Montana’s always been one of our favourite states, particularly the Rocky Mountains side bordering Idaho. Pretty anytime, especially in April with a late season dusting of snow, we made a couple of stops, first in Bozeman then again in Missoula. Missoula has some great outdoors/camping stores giving us the opportunity to do a little “replacement” shopping after the theft during our vehicle shipment.
We’ve stayed at some weird and wonderful camping spots over the course of this journey and Missoula provided one more to add to the mix – an actual RV store ! A first for us and a more comfortable nights sleep we have not had in a while – iOverlander mentioned Bretz RV & Marine as very highly rated – a place that welcomed campers for a night, provided electricity, water and a dump station, all at no cost. Too good to be true we thought, but since it was near the shopping centre we ambled over to take a peek. Indeed, we were warmly welcomed to stay ( we had asked of course ) so over we went and set up for the night, along with 3 other like-minded travellers. We always like to support such generous businesses but having no real need of anything just two days prior to the end of our trip we were only able to take advantage of their propane top-up service – which was fast and friendly.
Not long after passing the Continental Divide we crossed from Montana into Idaho’s ”panhandle” ( briefly ) before reaching Washington state at which point ( in Spokane ) we turned north on Route 395 for Canada. A bit late to make it all the way home from Missoula so decided to spend our last night in the US ( our last night of this amazing journey ) in beautiful Kettle Falls National Campground on the Colombia River. On a cool, but fortunately not freezing, night we sat enjoying the beautiful view of Lake Roosevelt and toasting to the many memories this incredible journey has given us – we reflected on the wonderful people we’d met, places we’d visited and things we had done. Quite simply just a ton of fun and excitement – there’s not much we’d change ( well, actually yes there is – we could have done without Covid 19 ! ).
It was a short run to the border the next day and after a little delay there ( we’d forgotten to complete our “ArriveCan” apps ) with an unusually surly border officer we were welcomed home. Two hours later and we were pulling into our driveway. Hard to believe that it was just a month shy of 3 years ago that we set off from the very same driveway – much has changed in the world since. I’m sure that within a few days we’ll be pining for the open road again but for now it’s certainly great to be with family, and see familiar faces and places. After so long in a camper it’s astounding how big our house suddenly feels..!
What’s Next: We plan to enjoy a beautiful Kelowna summer with family and friends and prepare for our daughter’s wedding in September. I also have a ( rather large ) project I am working on ( details later in the year ) that will likely take 5-6 months. In a “perfect world” and all going well ( a proviso that Covid had taught us to make ! ) we hope to be ready to blast off again by November. Stealing a line from Anthony Bourdain, at this point it is somewhat of a “Destination Unknown” but the seasons would certainly favour international overland travel in our vehicle somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere 😊. More details later in 2022.
On behalf of Lois and myself, if you have been reading along, thanks for joining us for the experience – we hope it has been at least occasionally entertaining, periodically informative, and might even have served as an inspiration for some to pack your van/truck/camper/ motorcycle and venture forth on your own overland adventure. We love the comments and respond to all so please, keep them coming ! We will re-start the weekly blog as soon as we get going again later this year.
Post Script: If a selection of curious stats and facts, random trivia and a summary of shipping details doesn’t float your boat then by all means sign off this final blog now. This final ’addendum’ is provided mostly for the benefit of a number of our followers who have reached out to us during our journey in search of more specific information to assist them in their own plans for a Pan American overland adventure. Enough have asked, and the questions were mostly similar in nature, that I felt a brief summary here might help. If you are in that category, I hope the following is of some value – enjoy 😊 !
Wrapping up a significant overland venture there’s a bit of a tradition to provide a selection of journey facts and stats and a little trivia – to ”pay it forward” as it were. Hoping the following will sate some of the curiosity out there !
