10 Years on the Road: 183,000 Miles Backward?

Monday marks the 10 year anniversary of our road trip through North, Central, and South America. That’s 3,653 days of full-time travel in the Americas. It’s been a great decade full of the kinds of ups and downs that come with life on the road. We mean that literally and figurative. A couple of weeks ago we reached our highest point on the road so far at 15,916 feet (4,851 meters) on the drive from the Paso de Jama border crossing from Argentina into Chile. After around 183,000 miles (28,000 km) we’re getting pretty good at this and we’re looking forward to many, many more years on the road as we continue south to Tierra del Fuego, then back up again. However, in one important way we fear we’re going backward.

Crossing Paso de Jama Aregentina to Chile

A couple of weeks ago we crossed from Argentina into Chile and headed to the highest point on the road (so far).

The main goal of the Trans-Americas Journey is to take our careers as travel journalists on the road to be better at our jobs and better at life. But our little road trip has always had a trickier subtext.

Here’s what happened

On September 10, 2001 we were focused on building a long-term working trip through Africa. Then the attacks of September 11 happened. We lived three blocks from the Twin Towers and when then President George W. Bush stood on a pile of debris in our backyard, picked up a megaphone, and vowed to get “them” it struck us as blindly jingoistic and dangerous.

Somehow “they” were going to get “us” if “we” didn’t get “them” first. Those vague divisions only got more pronounced: if you weren’t with us you were against us and that went for anyone outside or inside the US. Red states and blue states weren’t far behind.

We realized that we didn’t understand our own country and questioned why we’d spent so many years traveling so far from home. We put our Africa plans on the shelf for another day and decided to focus on the US and her neighbors instead. The Trans-Americas Journey was born. Feel free to read more about how the attacks of September 11 inspired our Trans-Americas Journey.

Bald Eagle flying

We’ve come close to losing this iconic symbol of US freedom once before.

Many Americas & many Americans

Even as we were laying the considerable ground work needed to create a working road trip through the Americas, we had a larger goal in mind: to look at what it means to be good global neighbors as the United States of America seemed to be getting more and more isolationist. Who is “us”? Who is “them”? And what about a more global or even regional concept of “we”?

After all, everyone from North, Central, and South America is American, not just those of us from the United States. There are many Americas and many Americans and there’s strength in that. The ‘S’ after the word America in the name of our project? That’s not a typo.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

If this wall could talk…

People born in Canada are American. People born in Chile are American. People born in Uruguay are American. People born in Peru are American. People born in Guatemala are American. People born in Mexico are American.

We believe that understanding that small detail creates a crucial shift in perspective which turns the idea of “us and them” into the much more beneficial idea of “we.” Anyone who’s traveled knows this already because many of the most fundamentally good elements of travel come from the fact that it’s an act of being together, not apart.

On the road through three Presidents

We spent the first 2.5 years of our Trans-Americas Journey road trip primarily in the US where George W. Bush was in his second term. Slowly, tentatively US citizens were coming to terms with new fears about domestic terrorism (fears much of the rest of the world had been grappling with for years).

Some people we met were becoming more and more insular. Others, however, believed that disengaging from the world or going to war with it weren’t the only options, or even the best ones. Those people wanted a middle ground where they could have security without fearing everything and everyone around them.

Airstream Mount Ranier National Park

We listened to the historic nomination of Barrack Obama as the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2008 in this Airstream in this campsite in this US national park.

We listened to the 2008 Democratic National Convention on satellite radio in an Airstream in a campsite in Mount Rainier National Park. By the time we’d crossed south into Mexico President Barrack Obama was well into his first term and we felt that the search for middle ground was growing in the US, like a pendulum becoming less and less polarized as it slows down and lingers in the mid-swing.

During Obama’s second term, our road trip moved further south through Central America and we traveled with a feeling that, despite clear and present problems, the world was predominantly on the right track. The pendulum was still slowing and finding its sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

The pendulum swings

We followed the most recent US Presidential election cycle on TVs throughout South America. We voted at the US embassy in Brasilia. We watched the results come in at our friend Mauro’s apartment in Sao Paulo. Now, rather than settling down to find middle ground, the pendulum of “us and them” in the US seems to be swinging more wildly than ever.

