Brazil to Canada? Overland? Check!
It’s over. Mission accomplished. As planned, we have travelled from Brazil to Canada, via Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and the USA, without, I repeat, without boarding an aeroplane.
Our rather erratic meanderings (the plan was to generally head north…) meant we covered 33,386km. That’s the equivalent of more than four fifths of the distance around the Equator or approximately from the South Pole up to the North Pole and back down to the Equator again, as the crow flies. In other words, much farther than was necessary to simply reach Canada overland from Brazil. But travel shouldn’t be about getting from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible. It should be about savouring the journey itself, taking in the views, tasting the foods and meeting the people. It’s also about stoicism, resilience and learning to ignore your budget.
Of our 207 days on the road, we spent 570 hours on the move; of those, 433 hours were spent on roads, 64 on rail and 73 on water. That adds up to some very numb bums. Central and North American transport brought welcome relief to the endless buses of South America (271 hours on 31 buses including 12 night buses). The relatively compact and watery nature of Central America meant shorter bus journeys (although poorer quality buses), more boats and no night buses. North America brought with it the train, by far the most agreeable form of long distance transport, in my ever-humble opinion. Amtrak and VIA Rail are grossly underappreciated and underused in the USA and Canada, which is all the more surprising as Greyhound buses (the only alternative as far as public transport is concerned) are the most abhorrent form of transport in all of the Americas, if not the world.
The longest journey as far as time is concerned was the yacht from Colombia to Panama; 48 hours to cover approximately 400km. It was also the most painful (vomiting over the edge into a churlish Caribbean sea) and the most rewarding (it took us to the San Blas Islands of Panama where we spent three blissful days snorkeling, sunbathing and eating fresh lobsters). As far as distance covered in one journey, the longest leg was from Jasper to Winnipeg, Canada: 1,706km over 22 hours, by train.
Unusual forms of transport experienced include the many ascensors in Valparaiso, a Pulmonia (a kind of souped-up golf buggy that ferries locals and tourists alike) in Mazatlan, Mexico, a rip-roaring ride on a Ducati Monster through the hills of Boquete, Panama, a rickshaw between the border posts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua (totally unnecessary but very fun), cantering along a sandy beach in Manzanillo, Costa Rica, a chair lift (not wearing skis) to the snowy slopes of Blackcomb, BC, and a zipline in Manitoba, Canada.
Plushest forms of transport were the luxury private motorboat used to carry us across the Caribbean from Belize City to St George’s Caye Resort, Sleeper Tourer class train from Vancouver to Winnipeg with VIA Rail, and a kayaking and camping trip in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, with motorboat support, chef, port-a-loo and tents with skylights.
It wasn’t all about the road. We did stop occasionally, sleeping in 114 beds over 207 nights: an average of 1.8 nights per destination. That includes 15 night buses, one overnight ferry, three night trains and five nights on a yacht. In other words, utterly exhausting.
As expected, many of the most memorable experiences of the trip involved transport in some form or other. Not to diss the museums and restaurants, but whilst eating fresh prawn ceviche on a Peruvian beach with the sand between your toes is hard to beat, touching a wild baby grey whale from a tiny motor boat in San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico, really does take gold. Likewise, if I had to choose to between hurtling on a bicycle down the world’s most dangerous road, in Bolivia, or pottering around Buenos Aires’ remarkable antiques shops once more, I’d take that deliciously stomach-churning rush of movement every time.
Would I do it again? Not a chance. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Do I recommend the experience? Oh yes.
See related features and images
The Ten Commandments for night bus travellers
How to travel between Colombia and Panama
Images: Panama – San Blas Islands (Kuna Ayala)
Video: Riding an ascensor in Valparaiso, Chile
Review: The Family runs wild at La Patita de Manzanillo, Costa Rica, an outside-in house
Ziplining in Manitoba, Canada: Hy-Wire Zipline Adventures
Review: St George’s Caye Resort, Belize
Sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Images: Mexico – Baja whale watching
The world’s most dangerous road, by bike and bus