Well since our last blog, things have changed dramatically and we have moved forward at the speed of light to what should be two months from now. We are now sat in a nice little B&B, looking out over the snow covered streets of Quebec Canada, watching the sparkling shapes of ice stars join together to take over the entire window pane. So let us tell why we are so far north when it seems we have only just left the warmth of the pacific coast of southern Mexico – And no, we did not fly!
Leaving San Miguel de Allende, we had decided that it was time to start making our way home. We would pass through the rest of Mexico within days to reach to USA, then make our way eastwards towards the north east of Canada where we could put the bikes on a cargo ship in Halifax, sending them back to Europe.
We passed through the north of Mexico without being jumped, kidnapped or forced to carry drugs over the border, which was a happy relief, making it into Texas fairly easily. By easily, I mean we didn’t have any problems with the officials, but we did have to cross the ‘invisible line’ several times before we managed to sign ourselves out of Mexico properly. We assume, naturally, that this is a deliberate ploy by the Mexican government to facilitate major problems if one wants to return to Mexico at some point in the future, therefore allowing the justification of bribes by immigration at that later date…!?! No? Perhaps we were just half asleep then.
We got a fair way into Texas that afternoon, stopping in a pretty Germanic town called Frederiksburg, just east of Austin. Exhausted from our long day, we merrily settled ourselves in a very homely little cabin that cost us over three times our usual budget. We didn’t care. We were too tired to worry about looking around, and the owner, Melanie, was so accommodating, we couldn’t decline. The draw of the hot tub was just too much!
Settling into our wine later that evening, we just had to accept that, nice as the ‘B&B’ cabin was, we just couldn’t be afford these sorts of prices up through the States and would have to buy a tent. What we didn’t know at the time was that the States were experiencing a bit of a mild heat wave. Or rather, a thawing out of the freezing cold.
The next morning, Melanie very kindly offered to let us stay a second night, at no extra cost! How wonderful! And how lovely of her! Okay, so the cost of the pricey cabin just halved, but even that was still over our budget – damn, we still needed to buy a tent.
Of course, the only place where you can buy anything in the States is Walmart. We wandered up and down the quaint high street, looking into shops full of ‘antiques’, nicks and knacks, and the like. But could we find any shops that sold anything useful? No.
We were told time and again, Walmart, Walmart, Walmart. So we gave in to that Godforsaken place and trudged through the doors of the hyper-hyper-market to go and find ourselves a cheap tent… “Yes madam, we have tents, they are on the aisle 14 with the fishing rods, between the diapers and the machine guns…” Oh…! Yes, Walmart sell guns. It’s like walking into Tesco and asking for a semi-automatic – Yes Sir, they’re over there, behind the pharmacy section…
Cheap tent in hand, we walked the mile and a bit back to the high street, on the road and across people’s lawns because there are no pavements, (nobody walks anywhere!), to a nice little bar where there was some live music and some good food for lunch. We sat outside, listened to the music and took in the fresh air before heading back to our quaint little cabin.
That night, the temperature dropped about 50 degrees. Somewhat surprised, we packed up the bikes, storing our newly bought tent on the back on Chris’s bike. That’s tonight’s accommodation sorted!
Two days later, we had still not used the tent. The temperature had plummeted even further. We were making about 50 miles in a whole morning’s ride because we kept having to stop to warm up our extremities which had frozen stiff in the space of 10 minutes flat. Then we found out that the temperature had actually dipped below zero, and with the wind chill factor, it must have felt about minus 15… no wonder we were freezing our bits off! Okay, that was enough. We weren’t getting anywhere fast and we were in danger of losing digits, so we stopped in a McDonalds for free WiFi, booked ourselves a van, and picked it up from around the corner! Easy as that!
Within an hour, we went from almost crying from the pain of the cold, to sitting in a nice cosy van with the heat blasting out! Amazing! Chris took the controls, Chloe took the map, and for the first time on the whole of the trip, we could actually sit next to each other and chat away, while on the road. The novelty of the situation lasted about 10 minutes before the reality of the fact that we were in a van sunk in.
We made quick progress in the van. We didn’t have to stop every five minutes to warm up, we could eat and drink while driving, (exciting new novelty!), and we could also steam on ahead in the wet, wind, rain and snow, in the dusk and in the dark. Indeed we had to make quick progress because the van rental was only contracted to us for eight days. We had paid a fortune for that, so any extra days would cost even more… Suddenly our five-to-six week’s road trip up through the States was going to be compacted into eight days.
We spoke to the shipping company in Halifax about bringing our dates forward – What was the availability on cargo ships leaving in the next few weeks…? There was a ship leaving on the 28th January, from Halifax to Zeebrugge (Belgium) that we could put the bikes on. They would however need our bikes in the port a week before, no later than the 22nd January. Wow, that was soon… but that was actually the eighth day of our rental, so we’d have to be there by then anyway. Five minutes later we had the bikes booked on the ship leaving Halifax on the 28th January. Crikey!
We steamed through the states, passing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia in three days. It was getting colder and colder, and our tent purchase seemed the more and more ridiculous!
We searched out the cheapest accommodation for the first couple of nights, cheap being not-so-cheap at $45. That price landed us in dreary motels with yellowing walls and stale smoke hanging in the air and seeping out of the soft furnishings. The ash tray next to the bed reminded us that the ‘no smoking in public places’ law has still not reached the States yet. Waking up with a stuffy nose, throaty cough and everything smelling of smoke wasn’t pleasant.
After that we decided to up our budget so we could at least go to some newer motels that had ‘non-smoking’ rooms. Ahhhh… I can now breathe again! That is surely worth blowing the budget for…!
End of day three in the van we get an email to ‘urgently phone the shipping agents’. Oh no… problems…! It turned out that the dates we had been given had changed… Nooooo….!!! The ship we were booked onto was now no longer scheduled to call at Halifax on that sailing. We would have to wait another two weeks for the next ship. Not good. Or, the alternative – pick up the ship in the port of Baltimore, just outside of Washington DC, leaving on the 27th January. But because of bank holidays and weekends, it would mean us dropping our bikes off no later than ‘tomorrow’…! Tomorrow…?! Looking at the map, we realised that we were only a few hours drive from Washington DC, and hence, also the port at Baltimore… my goodness, we could make it! So we phoned the agent back, explained the situation, and changed the booking for Baltimore, dropping off the bikes in the morning.
There was nothing else for it then. Only three hours away, we just had to make a trip into Washington DC and go and see if the President was home. We knocked, but he was busy… oh well!
The next morning we trundled to the port. Only one person per vehicle was allowed to enter the port, so Chloe got chucked out of the van and Chris continued on in, depositing our lifeless and empty bikes in a port side warehouse. A quick and untimely end to their adventure. They never made it to Canada, but we were still determined to make it, whether it be on two wheels or four!
Still with days and miles available on our already paid-for van; we said our farewells to the bikes and continued on northwards. As we no longer needed to be in Halifax, we decided to take a different route, north-west, through Pennsylvania and New York state to Niagara Falls, then onto the picturesque 1000 Islands region via the south side of Lake Ontario.
Temperatures were falling. Ice and snow began building up, and by the time we got to Niagara, we were worried it would all be frozen! Luckily there was still some water, but the river below was freezing over, creating an ice mountain at the base of the falls. It was at this point that Chris decided that he needed a warm winter coat, and his windproof riding jacket with a fine woollen v-neck jumper on underneath just wasn’t going to be enough!
At this point we are talking minus 20 degrees air temperature….. fair point – I suppose we’ll let him get away with that one then!
After seeing Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil, one really does think “poor Niagara”….
Back on the road towards Canada, we decided we’d put off crossing the border a little longer, turned away from the bridge crossing at Niagara and drove along the south side of Lake Ontario towards 1000 Islands.
And yes! That is where the 1000 Island salad dressing comes from!
After driving around the lovely but deserted tourist town of Alexandria for enough time to know that absolutely every single hotel, motel, B&B and hostel was closed for the season, we went back out onto the main road to find ourselves another typical roadside motel. But this time we weren’t disappointed… the rooms were newly refurbished, smoke free and there was a ‘local’ next door.
A local where we could meet the real country people of America. So that’s where we met Curt, Curt’s lovely wife, Ben and Wanda. And that is where Curt introduced Chris to ‘Quick Draw’ gambling…! This game is on the TV all night, and is a lottery with numbers changing every three minutes. Madness. As you can imagine, Chris took to it like a kid in a sweetie shop. The fact that he came away at the end of the night $60 up kept his spirits high for at least an hour….! Just don’t mention that he actually spent $50 out of his wallet along the way…! We’re still up though!
Next morning we made the plunge and crossed the bridge into CANADA!!! Woohoo! We made it! From Argentina to Canada – we’ve done it, mission accomplished! Just don’t mention the bikes….!
So. We are here. In a van with nothing in the back but some dry bags with our kit in them… We’ve now made it to Quebec where the temperature is minus 40 degrees C.
Chris has now bought himself a big down jacket and Chloe has dusted off the one she bought in Chile 12 months ago. Our Spanish is completely useless and our middle-school French isn’t good enough. What an ending!
Anyone want to buy a tent?!
But it’s not quite the end yet. We still have a couple more weeks before we fly home. In the meantime, we will be out enjoying the below freezing temperatures in Quebec, slipping up in Spanish, saying “sí” instead of “oui”, and “gracias” instead of “merci”, (both of which have already happened numerous times), and the best bit – finally being able to eat some decent cheese!! Viva Quebec!
Nights spent in crap cheap tent Chloe 0 v 0 Chris
Hamburgers eaten since entering the USA Chloe 5 v 4 Chris
Salad or vegetables eaten since entering the USA Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Times said “parlez-vous anglais?” in two days Chloe 8 v 2 Chris
Been pulled over speeding in the van Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Snapped off door handle to van Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
. . . . . ANYONE NEED AN ARCHITECT (OR TWO?!)