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My 12,000-Mile Pan-American Highway Journey

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As some of you might know, I have been on a quest to travel the length of the Western Hemisphere by land. I just returned from my fifth trip– a bus ride from Guatemala City to Panama’s Darien Gap. For those of you counting at home, I am 88% done with my goal. I hope to one day write a book about my little adventure, as there are plenty of tales to tell. But in the meantime, here are some highlights to give you a flavor of my experiences. I will be writing a separate post about the vehicles I took.

  • Vehicles used: 20 buses, 6 vans, 2 taxis, 2 passenger cars, 1 trolley.
  • Longest non-stop bus ride: Osorno, Chile, to Punta Arenas, Chile (28 hours, 15 minutes).
  • Longest wait on a bus: 8 hours 37 minutes at ferry landing to cross Strait of Magellan due to wind. Had to return the next day for the crossing.
  • Nicest bus: Double decker in Peru. Choice of beef, chicken, or vegetarian meal. Seats that reclined 160 degrees. Business center onboard with computer and printer.
  • Coolest bus: Kia bus in Panama. Was a used tour bus from South Korea, festooned with Korean stickers everywhere. Curtains out of Maharaja’s sitting room. 42″ TV with amps and tons of speakers.
  • Most professional bus driver: Greyhound driver in Oregon. He had a black briefcase like an airline pilot would have. Inside, he had an apple and a can of grape soda.

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  • Multi-tasking bus driver: Dude in Tierra del Fuego. He was driving, smoking Marlboro Reds, talking on his cell, talking on his CB, and unscrewing cap of his Coke all at the same time.
  • Sketchiest border crossing (Day): Mexico-Guatemala.
  • Sketchiest border crossing (Night): Guatemala-El Salvador.
  • Number of border crossings: 13.
  • Smelliest bus station restroom: Greyhound Seattle.
  • Worst onboard movie: Fireproof by Kirk Cameron.
  • Chinese restaurants visited: 6 (Whitehorse, Yukon; Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico; Antigua, Guatemala; Panama City; Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile.
  • Lada Nivas spotted: In Nicaragua, Panama, Chile.

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  • Overturned vehicles spotted on side of road: 3 (2 tractor trailers in Mexico and a chicken bus in Guatemala).
  • Weirdest passenger: Greyhound in the Yukon. At night, a man sitting across the aisle from me sat upside down. His feet were dangling over the headrest and his head was on the floor. He proceeded to fart.
  • Number of evangelicals who tried to convert me: 3 (2 in Guatemala, 1 in Alaska).
  • Best meal: Seafood stew in Iquique, Chile (of Dakar Rally sand dunes fame).
  • Best drink (Cocktail): Fanschop in Chile (half orange Fanta, half lager).
  • Best drink (Beer): Cerveza Austral’s El Calafate Ale.

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Images source: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Maxichamp

Currently there are "41 comments" on this Article:

  1. Stu_Rock says:

    I love your travelogues, Jim. We missed you at Seconds Saturday.

    • Maxichamp says:

      Thanks, dude. As I am currently carless, I would have had nothing to contribute. But it sounds like it was a lot of fun. Plus, Ford Falcon XB and a Holden Ute!

      I'll be there next month, hopefully with a Merc C240 wagon. Maybe.

      • jeepjeff says:

        I walked to Seconds Saturday at least once. Still fun to come and hang out. (Although, you were still on the road this last weekend, right?)

        • Maxichamp says:

          Yup. I was riding in that Kia bus in Panama on Saturday morning. At 4 am, the bus driver was blaring some Kevin James movie where he was an MMA fighter.

          • dukeisduke says:

            "Here Comes The Boom"? My wife took the kids to see it at the dollar show (it didn't sound funny to me). A friend of mine's son-in-law just took a job as James' personal assistant, planning his appointments, parties, etc. Hopefully I'll be hearing some interesting stories.

            • Maxichamp says:

              You and your family seem to have seen all the movies they show on Latin American buses. The other one I remember from this trip is the remake of the Three Stooges.

              • dukeisduke says:

                The only thing we've missed out on is the wonder about whether we're going to go off the side of a mountain at some point. So, the ambiance.

      • julkinen says:

        Carless Whisper…

  2. muthalovin says:

    Best drink (Cocktail): Fanschop in Chile (half orange Fanta, half lager)

    Totally want to try that.

  3. dukeisduke says:

    "Weirdest passenger: Greyhound in the Yukon. At night, a man sitting across the aisle from me sat upside down. His feet were dangling over the headrest and his head was on the floor. He proceeded to fart."

    Awesome!

  4. dukeisduke says:

    This story would make a great David Lynch movie.

  5. rennsport964 says:

    Geez, you actually ventured into the Greyhound bus station in Seattle? Memories of college transport. None of it was pleasant.

    Shudder. You're a braver man than I.

    • Maxichamp says:

      The Portland Greyhound station has a food court. Lady with plastic gloves was making a sandwich for a customer. With the gloved hand, she scratches her scalp, and then finishes making the sandwich. Ugh.

  6. Wolfie says:

    Bravo for a great story. The overturned chicken bus in Guatemala was worth the ticket price.

  7. engineerd says:

    It's a dream of mine to do a long distance road trip. Not sure if I want to take the easy way (Alaska to St. Johns with stops all over the US) or the hard way (Detroit to Ushuaia, Argentina).

    • Maxichamp says:

      Chile and Argentina are more scenic, comfortable, and safe than much of US.

    • Wolfie says:

      I took an extended train tour of Germany, Austria and Italy
      Skied the Alps, attended Mass at St Peters in Vatican City.
      Listened to Mozart played in the same hall he played his music.
      Back in the early 1970's

  8. thancr says:

    Did you go through Colombia? No mention of it and you should have seen at least a couple of Lada Nivas. Prices for used cars have gone down in Colombia so some of the older ones end up in smaller towns where people are now able to buy their first car.

    • Maxichamp says:

      I have yet to do Colombia due to the security situation. Are you down there? If so, care to share some insight? Thanks in advance.

      • thancr says:

        Colombia will be safer than most of Mexico and Central America. I don't live there currently but I do get down there once or twice a year (I lived there for almost 4 years and my wife is from Medellin). I lived there during the peak of the kidnapping and still traveled between cities by bus, motorcycle and car. The Pan-American generally will have no problems (more likely a landslide closing it than anything else). Bus service is nice and cheap, just like you found on most of your trip.

        • Maxichamp says:

          That makes me feel better. Thanks. I will still do some more research though.

          My plan is Ecuador to Bogota to Turbo by bus.

          • thancr says:

            I recommend Ipiales to Cali be done by day. Even at night there shouldn't be a problem but it's better to be on the safe side. Pereira/Armenia/Manizales is a cool area to check out, the Coffee Triangle. As far as Medellin to Turbo, I have no idea. I haven't made it past Santa Fe de Antioquia (worth visiting) by car. I do know that after Santa Fe de Antioquia the road deteriorates quite a bit. Not many people go to Turbo by car. It can be done but leave Medellin or Santa Fe on the first bus (probably the same one) in the morning and ask how long it takes. The government has pledged a ton of money to improve the road to Turbo but not a whole much has been done yet. They have a good port but it's under used, almost exclusively bananas and plantains from that area.

  9. mdharrell says:

    I've mentioned this book before, but have you picked up a copy of "20,000 Miles South" by Helen and Frank Schreider?

    <img src="http://www.walkaboutbooks.net/pictures/13026.JPG&quot; width="350">

    They went mostly by Seep.

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