Leaving Wisconsin in 2003

Leaving Wisconsin in 2003

My husband Gary and our 16-year-old dog Wipeout, in front of the 1968 Avion we would use to find the camper abandoned in Bolivia.

Our only tools to find the camper

Our only tools to find the camper

My father's 30-year-old, 35-mm color slides, maps from 1973 and my mother's journal.

Rationalizing a bad decision

Rationalizing a bad decision

I started this trip so paranoid we'd be robbed that I hid a gun under the floorboards of the camper. It would haunt me for each of 13 border crossings.

Into Mexico

Into Mexico

Neither of us had ever smuggled a gun into another country. Or driven a 4-wheel-drive camper.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

Getting to spend as long as we wanted in towns like this was pinch-yourself incredible. It's where I knew I had to write about this trip.

Lunchtime in Oaxaca

Lunchtime in Oaxaca

At first we didn't have to cook much inside our camper. The local fare was divine.

Martin: the best Mezcalero in Mexico

Martin: the best Mezcalero in Mexico

An added plus -- when mezcal spills inside a 104-degree camper, the stench discourages roadside searches by police looking for guns.

Campsite in agave fields of Mexico

Campsite in agave fields of Mexico

Gary documented our journey with a still camera. Other than that, and my laptop to take notes, we ditched technology and social media and just soaked it all in.

Dancers in Patzcuaro, Mexico

Dancers in Patzcuaro, Mexico

Photos from Gary's collection

Tonola, Mexico

Tonola, Mexico

A man clearing land next to our campsite

Street portraits, Mexico

Street portraits, Mexico

Street portrait, Oaxaca

Street portrait, Oaxaca

Rosa from San Cristobal, Mexico

Rosa from San Cristobal, Mexico

Modeling the weavings she sells at market.

Ruins near the Guatemalan border

Ruins near the Guatemalan border

Wipeout, taking it all in stride. She was born in Mexico after all.

Street portrait in Solola, Guatemala

Street portrait in Solola, Guatemala

Sometimes black and white is the only way to go.

Street portrait, Guatemala

Street portrait, Guatemala

Dogsitters, Todos Santos, Guatemala

Dogsitters, Todos Santos, Guatemala

The town's name means All Saints, but these turned out to be devils. It's all in chapter 12.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Otherwise known as Gringo-tenanga. Or where my father smoked his first joint.

Wipeout, Lake Atitlan

Wipeout, Lake Atitlan

We knew this trip would be hard on a 16-year-old, cancer-stricken dog. But we couldn't leave her behind.

But eventually we had to say goodbye

But eventually we had to say goodbye

She was ready, long before I was. She's buried on the shores of Lake Atitlan, along with a piece of my heart.

Shawn and Susie, Guatemala

Shawn and Susie, Guatemala

The two American volunteers who helped us recover from Wipeout's loss. You'll meet them in Chapter 14.

The dentist in El Salvador

The dentist in El Salvador

Our first reunion with someone we discovered in my mother's journal. He saved our family on the first trip. His story is in chapter 16.

Boy selling iguanas in Honduras

Boy selling iguanas in Honduras

He charged $10 for the whole thing, or just $1 to take a picture.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua

Vestiges of anti-Americanism are all that's left. The country was one of the most welcoming in Central America.

Street photographer, Nicaragua

Street photographer, Nicaragua

His name is Jesus. He's never heard of the internet.

Jesus' portrait of me and Gary

Jesus' portrait of me and Gary

When I sent this photo back home, friends thought we'd been kidnapped.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua

Celebrating the crossing of the toughest border yet, into Nicaragua, still terrified our hidden gun would be discovered in the camper.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua

The hustler we nicknamed Tough Guy. You'll meet him in chapter 17.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua

She's got the right idea. By Nicaragua, it was too hot to sleep inside the camper and we had to find fleabag motels.

Sandino portrait, Leon, Nicaragua

Sandino portrait, Leon, Nicaragua

Even the graffiti is spectacular in this sun-baked town.

Yanina the publisher's wife

Yanina the publisher's wife

Finding this woman in Leon, 30 years after she nursed me through a bout of malaria, shocked me even more than her.

El Centroamericano, Nicaragua

El Centroamericano, Nicaragua

This was the newspaper her husband published, before he got thrown in jail during the revolution. The story is in chapter 18.

Managua Museum of Art

Managua Museum of Art

Ronald Reagan wins no popularity contests here.

