A year ago today, the van was pushed out of it’s shipping container, given a push start by a fork-lift truck and then made it’s first journey on South American soil straight to the nearest VW garage! A year later, these 12 pictures are our highlights of our first year on the road in Latin America, along with some reflections….
We started our journey with a mad dash north in order to see the Iguazu Falls.
And we continued at a fast pace from there to get to the very far south of the continent (El Fin del Mundo) for the southern summer. After that, we slowed down a lot and spent more time exploring and enjoying each place as we travelled north.
Throughout the trip, we have really enjoyed the wildlife, but a particular highlight for us was the sea life down the rugged east coast of Patagonia, where we enjoyed getting in amongst thousands of breeding penguins and watching sea lions, seals, dolphins, whales and along with many beautiful sea birds.
What can we say…? It was always our intention to take the opportunity to see and experience as many extraordinary places in the world as we could whilst we were here. Antarctica was one of those.
The first few months in 2015 were all about enjoying the fabulous trekking and rock climbing opportunities in southern Patagonia. A particular highlight was finding that it was feasible for us to walk in to a pass to get a look at the Southern Ice Field, the largest ice field outside of the polar regions – a challenging but awe inspiring trek. We were quite fit at the end of these adventures, but van life has taken it’s toll since…
Travelling as we are, “overland”, has given us the freedom to park-up and stay in some beautiful, wild and remote places. Some parts of Patagonia were probably the most remote and unpopulated places we have ever been. Yet, in each of these places, there have always been some people managing to make a living in the harsh landscapes. From the high mountains, to the driest deserts…
Another one of those extraordinary places was Easter Island, where we were challenged by the story and its sad continuation up until the modern day. We have found ourselves drawn into the complex histories of the diverse peoples of this fascinating continent, both the indigenous and more recent immigrants, which has seeded an increasing interest in anthropology. That’s what sabbaticals are for – exploring new interests!
Also being drawn into the equally complex more recent politics of each country has come as a surprise. South America has been, and continues to be, a hotbed of political experimentation and so has provided us with an opportunity to try to understand some of the issues they face, such as post-colonial equality and identity, economic management of a wealth of resources, and choices between extreme political philosophies.
One of the subjects that we always had every intention of exploring fully was the wines of South America and Bruce has made a particularly thorough study of this, as you would expect from an academic! And not just those of Argentina and Chile, which are the more famous, but also those produced in Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia. Along the way, we have enjoyed making new friends with other overland travellers. When we have crossed paths more than once, these friendships have been cemented over a glass of fine wine!
The north-west of Argentina was the first place where we really got to appreciate the results of a mixing of different cultures, in this case Spanish conquistadors with the indigenous Guarani traditions. We have continued to enjoy the cultural results of such mixing, perhaps most apparent in the music and the cuisine, in Brazil and Bolivia, both of which are home to a rich and diverse mix of peoples. We hope this will be an ongoing theme of the trip.
There are only a few places in the world that are really hyped up and yet still manage to live up to raised expectations. The Salar de Uyuni is one of these and Iguazu Falls is another, despite the crowds at Iguazu and us getting stuck on Salar by stupidly going too close to the edge! We did come here expecting to be wowed by the by the variety of huge landscapes, from the wilds of Patagonia and the quiet emptiness of the Atacama, to the purity of the high Altiplano and the verdant richness of the wetlands and forests. Despite some largely superficial problems, The Yellow Van has had no trouble getting us to all these places, from sea level to over 5,000m.
There may not be a huge diversity of large mammals in South America but it has an unique mix of animals derived from some disparate ancient lineages, for example, there are marsupials here along with the big cats and deer. The bird life in particular is some of the most diverse in the world – something that we will get to enjoy even more as we travel north through the rich tropics and jungle.
Looking back, sitting in a bar choosing a small selection of pictures and compiling our thoughts, this review has made us really appreciate quite how much we have seen, learnt and experienced in the last year. Esparamos con ganas por el año proximo…