38 Pub2Pub Adventure
Driving nearly 40 000km… for a beer?
IT’S happened to us all. You’re sitting in the bar, the hours have been rolling past and the evening is gradually becoming a blur. Road trips are the subject of conversation and you’re shooting the breeze with ideas for the next adventure. And then an idea so outrageous comes along, it hits you like a sledgehammer. An idea that changes your life. For me, the idea was simple. I wondered whether it’d be possible to drive from the northernmost pub in the world, to the southernmost.
The idea seemed of such genius that it refused to go away. Maps were perused, the internet browsed, and a route between these two arbitrary points on the Earth’s surface made itself known A 40 000km route across three continents, from the high Arctic to the southernmost tip of the Americas.
But what car to take on this almighty illadvised odyssey?
Well, having already driven across Africa in a Porsche, and Asia in a Corvette, it had to be something low-slung and pointy. Glancing out of the window at the TVR Chimaera I had sitting in the parking lot, the plan was formed.
FANCY A PINT THEN?
The starting point was a bar at Pyramiden; an abandoned Soviet mining settlement 1 120km from the North Pole, and to reach this lofty latitude required a 4 800km drive from England to Northern Norway, before boarding a flight to the High Arctic island of Svalbard.
In that initial week-long push north of nearly 5 000km, the TVR showed its grand touring credentials, proving a comfortable and effortless place to cover long distances.
After popping up to Pyramiden for a beer, all roads lead south.
We cruised down through Norway’s kaleidoscope of mountains and fjords, re-crossed the Arctic Circle and rolled on to Sweden, where the landscape’s oscillations reduced as Scandinavia’s southern reaches beckoned.
Northern Europe then passed beneath our unexpectedly reliable wheels, punctuated with visits to various points of interest along the way.
Points like Ferropolis, where retired behemoths of the open cast mining world and the Nürburgring, which needs no introduction.
And then, in Southampton, with 10 000km completed, the expedition went transatlantic, with the TVR being shipped to the new world.
JUST SHIP IT
We were reunited a few weeks later, 5 600km away in the salubrious surroundings of the port of New Jersey. Getting the car across the Atlantic to the US hadn’t been the easiest of jobs. There were customs documents to complete, port and shipping fees to pay, insurance to arrange, and all the uncertainty which comes with international shipping.
When I went to the port, I was wondering whether all the effort would be worth it. However, within 20 minutes of hitting the road, I knew the answer.
Rolling out of the port in one of the few TVRs in the US, roof-down as the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline flashed past the windows is a pretty serious life tick, and one I’d recommend to anyone.
And so began our Chimaera’s extended vacation on the American landmass.
Under a continuous barrage of thumbs up from appreciative locals, we put the New York skyline in our rear-view mirror and set off east, first to Washington, then on to West Virginia’s Skyline Drive and Appalachian Mountains, where fine driving roads lie neutered by a 35 miles per hour (56km/h) speed limit.
Such restrictions are doubly frustrating when you need to push on to catch a total solar eclipse in Tennessee, but we made it in time to experience one of nature’s most ethereal spectacles, before striking out along the I-40, our V8 tune echoing across the dustbowl as we struck out west across Arkansas and Oklahoma, to Amarillo.
Where we dropped into a grassroots Sunday morning drag racing event and ran the quarter mile, proudly logging the slowest time of the day in the process.
They take their drag racing pretty seriously over in the States.
After Texas, the landscape stepped up a gear, morphing into the American West we all know from a thousand movies. And we weren’t afraid to knock off a few clichés. Roof down in Monument Valley? Tick. Cruising down the Vegas strip? Yep, that too. And how about popping up to Rachel, Nevada, tucked away next to Area 51 and home to many an alien conspiracy theory? Of course, it had to be done.
Death Valley then beckoned. That’s Death Valley in midsummer. All 50°C of it, and the toughest test yet for the TVR. However, Blackpool’s finest took the arid, salty landscape in its stride, with no overheating even on the corrugated tracks that criss-cross the eerie moonscape.
The forest fires of Yosemite were next on the list, and it was a haunting world of smoky silence through which we passed on the way to San Francisco. And then we lived the Californian dream: dicing with Porsche 911s on the Big Sur, camping among the Joshua Trees of the desert, and rolling through Beverley Hills with the roof down.
