Height …

Quito – Ecuador

My first experience with height in South America was when I flew from Cartagena to Bogotá. I left Cartagena in shorts and t-shirt with pure sunshine and 35 degrees celsius.

I got off the plane and it was at least 15 degrees less, no sunshine and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t at sea level last anymore but at 2650 m above it !

Not only was I suddenly freezing after weeks or months of heat but I was suddenly short of breath when moving , especially when I took the tram up to the Montserrate at 3200 meters.

After I drove out of Cartagena some days later I reached a campground in Medellin at 2600 meters so that I had to get my down jacket out again and was happy to sit by the campfire with other travelers ! I slowly got used to the altitude and was keen enough to ride my bike from the campground to the tram station and back – 15 km up- and down – pretty hard at that height.

Leaving Medellin towards Ecuador I was driving at altitudes around 3000 meters all the time , crossing a pass at 3770 meters and finally entering Quito at 2850 meters the highest capital city in the world.

I not only got used to the height and moderate temperatures but also to the vast flora around me with lush green where everything was growing, pants that I knew and others I had never seen before. Many I had only seen in botanical gardens so far were just growing along the roads here !

I was therefore more than surprised after driving down from over 3000 meters in Ecuador to the border post in northern Peru at almost sea level finding myself surrounded by desert and heat.

As I continued south I followed the Peruvian coastline and the panamerican highway which is surrounded by desert all the way to Lima and even further south.

But , once I left the coastline towards the mountains from Nasca to Cusco I was suddenly climbing up to unknown heights entering a plateau at 4500 meters above sea level where I could hardly walk for some meters !

In Cusco our camp was at 3600 meters and it was really hard sleep the first night or be active at all. After a couple of days when attempting to walk the uncounted stairs up the Machu Pichu mountain from 2600 m to 3060 m the real challenge was there ! Very exhausting !

Meanwhile I am kind of used to heights around 3500 m which is the „normal“ altitude around here. The past 2 days we were more or less constantly driving at 4500 m with a maximum altitude of 4850 m , the highest point of this trip so far.

Currently at Titicaca lake at 3800 meters .

Theo is doing great at this altitude. We are going slowly up the several turns like yesterday from 3500 m constantly up to 4850 m and we were still able to pass the busses and trucks that reach maximum speeds of 30 km/h here. Of course it is not like driving at sea level and the whole rig is about 4.5 tons , so that is hard work and I am glad we are doing this good with no major problems ! Good car ! Keep going !!!

Solo …

„Viajando solo ?“

„Are you traveling alone ?“ A question I was asked several times these days, last time at the Peruvian border today so I thought I might as well write something about this issue.

Yes, I am traveling solo and that was more or less my decision.

I am traveling solo at least most of the time . I had „visitors“ along the way : my sister „visited “ twice and we traveled to Alaska and around the southern US so far. I met her again in Lima this past weekend and we are traveling together again through southern Peru and Bolivia. Petra visited twice so far – in Florida an Mexico and I hope we can arrange another meeting at the end of the trip. My father visited and we traveled from Mexico all the way across Central America to Costa Rica together. Finally I am still waiting for my son to visit and it looks like we will meet in Argentina at the end of this trip.

Still I am traveling by myself most of the time. When I decided to go on this trip and i finally had the chance to in fact do it there was no other option than going by myself. Petra had to work with no option whatsoever to get a longer time off. I did not want to wait any longer for several reasons .

So why not travel solo ? You can do whatever and whenever you like . There are no limits . Eat , sleep, drink, go to bed , get up .. just ask yourself what you want to do. There is also time to think things over and reflect . Your life before the trip, your life in the trip, your life after the trip …

You will also learn about yourself , how you react in certain situations , how you manage situations not common or known before …

After all you will end up knowing more about yourself and your life than ever before.

It will also make you more open for other people be it fellow travelers or local people you will meet. You will be much more ready to get in contact when traveling solo. I met so many people along the way. Some just by chance , others I met „online first“ and later in real life and some only online. I very much appreciate the „Panamerican Travellers Association“ a group on Facebook as an information source , but also as a possibility to meet people .

On the other hand you can appreciate things much more when you are traveling with somebody . It is just more fun to have fun together (with someone you love at the best!). It is in fact nice to be able to share all the nice things along the way and the good moods.

