Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The list post

We're home. One of the toughest things people often ask us about our trip is 'What was your favorite country?' It is nearly impossible to answer this question - we enjoyed every country we visited (except for Honduras, but that doesn't really count). Lately I have been thinking back on some great things, some crazy things, some challenges, and some things we missed (links refer back to the corresponding blog post):

Hiking in to Yaxchilan, Mexico

Greatest Hits
High jump in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Places we missed
and are on our wish-list for the next trip
  • Mexico - See the Yucatan Peninsula.
  • Guatemala - Spend the Day of the Dead in Huehuetenango, and hike two days through the jungle to visit the unexcavated Mayan ruins at El Mirador.
  • Nicaragua - Visit tropical paradise on the Bay Islands.
  • Honduras - Scuba dive off Roatan Island.
  • Panama - Sail more of the amazing San Blas Islands.
  • Colombia - Visit the Lost City on the Caribbean coast.
  • Ecuador - Visit the jungles of Ecuador and shell out the big bucks to see the Galapagos Islands.
  • Peru - Mountaineer in the Cordillera Blanca of Juaráz.
  • Bolivia - Visit the colorful canyons of Tarija in Southern Bolivia.
  • Argentina - See Iguazu falls and fly to Eastern Island.
  • Chile - Drive the Carretera Austral of southern Chile and hike in Torres del Paine.
  • Brazil - The whole country!
Tropical paradise in the San Blas Islands, Panama

Fun/insane things that would never happen in the US
  • Mexico - Fireworks raining down on the crowds for Independence Day in Zacatecas and in general the very generous use of fireworks, all day, all night, for any occasion.
  • Guatemala - Watching men in Chichicastenango dance around while wearing an exploding fireworks-suit to celebrate the Burning of the Devil, and Chris getting sprayed with beer in a good luck ceremony for the demi-god/evil spirit Maximon. Add hiking next to flowing molten lava and fighting off spiders around Lago Atitlan, and Guatemala earns the award for the most lawsuit-worthy country.
  • Panama - Sailing across the ocean from the San Blas Islands of Panama to Cartagena Colombia in an overcrowded ship with a captain who liked his booze.
  • Bolivia - Crawling through the apocalyptic tin mines in Potosí and biking down the death road.
Five-minute fuse in Potosí, Bolivia

Biggest Challenges

  • Being ill - It's an unfortunate reality for a trip of this length in these countries that most travelers will pick up some nasty bugs. We spent some serious sick time in Mexico and Nicaragua, but coming down with giardia in La Paz, Bolivia was by far the most unpleasant experience. Hunting down rabies vaccines in Ecuador and Peru wasn't a cakewalk either.
  • Worrying about money - While driving endless days in Patagonia towards the end of our trip, we had too much time to think about our dwindling budget and the unknown costs of shipping the car back to the US and purchasing airline tickets. It ended up being a lot cheaper than we expected, and relaxing at the hot springs and ranch in Uruguay helped us regain perspective.
  • Being cold - Throughout the trip, we were continually surprised by how cold we were. Once you're above 10,000 ft, it doesn't matter how close to the equator you may be, it will be chilly. We should have brought more warm clothes.
  • Not getting too irritated - There's no hot water, there's no heat, this hotel is good enough, let's not stop here, I'm starving, I'm freezing, watch out for that pot-hole, etc. Two people in one car for sixteen months can push the limits of anyone's patience. We found that if we got really annoyed, we would wait for ten minutes and then think about it again. Chances were that whatever it was, it really didn't matter.

Surfing at Playa Negra, Costa Rica

That said, The Darien Plan is now going on sabbatical. We are currently with Chris's parents in Florida. We will spend some time with them here before visiting my family in Boston, then we will set off back across the country for California (with many stops to visit friends and family along the way). We plan to end our travels in San Diego. Thanks again for reading. Feel free to contact us (email addresses and Skype handles at the top of the blog) if you have any thoughts or questions. Also check out our website, Drive the Americas, for comprehensive information on driving North, Central, and South America.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

State of the trip

For anyone considering a similar trip, here are cost-per-country estimates and some other necessary expenses associated with the trip.

Chillin' like a villain in Nicaragua

  • Health insurance: $1600 for 16 months for two people - Covered only catastrophic events, emergency evacuation, etc.
  • Car insurance: $3500 for 16 months - We bought extensive coverage since our car was new; third-party only insurance is much cheaper but doesn't provide much coverage.
  • Property insurance: $440 for 2 years - Covered any theft of our belongings during our trip.
Inca terraces outside of Cusco, Peru

Transportation and shipping
Sharing hot chocolate in a family's home in Lagos Montebellos, Mexico

Cost of living

Average budget per day (for two people), including hotel/campsite fees, food, beverages, gasoline, vehicle maintenance, toll roads, and other costs associated with driving.
  • Mexico: $75/day
  • Guatemala: $70/day - If you want to learn to speak Spanish, this is the most economical country. We lived with a wonderful family and took lessons in Xela, but Antigua has a more pleasant climate and atmosphere for those weighing options.
  • El Salvador: $43/day
  • Honduras: $100/day - This value is skewed as we got screwed at the border and spent less than 24 hours in that country.
  • Nicaragua: $90/day - One of our splurge countries. We partied with friends over New Years and rented a luxurious condo with our friends Tom and Kelsey to put together our website with driving information, Drive the Americas.
  • Costa Rica: $48/day - While this country is probably the most expensive in Central America, we played it super cheap for a month when we squeezed in to a small cabina on Playa Negra with Tom and Kelsey, cooking our own food and catching our catch.
  • Panama: $54/day
  • Colombia: $64/day
  • Ecuador: $78/day
  • Peru: $85/day
  • Bolivia: $85/day
  • Argentina: $95/day - Many long days of driving large distances really added up.
  • Chile: $40/day - We were only in one location, Pichilemu, for a week, so this is not representative of the true costs of this country. Chile is more expensive than Argentina.
  • Uruguay: $66/day - Prices in Uruguay are similar to those in Argentina, but the country is so small the driving expenses were low. We also camped everywhere except when we were playing gauchos on the ranch.
Children on the Islas Taquiles, Lake Titicaca, Peru

While this does represent a good chuck of change, we would probably have lost more if we'd left that money in the stock market...money well spent in our opinion.