Team ELMO in Colombia,
Ecuador and Peru.

On a round-the-world trip with the Unimog expedition vehicle – Part 5.

Asia, Australia, North America, Central America – and now South America: Sonja, Dirk and their ELMO, a Unimog U 1450 L with a camper body, have also experienced quite a lot on the last continental station of their world tour. In this interview, Team ELMO tells us about extensive journeys through the jungles of Colombia, about their warm encounters with overland tourists in Ecuador and their adventurous crossing to Bolivia.

The last time we heard from you was in Panama. ELMO was sailing on a ship across the Panama Canal to South America. Where did you receive your beloved Unimog again?

Sonja: In Colombia – more precisely in Cartagena, a port city with a very beautiful old town. And fortunately the vehicle remained intact. Because three of the four other vehicles on board the ship were pinned up. ELMO was damaged later on the crossing to Germany, but we will come to that in the next part of the interview.

On good roads through the Colombian rainforest.

All right. So you were happily reunited in Colombia. What did you see and experience there?

Dirk: For us, Colombia stands for rainforest, beautiful mountains and long passes. Despite good roads – a pleasant change for ELMO and also for us – we only managed 80 km a day in some places. Especially downhill it took forever. We only use second and third gear, because otherwise the brakes get hot.

Sonja: On these mountain roads it became especially interesting in the narrow bends. Residents stand at these hairpin bends and stop traffic when trucks arrive. Because those trucks need the whole area of the road to get around. The drivers pay the equivalent of a few cents for this service. And so it goes on and on at many passes, up and down mountains.

Time for interior fittings.

And how did your Unimog tolerate the Colombian mountains?

Dirk: Perfect, it is agile and robust anyway. But after a year and a half of travelling around the world, we have now had the interior rebuilt in Colombia.

Sonja: Exactly, it is not always pleasant to be outside on such a journey. Either it is too hot or you are eaten by insects. The problem was that we always had to decide before the conversion: table or bed. And rebuilding is annoying at some point. So I said, 'let's cut the back cushions and cut the table in half. Then we can have half a bed, two seats and part of the table at the same time.' In the end it became really comfortable.

Perhaps also a valuable hint for one or the other of our readers!

Sonja: Here we have another one for Colombia. In many places, especially in the main coffee-growing area, special parking spaces for overland tourists have been set up to promote tourism. There you can stand for one night for free, fill up water and use the toilets, which are in a really good condition. Camping sites, as we know them from Europe, are very, very rare.

Dirk: These overlander car parks are also guarded. There are also some outside the coffee area, but there you pay a few dollars per night. Also in Bogota we stood on such a car park for a few days and looked around the city.

Sonja: The Monserrate, the city mountain of Bogota, which you reach by gondola, is impressive. From up there you have an incredible view of the city. But the nature was our real highlight in Colombia – these long rides through the mountains and the rainforest. That is really exciting.

A bit of home – in the middle of Ecuador.

From Colombia you went on to Ecuador, right?

Sonja: Exactly, and when you enter Ecuador, you first go to the Finca Sommerwind near Ibarra. This is the spot that all overlanders go to first. The whole thing is run by Hans Sommerwind, a German emigrant, who offers a bit of Bavarian cuisine, bakes German bread and runs a pastry shop. There you get a little bit of a homely feeling.

Dirk: You sit together with ten or fifteen overlanders in the evening and they all bring out their stories. That is very nice. A bit like family.

Hasn't this atmosphere sometimes made you homesick?

Dirk and Sonja (simultaneously): No!

Sonja: We left for Mindo after a few days. That is a small but absolutely touristic town. You have a lot of possibilities: from kayaking to hiking and mountain climbing. And the nature there is really beautiful, lots of watercourses in the mountains and rainforest all around. But also very touristy. So we preferred to continue to the coast and took a breath of fresh air before we went on to Peru.

Dirk: A highlight in Ecuador was in any case the petrol price of the equivalent of 25 ct per litre. That even tops the 41 ct in Kazakhstan. But that is only a side note. So on to Peru ...

"Dunes like mountains!"

Sonja: There we had to decide whether to drive through the desert down by the sea or up into the Andes. And because I had a little bit of problems with the height in the Pamir, we decided for the first option.

Dirk, aren't you a desert fan?

Dirk: Yes, but at some point you get tired of desert – after Australia, Mexico etc. Landscapes repeat themselves.

Sonja: But especially the dunes in Peru were very impressive.

Dirk: True, they were sand dunes like mountains and like I have never seen them before. And I travelled through Mauritania in the 1990s, when there was hardly any road there. But back to Peru: We definitely liked Arequipa. There was a kind of carnival there and the whole city was colourful: great costumes, whole streets dancing – just the full joy of life.

Sonja: Then we went to Lake Titicaca to take the ferry to Bolivia. This was only a short crossing, but it was a tough one.

Dirk: When we arrived, we noticed that the ferries were more like nutshells. So with a somewhat queasy feeling we took ELMO on one of the wooden boats and as soon as we cast off, the swell began. With the waves, ELMO has also been rocking up quite a bit. I would have loved to close my eyes and aged about three years on the trip.

Wow, even the way to Bolivia sounds like a real adventure. Thank you, Sonja and Dirk, for your again very lively and exciting travelogue.

In the next and last part of our series of interviews with Team ELMO we will find out whether things will continue to be just as exciting in Bolivia itself and whether ELMO will survive the salt desert without rust damage.

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