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Waiting For Arrivals (A Mom’s View)

(This guest article was written by our mother, Gail Fowler, as she waited for us to arrive in Cuiabá, Brazil!)


After delayed flights, mixed connections, and misplaced bags I finally arrived in Cuiabá, Brazil on Saturday afternoon.  Cuiaba is lush and green, even in the winter dry season, and very hot. More than one resident over the coming days would tell us, with a note of pride, that Cuiabá was the hottest city in Brazil. Unfinished road works and partially constructed hotels showed the challenges of preparing for the Copa de Mundo but from arrival at the airport, Cuiabáns showed their excitement about being a host city and willingness to help out.

Grant and David’s progress before I left indicated that they were a day ahead of schedule so I hoped they would arrive Saturday evening.  However, once I had internet access Saturday afternoon, I saw no location updates since early that morning. Where were they?  Still no updates on Sunday morning so I headed out in the increasing heat of the day to explore the historic area of Cuiaba. I stood outside a beautiful old church and listened to a choir singing an unknown hymn in rich harmonies. A church elder (?) walked out and invited me in “Entrada, Entrada”. I politely declined and we exchanged smiles. The historic area was quiet with museums and shops closed on Sunday morning so I headed back to the hotel.

Lunchtime – still no updates. I will not panic, I will not worry. Maybe they were kidnapped in Bolivia? Stuck in a ditch in the Pantanal? On the side of a deserted  Bolivian dirt road with a broken down Land Cruiser? Arrested for doing something crazy? I will NOT worry. Afternoon comes and goes with another long walk in the Cuiabán heat and watching several soccer matches with new Russian friends. Evening arrives – no Grant, no David.  OK – NOW I will worry, they should be here by now? Finally, a honk at the front door of the hotel from a mud-caked Land Cruiser. They have arrived!  Vivo el Copa de Mundo!!!


Gail Fowler

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Travel Log: Bolivia and Brazil!

We started the last full day of driving before Brazil very early, packing up and hitting the road at 4:00 am. Our goal for the day was to drive from San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia to San Matias and the Brazilian border, and then to Cuiabá, Brazil. Originally, this was not our plan. In the months leading up to our drive, we researched and planned out each and every country and border crossing we would travel through. Many awesome websites and blogs chronicle other adventurer’s trips through this part of the world, so most of the time we had at least a general idea of what to expect as we entered a new country. The final leg of our journey, though, was almost entirely uncharted. The common route most take through this part of the Americas is south through Chile and Argentina. The massive Amazon rainforest prevents most east-west travel, and most people want to visit the southern reaches of the continent anyway. We, however, needed to be in Brazil by June 17th, so longer routes were not an option.

We had decided on a route that would take us through Cusco, Peru and then north, crossing the Peru-Brazil border at the small town of Iñapari. While very rarely traveled by overlanders, we were able to find some information on the roads and border crossing there. It was very lush and wet, running through the southern tip of the Amazon rainforest. The route would also require us to take a few local ferries, as some of the major rivers it crossed did not have bridges. It did, though, prevent us from needing to drive through Bolivia. Each additional country border that we crossed took an additional half a day, on average, and Bolivia in particular requires US citizens to purchase an expensive ($135) visa before entering.


The muddy road to Brazil

As the start date approached, however, we started to have doubts about our chosen route. It was the rainy season in Brazil and there were reports of major flooding in the area. From the Portuguese translations of news articles, we read that many miles of road were covered in 12-15 cm of water and were completely impassible. The ferry schedules were unreliable, if they were running at all. We made the executive decision a few weeks before we left to take the slightly longer route through Bolivia instead. This presented its own set of problems, especially regarding information about the Bolivia-Brazil border. The problem being, there was none.

Very few people seemed to drive between Bolivia and Brazil. If they did, they went through Corúmba, Brazil, which was much farther south than we wanted to go. We were unable to find any information, good or bad, about the border crossing at San Matias. Zero. There appeared to be a road to it on Google Maps, though, and it if we could make it we were a mere five hours from our final destination in Cuiabá. We made the decision to go for it.


“Highway” is a loose term

As we left San Ignacio, the already poor roads got even worse. The small, singe track dirt road became mostly wet, orange mud and clay. The beauty of the lush jungle around us was partially lost on us, as we struggled to maintain our speed through the mud and washboards of the road. We regularly stopped to inspect the bridges for safety. Our average speed was roughly 15 mph for most of the day. To make things worse, the last time we had filled up our gas tanks was hundreds of miles back at the Mennonite Colony in Chihuahua. With our spare 20 gallon tanks, we would just barely make it to San Matias. We did spend part of the day driving through the Pantanal wetlands, though, and we saw many birds and animals, as well as a few locals fishing. In total, though, we saw fewer than 20 other people the entire way.


Can’t go over it…


Parts of the Pantanal wetlands

Roughly 10 hours later, we finally pulled into San Matias, a tiny collection of single story houses and dirt roads, who’s only real purpose seemed to be protecting the Brazilian border. We were nearly out of gas, so after asking some locals, we found the only gas station in town. As we drove in to fill up, we found our way blocked by chains, and an older man came out to yell at us. The pump was broken, he said. Couldn’t we read? We bargained, pleaded, but no: he could not sell us any gas. If we were willing to wait a few days, he might be able to fix it. We continued warily into town to find the customs office.

