Day 139: End of the Road – Latin America

Rio de Janeiro seen from Corcovado
- the world’s most jaw droppingly gorgeous city

This is it. Our journey in Latin America has come to an epic end. Who would have thought we’d travel through Central and South America by land, with only a hopping flight between the two. We’ve clocked 450 hours of bus and boat time, covered 28,000 kilometers of gravel, dirt and asphalt (3 times the flying distance from Rio to London!), 17 border crossings and 14 countries. We made it – Mexico City to Panama City; Cartagena to Rio de Janeiro; 139 days, traversing from the sea level beaches of Nicaragua up to altitudes of 5,000m in the Andean plains of Bolivia, and back down to sea level again at the jaw dropping beaches of Brazil.

The embracing arms of Christo

I don’t know how to describe the way I feel right now. It’s too surreal to believe we’ve come this far. I’m in denial, I don’t want this to end. I’ve fallen in love with South America. When I close my eyes, I get a mental flashback – all the things we’ve seen being played back behind my eyelids. I’d be lying if I say I’m not emotional about it all, I feel a little like the way I felt when leaving everything behind to start this journey. The difference this time round is, I’m not leaving behind a career or the comfort of home… I’m leaving behind the exhilarating beauty of a land and the passionate smiles of its people. All have burned eternal images into my memory.

There’s so much that cannot be forgotten: hiking Pacaya volcano in Guatemala; learning to surf in Nicaragua; ziplinging in Costa Rica; making friends with everyone in Colombia and meeting old ones in Ecuador; witnessing Machu Picchu in Peru and the blinding white salt flats in Bolivia; busting the tyres of our hired wheels in Chile then breaking our hearts over tango in Argentina…

Our gastronomic adventures are unforgettable too. Having hygiene concerns over the BBQ in Oaxaca’s food market (Mexico) only to open our stomachs to the tastiest grilled meat; getting a much needed seafood fix in Santiago’s Mercado Central (Chile); seeing with unbelieving eyes at so much meat being grilled at once in Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto (Uruguay); drinking impeccable vintage for just a few dollars in Mendoza (Argentina) and oooooh Peruvian ceviche – next best thing to sashimi!

I could not not mention the buses. How else would we have transported ourselves over such diverse lands! Latin America would never be real enough without any land travel. A 12 hour journey used to be “long haul”; now they’re “short haul” in comparison to the 20+ hour rides we’ve done. Bus rides were never boring: besides the rolling scenery, we were usually kept entertained by the pirated movies they played on board – we must’ve watched Avatar three times in Spanish. How will I ever forget our toughest journey, an all nighter from Quito to Guayaquil (Ecuador) followed by the air-condition-less sealed windows 28 hour backbender to Lima where we were slow cooked like greenhouse tomatoes. We’re now spoilt by the superb quality of buses in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Looking back, I don’t even know how we survived the chicken buses in Guatemala, Nicaragua and parts of Costa Rica. Comfort and luxury are the last words you would even consider as descriptions, but we never cringed at the thought of riding them. Not once. Perhaps because we were happy, and that’s all that mattered. Being happy was so easy. The memory of our 40lb backpacks being thrown on top of chicken buses in Guatemala, then running to jump on and redefining our understanding of “over capacity”… that put smiles on our faces, still does today.

Friends. For some strange reason, when outside of their daily lives people become different, more approachable. There are no hidden agendas, no job descriptions as self descriptions. You meet the most amazing people when traveling, and it’s so easy to make new friends. There are no racial boundaries, no age restrictions. Romina, who was like our longtime friend in Costa Rica; Caro Lito, Oliver and Anne, who we only bumped into once in Panama but have since kept in touch; James who shared the best travel stories with us in Peru; Teo, Benno, Rich and Chris, our tour buddies in Bolivia; Anke and Hardy, an amazing German couple who traveled on horseback throughout Chile; Hayato, our travel buddy in Rio, Brazil…

The cheering crowd bursts into an all night samba after Brazil wins 3-0
And what a way to end it all. Rio gave us the best send off one could ever ask for. What happens when Brazil wins 3-0 over Chile, qualifying for the world cup quarter-finals? A massive samba beach party. On a Monday night.

My heart is in South America – there have been several occasions this continent moved me to tears. But there’s still a world out there to be experienced and I know somewhere, someone is waiting for us with a smile. I’m a true believer now – there are no strangers in this world, only friends waiting to be met.

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12 Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    WOW what a great summary of your trip so far. I can seriously feel your emotions in this and how difficult it must be to leave a continent that has given you so much! But there is more to your journey and we can't wait to live it with you. BTW… AMAZING photo of Rio at top… breathtaking! Miss you guys!!!!

  2. Rendy says:

    Wow, you guys did it! What an heroic act! I wish Alan and I have half the courage as you guys and the fortune of being able to withstand all the ups and downs together hand in hand during the trip. You guys must write a book after the whole trip. Looking forward to reading your entries as you go to a different continent. :)

  3. Charlie says:

    Congratulations! Your journey is what real traveling should be like – self-discovery, pursuit of happiness, and search for meaning of life. Through your journey and your life-enlightening thoughts, I see the genuine nature of mankind, the enthusiasm and amazement that we can experience in life, and our world full of serendipities that are yet to be discovered. You two are a living example of "Explore, Dream, Discover". And the best part is? You are not done yet! I am immensely jealous and wish you all the best in the next legs of your trip!!

  4. ace says:

    hey guys, i am with leslie on this, the emotion that you conveyed here is so passionate and sincere, i can feel it too. hasta manana.. u will be back. safe travels as always.. and thanks so much for sharing your stories with us. miss you guys heaps! xo

  5. Tasha says:

    Thank you for sharing your stories. I take great hope in that one day, more people will escape cubicle farms and experience what the real world and what a good companion can bring you! Safe travels and lots of good wishes from the folks left behind ;)

  6. Rafzana says:

    Amazing how much you guys have experienced! And there are more adventures out there, waiting for you! Can't wait to read all about Eastern Europe! ;-)

  7. Iván says:

    What an amazing experience… congrats for you both and we (Naty and myself) wish you an excellent trip around the world. We really enjoy your entries on this blog and the pictures that you have taken.

    BTW, I didn't see any mention about a couple that you met in Buenos Aires and had some beers! :P

    xoxo

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hola chicos!!
    Buen viaje al viejo continente.

    Cuidaros

    Bea

  9. Kennis says:

    You two are the most accomplished people that I know of.

  10. 山 him says:

    Hey all thanks for keeping up with our journeys and leaving a message! Really love hearing from each and everyone of you, makes us feel like we're not alone on the road!

  11. Louise says:

    I was just led to your blog from lonely planet and think it is truly incredible. As someone who is hoping to do the same trip soon, you are truly an inspiration. I was moved to tears reading because I could feel the closeness you experienced with the people you met and I am excited to make similar memories for myself. Best wishes. keep writing and never stop adventuring.

  12. 山 him says:

    Louise: I am humbled by your encouraging words, really… thank you so much for dropping by and leaving a msg. I am excited for you and your upcoming journey, and honestly very jealous that you will get to be in south am!! I can't wait to return one day…

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