EPIC JOURNEYfilter - I want to make a drive from Alaska to Chile.
January 3, 2009 4:57 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to make a drive down the entire western coast of the Americas, starting in Alaska, and ending in Chile. I need advice on how to go about this using the least amount of money, and in the safest way manageable.

Background: I am an 18 year old college student on a limited budget living in D.C.

What I'd like to do: Fly up to Alaska, obtain a cheap, sturdy, small 4-wheel drive vehicle, and drive south until I run out of land. I also need a way to transport the car back up to the states (container ship?), as I plan on flying back from Buenos Aires or Santiago

Pressing Questions:

What would be the best vehicle to use?

- I would want a smaller, rugged SUV that has proper off-roading capability, the ability to carry a large amount of fuel (and run on the kind of fuel one might come across in South America), and is easily servicable. Something along the lines of a Range Rover Defender would be nice, but in the under $4,000 USD range

What sort of International Driver's License would I need?

Driving through some more unstable parts of the world seems unavoidable (ahem, Colombia)... Is there a way I can circumnavigate the unsavory parts? Is there a real risk that I might be robbed, killed, or kidnapped on this journey?
- I would be driving this with a fluent Spanish speaker (I don't speak a word of it), but we are both small, skinny white kids, so we couldn't do much more than talk our way out of a bind

Is there a service available to ship the vehicle back to the East Coast of the U.S.A. once I make it south?

I dont really have a set goal in mind other than to simply make the journey, but visiting a coffee plantation and some ruins along the way might be nice.

Any glaring faults in my plan that I haven't thought of?
posted by robdon to Travel & Transportation (44 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's an old askme about something similar; can't find it right now, but try doing some searches. If I remember correctly, there's one part that's real tough to pass.
posted by inigo2 at 5:03 PM on January 3, 2009


Do you have experience servicing this vehicle? If not, but you are mechanically inclined (or willing to learn) you will want the factory service manual for the vehicle and a set of tools.
posted by zippy at 5:05 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


inigo2, that would be the Darien Gap.
posted by smackfu at 5:06 PM on January 3, 2009


This book, "Road Fever" by Tim Cahill, documents his journey doing the reverse of what you want. He goes from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. It's a fun read and even though it was written awhile back, will probably have some useful info for you.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2009


You will want to learn some spanish, or at least bring a spanish phrasebook, in case your friend becomes incapacitated and you need to do the talking.
posted by zippy at 5:10 PM on January 3, 2009


If you would like some anecdotal evidence of what you are likely to encounter, I'd suggest Road Fever by Tim Cahill who did pretty much just this drive [in reverse?] in 23 days (a record?). What he describes is not something I'd consider fun and I'm the "camp at rest stops" type. mainly this is because there were a lot of hassles with border-type folks and they're both biggish older white dudes. It cost them $350,000 though they had a lot of gear and a pretty sweet ride. That said, teh trip takes place in the late 80's which is a long time ago and quite possibly before you were born. One of the Amazon reviewers says the trip "would be impossible today because some of the route through Colombia is under violent guerrilla control." (this was a few years ago). If you'd like more actual information I'd suggest doing a little reading about the Pan American Highway including, yeah the Darien Gap which isn't really a road by any real stretch.

Here are some Pan American tips from people who have been there. This is not attempting to dissuade you at all, I bet it would be a wonderfully fun trip. However, I think it would be, at times, dangerous and potentially expensive. Having limited cash on hand means it would be more difficult than usual having to solve problems that money would take care of and lack of money would potentially land you in trouble. So, I'd consider doing some serious research, making a real budget and planning t spend at least as much time planning as you do travelling. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:17 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Saying that trying to go through the Darien Gap is "real tough" is an understatement.

You're looking at a hundred miles of swamp and jungle with no roads where your chance of getting kidnapped and/or killed is approximately equal to the chance of you encountering another person.

