REFLECTIONS ON OUR TRIP IN THE AMERICAS 2008/2009
We left home on 26th April 2008 and will get back around 14th February 2009. In that time we have travelled 35870 miles overland from Panama, Central America, to Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Ocean, South to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego and back up to Buenos Aires for our journey home to the UK. We have driven through rivers, used small ferries, crossed into South America by air, visited the Galapagos Islands whilst waiting for the Toyota to arrive by sea and chose a trip on a cargo ship to bring us and the Toyota back into the UK. In total we have visited fourteen countries and crossed thirty two borders. The weather has been kind to us, we missed the rainy season in almost all countries, had temperatures of 40C+ in Central America and the Attacama Desert and as low as 9C in Alaska and Ushuaia.
Travelling from Panama to Anchorage with the Global Rally we made many new friends, had our route organized for us with comfortable hotels at the end of the day and felt secure travelling with a group, particularly at the difficult border crossings in Central America. Once they left, to return to the UK, we were on our own, free to choose where we travelled and how long to stay. Alone, we were, at first, a little apprehensive but soon learned to make our own judgements and not rely solely on those of other travelers, to seek out safe havens to stay whilst not allowing our concerns about security to stop us from seeing the things we wanted to see or meeting the local people and enjoying their company. We learned not to be shy about communicating in a foreign language, there is always some way to make yourself understood, especially JC who is now definitely the “master of pantomime”. Whilst we enjoyed the experience of the rally, we have always been independent travelers and I think that this trip has made us even more so, ready to go off again to another adventure in the future, more prepared with the lessons we have learned from this our first really long trip together.
As we travelled home by sea we had time to reflect on our journey and ask ourselves some questions:
What would we have done differently?
The saying “Take half as much gear and twice as much money” is very true. When the rally left we sent some stuff back with Paul and Nikki, when we returned to Panama on our journey South we sent another two boxes back by FedEx and we still have things packed that have never even seen the light of day! When we get home we are going to unload the Toyota and have a special pile for ‘NOT USED ON TRIP” to ensure that we don’t bring them again.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” was our motto in the run up to our departure. We thought we had covered everything – but could have done more to prepare for the shipping of the Toyota from Panama to Ecuador in September, especially as we spent a week in Panama in April with the rally and met other overlanders in the car park of our hotel!! We should have picked their brains and contacted potential shippers whilst we were there. This could have saved us at least four weeks of wasted time in Panama and Guayaquil (Ecuador) waiting for a vessel etc etc. Similarly I should have listened to their information on Columbia and not just believed the usual media hype. JC would have been happy to travel through Columbia and it is now my greatest regret of the trip, especially having met many others who safely travelled through what they have told us was “one of the most beautiful countries they visited” – but – hey that gives us an excuse to come back sometime!
When camping on a garage forecourt with nowhere to shower or cook after a bad day at a border – don’t make any snap decisions. Your brain seems to forget the wondrous things you have seen and still have to see and go into “comfort seeking mode” where you want everything to be like it is at home. This was what happened to me when I insisted in mid November that JC find us a good hotel to stay in over Christmas far away from a garage forecourt, expecting the tree, the music, a place full of people and not thinking that Ushuaia was probably the last place on earth that people would be going to for Christmas or that the locals would probably not celebrate as we do in the UK anyway. We had no need to be there, missed our family and friends and wasted time and money staying there for 6 days. Keep major decisions for good days when the sun is shining, the beer is cool and the view from the roof tent is magic – there are plenty of them.
Don’t think you can travel to a timetable – this is not a bus trip, delays will occur you may have a breakdown, get delayed at a border or a port or simply want to spend more time in a beautiful place you have found along the way. We tried to make a plan to meet Faye along the way and felt that we let her down or were putting her off when she was asking us where we would be at a certain time so that she could join us for a couple of weeks. We should have made it clear to everyone before we started that, much as we love you all, unless our route passes your home, making arrangements to meet someone somewhere on a trip like this is virtually impossible with dates changing constantly and hundreds of miles to drive to the meeting place.
We have had a few difficult experiences at borders, but we kept calm, and can laugh about it now. At most borders we faced delays and had to put out some “baksheesh”. At Guatemala they sold us a “license” which meant that we would be able to go right through the Central American countries without paying anything more or having to deal with importing the car at each border – didn’t work. At El Salvador/Honduras they insisted that our vehicle registration document was not proof of ownership and we were “fined”. At Honduras/Nicaragua after driving for hours over the mountains in the dark and having been checked thoroughly by the customs an “official” with rope across the mountain road in a rain storm threatened us with a complete turnout of the vehicle or a “fine” – no receipt of course. At Nicaragua/Costa Rica we had the whining, begging dwarf clinging to JC’s leg asking for money and the stinking jail where they were keeping sex offenders! At all borders in Central American we had to “tip” someone to keep an eye on the vehicle whilst we went off to deal with the paperwork. Patience is definitely a virtue in all of these situations, the louder you shout the less you get done. Sometimes, I wondered if we had been able to speak the language better we would have got on better but at the other times, I think if we had had a full scale argument our crossings would have been even slower.
We had a couple of “fines” from police along the way but generally speaking the police, especially in Peru, were very friendly and welcomed us to their countries.
Sure, somedays you get homesick and ask yourself “what am I doing here” but that’s usually after a long tiring day on the road with no decent or safe place to stop for the night and things always look better with the dawn of the new day and the excitement of moving on to a new adventure.
Like many other travelers we have met along the way, it is the days with problems that stick in our memories when the routine days are forgotten and it is usually the people who have helped us on those days. From the Mexican policeman who could have given us a fine for going through a red light but smiled, directed us to our hotel in Mexico City and waved us on, to the German couple who guarded the ATM machine where my card was stuck whilst we went to try and sort it out on a Saturday but especially H and Daniel who rescued us from the side of the road in Quito when we were broken down on a Saturday night , things always happen on a Saturday, and looked after us whilst we were there. Good things come from bad.
When people ask us “What was your favourite, country, state, city……?” we can’t answer. Each place has been different with its own individual charms and it would not be comparing apples with apples. On a journey that has taken us over high mountain ranges, through deserts, rainforests, salt flats icefields, to glaciers, unforgettable Mayan and Inca ruins and the seemingly never ending gravel roads of Argentina and Chile. Each day has brought us something different to our lives, whether it’s the vast beauty of the landscapes or a simple smile and greeting from the wonderful people we have met or spent time with along the way. To see the way in which they live and the simple pleasures they find, amongst the daily hardships of some of their lives,makes us grateful that we have had the fantastic opportunity of doing this trip and made us think about our own lifestyle.
Three most important things we have couldn’t have done without:
We each considered this for a long time. For JC it was Denise, the Toyota and BF Goodrich tyres. Do you think he is doing a bit of creeping here? For me it would be the patience, a sense of humour and my hair straighteners – of course – what else??
Will we do another trip?
Yes, is the resounding reply from both of us. We have learned a great deal along the way and would be much better prepared. To those of you who have been inspired by our journeying – do it. The hardest part is making the decision to go. Everything else is much easier.
“Everyone with life runs a race with death. Death always wins. However, the triumph is during the race and not at the end!”
After the death of our “ship mate” Jean Marie this has particular meaning for us and we will continue to Explore! Dream! Discover! for as long as we are able.
Don’t worry- we will let you know when we are off again so that you can hopefully enjoy more of our traveller’s tales. Thanks for your messages and kind comments over the past ten months.