Traveling solo has also some practical drawbacks. It is difficult to drive and navigate at the same time. So your much more dependent on GPS systems as you cannot look on maps while driving. The whole day is very much filled with getting organized in your camper, driving, finding another camp, doing the „household“ , keeping up with your logbook, gather travel information, taking care of the car and all the technical stuff etc. I am very busy doing all that and I realize that I keep forgetting things or that I just cannot manage to do everything in the time given. So some things will be taken care of insufficiently. Further more I realize that I don’t do or cannot do certain things because I am solo. Traveling with a trailer as I am doing is not as easy as just driving a car. It requires certain skills and still it sometimes requires a second person who can help to rank. The same is true for off-roading – there are certain limits to what you can do when you are alone.

After 3 days of driving without a cell phone signal I was asking myself what if I had a car breakdown or if something was happening to myself out in the middle of nowhere. So I bought a „spot gen3“ sat tracker for safety reasons.

So – traveling solo has pros and cons. After one year of more or less solo travel I think I am not a solo traveler „par principe“ . I would rather share the joy in the future !

Äquator – Ecuador – Equator

Exactly 29.000 kilometers after the northernmost point of this journey in Alaska I crossed the equator today thus reaching the southern hemisphere.

Even though the „Mitad del Mundo“ Monument is 240 m south of the actual equator ist is nice to post there. It is in the exact place where Charles-Marie de La Condamine first measured the location of the equator in 1736.

Darien Gap 2 … or homeless …

The trip to San Blas was outstanding and it will ever be !

Nevertheless it is followed by some disillusion still evident after one week now in Colombia.

But in order:

Returning from a 5 day sailing trip your are in need for at least one (better 3 showers ;-)) . so Hotel is the first choice. We get some advice for a nice place in Getsemani, the place to be in Cartagena. It’s basic but clean and nice and the bed and shower just feel right !

As posted earlier it is than that we get informed that our „homes“ are still in Panama. So the Hotel becomes home for even longer.

It is not clear at first how much longer it will take. This is South America and time is obviously not an issue. I learn with time it is never an issue. If someone says at 8 pm it could also be 10 pm. Wait one hour can easily be 2 or 3 hours, wait 2 minutes is at least 1 hour ! I call it „South America Way“ . I am slowly getting it .

So finally the container gets here 1 week delayed on a Saturday . Of course all the offices are closed on weekends. First thing Monday we show up at the DIAN office. Give them the required copies of passport including entry stamp, title, drivers license . We get a form in return to fill in and get a copy of it. We are done here.

On the way to the harbor administration buy an accident insurance to be able to enter the harbor at all. 72.000 pesos. Talk to Emil who is responsible for alle the „extranjeros“. Here we meet all the other overlanders we keep meeting along the way .. Bill and Julie from Australia, Pierre from France, 2 motorcyclists from Argentina, I am together with Falko from Germany and Leebong from South Korea. At least we share the same fate !

We get to fill in more and more papers with the help of Emil. At lunchtime we are done for this day. To be continued next day at 8:20 !

Lunch break is another serious issue here. During lunch break nothing / no one works. So you einher do it before or after the break . Some services will only be available before lunch break – as for example the car liability insurance I just bought.

So Tuesday we show up at 8:20 sharp as asked .. Emil ist NOT there yet ! He is coming in at around 8:45 and slowly taking up work. We get timeslots to enter the port for the opening of the containers. 9:00 – 10:00 … At 10:30 the first people get to go !

For me there is some issue with the weight of my „freight“. More paperwork. I don’t get the reason. My slot gets postponed from 10:00 to 1:20 after lunchbreak.

At that time the others had there vehicles already removed from the containers and also Inspected by the DIAN Inspector. It was totally clear to me that the Inspector would not come out to the harbor twice a day so the chance of being postponed to the next day was rather high. Emil told me it was my lucky day as the „inspection“ of my car was already done … although it was still IN the container. I did not ask any further, happy I got to this point .

At around 2:30 we enter the port armed with hard head and safety west after having waited for Cesar for another hour („he will be there shortly, 10 minutes“). My container is brought to the unloading place by truck and unloaded by a big crane just before my eyes. I will post a shot video on Instagram later.

The seal is cut and the door opened .. it’s a bit like Christmas .. there is my home 🙂 . I am happy !

It takes another hour to take off the latches and remove everything from the container. First the kayak, than the trailer by hand, finally the car. I am not allowed to drive. Someone of the Harbour has to do it. I put the kayak back on the roofrack. We drive to the parking lot. Back to Emil.

