McMahon--a dentist, photographer and stand-up comedian--took his love of photography and his desire to learn Spanish to a new level by leaving Tucson and heading for Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina--the southernmost city in the world. McMahon meticulously planned his adventure, beginning with transportation: He decided to drive there.
"I bought a couple of maps and guidebooks," McMahon said.
With a route in mind, McMahon set a departure date--Nov. 9, 1999. Now he just needed a way to travel: After purchasing a 1985 Toyota Hilux pickup that he named Baby Blue, McMahon was off. Little did he know that the trip would turn into a 2 1/2-year expedition, with many ups and downs. He stayed in touch with family and friends by posting online journal entries.
McMahon decided to travel the eastern coast of Mexico. He came across his first challenge at the border of Mexico and Guatemala, where he figured he would wave his passport and the title to his truck, and be on his way. Yet a series of confusing instructions forced McMahon to spend the night at the border.
"The borders turned out to be a big challenge. The check-through process at the border was very disconcerting, because I wasn't yet confident enough with my Spanish," McMahon said. "I thought, 'I can't do this,' but I kept pushing on."
After a few Spanish classes in Guatemala, McMahon pushed onward. Staying in hostels and cheap hotels, McMahon began taking photographs of everything he saw.
"I took thousands of film slides with my 35 mm Nikon," McMahon said. "I would mail back maybe 60 rolls of film at a time."
McMahon captured photos of natives and villagers. He especially enjoyed taking photographs of children, and some of his photographs from the trip have won him awards and have been featured in greeting cards. However, some of his most captivating images were of animals, McMahon said.
"In Panama, I was with a local who was guiding me through the jungle, and I spotted a frog that was almost a metallic-blue color," McMahon said.
One of his favorite images is of three flamingos, taken at a lake in Argentina. The image shows the reflection of the flamingos in the water.
Many of McMahon's encounters were quite similar to the flamingos' departure--a blur of constant travel from one country to another. Yet many encounters are still memorable for the traveler, including one with a man called Mad Max, an Ecuadorian. McMahon still keeps in touch with Mad Max.
One of McMahon's biggest obstacles, however, involved something that happened back home. During a short visit to Tucson for the holidays, he encountered unexpected heartache, which delayed the resumption of his adventure in Peru.
"That had to be the biggest challenge for me: While I was home, my brother-in-law Kevin suddenly passed away," McMahon said. "I was emotionally devastated, and struggled with continuing."
But McMahon indeed returned--only to find his beloved Baby Blue stolen from the garage where he left it. At his lowest point, he nonetheless decided to finish what he had set out to do, he said.
"You have to be pretty committed to drive to the tip of South America. If you hit a barrier, then regroup--don't give up the opportunity to do what inspires you," McMahon said.
Upon returning to Tucson after having completed his adventure, McMahon took his journal entries and created a Web site, Liveyouradventure.com.
"I (later) realized: This (Web site) is all about me. So I shifted the focus from me to other people's adventures," McMahon said. "I hope I am inspiring people to live their dreams and go for it." Now, people can write about their own adventures at Liveyouradventure.com.
The online journal entries led McMahon to write a book about his travels through South America; Driving to the End of the World was released in February. Meanwhile, McMahon has plans for more adventures in the future--many of which he also hopes to write about.
Mark McMahon will tell his story live at the Berger Center for the Performing Arts, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd., at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 28. He will be signing copies of his book and showing photographs from his journey; the event will also feature a musical montage with composer Fernando Romero and local comedian Robert Mac. Tickets are $10 in advance at Antigone Books (411 N. Fourth Ave.) or $15 at the door. Call 270-7083 for more information.