With the help some more locals, we finally found it, nestled into main street of the tiny town and entirely deserted. The woman inside seemed incredibly surprised to see us. I wonder how long it had been since two gringos had walked in asking for passport stamps? She pulled up an archaic computer and started typing. As we waited, we struck up an awkward conversation in broken español about our trip and the World Cup. We told her we needed gas, and asked if by any chance she knew someone who had some. She did! Some 15 minutes later, her cousin pulled up on a motorcycle and produced a 20-liter plastic tank filled with dirty-looking gasoline. We gave it a sniff and decided that dirty gas was better than no gas. We paid him triple the normal price, got our passport stamps, and drove dirty, weary, and broken to the Brazilian border.

The border itself turned out to be nothing more than a small bridge with Bolivian militarios on one side. The glared at our mud-crusted ‘Cruiser, checked our stamps, and grudgingly let us through the gate. On the Brazilian side, we immediately saw something that we had not seen in days: pavement! A few hundred meters from the border, we stopped at a small shack where the Brazilian authorities inspected our car and its contents. We were told that our car was OK, but we had to drive two hours to the town of Cáceres to get our passports stamped and legally be allowed into the country. Yikes. On the way, we finally bought gas, and were even able to use a credit card for the first time in days. We finally found the police station in Cáceres, got our papers, and drove the comparatively easy three additional hours to Cuiabá.


Our first stop in Brazil – the Police station.

At this point, I should probably mention our GPS. Throughout our trip, we had been tracking ourselves in realtime and checking in with loved ones through a satellite GPS. You can see these points at We rarely had internet, so this was our only way to communicate with the outside world. Well, with all the drama of getting our brakes fixed and being car-less, we left it hanging in a tree in Pailón. So, for a few days, no one had any idea if we were ok and our tracking page didn’t move at all. I am told that this caused more than a few people a lot of stress. In particular our mother, who had flown to Cuiabá to meet us and go to the World Cup. Not only were we more than a day and a half behind schedule, but she had not heard ANYTHING from us in four entire days. We finally pulled into our hotel in Cuiabá late that evening and honked the horn. Half of the hotel lobby, including our mom, came out to welcome us. She had told everyone about her “crazy” sons, and they had been anxiously waiting for us all day!


Finally arriving in Cuiaba

We got something to eat and started to tell stories about our journey so far, and finally turned in after an exhausting few days of travel. The next day, we had our first World Cup match, Russia vs. South Korea, and more importantly, we had made it to Brazil!

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Travel Log Days 27-31: Bolivia, Part 3

We met Pirata at his house-turned-workshop just before eight the following morning. It was early but he was already at his ridiculously cheery self, making a few light jokes accompanied by his screeching laugh. We hoisted the Land Cruiser up on a few blocks of wood to take a look at the brakes.


Wheel what do we have here?

He confirmed our fears: the rear brake pads were completely destroyed. In the states, this would be a fairly easy fix, just call AAA and swing by Advanced Auto Parts. Not so much in rural Bolivia. Although Pirata could rip out and install brake pads for us, he did not have any replacement parts on hand. The nearest auto parts store that carried new brake pads was an hour and a half away in the city of Santa Cruz. Having no other choice, we found a taxi driver in Pailon who would take us there and back.


Some of Pirata’s other Toyotas. In the US and Europe, Toyota stopped making the 40 series Land Cruiser in 1984. A factory in Brazil, however, kept making this version, with a Mercedes engine, until 2001.

We finally arrived in Santa Cruz to even worse news. Even though it was a Thursday morning, and the streets were bustling with people, we just happened to arrive during a national holiday in Bolivia. Every one of the stores we tried was closed for not just the day, but the entire weekend. We would have to wait four more days until Monday if we wanted new brake pads, and would absolutely miss our first two games in Brazil. Panic quickly set in, but we put our heads together and came up with a glimmer of hope.

On the ride back to Pailon, we called Pirata from our taxi driver’s phone. The day before he had gushed about his own (wrecked) FZJ80 Land Cruiser to us, and talked about how he wanted to fix it up one day like ours. We proposed that, because his didn’t run at the moment and we were in a huge hurry, we would buy the used brake pads off of his Land Cruiser if he would install them on ours. He reluctantly agreed, so long as we met his price. We were back in business!

Our savior, Pirata.

Our savior, Pirata.

The “new” pads were badly worn, our brake fluid was low, and our rotors were badly scratched, but the Land Cruiser was back on the road! We happily paid Pirata and our taxi driver and set off, once again on the road to Brazil and only a day and a half behind schedule. If things went to plan, we would still arrive in Cuiaba, Brazil the night before our first match, Russia v. South Korea.


We set off towards San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia, and eventually the tiny Brazil-Bolivia border at San Matias. As the day progressed, the roads that comprised the “highway” got progressively worse. We were still driving on poorly maintained pavement when we left Pailon and Santa Cruz, but by that afternoon the road was entirely dirt and clay. Gas stations were becoming increasingly infrequent, so somewhere near Chihuahua we stopped and decided to top off the tank and all 20 gallons of our spare tanks.


While we waited to fill up, a man approached us and struck up a conversation in English! He asked where were from and where we were going, and seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing in, of all places, Chihuahua, Bolivia. He told us that he was actually from Canada, and had been living in the middle of nowhere, Bolivia for many years on a small Mennonite Colony there. He even offered to give us a tour. Already behind schedule, and relishing the chance to speak English for the first time in weeks, we agreed.

