Sunday, January 27, 2008

We Bought our Honda Element!

This idea started around the last week of December, so after a month we put some money behind our big talking. We were planning on using the AAA car buying service to get a good deal and avoid the new car buying experience. When we went to the dealership to decide on the final color, we ended up getting the same price straight from the dealership. They threw in a 3 hours of haggling with us at no extra charge! We will be driving the car down to San Diego next month for the ECamper conversion.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Ultimate Vehicle for Central and South American Travel?

At first, we thought that a VW camper van would be the way to travel to South America, after finding the VW Vagabonds site. That plan did not seem like a very good idea after finding out the prices! How does a hippy afford paying 20-30k for a 9 year old camper van? I started looking around for alternatives, and came across the Honda Element ECamper. This is what led us to looking at a Honda Element. SparkleGirl found that the ECamper guys were not the only ones that saw a correlation between the Honda Element and a VW Camper. Look what the Car Talk Gurus said about the Element: reminds us a bit of a modern day VW Microbus. That, too, was cheap, funky, and very practical. But unlike the Microbus, the Element is safe, plenty powerful, heated and cooled inside, and it'll start every day. -Click and Clack
We started thinking seriously about the Element, but before deciding on the ECamper, we went through the alternatives:
  1. Lay the seats down to sleep: You can lay all the seats down to an almost flat position, but then where would we put all of our stuff?
  2. Buy the Honda tailgate cabana: You can spend more on accessories for the Element than the price of the car. Works for small trips, but once again, do we move everything up to the front seats each night. Call me Mr. Safety Patrol, but I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling thinking about a small piece of fabric between myself and a Guatemalan jungle. Knifes and mosquitoes would not be deterred.
  3. Use a regular tent: Great in the outdoors, not so fun setting up camp every night for a year.
It was decided this weekend- we are going to put down the $500 deposit for the ECamper and travel in style. We can worry about who to get the car from later.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Visas, Diseases and Health Insurance

There are some great links if you want good info on immunizations, what meds you should take etc when you're traveling - just check out the CDC Travelers Health Home website for lists of the world's regions, which are then further broken down by categories. Looks like there's nothing unexpected - we'll need to be up-to-date on our MMR, DTP, Hep A/B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, and they say rabies - I didn't know there was a vaccine for that. Then a bunch of places have some malaria risk depending on what region you're visiting, and the CDC also describes which malaria meds still work for those regions (resistance is an big problem worldwide).

In terms of visas, the State Department Country Specific website lists the visa requirements country by country - I think the only places for which we'll need visas are El Salvador, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile, but we'll double check. For each country they have different requirements describing how to get a visa - some look like a pain but others look pretty easy.

Finally, for health insurance there are a bunch of options - MultiNational Underwriters, Worldwide Medical, and New York International Group had the most info online. Looks like it will be around $1000/6 months - this includes the 'extreme sports/adventure' package, which really isn't very extreme. Unless you get this, if you're doing anything fun like like rock climbing, kayaking, scuba diving and you get hurt, you won't be covered. Check the details of the policy to make sure they cover emergency evacuation back to the US as well. I think all of these do but we'll make sure before we purchase a plan.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Get Maps from AAA

While looking for information on how AAA can negotiate a new car price in your behalf, I found out that AAA will send you maps of Mexico, Central America, and South America at no charge if you are a member. They should show up in a few days.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Deciding to Drive

There were a couple of important things to consider before we decided to purchase the car:
1) Would it be safe to drive in Mexico/Central/South America?
2) Can you actually drive a car all the way down to the tip?
3) Can we get car insurance?
4) If so, what kinds of documents etc would we need?

Question One: The answer to question one was found by reading info online and skimming through our ridiculous number of Lonely Planet Guides (I actually wonder if they offer a 'global' option where for a reduced price you could get coverage of the whole earth - it may be cheaper that way than filling up our bookshelves one guide at a time). It seems like in general, you avoid the areas where things are a little sketchy (which you would do as a backpacker regardless), and you don't drive at night. Apparently drunk driving, random unofficial speed bumps, wandering donkeys, and driving without headlights at night are all somewhat common, so it's best to just not be on the road at night.

