Since our time living in Nicaragua, we’ve been dead set on driving Chile and Argentina in our own vehicle. No flights, no buses, no taxis – if we can help it. Just us driving independently through these two alluring countries with the freedom to go at our own pace and see the places that the buses don’t go. As it turns out, there’s a name and an entire subculture for this type of Pan-American traveler, and it’s Overlander.
The decision wasn’t made just for the fun of it, but because we knew it would be a wise choice. In particular, Chile is the most developed nation in South America and can be extremely expensive to backpack through. Even unflattering and often unsafe buses can cost upwards of 100 USD – and most rides are overnight.
Domestic flights are outrageously priced too, and can be over 300 USD just to get from city to city. As far as Argentina goes, we simply long for the chance to get out of the cities there and into the gaucho-influenced countryside to experience the culture in full swing.
There were basically two ways we could accomplish our goal of becoming Overlanders. We could either buy a car in Chile from a specified shipping port, and dedicate weeks (maybe a month) to working out the paperwork, and then proceed to sell it to a Chilean buyer after driving both Chile and Argentina.
This would be the legal way to do it if buying from Chile. Or, we could find some other travelers who happened to be selling the perfect vehicle, buy it from them if our travel schedules matched up, and head on our way.
For a while, we gave up the idea that we would be able to find the perfect circumstances to buy a car from fellow travelers. After all, we needed a very precise set of circumstances to make it work. And we didn’t need a massive bus or an entire camper, just a truck with a shell that we could sleep in.
We preferred four-wheel drive since we will be driving in the South American winter, and of course a good price for a vehicle that would last us 4-5 months or more. On top of all this, we needed to be in the same country as the travelers we bought the car from, around the same time we were ready to buy it. In turn, we began to prepare for the arduous process of hunkering down in Chile for a month for the vehicle purchase from the port.
By a sudden stroke of luck, we met our friends Jenna and Jon, and their 1993 Toyota 4Runner Old Grey.
MEET OLD GREY, THE O.G. OVERLANDER
Believe it or not, there is a deep-rooted and quiet subculture of travelers here in the Americas. They’re not quite backpackers, and not quite road trippers. They’re Overlanders. Those who drive the longest road in the world, the Pan-American Highway, in VW buses, Westies, Dodge trucks with camper shells, old fire trucks (we’ve met people), and pretty much any other vehicle you can think of that can be set up to camp in.
Luckily for us, there is a Facebook group for this kind of travel and a huge helpful community. As we were living in Cusco, we came across a post in the group advertising exactly what we were looking for in a vehicle – and it was already converted into a camping unit with all the necessary gear.
Where it gets truly eerie, is that just like us, we found that the sellers Jenna and John are from Colorado! They’re from Telluride, our absolute favorite city in our home state. Telluride happens to be just a few hours’ drive from our hometown. This meant that Old Grey had Colorado plates, matching our I.D.’s, and it also meant that we were dealing with people we could trust. (Coloradoans are just cool like that).
Scott and I were extremely giddy and grateful for the chance to buy a vehicle from fellow travelers, and all four of us began making plans to transfer ownership and move forward with paperwork in Cusco.
Old Grey’s Travels
Our friends’ story turned out to be quite similar to ours – they got married, got rid of stuff, and jumped into their truck for the trip of a lifetime. Strangely enough, even though we had hopped a plane to Mexico instead of becoming badass Overlanders, we found out that all five of us (counting Old Grey) were in the same places throughout Mexico and other parts of Latin America this entire time.
It’s quite possible our buses were passing them on the highways or that we saw them in passing in the cities we were visiting! Even in Oaxaca City for the Day of the Dead festival, Jenna and John were enjoying the festivities at the exact same time as us. It is truly amazing how travel brings people together.
So, Old Grey has traveled all the way from Colorado, through Baja and Mexico, down through Central America including Panama, and through northern South America to arrive here in Peru. Sadly, it became time for Jenna and Jon to end their journey and head back to colorful Colorado, but Old Grey has found a way to travel on.
We are now the official owners and proud caregivers of Old Grey, after all of us spending several days with a Cusco mechanic to make sure OG’s health was in tip-top shape for the next leg of the journey. Not only that, it took us about three days to finish the paperwork involved in the transfer of ownership. In short, we needed three papers granting power of attorney notarized, one by the U.S. consulate and two by a Cusco notary, and Scott and I needed to obtain Peruvian car insurance for the month (only 8 USD!).
That sounds simple enough – but in Latin America, things are never completed easily. Especially legal matters. After the U.S. Consulate appointment, we found we had to deal with the local Migration Office and obtain a special passport stamp that granted permission to sign legal documents in Peru.
For the entire city of Cusco, there is one tiny office, with one tiny cubicle, with one tiny man to deal with all of the migration issues for foreigners. Fees had to be paid at a separate bank down the way, which was as packed as a Walmart Supercenter on Black Friday. Passports had to be held by the office overnight as work volume was too high to complete it on the spot, and the largest festival of the year Inti Raymi in Cusco happened to be erupting in the streets all over the city.
It was an amazing time to be in Cusco, but not so good for business dealings! We all managed to make it through, and being in the company of great people along the way and through the struggles made it so much easier in the end. (Thank you Jenna and Jon)!
THE TRAVEL PLAN
What’s next for Old Grey? Definitely making her way through the epic landscapes of Chile and Argentina with The Expat Wanderers, slow travel style. And, most likely experiencing some epic heavy metal jam out sessions during the ride! Hopefully she gets down to some Holy Diver. 😀
Rather than give OG a new home with a Chilean resident before the end of our time in Latin America, as we would have done with a Chilean bought vehicle, we plan to ship her back to the states. Surprisingly, there is a U.S. shipping company with a port in Buenos Aires, and it wouldn’t cost us much to ship Old Grey on one of their boats to Florida. The ideal situation would be that we meet up with other Overlanders along the way, who would split the already reasonable shipping cost with us and share the space of a crate.
After our time in Brazil, we’ll simply drive OG back to Colorado after flying into Florida, and take ourselves a classic U.S. road trip. Since we’ll be traveling to other continents after the holidays, our friends Jenna and Jon just may be interested in buying Old Grey back before we go! No matter what, Old Grey will meet her previous owners again and find her way back to them, and we’re always looking for excuses to visit beautiful Telluride Colorado anyhow.
By the time this article is posted, The Expat Wanderers will have stepped from the world of backpacking into the world of Overlanding. Seems like a pretty sweet gig, and the start of an amazing new adventure that we are eager to see unfold. It is a new chapter to our wanderings, and a new chapter to our travels in Latin America. Chile and Argentina will be a completely different experience for us now that we are independent of public transport.
This Overlander experience will be an entirely new ball game to say the least, and we can’t wait to share it all with you, no matter what the road will bring! There will be new friends, new destinations, new experiences, and whole lot of amazing landscapes and hidden destinations to be found off the beaten path. We are ecstatic to see what adventures the Pan-American Highway will present to us, and we’re ready to hit the road!
Check out our Chile Overlander Series to see how our travels have gone!
Scott and I would like to give a very special thanks to our friends Jenna and Jon for their teamwork, kind hearts, and for the opportunity to experience this chapter of our journey with Old Grey. Muchas gracias amigos, and until we meet again!