From Argentina to France: all around the world in a VW bus. Complete summarize

September 2013

Hi there! 

"Better late than never" we use to say in french and spanish. The journey is over for more than 2 years now and we finally wrote a summarize of the complete adventure in english. It should be published in 2 coming issues of the UK magazine "VW camper". Hope you'll enjoy it!

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«At the beginning of every success, there’s the launching of a dream». Well, we believe this story began when we met for the first time: Iris, from Argentina, and Franck, from France. It was in 2005 in Argentina when Franck was making an investigation for the university. We get married on February 2009 and spent the following weeks counting our savings and preparing our 1982 type 2 «Made in Argentina» for the craziest of our dreams: to drive from Buenos Aires to New York (and then go back, of course!). We gave us 9 months to realize the complete journey.
How could we have imagined that the end of this story would come after two years and almost 50 000 miles of traveling the entire world?

The journey started on Thursday 26 February, at about 4pm, when we waved goodbye to our loved ones and took the road for the first time.  We will never forgive the amazing feeling of freedom we felt this day. Driving straight to the North on the « Autovia n°2», with the music on the highest level, windows opened, singing, screaming and laughing like kids.  We had the sensation that nothing but infinite was waiting for us!

But a hundred or so miles later, we had to park on the back side : the gearbox was stuck in first! Unbelievable! We were traveling for less than 2 hours!  And this was just the beginning: two weeks after we get started, Dona Renata (this is the name we gave to our bus)... caught fire!

It happened in a gas station close to the brazilian border. We had a hole in the fuel line returning from the top of the tank. Normally, gas don’t go there, but brazilians used to full the tank at the very top. The fuel dripped on the sparking plugs and as soon as we turned the engine on... It exploded! In this moment, as we shouted and run desperately watching flames leaping from our engine, we knew that surely, we were looking at the end of our dream

We could finally get everything fixed but these two events radically changed the panorama of our starting adventure. The reparation of the damages caused by the fire and the complete rebuild of the gearbox consumed more than the half of all our savings!

We were facing a dilemma: to choose a shorter journey or to find ways to make our own money on the road. Of course, we opted for the second solution. We started by printing some of our better photographies on a postcard format (then would come tee-shirts, neckless, books...) and selling them to the people we crossed on the streets, in the gas stations, on the beaches...  In one word: we had to go toward the people!

It definitely changed the journey in a surprisingly positive way. Instead of spending most of our time together alone, we starting meeting 10, 30 or even more persons a day!Hundreds of opportunities to share a nice moment, to learn from the places we were driving through, to be invited in families. The better experience we could ever have!

Then our trip really started. We crossed all the Brazilian Nation, discovering a giant and amazing country, with very different places. Rio do Janeiro, Curitiba, Ilha Grande, Salvador do Bahía… We will never forgive these names. They´re all synonymous of beauty, colors, sun and smiles.

In Venezuela, we enjoyed a lot the cheapest gas in the world. About 2 cents a liter! We drove along the stunning Caribbean sea and arrived in Colombia. We had heard many scaring things about this place and we had the surprise to discover one of our favorite countries is South America. Very friendly people, beautiful and varied landscapes.

We also starting to meet all the VW clubs we could, as we saw it was the insurance to spend great moments and meet friendly and open-minded people. In one of them, the president took us in his arms and said: « you’ll see: VW is not a brand... It’s a family!» All the rest of this story shows how right he was.

Indeed, arrived in Panama City, we had to change the major the block of the motor but we met Samuel, a specialist in VW who did the work for free, just to be part of the dream! Exactly like in South America, we’ve been helped by people who say us things like “you´re living our dream” and persons we don´t know open us their doors and made us feel like at home!

So we entered Central America. After Panama, we crossed Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Volcanoes, beautiful beaches, rain forest… Siting on the top of a maya pyramid and watch the sunset above the jungle; walking on an active volcano and getting so close to the lava that our shoes started to melt, spending a night on a beach waiting for turtles, laughing all night long with a bunch of guys who could be friends for life... How great is traveling! Of course, there are passports issues, borders, papers and strongly corrupted policemen but at the end, it’s what makes the funniest stories!