It ist 5 pm. We wait for the final papers . One of the coworkers at the office calls it a day: „haste mañana“ ! I tell here NO, I am not coming back mañana ! The laughs of the whole office are on my side. At 5:30 we receive the final papers: temporary importation permit – TIP . It turns out to be the papers I filled in by hand yesterday at the DIAN office. Now it just has two signatures. No stamps , nothing . 2 days for a 2 pieces of paper I basically wrote myself ! AMAZING !

Cesar picks us up. We enter the port again to the parking lot. We wait inside the car. Cesar returns with another set of papers. We go behind the trucks to the exit. The final barrier opens at 6:30 pm ! I am free and on the road again ! And homed !

Darien Gap

When planning to drive the „Panamericana“ you will come across a specific problem soon … actually the Panamericana or the Panamericana „Highway“ ist not one single road from north to south or vice versa. It is more of a road system on one hand and it is not continuous … there is a gap in the connection between Central and South America – the so-called Darien Gap . The Darien being a large and impenetrable jungle and nationalpark.

So at that stage shipping is the only alternative for cars, motorhomes and other vehicles while (motors) bikes can sail or fly. I read about one guy who had the idea of crossing the gap by a self built floating device using his motorcycle as an engine … he finally made it but almost died trying.

In my case it seemed the best to put Theo and the trailer into a container thus being save from theft or damage. Organizing this is not as easy as it sounds. Although several agents are named in the „Panamerican Travelers Association“ facebook group it is not as easy as the shipping from Germany to the US was. After having found an agent and agreed on the cost and timing there is a two days paperwork involved in Panama City and Colon before loading the container . After the loading process you are „free“ but without your vehicle and what was your home for the past several months … so you are somewhat homeless !

Next question to work on is how to cross the gap yourself. It would be nice to go on the same vessel with your car but that is obviously not an option in this case. Most people will fly – it is relatively cheap an takes only 1 hour or so. But somehow it just doesn’t seem right !

So I decide to do the sailing trip taking me to San Blas Islands and finally to Cartagena de Indias in Colombia. as I was waiting for the timing of the container everything was very shot note. I found an agency on the internet and finally there was one spot left on the „Big fish 1“ which I reserved.

After 2 interesting days in Panama City I was picked up by a bus with the group of people ready to sail on 2 different boats. We drove to Puerto Lindo where the boats were waiting for us to set sail that night. It turned out to be a group of mostly Europeans , the group and crew were very nice , I was the oldest person on that boat !

It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made on that trip ! After having survived the first night with a lot of motion and seasickness for almost everyone (glad I took tons of the anti sickness pills ! Worked great) we sailed to several islands of the San Blas Islands and anchored in lovely spots … Imagine .. just a small island in the blue sea, lots of palm trees on it, white sand, lots of huge sea shells ashore … coconuts everywhere ! What more could you probably want ?

The coconuts though are not yours to take ! The islands are indeed inhabited by the Kuna people who also own the coconuts. But you can buy coconuts from them and they will open them right there for you to drink … put some rum in it … „coco loco“ … you will love it ! Paradise can’t be any better !

They also sell lobster and fish to the several sailors around their islands. What a feast ! One Lobster fresh from the grill for everyone that first night on the boat ! But it can still get better as we sail on to the Holandes Cays. We land on Akuadagana Island to have a BBQ that night. during the day it’s swimming, snorkeling, relaxing on either the boat or the beach. While I write this I try to get information about this Island I could walk around in 30 Minutes – there is NOTHING on google … believe it or not !

So after sunset we start an amazing BBQ with beef, chicken, pork … very good , salad and baked potatoes as well as coconut bread and rice prepared by the Kuna living on that island. Later that evening we sit there and have a couple (or more) beers with the Kuna and a lively chat (as far as my Spanish is concerned it´s more of a listening) .. but what a chance to. Get in touch with these people . I am very impressed who happy they seem to be living the free but really very simple life on these remote Islands with no running water or electricity (some may have solar panels to charge batteries, some not) . What an unforgettable evening. That is only possible due to our great crew who have good connections the the people here and let us participate – tank you !

After that we met the Kuna on another island where they were selling crafts. They are well known for their embroidery. This is also part of their traditional dresses. Interestingly I had recently read in a book on the travels of Alexander von Humboldt in South America some 200 years ago that some peoples there would raise the 5th boy child in an row like a girl/woman as to take care of the household and take over „typically female“ jobs , a tradition that was stopped by christianisation. It seems still tradition here on the islands as one of the „women“ selling their crafts was just such a person. Very interesting and impressive encounter.

