Trip For A Lifetime
By Jeff Tresselt
Driving from the coastal deserts of southern Peru up into the Andes to Lake Titicaca and crossing over into Bolivia sounded so cool and looked so easy on the map a few months ago when we were tentatively planning our route south. Then, as we sat parked at the final border gate to enter Chile with the Migration officer informing us that we couldn’t continue due to a truckers strike, the reality of actually having to do it filled me with dread. With thousands of miles behind us and thousands more ahead of us, the thought of a deviation of that magnitude at that point was, for lack of a better term, freaking me out! As much as I would have liked to see and experience the area the enormity of our trip coupled with being the solo driver was starting to do my head in. Why the border officers, who we’d just spent two hours with going through the procedures of exiting Peru and entering Chile, had not mentioned anything, had me baffled.
The truckers, for good reasons, were not letting vehicles through, however foot traffic was allowed. The officer advised us to hang around for a few hours, as anything could happen at any time in the negotiations, but no vehicles had been allowed to pass for 8 days. With a sense of guarded hope we waited. Curious to see what was happening, we ventured out to have a look. Tensions were escalating as crowded busses and cars had schedules to keep and places to go. Parked trucks and drivers stretched for more than two miles down the road. Locals loaded up with goods and baggage walked the distance to and from either side to catch awaiting busses and taxis. We watched as frustrated travelers spoke to the strike leader, pleading their cases in hopes of safe passage with their vehicles. Sandy and I looked at each other and thought, why not give it a try? Spotting our chance we humbly approached El Jefe, lamely explained our father son surfing adventure and asked if we might be let through to continue on our way. With great patience, most likely due to his sense of our complete ignorance of their hardships, the man heard us out and with a smile gave us his short answer version of why we could not drive past. We shook his hand and offered a sincere “buena suerte” before heading back to the car to review our options. The officer at the gate said this could go on for another week or more.
It’s now late afternoon, our border crossing efforts had started at 7:30am. We should have already been tucked into our next stop, Arica, drying off from our first surf in Chile and thinking about what to cook for dinner. With fading optimism I looked over at Sandy and said, “ok buddy, do we; A) camp out here in line for the next week and hope for the best? B) Find some where to park the car, grab a few things, walk the 2 miles to the other side and find a bus to take us to Arica then come back to get our car after the strike, hoping that it will still be here? C) Spend the next 2 hours back at the migration offices to exit Chile, re-enter Peru and then make our way to Bolivia with the hope of finding a way around this strike? A cloud of depression engulfed me as I heard myself talking. Shit, why hadn’t I been more switched on and known about this problem? I had missed the memo.
Sandy, concerned with the look on my face and sensing my complete desperation, said, “It’s ok Dad, I’ve got this. I’m going back over there and talk to the guy again” Given my frame of mind at the time, I didn’t quite know what to think about what he’d just said, the words would not compute. After a pause all I could manage to say was, “ok buddy, see what you can do”. The door closed and off he went. I had to admire his youthful, uninhibited “anything is possible” attitude, but had I just thrown my boy into the lion’s den? From a distance I kept an eye on him. Several times Sandy would patiently step back, at one point glancing my way with a thumbs up, as others would interrupt aggressively interjecting their own concerns. I continued watching and wondering what the heck was being said. After what seemed an eternity, Sandy excitedly waved me over. I cautiously approached and with a crooked smile and a look of who is this kid? the man said “You’ve got five minutes, hurry it up”. I was in shock. We quickly walked back to the car, “Are you kidding me, what just happened?” I asked Sandy. With a big cheeky grin and “the cat who ate the canary” look in his eyes he proudly said, “I told you I could handle it Dad!” The Migration officer shook his head in disbelief as he waved us on. I had to put it in 4-wheel drive to get over a couple large curbs to maneuver around the double decker bus parked in front of us. The truckers pushed the barricades aside as we drove past. For the next two miles we slowly wove our way around tired and weary locals on foot and agitated truckers standing next to their rigs. The tension could be cut with a knife. I did my best to avoid the stares and blend into the upholstery. Who are these guys! Must have been what they were thinking, among other things….