Absentee ballots Brasilia, Brazil

Our 2016 Presidential election ballots being dropped off at the US embassy in Brasilia, Brazil.

The blind, jingoistic rhetoric of “we” better get “them” before “they” get “us” is back and it’s louder than ever. It also now applies to more than just suspected terrorists and comes with a fresh coat of racism put on with a very wide brush.

Because of our 10 years anniversary, journalists have been asking us a lot of questions including questions about what we’ve learned in all that time on the road. That one always stumps us. However, one thing we’ve learned is that we all need “we” and we’re all better together than we are when we’re divided.

Also, we’ve still got a long, long way to go.

Revisit our 5 Year Road-a-versary

Revisit our 9 Year Road-a-versay

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Where We’ve Been: February 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Argentina

We started February in the northern Argentinean city of Salta and ended the month in the tiny village of Iruya, tucked deep in the Quebrada Humahuaca valley near the Bolivian border. In between we drove 1,822 miles, including a 554 mile loop through a remote section of Argentina’s Puna de Atacama region which was one of the greatest driving routes of our South American road trip so far. Let’s recap, including drive-lapse video at the end of the post which will let you see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck as we traveled (minus the bumps and dust).

Lugana Grande El Penon Argentina Puna

Where we’ve been in January 2017 in Argentina

From Salta, Argentina we returned to Cafayate and the Calchaquí Valley, including a return to the spectacular Quebrada de las Flechas near Cafayate to fly the drone. Then we continued south down Argentina’s famed Ruta 40 to Tafi del Valle, stopping at the pre-Colombian archaeological site of Quilmes along the way. Our February 2017 road trip driving route map is below.

Then we began what turned out to be the most beautiful and remote driving adventure we’ve had since we drove the Dalton Highway (Haul Road) in Alaska from Fairbanks up to the Arctic during the first few months of our Journey nearly 10 years ago.

Salar Vicuna Argentine Puna de Atacama

The loop we did through Argentina’s high-altitude Puna de Atacama was breathtaking both in terms of the scenery and in terms of actual breathing–the air is thin at a consistent altitude between 12,000 and 15,600 feet. We saw very, very few humans in this remote and largely uninhabited region, but there were thousands of vicuña (one is pictured above), thousands of flamingos, and many, many volcanoes to keep us company.

drive Salar del diablo Tolar Grande Argenina

Such beauty came at a price, however, namely hundreds of miles on rough 4×4 tracks that were, at times, a brutal combination of washboarding, ruts, and rocks. Our truck took a beating, including a large and unfixable flat courtesy of a rock we drove over while crossing one of the area’s vast salars (salt flats).

Puna de Atacama Drive

You can follow our Puna road trip driving route on the map at the top of this post–begin at the green star and head up to the red square, passing through El Peñón, Laguna Grande, the Piedra Pomez pumice fields, Antafagasto, Antafalla, Cono Arita (pictured below), and Tolar Grande before ending in San Antonio de Cobres.

Cono Arita Salar de Arizaro Tolar Grande ArgentinaAfter wrapping up our Puna adventure we returned to Salta and then headed to the very northern tip of Argentina to visit the Quebrada de Huamahuaca canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we ended the month in the tiny village of Iruya.

See what we saw out there on the road in Argentina in February 2017 vai our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

 

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Travel Guide to the Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

During our time in Colombia we made a point of traveling to as many of the colonial towns on the country’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio as we could. In the end, we explored 13 of the 17 towns currently on the list. Here’s why you should too.

The Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

The Colombian government operates a program called Pueblos Patrimonio which recognizes towns in the country which retain a remarkable amount of Colonial architecture, living history, and thriving traditions. Here’s a travel snapshot of the 13 Pueblos Patrimonio in Colombia that we visited.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Layva Colombia Pueblo Patrimonio

Close to Bogotá, this extremely popular pueblo deserves more than just a day trip.