Days on the road – 410 Kilometres/miles travelled – 61,348 / 38,120 Average kms/miles per day – 149.6 / 92.9 Average fuel economy – 16.9 L/100km ( 13.9 miles per US gallon ) Amount spent on fuel ( biggest expense item, by far ) – $11,562 CDN / $9,192 USD Average price of gasoline – $0.89 USD per litre or $3.37 USD per US gallon Countries visited – 17 Shortest stay – 2 days ( Honduras : we only transited ) Longest stay – 3 months ( Argentina ) Top 3 countries – Argentina, Colombia, Chile/Mexico (tie for third!) Best coffee – Colombia (hands down! ) Best wine – Argentina ( Chile close second !) Best food – Mexico Favourite city – Buenos Aires Least favourite city – Colon ( Panama )
Top 5 Attractions ( not in any particular order ):
Merino Glacier, Argentina
Carretera Austral, Chile
Torres del Paine NP, Chile
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
( Note: Machu Picchu, Peru would have been included but we had actually visited on a previous trip )
TripHigh: Actually, just completing the full PanAmerican highway, top to bottom ( which was always our primary goal ) – all the other sights along the way were a bonus. The PanAm had been a lifetime dream.
TripLow: Missing the Falkland Islands ( closed due to Covid ) and missing Brazil’s Pantanal ( we were simply there in the wrong season )
Some have asked us about shipping which, along with fuel, is the only other significant budget item on a trip like this ( everything else is inexpensive ). We spent $1,150 USD on ( our portion of ) a shared 40ft container crossing from Panama to Colombia. We spent a total of $6,286 USD shipping the vehicle (via RoRo) from Buenos Aires back to Georgia in the US, broken down to $1,350 USD port fees in Buenos Aires, $3,950 shipping freight to Georgia, $330 USD freight insurance, and $656 USD port related fees in Georgia. We could have saved about $300 shipping to Houston, Texas but Brunswick, Georgia was recommended as a safer/easier port to deal with ( ironically it did not matter as the theft likely occurred before the ship got that far – that said, Brunswick was very fast and easy to deal with ). So, our total shipping cost to cross the Darien Gap ( Panama to Colombia ) and to get the vehicle back to North America was $7,436 USD.
A few additional comments on shipping ( something we get asked about a lot ). Covid has dramatically increased shipping costs and limited shipping choices but these costs should go back down when the world ( hopefully ) returns to a semblance of normality ( 🙏). We got off VERY light crossing from Panama to Colombia ( most overlanders we met paid considerably more ) but we paid dearly for the trip home. Normally that return trip would have been about $1,500 less. We also crossed the Sea of Cortez in Mexico ( approx $450 USD ) but I did not include it since it’s an optional route, not an essential one – still, many folks do take that ferry and one gets to enjoy Mexico’s stunning Baja without having to backtrack all the way to the top of Baja ( we strongly recommend the ferry option – La Paz to either Los Mochis or Mazatlan ).
A quick perusal of Google maps as we drove away from Brunswick, Georgia indicated a couple of possible routes across the United States to our home in British Columbia, Canada. While our goal was not necessarily the shortest and hence fastest route home, nor ( at this point ) did we wish to make a lot of lengthy detours. With home now tantalizingly close ( just one international border away), our hearts and minds began to focus on just getting there and then beyond that to the myriad things we have to do in the coming months.
Three potential stops on the 4,000km ( 2,400 mile ) journey were quickly agreed upon: a visit to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame; a slight detour to Denver to visit the good folks at Outfitter Mfg ( the company that made our camper ) and a re-visit to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Fortunately these all fell (broadly speaking anyway) in a more or less straight line northwest towards British Columbia.
The drive through Georgia was scenic, especially since we had detoured through a slightly more rural area. So many quaint churches and picture perfect Georgian homes ! Beyond that it was uneventful apart from traffic on the interstate highway that we found much heavier than we had ever noticed before – particularly the number of semi trailers; we often noticed there were more semi trailers on the road that they were cars. Pretty much all the way through Georgia and on through Tennessee it was more congested than we had expected – we also noticed that it very quickly became much colder than it was back in Florida. That, despite the fact we had not yet gone very far north.
Our first night back on the road was spent at the small town of Cochran, Georgia where we survived one of the wildest storms we can remember. Power out across the town and the rain and wind were just wild.
