Travelling anywhere in summer these days requires a degree of flexibility to dodge extreme weather events that are becoming ever more prevalent. After recovering from Covid in the mountains of Colorado we were faced with a choice of directions to continue. Obviously we needed to head south, towards Mexico but we’d just passed through the blistering heat of Arizona and New Mexico and it was even hotter now. To the east lay the rather bland American midwest, which was also experiencing a heatwave. California and Oregon to the west were places we’d already been. So we choose north – Wyoming, Montana, Canada and maybe even Alaska.
I won’t go through a blow by blow account of our trip but here’s the main headlines.
Alaska is really, really, far away
The Pan American Highway starts at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska so I had the idea to drive up there, take a few photos then turn around and drive to the other end of the American continent. On the map it doesn’t look too bad. Drive to Canada, cut across Alberta and Yukon and then whisk up north to the top of Alaska. However, in this case, looks are deceptive. We made it as far as Grand Prairie, north west of Edmonton before turning back. The distances are just too long and, while, green forests and hills are beautiful, they do become monotonous after endless days of driving. And gas ain’t cheap in Alberta, and there were bushfires in Yukon, and floods that had washed out roads. It was a pretty easy decision to change route and head to Jasper instead of Alaska.
A ‘mini’ road trip was a good idea
Before heading south into Mexico I really wanted to make sure we had the chance to find any further problems with the van. After all, it’s 16 years old and have done 230,000 miles. Something was surely waiting to go wrong with it and I wanted it to go wrong in North, rather then South, America. Turns out that next point of failure was the alternator, as we found out when entering Vancouver. We were driving towards a friends house on the outskirts of Vancouver when suddenly, one after another all our electrical systems started to break down. The headlights cut out, then the indicators failed, then the automatic transmission and the dashboard flickered off. Finally the engine stalled and wouldn’t restart. Amazingly we were grounded in the middle of an intersection only 800 meters from our friend’s house, after a 300km drive. A tow to a repair shop the next day diagnosed the problem to be the alternator and we needed to replace it, along with the battery and the Serpentine Belt. Our van is starting to resemble the fabled Ship of Theseus. It now has a replaced engine, alternator, radiator, transmission, four new tyres, stereo and a complete interior refit. Fingers crossed that the next failure point will be long after we get it to Santiago in Chile!
Immersive Spanish is HARD
After leaving Canada with our electrically functioning vehicle we spent a three weeks hugging the west coast of the US on our way to Mexico. Along the coast the weather was cool and we could sleep comfortably in the van, whereas everywhere else it was really hot. When we finally made it into Mexico we headed straight to the Pacific Spanish Institute in Ensenada, where we’d booked into a one week of Spanish immersion course. They certainly throw you in the deep end. We started with almost zero Spanish knowledge and the class runs from 8am to 2pm with the teacher only speaking English when absolutely necessary. Our classes were one on one with our teacher, Zayda. While it was hard to keep up, Zayda was able to quickly tailor the class to suit our limited proficiency and unique learning difficulties. We’d also booked into a homestay, meaning. Even after the class was finished we still were exposed to the Spanish spoken by our host. In all it was a great experience. One week wasn’t close to enough to get our Spanish shipshape for our trip, but it got us started and gave us a decent understand of the language to get us started.
We’ve now started south again, down Baja and towards La Paz where we’ll cross into mainland Mexico.