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To the Ends of the Earth

After many months of preparation we finally got going in October 2014. With Grimaldi we sea freighted our VW camper from Hamburg to Uruguay. We were on board, too. After 28 days at sea, hour-long tournaments on our foosball table and an abundance of yummy pasta, we arrived in Montevideo, where the the weather was beautiful. This was the starting point of our journey down south. Our goal was to spend Christmas at the end of the earth. En route from the Argeninian coast to Ushuaia we experienced a variety of landscapes, animals and weather conditions. At the cliff of San Julian we could watch seals playing in the water from the comfort of our roof top tent. We came into contact with flooding in Uruguay, heavy winds in Patagonia as well as icy temperatures in Tierra del Fuego National Park. One of our most treasured highlights was the trip - without blowing a tyre! - on the Carretera Austral. For us, the camping spots in the wide open, deserted places with fantastic views of the glaciers were the very definition of freedom.

From Chile we made our way to the east of Brasil. Once there, we celebrated the renowned carneval in Rio de Janeiro. A visit to the Sambodromo was of course a must. The parade of different samba schools took eight hours and it was quite different to what we expected. The visit at a beach party with locals on the other hand was completely to our liking. There was beer from ice boxes, cocktails on the beach and everybody was dancing samba and had a great time. After many hours trying to learn this particular dance, we finally gave up. You probably need South-American blood in your veins to pull it off. We sampled the huge variety of meats in different Churrascarias and continued on our way to San Pedro de Atacama via Paraquay.

In Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, we got to know Sebastian, a primary school teacher from Germany. With him we travelled from Filadelfia to Bolivia, so we could get back to Chile via Argentinia. Because the Paraguayan border post is 200km before the actual border, we made detailled enquiries about the road conditions ahead. After discussions with the border post personnel, we went for it. A few minutes into the trip we came to realise, that none of the road descriptions were exaggerated. The road conditions were unbelievably bad and we had to stop frequently to patch up potholes, created by enduring rain the days prior. We used tree branches and anything else really that we could get a hold of, to fill the holes. Needless to say we made only slow progress and towards the halfway point, we decided to set up camp beside the road. We made pasta and had a beer or two, talked about our experiences so far before we retired for the night, accompanied by deafening animal noises, which we couldn't quite attribute to which animals they might have come from.

The next day we arrived in Bolivia. We had to 'donate' a bottle of wine to the border post so we were allowed to leave Paraguay. Our in-car foosball-table also underwent a great deal of scrutiny before we were finally allowed to enter Bolivia. At this stage, Bolivia was simply a transit country for us and we tried to head for Argentinia as quickly as possible so we could get to our final destination, the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.

The south of Chile had already mesmerised us and only after a few minutes it was clear that the north with its almost surreal landscapes would be equally as impressive. We set up our base camp for a variety of expeditions in the small but touristy town San Pedro where we stayed for a couple of days. Due to its location it is perfect for day trips to the Altiplano, a great number of lagoons, geyser fields and the observatory. Time and time again we drove our camper out of town to marvel at the incredible starry night sky. Despite temperatures around freezing point, the view from our roof tent was worth every additional layer of clothing we had to wear. Friends then joined us for a tour over the popular lagoon route through Bolivia. A lot of travellers had advised us to not do this tour with our own vehicle, so we decided to hire a four wheel drive car and leave our camper behind. For three days our driver navigated us, mostly offroad, to snow covered mountains and colourful lagoons and we met many alpacas and flamingos on our way to Uyuni. The grand finale of that trip was standing in a field full of cacti and watch the sun rise over the largest salt lake on Earth. Back in Chile, we were robbed in Calama, close to the Peruvian border. Luckily we weren't there when it happened, but our camper was broken into and valuable possessions removed. However, we were lucky enough to recover our important travel documents. After the shock had worn off and we spoke to the police, we wanted to move on as soon as we could.

Once in Peru, the journey took a turn for the worse, due to the unrest in this country. In the south there were road blocks, which were fortified with burning hand-thrown missiles. They made no exceptions for tourists. Funny enough, the unrest was caused by a part of the population protesting against poor environmental standards and working conditions in the mines of Tia Maria. The mountainous drive to Cusco took us to our physical limits, as we reached high altitudes of 4000m and above. The thin air and the icy temperatures were deeply felt by our bodies. We the tool a plane from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado to spend a couple of days in the Amazon region. Stationed in a lodge, we conducted several activities such as a rain forest walk or caiman watching. The tropical temperatures and countless animal species were an absolute highlight. Back from the Amazon and after another incident (which resulted in our camera equipment being confiscated), we visited the Nasca Lines and many different ruins of the ancient Inca culture. The coastal region disappointed us a little bit - due to the non-existent garbage collection and the desert-like landscape, there was stuff lying around everywhere. After we had seen Peru not only from its most beautiful side, we were glad to arrive in Ecuador. Everything was green and tropical. The good mood of the people there was instantly contagious. The bulk of our travels was through the inland, we jobbed on an orange farm, bathed in natural thermal pools and gorged on the unbelievable amount of different fruit varieties. At the beach of Esmeralda we tried fresh lobster for the first time in our lives, which was cooked beautifully by a Canadian chef. Ecuador was a big surprise on our travels. We didn't really have any expectations before we arrived and were then simply swept away by the friendliness of the people and the paradise-like nature. It was with a heavy heart that we had to leave this country after but a few short weeks in order to reach Colombia.

In contrast, we pretty much new what to expect in Colombia. On the one hand we heard the worst things about this country before we set off, but in the other hand it was also the South-American country that most people went into rhapsodies about. For us personally, it made a very fitting end to our 10-months journey, which covered all kinds of different climates, cultures and countries. If you stick to certain rules in Colombia, like only travelling by daylight, then it is possible to experience a remarkable attitude of friendliness, openness and helpfulness amongst its people. As an example, we wanted to set up camp in front of the police station in a small fishing village and were advised not to do so because of we might be in danger. A family of the village simply took us and accommodated us in their backyard, where we could camp for the night. They even tore down part of the fence so we could get in there with our camper. Roca, their 4-year old deaf-mute nephew, was mesmerised by our VW. He wanted to know everything about it and try it all out for himself. He was over the moon about even the smallest things, that we would otherwise take for granted. It was an experience that taught us that happiness simply can't be bought.

The country itself is a dream come true and quite a bit out of the ordinary. A visit to one of the coffee plantations was high on our list. We were allowed to camp right in between coffee plants and dived into a completely different world. Medellin and Cartagena have a very unique charm as well. We ended up staying over a week in the colourful coastal city of Cartgena and organised ocean transit back to Hamburg from there.

With a short stopover in New York, we arrived back home in good old Germany in mid August. We had mixed feelings - very happy to be back but also a little bit sad that the trip was over. Reflecting upon it, we are really stocked that we did this trip and we don't want to miss a single day or experience, even the bad ones. We now look forward to planning our next adventure to another corner of the world that we haven't seen yet.

Artwork and/or text courtesy of Robert Kampfl & Kim Auer.