After another day in paradise just relaxing we set sail to Cartagena for 30 hours of blue water sailing !

An outstanding experience – thanks to Francia, Harry and Luis – our crew !

PS the shipping of the vehicle turns out to be not as smooth and excellent as this trip … as of now the container is still in Panama waiting to be loaded to the vessel that had some technical issues on its way from Cuba. Tomorrow is the prospective loading day and hopefully arrival will be on Saturday for a retrieval on Monday (of course customs officer do not work weekends nowhere in this world) – Keeping fingers crossed !

Base camps …

When on the road for a longer time it may be good to have one or several base camps just in case anything happens.

So I startet out on my trip not knowing how important this would get.

Due to bad weather the ship with the verhielte and trailer was about a week late. I was already in Baltimore at the time this became evident but didn’t have much to do. So I decided to drive to Cleveland with a rental car and visit my cousin Christian Knapp and his family there and „kill some time“. Luckily they gave me „shelter“ in the lovely home in Shaker Heights. Unusual for this time of the year we had lots of sunshine and no snow.

Although I thought I had planned everything I was missing things as soon as I left home. Other things turned out to be useless and I was happy to get rid of them.

So when Petra joined me in Florida after about 2 months into the trip she brought things I was missing and took home a load of things I didn’t need. Good for me. Although I would have liked if we could have done the whole trip together it turned out to be good to have the home base working as I needed spare parts for the car, communication with doctors and health insurance etc. Other overlanders will rent out their homes or sell them … not an option in my situation with a „critical“ health status. Although I did not think it would happen – it did happen and I had to return home for surgery some time in April 2017. So it was good to have a home to return to. Further therapy was needed lasting almost 3 months in July , August and September and again I was happy to be home for this treatment.

Bills keep coming in until today and Petra is taking care of everything. Good for me. I would not be able to do so.

While I was in Germany I was lucky to have another basecamp with my cousin Barbara Healey and her family. So I drove down from Vancouver in one day , dropped the vehicle and trailer in front of their house and took off the next day for several doctors appointments the day after I returned to Frankfurt.

It is also good to be able to get appointments at the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department at the University Hopital Heidelberg by email and short note ! Outstanding ! Thanks to Prof. J. Hoffmann and his team that has always been possible ! So that’s also a „basecamp“ in some ways.

After I returning from Alaska another interruption of the trip was necessary and again I could count on the family in Portland and their friends Michael Galassi and Kathy Hamm who have a large piece of land which was good for safe storage of the vehicle and trailer for three months. When I returned to Portland I was planning to continue on the trip shortly but ended up staying with them for 3 weeks due to problems with the vehicle (as posted) earlier and the need to ship parts from my friends and further basecamps ORC off-road center and EDOC performance. I am well aware that usually if you have relatives visit you’re happy when they leave after a couple of days. So I am thankful for that and I think we all had a pretty good time.

Later in the trip , again to return home for a shorter period of time, I could count on my aunt Edda Knapp who had meanwhile moved from Cleveland to Las Vegas (not for me though ;-)) and stay in her house and park my rig there.

Petra and I were going to meet in Cancun, Mexico again. Good for me that she could bring all the parts needed to get the hitch, trailer and everything going again ! Finally my father who wanted to join in for some time also brought some missing parts with him .

I am thankful for all the help and support I could and can always count on ! Without I would have been in some bigger trouble !

Love Hotel …

Ich habe es erst mit der Zeit kapiert was hier läuft .

Überall von México bis Panama fand ich „Motels“ an der Straße, teilweise etwas merkwürdig aufgemacht , wie ein Schloß oder mit auffälliger Beleuchtung oder knallbunt angestrichen. Erst nachdem ich die Schilder „2 horas o 4 Ora’s“ mit entsprechender Preisangabe gesehen hatte konnte ich mir einen Reim darauf machen .

Es scheint, daß sich, bei der relativen Armut hier , die „normalen Leute“ die beengt mit der gesamten Familie zusammen leben müssen , für ein Schäferstündchen andere Wege finden müssen. Diese finden sich offenbar in diesen „love Motels“ die hier wirklich überall zu finden sind.

Macht Sinn – „andere Länder, andere Sitten“ … 🙂