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  1. Quick facts
  • Total days on the road: 586
  • Currently in: USA
  • Miles Driven: 36821
  • Countries Visited: 17
  • Days Camping: 389
  • Days Indoors: 202

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Looking Back at One Year on the Road

Written by Jared on October 4, 2012

Us at Machu Picchu.

Hard to believe it's been 365 days since we left home in Seattle. In a few short days we'll be crossing into Bolivia, our 13th country, after 19,000 miles on the road. Here's a recap of some our highlights, hi-jinks, hilarious encounters and generally horrible experiences.

Looking Back, We...

    • Survived two earthquakes, a volcanic eruption, a water spout, torrential thunderstorms, a hail storm and an overnight downpour of monkey poo.
    • Drove from 282 feet below sea level to 14,992 feet above sea level and everywhere in between.
    • Spent 219 out of 365 nights sleeping in a tent. Including: one tent replacement, 35 feet of seam sealer, nine tent patches, a bath in mold cleaner, gallons of dog pee, and a new set of tent poles after a mushroom-intoxicated Colombian failed to judge his ability to dive for a volleyball.
  • Drove over 19,000 miles with only having to replace two rear axle seals and one wheel bearing that fell victim to an overzealous sledge-hammer and chisel-wielding Guatemalan "mechanic".
  • Learned where sugar, coffee, chocolate and bananas come from. And why they're delicious.
  • Met and made friends with over fifty other overlanders from the US, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, South Africa, England, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and a few countries that may not actually exist.
  • Camped in jungles, deserts, mountains, farms, restaurant parking lots, nature reserves, hotel courtyards, on the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, next to rivers, streams, lakes and mosquito-infested swamps.
  • Toured dozens of pre-Colombian ruins, drank many, many espressos in charming colonial towns, hiked for miles through rain forests, mountain ranges and desert wastelands, and sampled local food from countless cuisines of questionable hygienic practices.
  • Wrote 256 articles for our website, and a 315 page book. We sincerely hope someone out there is finding all of this useful, or at least entertaining at our expense.
  • Had 52 work days, 780 billable hours and 48 successful conference calls despite dump trucks, chain saws, fireworks, noisy roosters, barking dogs and screaming children.
  • Learned that people in Latin America are some of the friendliest, hospitable and most sincerely curious people in the world.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Here are a few of the highs and lows of the past year of travel. It's not all rainbows and unicorns, but as I like to say: when it's all said and done the good times become great, and the bad times become great stories.

Our first campsite in Gearhart, Oregon.

This was our first campsite, exactly one year ago. As you may recall, our tale of intrigue and adventure began with a wedding in the charming town of Gearhart, Oregon. Approximately 30 minutes after we pitched our tents the sprinkler system kicked on, giving us a preemptive chance to test the waterproofing on our tents.

Wedding after party.

We were in Gearhart to attend and help cater our cousin's wedding. After ten hours of cooking, which largely involved two twenty pound rib roasts in separate ovens three blocks apart, catching the end of the ceremony, and serving dinner to a couple hundred guests, it was time for the after party! As you can see, things got a little out of hand that night.

Our second campsite at rainy Honeyman State Park.

Our second campsite of the trip was at Honeyman State Park in Oregon. This is why people don't go camping in the Pacific Northwest at the end of October. At this point the phrase "Are we in Mexico yet?" was an hourly utterance.

Hiking the narrows in Zion National Park.

One of the biggest highlights of our trip through the American southwest was hiking five or six miles up The Narrows in Zion National Park. Nothing like getting up at 7am to walk in knee-deep water that's barely above freezing! The experience remains unforgettable, mostly in a good way.

Camping on the Baja peninsula.

After crossing into Mexico and experiencing a bit of culture shock and whole lot of lost in translation we settled into a groove on the beaches of Baja. We learned to make proper tacos, caught some fish, hooked a seagull and a pelican in the process, and generally lounged the days away while trying to combat the sand flies.

Tacos al Pastor in Mexico.

