By Roy Locock
So far, if you’re just now joining my MG Midget journey, I’ve traveled from Oxford, England, across Europe, through Iran, Pakistan and from the Himalayas to the south of India. Then, completing a 12,000 mile circuit of Australia, I drove “Bridget the Midget” across Argentina into Chile and up to the Peru Border.
Crossing the border into Peru was fairly painless, taking only about an hour and a half, and most of that time was queuing. We made our way to Nazca from where I intended to turn right and go down to Cusco and Machu Picchu. However, torrential rains left the roads in a dreadful condition and having driven 40 miles at no more than 20mph, I decided it would be reckless to push Bridget to continue. The distance to Machu Picchu was only 250 miles each way but I don’t think that Bridget would have survived. We returned to Nazca, I parked Bridget in the hotel car park, and caught an overnight bus to Cusco.
The journey was indeed a nightmare even in a modern Marcopolo coach, and the potholes and loose rocks scattered across the road meant the journey took almost ten hours. I found a hotel and grabbed a few hours sleep, which had been impossible in the bus. The journey was worth the discomfort. I took the local train to Machu Picchu and was awestruck by the ancient creation by the Inca people.
On my return to Nazca I collected Bridget and took her to a local garage. The exhaust pipe had taken a hard knock during the aborted run and had broken a weld joint. I had it re-attached and a small hole repaired. Then we re-joined the Pan American Highway heading north towards Lima and the next frontier. I decided not to stop in Lima but to press on towards Ecuador, which was still two days away. The Pan American Highway however goes through the city so I wouldn’t miss it altogether, and more to the point I would not avoid the traffic. I positioned myself in the center lane of the highway whenever I could, making it as easy as possible to move left or right. Undertaking as well as overtaking is quite normal in South America,
and so I had vehicles moving and jostling on both sides of Bridget. We were just entering an underpass when suddenly a wheel careered out from underneath a taxi and crossed the road immediately in front of me. I was watching the wheel and trying to decide where it would go and at what speed I should travel to avoid it without swerving into the path of another vehicle. I was also trying to anticipate what other drivers would do when they noticed it. Anyway I managed to avoid hitting it or anybody else and as far as I could see it did not cause an accident. Little interludes like this keep me on my toes.
I crossed the border into Ecuador at Macara. It is a sleepy, dusty, little frontier post. So much so that it made me wonder if it was the official international frontier post, but it was. At least it meant
that there was not much waiting around, although the Ecuadorian immigration authorities were not at all sure what paperwork they needed to complete for the car. That evening I arrived in Catamayo.
For once, I was forced to plan ahead. I was approaching the Darien Gap, which is on the Columbian/Panama frontier and is inaccessible to motor vehicles. I decided to ship Bridget from Quayaquil in Ecuador to Panama City, and I would catch a flight.
The drive from Catamayo to Quayaquil took two days. Finding a shipping agent is time consuming, and so I spent several days in Quayaquil. The city is the main jumping-off point for tourists going to the Galapagos Islands. Traveling through Ecuador I found both straightforward and entertaining, with the roads generally in good condition but subject to being blocked by landslides. I was passing through shortly after the “landslide season” was officially over, but still encountered one total blockage forcing me to use a remote mountain pass as a diversion. The road was effectively a donkey track clinging to the mountainside, with a 1500-foot drop on one side and large cracks appearing on the other.
On arriving in Panama I went straight to the docks to collect Bridget. The immigration officials again took persuading. They wouldn’t permit a car to cross the border with the steering on the wrong side. It took the whole day to persuade them that Bridget could be allowed into Panama on a temporary import licence. As soon as that was settled we headed for the border into Costa Rica and stopped only once. The police were operating a mobile speed trap for vehicles driving south when they spied Bridget going in the opposite direction and waved me down. It was a blatant attempt to extract a bribe as they said I was travelling at 70mph. I refused to pay and they eventually issued me a ticket and said I would need to attend court and should not leave the country until then. They overlooked the fact I had no address in Panama, and so I left the country.
For the first time on this journey we were travelling without any maps working on the basis that I should be able to find the next country. The remaining journey through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico was really quite uneventful. Unwittingly we short-circuited the Mexican exit system by just turning left over The Friendship Bridge at Nuevo Laredo instead of driving around their one-way system through customs, etc. It was only when the USA immigration official pointed out that I didn’t have an Exit stamp on my Mexican visa that I realized my mistake, but declined his kind offer of letting me return to ‘do it properly’.
Bridget and I spent the next two days in San Antonio trying to get American car insurance for a British registered, 1977 classic car, on temporary import, for an undetermined time.
I found driving in The States very straight-forward, particularly after navigating some of the Central American countries. I decided to head via Dallas to Las Vegas. I wanted to go to Vegas in the forlorn hope of persuading at least one of the casinos to make a good donation to the UNICEF charity that I was raising funds for. Not unsurprisingly, that activity was doomed.