It turns out, his “small” Mennonite Colony was massive! He took us to the general store, where we loaded up on some supplies, and showed us his home and fields. It turns out he enjoyed being able to practice his English, too; every other person we saw only spoke either Spanish or Low German. They farmed all of their own food and if something broke they had to fix it themselves, including their cars. He was even trying to build a small restaurant next to the previously mentioned gas station, so that locals would have a place to go eat! Sadly, we had to be on our way, and left the Colony to continue our drive. We pulled into the outskirts of San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia late that night and camped in an under construction gas station. The next day we would make our final push into Brazil.


The Mennonite Colony near Chihuahua, Bolivia

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Travel Log Days 23-26: Crashes and Vigilantes

We left the Ecuadorian National Park, Refugio de Vida Silvestre Pasachoa, at 4:30 in the morning, anticipating another long day of driving. Unlike most other long days of driving in Central and South America, we actually made very good time, and got to the Ecuador-Peru border at Macara well ahead of schedule. We had planned to spend another night in Ecuador and cross over in the morning, but we still had nearly an hour of sunlight left and decided to go ahead and enter Peru. Leaving Ecuador was a breeze. Migration. Stamp. Customs. Signature, stamp. 15 minutes and we were done. South American border crossings were so much better than any in Central America!

And then we tried to get into Peru.

We crossed the bridge that represented the Ecuador-Peru border and parked along the road outside of the Peruvian immigration building. We walked in and handed over our passports, as usual. We were frowned at, and waved over to the Police hut. We trudged over to a different building as a light rain started to pick up. The Policia looked us over, took our passports, and began to write down all of our information (by hand) in a large book. He flipped to our Brazilian Visas instead of our actual passport information, and it took us a few minutes to explain to him that  we were not FROM Brazil, we were going there! While this was happening, a group of Peruvians came in, and he ushered them in front of us and did their paperwork first while we waited. Finally, after making sure David wasn’t lying about his age a few times (he wasn’t), we went back to the immigration office and got our passport stamps. Then, we had to go to the customs office next door and get our Permiso Temporal de Vehiculos for the Land Cruiser.

The customs agent we found there was a paunchy, older man in his 50’s who immediately let us know that we were making his life very difficult. I handed him all of the necessary documents (Passport, License, Title, and Registration). He shuffled through them and looked them over. He asked for our insurance and I gave it to him. He looked over the documents again. He asked for the VIN number. I showed him. He asked what color the vehicle was. He asked for copies of all of the documents. Seemingly satisfied, he turned away from us and sat down at his computer for 15 minutes.

Eventually he turned back to us asked for the vehicle VIN. It was exactly the same as the first time, as far as I could tell. He asked what color the car was. I frustratingly pointed to it again and told him. He wanted another copy of my drivers license. We were getting fed up, and it was already after dark, which would make finding a campsite very difficult. He typed away at his computer for another 20 minutes. Finally, he printed out a tiny slip of paper and had me sign it. He stamped it and handed it to me. This was the import permit we had been waiting this whole time for? An hour and a half later, we were ready to enter Peru.

Well past dark, but ready to find a place to camp, David and I went back out to the car and got in. We sat for a few minutes with the engine running, looking at our map and trying to decide how far we would go before stopping for the night. After a couple more minutes, we turned the map light off and I put the car in reverse and started backing up to hit the road.

And hit something else.


Some guy in a pickup truck had parked behind us while we were looking at the map. We never saw his headlights. He had parked behind and to the right of us, perfectly in my blind spot. I put the hazards on and got out of the car.

He was not happy. I had scraped the front-left of his car, just outside the headlight, with the back-right of my bumper. Of course, the Land Cruiser won that battle. The damage was fairly minor, but would definitely require some body work. The commotion caused the customs agents, three Policia, and a large number of bystanders to immediately swarm around our two cars. The man’s wife got out of the passenger side, yelling.

“Tengo seguro,” I said, as they all started yelling at me in very fast, angry Spanish. “I have insurance.” The man was talking to me, his wife was yelling at me, the main policeman was jumping in, and the bystanders were all offering there opinions on this stupid gringo who had hit a local man’s car. It was very dark. To say the situation was tense would be an understatement.

“I have insurance,” I said to the policeman.

“Yes,” he said, “but this man is a local. You are a foreigner. It is not the same.”

“I have international insurance here in Peru.”

“That is for your car only. You damaged his car, so you need to pay him.”

This was not the case. We had purchased a broad international policy before we left the States, in addition to a local S.O.A.T. policy upon arriving in South America. But the situation was starting to look bad for two Americans, 7,000 miles from home, who barely spoke any Spanish. So I asked the driver what it would take. I ended up giving him $200 US from our emergency stash and, as the cop suggested, got the hell out of there. So far, our first night in Peru couldn’t have gotten much worse.

We continued along the highway for a little ways, and at the first toll stop we asked if there were any safe places to camp along the highway. The attendant told us he wasn’t sure, but that it was probably safe a little ways toward the next town. We found a nice little turn off in what appeared to be an old quarry; a big flat space just off of the main road, but with a few trees separating us from it. We got out, made dinner, and had a beer. It was relieving to finally be safe and at camp. We put up the sleeping platform and got in our sleeping bags to go to sleep.