In mainland Mexico we chow down of on the best food of our trip. Rarely a day goes by that we don't reminisce about the great eats in Mexico. Tacos al pastor, moles, Oaxacan cheese, tamales, the list goes on and on. "Mexican" restaurants in the US are forever ruined for us. Suffice it to say, Mexico: we will be back!

Our Guatemalan family.

In Guatemala we spent seven weeks living with a family near Antigua. The most patient and welcoming people we've met on this trip. We miss Faviola's home cooking so much!

For the first time in months our days developed into a routine as we spent nearly two months volunteering at a local non-profit organization and taking Spanish classes in the morning. We left wiser in the ways of constructing concrete paths, roofing patios and conjugating Spanish verbs.

Volcan Fuego erupting as seen from the roof of our house.

While in Antigua we witnessed a few eruptions of Volcan Fuego from our rooftop lookout. At night the mountain would glow red, and during the day it would shoot up ash clouds. Maybe a bit too close for comfort, but awesome nonetheless.

Tubing in Candelaria Caves in Gautemala.

In northern Guatemala we took a tour through the Candalaria Caves. Certainly one of the highlights of our time in Central America.

A shot of the Candalaria Caves.

Rarely do we ever drop money for a guided tour, but it's safe to say this time it was absolutely worth it! Words cannot express how surreal and beautiful these caves are.

The world's sketchiest border crossing in Honduras.

From El Salvador we drove directly through Honduras and into Nicaragua. In the process we encountered the world's sketchiest border crossing. Nothing like standing on a wooden pallet in a bombed-out lot waiting to get your passports stamped. Our time in Honduras can be summed up with one statistic: 14 police checkpoints in two hours.

Camping on the beach in Costa Rica.

In Costa Rica we found some of the best campsites of our trip. On this beach we were completely alone, except for the flocks of scarlet macaws that would invade the surrounding almond trees every morning. Does it really matter that the list of amenities started and ended with a dirty "freshwater" hose on the edge of the beach?

What remained of our stolen stoves.

Costa Rica was also the only place where we fell victim to a criminal act. At the fanciest and most expensive hotel we'd stayed in to date our two backpacking stoves were stolen from the porch in the middle of the night. We like to think there's an ignorant Costa Rican out there with first degree burns on his hands and face because he has no idea how to use a liquid-fuel backpacking stove. Karma's a bitch.

Hiking the Corcovado in Costa Rica.

Two days later we have the best experience of our trip to date: hiking the Corcovado jungle on the Osa Peninsula. River crossings, crocodiles, mosquitoes, grasshoppers that could eat mice, spiders the size of your face, and more monkeys than you can shake a stick at. In three days we hiked 24 miles in rain and sun through jungle and across scorching beaches. Unforgettable.

A waist deep river crossing in Costa Rica.

After all we went through in the jungle, Osa still wasn't quite ready to let us go without a fight. On the way back from the park we crossed through this waist-deep backed-up river. Kobus and Blue made it through without a hitch. Tourists clapped, and I might have peed a little. Google "hydrolock" and you'll understand why.

Wrote an ebook.

In Panama we stopped for a week to work on a super-secret project: a book. For six days I poured every ounce of our experiences into 50,000 words that we are now giving away for free. A combined group effort of several hundred hours of work. Are we crazy? Yep. Should you download our book? Hells yes, you should.

Loading up our car in Panama.

In Panama we faced the biggest logistical challenge of the entire trip: shipping our car to Colombia, around the Darien Gap. After a couple days of wrangling with paperwork, and a few brushes with disaster, we had Blue safely locked inside a container in Colon, Panama - one of the most dangerous cities in Central America.

Jessica with an unhappy pile of paperwork.

In the stifling heat of Cartagena, we repeated the paperwork shuffle. After four days of waiting in an air conditioned hotel room, we had Blue out of the clink after two days of bureaucratic finagling. As Jessica's face can tell you: NEVER AGAIN!

A view from our tent in Colombia.

