For Rainer Zietlow and team to drive all 16,000 miles of the Pan-American Highway in 12 days in a 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI® Clean Diesel SUV was one thing (and what a thing it was!). But can you imagine driving from Argentina to Alaska in a 1981 Volkswagen Beetle? Well, Pedro Delgado doesn’t have to imagine it, because he actually did it.
Panamericana, Beetle style: Pedro Delgado recounts his epic drive
Pedro Delgado with his 1981 Beetle, parked beside the Pacific near Caldera, Chile
That’s right: in 1990, Pedro fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving the Pan-American Highway. As a kid, he’d see drivers zoom along the stretch of the highway that passed through his hometown of Tucuman, Argentina and think, “I’d like to see where that road leads.” So at the tender age of 59, he got behind the wheel of his 1981 Beetle and found out firsthand, driving from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, a journey not unlike the one Rainer would travel some 21 years later. But unlike Rainer, who was part of a three-man team driving a 21st century vehicle around the clock, Pedro traveled solo, and his journey took a bit longer.
Enjoying a breathtaking view of the Cascada de los Indios Colorados in Ecuador
“The trip took me 68 days, of which 38 days were traveling, and 30 days were spent doing custom duties, some car maintenance, and the time spent in Colombia waiting for the ship that took my Volky [Volkswagen] from Colombia to Panama by ship,” explains Pedro. Besides the added difficulty of traveling alone, Pedro faced other challenges that Rainer and team didn’t.
“Welcome to Guatemala”
“In 1990, there were many terrorist groups active in South and Central America,” Pedro reminds us. He was stopped by the Sendero Luminoso in Peru and the FARC terrorist group in Colombia, both of whom he had to bribe so that he could continue along. He adds that the fact that he speaks Spanish was a big help, but it also didn’t hurt to have a cool story. “They were surprised that I came from so far away with that small car, traveling alone with so little equipment.” He encountered similar difficulties in Nicaragua, where many government officials assumed he was American because of his appearance. However, when he spoke Spanish to them in his Argentinean accent, all doubt were quickly dispelled.
Visiting a friendly Volkswagen dealership in Tuxpan, Veracruz, Mexico for an oil change
Part of the reason Pedro’s trip took so long is that he strayed from the Pan-American Highway so that he could see more of the US, specifically the West Coast. And it’s a good thing he did, because he says that the most memorable part of his journey took place in Southern California, just before he reached Los Angeles, when he was suddenly surrounded by some 50 cars, all of which began honking and waving. As it turned out, they were Argentineans who lived in Los Angeles and were on their way to a get-together at a local park. When they saw Pedro’s Argentine license plates, they greeted him warmly and wished him well on his journey.
Having fun on Highway 5 in California
After his adventures in sunny California, Pedro got back onto the Pan-American Highway, eventually traveling the same route through Canada and Alaska as Rainer and his team. But his story doesn’t end there: after reaching the end of the road, Pedro decided that he wanted to see even more of Canada and US, so he drove all the way to San Francisco before shipping his beloved Volky back to Argentina and boarding a plane himself.
Entering Alaska after driving from Beaver Creek, Yukon, Canada
But the best part of Pedro’s story? He still owns and drives that ’81 Beetle, which now has more than 100,000 miles on it.
Pedro taking a victory lap on Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina after completing his journey