I know what you’re thinking. How did you get from Peru to the End of the Road? Aren’t there a few countries and several thousand miles in between? The truth, it seems, is that we’re not very good bloggers. Or, at the very least, we’re not very timely bloggers. Despite this fact, we wanted to share an important milestone. After 18 months of travel and 36,000 miles, through 16 countries and 2 continents, we have finally arrived at the end of the road. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and we drove here. From Massachusetts.
We started our day in Cajamarca in the same way Inca emperor Atahualpa did nearly 500 years earlier – in the soothing waters of the natural thermal springs that grace this area of the Northern Peruvian highlands. Known today as Los Baños del Inca, the compound is a popular tourist attraction that supposedly gets hundreds of visitors daily. After all, who wouldn’t want to bathe in the same pools that an Inca king once used to nurse his war wounds?
The persistent fog was all around us. It had completely enveloped the mountain landscape, stealthily hiding the thousand-foot sheer drops and allowing our location on this craggy peak to be forgotten. Originally we were hoping for the dense clouds to clear but we had come to realize how perfectly fitting they were. Deep in the northern Peruvian highlands, we were about to explore the well-preserved but little-visited ruins of Kuelap, home to the Chachapoyas or “People of the Clouds.”
I awoke from my slumber feeling relieved. My fears of being violated by cockroaches during the night did not come to fruition and, to my surprise, I had slept peacefully. Of course that could be due to my position in the hammock. Zach might not have been so lucky, as he had offered to sleep on the bare wooden floor beside me. It was the first day of our jungle adventure and we were staying in the house of our guide, Guillermo.
We had driven more than 30,000 miles up to this point. We’d traveled for 14 months, through 12 countries on two continents and crossed the open sea. Still, traversing the imaginary line that divides the earth’s northern and southern hemispheres is about as anticlimactic a milestone as they come. Actually, on our first time across, I was sleeping in the passenger seat when Zach said, “I think we just crossed the equator.” “Can we come back tomorrow?” I pleaded groggily. I couldn’t be bothered to wake up for the momentous occasion.
From El Cocuy we made our way to Bogota with a few choice stops along the way. Let me start by saying we didn’t come close to giving Bogota the attention it deserved. It is a huge city with countless museums, cultural events and pleasant strolling opportunities. We didn’t do any of this though. We had one focus and reason for venturing into the huge capital city: to get new tires for Blue Steel. This proved to be as complicated and frustrating as we imagined, but that ordeal is not what I’ll be writing about. I want to tell you about the Delgados.
Due to our four month hiatus in the States, we’ve had to accept the reality that we will be passing through many countries during an unfavorable time of year. In Peru, we’ll face rainy season in much of the highlands and by the time we reach Patagonia the summer days will be dwindling. So when we realized we’d be in Colombia within a few weeks of the perfect time of year for trekking in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, we were very excited. There are only three months of the year considered to have even reasonably good weather in this part of the Colombian Andes; outside those months, one can expect daily rain or snow and freezing temperatures.
We’ve been lying to you all along. The truth is we can’t drive from the US to Argentina. No one can. The Pan American “highway” is a network of roads linking the majority of nations in the Americas and totaling nearly 30,000 miles. It stretches from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the farthest reaches of South America, ending arguably in Ushuaia, Argentina. That is, with one exception: The Darien Gap.
It seems that each “start” of the trip for us comes with a test of our convictions, a “prove yourself” diversion that would make even the most confident travelers question whether they could hack it (remember our first series of unfortunate events). After four cushy months living in CT, our first few days back on the road did just this. It started with the gasoline leak we noticed when we picked up the Astro from storage. Then there were a series of frustrating mechanics who sent us on a scavenger hunt throughout the tangled, traffic-filled streets of greater San Jose. Then there were the usual missed deadlines that come with said frustrating mechanics.
We woke at 2 am to begin our travels back to our home, which has been in storage for four months in San Jose, Costa Rica. On a list of things the van has hopefully withstood during this time are a 7.6 magnitude earthquake and the bulk of Central American rainy season. While waiting for our first flight, Zach looks worried so I ask him what’s wrong. He lays out a list of problems that could be awaiting our return. For once, I am the optimistic one. My only worry is whether or not I can once again adapt to cold showers.