Vanajeros: Open Roads

When you hit the road, what goes wrong is just as much a part of the adventure as what goes right
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Mar 31, 2015 | By Aidan Lynn-Klimenko

Last time we heard from the Vanajeros, their faithful van had just broken down, stranding them in Colombia and turning their Central American road trip into a powerful learning experience. We recently caught back up with Aidan (one of the four adventurers), as he reflects on the Vanajeros' mission to make the best of challenging times on the road.

he needle of our compass has been stuck, pointing due south for eight months. We’ll let it remain there until we see the road meet the sea, in Usuaya, Argentina — Tierra Del Fuego. We’ve traveled some 12,000 miles since leaving home, and while the road isn’t always smooth, we’ve learned that it always goes forward. South America is an enormous continent, and there is a tremendous amount of land between Ecuador, where we are now, and the southern tip, the end of the line. 

After six months of driving our 1985 Westy through Central America, we’ve gotten a chance to work out the kinks of life-in-motion. Sometimes it’s far from the projected open roads and wanderlust lifestyle people imagine the vanlife to be, and still, we’ve fallen in love with it.

Despite the lack of running water, Internet, or clean clothes in our day-to-day, we’re hooked on being spur-of-the-moment decision makers. We choose which beach to park the van on, where to watch the sunset each night, and which mysterious dirt road to follow the next day. We are attached to the feeling of quite literally choosing our own path and solving the unique problems these bumpy roads often lead to. 

Living and working out of the van has lived up to all the challenges anyone would expect from the road warrior lifestyle, but some of the hardest things we’ve encountered have nothing to do with our vehicle; simply being in a foreign country can be straining.

Travel, by nature, is challenging, yet we chose to invest ourselves in it because of what those challenges lead to. If we never allowed ourselves to feel uncomfortable we never would have left Montana, let alone the United States. If we had chosen to remain wrapped up in safety network of friends and family, we never would have experienced the sunrise over Lago Atitlan in Guatemala, seen the deep valleys of Colombia, or felt the warm salty water of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. 

It’s easy to dream about the future and all that lies ahead, especially while sitting here in a mechanic shop, waiting to get our engine repaired after three months of standstill. In fact, it’s the only thing that keeps me from focusing on how worried I am that things won't go well with the engine replacement, that I’ll be confronted with yet another roundabout Ecuadorian import tax form (in Spanish, of course), or that I’ll see another tow truck begrudgingly coming to our rescue. But this is all part of the experience; this is what makes it interesting; this is what makes it an adventure. 

Patagonia is calling to us. We want to see for ourselves the Fitzroy Traverse; the sand dunes of Huacachina, Peru; the miles of empty salt flats in Bolivia; cosmopolitan Buenos Aires; the Strait of Magellan. There are so many places we dream of, it makes me dizzy. Ecuador is by no means where the van stops forever.

Soon we’ll be back on the open road, following that compass needle again — ready for the bumps, and not knowing where it takes us. That’s okay. That’s exactly what we’re here for. [H]

Need to catch up with Vanajeros? Read Parts One and Two on the Journal.

Aidan Lynn-Klimenko is a photographer living out of a van with his girlfriend and two friends. Called the "Vanajeros," this quartet of artists have equipped their vehicle with a mobile photo studio, enabling them to print off the photographs they shoot, and return them to the people they meet along the way. Find more from the Vanajeros here, and feel free to keep the adventure rolling by donating gas or burrito money here