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Slow motion overlanding: Argentina to Alaska and back

Argentina’s financial crisis consumed most of their savings, but Patricia and Germán refused to give up their dream of traveling to Alaska. They kept working hard until the big day came. On a drizzly fall day they turned on the engine of their loaded Land Rover Defender 110 and rolled out of their hometown. It was 2003; they are still on the road.

There are many impressive travelers. Some stand out because of how or where they travel – in extreme vehicles or to inaccessible places. Then there are those you may never hear of, but whose passion for traveling urges them on, no matter the odds. Argentinean couple, Patricia Fehr and Germán de Cordova, are two such adventurers.

The first time I met Patricia was on the foothills of an erupting volcano in Guatemala. While the sun was setting, we hiked up to the hissing, glowing lava stream that poured down the black rocks. Against the orange sky Patricia and her tripod transformed into a silhouette of a dark insect, clicking away shots of the burning liquid. While her husband, Germán was as talkative as a sports commentator Patricia was quiet. Glancing at the rest of us with her cold blue eyes, she seemed like the classic snobby blonde.

Good thing first impressions aren’t always right.

It turned out Patricia was compassionate and friendly. Combining her artistic talent and her love for children, she often encouraged the local kids they met along their journey to draw and paint with her. Both Germán and Patricia were great cooks and despite their lack of money they often invited friends over for delicious pasta or barbecued pizza. Funny and verbally talented, Germán would tell people about their adventures. And how they almost abandoned their travel plans.

If saving money for an overland trip in a developed country takes time, it was quite a mission in Argentina. Add to that the country’s disastrous financial crisis in 2001. In a matter of days, Patricia’s and Germán’s savings dropped to a fourth of their worth – the result of eight years of working. Their dream of traveling to Alaska was slipping away.

Surrounded by friends and family, they could have continued living in their quaint hometown, San Nicolás, but something was missing.

“We had done some shorter trips around our province that made us interested in seeing more,” Patricia said. “Our initial idea was to find the perfect place to live, since our hometown wasn’t enough.”

Fortunate to not have lost their jobs, they stuck to their plan and saved as much money as they could. The goal was to reach Alaska in a year. In March 2003, they left their home and steered the Defender northwest.

In Ecuador, six months later, they were again running out of money.

“At this moment we decided to change our expedition’s focus completely,” said Patricia. “We started to ‘use’ the trip and our experiences to get sufficient means to keep going…”

Patricia and Germán succeeded in getting sponsored by a range of companies, such as Land Rover, Shell, Sony and Bridgestone. In Colombia they even got a fully sponsored Labrador puppy! Conveniently named “Colombia,” the puppy made the Defender her new home as if it were the most natural dog habitat there was. The sponsorships allowed Patricia and Germán to interact with local people and take their time travelling.

“Forgetting about time gave us the possibility to share with people; their joys but also their problems,” said Patricia. For example, in a small fishing village on the Atlantic, a lady asked them to take her four-year-old daughter along to ensure the girl a better future, explained Patricia with sadness.

As a result, the purpose of their expedition had also changed. It didn’t feel important to find a new home anymore.

Instead, overlanding had opened the door to meaningful relationships with the people they met along the road.

In Colombia, Patricia had the most memorable encounter with people and nature. Leaving Germán with the car and the dog, she spent time with the indigenous Kogi people in the inhospitable mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the world’s highest coastal range. As drug traffickers haunt the mountains dotted with coca plantations, the area is quite dangerous. The upside of that, however, is a lack of external influence, which has allowed the Kogi people to preserve their traditions. After several days of strenuous hiking, Patricia arrived at the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) – ruins of the ancient Tairona tribe. As Patricia earned the trust of the Kogi people, she was invited to stay in their village and learn about their history and culture.

Five years after leaving Argentina, the even more loaded Defender reached Alaska.

The adventures didn’t end there though. Patricia and Germán had a beautiful baby girl, Inti – bound to be an excellent traveler – and bought a new vehicle to take them back south: an American school bus from 1995. Patricia’s amazing photos will soon be published in book form in Argentina. She is currently looking for a company that will publish an English language version. On the way down south they will again stop in villages, showing photos and talking about their encounters with nature and people across the continents. At the end of the trip they want to fulfill another dream: to open a restaurant where guests can enjoy delicious cuisine with a traveling theme.

For more information or to track their expedition, check out their website. (Spanish)