It was around 10:30pm. We were dimly aware of the cars and trucks on the highway passing by as we began drifting off to sleep. At times, the dull rumble of the tractor trailers ghosting by in the night can be somewhat relaxing. As things were getting quiet, though, a spotlight swept across the windshield from the road and blinded us. We both looked up and saw a white pickup truck on the highway, shining a spotlight from side to side in the darkness. As soon as the spotlight had swept lazily passed us, it snapped back onto our car and stayed there. We had been spotted.

The white pickup truck slammed on the brakes and shifted into reverse. We could now see men dressed in black piled into the back of the pickup truck. One was shining the spotlight. Two others had large black guns. It began reversing on the highway until it got back to the entrance, and only exit, we had found for our campsite. I climbed into the front seat and turned the car on.

They pulled into the open space that was our campsite and parked in front of the Land Cruiser. Men in black uniforms jumped out of the pickup truck and began heading towards our car, surrounding us. I cracked the window. While three men, one carrying a shotgun, circled the car, the man who appeared to be the leader came to the drivers side door with another two and demanded to see our documents. My foot hovered over the accelerator as I handed him my passport through the cracked window.


“Ellos son Americanos!” the leader exclaimed.

“What are you two doing here?”

I tried to explain that we were just camping. We were driving to Brazil for the World Cup and didn’t want any trouble. Just passing through. The mood changed immediately. Our hearts were still beating audibly in our chests as the three men from behind the car pushed there way to the front and started asking questions excitedly. What State were we from? How was the drive to Peru? Were we going to any games in Brazil? On closer inspection, none appeared to be older than 25, except for the man in charge, who might have been 40. We had some questions of our own, too. Who were they? What did they want?

It turns out that they were “Serenazgo”, a kind of local police patrol. It was unclear just how “official” they were, or if they were more of a local militia/vigilante group. They were definitely NOT the normal police that we had encountered earlier, nor the normal military. They all had matching uniforms, but only a few had any other equipment (shotguns). The story emerged that the area we were camping in could actually be pretty dangerous at night, and they were on patrol. Two people had been shot and killed a few months prior in the very spot were were trying to make camp. Damn you, tollbooth attendant!

The Serenazgo were now all smiles and had made it their personal mission to find us a safe place to camp for the night. We got back in the Land Cruiser and followed them into the next town a few kilometers away. There, they woke up a gas station owner and “asked” him if we could sleep in the safe and well lit gas station lot for the night. The owner reluctantly agreed. We thanked our vigilantes profusely and turned the car off as they drove of into the night. It would be a hours before we would finally fall asleep.


Sunset on the Pacific

The next morning we rose early again and headed South. We had yet to see Peru during the day. By making it across the border the previous day, we were able to make good time down towards the Pacific coast. We had expected Peru to be lush and mountainous, but the first day was almost entirely flat desert. It made for some good Game of Thrones listening time. We arrived in the town of Chimbote that afternoon with a few hours of sunlight to spare. We found a grocery store and stocked up on some supplies; mostly beer, water, and something to eat other than cliff bars. We took off along the coast to look for a place to camp.


Camping on a cliff near Chimbote

We found a turnoff to a little fishing town on the map and took it, hoping to camp somewhere along the beach. The road took us straight down to the coast and then took a hard turn left into a large mount of rock. In the bottom of the rock was a long, narrow cave, and on the other side we found the fishing town. Not wanting to stay in the town, we turned back towards the tunnel. From the town-side, it was clear that the tunnel was fairly new. The remains of an old road around the ocean side of the mountain could just barely be made out. We decided to explore. The previous road had gone along the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean, but about halfway across it had collapsed, leaving emptiness. We decided to camp just before the precipice, and we were treated to some spectacular views.


Steak and veggies on the camp stove

The next day we carefully made our way back along the cliff and got back on the highway. This time, we had a set campsite that we wanted to find. In doing research on the internet, I had found a reference to a nice beach campsite and we were going to try to make it there for the night.

We drove through Lima, the capital of Peru, around lunch time, and made it to Nazca in the early afternoon. The scenery on the drive was incredible as we drove along the Pacific coast. At times, the road was literally on the edge of a cliff, with desert on one side and the ocean on the other. We passed fishing villages with colorful boats and vast expanses of beautiful nothingness. When the road took us more inland, the enormous desert mountains served our appetite for scenery. We passed through the area of the famous Nazca Lines, but decided that a car was not the best vehicle for viewing them. We climbed a hill on foot to try to see the shapes, but had little luck.


The Nazca Lines

We made it to our beach campsite at dark and were able to camp right on the beach. The campsite, as it turns out, was actually a small beach resort that probably would have been full during the summer. As it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere, we were the only people there, save for a few staff members, who welcomed us warmly. We made camp, dipped our toes in the water, and were finally able to kick our new soccer ball back and forth for an hour or so. In contrast to the previous night, it was immensely relaxing.

The next morning as we were preparing to leave at 5am, one of the staff members woke up and offered to make us breakfast, which we graciously accepted. Granola bars and diet mountain dew can get old after a few weeks. We left as the sun began to come up, and we likewise started to climb. We camped right on the beach at sea level, but by the early afternoon we had risen into the Andes and the Peruvian highlands. It happened almost without us noticing. I could feel the air get thinner and the already weak engine of the Land Cruiser begin to struggle more and more for power. Still we climbed. We passed small villages made of stone, and llamas began to appear everywhere. The mountains started out in front of us, then beside us, and then somehow beneath us. Before we realized it, we had climbed to just over 14,000 feet, according to our GPS.


