This book seemed a “must-read” after writing “Tschiffley’s Epic Equestrian Ride” and my 15,000-mile trek through Latin America, “Traveling Solo,” which is part of my new book, My Saddest Pleasures. Cahill takes us on a “hellarious” trek with professional long-distance driver Garry Sowerby from the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego to the northernmost point of the Dalton Highway in Alaska in a record-breaking 23 ½ days (which allowed them to convince Guinness Believe It Or Not” to underwrite the trip, as well as confirm their record) …..and they convinced corporate sponsor GMC to give the Sierra truck and support the entire journey.
I’m a big fan of lists of challenges one will face on the way, as they are both revealing and humorous:
Dodge gasoline bandits for fun and profit!
Outrun drunken bus drivers on slippery mountain roads!
Thrill to mind-numbing poverty and desperation!
Zorro Uzi-toting terrorists in remote jungle locales!
Enjoy the staccato sounds of exotic war zones!
Joke with armed teenaged soldiers!
Experience the excitement of an automatic weapon at your neck!
Join the gay, mad festivities inside typical Peruvian jail!
And yet their record-breaking pace is contrary to what much of Latin America’s culture and values are about, and you miss so much. I felt sorry for Cahill and Sowerby and wanted to tell them to take a few days off to explore unique places like Buenos Aires and Guatemala City, which they barely mentioned. However, they did have a meal at my favorite steak house, “Rodeo,” in Guatemala City. The author describes their diet for three weeks: “…We would, out of relentless necessity, live on coffee, beef jerky, and milkshakes”.
Although they occasionally stayed at luxurious hotels due to their corporate connections, they spent most of their nights driving or sleeping in the back of the truck! As someone who suffers from claustrophobia, I wanted to see them at least take a stroll in one of the many spectacular parks or colonial boulevards they drove by.
The author aptly describes the final irony of the adventure-driving business, “The essence of our adventure was to avoid adventure at all costs” to stay on schedule and according to the master plan.
And yet, the most significant barrier to meeting their goal of traversing Latin America in the least amount of time was passing through a dozen borders by land. Each crossing had a limitless array of differing regulations and laws guarded by undertrained soldiers, usually heavily armed. I experienced this in the early 1980s while passing into Nicaragua from Honduras. I was told I needed to return to Guatemala City to obtain the necessary smallpox vaccination—a vaccine which had been discontinued in 1973 and the disease eradicated worldwide in 1980…fortunately, my Guatemalan partner took the time to sort out the “misunderstanding” and work out an acceptable solution (a bribe).
The author had a seamless strategy of border crossing based on their many corporate connections. Upon arriving at the Canadian embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, they would pick up official letters of introduction from Nicaragua and Honduras. And someone was waiting for them on the southern border of Honduras, “With the seemingly unhurried help of Luis, we cleared customs and assembled a Russian novel’s worth of paperwork in the hours between six in the morning and noon. Six hours to write War and Peace…”
Halfway through the book, I was thrilled to come across my two favorite authors on Latin America, Tom Miller (Panama Hat Trail) and Moritz Thomsen (Living Poor). They presented the dangerous world of bus transportation in Latin America. Miller advised his readers that the driver’s sobriety isn’t a factor, but the presence of his wife or girlfriend is.
She will usually sit immediately behind him, next to him, or on his lap if she’s alone. He will want to impress her with his daring at the wheel, but he will also go to great lengths not to injure her. If he has no girlfriend or wife, the chances of a gorge-dive increase.
Moritz Thomsen was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador who stayed to farm the land and listened to his neighbor’s endless bus-plunge stories in his classic book, Living Poor. One story reveals that when an Ecuadorian bus driver runs off the road and kills several passengers without killing himself, he immediately goes into hiding. And “There are rumors of whole villages down in the far reaches of the Amazon basin populated almost entirely by retired bus drivers.”
The authors follow the Pan-American Highway on their 15,000-mile trek, a network of roads stretching across the Americas for 19,000 miles. According to the Guinness World Records, the roads link almost all the Pacific coastal countries of the Americas and, according to the Guinness World Records, are the world’s longest “motorable road.” And what made it such a challenge for Cahill and Sowerby was its passing through diverse climates and ecological types—ranging from dense jungles to arid deserts to high barren tundra.
The author describes it as a form of entertainment. “Whole families—men, women, toddlers—stood on the side of the road, watching semis howl by two feet from their faces. Children dodged traffic for fun and kicked soccer balls to one another across the Pan-American.”
The one 66-mile gap is a rainforest break across the border between southeast Panama and northwest Colombia, called Darién Gap. The last town in Colombia is the first outpost in Panama, which is a challenging, dangerous hike of at least four days through one of the rainiest places on earth. The notion of an Inter-American highway linking countries in North, Central, and South America is a “gringo” idea.
The author has traveled to Panama several times over the years and provides a plausible explanation for this gap in the road despite the many technological advances in road building over the years. The “official” reason for the gap in the roadless wilderness is that South American cattle have the hoof-and-mouth disease. A more realistic explanation is, “…Why build a road for the convenience of paid assassins?” That seemed to be the attitude. So the gap was there because the Panamanian people didn’t want a road—and according to the author, General Noriega didn’t want a road.
“Conde Nast Traveler” sums up what makes this book special, “Droll, wonderfully quirky…Tim Cahill [has] the what-the-hell adventurousness of a T. E. Lawrence and the humor of a P.J. O’Rourke.” And the author follows the definition of “adventure travel,” which is anything that’s more fun to read about than to endure yourself.
Cahill attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a swimming scholarship. His epic trip from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, is the source material for this book. He has written several books, such as Wolverine is Eating My Leg, Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, and Buried Dreams. He is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Adventure magazine.
Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s worked with groups like CARE and MAP International, Food for the Hungry, Make-A-Wish International, and was the CEO of Hagar USA.
His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association. According to the Midwest Review, “…is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery.”
His articles have been published in Ragazine and WorldView Magazines, Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Quail BELL. At the same time, the Solas Literary Award recognized two essays, including a Bronze award, in this year’s “Best Travel Writing” adventure travel category. Two of his essays were winners at the Arizona Authors Association Literary Competition, and another was recently published in ELAND Press’s newsletter. He’s a contributing writer for “Revue Magazine” and the “Literary Traveler.” His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter. He’s working on his next book, Moritz Thomsen, The Best American Travel Writer No One’s Heard Of. He continues to produce a documentary on indigenous rights and out-migration from Guatemala, “Trouble in the Highlands.” His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at www.MillionMileWalker.com.
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (March 3, 1992)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0394758374
- ISBN-13 : 978-0394758374
- Item Weight : 2 ounces
- Dimensions : 2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #353,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1,193 in Humor Essays (Books)
- #1,330 in Travel Writing Reference
- #1,486 in Travelogues & Travel Essays
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