Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PAN AM Learning Lessons

Sitting here sharing an evening with another overlanding couple, the conversation naturally turns to the highlights and low-lights of the last 2 years of voyaging between Canada and Argentina.  There is a random staccato of ideas and methodologies to possibly make for a smoother trip resounding over the dinner table.  So for future PanAm overlanders, here is what I learned:

1.  START at the end.  What this is to mean is that it would have been more fun to finally arrive at ‘home’ rather than arriving at the ‘end of the world’ and THEN have to face the stresses and concomitant costs inherent with either selling the vehicle or shipping the vehicle back home.  Particularly as the trip winds down and overlanding-fatigue sets in how much nicer is it to have in the light at the end of the tunnel to be an anticipated arrival with your family?

Speaking of overland fatigue; imagine running out of time or money or motivation, it is always easier to make a decision to ‘skip’ a country by considering visiting ‘another time’.  Not so easy living in Canada to visit Argentina another time, but the nearby USA is possible.

Finally, it is so much easier to arrange for shipping your vehicle from Canada (Europe) to Argentina in your native language then it is to undertake finding and coordinating a container share or risking RoRo shipping FROM Argentina.  Furthermore since most Overlanders are looking to offload their expedition tested and proved rig in Ushuaia/Buenos Aires there is a reasonable choice in vehicle should you opt to buy in-situ rather than ship your car.

The down-side is that it is a rather large ‘culture shock’ to arrive in Argentina, buy a car and start the trip as you are far from home in a foreign environment with not much nearby familial support.  Our time travelling the USA and Mexico was a great ‘shakedown’ opportunity and permitted to resolve problems closer to home before diving deeper into the PanAm.

2.  Learn Spanish. Nothing makes life on the road and enhances local contact and by extension the ‘experience’ with a capacity to say more than Si or No.

3.  Go on, take a VACATION!  Well since travelling is such a stress, it is good to schedule a ‘vacation’ from your vacation to reconnect with family and friends at some regular interval– 2 years on the road is a long time to be away.  But mostly, it is a way to transport all the stuff home that you THOUGHT you needed, and return with the things you actually DO need.   Maybe you DO have space for that gas-powered tailgate mounted Margarita mixer???

4.  Vehicle Choice.  There are a million choices on what vehicle to take, and every decision is predicated on ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ of the Overlanders – who often find difficult to distinguish between need and want.  Or more predictably in their excitement of the impending trip, spend too much time trying to resolve solutions to potential problems which never actually arrive (while the unexpected always do).  North American vehicles (both NA brands and NA Japanese brands) are globally a poor choice for Overlanders for a mitt-full of reasons– but it is what we have to work with.

I might suggest the best vehicle for the PANAM would be a Japanese vehicle over 10 years old.  Older is better than newer as older vehicles are less ‘mission dependent’ on electronics, are more familiar to mechanics in the regions being traversed and have relatively easy access to parts. 

North American brands are rare and can only be found in scattered countries along the PANAM and are SUFFICIENTLY different from so called local ‘third-world models’ that engines are frequently different as well as most of the critical parts.  Similarly North American models of Japanese vehicles are also different from these ‘third-world’ vehicles found south of the US/Mex border.  Case in point:  I actually got turned away from Mitsubishi dealerships in Nicaragua and Costa Rica flatly as they believed my van was a North American model, they would not touch it.  No discussion.

Ultimately too much time is invested in mulling over the vehicle choice.  The best solution is to move your current vehicle out of the garage, fill the tank and GO!

5.  Discretion is the better part of Valor.   A vehicle that carries all your possessions and dreams should not stir the interest and dreams of the locals and more importantly the local hoodlums.  A plain, white panel van is the way to go, or at least a vehicle as common as possible to blend into the scenery.

One thing that Bippers was NOT was discrete.  On one hand we loved having people come by for a chat and gawk on Bip Bip.  This opened channels of contact with the locals.  In fact, Bip Bip was SO flashy that we believe it actually provided security as nothing went unnoticed around Bip Bip.  Furthermore, the Right-Hand drive drew lots of interest but since it was such a confused concept to the local psyche, no one could consequently conceive of stealing the van. 