Llamas crossing?



Peruvian highlands at 14,000 feet

We made camp that night, our last in Peru, on the shores of the gorgeous Lake Titicaca, which is largely considered the highest navigable lake in the world. The water level was very low, so our GPS coordinates show us as actually being in the water! It was the first night that it was actually COLD. We wore sweatpants and sweatshirts inside our sleeping bags, and could see our breath even then. We were only a few hours from the Bolivian border, and were excited to be only a few days from Brazil!


Lake Titicaca

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Travel Log Days 20-22: Friend and Breakdowns

After finally getting the Land Cruiser out of port on Wednesday, we hit the road early Thursday morning for South America. And we had company. Two of our new friends and fellow Americans from the MS Independence, Matt and Emily, were also heading south towards Medellin, and were planning to take a bus. With a little reorganizing, we could easily fit two more people in the car! We had never had passengers, and having someone other than David to talk to was amazing! (Just kidding, David). The first few hours of the drive went by rather uneventfully, and we stopped for lunch at a roadside hut/restaurant, where I ate some kind of fish concoction.

Car selfie

Car selfie. Wake up!

After lunch, the drive got a lot more exciting. Two things began to slowly happen. First, it began to get greener. The relatively open landscape of farms and fields began to change to rainforests. Secondly, we started to climb. Our progress began to slow down, but the drive started to be spectacular. Switchback after switchback of mountainous rainforests, lush jungles and the occasional waterfall crashing down beside the road. We climbed as high as 3500 meters (~11,500 feet) in a matter of a few hours, up through and then above the clouds. We finally dropped down into the gorgeous town of Medellin, Colombia just as it was getting dark, and pulled into the Black Sheep Hostel, where Matt had made us reservations for the night. We went out to dinner with him and Emily and bought supplies (fresh water, some food, and a soccer ball) at a nearby grocery store before turning in for the night.

Matt and Emily, our companions in Medellin

Matt and Emily, our companions in Medellin

We left Medellin before sunrise the next morning. At this point, I probably need to recap some minor problems we had been having with the Land Cruiser so far. When cold, the engine would start up right away and have no problems. When it had been running a while, especially on very hot (95+) days, and turned off, it had trouble starting back again. This had first happened after a very hot 12 hour day through southern Texas, and had happened maybe 5 times since. Each time, letting it sit for 15-20 minutes had fixed the problem. Everything I could see appeared to be in order, so my half guessing diagnosis was the engine fuel pump. As it turned out, I was close.

We were 6 or so hours south of Medellin on the highway when the engine cut out, spun back up, then shut off completely. The power steering, driven by the engine, also stopped working, causing us to swerve slightly as I wrestled the car to the side of the road. Thankfully no one else was nearby. We sat in the car for a few seconds, hazards turned on, wondering, “Is this the end of BrazilDrive?”

Then we snapped into action. David ran behind to put out the warning triangles, to keep the big rigs from running us over. I grabbed our toolkit from the back, opened the hood and tried to find out what was wrong. It was clearly related to, or the same issue as, the earlier starting issue, just much worse. When I opened the engine fuse box, I found the problem. Some connection on the relay for the Electronic Fuel Injection had shorted out. Instead of just breaking the fuse, it had melted about a third of the entire fuse box away. We poked and prodded for half an hour, and finally managed to get the engine started using a headlight fuse and some tinfoil. Then we limped a fewkilometers to the next gas station to try to find help.


Beto and Edison helping us fix the Land Cruiser

Beto and Edison helping us fix the Land Cruiser

When we cut the engine and asked the attendant, she pointed us towards a shack that had some automotive signs of it. Good start. In it, we found a man and tried to tell him our problem. He couldn’t fix it, he said, but he knew a guy in the nearby village who probably could. He took off on his bicycle, and we waited. Twenty minutes later, he comes back. Alone. A few more minutes, though, and another man appears from behind the town fence carrying a lightbulb, some wire, and a pair of pliers. We found an electrician! After a few minutes of trying to convey the problem in my broken and David’s nonexistent Spanish, he starts to work. For 45 minutes he pulls things apart, strips wires, and twists things back together, while David and I fidget nervously, watching. “Try it,” he says. And…

It starts! A little rough, maybe, but it works. He had completely removed the fuse terminals and rewired new ones. I thanked him and nervously asked him for the bill. He pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote down, “30,000”. I was… Amazed! 30,000 Colombian Pesos is about equal to $15. We paid him, thanking him profusely, and were on our way, a few hours behind schedule but with a working car.

That night we had wanted to make it to Pasto, Colombia, where we had heard there were good camping spots. But, being behind schedule due to the breakdown, and numerous delays due to road construction, we were still hours away and the sun had long since set. We camped on the side of the road outside of Popayan, and slept restlessly as trucks drove by in the night. The next morning, we got up early and drove to the Colombia-Ecuador border at Ipiales, Colombia. Compared to borders in Central American, the Colombia-Ecuador border was downright boring. We crossed before lunchtime, and continued on into a new country.

