt bikes into Baja without the slightest clue what overlanding was all about. I have to say, it went better than I could have dreamed. I don’t think I’ll ever travel any other way.
We have had all sorts of ups and downs including some good crashes, lots of break-downs and a few painful ‘food incidents’. But the downer that takes the cake for longest span of low morale was forgetting to stamp our TIPs when crossing the border into Mexico, and attempting to lie to the immigration officers down in La Paz. I wrote a nice long post about how stupid we were. Basically, we were almost deported.
The best parts, which completely overwhelm any and all downers, are thanks to the kind and generous people who have turned up like angels and Fairy-God…Mechanics, just when we needed them. Did I mention the mechanics? So many times we have been in a compromising situation, completely screwed with literally no way forward and, without fail, we are always rescued by selfless, benevolent human beings. It is amazing.
As we continue to head south from Ecuador on our way to the end of the world, trying our darndest to stay off the highways, I truly look forward to breaking more shit on my motorcycle and forming long-lasting friendships with the awesome people who will no doubt save our day.
René from thedriveabout camping in Southern BC, Canada, in late September. I have spent almost two months in Canada, mostly in the Yukon, BC and Alberta. I liked a lot the Arctic Region, which I have visited in late summer. I would like to visit in winter as well, when everything is white and icy.
I’m René, 40 years old from Italy, where I have lived most of my life. But, more than Italian, I consider myself European, since both of my parents are foreigners (Swiss and Dutch).
I am travelling solo in my 4×4 from Alaska to Patagonia. I started the trip in June 2016 in Seattle; went up to Alaska and now I am in Ecuador, very close to the Peruvian border.
I travel in a Toyota Landcruiser HZJ76 that I shipped from Italy to Tacoma (US West Coast). It is not my first time on a big trip (I have been backpacking in Asia and Australia for 2 years in 2007-2009) but it is the first time that I am overlanding.
At first, when planning the trip, the biggest concern was bureaucracy (border crossings, import permits and car insurance); but once on the road I found out that bureaucracy was not a big issue, at least on this side of the world!
I am a travel addict and I find that overlanding, be it on a bicycle or a bike, in a car or a truck, gives you a huge freedom; something that I had not experienced when I was backpacking. It’s great to be able to go almost anywhere there is a road, to stop for pictures or for a cool overnight camp spot.
North, Central and South-America are new territories for me and that’s why I have decided to travel in this region. So far it has been fantastic. I love the great outdoors and, because of that, my highlights so far have been the Arctic region and the Western part of the US. Now I am looking forward for some great hiking in Perú.
René from thedriveabout: Along the Shafer Road in the Canyonlands NP, Utah. Shafer Road is probably one of the most scenic drives so far. Truly dramatic landscapes. Utah is THE place to go for serious offroading.
When you travel, every day is different; it is a new experience, and this is what it makes special to me. I hate routine. Going back to “normal” life will be difficult, I already know, but at the moment I am not thinking too much about it. I live in the present and try to enjoy every single day as much as possible.
To finance the trip I am using my savings. I have decided to focus on travel and see as many things as possible. I consider this trip a unique opportunity in my life and I want to take full advantage of it.
I have been travelling for 1 year and 5 months so far and I expect to be on the road for another 8 to 10 months. I have just started South America!
René from thedriveabout: On the beach in Baja California, not so far away from Cabo San Lucas. Baja is a natural paradise. I can recommend the area near Loreto for fantastic sea-kayaking, while Playa Tecolote is an excellent beach and Overlander meeting point.
Tucks’ Truck: one of our best days ever… standing with penguins at British Base Port Lockroy on the stunning Antarctic peninsula.
Hi. We’re Marcus and Julie Tuck, some of the very few Brits on the road in South America. Can’t understand why more Brits don’t come to this fabulous overlanders’ continent! After touring Africa and Europe, we spent 5 weeks at sea, sailing on a freight-ship with our trusty truck Cuthbert to Montevideo. Over two years in South America and many adventures later, we’re about to ship to Panama for the next phase: Central America. Curious?
Here’s our FAQs:
Why do we do this? Because life’s too short not to. Because no one ever looked back on their life and wished they’d spent more time at work.
Is it stress-free? What’s to stress about? Should we drive today… or stay put? Okay… if we’re honest… there’s occasionally the odd mega-stress scenario, e.g. our ‘worst moment’ below, something to look back and laugh at, (much) later down the road?
But isn’t it dangerous? No more dangerous than life anywhere else in the world. Just use your nog. Don’t do silly stuff. Enjoy.