It was, on the other hand, tiring to answer the same questions time and again and, more importantly, extremely tiring to worry at every Police and Military checkpoint to have to ‘inspect’ the van or to play the rich-tourist-backsheesh game.  Low key is better we learned.

6.  Buy as cheap as possible.  Best to go as simple and inexpensive as possible.  Read: better buy a 1990 Isuzu Rodeo for $2500 than a 2010 Toyota FJ for $30 000+.  You can be assured that both will break down on the trip and shipping parts for the FJ would be an additional stress and expense.

We often spend years dreaming about the trip, planning and re-planning  mulling over vehicle choice...a van or a SUV or a pick-up, camper or roof-top-tent, toilet or no, ARB fridge or not...the permutations are endless.  Keep it simple, KISS, has always and will always be a sound principle. The more complicated the rig, the more probability of having some sort of 'mission ending' failure.

Ultimately, when the vehicle gives up its last gasp and shutters to a stop in the middle of some inhabited wasteland you are free to ‘shoot the horse’ and move on with your life.

Those of us who poured our soul in our car, constructed and invested in the dream, and truly over-designed solutions for every eventuality  - while we enjoyed and were positively occupied during the pre-trip preparation -  are so invested that it is nearly impossible to take the final and objective decision to part ways with your ride at the appropriate time.  

The moral of the story is JUST GO – fill the tank of the car in your garage and stick it in drive.  Forget trying to fabricate the 'perfect overlander machine'. These exist only in our dreams and maybe in Europe as North American car companies do not even have a basic concept in this market.

7.  Smaller is better than bigger. Having smaller vehicle meant that we got to traverse the narrow roads of Guatemalan villages without too much stress.  We got to park in regular parking spots – even sleep in the car in the Zocalo (Town Square) overnight.  Ultimately travelling as low-key and discrete as possible helps security but also means less questioning at Police and Military Checkpoints.

Finally having a small light 4x4 van meant we spent a whole lot of time visiting places otherwise inaccessible to the larger, heavier and more top-heavy unstable vehicles.  We found that we had more fun and interesting visits to ‘off road’ sites rather than an endless series of town center Cathedrals.

8.  Interior Space.  On the other hand, going small means ‘living beside’ rather than ‘living inside’ your rig.  We lived beside our van for over a year without having any complaint.  Then we got to Ecuador and started climbing higher in elevation.  Days of rain or wind (and even snow) meant we had to find indoor protection.  Living in our van gave us the minimum interior space possible to pass long days.  We learned that these cold windy rainy days would have been hard to take in a tent... so having at least a minimum space in our van meant at least a minimum of comfort.  We appreciated this.
  • Permanent Bed.  We learned that having a permanent bed was indispensable   It meant that after a long day of driving we didn't have to reconstruct the bed to sleep.  It also meant we could use it at any time we wanted.  It meant that the mattress was a dedicated mattress and thus much more comfortable than a collection of seat cushions.  Ultimately it meant we could have sheets and blankets and pillows like grown-ups.  From a security point of view, our permanent bed meant we had secure, locked storage underneath which prevented any smash-and-grab hoodlums from having access to our stuff.
  • Security.  Having inside space in the van meant we could live and boondock in relatively open environments in security.  We thus could sleep in town squares or in parking lots or in gas stations without risk of being noticed as sleeping inside (au contraire to having a roof-top tent  up).  Boondocking meant we could reduce our daily expenses by not renting hotels (or the other risk of parking the van unaccompanied on the street).
9.  Wrench-it!  Learn how to use a wrench and know the basics of mechanics.  I can say that just about every mechanical problem we had related directly to the (poor) work of the previous mechanic.  Every visit resulted in at at least three more visits to resolve the add-on issues.  This got to be such an irritating domino effect that I finally just gave up on mechanics and did all the work myself. 

10.  Range.  I would have appreciated a vehicle that gives at least 800km (preferably 1000km) on a tank.  You never know when the next gas shortage is (read : Uyuni)...or just how far it is to cross the Bolivian South-West Circuit.