Just us and the truckers

Just us and the truckers

After breakdowns, road camping, and construction delays, we were very relieved to drive on the somewhat mountainous but generally pretty nice roads in Ecuador. At some point during the day, the cigarette lighter that we used to charge all of our devices stopped working, which complicated things somewhat. We used the electricity to power our tablet, which had all the maps, our always on dash cam, and our phones, and more importantly, for listening to A Game of Thrones on audio book. Not being able to charge these devices presented a dilemma, especially for the GPS maps. So in Ecuador, just before Quito, we stopped at a shopping mall for WiFi and electricity.

We drove through Quito right as the sun was setting, and tried to find a place to camp. On our map, we could see a Parque Nacional (National Park) just past the Ecuadorian capital and decided to go for it. We pulled off the highway and trundled up roughly 15 km’s of single lane, muddy track until we reached the entrance to the park. We found a large lodge and gravel parking lot, completely deserted, with a chain across the entrance. Oh well. We found a flat spot and made camp for the night, and never encountered another soul the rest of the evening.

Local wildlife

Local wildlife in Colombia


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Travel Log Days 17-19: A Port, A Parrot, and A Car in Cartegena

On dry land at last after our voyage at sea from Panama, we trekked off with our new group of friends to find an ATM and something cold to drink. The sun was out in full force in Cartegena, Colombia and it was incredibly hot when we finally found a market with a small bank inside. My legs were still wobbly from the boat, so I swayed waiting in line for the cash machine. Once the crew got out their money and chugged down a few ice cold Cokes, they set out to find Hostel Mamallena, sister to the hostel we stayed at in Panama, but Grant and I had different business to attend to. The Land Cruiser had arrived in port that same morning, and we had to get our baby back.




The retrieval would prove to be a much more difficult process. We knew it would take at least two days of paperwork and office visits, so we were hoping to get everything started as soon as we got there (Monday morning). Leaving the rest of the group, we decided to walk to the port and get the ball rolling. The 3 km walk was pretty excruciating in the Colombian sun, a situation certainly not aided by our collective sunburns and wobbly sea legs. To make matters worse, the port had a long pants and closed-toed shoe policy, so the heat was compounded in our pants and hiking boots. After what seemed like an hour of wandering we found the port office. Unfortunately, despite the presence of at least four officials sitting at their desks, it was a “state holiday”, and the office was closed. Our voyage to the port was a waste, and more importantly, we had lost a day of driving time.


Seeing the port in Cartegena for the first time

We took a cab back from the port and found our hotel behind a large wooden door in the old town section of Cartagena. The boat captain still had our passports, apparently because immigration was also closed for the holiday, so we almost couldn’t check in, but fortunately we had some photocopies left over from border crossings and were ushered through the open inner courtyard into our room. In retrospect we were probably in the country illegally, or at least not technically approved to be there. We never got stamped in, and didn’t even have our passports when we landed on shore. It was all a bit sketchy, but sure enough our passports would be brought to us that night, and the appropriate stamps were within them. At the time we were too tired to worry about our entry status, and succumbing to the AC, we climbed in bed and both passed out.

The old Spanish fort.

The old Spanish fort.

We were asleep for a few hours and it was barely two in the afternoon when we woke up. Trading pants and boots for flip flops and shorts, we reluctantly left the air conditioning and went out to explore the town. Cartagena was an old Spanish colonial town (one of the oldest in South America, if memory serves), and the old town had remnants of the era, including the old walls and a massive fort outside of them. We bought some empanadas from a local vendor, and wandered through the streets admiring the buildings as we weaved in and out of alleys and dodged the heavy foot traffic. Everyone seemed to be taking advantage of the holiday – which we found out was related to Colombian independence – and were crowding the shops and restaurants throughout town. We passed through a t-shirt shop and each bought a knock-off Colombian soccer jersey for the equivalent of about five US dollars. We have tickets to Colombia vs. Cote D’Ivoire in Brasilia and we wanted to fit in with the crowd! We stocked up on bottled water and chocolate on the way out before seeking out the hostel and our friends staying there.

Beautiful graffiti in Old Town, Cartegena

Beautiful graffiti in Old Town, Cartegena

We found them, not at the hostel, but at a random bar we happened to pass while exploring the old town. They were just finishing up a quick drink, and we all left back to regroup with the others at the hostel. We wanted to all eat together, and doubting the ability of a restaurant seating all of us, we decided to utilize the kitchen and make a mass of spaghetti and eat right there at the hostel. We took over the kitchen and a large part of the courtyard, and after a trip to the grocery store our meal was under way. The kitchen was cramped and only a few people could actually do the work (thanks girls!), so the rest of us volunteered to cleanup. While we waited we turned to Torie, the hostel parrot for entertainment. While Grant made a friend, I got pooped on. At least the spaghetti was delicious.



Tuesday was about the same as Monday. Paperwork in the morning and a few jumps between offices and then we were free for the day. We wandered around Cartagena and ate lunch at a local restaurant while watching pre-World Cup friendlies on the small TV in the corner before meeting up again at the hostel and hanging out with our friends and that damned parrot.

The following morning was judgment day. We had already missed Monday thanks to the holiday and had eaten up the one buffer day we had. We needed to get the car by the end of the day, or there was a chance we would miss our first game. We were a little nervous when we headed back to the import offices early Wednesday, but after a wait in the glorious air conditioning, we got the right form and the right stamp, and were ready to pick up our baby! We took a cab down to the port, and Grant disappeared behind a gate. He was gone for twenty or so minutes and having run out of things to do on my phone to make me not look awkward, I was getting nervous. After what felt like an eternity, the man at the desk told me Grant was ready, and motioned me outside the building down the block. The sight was glorious.


