As our avid followers will remember, we were having trouble with our Canadian Working Visa application, (taking too long to process, having to pay fees again, having to resubmit information, having to have a medical examination back in the UK etc etc), so in the end, after much deliberation and soul searching, we decided to ditch it. After all, our original reasons for living and working in Canada were centred around a ‘change of scenery’ which our 18 months travel has given us without having to settle down in another country. Working and living in Vancouver, Canada would have been a wonderful opportunity if it had come off, but the bureaucracy surrounding the application made it virtually impossible for us to take it forward while we were on the move. The time had passed, but we were happy in the knowledge that we were returning home after 18 months on the road, having travelled from the tip of Argentina all the way to Canada.
Having got to Canada, we spend our days in the freezing cold of Quebec, trying to warm the cockles with nothing more than copious amounts of tea. A few warm red wines went down well, and by this time we were back on the French reds rather than the Argentinian Malbec. But the States were calling again, and our flight back to Europe from New York was leaving in a week.
Handing back the fuel-guzzling U-Haul van was a delight, and changing vehicle to a sporty little Mazda number was amusing! Chloe had to drive because Chris felt like a hairdresser otherwise, so packing all our worldly belongings into the tiny boot, we sped towards the frozen coast to sample some classic North American lobster while sat looking over the icy bays and shrink wrapped yachts of New England.
The weirdest thing was that almost everything was shut. Beautiful seaside resorts that admittedly are quiet in the winter, were all closed up for the season. Signs on windows of cafes, shops and B&Bs said ‘See you in the Spring’… not much use to us in the middle of January I must say.
Out of ideas, we realized we would have to return to the cities to actually find anywhere to stay, so off we trotted down the coast to Boston to spend a few nights there, Couch Surfing with a wonderful guy, John. As a city, Boston is beautiful. Wonderfully diverse, old and new buildings mixed in together, with a plethora of restaurants, cafes and bars to suit every taste. We wined and dined in speciality fish restaurants, jazz clubs and gay piano bars and it was amazing! A far cry from the adobe huts of Peru and Bolivia…. A totally different World.
Something interesting about Boston – they dislike the ‘English’ almost as much as the Argentinians, and have the largest population of Irish outside of Ireland. The dislike of the English is attributed originally to the Redcoats, then the tyrannical rule of England over the people of New England. Boston bred the first bastion of hope of Independence and the Boston Tea Party, which eventually culminated in the rise of the resistance. That’s a start. Then, just to put a few more nails in the coffin, thousands upon thousands of Irish fled from Ireland to the safe haven of Boston during the potato famine when the ‘English’ refused to offer aid and left thousands of their fellow countrymen to die of starvation on the country lanes and in fields, while they searched for food. The ones who made it to Boston alive were the lucky ones.
This important – if you read only one thing in this blog-post, read this plaque….
Leaving Boston, feeling once again the heavy heart of past injustices dealt out by the English, we headed to New York to help lift the spirits. Not that Chris had a particularly heavy heart for the English – he joined in with the ‘raped and pillaged’ Scottish war cry!
Hitting the Big Apple, we had to take the car back to the hire company. So this was it. No more bikes or car, we truly were at the end of the road trip. And what better way to celebrate than have our last few days of the Americas in New York, New York!
A few days’ worth of sightseeing took us through Time Square, Little Italy, China Town, down to Ground Zero, up to Central Park, the Guggenheim and the Natural History Museum. We could have spend two days in the Natural History Museum, but after about six hours of looking at stuffed bears, dinosaur fossils, African art and space travel, we needed a break – too much education in one day can surely be a bad thing?!
Then came the day – the day we were flying out of JFK airport back to Europe. And what better way to celebrate than having a champagne breakfast, (well, a NY Bellini breakfast!), looking out over the yellow taxis and Central Park. The poached eggs on our ‘Norwegian Eggs Benedict’, were perfect, the hollandaise sauce creamy and delightful, and the Bellinis just superb. So much so that we polished off quite a few before we realised we were in danger of missing the airport shuttle due to dizzy misconception of time.
By the early hours of the following morning we were in Dublin airport, (so close to home!), waiting for our connecting flight to Belgium where we were to be reunited with our bikes! But as things go, the cargo ship had been delayed, so we had almost a week to spend with some Belgian friends we’d met on the trip. First off, Brussels to see Robbie and Roxane who we’d met way back in Argentina when we were building the straw-bale house near Mendoza, almost a year before.
Back in Europe, we were feeling a little deflated, but that soon changed once we saw Robbie and Roxane – we chatted about our joint ventures back in Argentina, their new ventures, and our plans. Roxane performed duties as tour guide around Brussels, and by jove, what a sight! Having spent 18 months travelling between modern cities, mud huts, deprived concrete slums and old Spanish colonial, the European Medieval suddenly emerged in all its glory. The ornate carvings, stained glass windows, gold leaf over everything and twiddly little spires just oozed European opulence!
And of course we had the coffee shops, chocolate shops and the infamous mussels-and-chips with a good ol’ Belgian beer!