11. Lay off the Gas!  I wanted a diesel powered van before we left.  We all believe that the diesel engine is the way to go, however we got lucky:  it turns out that our gasoline engine helped us on this Pan Am trip.  While we had slightly less fuel economy, we got a more powerful engine that was quieter and had greater access to local spare parts.  More than that, we did not suffer excessive power losses when over 3000 m elevations (common to many naturally aspirated diesel engines, and some like the Izuzu diesel actually goes into limp mode at 3000m I hear!). Nor did we suffer any issues with fuel quality as we heard our colleagues had while in Peru and Bolivia.

12.  Toilet and Shower?  We didn’t have a toilet; and it never became an issue.  Except in moments of intestinal distress, there are ways to work around not having a toilet.

A shower however – though relatively easy to source on the PanAm – would have been nice.  The truth is that inside showers are generally not used by most caravaners due to moisture and humidity it creates so an outdoor shower (with hot water) would have been nice in a pinch.  Downside means having to carry water which increases weight and thus stresses on the already overloaded vehicle chassis but also increases fuel consumption.  Another downside might be that trying to have an outdoor shower on the Altiplano, at 5000m elevation, in full gale-force winds would have been relatively challenging.

You can get showers at trucks stops or gas stations in Canada, USA, Peru, Chile and Argentina and I am sure the other countries.  In Central America paying for the odd campsite or hotel will not break the bank (and besides all that time on the beach who needs a shower???)

13 Brrrr Coooold.  Skip the fridge - we spent almost 2 years and never felt at a loss for not having a fridge.  It is a big investment that gobbles storage space in the truck and makes you electronically dependent- thus you need a big investment in solar electricity, or run the engine to charge the batteries or find a way to plug in (ie paid camping).  Costs nothing to stop and stop every couple of days for food and gives you a reason to mingle with the locals.  You can throw away tonnes of spoiled food before you match the price of an Engel or ARB fridge.  Ultimately this is not Africa where you can go weeks between (empty) markets.  And if you need that ice-cold beer - do happy hour at a beachside bar.

14.  Document Management.   Make good scans and color printout of all the important documents – Driver’s License, Passport, Vehicle Registration.  Never give your real documents to Mexican or Central American cops.  If they demand the originals then you KNOW that they are trying to hold you hostage to some false accusation.  The response is to offer to show the original documents AT the police station.  This will end any further discussion as the cops do not want to be ‘outed’ at the station for trying to rip-off a tourist.

Second to this, make 20 copies of the DL, Passport and Registration along with the originals and put them in separate pockets/sleeves in a binder.  When you go into a Central American border post you will look organized and prepared and that, in itself,  will limit phony ‘fees’ charged.  Central American customs guys seem to love copies so better to be prepared than have to run around making copies (to the profit of the copy guys because to be realistic the customs guys don’t really need or care for the copies...).

Other Interesting Reading:


Friday, April 26, 2013

Argentina Top to Tip / Du sud au nord, Argentine

Après quelques jours à Ushuaïa, il était temps de remonter et de penser sérieusement à notre retour. Nous nous sommes donc concentrés sur la vente de Bip Bip ou éventuellement son expédition par bateau au Canada.

After a couple of (cold) days in Ushuaia it was time to start figuring out what to do about our return.  We redoubled our efforts in selling Bip Bip and we started research on sending Bippers back to Canada by boat.

Nous avons roulé tranquillement vers le nord sur la route 3, des centaines et des centaines de km ennuyeux au milieux de la pampa. Cependant, nous nous sommes arrêtés pour visiter une colonie de pingouins au moment où les bébés approchaient la maturité et étaient dans le dernier stade de la mue presque prêts à partir de la maison.

We started working our way northward along Ruta 3, a long and flat and long stretch of Pampa.  We were able to stop along the way to visit the Penguin colonies as the babies approached maturity and were in the final stages of moulting and moving out of home.   

En continuant plus au nord, nous avons été récompensés par des températures plus chaudes. Une longue route sinueuse en gravier nous a mené à travers la pampa jusqu'à deux bosques petrificados (forêts pétrifiés). Bon bivouac, bon climat, et incroyable phénomène natural ont fait que ce détour valait la peine.

Moving northward we were rewarded with warmer temperatures.  A long gravel road winding through the pampa took us into the wild center where we visited 2 of the national parks that protect el bosque petrificado - the petrified forest.  Great boondocking, great weather and cool natural phenomenons made this a worthy side trip.

