Crossing South America

School of Valparaíso, "Amereida", 1967

School of Valparaíso, Amereida, 1967

The New York Times recently profiled the Harteau family, a trio from California currently traveling through Peru with their sights set on Chile and Argentina. With their Westfalia chugging along the Pan-American Highway they join a distinguished group of nomads who’ve transformed contemporary popular culture, apparel, and politics.

Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for the Pan-American Highway. The project was a tremendous engineering feat yet it could not conquer the Darien Gap. It was also a significant diplomatic coup (in the best sense of that awkward phrase) that united the Americas.

Map of the Pan-American Highway

Map of the Pan-American Highway

At over 19,000 miles from end to end its appeal is understandable, though I wouldn’t walk it myself.

The call of the open road inspired Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Alberto Granadas to ride through a portion in 1952, which resulted in Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries and his brief though momentous political career.

There was definitely a wanderlust permeating the U.S. West Coast in the 1960s. Maybe watching the sun set over the Pacific finally convinced some residents that having spent enough time on one edge of the world they should seek bluer waters, or southern climes.

I don’t know much about Dick Dorworth or Chris Jones, but the two other guys founded The North Face, Patagonia, and Esprit. Douglas Tompkins never quite shook the  experience of being in southern Chile and co-founded Conservación Patagonia with his wife in 2000.

One of the curious twists in life will have me in this part of the world in less than two weeks, which ties this rambling discussion about crossing South America with my dissertation: the travesías are essentially “crossing” projects.

"Analisis del Mar Interior de America," School of Valparaíso, Para un Punto de Vista Latinoamericana del Oceano Pacifico, 1971

“Analisis del Mar Interior de America,” School of Valparaíso, Para un Punto de Vista Latinoamericana del Oceano Pacifico, 1971

Though the Pan-American Highway and subsequent roads have connected the continent, a significant portion remains isolated or adrift in an expansive “interior sea” in the language of the School of Valparaíso. Tackling, mapping or just wandering through this interior sea continues to inspire people throughout the world, from visual artists like Pablo Helguera to graduate students like yours truly.

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