It's simply an extremely bad idea. I would strongly suggest putting it out of your mind immediately, and modifying your plans accordingly.
posted by Flunkie at 5:18 PM on January 3, 2009


The Road Trip forum is a great resource for these kinds of questions. And for daydreaming.
posted by fshgrl at 5:21 PM on January 3, 2009


Yeah, you will have to find a way to have your car shipped around the Darien Gap. You should NOT NOT NOT try to traverse that on land.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:22 PM on January 3, 2009


To experience Latin America the best, and for the least money: bus it. Many intercity buses are awesome, modern, with food, movies and bunk-style beds. You'll meet more locals, you'll have a schedule, and you're with a bunch of somewhat-locals who can give you advice on where to head next.

From DC, get to El Paso or San Diego, and pretty much bus it as far as you can - Panama City? Fly to Ecuador, keep going through Peru, Bolivia, head home from Rio, Buenos Aires, Santiago. Visas for Parguay, Brazil (and possibly Argentina soon...) need to be obtained beforehand (but can be done on the way somewhere like Lima or Quito at one of those countries' embassies).

It's epic, the $4,000 for the SUV would pay for an amazing trip, and you wouldn't have the insurance, gas, and other liabilities. And you'd have more time to learn Spanish talking to your seatmates. :)
posted by mdonley at 5:35 PM on January 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


Places you need a visa for, and how you get it, on Wikipedia.
posted by mdonley at 5:36 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. Great plan/dream robdon. Seriously. Travelling the Pan American Highway would be an awesome life experience.

I haven't done what you are planning, but I've driven up and down the coast of my own continent a lot, and have travelled Alaska/Washington/California by car and m/bike.

First up, according to my friend who fixes Range Rovers. Don't buy one. He and I recommend an older 4cyl 2+ltr (1987-1995) Toyota Hilux or Land Drover. Those beasties can survive almost anything. Diesel. Buy a diesel. They are hardier, have double the engine life, don't need tuning, can be run on biodiesel etc. Just make sure you change the oil every 2-3000 miles. Get one with a tray and put a canopy on top (fibreglass or steel for security or canvas on frame for nice times in hotter weather). Learn how to fix maintain a diesel engine before leaving. You may be able to pick up one for under us$5k but, looking at ebay, I doubt it. Have you priced 4x4s in Alaska? You may be better off buying one in the lower 48 and driving it to Alaska. Pick a vehicle which is commonly used in South America (parts will be cheaper and easier to get, mechanics will be familiar with the vehicle). This is another vote for Toyota.

On today's US prices, in a modern 4x4 diesel, a trip like this (25,000miles) will cost minimum US$3000 in fuel. Expect to double this amount at least as you will not be paying the cheap US prices for much of the trip.

International driving licences are easy to obtain. Just ask your local DMV.

*Do an intensive first aid course.
*Take an emergency personal beacon.
*Take out travel insurance. This is a must. If you can't afford it, don't go.
*Columbia? The Darién Gap? Read up on others' experiences.
*Yes, there is a not insignificant chance you could be killed or injured (accident), kidnapped, bitten by a poisonous thing, robbed, raped, or die of a disease. See travel insurance above.
*Don't bother shipping the vehicle back, unless you are rich. Sell it to a local or a traveller doing the journey in reverse.

But honestly? I'm not putting you down but at 18, you probably don't have enough life/practical experience to do this yet. Do it on a public transport - bus/ferry/trains/goat carts - first (way way cheaper) then think about doing it in a suitably equipped vehicle in some years time when you have the time and funds to do it safely and securely.

I love big dreamers.
posted by Kerasia at 5:48 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Addendum: If you don't have any experience of travelling alone in majority world countries (aka 3rd world countries) then you should not do this trip by car until you do. Another good reason for the public transport idea. Plus, if you travel by public transport and don't have the financial/emotional/physical baggage of a vehicle, you can cut and run with that beautiful french babe you may meet who wants to go train hopping through China.
posted by Kerasia at 5:52 PM on January 3, 2009


Here's more fun reading about the Darien Gap
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:10 PM on January 3, 2009


Oh, this is a bit old, but here's a list of buses that can get you from El Paso/Ciudad Juarez all the way to Cartagena, Colombia.
posted by mdonley at 6:10 PM on January 3, 2009


The forums and trip reports at Horizons Unlimited are where you should be spending your time reading and daydreaming. There is also a wealth of advice in this thread (though focused more on motorcycle trips, pretty much everything should apply to your question).