The cold and overcast weather was unfortunately an omen for what was to come and as we closed in on Nashville visibility was almost zero. Cold and miserably wet was not what we had expected this time of year while we were still this far south . Fortunately the rain and wind cleared for our day in Nashville but we were to be confounded yet again with another surprise – unexpectedly huge crowds. Early April is certainly not high season down here yet the downtown was very busy and any hopes we had of simply walking in and buying a ticket to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry were quickly dashed; the former had an extremely long lineup and the latter was no longer taking reservations for tours that day. As travellers we like to just turn up and not make plans too far in advance and normally (unless one is in high season), that works well for us. But, sometimes you get caught out and this was one such time. Not being country music diehards, we contented ourselves with some exploring of the city, a few of its other landmarks and a nice lunch in a downtown bar listening to what must have been one of hundreds of aspiring young wannabe’s strumming the guitar in hopes of finding that elusive breakthrough hit. Seems there’s one ( or more ) in every bar in Nashville.
Tennessee quickly passed into our rearview, Kentucky came and went, the southern part of Illinois, and then on to Missouri – at this point the scenery was still interesting and varied as we crossed the great Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers in succession. Beyond the famous arch of St. Louis and on through Kansas and eastern Colorado, it was simply acres and acres of farmland, grain silos, and the occasional oil pumps ( pump jacks ). At least there was now less highway traffic !
We’d purchased our Outfitter Caribou Lite truck camper from the folks at Outfitter Mfg. in Denver, back in May, 2015 and the rig has served us very, very well. A very robust, yet lightweight camper there had only been the most minor of wear items this whole time but, since we’re not likely to get this close to Denver again for a while, we thought it prudent to stop in and have a quick service call. Scott, Ethan and the team were incredibly helpful, very interested to hear feedback from a couple who’d really “lived” in their product, and quickly repaired and/or replaced the few minor items that had arisen. They are very busy guys these days – some Outfitter models have a 9 month wait list; seems many folks suddenly want a truck camper. Thanks again for squeezing us in Scott !
Heading north from Denver one gets to Fort Collins and has to decide which way to go up into southern BC. We’ve done the scenic route through Grand Teton and Yellowstone a few times before but enjoyed it enough to tackle it again – it was our preferred route. Faster, and shorter was the Cheyenne, Casper, Sheridan, Missoula route but there’s just not as much to see. Then we looked at the weather forecast:
We might just have tackled Grand Teton in -10 Celsius (14 F ) weather but Yellowstone in -22 Celsius ( -8 F ) was a bit much to bear. That’s capital “C” cold at anytime but considering all our warm weather gear was stolen during shipping it may well have been a very uncomfortable stay ! Google Maps was reset for the more boring, less mountainous, but ultimately warmer eastern route
As I closed off this blog we had just reached Montana leaving us still a few relaxed days drive from home. The plan is stop in Missoula and replace as much of what was stolen as we can – of course we’ll load up on our duty free allowances as well ( a rite of passage as you approach the border ) !
Stay tuned for our closing blog next week – we have had an incredible journey traversing the Americas but it’s also very exciting to be going home. More details on that ( and some possible future plans ) next week…….
A full week had elapsed between our arrival into Miami before the good ship “Toledo” would deliver our precious cargo just over the state line in Brunswick, Georgia. The originally scheduled 30 day passage from Argentina to the US had, with multiple delays, blown out to 36 days and when pre-departure delivery and post-arrival unloading days were added we’d been just a day shy of 6 weeks without the camper by the time we picked it up. I’ll come back to the camper delivery saga – first some observations after our first week back in North America.
It’s always great to get back ‘home’ (or in this case at least, just more familIar surroundings). Signs are all in English ( well, most anyway – it is Florida ), you can turn on the TV ( which we had not watched in 5 months ) and it’s all in English, road rules make sense, you can actually find a restaurant that opens for dinner before 8pm ( a near impossibility in South America ! ) and, best of all, your ”regular” size truck will now fit in a ”normal” sized parking space ! All nice, of course, but it comes at a cost – life in North America is a bit less exotic, things are less spontaneous and more predictable, and – holy cow – WAY more expensive ! Throw together Covid-induced shortages, Russian-induced oil price shocks, no camper ( it had been hotels and restaurants every day for a week now ! ), US Spring-Break crowds, and it was …..err, shall we say, quite an adjustment from South America. I think we had been living in a parallel universe of sorts (one we thoroughly enjoyed being in though) !
Save for the last couple of days when we did see bright sunshine, our first week back ( spent ambling up the coast from Miami to Jacksonville ) was, quite honestly, a bit of a gloomy one. The weather was mixed at best, we’d been to Florida a couple of times before so weren’t really into doing the full tourist thing, and we’d heard that the ship was now even further delayed. At this stage, we just wanted our wheels again, and to move on – the good ship “Toledo” could not arrive soon enough…!
We eventually got to Brunswick ( a pleasant little historically important, Georgian city of about 20,000 ) and the following day were advised that the ship had not only arrived in port, but that the port crew had already discharged our truck camper and it was sitting on the dock ! We could schedule a pick up for the next day. Not only that but it had already been “pre-cleared” by customs ( a random process ) so there would be no lengthy inspections or checks at the port – wonderful news ( a huge thanks to our Brunswick agent, Virginia, who made this part all so easy ) ! We expected this to take at least two more days – the gods were now smiling on us it seemed. Safety vest on ( a port requirement ), port fees paid ( all online, a very seamless process ) I went to the gate to meet our port “escort”. Taylor, the shipping company representative, took me into the port ( only the driver – and no one else – can enter the port ), cleared security and accompanied me to the truck which I could see in the distance as we approached. Could it really be this easy ? There was so much more to the process when we last did this in Cartagena, Colombia.
First stop was to meet Virginia, our port agent, who provided the document that allowed us to pick up the truck. We enjoyed a coffee together and she shared some useful shipping tips.
At first glance – all looked well, from the outside anyway. A quick walk around the vehicle revealed nothing unexpected – a great relief. Then, I opened the doors – first to the truck, then the camper. My heart sank……it was immediately obvious that both had been completely pilfered, with things out of place and strewn all around. We had carried all the really valuable stuff ( drone, cameras, iPhones. iPads, laptops etc ) with us and hidden expensive vehicle/camper accessories where they could not be reached with the camper top down, so that helped mitigate our losses. But you can’t hide it all and quite a lot of valuable coats, other clothes, boots, hiking equipment, other accessories along with various odds and ends were gone. Devastated does not begin to describe the feeling.
The port staff were sympathetic but could do little but assist in filling out a claim report – they suggested that it likely happened in other ports en route ( Brazil is notorious for it and our ship stopped at 3 ports there ). We were not the only victims it turned out – another RV on the same ship was also hit, the owner in that case had ( against all advice ) actually stashed cash ( yes, really ) in their rig – it too, was all gone. Perhaps we got off light. The loss of many of these things was not just inconvenient, but an unwelcome additional cost to what was already an exceptionally expensive shipping experience. Hopefully we can recover some through insurance (which we have) – fingers crossed 😌.
Truck in hand there was now much to do – unload everything we’d been carrying with us for 6 weeks and put it back in its rightful place, reload/replenish all tanks ( empty now of course ), reorganize everything that had not been stolen and lastly stock up on supplies. Licence plates had to be re-affixed as well – finger tight only for now, since they had also cleaned out my tool box during the heist. The process did not actually take that long and all that remained before we could head northwest to Canada was to drop the rental car off at nearby Jacksonville airport, just an hour away.
Must say it was really nice to have our own vehicle back – everything at our fingertips again, and such a nice, comfortable vehicle to drive. We had a permanent place to stay again, our own comfy bed, and the ability to buy, store, cook and eat whatever foods we wanted and now had everything with us ( not just what we could fit in a travel bag ! ); we had really missed that for the past 6 weeks. As this past week wound down we’d put the camper contents theft behind us ( hey, worse had happened to others ) and managed to get on the road back to British Colombia. Not “far” on the road, mind you, but ( as Willie sang it ) at least we were finally ”On the road again”…!
Almost across the street from our hotel in Montevideo was the Mirador Panoramico ( a high rise building with a viewing deck ) so before driving out of the city to Punta del Este we took in the city view from the 22nd floor to get a different perspective on this city of 1.3 million.
Punta Del Este, ( PDE ) 125 kms straight east, is a beach-side getaway on the Atlantic Ocean that’s long been a summer playground, not just for Uruguayans, but also other South Americans ( especially Argentines ). We found it newer, cleaner and just generally more appealing than Mar Del Plata ( very broadly speaking it’s Argentine equivalent ). Centred on a peninsular at Uruguay’s southern extremity, PDE has a calm western bay side and full exposure to the South Atlantic on its eastern shore with some fairly solid surfing conditions in places.