Our next stop was Mexico. There we had contacted as many Volkswagen clubs as possible (and there is a lot!!!), and this country had replied with more invitations than any other. We took part in Vochorama, one of Central America’s biggest gatherings of Volkswagens. Great buses and bugs, friends, tacos and tequila. Heaven! In truth, though, everywhere we went in this wonderful country there seemed to be people waiting to greet us. Many wanted to help, donating items to keep us on the road – once again, we found our fellow VW fans generosity overwhelming.

We felt so much like at home in Latin America, we couldn’t avoid to feel unsafe about arriving to the USA, where, for sure, things would be very different! And indeed, the people there is less spontaneous. But it doesn’t mean that friendship and solidarity don’t exist. In fact, it’s just the opposite. As soon as we got internet and wrote some lines about our story, we received more invitations we could ever honored!

As we made our way through the southern states en route for New York, we’ve been received by warm people and then by friends of friends, members of Volkswagen clubs who’d heard of what we were doing… And they offered us places to sleep too, which was very welcome as autumn was turning into winter. During some nights, the temperature inside the bus felt down around minus 18 degrees! In the morning, the water for the coffee was totally frozen and we had ice everywhere! But even in this conditions, in good sleeping bags, we spent better nights than the ones we had in Central America, where we perspired all night long with temperatures around 40 degrees...

And of course, for an air-cooled vehicle, winter is the best. On that time, Renata was running great. We love to spend hours and hours just driving, enjoying a good conversation, making plans for the future. Roads in the US are great and we could finally celebrate new year in the Big Apple, staying in the city for a couple of weeks and, obviously, making friends.

Do you remember? Our plan was to drive from Buenos Aires to New York and then go back in 9 month. How crazy is to think that we needed 10 months just to go there!  What to do now? Drive back? Now that we learned how to make our own money on the road and looking how much this journey is teaching us about life? Certainly not! We have, for a long time now, a dream even bigger: drive all the way to France, the place where we know we’re going to live for the coming years.

On the phone, our parents’ first reaction was very sad, as they were still hoping to see us quickly. But soon, they encouraged us as they use to do since the beginning of this story.  Crossing the Pacific and drive through Asia to France... Of course we knew it would be difficult. But it’s exactly why it was so exciting!
Arriving in New York was already a victory but the biggest part was still to do. We first drove to Florida, where something amazing happened. We had spent months trying to get a sponsor for our expedition, to no avail. But then one day, we went to an other VW show to sell our postcards, tee-shirts and others and found ourselves talking to Joe Orriols, the owner of Bullseye Powder Coating. When he said he was going to pay part of the fuel we need for the rest of the trip, we couldn’t believe it! Of course, a powder coating company could never be seen to sponsor a vehicle that didn’t look good. Renata spent three days in Joe’s paint shop, where she was stripped, filled, sanded and finally painted to a glorious finish. Amazing!

With happy hearts, we headed west, discovering what is probably the greatest place on Earth to travel with a VW bus. There is no words to describe the landscapes. Brice Canyon, Death Valley, Zion, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon... Nature like nowhere else... And traveling there with a van is so easy!

In San Francisco, we met a friend we’d made on a VW forum who said we could stay with him while organizing shipping for the van. We went to many VW shows, as the californian scene is one of the most active in the world. In one of them, we met Rex, who immediately volunteered to help us with maintenance before we headed across the Pacific. He had lots of contacts in Japan, which turned out to be invaluable as that was where we’d be reunited with our Kombi after her two-week voyage on a cargo.

Indeed, we had phoned around every shipping company we could find, and were quoted from $1700 for Japan (we would need to add 800 $ to arrive to Vladivostok) to $4500 for going straight to Russia. Guess which one we chose! Yet again, in Japan we were stunned by how friendly the Volkswagen community was towards us. We found ourselves on TV, too, being interviewed about our travels once again, and went to three events with the KDF Owners VW Club of Japan.

This country is one more very strong experience. Japan is so much different than any other place in the world! But so much close in the same time, as streets are full of publicities for the same movies we were watching in California weeks before. And then you enter a shintoist temple and felt like nothing changed since the samurai times!

After two months there, arriving to Russia was a shock. Vladivostok appeared to us as a grey, dirty and rusted city. Getting the bus back from customs took an unbelievable four days, but once we were on the road our frustrations quickly melted away. We didn’t know it but during summer, Siberia is a beautiful and warm place!