Nicaragua's National Music School

Nicaragua's National Music School

Esli and Nelly put on a spontaneous recital, just outside a row of peasants cooking over coals on the street.

Catheral, Managua

Catheral, Managua

One of the few buildings rising from the earthquake ruins we camped among the first trip.

My favorite bar

My favorite bar

Managua. Underneath the National Music School. With photos of poets on the wall.

Costa Rica, the perfect camping spot

Costa Rica, the perfect camping spot

And cool enough to sleep inside the camper again. This was near Volcan Arenal, complete with toucan serenades each evening.

Volcano Arenal

Volcano Arenal

This one was a comfortable distance away. In Ecuador we got a little too close for comfort. That's in chapter 26.

With Arnoldo and Mariamalia

With Arnoldo and Mariamalia

Costa Rican celebrities who showed us the magic of this peaceful country. Plus, she might be a witch. Look for chapter 21.

First stream we didn't ford

First stream we didn't ford

Trying to find the Costa Rican "secret" Contra airstrip used against Nicaragua.

Remains of the Iran Contra war

Remains of the Iran Contra war

Gary, atop a wee bit of evidence that Costa Rica wasn't always on the sidelines.

Azuero Peninsula, Panama

Azuero Peninsula, Panama

That's the local moonshine she's balancing on her head. Welcome to Panama.

Me with the boys from the band

Me with the boys from the band

A parade we stumbled onto in Panama's Azuero Peninsula.

Panama

Panama

You can still spot baseball caps but this is true Panamanian style.

Panama

Panama

A "devil" wearing one of Darido Lopez's masks for a parade in the Azuero Peninsula.

Panama

Panama

The Hoopers, Panama

The Hoopers, Panama

Expats who defy the stereotype and truly celebrate their adopted country. Their story is in chapter 22.

Mao the campground cat

Mao the campground cat

We stayed at Panama's only official campground, XS Memories, while searching for passage to South America. Mao kept us company.

Paradise in Panama

Paradise in Panama

XS Memories had a swimming pool. Whose waters were stronger than the local beer: Atlas.

Nice place to wait for a ship

Nice place to wait for a ship

We met more expats here than any other place on the trip. Its easy to see why.

Sheila and Dennis (R.I.P.)

Sheila and Dennis (R.I.P.)

These two started XS Memories, you'll meet them in chapter 22. Now Sheila holds down the fort all by herself.

Pool-side office

Pool-side office

We were sidelined for 3 long weeks in Panama, searching for a ship to Ecuador. It took my parents just as long.

The truck beat us to Ecuador

The truck beat us to Ecuador

After 9/11, you can't travel on container ships. So we flew over and reunited with the Avion on the docks at Manta.

The point of no return

The point of no return

We were driving through a new continent, climbing into the Ecuadorian Andes.

Llama girl, Ecuador

Llama girl, Ecuador

Desolation at 13,000 feet

Desolation at 13,000 feet

We detoured off the Pan American Highway to see another side of Ecuador.

Cuenca fashion

Cuenca fashion

Panama hats may have originated in Ecuador, but the locals prefer these stiff felt numbers.

Road washout

Road washout

Pan American Highway needs better repair crews.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Hotels and hostels usually let us camp on their grounds, for a small fee or the price of a meal in their restaurant.

Top of the World

Top of the World

Stopping to take a selfie, while we still could think straight. Driving at high altitudes takes getting used to.

Urcos, Ecuador

Urcos, Ecuador

The costumes almost seemed like hallucinations. We couldn't make small enough change to buy a dinner's worth of vegetables.

The glamorous side of camping

The glamorous side of camping

I have to laugh, looking back at the pictures my father took of me doing "homework" inside the camper he made.

Desert of Sechura, Peru

Desert of Sechura, Peru

We found the exact spot where my father photographed his camper after finding our runaway cat Pantera. That shot is under the 1973 photos tab.

Peru

Peru

Northwestern Peru is filled with ancient sites, some considered haunted.

Peruvian hairless

Peruvian hairless

These campsite dogs were our tour guides. You'll meet them in chapter 27. Made me ache for Wipeout all over again.

Tito plowing rice fields with oxen

Tito plowing rice fields with oxen

I thought this farmer was in his 60s. Then I saw his Nike hat. He was only 24.

Street portrait, Lima Peru

Street portrait, Lima Peru

Herman Melville called Lima "the saddest city on earth." Now it might be the most heavily policed.

Lima shanty towns

Lima shanty towns

We camped at the base of this neighborhood, the worst poverty I'd seen on the trip so far.

