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A father, mother, and daughter packed their lives into a 4x4 vehicle and traveled South America on a mission to explore and photograph its diversity. Here’s what happened.

Javier Echecopar’s Instagram bio tells his story. His Instagram feed says even more.  The “professional traveler” and “unprofessional photographer” was born in Peru and raised in the United States, Peru, and Chile. He has a distinct sense of the many differences that exist across cultures but also the connections between them.

In 2016, Javier, his wife, Isa, and their then seven-year-old daughter, Fiore, packed up their lives, moved into a 4x4 vehicle, and hit the road on an open-ended adventure across South America. They spent five months (April through August) traveling the continent, documenting their adventures and the stories of the people they met through #ourandeanadventure. We caught up with Javier about his exploration of culture through photography, his love for South America, and his family’s unique experience living on the road. Here’s what he had to say.

Where did the idea for this adventure originate?

“I’m very passionate about South America as a destination. I spent time growing up in both Peru and Chile and also worked as a guide leading treks up some of the tallest mountains on the continent. The concept of this trip focused on themes that my wife and I are both extremely passionate about—the mountains and the connection between the different countries and cultures of South America. We said, ‘Why don’t we do a trip that goes from the southernmost tip of the continent, through small villages and mountains, towards the northernmost tip?’ And that’s what we did.”

Why did you decide to travel by car?

“I had backpacked around South America from a very young age, but I wanted this trip to be completely different from anything I’d done. We decided to live out of a completely autonomous 4x4 vehicle—we had food, fuel, water, shelter, and everything that we needed for about a week at a time—so that we could design our own adventure. The sense of liberty, of not being restricted by any route, was incredible.”

How extensively did you plan?

“When we started our trip, we didn’t even think about when it was going to end—only the idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to explore. We would plan about three to four days ahead, and everything else was spontaneous. We started in Santiago and drove down to Ushuaia. For about a month we traveled through Patagonia, crossing back and forth between Chile and Argentina. After that, we spent about three weeks in Bolivia, then crossed the mountains of Peru and continued north toward Ecuador. We spent time in the mountains of Ecuador, then drove west and descended the entire continent by the coast. In total, we traveled about 16,000 miles.”

Your daughter came along on the trip. What was that like?

“Our daughter Fiore [who turned eight years old during their travels] wasn’t an accessory to the trip—she was a part of it.  She actually helped us see things we might not have seen otherwise. We spent time in Peru’s Sacred Valley, where she went to school with local children and learned Quechua, the local language. She brought a different point of view to the trip, and I think she came to understand that her very fortunate position in life is due mostly to luck—that she’s really not different from another eight-year-old girl that was born in rural Peru and has a very different life ahead of her.”

What would your advice be to parents who are considering traveling long-term with children?

“One of the beautiful things about traveling with my wife and daughter was how much of a bonding experience it was. Taking the time to spend five months together, sleeping in a tent together, cooking our food together, figuring out our day-to-day plans with each other—those things truly connected us and made us a more stable family. There is a sense of uncertainty that comes along with embarking on a long trip. The big decisions you have to make in order to commit to traveling long-term—quitting your job or asking for extended time off—can set forth feelings of doubt. But, in my experience, everything that I learned while traveling with my family was actually incredibly helpful for me in coming back to the so-called real world. I think people need to realize that the risk involved is not as high as they think and that the benefits are tremendous.”

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A large portion of this adventure for you was also dedicated to photography and your interest in documenting culture. How did your role as a photographer impact the trip?

“The photographic element of the trip was hugely important. It completely changed the dynamic. I approached this adventure wanting to express what the continent of South America is about—how the countries are similar and also different. I stopped in places I normally wouldn’t have because of something like lighting, and I often had conversations with people I photographed, which helped me learn perspectives I wouldn’t have otherwise. Photography changes the way you travel—you see potential in smaller moments, and you can learn a lot from those moments.”

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A Family Road Trip Across South America
Scroll through the slideshow to see @javierechecopar’s photos from #ourandeanadventure and read the stories of the people he photographed across South America.
Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    A Family Road Trip Through South America
    Scroll through the slideshow to see @javierechecopar’s photos from #ourandeanadventure and read the stories of the people he photographed across South America.
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Halfway Between Tiwanaku and La Paz, Bolivia
    “This is one of my favorite portraits. The contrast between this drummer’s celebratory outfit and his sad look into the horizon make it unique.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Town of Maras, Sacred Valley, Peru

    “We spent an afternoon with this family at their home in Maras, Peru. The team at Abercrombie & Kent (a luxury travel experience company) connected us with local people and opened doors for us that are usually closed to outsiders. In Maras, the typical local dress is very unique—women wear towering white caps and lacey blouses—even more so considering their Andean setting. This little girl and her mother showed us great tenderness throughout the afternoon. This is what great travel is made of.”

