This Argentine Couple Turned A Road Trip Into A Way Of Life, 20 Years And Counting
After years of exploring the continent in a van, a couple from Buenos Aires asks: Should they ever go back to "normal" life?
BUENOS AIRES — Patricia Fehr and Germán de Córdova, a young Argentine couple, began exploring the American continent by van in 2003. They set out from San Nicolás de los Arroyos, near Buenos Aires, with plans to drive from southern Argentina to northern Alaska in a year.
That year turned into five years, and now, with Patricia, 48, and Germán, 56, they're still at it, currently in Mexico.
This modern Odyssey was driven in part by the couple's love of photography and their fascination with indigenous American cultures. Their trip has become an educational adventure for themselves and their now 14-year-old daughter, who has grown up her entire young life on the road.
The couple describe themselves as digital nomads and freelancers, and specifically amunches, which means traveler in Mapuche, an indigenous language in what is now Chile and Argentina. Their daughter is named Inti, which means sun in the indigenous Quechua language.
More than once, they told Clarín, they have parked their "house on wheels" near settlements where, they say, they "faced the problem of communication and were struck by the marginal status ... of people who were the original settlers and guardians of woods and rivers."
In 2017, they published a photography book, Amunches: Bajo un nuevo sol ("Travelers: Under a New Sun), depicting the faces and traditions of some of the continent's indigenous people.
The couple met in 1991, married in 1999 and took 10 years to save up for a big trip. As a child, Patricia dreamed of becoming a teacher in a remote rural region, and later trained as a teacher and specialist in adult education.
Their grand tour began with a good deal of caution. But their initial fears, says Germán, and the knowledge and experience gained while traveling, "help us analyze more carefully the steps to be taken and if we should change our route."
To pay for the trip, they partner with brands aligned with their ideals, speak at schools, universities or businesses, and participate in cultural events where they show and sell some of the audiovisual material they have created while traveling.
Inside the "amunches" bus
At home, on a school bus
The couple arrived in Alaska in September 2008, five and a half years after they had left. By then, Patricia was seven months pregnant. They interrupted their travels for the last months of pregnancy, sold their van and went to Spain, where they stayed with friends near the southern city of Málaga.
But they never intended to stop. After Inti's birth, they went back to the Americas and bought themselves an old school bus near Houston, Texas, found in a depot filled with hundreds of used buses destined for public transit in Latin America and Africa, Patricia explains. They bought one that was too old for reuse as public transport.
The 12-meter bus came with a manual transmission, and no modern electrical parts. "It would be very simple to repair in any workshop, with a pair of tools and easily found replacement pieces," says Germán. It includes a kitchenette bolted to the floor, a fridge that runs on electricity or gas, a dry toilet, which turns refuse into compost and two solar panels to power their phones, computers and other devices. And, being Argentines, they have space for a 12 kilogram stockpile of yerba mate, the herbal tea that is a staple in the region.
Patricia during a lesson at a school in Los Aguajes, Nayarit, Mexico, Dec. 2022
Amunches official Facebook page
The couple could have stopped when their daughter was born, but instead chose to live as a family on the move (they added a fourth member, Aurora the dog, in 2019).
What about schooling? Inti continues her studies through Argentina's distant learning curriculum. "It's public, free and officially like going to school," says Patricia. Intermittently, where possible, she takes classes in institutions for Argentine children living abroad.
The parents say this moving about has given their daughter "the ability to adapt to the different realities we may come across. Some of the best lessons come when learning from others, accepting and respecting diversity and learning to empathize."
In Dallas, Texas, in 2012
Amunches official Facebook page
An end in sight?
Early on, the couple decided the tour would be cultural and educational, which meant interacting with ethnic communities en route. "While traveling, we've been compiling popular knowledge and cultural references from grandparents," especially related to the environment, says Patricia. These contacts have in turn become an educational project for children on diversity.
It's an exercise in constantly being prepared for changes.
"We emphasize reinforcing self-esteem, and discovering other cultures and geographies," and some of the problems indigenous communities face, she says.
The couple say the trip has shown that every day can be different: "It's an exercise in constantly being prepared for changes." Now, a real change would be to end their trip and resume 'normal' life. "We don't have an exact date, but we feel we are closer to starting another phase, with new challenges and goals to reach," they say.
The world is a place "with many colors," Inti says. "We want to know more about its geographies, cultures and ways of life. There isn't just one way to live."
- What's Behind The Vegetarian Boom In Meat-Loving Argentina ›
- So Many Mouths To Feed: Argentina's Golden Opportunity ›
- In Argentina, Recycling Household Trash Into Design Treasures ›