Encore plus au nord, nous avons été attrapé au milieu de la foule du week-end de pâques et nous sommes restés coincés dans les bouchons en traversant Buenos Aires en ayant vaguement en tête l'idée de visiter le Paraguay et l'Uruguay. Nous en avions eu de bons échos et sans avoir d'idée fixe sur la façon dont nous allions gérer Bip Bip, nous tendions de plus en plus vers l'envoi du véhicule à partir du Brésil. La circulation était tellement mauvaise, nous avons finalement décidé de nous arrêter dans la petite ville de Colon et de camper sur la plage herbeuse au bord de la rivière Uruguay faisant face à l'Uruguay lui même. Nous avons constaté que nous captions le WIFI de l'hôtel d'à côté et c'est ici que nous avons finalisé la vente de Bip Bip.

Travelling nothward still, we got caught in Semana Santa, Easter week, crowds and found ourselves nose-to-tail in traffic as we traversed across Buenos Aires; still heading northward with vague ideas of visiting Uruguay and Paraguay.  We had heard some great things and without a fixed idea of how to deal with Bippers and an increasing likelihood of shipping out of Brazil we meandered northward.  The crowds and traffic was too much to deal with so we finally we decided to bunker down in a small village of Colon bivouacing on the grassy beach on the Uruguay River facing Uruguay itself.  We found we had WiFi from a nearby hotel and it was there we finallized the sale of Bip Bip.

Cela a changé nos plans et nous a donné une date limite. Donc avec le nombre de jours qui nous restait, nous avons calculé que nous pourrions faire la course jusqu'aux chutes d'Iguazu, car en réalité ce n'était que quelques centimètres sur notre carte... Nous avions anticipé une opportunité de bivouac au parc national El Palmar que nous avons oublié à la vue de la queue sur l'autoroute à l'entrée du parc. A faire au retour! Presque 1000km après nous sommes arrivés aux chutes. Durant cette course vers les chutes, nous avons traversé le département de Entre Rios. Visiblement plus pauvre que le reste du pays. Et voilà nous avons été harcelés par la police corrompu pour la première fois depuis l'Honduras. Nous avons eu une amende mais n'avons pas payé le prix réduit sur place en liquide.... Il y avait une étrange conversion du montant de l'amende en nombre de litres d'essence qui nous embrouille encore un peu.
A la fin, nous n'avons pas du tout payé l'amende. Quel moment désagréable dans un pays autrement merveilleux.

This changed our plans and gave us a deadline.  So with our remaining days we calculated we could make the run to the Falls at Iguazu, since really it was only a couple of inches away on our map!  We anticipated a bivouac opportunity at the NP El Palmar only to see the Samana Santa crowds backed up several kms along the highway to enter the park.  Skip for the return.  Almost 1000kms later we made it to Iguazu.  In running this gauntlet towards the falls we also ran the gauntlet of the state of ENTRE RIOS.  A visually poor part of the country seeming closer to Honduras than the Argentina we had experienced.  And voila...we got hassled by the corrupt coppers suddenly and shockingly for the first time SINCE Honduras.  I got a ticket but didn't pay their proposed discounted fine insitu.  There was some funny business of converting the 'fine' into litres of gasoline that still has me confused.  In the end, did not have to pay the phoney ticket.  What a distasteful moment in an otherwise wonderful country.

Iguazu est à la frontière de l'Argentine, du Brésil et du Paraguay. Ce qui signifie près de la jungle soit chaud, pluvieux, humide et plein d'insectes. Cela faisait une éternité que nous n'avions pas connu ce type de climat. Nous étions contents d'avoir la clim dans Bip Bip puisque nous avions passé les 5 derniers mois en jeans et pull-overs et n'étions pas habitué à ce type de climat.

Iguazu is on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.  Meaning it is close to the jungle and it was HOT and RAINY and MUGGY and BUGGY.  It had been ages since we had this kind of weather and we were happy to have AC in Bippers as our last 5 months we have been in jeans and sweaters and were in no way accustomed to the steamy weather.

Nous sommes maintenant installés dans notre appartement à Buenos Aires. Nous sommes dans la "phase de transition" de notre voyage ce qui signifie que nous sommes transition entre notre vie dans Bip Bip et Paris. Nous pouvons maintenant de découvrir Buenos Aires ... On vous racontera!

