Geographisits (will make words up as I go, you’ll get used to it) and anyone with a passing knowledge of the globe will tell you that South America and Australia are quite far away from one another. In fact, I would have to fly for fourteen hours just to reach it, let alone take my vehicle along too. Was it all really worth it? In my mind, yes. In other people’s minds, in many other people’s minds, in fact in almost everyone’s minds that I met, I was dribbling lunatic of a man.
Overlanding isn’t for everyone and I can see why: you spend days without taking a shower or sometimes even seeing civilisation; if you break down you have nothing but your wits and possibly only half of those; if the car breaks down you’re in the same boat (well, not boat per say); and you only have enough water and food to last a few days. None of that has to be actuality though: it’s certainly possible to rig up a shower, have a mechanic hidden in a draw and dine at the finest restaurants in town. But I only know one way and so when I’m out bush, as they say in Australia, I do it my way. And that is the essence of overlanding: doing it your way, how you want, when you want, and entirely on your terms. The only timeline is the one of your own design.
As for the driving itself, if there are a few of you, you can share the burden, but if you’re on your own or have a blind uncle, you’re pretty much going to be nailed into the captain’s seat. And let’s face it, if you don’t like driving, overlanding may not exactly be for you. But then again, it takes all sorts. I met a woman once that rode two and a half thousand kilometres across Australia for a motorcycle meet-up, knowing that every hour she had to take a ten-minute nap at the side of the road as she was a narcoleptic. The world is full of extraordinary people. Incidentally, I am not that huge fan of driving, and nor am I very good at it either. I can though keep it up for over an hour at a time, and I can drive for long periods as well.
In Europe driving overland is relatively easy because it’s all joined together as one harmonious club (well, now that the UK has gone). It’s the same in the United States, Canada and Australia too, with vast swathes of open land hankering to be explored with only state borders and some wildlife getting in the way. In South America though it’s slightly different as they aren’t all singing from the same hymn sheet. The Chileans don’t like the Argentinians, the Ecuadorians think the Peruvians stole their land, the Paraguayans know everyone stole theirs. The Bolivians don’t like the Chileans as they closed off their only access to water, and Uruguay is sandwiched between the two monsters on the continent so has no choice but to like everyone. And every single one of them is on the look-out for illicit drugs being couriered from one country to the next, occasionally by stupid smiling gringos inadvertently pronouncing hola like they’re auditioning for Santa Claus . . . ho-ho-ho-holllllaaa!
There are any number of forums available for people to join (many on Facebook such as Overlanding the Americas, Pan-American Travellers Association and drivingtheamericas.com) to find out the latest news or ask for help or advice. Unquestionably the two most popular topics concern mechanical ability and learning Spanish. A smattering of each will go a long way, but as anyone with learning difficulties would attest, simply because you don’t know the language doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel at all. My Uncle has travelled everywhere and can barely even see let alone speak the language. However, you’ll get plenty of time to practice the language and your Spanish greetings isn’t the only thing you get to recite at each border. You will also be tested on your patience, problem solving, bribery techniques and bribery avoiding techniques, not forgetting of course rehearing a countenance that will impart with little fuss ‘I have no drugs hidden there, please ask the dog to stop sniffing my bum’. That one takes some serious repetition to get right, but it’s very worthwhile.
The only advice I would impart though is that despite how you feel - how hungry you are, how hot you are, how little money you have, how frustrated you are about filling out another piece of paper or paying another ridiculous toll - getting annoyed will not help you. You have to ooze trust and honesty, and the more calm, patient and polite you are, the more likely things will get done. In fact, I would wager it’s the only way to get things done. By way of illustration, I was stopped by armed police – many men with more guns than John Wick - to check my vehicle, passport and registration details three times within just over a mile. Each one required the same review of documentation, the same questions, the same stopping and opening up the back of the vehicle for inspection. In each case, your job is to appear as meek as a newborn lamb, albeit a lamb that is out for a Sunday drive, and has all the time in the world because this latest rudimentary check is the merest trifle of an inconvenience.
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here