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South of the Border. Way South.

By Elissa Leibowitz Poma
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Q. Is it possible to drive to South America from the United States?

Bill Liggett, Lewes, Del.

A. If not for a swampy and dangerous jungle in Panama, you could drive continuously from Alaska to the tip of South America. Unfortunately, the 54-mile wide Darien Gap along the Panama-Colombia border is impassable by vehicle.

To bypass this spot, you can send your car via freighter. Maersk Line (800-321-8807, http://www.maerskline.com/), for example, runs weekly freighters between Manzanillo, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. The service is primarily used by companies, but individuals can ship their cars for around $2,000 each way, according to Andrew O'Hearn, Maersk's external communications manager. The trip takes three or four days; you'd have to fly from port to port and meet your car.

Still game? It's imperative to review the U.S. State Department's consular information sheets and road safety tips at http://www.travel.state.gov/.

"Many roads in Central and South America are not up to U.S. standards, and there have been random acts of violence and acts of violence specifically against Americans," says Eric Watnik, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Pick up reliable maps in the United States before you leave for your trip and obtain an international driving permit; the easiest way is through a branch of AAA ( http://www.aaa.com/). If you go through Brazil and Uruguay, you'll also need an inter-American driving permit from AAA. The licenses are especially helpful because they are translated into Spanish.

San Franciscan Jon Dreyer, who drove to Ushuaia, Argentina, and back with his brother a decade ago, suggests that if you make the drive, you do it in a car whose parts would be readily available if it needs service. If your Toyota Prius breaks down, you'll be stuck for days waiting for a part to be ordered; that's not the case with a more common or older-model Toyota.

And be prepared to occasionally pay "gratuities" for such things as directions or permission to pass through a town or access a certain road. "It's a way of life in Latin America," Dreyer says.

I'd like to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, this summer. Do you have any recommendations on how to get there, where to stay and groups I could join if I go solo?

Young Kim, Arlington

For 51 weeks a year, Pamplona is a pleasant but plain place that rarely appears on travelers' radars. But for one week -- this year it's July 6-14 -- the northern Spanish town spills over with party animals celebrating the Festival of San Fermin by sporting red kerchiefs and sprinting ahead of bulls in the streets.

To get to Pamplona, fly to Madrid's Barajas International Airport; round-trip fares from Washington Dulles start at $899, with restrictions. Once in Madrid, take a train from Atocha Station in the city center to Pamplona. A bus is cheaper, but given how popular the route is, you'll want to guarantee a seat. The ride is three hours and costs $68 each way.

Hotel and hostel rooms in the town are often booked a year in advance -- and at more than double the price of the usual rates. For example, the 71-bed Hostal Alaiz ( http://www.hostalalaiz.com/), a 15-minute bus ride from the town center, charges about $150 for a double; normally it's $68. Many people safely sleep in parks and use public showers at a park or public swimming pool. Find suggested lodging and like-minded travelers on http://www.sanfermin.com/, the festival's top information source.

More info: Tourist Office of Spain, 212-265-8822, http://www.okspain.org/.

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