We are now settled in our apartment in Buenos Aires.   We are in the 'Transition" phase of our trip meaning we are transitioning between our life in Bippers and the 'real world'.  We now get to experience Buenos Aires...keep in touch.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bip Bip gets adopted out.... Bip Bip a été adopté...



Kicking back in the new pad - our 'interim'...a vacation.  Or rather our transition.  Thanks to Jere, we have sold our home-on-wheels and we have relocated into a Palermo-center apartment in Buenos Aires.  While the apartment is a 'studio' we have effectively quintuppled  our living space and Fanny is fairly dancing about the joint (and without boundaries her STUFF is everywhere!).  AND, embarrasingly, there is all together too much time spent in the bathroom.  A clean and fresh-smelling bathroom available at all hours.  What a luxury!  Ca change la vie, quoi!

Installés dans le nouvel appart' - notre «intérim»... des vacances. Ou plutôt notre transition. grâce à Jérôme  nous avons vendu notre maison roulante et nous avons déménagé dans un appartement à Palerme, quartier du centre de Buenos Aires. Même si l'appartement est un «studio», nous avons effectivement quintuplé notre espace de vie. ET, nous passons trop de temps dans la salle de bain. Une salle de bain propre et fraîche, disponible à toute heure de la journée. Quel luxe! Ça change la vie!

We have been spared the hassle of shipping and selling our Bippers back in Canads AND we arranged an apartment in the deal.  Double SCORE.

Nous avons été épargnés des tracas de l'expédition et la vente de Bip Bip au Canada et nous avons négocié un appartement dans la transaction. Double réussite!

We were lucky to catch the last days of summer in Patagonia and get out before the cold sets in for real.  Now we get to spend the wonderful fall days in the big city.  We get to act all grown up and city slick (read: Sushi gobbling) for the next 30 days and then we jet off to the 'real world'.  Just in time for the northern hemisphere spring.  wowsers.  It did work out nicely.

Nous avons eu la chance d'attraper les derniers jours de l'été en Patagonie et partir avant que le froid s'installe pour de vrai. Maintenant nous pouvons passer les merveilleux jours d'automne  dans la grande ville. Nous apprendrons à vivre comme les grands  (lire: se gaver de Sushi) pour les prochains 30  jours avant de nous envoler pour le «monde réel». Juste à temps pour le printemps dans l'hémisphère nord. Pile poil!

hmmm.  So what next?  I personally find the mind-crushing possiblity of having to return to work and having it turn into a state of permanence a bit depressing.  It doesn't have to be that way; someone I knew used to say 'your life is what you make it'.  Time to pony up to bar and pull a draught and roll the dice.  I'll probably buckle into a quick gig somewhere in the Middle East, although I am angling for something in Afghanistan.  Quick and easy; the world is in turmoil and doesn't look like it will improve soon.  

hmmm. Alors qu'allons-nous faire? Personnellement (Chris et Fanny aussi d'ailleurs...), je trouve la possibilité d'avoir à retourner au travail et d'avoir à le transformer en un état permanent  un peu déprimant. ça n'a pas besoin d'être comme ça, quelqu'un que je connaissais avait l'habitude de dire «votre vie est ce que vous en faites». Il est temps de faire un projet et de lancer les dés. Je vais probablement signer pour un contrat de courte durée avec un ONG quelque part au Moyen-Orient, ou bien en Afghanistan. Ce sera plus rapide et facile, le monde est dans la tourmente et il ne semble pas que ça s'améliorera bientôt.

Fanny is super excited to return to Paris and visit her friends and family.  Seems in the middle somewhere of our trip the powers in charge of Paris have started a publicity campaign to convince the Parisians to be more friendly to the tourists.  THAT would be something to confirm.  Fanny is swimming deep in the internet to scope out working and upgrade training opportunities - she is dying to get back on the saddle and into the hospital and refresh her skills, rebuild her nurse-muscles.

Fanny est super excitée de retourner à Paris et rendre visite à ses amis et à sa famille. Parait- il quelque part dans le milieu de notre voyage la France a lancé une campagne publicitaire pour convaincre les Parisiens d'être plus convivial avec les touristes. Ça reste quelque chose à confirmer! Fanny est à fond sur le net à la recherche de travail et sur les possibilités de formation - elle meurt d'envie de se remettre en selle à l'hôpital et d'actualiser ses compétences, de reconstruire ses muscles d'infirmière.