    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Potosi, Bolivia
    “Potosi is not a particularly colorful place, so when I saw this bright scene I patiently waited until someone walked into the frame. It worked out perfectly—our local lady brought a pink bucket with her to add to the flair.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Cachi, Salta, Argentina
    “This workshop in Salta, Argentina, was perfect. A repairman and his fellow customer probably thought I should be taking photos of the pretty white churches outside, but after a while, they got used to the camera’s clicks and let me be.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Salar el Laco, Northern Chile
    “We crossed from Chile to Argentina through one of the highest and most stunning passes in South America, the Sico Pass. The road winds upwards until your head is light from the lack of air (and excess of beauty). I had been to the area before and loved the mountains in the back but felt they needed a sense of scale. I gave my wife the camera, ran to where I thought I should be, and walked around a bit, hoping that my wife was actually taking the photos. She was—and they were perfect.”
    Photo by Isa Echecopar
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    Sacred Valley, Peru
    “This kid and his brother were playing on a golden field as we drove past. We stopped the car, jumped out, and asked them about Messi (the world famous fútbol player) while I took a few shots. They laughed, we laughed, and we jumped back in the car and drove off.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Cusco, Peru
    “I actually was not feeling well this morning. We had just arrived to Cusco late the night before, and I decided to spend the next morning in bed. My wife and daughter went out to wander around and came back only a few minutes later with grand stories of dancers, masks, music, and chaos going on outside. I grumbled, took my camera, and crawled out onto the streets. It was my best decision of the trip.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Cusco, Peru
    “I stepped out of the calm, 400-year-old Hotel Monasterio in Cusco and fell into the bright, happy chaos of hundreds of brilliant dancers filling the streets. The frenzy, the euphoric crowds, the overwhelming pandemonium clearly meant a major religious festival was occurring—but when I asked around, the locals laughed and said it was just practice. These people have no lack of enthusiasm.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Halfway Between Tiwanaku and La Paz, Bolivia
    “The colorful locals thought it hilarious that we were traveling in Bolivia and wanted a photo with the lanky, Spanish-speaking, gringo-looking, camera-wielding stranger (me). There was a local man with an old Polaroid camera selling snapshots as souvenirs. They laughed, offered us food and beer, and we took a photo together.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Potosi, Bolivia
    “Some shots are prepared carefully; others just pop up. We were walking in Potosi and I saw this kid running behind a bus. I snapped a few shots with no time to focus—I was lucky and this one turned out all right. The kid ending up catching his bus after a crazy mad dash that would have blown my lungs out at that altitude!”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    South of Cachi, Northwest Argentina
    “Before your paprika was sitting idly in your cabinet, it was harvested and laid out under the sun in northern Argentina so that the pimentón would dry and crackle. We had stopped at another paprika patch before this one and spent some time taking photos there, but the images seemed to be missing something. After driving a bit further, we saw this couple working on a dirt patch. I crawled over a fence and spent a good 15 minutes talking to them and learning their stories before taking out my camera. This conversation made all the difference. The couple felt more comfortable, which meant I could get close enough to see the true process without ruining the moment.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Central Coast, Chile
    “We had arrived late at night to our camping spot near the ocean and had no idea where we were. In the morning, I heard someone come by. I looked outside to see this gentleman trying to get past the truck, and I started a conversation with him. He was on his way to collect seaweed, and I asked to join. He loosened up quickly and proudly told me about his work. Sagredo and his wife gather seaweed from the jagged Pacific coast of Chile—they scramble across slippery rocks to collect seaweed with hooks, ropes, and poles. Then they hang the seaweed coils for days to dry in the wind and sun. If all goes well, the dried bales will be bought and sold around the world.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Machachi, Ecuador
    “We were incredibly lucky to find this moment. The Paseo del Chagra is an annual festival in Ecuador that celebrates the lifestyle of local cowboys, called chagras. After finding out about the festival that morning, we changed our plans completely and spent an entire day exploring the cultural festival.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Cusco, Peru
    “My photographic wish is to be invisible to my subjects, and this is as close as I have gotten to that. The dancers were in such a state of trance that I could weave in and out of their performance without interrupting their dancing at all.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar
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    Pan de Azucar, Chile
    “This was our last morning of the trip, and what a glorious one it was. This is Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar, on the north end of the Chilean coast. I jumped into the cold water that morning, watching the brilliant waves in contrast with the dark sky. Not all mornings are created equal.”
    Photo by Javier Echecopar

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