The best advice here is to take the bus -- it's safer, you'll get to talk to people other than your friend, and it's much more budget friendly. (Sure, you can afford a $4000 truck, but can you afford a $1500 repair a second month in a row? Or shipping it on a boat down from Panama? Or to pay the medical and legal fees incurred when you run into a car in a small town somewhere?)

But if you do decide to drive, I'd strongly suggest you choose a Toyota pickup or 4Runner, in as basic a version as you can find -- stick shift, 4wd, 4 cylinder engine. Not jacked up and abused off-road, just a basic used truck that has been decently taken care of. Parts and skilled mechanics for Toyotas are easy to find everywhere, which is not the case for, for example, Land Rovers, nifty as they look. Second best would be a Jeep Cherokee or Wrangler (again, fairly basic, though with the inline-6 engine). Not as reliable, and parts might be a bit harder to find, but just as rugged and easy to work on. These are all vehicles that were made for many years with minimal changes, so used parts are comparatively easy to find.

You don't need to spend thousands of dollars outfitting your truck as if you are crossing the Sahara alone -- you are following the Pan-American highway and there are gas stations, restaurants, and so on all the way down. Save your money for tires and repairs.

You do, however, need to think carefully about things like medevac insurance -- accidents and assaults do happen, and the consequences can be terrifying when you are in a country where you don't speak the language and don't know the culture. Not to scare you, but you should read and think seriously about stories like this one (randomly attacked and stabbed; luckily the partner was a medical translator and was able to get help and arrange for medical care) and this one (happy adventure of a lifetime takes a tragic turn after an accident). There are plenty of others, with both happy and sad endings, and it's worth the time to think realistically about what your resources and options are.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Diesel. Buy a diesel. They are hardier, have double the engine life, don't need tuning, can be run on biodiesel etc.

This would be great advice... except that diesels are almost entirely unavailable in the US. You can find old Toyotas, from like 1984, very rare first-generation Isuzu Troopers, maybe a couple of other oddities all two or three decades old, and otherwise the only diesel 4x4s you will find are 3/4 and 1 ton trucks -- much larger and more expensive than the OP needs.

It's like the inverse of the first Mad Max movie, where they are rhapsodizing about "the last of the V-eights!" Here, v-8s are common as mud, but a modern high-efficiency turbo-diesel is rare beyond belief.
posted by Forktine at 6:23 PM on January 3, 2009


The zone between southern Mexico and northern Peru is lousy with malaria. You will want to take anti-malarial drugs daily as a prophylactic the entire time you're in that region.

It's nice to see a young person who has a dream and wants to fulfill it -- but I think this particular dream is out of your reach, especially if you're "on a limited budget". How about driving from Alaska to Florida instead? It'd be a lot safer, and a lot cheaper.

And a hell of a lot safer.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:50 PM on January 3, 2009


Unless you want to put your vehicle on the state ferry, you will need to take the Alcan down through the interior into Canada to get out of Alaska. Your options of buying a vehicle in Alaska will be limited. You may want to plan on having a car to get you from the North Slope down to someplace like Anchorage, then traveling down the inside passage on the ferry without a vehicle. Get a different one in Seattle. Trust me, you will not want to miss the inside passage. Plus, you can take a train down the interior of AK, making it even easier (and prettier).
posted by Foam Pants at 7:18 PM on January 3, 2009


Lois Pryce, a solo female, did the trip on a motorcycle recently. She wrote a book about it.
posted by nitsuj at 7:18 PM on January 3, 2009


I'd go with the bus option, or keep it in the US like Chocolate Pickle describes. It would take easily a year or more of planning to do this trip right (imagine the sheer time it'd take to navigate through a dozen or more different visa-issuing bureaucracies in several languages) and cost much more than you think.

