Sunday, March 20, 2011

The End

We spent one more day in Cincinnati in the company of Libby and Bill. This lovely couple gave us a driving tour of the city and took us to an exhibition of the newly discovered artefacts that Cleopatra herself has touched.
Early next morning Bill kindly dropped us off at a rest area on the north side of town. There, we had a long wait. Once again we were sticking the thumb out in the brisk morning air. People smiled, some shook their heads as if to say “No, no, no, are you crazy? I _never_ pick up hitch-hikers”. It was entertaining to watch people’s reactions when they saw us. Many people had the “Krasivo sleva” (Russian for “something beautiful on the left”) syndrome, as we have named it. Here’s how it happens:
Once a driver sees us, he starts checking his blind spot, trying to avoid eye contact with us. Even if there is nothing there, he still repeatedly checks his rear-view mirror or just appears to be very interested by the scenery to his left. He starts looking straight as soon as he passed us. “What hitchhikers? I did not see anybody!”
After three hours of observing the syndrome play out in a million different variations, we finally flagged down a ride. Two elderly sisters coming home from a family reunion in Tennessee were going to Michigan. All their thoughts were about family. There was nothing more they ever talked about.
“Where are you coming from?” they asked us.
“A two-year trip around South America”
“Ah, how interesting... You know, I have two grand-sons, one is three and the other is seven. My sister here has two daughters and one has two kids and the other has three...”
A few hours later, the lady asked us:
“So, how was it, South America? You must have been in Georgia or Louisiana or something?”
She thought we have been travelling in the south of USA!!!
The two sisters dropped us off at a rest-area south of Toledo. We waited until the evening there before a man drove us to another rest-area just north of town. It was actually a Michigan Welcome Centre. It was getting late, so we went a little ways into a thin forest that was just wide enough to block the view of a sub-division from the highway. It took some imagination to pitch a tent as invisibly as possible there. Luckily, some fallen pines made a perfect hiding spot for us. We rolled out our sleeping bags, put on all our warm clothing and crawled in.
In the morning we got a ride pretty quick. A man was on his way to a Detroit Casino. He introduced himself as JJ.
“I’ve spent ten and a half years in jail,” he told us, “that’s where I learned to play cards. I’m on parole now; I’m not allowed to leave the state of Ohio. But fuck it, I really wanna play in this tournament that is happening in Detroit.”
“Cops don`t get along with me and I don`t get along with them” he added.
He drove fast but good, keeping his black sporty car cruising at 80 mph, zigzagging between the slow mini vans and the big trucks that crowded the highway. We arrived to Detroit in half an hour.
“Have a good day!” said JJ and sped off, leaving us under an enormous bridge that span the Detroit river. The structure looked unassailable: vehicles rolled up to the toll booths and effortlessly continued on. We couldn’t do that – no pedestrians were allowed on the bridge. There was another alternative – the Tunnel in the center of the city. We reached it on foot, passing by the early morning empty old industrial buildings of red brick. The sidewalks were so clean even there...
No pedestrians were allowed in the tunnel either. We had to take a $4 bus for the whole minute it took to drive under the river, a sort of a Central American way of taxing the border crossers. A minute spent answering the silly questions of the border guard (“how can you afford to travel for two years?”) and we were on Canadian soil. It was cold. The cold wind got under our sweaters and we shivered.
Windsor is a big place. It took us two hours to locate the library, find on Google Maps where it is we needed to go and then go there.
A take off spot in Windsor is an excellent one. The highway 401 starts there, the speed limit is only 80 and the shoulder is wide. We installed ourselves off the pavement and lifted the thumb for the last time on this trip. Many vehicles did not stop (even though they were all Canadians in there!) but one did. Mark, the Lutheran pastor from Denver, was on his way to check up on a few churches in Toronto. He drove a rental and was happy for the company for the boring drive to “the Big Smoke”. Unlike our previous encounters with religious people, Mark did not try to convert us right away, under the fear of eternal torture and suffering. Instead, we had a very pleasant conversation all the way to Toronto.
“I have nothing to do tonight,” said Mark, “so if you want I can drive you to your parents’ place in Brampton.”
As we were approaching the house, we invited Mark in for a cup of tea. We did not realise it but we must have overstressed the importance of drinking black tea in Russian culture. We talked at length about how important is the “ancient custom” of drinking black tea, with sugar and lemon. We described the simple procedure and Mark nodded:
“Ok, I think I can do this.”
Half an hour later, Mark looked perplexed and confused when George’s mother said,
“and this is the lemon”, offering the plate of lemon slices to him. Mark took one and started squeezing it out with his fingers into the cup.
“Am I doing this right?” asked Mark as lemon juice flowed down his fingers. Everybody laughed and the conversation flowed, the cultural exchange going on full throttle.
Mark had to leave soon and we chatted some more with George’s parents. It was past 11pm when we went to sleep. Inside, out of the frigid spring air, we were warm, sleepy, tired and happy.
Technically, our journey is not over just yet. We still have 600 kms to go to Montreal, but we will not blog about this. Friends to meet in Toronto still, the “normal life” things to figure out, like a place to stay and a job, to mention a few, will take some time.
Well guys, gals, ladies and gentlemen, chicos y chicas, locos y fritas, señoras y señores, thank you for following and supporting us on our journey; thank you for stopping and picking us up on the road; for the kind words and encouragements in moments of doubt and despair; for the wise advises you gave us when we did not know what to do; for travelling and living in the moment alongside us; for telling your story; for sharing food, drink and shelter; for inviting us to your home and sharing a part of your life; we are grateful to all of you.
Best of luck,
Anastasia and George


  1. Has it really been two years?

    Life will seem so boring once you arrive in Montreal and have to settle down. I look forward to seeing the two of you again!


  2. I got shivers reading this! can't believe your trip is almost over. You so totally rock I can hardly take it. would love to meet up for a beer and see you guys.

    welcome home!

  3. Daniel: boring!? we will do everything to avoid that! See you soon.
    Hesi: beer? sounds good. what's your phone #?

  4. Congrats, you two! I'm glad you made it back safely!


  5. What an amazing journey! Congrats, and welcome back to Canada.


  6. It was fun to read your blog, I really enjoy your story... Consider a Story teller job :)

    Rebienvenue au Québec !

    michel :)

  7. Thank you all! Today is our first day in Montreal - exciting!

  8. I tried to read just one post, but couldn't do it. I'm glad you guys got to spend some of your final hitching time at a rest stop. They are possibly the greatest things ever. Guess I need to go back and start from the beginning of your journeys, as everything I read was so well-written and interesting. I'll be following along with your adventures from the past. Best of luck in whatever it is you two are doing these days!

  9. I came to read about hitchhiking in Brazil. However, I got hooked...It took me some hours, but I finally finished reading your whole adventure. I plan to do the same. Hopefully I will start in a few months. Do you guys have an email or a facebook account? I'd like to keep in touch with you guys.