But all the while, as we enjoyed the US, we could feel the jungles of Central America calling; a beckoning which drew us to make fast progress south, to Mexico. Crossing the border, everything changed. The traffic bustled around us chaotically, kicking up dust between the battered buildings. Police pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns proliferated, and army vehicles edged through the melee. But what about us, in our shouty green sports car? Yep, we suddenly felt rather conspicuous as we hurried south.
Hurrying south entailed crossing vast grassy plains and snaking through mountain ranges to the Pacific beaches around Mazatlán, then on to the Mayan ruins which erupt from the jungle across Central America.
Road conditions deteriorated, with gaping potholes and mountainous speedbumps slowing our progress, while we were further delayed by the regular police checkpoints, which all seemed to show a predictable interest in the little green car from England.
But we continued to make progress. With Mexico behind us, Belize and Guatemala were swiftly traversed before we got the hammer down to make rapid progress across two countries which currently tie for the title of ‘murder capital of the world’: El Salvador and Honduras.
Emerging unscathed, Nicaragua greeted us with relative calm, and our pace slowed as we enjoyed the faded colonial splendour of Leon and Granada, the volcano vibes of Ometepe, and the chance to change the TVR’s tired clutch in Managua, the only major job our steed required while on the road. But this smooth progress and tranquillity proved
to be the calm before the storm.
Costa Rica was the next country on our trip down Latin America. And Costa Rica has a real aversion to right hand drive vehicles. Such an aversion, they’re actually banned from the roads there. To get around this, we arranged for a truck to take our mighty steed across the country to Panama. However, when the truck arrived, we found it didn’t have the correct paperwork to complete the international transit.
The situation deteriorated further when Nicaragua refused us re-entry.
For eight days we were stuck between the two borders, trying to find a way to move forwards or back. We investigated the laws that were stranding the car, and the issues that had torpedoed the lorry transit.
We spoke to customs, to police, to fixers and friends. And eventually, we found another lorry going in the right direction, loaded the car, completed the paperwork, and rolled into the Costa Rican night. Panama was next. And as Costa Rica’s customs had complained to Panama about the TVR’s (completely legal) passage, Panama decided it wasn’t going to welcome a right-hand drive vehicle either, and refused permission to unload the vehicle.
More hours of gridlock followed, more negotiations with aloof customs officers until it was clear that in their eyes, the car was going nowhere. Fortunately, however, the expedition had made some Panamanian friends in high places and, in the end, we were able to secure the TVR’s entry into Panama. It’s amazing how helpful border officials can be when the office of the vice president calls up and ‘suggests’ they let the little English car in.
Back on the road for the first time in 11 days, we cruised through verdant countryside to Panama City, a dynamic melting pot groaning under the weight of its traffic jams. And then, after a few days spent enjoying the scenery, it was time to drop off the TVR ready for its next sea passage: a few hundred miles past the impenetrable Darién Gap, to Colombia.
Our first country in South America offered up pleasure and pain in equal measure. Pleasure from the wonderful people, glorious landscapes, enchanting towns and a classic car culture which was as vibrant as it was unexpected.
But this was balanced by the other side of the coin. A road network contorted by the twisting
mountains, on which a 32km/h average speed is something to be cherished, and a political landscape which, despite the current stability, leaves you with an unsettling feeling anything could happen in an instant.
After two weeks drifting south through the mountainous jungle, we arrived at the Ecuadorian border.
And during the all-too-short week we spent there, Ecuador threw up surprise after surprise. Moments like dropping out of the twisting chaos of Quito, to be greeted by the 5 900m high pyramid of the Cotopaxi volcano, shimmering in the dusk.
Or rocketing through the plunging canyons in the south of the country. Or even meeting up with the local Japanese Car Club, and their collection of pristine Datsun pick-ups in the town of Cuenca.
But as much as we wanted to linger, we could feel the call of the south, drawing us onwards to complete our mission. And so, we continued to Peru.
And Peru is big. Over 40 hours of driving lay between the border town of Huaquillas and the Bolivian frontier. And the first 20 of those hours would see us travelling through this diverse nation’s coastal desert. For several days we rolled through one of the driest landscapes on the planet, smooth tarmac slicing a route through the sand and rubbish which ended in our slipstream.
