border crossing

The end of the road

You know that feeling when it’s 8am on a Monday morning, and you’ve been away from home for over eight months, and you’re wearing more items of clothing than you ever have in your life but you’re still cold because it is -17°C, and you’re wondering when it’s going to be over, and a man pulls over and tells you that he’s driving to Alaska and that you can come along? Oh right, maybe not. Let us tell you: IT IS AMAZING.

That feeling looks something like this:

YESSSSSSS.

YESSSSSSS. Alaska numberplate, Alaska bound.

The man in question was called Chuck (or “Chuck the absolute legend”) and was driving back home from a job down in North Dakota (USA), a mere 3000-mile roadtrip. With more than 1500 miles left to go, Chuck’s thoughts upon seeing us were,
“Why are they hitchhiking at this time of year?” (a valid question), and secondly,
“I wonder if they have driving licenses?”
Steve, ever-ready to be behind the wheel, happily agreed to be co-driver, and away we went on our 36-hour final leg.

Driver 391: Chuck Pinkerton, we thank you.

Driver 391: Chuck Pinkerton, we salute you.

Our poor little brains couldn’t quite compute the glorious truth that, suddenly, we were on our final hitch and were heading to Alaska. We were really and truly actually going to make it, and not only that, but we were travelling through some of the most utterly enchanting scenery we have ever seen.

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We made our final border crossing at 5am on Tuesday morning: the temperature outside was around -30°C and Chuck’s car heater had stopped working, so it was a little chilly. By this point, however, we didn’t care a jot. ALASKA!

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Chuck invited us to accompany him to his home near a town called Homer, giving us a whole day’s worth of Alaskan landscapes to enjoy. En route, Chuck informed us that Homer is the westerly-most point that one can drive to in Alaska, and thus is known as “the end of the road”. Well, what could be more perfect than that?

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So, friends, the adventure is over, and what an adventure it has been. Don’t worry, there’s still time to sponsor us, and there will be a book to come sometime in the future. For now, though, it’s back to Blighty for a nice cup of tea.

DAY 1.

DAY 1.

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DAY 253.

FINAL TOTAL: Number of lifts: 392
Week Thirty-Six distance travelled: 1513 miles/ 2435 km
FINAL TOTAL: Distance travelled from Ushuaia to Alaska: 26,160 miles / 42,100 km

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If you would like to get in touch with us – maybe book us in as part of our lecture tour (!) – please email joey.dj@hotmail.co.uk or steve.dew-jones@hotmail.co.uk.

Hey America!

So, most people south of the USA border think we’ve been in America since Argentina, but the problem with the English language is we just don’t have another term for people from the States. In Spanish, South Americans call them “Estados-Unidenses” (USA-ers) or “Norte Americanos”, although for Mexicans (also technically North American), that last one doesn’t work so well. But for us English folk, we’ve only really got “Americans”.

Anyhow, we arrived in the land of the USA-ers on Wednesday (22 Oct), after two days and almost 1,000 kilometres more of Sonora desert. Unfortunately, our camera broke during this stretch, but Jo’s given her artist’s take of the scenery below…

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Here in the States, we’ve been very well treated. Tonight will be our fifth night here and for the fifth night in a row, we will be staying with an American who a week ago we didn’t know existed.

First there was Budiee. (We’d bought a new camera by then).

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We met him in a San Diego bar, where we had been invited by our first drivers in the States, Victor, Mikey, Tiffany and Pennie, who know Budiee from the large Mexican-American community in Calexico, the border town we crossed into from Mexicali.

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Budiee looked after us for three nights, as we became acquainted with Ron Burgundy’s homeland. For one of us, this was a particular highlight…

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The film “Anchorman” had already prepared us for much of what we could expect to find in San Diego. We thoroughly recommend it.

Next up, we stayed with Jen and Paul, our third of three drivers yesterday (26 Oct), as we journeyed towards L.A. They had kindly offered to pay for us to stay in a nice hotel for the night, but Jen lost her credit card, so the sofa it was. We were still very grateful.

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Somewhere during our time with Jen and Paul, solar panel salesman Adam came by. Unfortunately for him, Jen wasn’t in a position to be purchasing solar paneling, but Adam was invited for a glass of wine and it was here he invited us to stay with him the next night.

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And then, for a bonus Sunday hitch, we were lucky enough to meet Mike and Mirella from Romania, who generously brought us to Adam’s door.