Finally leaving port with the Land Cruiser!

Finally leaving port with the Land Cruiser!

Car in tow and apprehension dissolved, we made our way back towards town and found a 24 hour lot to leave her for the night. They charged us for two days, even though the car was there less than 24 hours, but we were too relieved to care. We had the Land Cruiser back, and that meant tomorrow we would be driving one step closer to our goal. That night we had a few farewell beers with our friends and said our goodbyes. We would not be participating in the nightclub scene that night; we had a 4:30 am date with the highway and South America. We got back to our hotel excited and exhausted, and watched Dragon Ball Z in bed, the only channel in English we could find. Goku and the gang were just about to defeat Frieza as I finally drifted off to sleep.

Bonus: an awesome Pinzgauer overlander we saw parked in Cartegena

Bonus: an awesome Pinzgauer overlander we saw parked in Cartegena

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Trip Log, Days 0-3: Durham, Mexico, Graduation

After months (years?) of arduous planning, our journey finally began on Saturday, May 17th, 2014. David was in town the previous weekend to help get everything organized and to test pack the truck, but had to get back to Boston for a little ceremony known commonly as “graduating from college.” I would be undertaking the first two days of driving alone.



Extra gas and spare parts. A tight fit.

After double and triple checking everything with the help of my beautiful and  wonderful girlfriend, I said goodbye to her and to Durham, NC at 9:30 am and started driving south. My first stop was a small state recreation area in Mississippi. I made it there by 10:30 pm, only to find it full of boy scouts! I found a quiet spot to set up camp without bothering them too much and slept.



David’s graduation.

Early the next morning I began heading toward Laredo, TX, where David was flying down to meet me and the meat of our odyssey would really start. On the way I got this picture in a text. Congratulations, David, on graduating from Tufts University!



BrazilDrive’s #1 fan.

I picked him up from the airport in Laredo late that night, and we got a few hours of sleep in our hotel room before heading across the Rio Grande and into Mexico at 5:00 am. In a short 13 hours on very nice, but expensive toll roads, we would be at our campsite in La Maliniche National Park, outside of Puebla. It was dark by the time we arrived, and would still be dark when we left the next morning, but our adventure had begun.



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Baja Mexico, Part 2: La Paz to Loreto

In our first post about visiting the Baja, we chronicled our three day journey just to get to La Paz, Baja California Sur. By Monday morning, 10:00 am local time, we had arrived.

We wanted to get the fun part of our journey started ASAP, so we didn’t spend much time in La Paz. We hit the bank to take out some pesos, filled up on gas at the Pemex, and headed north. Our initial plan was to stop in Cuidad Constitucion for the first night, but as we found normal on the Baja, our plans changed with regularlity. We decided to try to make it to the town of Loreto and find a place to camp on the beach. While we struggled initially with the concept known locally as “kilometers”, we estimated that we could easily get there before nightfall. We got in the truck and kept driving. The initial drive was sparse, but beautiful. We even managed to find some cacti.

Wow. Such cactus.

Wow. Such cactus.

Much thorns.

Much thorns.




















One of the coolest things we found about driving in the Baja were the side roads. Most of the roads, major highways included, were thoroughly deserted for long stretches, and every now and then a lonely, dusty track would peel off to one side. We regularly took off down one these side “roads” as an opportunity to explore. It often felt like we were the only people to have traveled down these routes for months, or even years. Roughly 30 km’s outside of Loreto, we took a chance on one such side track, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Sea of Cortez before coming down out of the mountains. We drove up a small grassy track, through some rocky hills, and popped up onto an awesome cliff overlook. Despite being clearly abandoned, we even found evidence of a campsite and fire put! We had some lunch and took some pictures of the majestic scenery.


Gorgeous. The view’s not bad, either.


Om nom nom nom nom nom


Money shot

Money shot



Sadly, it was too early to make camp. We had a little more driving to do before reaching Loreto. We pressed on.

We made it into the town of Loreto in the late afternoon and set out trying to find a place to camp. This was our first night on the Baja peninsula, so camping on the beach was a must. We drove through the middle of town, and were waved towards the outer edge. We found an RV park filled with very nice looking vehicles, and decided to ask for directions. A Canadian man was sitting outside his RV reading a book, and he claimed that there was a road used by the locals to get to the beach during the summer months. If we could find it, we could camp on the beach no problem! We thanked him, and in the waining light managed to find a dirt turn off that led us to the beach.

Our beach campsite in Loreto

Our beach campsite in Loreto


We made a simple dinner with some locally sourced chicken and peppers

We made a simple dinner with some locally sourced chicken and peppers


We awoke at sunrise the next morning, completely refreshed.


Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day…




Day 5 of our trip begain with making coffee and oatmeal for breakfast and packing up the car. As our luck would have it, we ran into our Canadian friend from the RV park again! He was going for his morning walk along the beach, and recognized our behemoth of a car from the previous night. We offered him some coffee, only to discover that we only had two cups. We apologized, and ended up talking to him for quite some time about his trip and the Baja.



I need to work on my tan


His name was Ernie, and it turns out that he and his wife were spending 6 months living in their RV in the Baja. His son had previously raced in the Baja 500. We were extremely jealous. He was also very knowledgeable on things to do and see while on the peninsula. My internet-based planning had been mostly me pointing at the map, and saying, “That looks cool”. Ernie recommended numerous places to see and his expert advice helped us to re-plan most of the second half of our Baja trip.