 

Santa Cruz de Mompox

Iglesia de la Concepcion - Mompox, Colombia

Time stands still, history is alive and an important part of the essence of Colombia is at hand in Mompox (sometimes called Mompos). This riverside stunner is getting easier and easier to reach, so no more excuses.

 

Barrichara

Barichara Colombia

Our choice for most beautiful Colonial town in Colombia. Hands down.

 

Honda

street Honda, Colombia

Honda did not make a good first impression, but we warmed up (a lot) to a great boutique hotel and meaty alfresco dining in this steamy town.

 

Aguadas

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

We spent  just a few hours in Aguadas, but that was enough to get an impressive look at the town’s hat-making heritage and get some video of the artists at work (below).

 

Santa fe de Antioquia

Parque Principal Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

A creative vibe and a legit place in Colombian history make Santa fe de Antioquia a top day trip choice from Medellin.

 

Salamina

Salamina Colombia

The weirdest breakfast and tallest palms in Colombia can be enjoyed in and around Salamina.

 

Jardin

Plaza Jardin Colombia

Outdoor adventure and one of the most charming plazas in Colombia await in Jardin.

 

Guadalajara de Buga

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Buga, as it’s usually called, is home of a miracle which pilgrims still come to celebrate. It’s also home to Colombia’s only Bed & Beer hostel with it’s own microbrewery.

 

San Juan Girón

Colonial Giron Colombia

Called the “white city” because of the amount of whitewashed Colonial buildings, Girón offers good food and a charming little hotel as well.

 

Jerico

Jerico, Colombia

Colombia’s first saint and its beloved traditional man bag are both from Jerico. And that’s not all.

 

Guaduas

Guadas, Colom,bia Peublo Patrimonial

We did not spend the night in Guaduas, but we did tour through long enough to appreciate the town’s picturesque church and time-worn cobblestone square.

 

Monguí

Mongui Colombia Pueblo Patrimonial

Altitude, Andes, and a whole lot of soccer balls–all in little Monguí.

 

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Come for the Crucifix, Stay for the Craft Beer – Buga, Colombia

There are two miraculous reasons to travel to Guadalajara de Buga. One involves a crucifix. The other involves craft beer.

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Mmmmm…..craft beer.

The miraculous crucifix of Buga

Guadalajara de Buga (usually simply called Buga) is just 45 miles (70 km) from Cali, but the tranquility of this colonial town, whose architecture and living tradition earned it a place on Colombia’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio, makes Buga feel a world away from the big city.

Founded in 1555, Buga is one of the oldest cities in Colombia and its main claim to fame is a story that’s nearly as old. As the legend goes, an indigenous washer woman was trying to save money to buy a crucifix. She finally washed enough clothes in the local river to save the money needed to buy a simple crucifix. However, as she was on her way to make the purchase she saw a neighbor being hauled off to jail because of unpaid debts.

Instead of buying the crucifix, the woman paid off her neighbor’s debts. When she returned to work in the river she noticed something shiny in the water and discovered  a small crucifix floating by. She grabbed it and brought it home where the crucifix continued to grow and grow.

Today, the legend of the indigenous washer woman and her miraculously growing crucifix is marked by The Lord of the Miracles, a distinct dark-skinned Christ on the cross, which is housed in the Basilica del Senor de los Milagros in Buga. Every year millions of pilgrims visit the pink church.

The miraculous craft beer of Buga

If you worship at the house of hops, you’re in luck as well.

Stefan Schnur Buga microbrewery & hostal

Brew master Stefan Schnur with some of his Holy Water Ale beers made in Buga, Colombia.

When German Stefan Schnur arrived in Buga he did not intend to create the only bed & beer hostel in Colombia, but that’s what he did when he opened the Buga Hostel in 2011.

The hostel is affordable with standard hostel accommodation. The Holy Water Ale brew pub and cafe attached to the hostel, however, is a craft beer miracle with nine different beers brewed by Stefan at a small, nearby brewery. There’s also an inventive menu including homemade bread and legit pizzas with locally made sausage and other great toppings on homemade crust. Don’t miss happy hour.

Holy Water Ale brew pub - Buga, Colombia

The Holy Water brew pub, part of the Buga Hostel in Colombia.

 

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