The town delivered better weather than expected in the 4 days we were there although the winds were pretty fierce at times ( making it very popular with windsurfers and kite boarders alike ). The city has a great seashore promenade that wraps right around Salinas Point ( Uruguay’s southern extremity ) and made for an enjoyable afternoon’s walking. Remnants of one of Uruguay’s great historical battles can be found there. While Uruguay was not a combatant, one of WW2’s earliest naval encounters, the Battle of the River Plate ( fought between 3 British cruisers and the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee ) was fought just off this coast in late 1939.
A plaque noting Uruguay’s southernmost point, Punta de las Salinas, right by the same spot.
With “wheels” again following a month with none ( we’d rented a car in Uruguay ) exploring the coast of Uruguay was now possible so north we went. The interior of the country is pretty much farmland so offers little to see but it’s coastline is very scenic – reminded us much of small coastal towns up and down Australia’s east coast ( perhaps not so coincidentally since both regions lie at almost the same longitude and enjoy similar weather ). Tested the water but as summer had just turned to autumn it was a little cool for a dip ( and probably a bit rough given the strong wind at the time). It’s pretty much beaches all the way up to Brazil ( and more beaches beyond that ! ).
Having had such a wonderful experience with an “apart-hotel” in Buenos Aires we decided to roll the dice again and book one in PUnta del Este and were very happy with it. With these units you forgo daily housekeeping but generally get more space, more facilities and a little more “homey” feel: good for when you are spending more time there.
Alas, all good things come to an end and for us leaving Punta del Este was a double whammy- not only were we leaving a beautiful and relaxing part of Uruguay, but (save for one night at an airport hotel) it would also be our last hurrah in all South America. Hard to believe that, yes, we have been back 5 months – where did the time go ? Prior to flying out there was yet another Covid test to do, fortunately another “negative” result ensuring no hassles boarding. Still, anxious moments while you wait for it.
We were getting sick of these Covid tests. This one in Uruguay was our 6th since we re-started our trip in November. They may be cheaper in South America – it does not make them any more pleasant !
Our flight back to North America took us from Montevideo’s modern new airport via Panama where a scheduled 4 hour layover morphed into more than 7 resulting in arrival into Miami at the ungodly hour of 5.15am. At least customs and immigration were not busy so it was a smooth process on arrival. Never had we so looked forward to “crashing” in a comfortable hotel bed !
We have some planning to do in the next few days while waiting for the truck – hoping to enjoy a few days in the Florida sun by a pool or beach somewhere before driving up to the shipping port at Brunswick, Georgia and collecting the truck next week. An exciting but also a nerve-wracking time – praying it looks just the same as when we left it back in BA.
A few months back, just after we had reached the bottom of South America ( effectively completing the ”Pan American Highway” in our vehicle ), I penned another article for Truck Camper Adventures magazine covering our experiences, some highlights and relevant tips on the journey. The article is primarily oriented to the needs of those with truck campers ( or similar overland vehicles ) but would have relevance to anyone considering a trip like this regardless of their means of transport . It was published today – link below.
More remnants from the combatant ships, plaque missing off this one.
One is always a tad nervous getting swabbed for any travel related antigen test. The prospect of testing positive when you are about to cross one border and only 10 days out from crossing another ( the latter involving a pre-booked international flight ) is definitely nerve-wracking. The mere thought of it and the ensuing complications for getting to the US in time to get our truck admittedly did cause us some stress. So, how to deal with that ? Our plan was to be extraordinarily careful in our final week in BA ( as we have been most of the time in Argentina ), avoid crowds, mask up always, social distance and sanitize aggressively. Seems it paid off as our antigen tests in BA ( happily ) came back negative – thus no problems getting into Uruguay.
Could not resist the sweets. On our last day in BA we visited ” Rapanui” famed for having the best gelato in the city. We’d agree – the pistachio was divine !
