A wise person once said:
When you’re young you have the energy and time to travel, but not the money.
When you’re an adult you have the energy and money to travel, but not the time.
When you’re old you have the money and time to travel, but not the energy.
This was such a true and depressing statement and neither was satisfactory.
Our world revolved around work, work, work and we felt as though our best years were slipping away. The so-called rat-race is an accurate description of life in the United States. The “system” is so well structured that you cannot live there and not be a part of it. We felt as if we were at a crossroad. Clearly a decision had to be made.
Life is about creating experiences and endeavors in one’s life. It’s about climbing and falling. It’s about discovering oneself. It’s about learning your weaknesses and strengths. It’s about creating memories. Most importantly, it’s about living your life to the fullest. All our tangible items and monetary resources weren’t providing us the one thing we yearned for, something that was priceless and the one thing that would make our lives meaningful, which was happiness.
So, we made a game plan, calculated a budget and stuck to it for 7 years. During these years we saved everything we had; no dining out, no entertainment, nothing that involved spending. We needed to purchase a good truck, have funds to cover our travel expenses and funds to support us until we got settled in X country. We had traveled to various countries in Latin America and could see ourselves living that lifestyle.
For two years we researched the route that would take us on this Adventure. This entailed an extensive investigation on the safest border crossing from the US into Mexico. In our opinion, this would be the most important and crucial decision to start our journey into the Americas. This would be uncharted territory for us; the unknown and somewhat unprotected, so we felt like we needed to get it right in order to enjoy entry into Latin America.
We contacted truckers who transported goods between these two countries and spoke to them directly regarding road/highway conditions. We looked into different border crossings and gaged distance, time and lodging accommodations. We joined the Expat Forum for Mexico and spoke with several foreigners using different routes to cross between borders. We spoke to others who had done similar adventurous drives and after gathering all this information we finally concluded which border crossing would be the best suited for us, Eagle Pass, Texas – Piedras Negras, Mexico. We said our prayers and off we went.
We researched towns (2 hrs. of distance between each other) within the countries that we would be driving through and contacted hotels to determine who was pet friendly. We had decided that camping was only a last resort option, since safety was always a priority on our list. Other road rules that we followed were to not drive past 6 p.m., always have the gas tank at least half way full, check the tire pressure, stay in well lit areas, and be rested. We ordered roadmaps of each country, because GPS is just not reliable for long distance road trips in Latin America. We purchased a GPS Tracking Device (works with satellite). This handheld device would send our coordinates with just a press of a button to individuals we had listed. It did not require internet or landline service, it just works with satellite. This gadget was the best safety investment we made. For the majority of our trip we were in the middle of nowhere and this tracker kept our relatives informed of our exact location every day, without needing for us to call. This tracker also has an emergency button, which is connected to Interpol. If something were to happen, an alert would be sent out to Interpol and the local authorities with our coordinates. If you’re a traveler – this is something you should have.
Traveling with Pets.
Our boys, Willie & Teppo required a LOT of “proper documentation” for them to travel with us. We contacted each country and obtained a list of requirements needed to be presented at each border crossing in order for them to be allowed entry. Their file alone was a binder thick, ranging from history records to vaccination certifications from the Department of Agriculture. We created a file for each country to avoid any set backs during border crossings. This actually paid off and having done this beforehand really saved us time and hassle.
