CAPTURING THE MOMENT
CELEBRATING EARTH’S BEAUTIFUL PLACES WITH OVERLAND THE AMERICAS
There’s a photograph of Ernesto López Pérez and Taisa Welhasch of Overland the Americas I’ve always loved.
Standing at the 18,871-foot (5,752m) summit of Mount Pisco in Huascarán National Park, Perú, they’re framed by an azure sky, crampons strapped to their hiking boots and ice axes raised above their heads in victory.
The thrill of the moment is infectious, transcending time and space. Revisiting the experience, Ernesto recalls carrying his 2-pound Nikon DSLR D810 camera and three lenses to the summit to capture the moment.
“It was so heavy,” he laughs. “But these are unique moments that need to be documented. I didn’t know when, if ever, I would see something like that again.”
Celebrating Our Earth
Ernesto and Taisa’s photographs are a
celebration of Earth’s beautiful places.
They spent four years touring through 23 countries, from Seattle to Ushuaia—including Brazil, Suriname, the Guianas and Venezuela—in their 2012 Toyota 4Runner named “Sooty.” Along the way, they shared images of jewel-toned waterfalls amidst lush greenery, photos of Sooty traversing rickety wooden bridges in the Amazon rainforest and expansive, white sand dunes in Brazil.
“I think the core of it for me is that I literally want to share the beauty that I’m seeing,” Taisa explains.
When Ernesto took to Google nearly a decade ago to search for information about vehicle-based travel, rooftop tents hadn’t made a splash in North America, and the term, “overlanding,” wasn’t yet mainstream.
“At some point, I started thinking I would love to travel South America but didn’t want
to backpack,” he says.
While at his workplace in Seattle, where he was employed as a graphic designer, Ernesto discovered it was, indeed, possible to drive to South America.
“While talking to my co-worker, Leti, who was from Chile, I casually mentioned that I’d like to tour the Americas, but I didn’t really have a plan for it yet. As a kid in the 1980s, Leti had traveled with her family along the Pan-Am Highway from Seattle to Chile in a Volkswagen Beetle. I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do.”
The Travel Bug Hits
Ernesto and Taisa’s passion for travel started early on.
Ernesto spent childhood days traveling with his father, a photojournalist for the local newspaper in Mérida, Venezuela. Every vacation was an opportunity to travel cross-country, visiting thunderous Angel Falls or the Caribbean archipelago of Los Roques National Park, going camping and fishing, and attending summer camps. During his college years, Ernesto traveled internationally for conferences; and, upon graduation, he moved to the United States to complete a graphic design degree. He made a point of visiting western Europe and returning home to Venezuela to visit when he could.
Taisa, an environmental planner and yoga instructor, says she always wanted to travel the world, so she studied geography in college.
“I was always interested in the intersection of people and place and how we affect place and vice versa. That’s when I met Ernesto in Venezuela, while I was studying Spanish,
botany and geography.”
After graduation, the couple worked corporate jobs in Seattle, visiting Mexico, Europe and Venezuela, while exploring the Paci c Northwest during their holiday time. At that point, they realized it was possible to overland the Americas.
“It took us a long time to get there,” Ernesto explains. “I needed to get my citizenship, and we needed to pay down debts and student loans. We needed to buy a car, pay it off and save money for the trip.”
Choosing a vehicle was an adventure in and of itself.
“The rst option for me was looking at Volkswagen
Vanagons. There’s a bed, kitchen—all that stuff. But back then, I couldn’t justify paying $30,000 for a 30-year-old vehicle that would break down all the time,” Ernesto pointed out.
So, he and Taisa started looking at Land Rovers.
“… THEY SHARED IMAGES OF JEWEL-TONED
WATERFALLS AMIDST LUSH GREENERY, PHOTOS
OF SOOTY TRAVERSING RICKETY WOODEN BRIDGES IN THE AMAZON RAINFOREST AND EXPANSIVE, WHITE SAND DUNES IN BRAZIL.”
Ernesto says, “I went to a used car dealership here, in Aurora, and told the guy what we were planning to do. He said, ‘You don’t want to buy this car. It’s expensive to maintain; there are a lot of things wrong with it.’ He pretty much talked me out of it.”
Not sure what to do next, Ernesto visited a few mechanics and casually inquired about which vehicles they worked on the least.
“Mechanics have a really broad knowledge of vehicles and brands, and what I heard was that they worked on Toyotas the least. I never thought of myself as being a Toyota fan, but because all we had at home [in Venezuela] were Land Cruisers, there was a bit of nostalgia there.”
Sooty, their 2012 4Runner, arrived in January 2012. The couple named the vehicle after the sooty shearwater bird, which is known to migrate up to 40,000 miles per year between
Chile and the north Pacific.
Micro vs. Macro Photography
It seems fitting that Ernesto and Taisa would name their vehicle after a migratory bird, given the impact that natural landscapes and the environment have had—on them, as well as on their photographic style.
They both admit that they gravitate toward mountainous areas such as the Andes (specifically Perú), Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Their photography styles complement each other: Taisa is drawn to the micro details, while Ernesto focuses on macro landscapes.
“Taisa has the ability to capture the beauty of a flower or a pattern in the sand—things like that,” Ernesto says.
“But I do appreciate the landscape piece too,” Taisa adds. “It’s nice to be able to look back and truly remember a place that way.”
Taisa admits that she really enjoys photogthe raphy, but she doesn’t necessarily enjoythe understanding camera. “I like the artistic part of it,” she notes. (Her advice: “Don’t underestimate the power of an iPhone.”)
While Ernesto will stay up late to get those killer night shots, editing photos in Lightroom is something that truly relaxes him.
“To me, it’s like my own chill, little ‘bubble,’ where I like to sort through pictures, choose a couple and play with them a bit.”
Advice for Photography Newbies
For those folks looking to break into photography, Ernesto stresses the importance of figuring out what brings them joy while shooting. From there, he says, learn the basics of composition, shutter speed, ISO (for digital photography, “ISO” refers to the sensitivity—that is, the signal gain—of the camera’s sensor) and exposure.
“If you grasp that, you can do a lot. And don’t upgrade your camera until you get to know
it really, really well. If you don’t know it, you’ll never be able to get the most out of it. If you upgrade, [the photos] are going to be a bit better, but you’re not necessarily becoming any better.”
Rather than shooting at a lower resolution (compressed JPEG) to t additional photos on a memory card, Ernesto recommends shooting at full resolution (RAW) and dedicating more budget to data storage, such as memory cards and hard drives.
“Hardware memory storage is signi cantly cheaper than cloud storage, and you always have access to it in the event you don’t have an Internet connection. Plus, shooting in RAW gives you a much wider range to edit your photos and compensate for less-than-ideal shooting conditions. After that,” he explains, “it’s good practice to create two copies and store one on an external hard drive. There’s nothing worse than losing your favorite photos due to something as simple as theft or data corruption.”
Taisa and Ernesto have called Seattle home for the past two years, but they’re itching to hit the road.
While Sooty has “ own free”—enjoying life with its new owners—Ernesto and Taisa’s latest project is a sandy-taupe 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser 78 called “Tanchô.” The Troop Carrier is named after the red-crowned crane, a powerful Japanese icon symbolizing happiness, good luck and longevity.
As for what’s next for Overlanding the Americas, perhaps we’ll revel in photos from the snow-capped Atlas Mountains of North Africa, soaring hot air balloons above an overland camp in Turkey or the vast steppes of Mongolia.
Wherever it might be, I can’t wait to follow along as they celebrate more beautiful places around the globe.