Best moment so far? Hmmm… so many to choose from… sitting with mountain gorillas in Rwanda… wandering amongst penguins in Antarctica… watching giant 2 metre wide leatherback turtles laying eggs on the beach in French Guiana… swimming with pink river dolphins in the Amazon… showing the jungle kids in Suriname their first drone flight.
Worst moment? Sinking Cuthbert into a swamp on a beach of volcanic ash in Chile, when the tide was coming in! Or maybe sitting-out a severe tropical storm in Africa, watching buildings disintegrate around us with rooves blowing away and Cuthbert rocking violently in the gale-force winds.
Tucks’ Truck: One of our not-so-great-days – getting stuck on a volcanic ash beach near Chaiten in south Chile, with the tide coming in. A nearby old tree-root proved just about strong enough as an anchor to winch Cuthbert out to safety!
How do you afford it? Work hard. Save. Choose your vehicle carefully. Travel to affordable places. And the biggie…. travel slowly, don’t drive too far each day (fuel is the biggest budget drain).
Tucks’ Truck: One of our best ever wild-camp spots – a drone’s eye view of us with Cuthbert overlooking the Barichara valley in central Colombia.
Boots and Coffee – Retired US Couple Heading to Panama
Sharon and Roque from Boots and Coffee: driving your own vehicle means that you can take your time and explore sights at your own leisure.
We are Sharon Benzil and Roque Gerald who, together with Gertie and Wolfie (our rig) are BootsandCoffee.com. We are a retired, married couple, who started our first overland adventure – our Pan-American journey – 10 months (and 40,000+ miles) ago in Washington, DC with Panama, Central America as our first “goal” destination.
Roque and I found each other relatively late in life, having been married and had children before meeting each other. Because we found the true loves of our lives recently, and due to significant personal challenges (including surviving colon cancer and losing our 18 year old daughter), we have strived to celebrate each other and each day to the extent we can.
Inspired by Roque’s father, who always wished to drive from Panama to Alaska (but who made it only to NY for the 1964 World’s Fair) and by an Argentine family who traveled to visit the Pope in Philadelphia several years ago, we decided to explore the possibility of driving to Panama, where we believe we may settle in retirement. As we began to explore the feasibility of this kind of road trip, we learned of the many others who overland on the Pan American Highway (and elsewhere) and our eyes were opened to the world of overlanding travel.
Boots and Coffee: driftwood frames a sunset at the Pacific Ocean – one of those overlanding moments to enjoy.
We are an inter-racial, inter-ethnic and inter-religious couple who are somewhat older than many of the “typical” Pan American highway travelers. We believe that a road trip of this sort is an extraordinary opportunity to experience local cultures and people along our way and that this trip needed to be done while we still had the stamina and physical health needed to drive long distances and survive and thrive in less-than-perfect circumstances. We also believed that this trip would bring purpose to our lives and allow for a transition into our retirement lifestyle and income, opening our eyes to new experiences and new possibilities. It has been a way to sleep with 360 degree views of glaciers and 24 hour sunlight north of the Arctic Circle. It is a way to change our backyard anytime we choose!
Most of our research on overland travel was based in the blogs of Pan American highway travelers. Because we represent a slightly different type of traveler than most overlanders on the Pan American Highway, we pledged to “pay it forward” by starting a blog of our own. Our blog is focused on our reflections as we travel and not on the “day to day” experiences – we use FB for those sorts of posts. It is our hope that readers of our blog will imagine their own possibilities for exploration, whether on a road trip, another country or just the town next door.
Boots and Coffee: another amazing sight off the beaten track.
Pilar and Jorge from Elantitours in Italy – before they decided to overland the Americas.
We are Pilar (29) and Jorge (35), an Argentinian couple from a small town about 200 km from Buenos Aires called General Belgrano. Pilar is an English-Spanish translator and Jorge is a lawyer.
Back home we were living quiet lives, but getting increasingly tired of just working to pay the bills. Then, in 2015, tragedy struck when Jorge’s father passed away. That sudden change in his life, along with us having become more and more unsatisfied with our professional lives, helped us make the decision to leave Argentina and go to Europe.
We didn’t have much of a plan, we just landed in Rome (we both have Italian passports as well) and spent a couple of weeks sightseeing. One thing led to the other and what was supposed to be a short getaway trip ended up being a 1-year adventure around Europe. We volunteered on farms, housesat in dozens of homes, met amazing people and saw beautiful cities all around the continent.
When we were visiting my cousin in the UK we..
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