Two years 'on the road' has not quenched the fire of adventure.  More likely it has self-evolved into a little monster....Since it is way cheaper, and not at all likely I will ever be able to afford my Stonehouse Gite in the French countryside, I can see a moving, rolling, advancing, circling future.  A summer wedding in Edmonton sounds fun.  Another European Camino maybe (more likely Turkey's Lecian Way)?  Hiking the length of the Great Wall of China, ON the Wall, would be sporty.  Maybe more 'out there' is to walk across the Sahara.  Or time to dust of the motorcycle for a rip across Africa?   Growl around the perimeter of India in a Bajaj 3-wheel Rickshaw? The 'Everest' of trips for us would be a 4x4 Merc Sprinter across Central Asia.  Yea right.  Good to keep the dream outside one's reach.

Deux ans sur la route n'a pas éteint le feu de l'aventure. Il est plus probable que ce se soit auto-transformé en un petit monstre .... Comme c'est une façon de vivre économique, et que il soit peu probable que je puisse acheter mon gîte en pierre dans la campagne française, je peux voir une vie en mouvement, roulant, coulant vers l'avenir.  Voila qu'un mariage en été à Edmonton serait amusant (la fille de Chris). Un autre Camino européen peut-être ( ou plutôt  le Lecian Way en Turquie ) ou plus intéressant une randonnée le long de la Grande Muraille de Chine, SUR le mur, serait sportif. Peut-être plus «extrême» serqit de flâner à travers le Sahara. Ou bien c'est le bon moment de dépoussiérer la moto pour un périple en l'Afrique? Rugir autour du périmètre de l'Inde dans un rickshaw Bajaj à 3 roues? Le «Everest» du voyage pour nous serait un Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 à travers l'Asie centrale. Oui bien sur! C'est bon de rêver!

We hope that our trip has polluted many minds with aspirations and lofty journeys.  Don't dare, just go.

Nous espérons que notre voyage a pollué beaucoup d'esprits avec des aspirations à des voyages possibles. N'hésitez pas, lancez-vous!

2 months advertising/2 mois de pub
24 inquiries/24 demandes d'infos
3 lectures on being crazy - somehow, some reason, folks feel free to comment on not-their-shit
3 leçons de morale sur le fait d'être fous, d'une manière ou d'une autre certaines personnes se sentent libres de commenter des choses qu'ils ne les regardent pas
4 offers of 6000USD or less - WTF?  Get away cheapskate! Smoke another reality-check.
4 offres de 6000 USD ou moins- Pardon? Allez chercher ailleurs!
3 offers of cash same weekend
3 offres de versement le même weekend
1 winner/1 gagnant

AND THE WINNER IS...Jerome Blum.  Jere is pretty excited about his upcoming journey and you can follow it, him and Bip Bip here: How I Met the Others

ET LE GAGNANT EST ... Jérôme Blum. Jere est très enthousiaste à l'idée de son prochain voyage et vous pouvez le suivre, lui et Bip Bip ici: How I Met the Others

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trip Statistics

Our trip is winding down...I suppose it is about time.   So let's look at some interesting statistics.

578 Nights
Thanks to Bippers, we had a home as well as a set of wheels.  Being in the shape of a van, we got a little more interior space than other 4WD alternatives and so we were able to take advantage of boondocking (free parking/camping) opportunities as we got more and more comfortable with the idea.  For example our as we started out in the USA we opted for more paid campings and when we finished - Chile and Argentina - the ease of finding a highway rest-stop with shower, clean toilet and wifi meant that we never ever had to go to a campground.

And if you want to see a photo-representation of the above breakdown go to Bip Bip 1001 nights

It was interesting to see our daily expenses...This includes everything from laundry, to internet, to customs and border crossing fees to food and gas and camping (and to the odd restaurant).  It must be pointed out that we did not start tracking our expences until we hit Belize and thus it is a shame we don't have costs for Mexico.  We liked Mexico but have no more than a gut-feel that it was cheap.  Food was great and that goes without saying.  