You ever see the epic roadtrips Long Way Round or Long Way Down where Ewan McGregor and his friend ride their motorcycles around the world and from the UK to the tip of S. Africa? They have entire staffs of research support people and it still takes them about a year to plan it all out.
posted by mathowie at 7:22 PM on January 3, 2009


I wish I could favorite mdonley's suggestion a million times. Doing this trip by bus, truck, scooter, sailboat, etc will be infintely cheaper and more interesting. Probably safer, too.
posted by lunasol at 7:23 PM on January 3, 2009


This is the old thread I was talking about: Driving To Argentina.
posted by inigo2 at 7:36 PM on January 3, 2009


otherwise the only diesel 4x4s you will find are 3/4 and 1 ton trucks -- much larger and more expensive than the OP needs.
More expensive, agreed. Too large? You need a truck that size to carry the fuel, water, bedding, food, tools, spare tires and parts, etc one would need for such a trip. Anything smaller would be too small and too light to carry the necessaries, in my (own one myself and go bush often) experience.

[ot]a modern high-efficiency turbo-diesel is rare beyond belief
This is a sad. They are excellent. Most developed countries have many many diesel models to choose from - from local to Jap to Euro make. My sister's diesel Peugeot family wagon gets great mileage and has all the economy (turbo, intercooled) and low-maintenance features of my diesel truck. [/ot]
posted by Kerasia at 7:40 PM on January 3, 2009


Forktime, amazing thread/story about Clayton. It was an amazing story and an amazing reaction by an online community.

Robdon, if you do the trip, good luck and watch out for the friggin Donkeys.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:42 PM on January 3, 2009


More expensive, agreed. Too large? You need a truck that size to carry the fuel, water, bedding, food, tools, spare tires and parts, etc one would need for such a trip. Anything smaller would be too small and too light to carry the necessaries, in my (own one myself and go bush often) experience.

I think there might be a difference in terminology here. In the US, a "one ton" truck is something like a Ford F350, weighing in at about 8000 pounds, and capable of towing well over 12,000 pounds. You can get one with a diesel, but it will be a 6.4 liter engine putting out 650 ft/lb of torque. These are great trucks for pulling a four-horse trailer, but not for casual driving.

A truck like a Toyota Tacoma (pretty close to the same size as what is sold around the world as a HiLux) is called here a "1/4 ton" truck, and is of a size and weight suitable for a trip like this.
posted by Forktine at 8:04 PM on January 3, 2009


This is totally do-able trip btw, don't let people put you off. If you go to the post office in Deadhorse, AK you will see many, many polaroid photos on the wall of people who've done this exact trip: in cars, on motorcycles, on bicycles (germans mostly for some reason) and one guy on foot! I think it took him 5 years.

If you are short of money you will have to stop and work along the way or share portions of the trip with another passenger but that is hardly a big deal unless you are on a short timeline. And as for driving versus taking public transport, ferries etc- it's a completely different experience and one is not "better" than another. I prefer to drive because it is easier to get away from other tourists but ymmv.

Frankly I don't think you're getting a lot of good advice here from people who know the roads or have done extended trips like this and I'd head to some of the linked forums for more pertinent info. For example it'll cost you $2K just to get the car from Anchorage to Bellingham on the ferry whereas driving the Alcan will only cost you gas. The interior passage is nice but so is the Alcan, and you'll see a lot more wildlife on the road,

And you won't need to haul huge amounts of gas or water anywhere in the US or Mexico these days. An emergency supply us a good idea but it's not like it's 500 miles between gas stations on the main roads anywhere these days.