From Vegas we struck out for San Francisco and the US 101 Highway north, heading for Canada. I decided we would take in Death Valley National Park on route which proved to be the warmest place I had been since the Gibson Desert in Australia.
San Francisco is packed full of characters doing their own thing, which I can identify with, so I spent two days people watching. Driving the US 101 I found relaxing with some great natural areas such as The Samuel H. Boardman National Park, Mount Humbug, Coos Bay, and of course the Giant Redwoods.
It was now mid-August and I wanted to ensure that Bridget and I left Canada by the end of September, because that is when it starts to get cold. Anything below 15°C is cold to me and I start to think about hibernation. We still had over five thousand miles to go and we could always come back another time.
Our last night in the USA was spent in Everett, Oregon, replacing a broken fuel pump and then we crossed into Vancouver, Canada on the 21st August. I was met at the frontier by Peter Tilbury from a local MG Car Club. Peter and his wife Anne very kindly acted as my hosts and guide around Vancouver. It is a beautiful location, but my love of nature had me straining at the leash to venture up into the Rockies.
Bridget and I drove north to Kelowna, a town that, so I was told, is home to many “old hippies.” I thought I would feel at home there, and it is a beautiful location. The whole area is full of rivers, lakes, pine covered mountains and settlements with charming names, such as Rock Creek and Kettle Valley. We spent the next couple of nights at Nelson, on the banks of the Lake Kootenay.
The wildlife in that area was wonderful. I spotted a one-horned moose in the River Moyie, some deer just off the highway, and became exited when I saw a road sign saying “Wolf on road. Stay in car.” No point staying in the car when there is no top, so I stopped and walked around the area with my camera. However, the wolf must have taken fright of the noisy little car and made off.
That night I stopped in Kimberley. I decided that I wanted to get some photographs of Black Bears and so the following morning took off on foot into the hills. I spent the whole day searching for bear, deer, wolves, or perhaps even a cougar, but all I found were mosquitos.
The following day we struck out for Calgary, joining Highway 93 and driving through The Kootenay National Park. The scenery was so beautiful we took over six hours to complete a four-hour journey. We were to spend three days in Calgary during which time I was entertained by the Calgary MG Car Club and visited the Calgary Highland Games. Clearly there have been a lot of Scottish immigrants to this area.
From Calgary we were to cross the great plains of central Canada. I had been warned that the drive would be boring because the terrain was so flat. Fortunately, I never get bored with driving even though the highlight of that particular part of the trip was seeing a train that I measured as being two miles long.
We headed through Winnipeg to Thunder Bay on the banks of Lake Superior. I referred to this area as Lakeland because of the hundreds, if not thousands, of lakes and occasional waterfalls such as Kakabeka Falls. The scenery was beautiful, but it was becoming cooler and some of the trees were starting to change the color of their leaves to red and gold.
We pressed on through The Pukaskwa National Park, North Bay and into Ottawa. I found Ottawa interesting both architecturally and culturally. The local MG Club turned out in force to meet me and exchange stories. They also advised me to explore Nova Scotia if I had the time.
Bridget had now been running faultlessly, even the carburettors were staying in tune. She was also returning around 34 mpg (imperial). Almost boring. We had completed over 38,000 road miles so far on this tour. I was quite pleased with her performance.
We pressed on to Montreal and then Quebec. Even though I am not a fan of cities, I rather liked Quebec. The culture and city center is very French, but there are a reasonable number of reminders of who was in charge in this country before independence.
We took the TC-20 Highway from Quebec on the final leg of the tour following the St Lawrence River. I wanted to head north to Gaspe as I had been told there were opportunities along the coast in that area to go whale watching. Fortune was with me and I managed to find a boat that took me out into Gaspe Bay to see dolphin, Minke and Fin Whales. I was blown away, almost literally as the offshore wind was gusting quite strongly.
Still riding that ‘high’ we made for Halifax where I would park Bridget in another 20-foot container for her return across the Atlantic to the UK.
We received a wonderful welcome home from the MG Car Club at their Kimber House headquarters. One of the national newspaper reporters whilst interviewing me asked “What are you going to do to follow this?” My, ill considered reply was, “Well I didn’t go into Africa, so maybe that should be next.” MM
The first two parts of Roy’s Moss Motoring trillogy can be read here.
A complete record of Bridget’s Round the World tour is available for e-readers such as Kindle by searching “Not In That Car” by Roy Locock.
We’re thrilled to hear that Roy isn’t finished adventuring just yet. He wrote to us last fall saying: “I trust and hope you are surviving the whole Covid thing in good health. Unfortunately, we still cannot travel freely here in Europe, but they cannot lockdown my mind! I have decided I shall resume my traveling in June, barring any new pandemics. I aim to drive Bridget across Europe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and via ship across the water to explore Japan. I have not yet decided on a route home, it’ll depend on how many Yen I have left over!”
Keep in touch with Roy through his website. Encourage him to continue adding posts to his wonderful travel blog!