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So here we are, in Costa Mesa, just south of L.A. And to top it all off, Adam’s friend Jack plans to take us to the Big Smoke tomorrow (27 Oct). All in all, it’s been a fairly special start to our time here in the land of the USA-ers.

Total number of lifts: 332
Week Thirty-One distance travelled: 1,337 km
Total distance travelled: 34,251 km

The good ol’ Americans measure distance in miles, so it’s time to make the switch back…

Week Thirty-One distance travelled: 830 miles
Total distance travelled: 21,282 miles

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Farewell friends!

It has been a week of goodbyes.

First we parted company with this old pal (the tent, that is; not Jo), lost somewhere on the road to Ambato.

Does four uses in five months count as a worthwhile addition?

Does four uses in five months count as value for money?

Then Jo mislaid her favourite/only jumper, so we bought her a new one. She had mixed feelings about this.

I liked my old one.

I liked my old one.

Finally, yesterday we bade a fond farewell to Ecuador, just 12 days after arriving. We leave with fond memories and a great number of new friends.

Here are a few we made this week:

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(Jo’s friend’s sister) Beth and Oswaldo treated us to a lovely dinner in Quito with their two children, David (six) and Hannah (three).

Vanessa and husband Angel invited us to their home in Ambato for two nights, continuing our happy trend of being hosted in every country.

Vanessa and husband Angel invited us to their home in Ambato for two nights, continuing our happy trend of being hosted by locals in every country.

Jersson, our first driver yesterday on the road from Otavalo to Colombia, treated us to ice creams, lunch, a tour of Ibarra and a ride on a paddle boat. What a gent!

Jersson, driver number one yesterday on the road to Colombia, treated us to ice creams, lunch, a city tour and a ride on a paddle boat. What a gent!

Rodrigo and Ruby, two rides on from Jersson, took us to see this statue of a woolly mammoth. Their three kids (youngest pictured) rode in the back of their pick-up truck to ensure there was space for us.

Two rides later, Rodrigo and Ruby took us to see this statue of a woolly mammoth. Their three kids (youngest pictured) rode in the trailer to provide space for us.

Another two rides on, we were picked up by the lovely Erasmo and Lore, who took us for our latest spot of sightseeing (incredible church built on mountainside) and then here to Pasto.

Another two rides on, Erasmo and Lore took us for our latest spot of sightseeing (a church built on mountainside just over the Colombian border) and then here to Pasto.

Having arrived just yesterday, we haven’t had much time to get to grips with Colombia, but so far our observations include a dramatic increase in police officers carrying guns and a few more zeros on the notes.

That seems quite a lot for a loaf of bread, or even a dozen.

That seems quite a lot for a loaf of bread, or even a dozen.

Total number of lifts: 198
Week Twenty-Two distance travelled: 801 km
Total distance travelled:  25,109 km

We accrued a massive 30 kilometres walking around Quito to find this unnecessarily-elusive road map... please enjoy the line.

We accrued a massive 30 kilometres walking around Quito to find this unnecessarily-elusive road map… please enjoy the line.

All you need is Ecuador

The biggest mega diversity of the planet has its home in Ecuador, the middle of the world. With a privileged climate and the most amazing landscapes, the essence of Latin America fuses itself to create an unforgettable and unique destination. Islands, jungles, mountains and seas. Four worlds are waiting for you.

Wow. Impressive stuff, eh.  When our first driver in Ecuador, Diego, 24, excitedly asked us, “Have you heard? All you need is Ecuador!” we were confused, but it turns out that this is the recent promotional claim of the Ecuadorian tourist board, with its own YouTube video to match. Well, we won’t have a chance to see all four worlds, but the one we’re in – the sierra, or mountain path – is lovely.

It’s quite like “Lord of the Rings” country in parts.

It was on Monday that we started heading towards the Ecuadorian border, with two possible routes available to us: desert or mountains. This was all in the hands of whichever drivers would cross our path, and in the end it was Luis who pulled over and told us he was heading inland. Mountains won the day, and what a day it was.

The landscape marked a big contrast from our recent coastal-desert route.

The landscape marked a big contrast from our recent coastal-desert route.

Lush paddy fields lined the road.

Lush paddy fields lined the road.

That night we landed in San Ignacio, a small town a mere 47-kilometre hop from the border. This we arrived at by lunchtime on Tuesday with a combination of walking and back-of-truck rides, having to wait a short while for the only Peruvian immigration officer to come back from his lunch break. Ciao, then, Peru.