$4K will buy you a better-than-beater-but-not-great Toyota in AK, make sure you know what you're looking at and be prepared to put some money into it immediately.
posted by fshgrl at 8:37 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


btw, sell the car when you get there, it'll cost more than it's worth at that point to ship it back via container ship.
posted by fshgrl at 8:40 PM on January 3, 2009


What sort of International Driver's License would I need?

It's my understanding that these are unnecessary and mostly bogus. It may be different in South America, but I really doubt it.

Certainly I know lots of people who drive in Mexico and Canada on a US license. And, I drove all over France and England on a US license. The rental car people in France laughed at me (on long distance, before I'd paid) when I asked about IDLs, and said they were a scam for stupid Americans.
posted by Netzapper at 9:20 PM on January 3, 2009


First up, according to my friend who fixes Range Rovers. Don't buy one.

I actually bought a Range Rover specifically intending to make the trip you've described. I never ended up going, but the expense and complexity of the repairs I had to deal with over the next couple of years convince me it would be a bad idea. I'm driving another Land Rover now, a Discovery, but I wouldn't take it down the Pan-American either. They are great machines for ensuring total comfort and safety when getting out to remote camping spots and banging around in the snow, but they are full of complicated mechanical systems featuring unique, expensive, hard-to-find parts, so a breakdown somewhere far away means long delays and great expense. Don't risk it.

Toyotas are cheap, universal, and notoriously reliable.

I still want to drive from Anchorage to Ushuaia someday, but these days I imagine doing it on a motorcycle, over the course of three months or so.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:23 PM on January 3, 2009


As someone who has lived in Nicaragua and traveled fairly extensively through Central America and Colombia, I highly recommed the bus option. It will be much cheaper and a lot safer. So much cheaper. Like $1000 versus in the thousands just to ship a vehicle, let alone gas and tolls and bribing the police who pull you over and reapirs for the invevitable flat tires and paying fees at every border crossing and finding hotels with garages so your car doesn't get stolen instead of staying at a $5 a night hostel.

Also, learn Spanish! Like, good, conversational Spanish, not just "donde esta el bano" stuff.
The trip sounds like a blast an I in no way would dissuade you from doing it. But a busses are a much much cheaper, safer, and more convenient way to do it.
posted by emd3737 at 9:44 PM on January 3, 2009


Oh, and Netzapper's right on the IDL. No one would even know what the hell it was. All you need is a passport, a US drivers license, and enough Spanish ability either explain yourself or know when to bribe.
posted by emd3737 at 9:47 PM on January 3, 2009


I'm not quite sure why no one here seems to know about the Stewart-Cassiar highway as an alternative to most of the Alcan. I've driven it in April....it was fine.
Best of luck to you--but, I have to agree with others...the gas and repairs will be financially devastating.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:00 PM on January 3, 2009


Also, to the people suggesting the bus: I can't speak for the OP, but I can assure you that if I were making this post, you'd be entirely and completely missing the point.

The point is to drive the adventure not pay somebody else for the privilege of cramming into their noisy, smelly box. I mean, shit, if you're going to do that, why not just fly between major cities along the way?
posted by Netzapper at 10:02 PM on January 3, 2009


I think there might be a difference in terminology here.
Aye. I see what you mean.

I'm driving another Land Rover now, a Discovery, but I wouldn't take it down the Pan-American either.
I was more thinking of a late 70s Land Rover. One of the very simple, tie it together with fencing wire to fix it, type old thing. But what we call a Toyota Hilux in Oz, a late 1990s with a tray back and drop down sides would be my choice for sure.

What sort of International Driver's License would I need?
>It's my understanding that these are unnecessary and mostly bogus.