For open space, though, surely Mongolia can’t be beaten. Basically, it’s the world’s biggest camping ground. For two weeks we stopped where we wanted every night, in beautiful, natural landscapes populated only by animals and nomadic herdsmen. During the two first weeks, we felt like in heaven!

But as time went on, we reached a region in which there aren’t even any roads, just dirt tracks, which caused plenty of breakdowns and, on some occasions, left us stuck with our back wheels sunk into the soft ground. You got a break, spend 3 hours repairing, get back on the path... And get a new break minutes after! Imagine our despair, then, when we realized that the only route to the border meant fording a big, wide river. It was in the middle of nowhere. We arrived at the end of the day and started waiting for an other car to arrive. But the night felt down and nobody came. On the following day, we waited until noon but no car appeared.  We chose what we thought was the best way over and started driving.

After a few meters the engine cut out, full of water. All the tension we cumulated during the last weeks suddenly exploded and we cried like kids. It was several hours before a truck showed up that was able to tow us the rest of the way, and what a worrying time that was! After all that, the russian paved roads seemed like a fabulous luxury!

We drove on to Omsk, where we waited two weeks for our visas to enter Kazakhstan. Most of this country is a totally empty immensity; flat landscapes without any relief, thousands of kilometers of desert. Not much to see finally, except a crazy capital built by a dictator driving the country for decades now and a beautiful National Park called Burabay. There, in front of a magnificent lake, we received the biggest gift a couple could ever dream: we were going to be parents! Obviously, our minds changed and the idea of arriving home was becoming stronger. In Astana, the capital, we spent another month getting visas for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. And believe us: one month just to get three visas is a long, very long month!

So we could cross Central Asia and its magnificent cities, like Samarkand or Bukhara, jewels of the Silk Road.

Then we made it to Iran – a beautiful country, full of History, where we discovered an amazingly warm, friendly people that’s totally different to the preconceived notions we have about it in the west. As in places like Colombia or Mexico, we felt that people really wanted to give to foreigners a different image of their country.

As soon as we entered Turkey, we had to cross a very high mountain. As we reached the top, our engine was making an horrible metallic noise and we had no more power. We turned it off on the parking lot of an isolated gas station few miles after. We could never start it again!

It would be very long to tell all what happened next but basically, the crankshaft was broken in 2 parts and we had to stay 2 months in the cheapest hotel of an ugly city called Van, watching winter arriving, spending christmas alone, eating tons of kebabs and finding ways to get parts in a country where vintage VW almost never existed. Many of these days have been sad days for sure, but we could also use this time to achieve the first version of our book, have pictures of our baby, prepare the last part of our journey, start thinking of the life we would have after arriving.

At the end of all this process, when we could finally start our engine again and return back on the road, we broke our record and despite the snow, covered something like 1 000 miles in one day! That night, we celebrated new year on the highway, and in the morning we were in Istanbul and, with that, in Europe.

This, we knew, meant that our two-year adventure was almost at an end. In Greece and Italy, while discovering great places like Roma or Pompeii, we felt, for the first time, that we were living a «normal» honey moon. Being well dressed, taking pictures of us in front of the most famous monuments, enjoying ice-creams.

We arrived in Brest, Franck’s natal city, on 27 February and were greeted by a huge rally of Beetles and Kombis from the area’s local Volkswagen clubs.

And so our honeymoon was at an end. Finally. And of course, our life was just beginning. Louis was born on 1 June and, even after two years on the road, it was the most beautiful moment of our lives. Obviously, we still have Renata. Our bus, part of the family, still carries us on adventures at the weekend and when we go on holiday. Even more: we’re already dreaming about a bigger adventure, in some years, when we’ll have to go back to Argentina to realize an other dream: reach in our professional lives the freedom we got during these two years around the world.

We’ll first have to restore Renata, as she suffered a lot during this journey. After a long investigation, we chose the shop of Loulou: Old Cars Service 76, in Hattenville, close to Le Havre. We met him at the Busfest, in England, saw the quality of his work and know that, for sure, our loved combi will soon be ready for other adventures!

Because, you know, and we can tell it’s true, it’s just as Walt Disney said: «If you can dream it, you can do it»!

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