38 Pub2Pub Ad­ven­ture

Driv­ing nearly 40 000km… for a beer?

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

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.

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