Whatever headaches we suffered getting our car onto South American soil, Colombia quickly cured. Fantastic weather, beautiful scenery and five of the best campsites we've stayed at after nine months on the road.

An antique coffee machine in Colombia.

Also, coffee. Colombians love their coffee. We couldn't stop drinking the stuff, whether it be from 60-year-old antique espresso machines or thermos-touting merchants on the street corner. They say the coffee gets worse as you head south, but the wine gets better. The verdict's still out on how we feel about that transition.

Super friendly hosts in Colombia.

Another hit in Colombia were the incredibly friendly people. Random strangers went out of their way to make sure we saw the best their country had to offer. Hotel owners would bring us coffee in the morning, and without fail our campsite hosts bent over backwards without the slightest hesitation to make sure we had everything we needed, and more. For these reasons alone Colombia currently sits on top of our list of countries to return to.

Driving under Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador.

In Ecuador we got our first taste of the Andes. We camped at 12,000 feet in the shadow of Mt. Cotopaxi in an environment unlike any we'd experienced. At this point on trip we started to realize just how far we'd come, and how much different (in mostly good ways) that South America is from Central America.

For one, we got to wear sweatshirts for the first time in four months. And we actually went several weeks without applying a liberal coat of bug-repelling DEET to our skin. It's the little things in life.

The crowds at Machu Picchu.

In Peru we ran the gauntlet from deserted Andean hideaways, to crowded and dusty coastal villages, to metropolitan cities and everything in between. Just last week we passed a major milestone on our trip. Not only did we visit Machu Picchu, but we did so without strangling any tourists! If you know us, this is quite the feat.

A shot of Machu Picchu.

We tend to go out of our way to avoid tourist traps, but every now and then you just gotta do it. Was it worth? Absolutely. Would we do it again? Not on your life.

Along the Way

During our year-long drive south to Peru we've had a few reoccurring themes that we like to look back on with much fondness. Touring ancient civilizations, visits from friends and family, and making lots of new acquaintances along the way.

Pre-Colombian Ruins

We've seen quite a few incredible Pre-Colombian ruins: Maya, Aztec, Inca, Olmec, Chimu, Moche, Sican, Norte Chico, Zapotec, Toltec...the list goes on. Needless to say we now have an appreciation for the peoples who settled Mexico and Central and South America before the Spanish showed up with their gunpowder, horses and smallpox.

Palenque ruins in Mexico.

Palenque was our first encounter with camping in the jungle, and with Mayan ruins. This site sticks out as one of the top three. It may have been crowded and full of biting bugs, but it certainly will remain a favorite.

Uxmal ruins in Mexico.

In the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico we went to four or five amazing Mayan ruins. Uxmal was one of the best, largely because it was off the beaten track which made it easy to explore for hours without having to deal with the usual tour group mobs. Has overlanding made us tourist snobs? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Chichen Itza in Mexico.

Speaking of tourist mobs, Chichen Itza was perhaps the most overrun Mayan site we visited. I spent fifteen minutes sorting through photos to find one that didn't have lines of vendors or masses of zip-off-pant-wearing milk faces. But much like Machu Picchu, it was still worth it. It's just a shame to see such a magnificent historical site turn into a mass-produced money-grubbing tourist trap.

Tulum ruins in Mexico.

In Tulum we perfected the art of visiting on-the-beaten-path locales without letting the tour buses ruin our day. The trick is to get up at 6am and be first in line at the gate. One hour of walking around this beautiful site without having to stop for someone to take a picture in front of you was all that we needed.

Tikal ruins in Guatemala.

In Guatemala we visited the grandaddy of all Mayan Ruins: Tikal. We spent five or six hours wandering around this gigantic complex, watching the parrots fly through the trees from the top of the tallest pyramid in the Americas.

Friends and Family Came to Visit

Along the way we've also been lucky enough to have friends and family come to visit. Not only was the time we spent with them a welcome reminder of home, it also (selfishly) gave us way to stock up on more mosquito repellent and tent repair kits!

