A Porsche Boxster Is The Best Worst Choice For A South American Road Trip
Story by Jan Willem Koudstaal and photography by Feike Faase
I’m always on the lookout for new adventures. Adventures by car that no one has ever done before. Adventures that, for a lot of people, seem impossible. In 2007, it made me decide to drive from Amsterdam to Singapore in a convertible car. It’s one of the longest road trips you can make over land, without using a ferry or train as a way of transport. During this road trip, I became even more curious about what’s going on in other continents.
I wanted to amaze myself about cultures and places which normal tourists never tend visit. I want to drive on world’s most beautiful roads and conquer world’s worst paths. On the one hand, I just want to realize that sometimes you’re all on your own. The moments of distress are the ones that you remember, moments of distress make you value your social connections with others even more.
On the other hand, I want to share my stories and events so that some people will get more excited about other cultures and countries we normally don’t visit. That first big road trip made me dream about driving a convertible in South America. So that’s what I did the year after that. This trip is special in so many ways. Obviously, the way people live in the wet Amazon, at the great heights of the Andes, in the drought of the Atacama Desert, or Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. It’s not only different than the European way of life I’m used to, it’s highly admirable.
Driving a car, in my case a 2005 Porsche Boxster in circumstances that it wasn’t initially built for really is something. Driving on dirt roads in a relatively small and low one is something else: it shows you how capable everyday cars are in rough terrains. A statement that you won’t easily prove in Europe. The only modifications that were made were off-road tires and a protection plate for the sump. It can be very hard to repair a simple brake disk in a continent where this simple brake disk isn’t even available. If you want it or not: being here automatically makes you ingenious and resourceful.
In more than 14,000 kilometers (~8,700 miles) it’s easier to get into trouble then to stay out if it. Especially in a continent like South America, which has potential risks everywhere. High mountain passes, very bad roads, a harsh climate and a completely different culture. The troubles I faced were mainly related to procedures like border crossings and police checkpoints. Also politically related: election day in Bolivia means no traveling allowed and strikes along the route that slows down the pace…something you only learn when you’re there at that moment.
Technical problems sometimes were hard to deal with. Obviously, the Porsche being a mid-engined car is a big challenge when it comes to maintaining the car. It’s hard to get to vital parts of the engine without a hydraulic lift and proper tools, items that aren’t common in South America. Overall, getting stuck or mechanical problems were not hard to counter. People are always willing to help you out.
Other problems also arose: arriving in Cusco, Peru was worth a celebration, a celebration that consisted of three local craft beers called Cholos. How could that ever be a problem? Just three beers? A four hour sleep turned out to be insufficient: the height of Cusco took its toll. Dehydrated, a very fast heart rate, and a lack of oxygen created two miserable wrecks. There’s only one way to get better: take a ride back to 2,000 meters (6,550 ft) and rest.
An extra challenge was the rainy season. We made a conscious decision to travel at that time because I wanted to know how Latin Americans deal with long periods of rain, and if the infrastructure itself can deal with the big amounts of water. That last part is clear: no. I decided to enter Bolivia from the north, an unusual route, especially in the rainy season. After days of plodding through the mud I had to surrender, the road was flushed away and the local people didn’t expect any passage in the coming three weeks. At that point the rainy season had won. I was forced to go back via the north of Brazil.
I learned that I felt extremely at home in the Dutch-speaking capital of Suriname, Paramaribo. Hernan, my great partner and great support in South America felt the opposite: at his own continent, in the backyard of his motherland, he can’t understand anyone. For me, the food tastes familiar, an atmosphere similar to the Netherlands. But I had to continue, the Amazon and the Andes were waiting. Although I didn’t want to think about the finish, I started my trip here.
Oiapoque, the trip over the Amazon river, the music on the little square in Santarém, Brazil, the elections in Bolivia, the school in Santa Ana, the shortage of petrol, the numerous times we got stuck, border crossings, Machu Picchu. All moments during this big adventure that had a few things in common: mud, dust, height, and a challenging route.