police

Flirting with the law in a country not built for hitch-hiking

To most Americans, our struggles while hitch-hiking this week will not come as a surprise, but perhaps the manner of our struggles will.

You see, we have had no problem finding willing American drivers. Quite the contrary. Our problems have been a result only of infrastructure and legality.

There just aren’t any good hitch-hiking spots here in the USA. Freeways are fast, highly populated and multi-laned, and gas stations are off the main road. The best alternative we have found is freeway entrances, but these come in all shapes and sizes, and can be very popular or hardly used.

IMG_7810

At one such spot this week, on the edge of the tiny town of San Miguel, we waited for three hours and were assured by two separate passersby that we had zero chance of being picked up in the next two weeks and had better walk on the freeway.

The concept was in no way attractive and most certainly illegal, but we felt we had little alternative.

IMG_7851

An hour later, we were picked up on the hard shoulder by this crazy lady:

IMG_7854

Thanks Caitlin.

Caitlin left us at a busy freeway entrance on the outskirts of San Jose, just 50 miles short of San Francisco. We were feeling much happier.

But then something strange happened… A policeman approached on his bike, dismounted, flicked on the flashing lights and reached for his baton.

“You’re breaking the law,” he informed us gleefully, as he swaggered towards us.

“Oh, are we? I thought it was OK on freeway entrances,” Steve replied.

“Look, we can argue about this all day, but the law’s the law,” he said.

The man’s odious and officious nature was hard to stomach, but we held our tongues and called it a day.

The next day, we found a different freeway entrance and successfully avoided another telling off, but as we approach the beginning of a new week, it is rather discomforting to think that our efforts are almost certain to involve a bit more law breaking. It has never been our intention to break the rules, but here in the USA, it seems our very mission is against the Constitution.

…A few of this week’s highlights:

IMG_7735

Hitting Hollywood Boulevard.

Watching the crazies at Venice Beach.

Watching the crazies at Venice Beach.

IMG_7761

America’s somewhat counter-intuitive signage.

It took us some time to work out that this wasn't pointing out a nearby Chinese school.

It took us some time to realise that this sign wasn’t advertising a nearby Chinese school.

IMG_7762

Discovering that here in California, $40 and a bout of anxiety, or just about any bodily ailment, is sufficient for a cannabis license.

Halloween in San Francisco with our generous host, Vijay.

Halloween in San Francisco with our generous host, Vijay.

And seeing the sights of the City by the Bay.

And seeing the sights of the City by the Bay.

Total number of lifts: 342
Week Thirty-Two distance travelled: 508 miles/ 817 km
Total distance travelled: 21,790 miles / 35,067 km

IMG_8021

 

Advertisements

Powering through Central America

Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, could fit all of non-Russian Europe into its land mass. Chile extends so far from north to south that it encompasses three different climatic areas. Argentina is a similar size to India. Of the South American countries we have travelled through, only Ecuador came close to being classified as a ‘small’ country, measuring less than Great Britain in length.

The countries in Central America are tiny by comparison. The entire driving distance from Panama to Mexico is less than Brazil’s north to south; only Guatemala has a population larger than London. Lorries regularly transport cargo through the whole strip, passing through two countries a day. That might go some way to explaining the events of this week.

On Monday morning, full of enthusiasm for getting to know Costa Rica better, we set out for what turned into a sluggish morning. True to our recent observation, drivers didn’t seem very interested in our plight, and positive thoughts were hard to generate.

IMG_6405

If I concentrate really hard, will Alaska appear on the horizon?

This was before lunchtime. After several short rides and a bit of walking had landed us back on the Panamerican Highway, we came into contact with a trucker by the name of Lester.
“Where are you going?” we asked.
“Nicaragua,” he replied.

So that’s where we went too. We hadn’t even had a chance to sample any Costa Rican food yet! We’ll have to return. Costa Rica: tick.

Our first day in Nicaragua was a roaring success. Taking Lester’s advice, whom we’d travelled with for 10 hours, including a four-hour trucker-admin wait at the border, we visited a local mirador (viewpoint) and a cool, crumbling colonial city called Granada next to the largest lake in Central America. We were big fans of both.

Laguna and lake in one.

Laguna in front, lake in the background.

Just in case history repeated itself, we opted for a meal of ALL the local dishes.

Just in case history repeated itself, we opted for a meal of ALL the local dishes.

We thought we’d give Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, a look-in, but when we arrived the next day, everyone looked so confused when we asked where was interesting to visit that we promptly left again. (Managua lies on a so-called “ring of fire” of volcanoes and seismic fault lines, so anything “interesting” is periodically destroyed.) Instead we went to a pretty little city called Leon, and chanced upon a local festival.

Marching bands in the plaza.

Marching bands in the plaza.

Well, that was quite enough time in Nicaragua, as you’ll agree.

… Perhaps not, but we were so close to the border that it was inevitable we would get there on Thursday. Elias the trucker was making for Guatemala, two countries away, and would have been quite happy to take us, had we not somehow lost him at the Nicaraguan/Honduran border. We suspect he might still be there, floating in the bureaucratic vacuum truckers seem to get sucked into. Nicaragua: tick.

If the reputation of Honduras was a colour, it would be of a mouldy brownish hue. “Pass through there quickly,” people told us, usually with an accompanying gun-toting gesture to suggest why. We suspect that, as with many of the ill-reputed places we’ve passed through, the kind of danger people are referring to would be unlikely to reach us, but it happens that the road route between Nicaragua and El Salvador passes through the narrowest part of Honduras anyway. Most of this we covered that night, ahead our second incidence of kipping at a police station. The next morning we were through the border by 7am. Honduras: tick.