Mom comes for a visit in Mexico.

In Mexico Jess and Jared's mom came to visit in Cabo San Lucas. We spent the time being tourists: lounging by the beach, frequenting the swim-up bar and drinking our fair share of mango margaritas. An awesome way to unwind and catch up with mom for a week.

Our friends Whitney and Amanda visit in Guatemala.

In Guatemala our friends Whitney and Amanda flew down for a week. We immediately harangued them into an afternoon of slave labor mixing cement. We spent the week touring Antigua, learning how the pros taste test coffee and checking out the Semana Santa (Easter) festivities in town.

Dad and Ruthann visit in Costa Rica.

A couple months later Jess and Jared's dad and step-mom Ruthann came to visit for ten days. We toured central Costa Rica, climbed up to the top of an active volcano, cooked piles of good food and spent a lot of time lounging in our ridiculously nice rental house.

Hanging Out With Overlanding Friends

We've also made quite a few new friends who are overlanding down south. Fellow Americans, a bevvy of Europeans and more than one group that we've run into on multiple occasions.

Hanging out with overlanding friends in Costa Rica.

Our first encounter with other overlanders heading south was when we met an Australian/English couple the night before we crossed into Mexico. We met them again two months later walking down the street on an island in Belize. This is a theme that has continued: random meetings, fun times, a hug goodbye and a "we'll see you down the road".

Hanging out with overlanding friends in Nicaragua.

Throughout Central and South America we've been leap-frogging friends on our way down the Pan-Am. Camping, cooking, drinking, swapping stories and planning our way ahead. Some of our best and most memorable nights have been spent in the company of the few and the brave who choose to pack up and drive to the end of the earth.

Thanks Y'all

It's been a fun ride so far, and it's far from over! We still have quite a few thousand miles in front of us until we reach the end of our journey. Did someone mention Brazil? There are sure to be plenty of stories to share before we wrap up this crazy ride.

We hope you've found our website useful, our stories entertaining and our shenanigans cheeky and fun. Thanks to everyone who has wished us well, shared stories, sent us some love, gave us advice, vicariously followed us online or bought us a beer.

¡Salud from Life Remotely!

Drinkin' some rum.


#8 pennie 2012-10-15 05:23
Beautiful where you guys are...Machu Picchu.. damn
#7 Jill 2012-10-08 13:23
Congrats guys! What a year. We fly back to Costa Rica on Wednesday and will be joining you in South America shortly after!
#6 TREE 2012-10-05 13:53
congrats guys! keep it going. -TREE
Jerry Dorsett
#5 Jerry Dorsett 2012-10-05 05:07
I have enjoyed your recap. Would you do this trip by car if you were traveling alone?
I am planing to travel mostly by bus starting in Columbia to the tip Argentina down the Pacific side and north on the Atlantic side returning home from Venezuela. I plan to start early next year.
I have traveled much of Peru and work in French Guiana for 6-8 weeks 2 or 3 times a year but have not been in other South American countries. Also, I have traveled thru much of China, Russia and Europe and have stood on the of one of the temples in Tecal.
I have just started reading your book and will follow your travels. Thanks for the resource.
#4 Happycamper 2012-10-04 23:26
Sensational ride so far. Thanks for the resources to make our trip easier. Our biggest problem is deciding how long the trip will take us, so it good to have the real life example here. Keep on keeping on.
#3 James 2012-10-04 21:33
Congrats on 1-year your crazy mofos. Nice recap.
#2 jessicam 2012-10-04 20:35
@Whitney: Uh-huh, yes-sir-ee, it's 100 percent real. What you think we would do, stand in front of a mural and take a photo so everyone would think we went to Machu Picchu??? Actually, that does kind of sound like us. Maybe next time we'll do that, it'll be cheaper.
#1 Whitney 2012-10-04 18:35
Top Photo: That's not a real photo. Nope. Uh-uh. *Shakes head in disbelief*

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