There are countless ways to get to Uruguay from BA but most convenient is the “Buquebus” ( a high speed ferry ) across the River Plate to the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento. On a cloudy but warm autumn day, with just 2 days left on our visa, we bid farewell to Argentina and sailed for Uruguay. A moment of anticipation for the delights of Uruguay but real sadness about leaving an amazing country that we had truly enjoyed immensely 😔.
Colonia is one of the oldest settlements in Uruguay ( founded in 1680 ) and due to its proximity to BA a popular starting point for any Uruguayan exploring. The town itself is pretty, set on as scenic bay with tree-lined boulevards, and every sight is walkable. It’s real appeal though, lies in the many well-preserved historic colonial-era buildings that still stand. Its famous historic quarter is so well preserved, in fact, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the buildings ( in some cases now, ruins ) date from the original Portuguese period in the late 1600’s. It was nice to wander these old back streets and imagine life here as it was when the Europeans first arrived.
With our time in Uruguay limited we moved on to the capital of Montevideo. I think I mentioned a few posts back that fully 1 in 3 Argentines called their capital city home ( a highly uncommon level of urban centralization). I had forgotten about Uruguay – here almost half the population lives in Montevideo ! It’s an easy drive from Colonia to Montevideo ( Uruguay is flat….like, Holland flat ! ) and the road follows the shoreline of the River Plate along largely agricultural lands. Uruguay is known for its rich agricultural land and coastal beaches, most famously those around Punta del Este, to the east of Montevideo.
One has to do a fundamental reset, though, when crossing from Argentina to Uruguay, and I offer the following valuable tip for anyone planning to travel in these parts. In Argentina a tourist does not dare use a credit card – ever. Due to bizarre government rules there, cards get the ’official’ exchange rate whereas cash US dollars ( or Western Union transfers ) get the ‘real’ rate, which is twice as good. So, one way or another, in Argentina you are always, always, using lots of cash. We did not use a credit card in 3 months. No one does. In Uruguay it’s the complete opposite – you effectively get penalized for using cash. Tourists do not pay the IVA ( sales tax ) in Uruguay but you must use a credit card to get the exemption. Their systems recognize any non-Uruguayan card and immediately strip the embedded 20% IVA out of the price – nice ! Simple, fast and easy and no carrying mounds of cash. Very tourist friendly !
Montevideo very kindly put on a display of excellent weather while we were there. The forecast had been a bit mixed but as luck would have it the clouds and rain mostly stayed away providing us ideal weather to wander round and explore the sights of the city. Like Buenos Aires, no hills, so it’s easy on foot ( fortunately for us, not quite as many tempting ice cream shops, cake shops and bakeries, the likes of which we had often submitted to in BA ! ). Lots of history here, grand buildings, nice parks, sea front promenades and monuments to iconic independence heroes – Jose Artigas being the big name in Uruguay.
Uruguay is the kind of country that rarely makes international headlines ( I suspect they like their relative anonymity here ) but a tragic plane crash in the 1970’s put the country in the global spotlight. Actually, not so much the crash, but the events that followed it. Those events are recounted in one of the most impressive museums we have visited – The 1972 Andes Crash Memorial.
The crash in the Andes in 1972 involved a Uruguayan rugby team that was headed to Chile for a friendly match against the Chileans. The crash (in which only 16 of 45 passengers survived ) was followed by an extensive search but when the plane could not be located the search was called off with all passengers presumed dead. Fully 72 days later the world was shocked to learn that 16 passengers had in fact survived – but had managed to do so only after resorting to eating flesh from the deceased passengers when they ran out of food. The museum is amazing and tells their incredible story of survival in intricate detail, with many personal accounts recorded, and remnants of the plane on display. If these facts sound familiar you’ve likely seen the 1993 move ”Alive” which tells story.
We’ve seen many museums in our travels but few that left us in as much awe as this one did. Its an unbelievable testimony to the spirit of human endurance , creativity and the simple will to survive. A must if you ever come to Montevideo !
We are Lois and Jeff, of Kelowna, BC, Canada. Recently retired with a serious overlanding travel bug, we hit the road in our truck camper in May 2019, initially tackling the Pan American highway. The PanAm completed in April 2022, and truck camper sold, we plan to continue exploring again later in 2022 in our Sprinter 4×4!