Date started: July 19, 2008
Date returned home: January 2009. It was 6 months nearly to the day.
Destination: Vancouver to Argentina. Previously we had done separate road trips to the Baja in Mexico and to Central America.
Vehicle: A completely rebuilt Cruiser made of aluminum that we did on our own over a two year period ending in 2002.
Preferred guidebook(s): We use Lonely Planet, though we're not the guidebook type travellers. The most useful bit of information we get out of a guidebook are the little city maps that help us get our bearings once we're in a populated centre. It's also interesting to read a bit on the history and culture sections, but only if you spend the time talking to the actual countrymen for their version. For us, true history is no where near as important (or interesting) as percieved history.
Top 2 travel gadgets/devices: Hard to say. The compact single shot espresso maker was pretty nice to have.
As far as mission critical, high powered off-highway driving lights quite literally saved us a few times. Driving at night isn't usually the best thing to do but sometimes can be unavoidable. In countries where unlit donkeys and carts share a lane with a 100km/h highway, vision is pretty important,
not to mention our escapade getting hopelessly stuck in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
Worst border crossing: Most frustrating - Argentina to Chile, west of Barriloche. They wouldn't recognize the dog's papers and Chile is in the worst kind of 2nd world bureaucracy. For us there are 3 kinds of bureaucracy.
The kind at home which is strict, sometimes annoying, but always logical, and usually makes some kind of sense and usually has the systems in place to back it up. For exmaple health laws in a restaurant are enforced by a health officer actually checking for dirt in the kitchen, not just charging a fee and signing a piece of paper.
The other extreme is the really poor country beaurocracy, completely ineffective, and designed to line the pockets of the officials enforcing it. This type is easy to navigate around in the form of a small bribe, or if you are savvy enough, a kind smile with a bit of solid argument can work too.
But Chile has the worst kind, good policy, too much pride to entertain a bribe, but no money to back up the systems and make them work. So when a border guard sees a dog, he asks for a certain peice of paper, and lets the dog in. We didn't have the peice of paper he wanted but we had proof of shots and vaccines. We went back to Argentina and paid someone a few dollars to forge up the paper the Chilean's wanted. Instead of using his head and seeing that the dog was no threat to his country, the border guard just wanted paper.
Back to border crossings, all the rest in South America were very simple. In Central America, the El Salvador to Honduras crossing took a while, and had some bad police at the check points.
Best piece(s) of practical advice for someone following in your footsteps: Keep your patience hat on, and keep smiling. Grin and bear the bad stuff, there will be some, maybe a lot. And it doesn't really matter where you are - the best thing about a country are it's people.
Highlight of the road trip: The parrilla in Arentina. The parrilla is like a BBQ, along with the party (not just the thing with hot coals in it). The meat is incredible, the wine is really good (and often just a bit more expensive than coke). The pasta is fresh, cheese is wonderful...Argentina learned how to eat!
Most challenging part of being on the road/living out of a vehicle: Probably keeping the vehicle in good condition. The roads can be rough, and especially if you leave the beaten track, damage is inevitable. Typically you will leave a south american mechanic with 2 more problems than you came with, so doing your own field repairs is important.
Robin and Raenelle website: