Crossing the International Date Line en route from Honolulu to Sydney means we are just half way on our round-the-world adventure, with four months of travels in Australia and Asia to look forward to.
Jumping 20 hours ahead was a new experience for Roger, whilst Hilary crossed the Date Line in the opposite direction 30 years ago.
On our oneworld economy round-the-world tickets, it was good to swap American Airlines for Quantas. Even on the six hour flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii, the American carrier offered no free food. In comparison, on this flight, we enjoyed two cooked meals, healthy fruit, ice cream and a free bar.
We’re on the 6.30am Amtrak from Vancouver to Seattle. Our first train travel of the gap year.
We sat as advised; facing forward on the right hand side. The Pacific views were beautiful. Children waved to the train as they collected pebbles on the stony beaches. Eagles flew with us along the creeks.
This was train travel with an American twist. Idiosyncratic guards, long waits for goods trains, maximum speeds of about 50 mph and constant hooting to warn people off the line. Oh and at either end, near deserted stations; not many people take the train. In fact the whole affair seemed like a heritage ride – run by keen enthusiasts for tenacious travellers.
For us the Mobi Bike network was the best way to see Vancouver. Over two days we cycled 27km around Stanley Park, False Creek, Gastown and Downtown.
We created an account online, linked it to a credit card and set up a PIN to key into the bikes. It was a joy to cycle on pathways separated from cars. In this respect, Vancouver is as cycle-friendly as Copenhagen and much better than London.
All cities need to develop imaginative game-changing plans to increase bike usage. That means creating safe bike routes, integrating with other forms of public transport and launching bike share schemes like Vancouver’s.
So far this year, there have been some 280,000 bike rides over one of the main Vancouver bridges. That’s 280,000 less car journeys.
Ifyouplantodothis To save costs, the key thing is to cycle in bursts of under 30 minutes between docking stations. That way we paid an upfront fee of 2×7.50 CAD for 24 hours use of two bikes and only paid an extra 5 CAD when Roger’s cycle around Stanley Park exceeded the 30 minutes free limit. A corresponding quote for two half days from a bike hire shop was around 80 CAD.
This is why we’ve come to Canada. A lone road through majestic unspoilt scenery.
So pleased we saw the heart of the Canadian Rockies a couple of days after a heavy snowstorm. The scale dramatised. The isolation intensified. The wildness of Banff and Jasper National Parks takes the breath away.
Completed in 1940, The Icefield Parkway (part of Highway 93) runs for 230 kilometres from just north of Lake Louise to Jasper and is often described as one of the world’s great drives. But it’s crowded in the summer and often closed in the winter, so we were lucky to have such a clear run.
Along the scenic route we walked on frozen lakes, trekked through forests, and visited near secret gorges.
We spent a day driving the historic “Mother Road” through stretches of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Not far – maybe 40 miles – as we explored landmarks along the way and enjoyed long chats with many welcoming folk.
“The Main Street of America” was designed to connect the small towns of middle America with Chicago and Los Angeles. With vast numbers of refugees moving west in the 1930s, it was made famous by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
Today, the route gets you off the Interstate turning the clock back.
We’re not car or driving nuts, so it was the people and their buildings we delighted in. For example, in Galena, the Kan-O-Tex gas station has been lovingly restored. Linda told us it was here Pixel got inspiration for their Cars character “Mater”.
In Commerce, Treva and son Charles run the Dairy King in their restored 1927 Marathon station. They love staging weddings here and meeting the thousands of Route 66 Cruisers who stop by each year.
If you plan to do this Be sure to buy upfront the EZ66 guide from Jerry McClanahan. Junction-by-junction it navigates you along the route which today is a string of many different types of roads. We would have got hopelessly lost and missed many of the historic sights without it.
The two backpacks looked incongruous in the boot of our hire car. We were unleashed; free to pull out of the airport and hit the freeway. A culture shock.
Interstate 45 took us south. Cars, manicured lawns, roadside churches and giant signage was the new landscape of our travels. But, after 13 weeks of struggling to speak Spanish, it’s the human interactions that had changed. The lad serving us in Subway loved the way Roger requested gherkins rather than pickles. The man at the RV park said At least you’re not THAT woman when Hilary (one l) introduced herself. And the young woman at the motel in Huntsville gave us the classic Texan welcome of How y’all.
In the town centre bar Hilary had a Pina Colada and Roger a beer. On the giant tvs two live baseball matches were being screened. The beach in Costa Rica seemed along way away, but this was another type of freedom.
Most countries in South America, including Venezuela, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, have no functioning passenger railways at all. (Except for the odd small tourist track.) It’s a tragedy which must massively impact their economies.
It wasn’t always like this; most of these countries had flourishing railways back in Victorian times; many built using British engineers, finance and design. But for various historic, political and geographic reasons they have fallen apart over the last century.
Countries chose different gauge size on their tracks which didn’t make joining up easy. The environment, including the rains in Ecuador and the mountains in Chile, took its toll and most countries prioritised freight over passenger services.
In Asuncion we saw the disused main railway station which is now a museum and in Uruguay we have just seen a museum of old railway carriages. So all we have now are the relics and the promise of what might have been.
We’re on another all-night bus, this time from Posadas (across the river from Paraguay) to Buenos Aires. And for the first time we booked full cama which means our seats recline to nearly 180 degrees, we get airline quality food and a choice of free drinks including ‘Argentinian champagne’.
Since we landed at Santiago on January 4th, we’re travelled some 5500 miles through Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil and the vast majority of this mileage has been on eight all-night bus journeys. This latest is 14 hours but our longest was 25 hours.
Hilary tends to curl up and sleep well but Roger finds himself listening to podcasts until the early hours – eventually the sweet tones of Melvyn Bragg and his academics on InOurTime gets him to sleep.
In the absence of any rail systems, it’s this network of privately run luxury buses that keep these countries moving. For eight weeks they have become part of our lives – checking our bags into the back and getting security tickets for them, getting annoyed by the violent videos they often show, taking exercise and stretching wherever we can despite the glares of the conductors who want you to stay on their bus.
If you plan to do this – always book up your next journey as soon as you arrive at a new destination; on many routes – particularly in the Patagonia region – buses were booked up days in advance. Also this way you can reserve a better seat – stay away from the loos, whilst the seats upstairs by the stairwell have extra leg room.
So how did you spend Valentine’s evening? Cosy evening in. Dinner out. Or dancing all night?
We were on the overnight bus journey from Salta to Formosa. We loved the views from the front seats but not the temperatures when the air conditioning broke down and we all had to switch to another bus.
Somehow we managed to get some sleep, and after 15 hours travelling across the north of Argentina we arrived in Formosa at 7am today – see main image.
This is the seventh overnighter we’ve had so far on South American buses. Although starting to wear us out, travelling by night is essential to cover long distances effectively.