Many travel insurance firms will not cover you for accidents if you are driving in a foreign country, have an accident and did not have an international licence. It's in the fine print. That's why they are useful. To dot the i's and cross the t's in terms of travel insurance. And who would make such a trip without travel insurance, huh? huh? The late Clayton fellow linked to above didn't have insurance and his parents had to beg friends and strangers to help pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical fees and rehab and equipment. Financial ruin on top of incapacitation would be a bitter icing on a sour cake.
posted by Kerasia at 12:04 AM on January 4, 2009


Especially, but not exclusively, in terms of Colombia and the Darien Gap, do have a care to consider the experience of Robert Young Pelton, who was kidnapped along with two backpackers, despite being the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places and the website Come Back Alive. (Well, he did, but he's Robert Young Pelton.)
posted by dhartung at 12:11 AM on January 4, 2009


In many parts of the trip, the box would be anything but noisy and smelly. In Mexico for instance, the first class lines are late model equipment, uncrowded, climate controlled, video-equipped and snack-supplied. Reasonably priced too. Costa Rica, ditto, Chile, definitely too. Peru probably as well. I haven't been to the other places. The reason to do it is sightseeing. One recent bus ride I had near Tlaxcala Mex. was right by an active, puffing volcano. I could concentrate on looking at the scene and not be distracted by driving. The big picture widows in the bus were perfect for volcano gazing.
posted by telstar at 12:16 AM on January 4, 2009


In many parts of the trip, the box would be anything but noisy and smelly. In Mexico for instance, the first class lines are late model equipment, uncrowded, climate controlled, video-equipped and snack-supplied. Reasonably priced too.

It'd have to be pretty damn awesome, like Greyhound and the Playboy mansion combined, for a bus trip to be as pleasant as a car trip where I get to control my own personal equipment, climate, and snacks. Even if just for the lack of crying infants, it's worth it.

Seriously, even having experienced first class Air France and thoroughly enjoying it, I'd drive the 4000 miles instead, if I could.

The reason to do it is sightseeing. One recent bus ride I had near Tlaxcala Mex. was right by an active, puffing volcano. I could concentrate on looking at the scene and not be distracted by driving. The big picture widows in the bus were perfect for volcano gazing.

Sure, it's difficult to drive and fully appreciate the scenery. That's why you pull over, have a look at the beautiful landscape, and then start driving again. And you can turn off the main road and go closer to the volcano. Or decide that you really want to camp there for a couple days. And I've found that I get much better photos from a tripod on the ground than from a moving vehicle--especially a moving vehicle where I can't roll down the window. These things are inconvenient at best on a bus.

I really think that the American public (and maybe other industrialized peoples) breaks down into two groups: those who enjoy driving, and those who view it as a chore. For those of us who enjoy driving, it isn't a distraction from such a trip, it's part of the point. Even if the drive is on dead-boring US interstates, feeling personally responsible for covering those thousands of miles, of having done it yourself, is part of the joy of roadtripping. Hell, even obligatory trips to destinations in which I'm totally uninterested are fun if they're more than a couple hundred miles away. Five hours' drive for a meeting? Lame. 20 hours' drive? Awesome.

Riding in a bus feels like being carried the whole way. The driver is the one who put in the effort and deserves the credit. He's the one who traveled. You're just freight.

(Mind you, I am fully aware that the dude who rode a bike gets more cred than my wimpy driving ass. Likewise, the dude who treks the whole way gets more cred than the biker. They're shades of doing-it-yourself, so long as you're the one directing the motion.)

But, if you don't like driving, you'll probably never get this. After all, why would you ever want to climb a cliff when you can just hire a helicopter to drop you on top?

@robdon: If this is what you really want, I'd say enjoy yourself. Although, honestly, given the political turmoil in southern Mexico, and then Colombia, and their apparent preference for kidnapping gringos, I wouldn't do it.

You say you're in DC. The trip from DC to Fairbanks, Alaska is a righteous 4100 miles. I admit you probably won't find the challenging road conditions you would on the Panamerica trip. But, you also won't encounter any of the challenging bullet conditions.

If you want more challenging conditions, just don't take the interstates or their Canadian equivalent. You'll have to plan a route, instead of letting Google do it, but that's part of the fun anyway.
posted by Netzapper at 1:52 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


For an idea of why so many people are suggesting a Toyota Hilux, watch BBC's Top Gear trying to destroy one.
posted by The Monkey at 2:13 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


1- Danger. This is the most important thing, I think. When things go bad, they will go really bad. I'm sure it's a rarity. But being a tourist in a war zone isn't likely to make the warriors happy, unless they think they can use you to get money/guns. Nobody likes a tourist- except other tourists and people who can make money off of them.