Leaving Brussels, we then moved onto Gent where we met one of great travelling partners, Pete, formerly known as big Pete on the tiny 125 Honda. With Pete we had shared the ruins of Machu Picchu, mountain passes in the valley of the Incas, surfing in Huanchaco, ancient civilisations in Kuelap, waterfalls, insane river crossings, the driving rain and the stifling heat, as well as sharing a room for almost a month! Now, back in Belgium, Pete offered us his bed while he tried to stretch out on the sofa.
In our last few days while waiting for the bikes, Pete was a star. He took us on a guided tour of Bruges and amazingly knew a huge amount of its history, (knowledge retained from school trips apparently!), as well as showing us the delight of Gent’s Irish Pub interior, although that was at the request of Chris who needed to watch the Six Nations.
Gent is a hidden gem. Yes, Bruges is pretty, quaint, and now famous after the British dark comedy ‘In Bruges’ was filmed there, (which, if you haven’t seen, you must – it’s incredibly hilarious!), but to visit, it’s a bit too twee! Whereas Gent has so much more life and vibrancy to it, and that’s not just in the Irish pub. Set on a canal, the medieval merchant’s houses flank the cobbled tow-path, ancient castles, churches, cathedrals and weathered store houses all huddle together into an ancient yet rough-and-ready focal point for the community. When we were with Pete in Peru, he had said that Gent had so much more to offer than Bruges, but at the time, we didn’t really know what he was going on about. But now we know! Now we can see exactly what he was going on about – Gent is Bruges, but with some extra life and atmosphere about it!
Eventually, after three and a half weeks without the bikes, the cargo ship decided to turn up in Zeebrugge and good ol’ Pete helped us lug all our kit over to the port, sort all our paperwork out with us, chat to the guys at customs, and generally made our life a hell of a lot easier! Thanks Pete, you’re a star!
Saying goodbye to Pete at the passenger ferry terminal in Zeebrugge really was like the end of an era. The end of the trip, the end of spending time with new friends, and the real beginning of the journey home. We would be getting off the ferry back on home turf, in Hull, (of all the wonderful places to arrive back into the country!), ready to ride across the M62 towards Manchester and Bolton.
Disembarked and back on home turf, we kitted up, bracing ourselves against the cold and damp. Okay, so Argentina was cold, Chile was cold, the States were freezing, but this! British cold is unlike any other – cold and grey, miserable and damp, seeping into the bones! But we’re used to it right. So we togged up and got going, determined not to get stuck in rush hour traffic through Hull, which we inevitably did. The M62 was a quiet reminder of home, the moors, the wind and the rain being more in our face at that point in time.
A quick stop off at Adventure Bike Warehouse, to see our wonderful sponsors, and a brew or two later we were back on the road – the final leg. The call had been made to Chloe’s mum – we’d be 20 minutes, get the kettle on!
We would have only been 20 minutes until tragedy struck one final time! One final time, only 10 miles away from home, Chloe’s bike broken down AGAIN! Temperature warning light came on and the radiator fluid flooded the road… hmmm hasn’t the exact same thing happened before…? YES, in Guatemala only what seemed like a few weeks ago! Why now! Do you not even want to get home, you bloody bike?!
So, having tried to fix it at the side of the road, given up, rolled it back down the hill back to Adventure Bike Warehouse, abandoned it, and then rode home on one bike, the Welcome Home party, (Chloe’s Mum & Dad), were almost ready to call the hospitals and the police. After riding around the Americas with hardly any contact, the one phone call Chloe makes to say we’ll be home in 20 minutes sends the parents into a state of panic when, one hour later, we were still not home!
So, over an hour later, we limped home, up the drive on one bike, tired, exhausted and, after 18 months in foreign lands, definitely ready for a proper good cuppa!
Thanks to everyone who has supported us by reading the blog, emailing us, meeting us on the road and being our friend. Family and friends at home have been amazing, new friends have been fabulous. The genuine love, help and friendship we have found while on this journey has been amazing. One of a kind.
Very surprisingly not dropped bike for at least a month Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Although not surprisingly, bike broken, again! Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Fresh lobsters eaten Chloe 2 v 4 Chris
Layers of clothes worn at any one time Chloe 6 v 5 Chris
Number of different Belgian beers in one afternoon Chloe 5 v 7 Chris
Glasses of Bellini champagne cocktail for breakfast Chloe 4 v 4 Chris
Thus, sozzled Chloe 1 v 1 Chris
Thank you to those people who helped us with preparing the bikes and getting our kit together – Adventure Bike Warehouse, Tucano Urbano and Scottoiler. Thank you to Willie in Rio Grande who let us live in his house with him for four weeks after Chloe’s accident, Billy, who spent a huge amount of time helping her sort out hospitals, MRI Scans and generally just being there, Ricardo for being the first on the scene, and all the other wonderful people of Rio Grande who chipped in to help us in our time of need. Thanks to everyone who let us stay with them out of sheer kindness, starting with Pedro and Marie in Buenos Aires province, and ending with Pete in Gent, and all those in between! And thank you to our dear friends in the Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora in Bolivia who took us in as one of their own – muchas graçias a todos!
And thank you for reading!
(AKA Rusty and Squeak)