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My Best Road Trip: An ancient VW camper, no air-con and a South American epic

A crazy 5,150 kms across three countries in an old Volkswagen T2 was so much fun – even though the hot seats skinned me alive.

Source: Google Maps

  • Each week, TheJournal.ie/DoneDeal motoring mag will feature a reader’s best road trip. If you’d love to see your top trip featured, email us on melanie@thejournal.ie

THIS JOURNEY INCLUDED three ferry trips, but it can still be classed as a road trip, right? Let’s just say yes. Here’s my best road trip.

Route: Canao Quebrada in Brazil to Santa Marta in Colombia

Distance: 5,150km

Time: 12 weeks

When: March – May 2008

Car: Brazilian-built 1981 Volkswagen Kombi T2

Melanie_May_South_America_roadtrip_3 South America in a Volkswagen T2 Source: Melanie May

While travelling around Brazil I met two brothers from California called Evan and Ryan. They had bought an ancient Volkswagen Kombi in Bolivia and were making their way to Colombia and asked if I’d like to join them. How could I say no – a road trip around South America in an unsuitable vehicle is the stuff of dreams, right?

Source: Melanie May

The van was noisy, had no radio or air-con and had brown leather seats. Think about that –  leather seats and no air-con and we were travelling around hot, humid, equatorial countries – yes the hot seats ripped layers of skin off me and yes it was a sweat-box but my word it was so much fun.

Source: Melanie May

The journey began in a tiny Brazilian village called Canao Quebrada and we drove 1,650km in 48 hours to Belem where we boarded a ferry and spent six nights on board sleeping in hammocks sailing down the Amazon. The Amazon is filthy, by the way, in case you were wondering.

Source: Melanie May

We disembarked in the city of Manaus and then drove 1,050km across the Venezuelan border to Canaima National Park. Here, we stayed in traditional Indian huts, slept out under the stars and in the shadow of Mount Roraima.

Source: Melanie May

When not sleeping in hammocks we slept in the van. The bench seats were perfect for me, but Evan and Ryan are both 6’6″, so they would lay the seats flat and sleep with their feet sticking out of the back door.  On those nights, the mosquitoes had a feast.

Source: Melanie May

From here we drove 1,000km to Cumana, passing traditional old Spanish towns, with pretty churches and not much else. We slept on beaches with our hammocks tied to palm trees. It was idyllic.

Source: Melanie May

From Cumana we took a ferry to Isle de Margarita where we learned how to kitesurf and salsa before heading back to the mainland to drive the final 1,825km to Columbia. This final leg included a bribe to get across the border and eating cocoa leaves in the Colombian jungle with an indigenous tribe, as you do!

Source: Melanie May

After 12 weeks and 5,150km we made it in one piece to Santa Marta in Colombia.

Evan and Ryan loved Santa Marta so much that they stayed and built a hostel there called La Brisca Loca - if you ever go, tell them Melanie sent you! I continued to travel around South America but sadly the Kombi stayed with the boys.

Source: Melanie May

I have been on many road trips but none have managed to top this one for sheer distance, location and adventure but what made it for me was the temperamental, cranky, hot, uncomfortable VW Kombi. I loved it as much as I hated it.

Source: Melanie May

Highlights: hanging out with indigenous tribes and paying 60 cents for 40 litres of petrol (I kid you not).

Reality bites: the dirt roads combined with the heat and humidity can cause a lot of problems for vehicles, especially old ones. We spent a lot of time fixing the van on the side of the road, waiting in garages for parts and hand cranking the engine to try and get the thing to start! If you are not mechanically minded, buy or rent a modern car, and one with air-conditioning.

Source: Melanie May

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