Based on Ernie advice, that morning we headed up into the mountains north of Loreto to find the very old Mision San Javier, founded in 1699.


Part I: Durham, NC to Topolobamp, Los Mochis

[futures links to parts 3 and 4]


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Baja Mexico, Part I: Durham, NC to Topolobampo, Los Mochis

Call me Grant. Some years ago, never mind how long precisely, I though I would drive about a little, and see the sandy part of the world. Since deciding to pursue our goal of driving to Brazil for the World Cup, David and I realized that, having very little to no experience ACTUALLY driving through foreign countries and living out of our car, we needed to go on a practice trip. With the summer fast approaching, the only time we could both manage to have some free time for a trip like this was the week and a half after New Years Day and David heading back to Boston for school and me going back to work. We left for Mexico on Thursday, January 2nd at 10:00 pm.


Early morning shadows

We arrived some 24 hours later in Laredo, TX, where we camped at the Lake Casa Blanca State Park. We arrived after the park had closed for the night, but we called ahead and they graciously left us the code to the gate.

After a quick but much needed night of sleep, we woke up early the next morning and headed for the Mexican border. Laredo has two bridges into Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, but only Bridge II has the aduana (customs) and facilities to import your vehicle. Traffic coming into the United States was already backed up for what looked like miles, but going the other direction was quick and easy. An official glanced into the rear, asked about our cooler, then shrugged and waved us on. We were in Mexico! To travel outside the Border Zone (some 20 km’s from the border), though, and bring our car into the country, we had to go to the customs building and obtain our tourist visas and a temporary import permit for the Land Cruiser. Upon accomplishing this, we set off on the toll highway for Monterrey.


Northern mainland Mexico

Driving through the northern mainland of Mexico was very similar to how we would find driving through the Baja. Large town or city, 100+ miles of emptiness and mountains, another large town or city. This is not to say the drive wasn’t interesting. Our first taste of mountains and desert was very pretty, and when the highways would hit the cities, we inevitably would get lost trying to find our way to where they started again on the other side (roads signs virtually disappeared once we left the border areas). In the city of Torreon, especially, we spend a good 45 minutes driving though the backroads and poorer areas until we found a local bus that eventually led us back to the highway.

We arrived in the coastal city of Mazatlan under the cover of darkness, and found our hotel (the only one we stayed in on the entire journey!) and a safe place to park. Although we wouldn’t appreciate it until the morning, we stayed at a place called Hotel La Siesta and paid $50 for an oceanfront room. We ate at a small cafe nearby where a local band was playing. I tried to practice my Spanish, we each drank a few of the most refreshing Pacificos I have ever tasted, and we promptly went to sleep.


Good morning, Mazatlan

The next morning, we awoke to an awesome view and leisurely got up and loaded up the car. I had gotten very sunburned driving the previous day (the entire left-hand side of my body), so we both put on sunscreen and started meandering northward towards the town of Topolobampo, where that night we were getting on a ferry and heading to the Baja. As we headed north out of Mazatlan, we realized that the town is actually a pretty major tourist destination! About a mile from our aging, two story hotel, we began encountering highrise luxury resorts and gringos in flip flops. Driving in at night, we never would have noticed if we had driven south out of the city that morning.


Old Mazatlan

Old Mazatlan


After a relatively quick (4.5 hour) drive, we arrived in Topolobampo mid-afternoon. I was a little apprehensive about our ferry tickets, and thankfully David was willing to accommodate us getting to the port 6 hours early for the estimated 11:00 pm departure time without complaining too much. There was a little confusion as to what we were supposed to do with our car, but thankfully we met a nice retired Canadian couple who helped translate for us. It turns out, you have to get your car weighed and measured before they can validate your ticket.  The couple were taking 6 months and driving their full-sized RV up the Baja and back to Canada. We doubled back to town after verifying our tickets and found a local food shack where we ate delicious shrimp and marlin quesadillas, and headed back to the port to wait.

We eventually loaded onto the massive ferry, and after a surprisingly above average included meal onboard, we found some recliners and slept fitfully for a few hours before arriving in La Paz at around 7 am. Once there, we were only a long line of cars and a military checkpoint away from the Mexican Baja!


Awesome sauce


Part II: La Paz to Loreto

[future links to parts 3 and 4]

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The Draw

The World Cup draw is tomorrow! Because of the way the qualifying process is set up, we have had to plan our trip around certain stadiums and individual matches rather than getting to see certain teams. However, in South Africa we registered for games in which the highest seeds were playing, and ended up getting to see Spain, Brazil, and Argentina, among others. Sadly, no U.S.A. games.

This time around, we were a little bit unfortunate to only get tickets to 4 of the 6 games we entered the lottery for. However, a new lottery phase opens up after the draw, so we have another chance! Currently, our schedule looks like this:

6/17, Cuiaba: H3-H4

6/19, Brasilia: C1-C3
6/24, Natal: D4-D1
 6/26, Recife: G4-G1
Games we didn’t get tickets for:
6/22, Rio de Janeiro: H1-H3
7/1, Sao Paolo: 1F-2E
Don’t forget to tune in to ESPN2 tomorrow at 11:30am EST to watch the draw!

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