Another 'cosy' stay with the local coppers.

Another ‘cosy’ stay with the local coppers.

So, five-countries-in-seven-days later, we have made it to El Salvador, with a lift straight to the capital, San Salvador. It’s been quick, but we’re making the most of conversations with our drivers to learn as much as we can as we go, and we feel we’ve had at least a taster of each. Here in the city, we’re staying in a part of town affectionately referred to as el basurero (the “rubbish bin”) and made a little trip out yesterday to a highly recommended mirador.

You'll agree that the two impressive vertical rocks really set off the view of the volcano in the distance... ... we really need to stop bothering.

You’ll agree that the two impressive vertical rocks really set off the view of the volcano in the distance…

P.S. Hitching is easy peasy here. Smiles all round.

Total number of lifts: 261
Week Twenty-Seven distance travelled: 1036 km
Total distance travelled:  29,005 km

IMG_6602

Coast to coast

One hundred and sixty-five days since leaving Ushuaia, we arrived yesterday at the Caribbean coast. It felt good, particularly after a long week on the road.

Hitchhiking can be a lot of fun, but it can also be exhausting. This week featured more of the latter. Here are a few of the lowlights:

IMG_5839

Entering a new vehicle, the last thing you want to see is a large kitchen knife. (At least it was on our side of the truck.)

IMG_5887

Capital cities are interesting, but they are also very large. Thank you Bogota for testing our resolve with a cool 20km-hike.

IMG_5985

We’re all smiles here, but this was before our driver ditched us, as darkness fell, an agonising 50km short of Santa Marta. The next few hours were not fun. Cheers, Raul.

But enough of all that, for the week also featured some spectacular highlights and special moments of kindness from complete strangers. We often rave about the kindness of our drivers, but it isn’t only them to whom we are indebted…

IMG_5880

Henry, a university friend, hosted us for two nights in Bogota.

IMG_5941

This family brought us tuna sandwiches and a bottle of fizzy drink as we waited for a ride near Bucaramanga.

IMG_5965

Juan and Justin (both 19) helped us hitch a ride on a truck.

Now we have to turn our attention to the small matter of attempting to hitch a ride across the ocean, to Panama. If only the Darien Gap (the jungle seperating Colombia and Panama) wasn’t 160km long and infamous for drug cartels, we might consider walking it. As it is, our eyes turn to the ocean.

IMG_6011

Maybe we could just nick one of these…

Total number of lifts: 229
Week Twenty-Four distance travelled: 1236 km
Total distance travelled:  27,004 km

IMG_6002

 

Back in rhythm

Now England, our dear homeland, is really quite far away;
We left her in the spring and now she’s passed the longest day.
Here in Brazil it’s winter, but we’ve kept the gloves at bay
For it is hot, hot, hot, hot, HOT: plus 30 every day.

Autumn-winter collections look a little different here...

Autumn-winter collections look a little different here…

On Monday we tried to atone for recent dallying
And leapt forward 800 k´s – twas most encouraging.
On Tuesday our first driver whisked us in his speedy car
To meet a new friend-of-a-friend in cool Brasília.

Our hosts, Desirée and François, with their cats Richard Parker and Dexter.

Our hosts, Desirée and François, with their cats, Richard Parker and Dexter.

Brasília’s the capital (not Rio as you thought);
When planning, 50 years ago, a fun design was sought.
A bird? A plane? Yes actually – the latter won the shout.
There’s symmetry and lots of space and funky sites throughout.

Looking down the body of the 'plane'.

Looking down the body of the ‘plane’.

Santuário Dom Bosco: breathtakingly beautiful

Sanctuário Dom Bosco: breathtakingly beautiful.

IMG_3901

‘Os Candangos’, representing the pioneering spirit of the workers who built the city (the statue, not us).

Brasília cathedral.

Brasília´s cathedral.

When Wednesday came, “Vamos!” we cried and spent a cheery day
With nine drivers who, one by one, helped put us on our way.
We caught one hitch whilst driving: one trucker yelled to the next;
Some cops helped too, most friendly chaps, so no need to be vexed.

Sergeants Bozerra and Evangelista. They weren't to know they'd taken us back to where we'd been two hours earlier...

Sergeants Bozerra and Evangelista. They weren’t to know they’d taken us back to where we’d been two hours earlier…

We spent two nights in odd locales (as we are wont to do):
A truck container, first of all – a bit bizarre, it’s true.
Then after heading on, with time out watching Team Brazil,
Our tent came out – first time since March! Sleep hours? … Well, more than nil.

This truck usually transports meat, leaving a smell that lingered gently...

This truck usually transports meat, leaving a lingering scent… kind of like a mouldy air freshener.

Aside from not actually driving the trucks, we basically lived a truckers life this week.

Aside from not actually driving the trucks, we lived a truckers´ life this week. But at least they have a bed to sleep on.

So here we are then, record set: our longest week to date
With many drivers on the way we’ve set the path to straight.
Our final truckers brought us east to Rondonópolis.
… Now you try rhyming that without using ‘metropolis’…

A home-made bbq beside our truck, with driver Juaru and his wife Luani.

A home-made bbq beside our fifth and final truck of the week, with driver Juaru and his wife Luani.

THE END.

Total number of lifts: 134
Week Sixteen distance travelled: 2307 km
Total distance travelled: 17,866 km

IMG_4097