November 23, 2004 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Last summer I went backpacking by myself in Europe. This summer I want to do something crazier, so I'm thinking of taking a bus from Las Vegas as far south as I possibly can. Does anyone have any tips? Is this feasible, or even sane? [More inside]

I have a friend who's doing the same thing, but to go visit relatives in central Mexico. My roommate lives in Panama, and my friend will be in Ecuador, so I'd want to see if it's at all possible to get that far. I know some areas of Latin America are extremely dangerous, especially for those of us with a lighter skin tone, so where should I just avoid no matter what? I'd have about two months.
posted by borkingchikapa to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I drove from San Francisco to Mazatlan. I can't recommend that portion of the drive.

We crossed the border at Mexicali/Calexico, and then took the back roads (not the pay-highways) south. It was incredibly ugly, covered in trash, stinky, unsafe at any speed, with frequent police checkpoints/searches. We stayed at a couple of towns well off the beaten path. People looked at us like we were the first gringos they'd seen in a while. Most folks were friendly but we did encounter a couple of agitated unfriendlies as well. The worst part was the landscape of burning trash.

Once we got out of the border state of Sonora, into Senolina, things improved a bit. And I understand that the border region is kind of a shithole by comparison to the rest of the country. But *man.* Either be prepared, or find another way to do it.
posted by scarabic at 3:51 PM on November 23, 2004

border state of Sonora, into Senolina

Sinaloa? You're right with the difference between border/a bit further south, at least as far as my experience with Sinaloa and Baja California Norte.
posted by LionIndex at 4:18 PM on November 23, 2004

I think backpacking in Southeast Asia is the standard next step after backpacking Europe.
posted by smackfu at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2004

There are two books to recommend which lightly touch on your question but may prepare you in spirit for it:

Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas. He takes trains as much as possible from Boston to Patagonia. He's a good writer (probably one of the best American writers alive and still reguarly producing), sophisticated, humorous, and accessible.

Tim Cahill, Road Fever. He and a buddy travel from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in 23 1/2 days. Funny and energetic. He gets less descriptive the further north they go.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:49 PM on November 23, 2004

You cannot, and I mean cannot, cross the Darien Gap (between Panama and Colombia). There is no road, and the area is crawling with guerllias, of either the political or the narcotraficante variety. They love to hold Americans for ransom, or kill them. And that's all before you get to some seriously inhospitable terrain, with no cities (no hospitals, no points to really rest or re-supply), and full of various jungle animals.

You used to be able to take a ferry around this portion, but I think that's stopped too. Perhaps there's a way to take a boat to some of the Islands off the coast of Venzuela (the most famous are Turks and Caicos). From there you could fly or boat to Venezuela and then resume by land.
posted by zpousman at 5:09 PM on November 23, 2004

Response by poster: Zpousman, I was thinking of taking a boat from Panama to Ecuador, but now that you mention it, I'm going to think about going that way instead. I've always wanted to go to Suriname, for some reason. I'd skip Colombia all together either way.

Did you mean the Netherlands Antilles? The Turks and Caicos are north of Hispanola.
posted by borkingchikapa at 5:27 PM on November 23, 2004

Do you speak Spanish? I wandered as far south as San Jose, Costa Rica in the 1980s, and just had an amazing wonderful adventure, despite not having a word of Spanish at the start. Mexico especially has a rich and vibrant culture that will get under your skin and become a part of your life forever. It will also make you nuts sometimes. My main tips are to budget as much time and money as you possibly can, have a good guide and to supplement it by at least sometimes visiting places along the hippy trail to meet other travelers, bring earplugs for the hotels (very important), keep a clear head and away from drugs, even if other travelers are imbibing, to go everywhere but to trust your instincts as far as danger is concerned. Also, to put your ego aside, if you seem to be heading for a confrontation just walk away.

Wow--I am suddenly remembering a day of hitchhiking on dirt tracks in a remote part of Guatemala, riding on the back of a truck loaded with coconuts over a beautiful but damned dangerous jungled mountian range. The brakes did not seem to work, and whenever the truck stalled going uphill a guy would jump off the back and hurriedly push big wooden blocks behind the tires so we didn't roll off a cliff before the driver could restart the engine. Good times!
posted by LarryC at 6:46 PM on November 23, 2004

Green Tortoise
posted by chrisroberts at 7:13 PM on November 23, 2004

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