Question Two: turns out there is a 45 mile gap in the road between Panama and Colombia, and even if you wanted to walk on foot, you really don't want to through that area now as paramilitaries and drug runners apparently run the show in this area, but there are plenty of ways you can ship your car around this Darien Gap and hopefully it will turn up on the other side. They advise taking off any removable parts (windshield wipers, license plate etc) as these things tend to disappear during the shipping process. Who knew there was such a demand for windshield wipers?

Question Three: our lovely Geico insurance offers coverage for all of Central and South America, and Mexico you can do through AAA or on the border. It actually seemed reasonably priced, but you have to pay extra if you're going to be putting the car on a boat.

And finally, Number Four: It's a good idea to get an international drivers license, but it seemed like it wasn't even totally necessary. You can also get this through AAA.

So, given all of this, we decided it was indeed possible and not ridiculously risky to bring a car with us on this trip. Sweet!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Learning to speak Spanish

We thought it would be a very good idea to learn to speak Spanish before we are living in largely Spanish speaking countries for several months. We're taking a multi-pronged approach to this process - we bought the 3-part Rosetta Stone program (I'm on part 2, Cornelius is lagging behind on part 1), are listening to Pimsleur Spanish in the car, have flashcards all over our apartment, are going to try Spanish Pod from iTunes, and sometimes try to speak to each other in Spanish with varying levels of success. Cornelius has some trouble rolling his rrs, but apparently there are ways to learn. I think we'll take some conversational classes this spring, and then there are lots of cool options for Spanish classes in many of these countries as well. Hopefully between Spanish, English, and French we'll be pretty well covered, although I know that Portuguese and lots of local native languages from before the conquistadors will be widespread as well. Bueno.

Our Plan: Drive from USA to the tip of South America

Since SparkleGirl and I got married a year ago, we have dreamed about taking a long trip traveling around the world. I wanted to come up with a main "goal" for our trip, and my first idea was to circumnavigate the globe by sailboat. SparkleGirl talked me out of the idea, pointing out that she gets seasick easily and that we didn't know anything about sailing. I reminded her that I spent a summer sailing on lake Mendota in Wisconsin during college, but to no avail.

After a few months of hard thought while drinking Pacifico beers, my mind made the following leap, see if you can follow it:

Yachting Around the World
Land Yachting Around the World
Land Yachting to the Tip of South America
Is it possible to drive from the United States to Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of South America? Could I set a new record to be the first to try this? After a little research on The Google, the simple answer to both questions is NO.

The trip has been done by many people - Lonely Planet has an online guide on how to do it, and this couple are doing the trip for a second time in a 40 foot RV! Someone walked half of the way, some people have biked it, I am sure someone's grandma did it in her walker by now. It's hard to be the first at anything out there with 6 billion people competing with you. That's not even counting all the people that have lived since we stopped being apes or were magically put here, depending on your beliefs. I just need to think of a smaller niche to be the first person in, such as the first person to drive from the US to the tip of South America wearing a cowboy hat, or something. Let me know if you come up with any ideas for me.

The not so simple answer to the second question is a little less straightforward. The Pan-American Highway goes from Alaska to Argentina, except for a small section between Panama and Colombia called the Darien Gap. In the past you could at least get a guide and hike through to Colombia, and people have successfully crossed it using once again on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle, and off road vehicles. At this time, drug runners, rebel groups, and locals that are fed up with outsiders make it too dangerous for even a foot crossing. So, you can drive to the tip of South America, if you ship your car around the Darien Gap.

So that is our plan. Everything but the Darien Gap should be simple - just get on the Pan-American Highway and drive south. Oh, and of course a few other details we will be working out. Stay tuned...