There are a few notable comments -

1) Panama was expensive, as most developed country in Central America...but mostly because we sped through to catch up with our shipping partners.  Thus the daily tally includes the $1200 shipping of Bippers AND the $1100 for the 5 day 'cruise' from Portobello to Cartagena (noted as 'hotel' above).  Stink!

2)The daily average for Chile shocked me, but probably because I liked Chile; it should not have been such a shock as we had heard that it was an expensive land.  I found the landscape reminiscent of Canada, and the people calm and respectful (as opposed to the loud and sometimes hot-headed Argentinians).  But as you will see below, daily costs are directly related to price of gas and Chile was expensive in gas.

3)Argentina came in the bottom-half of the collective.  Not surprising since we were able to capitalize on the black-market exchange for US dollars.  While the 'official' rate for the period we were there was 5 pesos per 1 USD we were able to get 6.3 (in the early days) to 8.3 pesos per dollar.  Thus more than 60% more purchasing power.  Oh and the fuel is subsidized to half-price south of the Patagonia line and that is where we spent most of our time.

4)Rate of travel - faster you go the more costly it is.  You use gas (#1 factor, did I say that already?), you cannot find the cheapest restaurant, you cannot set up camp on the beach with your neighbourly aligator,  you cannot develop a relationship with your favorite Nene in the veggie market....

5)We got lucky and didn't have to bribe any cops or pay  for any accidents.  This could run into thousands....

Today Fanny was driving so I distracted myself with a small analysis of the fuel tracking sheet I have been keeping.  I was shocked, initially by the total amount of money (14 000USD!!!) we spent on fuel on this trip.  Wowsers, I don’t like to think of what the total MAINTENANCE costs were!  However, doing the calcs shows us we spent 24USD per day on fuel (for two people).  That is not so bad eh? Phew.

The ranking of most-to-least cost per country was surprising; countries I thought expensive were actually not so bad (the converse is true...who would have thought that NICARAGUA was so expensive?).
The ranking USD/Litre reads like this:
ARG(S)-BOL(Local price)-ECU

After all that...and two years on the road, the average cost per litre calculating for all countries is 1usd/litre.  I find that interesting.

The photo below gives a short-list (66%less) of our fill-ups.  There are some anomalies to discuss:
1.       We will probably have to acknowledge that Ecuador gets our ‘most favorite country’ now.  Mexico goes down to number 2!

2.       Argentina was quite cheap on gas for two reasons-
a.       Fuel subsidy south of the Patagonian line effectively charging half price per litre
b.      The capacity to capitalize on the ‘blue market’ value of the US dollar.  We got between 6.3-8.3 pesos per USD where the official rate is about 5 which slashed our fuel costs.
c.       Argentinean beef wasn’t that great and we preferred the Chilean wine.  What’s up with that?

3.       While we loved everything about Chile – our daily costs were absurd (100usd-ish per day) and since our daily expenses are directly linked to fuel prices, fuel ranged from 1.6-2USD per litre.  BAM.

4.       In Bolivia fuel-life depended on your ability to negotiate – Local price OR Foreigner price.  Either way it seems, considering the global picture, the foreigner price is middle-of-the-road.  Thus it was not necessary for us to be so critical or anal regarding fill-ups...bummer that the people were less than interested in tourists.

5.       Costa Rica- aka Gringolandia-  was rudely expensive we found, considering what you get and where it is located vis-a-vis its neighbours.  Where the aging pony-tailed staggering drunk gringos outnumber  the poor working and landless peasants, well you can imagine the influence on the local economy.  Thus it is not surprisingly the fuel costs were high.  Too bad the surf wasn’t better when we were there.

6.       Panama doesn’t show up on our short list – we only fueled up 4 times.  However the price per litre is smack in the middle of the range of USA.  Does that surprise you?

7.       Colombia had a black market in Venezuelan gas (read jerry-can peddlers on the side of the road) that took the price of fuel on the border region down to 60 cents/L!  Otherwise Colombia was quite expensive.  Colombia has a trade agreement with the USA now so I wonder if costs will change now.

8.       Fuel costs in Peru are almost identical to costs in Canada. Peru suffers a duality in its economy – the rape of the bumbaclad tourists and the rape of its indigenous.