For those who don’t know of Hasta Alaska aka Ben, he is a fellow VW vanlife explorer, from the UK. He bought a Volkswagen bus in Chile and drove North to Alaska along the Pan American highway over five years or so.
Just as I was preparing to depart on my southbound Pan American journey, he was about a year into his trip. As I was preparing for my adventure I began to look for advice and to see who else was doing the Pan American highway. That is when I came across his website and YouTube channel.
For those who have been following the hippie van adventure from the beginning, you will know that I rebuilt my motor my motor in California at the start of my trip back in September 2013. What you may not know is that the rebuild was in-part motivated by Hasta Alaska’s terrible luck heading North.
Half way into his trip Ben had already taken his motor out six or seven times due to numerous issues and breakdowns. I knew the road ahead was going to have enough challenges without having to worry about my 40-year-old motor. With that I made the decision to bite the bullet and do a pre-emptive rebuild to give the hippie van a bit more reliability. It ended up paying off with next to no major issues the vast majority of the trip.
As I headed South and Ben headed North, we ended up being in Guatemala at roughly the same time, around the start of 2014. We had chatted a few times online and had had the idea to meet up but it didn’t end up happening. We continued to follow each other’s journey and chat from time to time nonetheless.
In January of this year, I set out from Toronto for Mexico to escape the cold, enjoy some surf and most importantly visit my girlfriend who is currently finishing her masters in Mexico City.
On my 2013-2016 Pan American journey I had been given misinformation about the cost of the ferry from the Southern tip of the Baja back to mainland Mexico. For this reason I ended up skipping the Baja and sticking to the mainland route down the Pacific. I thought my trip to Mexico this year would be the perfect opportunity to explore the Baja and see what I missed out on.
Sitting here on the ferry, heading from La Paz (the Southern tip of the Baja) to Mazatlan (mainland Mexico) I have to say Baja is one of the most beautiful places in both Mexico and along the Pan American highway. DO NOT SKIP IT! The cost of the ferry is 3600 pesos (180USD +/-) for one person and an automobile.
I had kept in touch with Ben here and there over the years and it turned out he was currently sitting in Southern Baja with his girlfriend, editing YouTube episodes and waiting for the lucky winner of his bus (he raffled it off!) to come pick it up from him, while also scheming his next adventure. Seeing he was in the vicinity of where I was, I shot him a messaged and we ended up rendezvousing for the first time after years of digital contact.
Over four days we shared countless ‘war stories’ from the Pan American highway, checked out each others adventure mobiles in the flesh, broke bread, got a surf session in and even filmed a podcast about travelling the Pan America highway.
It was a great to finally meet each other face to face and hear behind-the-scenes details about each other’s trips, trials and tribulations. A big thanks for having me at your place in Baja Ben. Wishing you all the best of luck on your next vehicle and adventure.
Here is our hour-long discussion about travelling the Pan-American highway in a classic Volkswagen bus and our advice for others dreaming of the same trip.
TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS VIDEO:
01:40 – How The Hippie Van Man planned and prepared for the Pan-American Highway
05:25 – How long do you need to tackle the PanAm?
07:25 – What advice do you have for planning and preparation?
09:25 – Do you need to speak Spanish for Latin America travel?
11:00 – Where do you sleep and use the restroom on the Pan American Highway?
15:28 – How much does it cost and how much is gasoline?
18:13 – What do you do when you need to leave your vehicle to go home?
20:40 – How were the international border crossings?
21:40 – Do you need vehicle insurance and how much is a policy?
24:45 – How do you deal with mechanical disasters and maintenance?
28:20 – CROSSING THE DARIEN GAP (and shipping vehicle experiences)
35:35 – Can you work whilst traveling the Pan American Highway? (and WIFI availability discussed)
41:10 – How do you travel the PanAmerican highway when you don’t have time?
42:55 – Staying safe in Latin America
44:10 – Where do you get drinkable water?
46:45 – What if you get sick on the road?
48:47 – How does the PanAm compare in the US & Canada?
50:40 – Do you need a 4WD vehicle?
53:15 – The most common travelers on the Pan Am are…
54:50 – More thoughts on safety