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Chileans on Pan American Highway trek

Posted: July 14, 2011 - 9:15pm  |  Updated: July 15, 2011 - 6:09am

FAIRBANKS — When Claudia Gonzalez and Pablo Castillo started their dream journey up the Pan American Highway, from Chile, the rear of their metallic green and white 1982 Volkswagen Beetle sported only the title of their Facebook page — Fesde Chile hasta Alaska (From Chile to Alaska, in English).

Approximately 28,000 miles later, the rear and side panels of the small sedan are covered with travel stickers from every country they passed through along the way, except one — Venezuela.

In Mexico, the couple adhered a large map on the front of the vehicle of the North and South American hemispheres tracing a running account of their route with an indelible black marker as they pushed north.

One of their most unanticipated experiences was arriving in Quito, Ecuador, on Sept. 30, just as an attempted coup to overthrow the country’s president was under way.

“We saw fire and heard gunfire,” Pablo recalled.

The idea to travel so far north, away from family and friends, took root five years ago, when Pablo, 32, a construction engineer, and Claudia, 27, a psychologist, visited the coastal start of the legendary highway.

“We saw the monument — Pan American Highway, Chile to Alaska,” Claudia recalled.

A year and a half before they embarked on the adventure, July 31, 2010, the couple began working and planning in earnest.

And they haven’t been disappointed. The trip has been a learning and cross cultural experience throughout.

“I learned about geography, culture, food and language,” Pablo said, adding both his and Claudia’s English has improved along the way.

The highlight for both travelers has been the many people they have met in the past year.

“The poor people have big hearts,” Pablo said. “You leave with tears in your eyes.”

Claudia describes the trip not only as an adventure, but “a personal, spiritual adventure too.”

“You learn a lot of things about life,” she said.

The Chileans have no intention of selling the vehicle after they reach Prudhoe Bay, the final stop on their epic trip.

“It’s very important to us,” Pablo said. “We want to show this car to our grandson.”

The couple has plane tickets home and hopes to garner enough donations to ship the Beetle back to Chile through their Facebook page, where donations can be made via PayPal.

As they travelled north a new idea/adventure began percolating in their heads. They would eventually like to open a Pan American Restaurant featuring foods from the many countries they visited, decorating it with the many photographs they have taken along the way and enshrining their reliable VW Beetle as the centerpiece of the eatery.

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