As we all know, you can plan as much as you want, but sometimes things just don’t turn out that way. We experienced this during our border crossing from Mexico into Guatemala. As in every terrestrial crossing, you need to exchange your currency to the local currency as quickly as possible, so we did this on the Mexican side, exchanging our Mexican Pesos for Guatemalan Quetzals. While entering into Guatemala, we were detained and refused entry into the country, because to our surprise we didn’t have an Entry Stamp from Mexico when we entered through Piedras Negras. We then realized all the officials were too occupied in searching our belongings and our passports became an afterthought. The search included taking everything out of our truck, inspecting each item and bringing in sniff dogs. The lack of the stamp was a clear oversight on everyone’s behalf, including ourselves. During the inspection process we were both so tense and stressed because we didn’t want to spend the night at that border town (something highly recommended to avoid) and the entire process was taking so long, so naturally we didn’t even think to look at our passports. During the inspection the Mexican officials had our passports in their possession, so we assumed they had gotten stamped. After pleading to Mexican officials in the Guatemalan border, they finally agreed to stamp our passports with entry and exit – with a processing fee to be paid in Mexican pesos, which we no longer had in our possession. The “money changers” had already left so, for the first time we begged other travelers who were kind enough to contribute with the little money they had and helped us reach the fee we needed to pay in order to get out of Mexico. Needless to say, it was a lesson learned.
We finally reached El Salvador, the birthplace of Cristabel. We stayed there for 7 months with the intent to ease into Latin American living. El Salvador is our second home; the genuinely nice people and the untouched tourist-free countryside made it a hidden gem for us. It’s beautiful to stumble into these small towns scattered around the country and see regular daily living without the contamination of modern influence. During our stay, Dave spent his time learning the traditional Central American dishes and learned about the various ingredients. Being a volcanic and tropical country, El Salvador produces a variety of rare fruits and vegetables.
"we only had two weeks to RESEARCH our route from el salvador to argentina"
While living in El Salvador, we stumbled across an interesting and tempting ad published, of all places, on Craigslist! The ad was placed by an Englishman who was looking for a couple to manage his Estancia in the countryside of Argentina. Someone with experience in the hospitality industry to fulfill and provide cuisine for guests from all over the world. The other, to handle the administrative duties, logistics and accounting of the Estancia. We had visited Argentina a few years prior and had fallen in love with the diversity of the country; it has an abundance of beauty in each different province. We had agreed if we ever had the opportunity to live in Argentina we would jump at that chance. So, with Dave’s international culinary background and Cris’ bilingual and administrative skills, we were everything the owner needed for this position! But he needed us right away. Having a job, a truck, and the desire to fulfill our dream of driving through the Americas we didn’t hesitate to continue this road trip. We only had two weeks to research our route from El Salvador to Argentina. The Pan-American Highway seemed the best and fastest route through the majority of the countries.
The biggest obstacle standing in our way of driving from Central America to South America was The Darien Gap. The Darien is an impassable untouched dense jungle that lies between Panama and Colombia. It is home to an indigenous tribe, a precious wonder for research scientists, an ideal camouflaged location for smuggling drugs and an attraction for adventurous on-foot travelers. The Pan-American Highway pretty much ends shortly after Panama City and your only option of reaching South America is by air or ocean.
With no other choice, we shipped our truck from Panama City to Cartagena. Willie & Teppo flew with us and our belongings went on a cargo plane to Cartagena. Once we received our truck, the road-trip was back in full gear again.
Each country was completely different, breathtaking views, bountiful culture, magnificent cuisine, architecture and customs. The drive through the lush tropical regions in Colombia, the Andean Highlands of Ecuador, around fishing villages in Peru, through the Atacama Desert in Chile and finally crossing over to Argentina made the experience unforgettable, humbling and fulfilling. Whether it was being invited into a random local’s house in Colombia, driving through the clouds on winding roads in the Andes mountains in Ecuador, savoring the best seafood from Peru, seeing mirages in Chile or entering the Argentinean border nestled between snow covered majestic mountains giving the impression that we were in Switzerland, all these and many more unbelievable moments are now embedded in us. It was more than we ever hoped to experience. It has now become a very important chapter in our lives.
13 Fronteras is more than a journey.
It represents a decision to see the world, to be open to a different perspective in life – your life. To take a leap and throw yourself to the world. To embrace uncertainties and stray away from your comfort zone. Find enlightenment and take the opportunity to truly learn about yourself; you will be amazed to discover your hidden talents. It’s never too late to be free-spirited and just try something completely different. It’s your life and only you have the ability to change the path it’s on. Never stop pursuing happiness.