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Latin America
Porto (Portugal) to Rome (Italy), August - October 2016

We are sitting with pounding hearts in the waiting room of the American consulate in Amsterdam. We are here for the interview, which is part of the application process for an American visa. So far, we always had the possibility to visit the USA with a so-called ESTA. But because America has tightened the requirements around the ESTA, in the light of combating terrorism, we are not allowed anymore to travel to the USA on an ESTA. Not because we are terrorists, but because we visited Iran and Iraq as travellers in the past five years. Of course, we have nothing to fear, because we have done nothing wrong, but we still have that uncomfortable feeling that there is still a slight chance to be refused. That feeling is reinforced by the fact that we are witnessing other interviews, while we are waiting for our interview. The interviews are taken at a small window which is in the waiting room. So everybody can hear the other applicant’s interviews. Every interview takes about 2 to 3 minutes. The officer behind the window asks the questions and the applicant answers them swiftly. There is no room for discussion. Then the officer takes a decision: 'approved' or 'denied'. And believe us, almost half of the interviews we heard, resulted in a ‘denied’. We were very nervous.

Our last destination so far for our Land Cruiser: Bardenas Reales in Spain
 

We decided to store our Toyota Land Cruiser, and to go travelling with the backpack again. Despite the fact that traveling by own transport has a number of great benefits, there are also disadvantages. The main advantages are:
- No dependency on public transport;
- The feeling of a having your own 'home';
- The possibility to prepare your own food;
- The possibility to camp wherever you want.

The main disadvantages are in our opinion:
- Less flexibility with regard to destinations. Islands are very complex/expensive to visit and some countries have strict rules concerning private cars;
- It is also more complex/expensive to move a car over a bigger distance in a short time. That can be a disadvantage in areas where winters are too cold, summers too hot, or monsoons too rainy for a pleasant stay;
- If you also like to visit cities, it is more complicated to find a hotel with a secure parking spot in the city centre;
- With a car it is easier to be on yourself. This means that you are sometimes also further away from local cultures, travel habits and local cuisine;
- The more you have with you, the more you can lose. Losing a car and its contents is a bigger loss than the contents of a backpack.
- Travelling by car is usually more expensive than by backpack is our experience. This is especially the case in countries where the price level of hotels, restaurants and public transport is low. If you travel in Europe, the situation is different. Backpacking is more expensive in Europe than travelling by car. With your own car in Europe you can avoid the expensive public transport, stay on campgrounds, and cook your own food.

Some travellers have a strong preference for one of the above mentioned options (car or backpack). But we have not. While we like travelling by car a lot, we also enjoy the flexibility of the backpack. Sometimes we prefer the car, and for other destinations the backpack. And now it is time to pack the backpack again.

Ivonne cooking with her father in The Netherlands
 

When our number appears on the TV screen, we walk to the counter for our interview. Based on an application form that we filled in on line a few days earlier, questions are fired at us. Most of them are about our visit to Iran and Iraq. Why have we been there, what have we done over there, and to whom did we speak. For Americans it is still difficult to understand why Europeans go to Iran as tourist. Fortunately, we were able to convince him that we are very neat and nice people, who just like to travel, and that we are certainly no friends of the 'terror supporting’ regime in Tehran. At the end of the interview he gives us the permission to travel to the United States and wishes us a nice journey. We are enormously relieved. It would have been a small disaster if we were denied to visit America for the years to come.

This good news meant that we could proceed with our future travel plans. After almost 10 years, we agreed to leave Asia behind us and decided to put our arrows on Latin America. Yesterday we flew to Rome, and tomorrow we will board a ship that will take us in two weeks’ time, over the Atlantic Ocean, to Puerto Rico (part of the United States of America) in the Caribbean. We are looking forward to be at sea most of the time and this period is a great moment to start dreaming about our new continent to visit. We will definitely stay 2-3 weeks in Puerto Rico and will probably start our journey on mainland Central America in Mexico.

Shopping with Edwin's parents
Preparing our backpacks again
A good shave before we go

Ready to go

Selfi in front of the Colosseo in Rome

 
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