Tom Henriksen has some advice for any would-be cross-continental road-trippers.
“Never try to ship a bus from Panama to Columbia,” Henriksen said in an interview this week. “It was extraordinarily frustrating and is something I’ll never do again.”
Henriksen, pal Sam Hall and about half a dozen other travellers bound for the World Cup made it from Burnaby, B.C. to Panama only to come up against an unforeseen obstacle: There’s no road linking the southern continent to the rest of the Americas – a swampy stretch of land called the Darien Gap remains impassable.
So the group cobbled together $200 cash to get their only means to Brazil into South America and back on the road.
That short journey across the waters of the south Caribbean Sea — a fraction of the 11,000 kilometre trip from B.C. to Brazil — took a disproportionately long wait over three days.
“It turned out to be an incredibly slow boat. The water turned out to be incredibly choppy, and the captain turned out to be incredibly drunken,” Henriksen said.
By that point, the short school bus Hendricksen acquired in British Columbia in March had already travelled 7,200 kilometres.
On April 14, the Newcastle, U.K. native and his fellow travellers set out from Burnaby, intent on reaching Sao Paulo, Brazil before the start of the 2014 tournament.
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They made it – but barely: After 60 days on the road, the bus pulled into the sprawling city 40 minutes before the start of Brazil’s opening match against Croatia.
“We would have been there earlier but the night before as we were driving [in rural Brazil] there was a landslide which delayed us by about 10 hours,” Henriksen said nonchalantly via Skype. “But it worked out.”
So why do this to themselves? The adventure, of course.
The adventure begins
The idea was born, as many are, over a pint between buddies. Henriksen and Hall had $1,500 to make it happen. “We wanted to do something fun and a bit crazy before we got old,” the 26-year-old said.
So they pooled resources, got their hands on a used school bus and began looking for compatriot World Cup fans to join them.
There were few conditions to joining the pilgrimage being made by the World Cup Bus, as the group is calling itself on Facebook and other social media.
“It was kind of one our priorities to make sure we had a Spanish speaker on board to help us out with border crossings and what not,” Henriksen said.
They did not plan for someone fluent in Portuguese, however – Brazil’s official language.
Still, “We’ve managed to get on pretty well actually. It’s amazing what you can get across,” Henriksen said.
Passage through the United States, which included trips through Portland and San Francisco before the bus veered southeast to Tucson, Arizona and across the Mexican border, was relatively easy.
Crossing the length of Central America, not so much.
In Guatemala, a protest over what appeared to Henriksen as a “local political issue” last month blocked the main highway through the country, forcing a circuitous, time-consuming detour.
“Guatamala was by far the most testing country,” Henriksen said with a laugh. But the detour was “one of many, many obstacles.”
A yellow school bus with B.C. plates attracts attention, including from police officials looking for a small payment to ensure the bus’ safe passage through town, Henriksen recounted.
But the bus has also attracted media. By the time the group had reached the shores of Colombia, local newspaper reports had gone viral online and television stations were picking up on the World Cup Bus’s trail.
“I think the highlight has been the welcome we’ve got in different cities,” Henriksen said. “It seems it’s really captured people’s imaginations.”
That new-found fame has garnered some perks well-received after two months on the road. A broadcast network in Sao Paulo put the group up in an apartment for a few days after they arrived in Brazil’s biggest city.
Alas, Henriksen’s home side (England) has failed to qualify for the knockout stage beginning next week. The rag-tag group, which includes some travellers picked up along the way, has also broken up, with some returning home to the United States and elsewhere.
Henriksen, Hall and the bus are bound for Rio, though. After that, who knows.
Ask about the game plan to get home, he says: “I haven’t got one, actually.”
© Shaw Media, 2014