The stress of the day subsided as the blockade faded in the rear view mirror. “Ok, so tell me what happened” I asked. “Well, I felt kinda bad lying to him but in my best broken Spanish, I said I had to be at Punta de Lobos in a week to surf in a big wave contest. The man hesitated for a while saying no, probably not understanding, but I was persistent and he finally asked a couple guys if this was a thing. They gathered around me and I explained that is was a very important big wave surfing contest. Luckily one of them had heard about it and after some rapid fire back and forth which I didn’t understand any of, I guess he felt sorry for me, didn’t want me to miss it and said something like, ok kid, hurry up and get out of here then. That’s when I called you over”
What could I have possibly said to follow that up with? “Go son!”
Flotsam and jetsam
*drove a 2005 Chevy Suburban, no worries, thanks Bert
*swam with whale sharks, Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja, thanks Pete/Libby
*helped turtle rescue release baby sea turtles, Pescadero, Baja
*caught Mahi Mahi and Wahoo fishing in Cabo, thanks Brian
*a crooked cop in Acapulco said our surfboards were stacked too high on the roof, cost us $40
*drank Cheecho’s frozen papaya smoothies after long hot Rio Nexpa sessions
*warmed up with pre-dawn beach fires readying for cold offshore river mouth dawn sessions, Ticla
*thanks for that borrowed quiver Jeff, and everything else….
* Sayulita Santa, Sandy style, bought a tray of donuts from a beach vendor and spread the cheer
*one of Sandy’s new friends had a likeness of his face tattoo’d onto her leg, Sayulita, Mexico
*came across a dead guy laying along the highway south of Acapulco
*met so many incredible people
*”hey Sandy, get out and back me up!” navigated tight city streets in a Suburban
*sampled many treats from the Central American wave garden
*ate lots of pancakes and burrito’s
*gave a baseball to a Nicaraguan kid, who was so stoked that he and his buddy did secret handshakes and danced around with huge smiles for the rest of the day
*rolled into Medellin, Columbia on a Friday evening after 8 hours of driving through the Andes and were immediately swallowed up in the chaos, surrounded by motorcycles, buses, trucks, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, beggars, buskers, chickens, dogs, etc. etc. poor planning, bad timing, oh shit!
*military checkpoint, mountains of Columbia, teenagers in uniforms with machine guns going through our car, wearing our beach hats, strumming Sandy’s guitar, dancing and laughing
*”hey Sandy, get your home work done!” ”Ya Dad, I’ll get right on it”
*pulled into Chicama, Peru at 4’-6’ and ran, maniacally laughing, up the point watching empty waves peeling for kilometers
*were immersed in Peruvian beach culture and hospitality, gracias Ines, Herbert y Mico
*15’ Pico Alto, cold and foggy, called out by my kid,”don’t be such an old man, we gotta go!” We did.
*Sandy talked our way through a major border blockade
*jumped out of an airplane in Chile
*car camped in the snow for a few days, skiing in the Andes, gracias Matias
*feasted on tasty Argentinian back yard BBQ’s, gracias mi hermano Gonzalo y familia!
*surfed a few places I’d surfed as a kid, with my kid
*front seat sessions, solved most of the worlds problems
*drove 3,000 k’s during the final push from southern Chile to Ushuaia, in 4 1/2 days
*”hey Dad, are we there yet?”
*made it to the end of the road, Ushuaia, in one piece, pushed the ice aside and jumped in to celebrate
*shipped our car back to L.A. from Uruguay, after 10 months, 16,000 miles and 13 countries
*had not one flat tire
*”this trip wasn’t about cheating death, but expanding life!” Kevin Short describing an adventure of Bud Hedrick and Flippy Hoffman