Lima was approached in the darkened chaos of the evening rush hour, and offered up a predictably churning melee of battered taxis to negotiate to get to our hostel. We were in Lima for a few days, as the second garage visit of the trip took place there.
Rough running on our way across Peru was diagnosed to some faulty resistors in the HT electrical circuit and a quick service completed, leaving the car ready for the final run down to the southernmost pub.
From Lima, a gentle coastal drive took us to Nazca, and that’s where our long drive across Peru took on a different dimension. The vertical dimension.
In a few short hours, a series of stacked hairpins and sweeping turns swept us up onto the Altiplano, where we found ourselves over four kilometres above sea level, cruising past snowcapped peaks, lonely lakes and herds of llamas, while marvelling at how the TVR had carried us this far.
It was rainy season on the Altiplano and we rolled on through the downpours towards Lake Titicaca, often being strafed by lightning in the lonely plains, while carefully negotiating the fatigued tarmac in the poor, run down settlements which bore witness to the TVR’s passage. Soon, the famous lake was shimmering on the horizon, its surface 3 812m above sea level.
We skirted around it to the south, finding our way to the Bolivian border, the wonderful vistas of Peru behind us.
For us, Bolivia offered two highlights. The first of these was the opportunity to drive the fabled Death Road, to the north of La Paz. This unlikely 64km passage drops from 4 700m to 1 300m, and for most of its distance, consists of a narrow gravel track, clinging to the edge of a cliff above a vertiginous drop.
Despite the rainy conditions and rough surface, the TVR took its journey down one of the world’s most infamous roads in its stride, being untroubled even by the small rivers it was required to wade through as the altitude dropped.
Bolivia’s second highlight was the largest salt flat on the planet: the endless expanse of the Salar de Uyuni.
When we visited, the flats were flooded with an inch of water, turning the expanse into the largest mirror in the world. The sky was reflected beneath us, the horizon disappeared, and with no other visual cues, the feeling of driving through the sky was one of the most surreal motoring experiences of my life.
From Uyuni, 192km of gravel tracks led to the Chilean border, where we crossed into the penultimate country of our journey to the southernmost bar.
And Chile welcomed us with the driest landscape on Earth: The Atacama Desert. For a thousand miles, we passed through a world which was bleached dry of life as it baked beneath the sun. But eventually, the colour green made a dappled reappearance and one of the most evocative landscapes of them all rolled across the horizon. Patagonia. Like every landscape in South America, Patagonia is big. For day after day we cruised across its vastness on Argentina’s famous Ruta 40, crossing vast plains with the Andes shimmering to our left. The landscape’s magnificent monotony had a glorious talent for making you feel small, and every glance at the map emphasised we were nearing our destination, as South America narrowed around us, and the churning seas of Cape Horn swept closer.
It was to these seas we had to take to reach the southernmost bar, as it was located on the island of Puerto Williams, near the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego.
And so we did, sailing for a day and a half along narrow channels hemmed in by mountains and history.
The Straits of Magellan, Drake’s passage, then finally the Beagle channel were put behind us, before our destination came into view, with 32 000km of driving standing between us and our northernmost point.
And I can tell you, beers don’t get much more satisfying than that pint at the end of the world.
More information: pub2pubexpedition.com
Opposite page: Crossing the Arctic Circle while heading up through Norway, on the way to the northernmost bar.Above: Exploring Germany’s mining past among the open cast mining behemoths of Ferropolis, near Berlin. Below: Leaving the tarmac to explore the Valley of the Gods, in Utah, USA.
Opposite page: Delicate Arch, in Arches national park. The symbol of Utah. Clockwisefrom right: Parked beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, having driven 4 000 miles (6 400km) across the USA from New York to get there.Dropping into the world’s longest running Cars & Coffee meet in Phoenix, Arizona. Walking into the sunset by the Pacific Ocean, at San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico. Smoke from a multitude of forest fires drifts across the 3 000ft sheer face of El Capitan, Yosemite, California.
Left: A grapic illustration of the route Ben drove from one pub to the other. He must have been really thirsty. Above: Sports car heaven. A glimpse of the amazing driving roads which climb up onto the Altiplano between Nazca and Cusco. Below: Exploring the historic streets of Cusco, near Machu Picchu, Peru.