Turn right for Equador.

Turn right for Ecuador, just over that bridge.

Traffic in these parts was not at a steady flow, so when we heard a truck pulling past the Ecuadorian immigration office, Steve leapt out of the door to intercept it (the officer didn’t seem to mind). Diego welcomed us in, and within three minutes of arriving in the country we had scored our first ride. Let’s take that as a good sign!

Diego's truck.

Diego’s truck. His two employees gave up their seats for us and looked after the bags.

So, Ecuador then. Our first night was spent in another small town called Zumba (no exercise classes of the same name to be found) and as such traffic on Wednesday was again at a slow ebb. We gradually made our way, though, and our final ride of the day was certainly a unique one: in the back of a van carrying toiletries. It was a bumpy ride – brooms don’t make for much cushioning!

One of us isn't really sure about this.

One of us isn’t really sure about this. The other is all smiles, as usual.

Franklin and Nelson, who took us on a little tour of the area.

Franklin and Nelson (great names), who took us on a little tour of the area.

We had been recommended a little village called Vilcabamba, also known as the “Sacred Valley of the Centenarians” because of the long life its locals enjoy. (One of our drivers told us his grandfather lived to 130!) Franklin took us to one of the hostels he delivers toilet paper to; it seemed as good a choice as any, and in fact it was wonderful. For the first time since somewhere back in Brazil, we had a quiet night’s sleep (sound-proofing not really being a priority in Peru) and in the absence of a masseuse from England appearing at our side in the week, we found one here instead.

This. Is. Wonderful.

This. Is. Wonderful.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the peace and harmony on Saturday, having made the most of “Settlers of Catan” players and fellow walkers staying at the same hotel. Back on the road north again, we joined Angel and Luis who were travelling all the way to Quito, 14 hours away and most of the distance towards Columbia! Deciding that this would take us through Ecuador too quickly, without a chance to get to know it properly, we jumped out at Cuenca, a city to the south. Ecuador is so small, this may turn out to be our only weekend here… vamos a ver

The beautiful cathedral in Cuenca.

The beautiful cathedral in Cuenca.

Megan and Dolan, new friends from our stay in Vilcabamba who we bumped into in the street in Cuenca.

Megan and Dolan, new friends from Vilcabamba, whom we bumped into again in Cuenca.

Total number of lifts: 181
Week Twenty-One distance travelled: 817 km
Total distance travelled: 24,308 km

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Bowled over by Brazil

Into Brazil, into Portuguese. Dont worry, well translate.

Having cruised past the 10,000km mark this week, we took a moment to assess how much further there is to go. Of the approximate 20,000km remaining if we had gone through Bolivia and straight into Peru, this minor detour to Brazil is adding a cool 10,000km. Is it worth it? Oh yes.

There are MORE TOUCANS here! And TURTLES! And CROCODILES! And SNAKES! (And possible mafia and gun crime, but we haven’t come across that yet.) Our first main drive in Brazil was with Benedito, a great-grandfather of 74 years, and on our journey with him through the Pantanal we saw each one of these creatures, plus birds galore, and a dead jaguar! 

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And the FRUITS! Oh, the fruits. We are having a good time pretending we know what they all are, which we absolutely do not.

Go on, see how many you know... using Google Translate is cheating.

Go on, see how many you know (using Google Translate is cheating).

And then there are our new friends.  Aside from Benedito, our drivers have included Marcus and Paolo on Tuesday, Zañir on Thursday, Mih on Friday and Vicente on Saturday, all of whom we shared meals with. Many thanks to all!

Paolo and Marcus, our first drivers from the Bolivian border.

Pizza at Zanir and Admir’s

Pizza at Zanir and Admir’s.

Mih helps us on our way

Mih helps us on our way.

 

Lunch with Vicente at his sister’s home

Lunch with Vicente at his sister’s home.

This weekend we’re biding our time in a city called Cascavel (apparently there are loads of guns here, but we are trying not to think about them too much) before heading to the famous waterfalls of Iguaçu. Clouds: don’t you dare descend. 

In case it sounds like we’ve got our blinkers on, we can confirm that the grasp of the English language still leaves something to be desired.

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Total number of lifts: 82
Week Ten distance travelled: 1615 km
Total distance travelled: 11349 km

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