By Zach Watson
We met randomly in a hostel, two Americans, a Welsh, and a Dane. The following day when someone mentioned buying a bus and starting a moving hostel it didn’t seem stupid. Quite the contrary; it made sense.
Two days later, we were in Quito, Ecuador talking to hostel owners, friends, auto mechanics, greasy pork vendors, taxi drivers, bus drivers, lawyers, tour agencies, policemen, and a sweet old lady at the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism.
We learned that without $25,000 we couldn’t operate a legitimate business as foreigners in Ecuador. So we found a bus, bought it with the $11,000 we had, and made a moving hostel anyway.
For a year, we slept crammed in our bus on the benches, the driver’s seat, and the king sized bed we’d installed. We slept in run-down parking lots for 3 bucks a night, in alleys, on farms where Quechuans knitted Alpaca wool, on islands in Lake Titicaca, beneath the peaks of Torres del Paine, on the desert cliffs of northern Chile and the wooded fjords farther south, on abandoned tropical beaches, cowboy-style with our boots off beneath cloudless Atacama nights.
We had guests with us for a week, for months, a German who stayed with us the whole year and never stopped eating Oreos, a 57-year-old backpacker who always bought us beer and slept on the roof, a mutt named Monkey, a drunken Irishman and Norwegian hitchhikers with places to go, goods to sell, and bags of live chickens.
We crossed borders illegally and accidentally, bribed customs officials for passport renewals, got pulled over by the police more than 50 times and never paid a fine.
Our bus left us stranded in deserts, on mountainsides, on beaches, on medians, and under overpasses. We nearly blew up two engines, and replaced one entirely, searched for bus parts in neglected suburbs, hired shady tow-truck drivers, and whatever oily mechanics we could find to keep going — driving nearly 26,000 kilometers on tires that should have blown up.
We made it from Quito to Ushuaia with our fingers crossed. And then even farther to Buenos Aires, and couldn’t believe it when we actually sold the bus in Bolivia.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
In the end, we weren’t a moving hostel. We weren’t a business. We were a bunch of malcontented wanderers in search of an authentic adventure.
We called ourselves the Gypsy Train.
Photos: Marta Anglada