Another side of Lima

Another side of Lima

In chapter 28 you'll meet these natives, who lived through the Shining Path and still find hope and beauty all around them.

Nazca Lines, Peru

Nazca Lines, Peru

We literally drove over these the first trip. They're bisected by the Pan American. Gary and I decided to fly over them this time.

Chauchilla, Peru

Chauchilla, Peru

A burial ground in the desert outside Nazca frequented by grave robbers.

Chauchilla, Peru

Chauchilla, Peru

As a camera assistant, I'm a better 'fraidy-cat. This place gave me the creeps.

On the road to Cusco, Peru

On the road to Cusco, Peru

It's no use honking the horn.

Peru at 15,000 ft.

Peru at 15,000 ft.

In Chapter 30, you'll find out why the fact that Gary even got this shot is amazing. At this altitude, you can't trust what you see.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Staggeringly beautiful, no matter how many photos you've seen of it.

Woman in turquoise,Peru

Woman in turquoise,Peru

My favorite photograph of South America. On the altiplano leaving Peru.

Crossing Lake Titicaca, Bolivia by barge

Crossing Lake Titicaca, Bolivia by barge

It was Christmas time. What a sleigh.

Lake Titicaca ferry

Lake Titicaca ferry

I would have panicked, if all the other trucks didn't take it in stride. It's all in chapter 33.

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

Gary nicknamed these the Laurel-and-Hardy women.

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

This was the most dangerous place to be Americans in 2004. Coups, riots, and the threat of more violence in the New Year.

Azanaques Mountains, Bolivia

Azanaques Mountains, Bolivia

We met this girl on the way from La Paz to Cochabamba. She was hiding a bruised eye.

Bolivia

Bolivia

On the way to Cochabamba.

Margit & Tia Eva

Margit & Tia Eva

The two strongest women in Bolivia. They took us in when bridges washed out over New Year's.

Don (R.I.P.)

Don (R.I.P.)

L.A.-native Don, who married Margit and moved to Tiquipaya, Bolivia. Just for the hats.

Don, giving a New Years blessing

Don, giving a New Years blessing

He's about to burn a q'owa, to bring us luck on the washed out roads to Santa Cruz

Don blessing camper

Don blessing camper

Those are the burning coals of aborted llama fetuses, from the Witches Market, in case you're wondering. It's all in chapter 38.

Bolivia

Bolivia

The Pan American was washed out. So we had to take carriage routes and secondary roads through the desolate highlands.

Bolivia

Bolivia

As remote as it gets. But we were so relieved to have survived collapsing roads we didn't care. It's the opening chapter.

Somewhere near Paraguay

Somewhere near Paraguay

When the Pan American is out, you cross railroad trestles. El Che died near here, a none-too-comforting thought.

With Sonja, and the camper

With Sonja, and the camper

The key to finding the camper of my childhood was finding the woman who rescued us at our lowest point.

Frankenstein lives

Frankenstein lives

It's under a lean-to, propped up against a farmhouse. Migrant workers still live in it during harvest season.

The end of the first journey

The end of the first journey

The camper survived, just like my family.

Inside old camper

Inside old camper

I kept looking for artifacts of my childhood, but all I felt was my brother's absence.

The two campers meet

The two campers meet

My childhood home is almost as tall, without a truck, as the Avion and Ford F350 that brought me here.

Laguna Blanca, Patagonia

Laguna Blanca, Patagonia

This was where my parents hoped to reach, so we finished the journey for them.

Moreno Glacier

Moreno Glacier

In Chile and Argentina, we could camp anywhere, even the base of glaciers.

San Juan del Sur, Argentina

San Juan del Sur, Argentina

After weeks of washed out roads and side-of-the-road camping we could stretch out and enjoy the country.

Gaucho portrait, San Juan del Sur

Gaucho portrait, San Juan del Sur

Northwestern Argentina

Northwestern Argentina

In these wide open spaces, I finally understood how driving heals and travel reveals.

Gaucho, Argentina

Gaucho, Argentina

Young gaucho

Young gaucho

Argentina

Argentina

Another campsite mascot

Argentina

Argentina

The peace my parents never felt in South America.

The Beagle Channel, Argentina

The Beagle Channel, Argentina

That expression? It's relief. We finally figured out how to get rid of the gun. It's behind us, underwater.

Ushuia, Argentina

Ushuia, Argentina

End of the road, Tierra del Fuego

End of the road, Tierra del Fuego

Photographs by Gary Geboy 

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