“I had wanted to travel to Antarctica ever since I learned such a place existed,” said Andrew Evans in National Geographic Traveler. “Earth’s frozen continent” had beckoned me for decades, and the serial failures of my more reasonable schemes meant it was time to simply get there on the cheap. I figured “where there’s a road, there’s a way”—and most likely a public bus—so I plotted a 10-week, 10,000-mile route that would begin in my hometown of Washington, D.C., take me across 14 countries, and eventually deliver me to my icy destination.
The long journey south turned out to offer the richest rewards. From D.C., I traveled across the American South by Greyhound. Three days in, I found myself at a roadside rest stop in northern Mexico and adopted a strategy of “grabbing any seat that was going south.” In Guatemala, I bought a ride on a repurposed Blue Bird school bus with “unhappy chickens wedged beneath the seats.” Packed with passengers, the bus careened past “smoky backyards” in El Salvador, past haciendas in Honduras and giant volcanoes in Nicaragua, over Costa Rica’s “gaping potholes,” and across Panama’s famous canal. To cross the Darien Gap, a 100-mile stretch of jungle and swamp, I hopped a short flight to Cartagena, Colombia.
Bus by bus, I then rolled through the steep, forested Andes, past Ecuador’s banana fields and along Peru’s jungle roads until I reached Bolivia. There, the road disappeared at one point and “the bus just followed tire tracks across the stratospherically high” Uyuni salt flat. Onward I went, descending into the “desert hills of Argentina’s Jujuy region,” until the 118-degree heat gave way to a nighttime snowfall just outside Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city and my last stop before Antarctica. The next day, I spotted my first icebergs, “bluer-than-blue splinters” drifting just off the Antarctic coast. A short ride on the double-hulled National Geographic Explorer carried me on that last leg of my dream trip, but it will be “my 10,000-mile roller-coaster route”—every inch of it—that I’ll remember most.