1b- Danger. There are stories every year of people who don't know what they are doing dying from the elements or nature, right in the US on US interstate roads. Do you know how to identify quicksand, washouts, booby-traps, roads that go through versus roads that dead-end at the ocean without a map? How to read a compass? How to build a bridge out of fallen trees? How to pull a car out of a ditch with a winch? How to pay locals for help?

2- Impossibility. That Darien strip sounds pretty much impassable but for the most experienced at that sort of terrain.

3- Diesel. Yes, a well-built, simple diesel is quite reliable, providing many hundreds of thousands of miles. But when a diesel breaks, it's not going to move again until you replace some part. Better carry extras of everything. Also, I'm fairly certain fuel for a gasoline engine is going to be more available than for a diesel. Yeah, you can run it on anything. As long as that anything is diesel, biodiesel or a large quantity of vegetable oil that won't coagulate at the temperature you're at. Such quantities are not readily available. A gas engine will run on whiskey, if it had to. And you can make whiskey in the jungle, if you had to. (OT- Diesels in the US. They aren't preferred in cars because of a failed experiment in the 80s where GM made some fairly unreliable cars. And because diesel used to be very dirty. Now they are unavailable because the US's standards for diesel fuel and emissions for new cars is almost impossibly high. And because diesel is no longer cheaper than gasoline. Cars that will meet the emission standards will come to market eventually, but will be very complicated and thus unreliable. Even the current generation of small automobile diesels are almost ridiculous in complexity.
posted by gjc at 8:35 AM on January 4, 2009


I know someone doing this right now…in the opposite direction. Here's his site and blog. It has been a while since I checked on his progress but he is apparently in California now. He's on a motorcycle.
posted by Dick Paris at 5:42 PM on January 4, 2009


Two of my friends have spent the last 8 months driving from Mexico to Patagonia. They're driving -and living in- a VW van converted to running on biodiesel made from used kitchen oil, which the gather from friendly people along the way. The entire project is meant to showcase ecological alternatives to fossil fuels and to perform small eco-projects wherever they go.
Their site and their pictures at Flickr. Most of their stuff is published in Spanish, English and French.

Another friend, Kurt, drove a Mercedes-Benz G Class from Alaska to Panama a few years ago, alone. He does that sort of thing all the time. You can see his stuff here. Amazing images. I'd be glad to put you two in contact. He can definitely tell you how this is supposed to be done. Coincidentally, he met Neil Peart doing the same thing you want to do, on motorcycle.

So, yeah, you can absolutely do this. Get your hands on a midsize Toyota SUV that is no less than 4 years old, get it thoroughly checked out, and hit the road. Stay with Mefi friends along the way, or Couchsurf. Let me know when you get to Mexico City and I'll bring the beers.

Good luck, mate.
posted by Cobalt at 9:02 PM on January 4, 2009


For example it'll cost you $2K just to get the car from Anchorage to Bellingham on the ferry whereas driving the Alcan will only cost you gas.

Yeah, but going from Anchorage to Bellingham is not the best way to do it, regardless of cost. A better trip is driving from Fairbanks to Haines or Skagway and then getting off the ferry in Prince Rupert, B.C. You get to see the interior/Alcan AND the full length of Southeast Alaska while cutting number of ferry miles to about a third of the longest possible ferry trip.

The interior passage is nice but so is the Alcan, and you'll see a lot more wildlife on the road.

Ha. Good luck watching whales breach during the countless boring hours spent driving in the interior of B.C.
posted by D.C. at 12:24 AM on January 5, 2009


Also: here's a family of three doing it on bikes. (For all you naysayers out there!)
posted by nitsuj at 7:20 AM on January 6, 2009


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