Andrew Thomas on Scat Singing

In May 2015, in the first week of our trip across the US, we had a chance to meet one extraordinary man. His name is Andrew Thomas and he is a jazz trumpet player. We met him through his brother Matthew, who Michal went to college with. Matt told us that Andrew is an interesting character, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Andrew charmed us, lured us into his beautiful mind and let us have a glimpse of what he calls his beautiful frustration.

We previously posted an interview with Andrew, but recently we started looking through some files we gathered during our four months journey and came across this video.

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The End of the Road

After twenty-one thousand incredible miles, we made it to our 48th state.

What a blessing to be able to have seen so much of this beautiful land; we’ve had countless people tell us that that is something that even few Americans have been able to do.

The last two states for us to visit were Ohio and West Virginia – but as we were on an epic 48 hour drive on our way back to New York to prepare to fly out, we only got a glimpse of these states.

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A rough sketch of our route

But, we took the time to celebrate the 48th state milestone with one of our last on-the-road meals, at a little park in Bethlehem, WV. Thankfully we could enjoy the sunshine before driving through nine hours of torrential rain across Pennsylvania and New Jersey!

In New York City, the end of our journey, we amazingly met some friends who had also just finished an epic journey of their own. Rob and Christine Lilwall cycled from California to New York City on a tandem!

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We both reached our milestones on Thursday – for us 48 states, for them coast to coast – and we both arrived in New York City on Friday. _MG_0576

Enjoying a celebratory drink overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and where so many Europeans first set foot onto these magnificent shores, we were thrilled to be able to share our stories and congratulate each other. And, we look forward to seeing them both back in Hong Kong.

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In Tulsa, just three days before we arrived in New Jersey, we gave the car a tremendous clean out, scrub and hoover – so much dust from the desert! So when we got to NJ, we just had to get it ready to drop it off with the shipping company.

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It is really amazing how much you can fit into a car! Our stuff was spread all over the lawn, garage and our bedroom. And the car looked very ‘naked’ without all of its equipment.

But now everything is almost-neatly packed into bags and boxes; our whole life seems to be a series of packing, unpacking, repacking and re-repacking. I’m thankful for the new Lianne La Havas album that got me through it.

On Friday, we took the Defender to the shipyard to have it inspected and received to clear customs, before it makes its long voyage home to the UK. The next time we see it will be in December.

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It really is remarkable car; although it is very loud, not the most comfortable, and there’s always something that doesn’t quite open or close properly, it drove us thousands and thousands of miles through extreme heat and crazy terrain, and never let us down once.

If only it had air-conditioning…

While the car is on the ship, we are already dreaming of how to prepare it for the next expedition – what we would change, what we would keep the same, how we can make it fit a few more people in so we can share the road with some friends…

Hopefully next summer we will be able to take the car somewhere even more challenging. We have a destination in mind – maybe we will be able to reveal that within the next few months.

But for now, as we look back over the past four months, we also look forward to The Travellers Two returning to Asia and sharing those new stories as the journey continues.

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Four Corners

With Michal having to take a short trip to Poland, I spent a fantastic week in Seattle with dear friends. They were terrific hosts; and my week was full of music, wonderful food and watching my first baseball game.

But as soon as Michal landed, we were back on the road, and as we’re getting close to the end of our trip, we have just accomplished one of the challenges that we set ourselves: to visit the most extreme compass points of the 48 States.

East: Quoddy Head State Park, Maine – 1st May

The perfect place to officially start our trip. With strong winds, freezing temperatures and rugged rocks, it was a chilly start, but the sunrise was just breathtaking and we got our first glimpse into Canadian territory.

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South: Key West, Florida – 22nd May

Three hours from Miami, and only 90 miles from Cuba, Key West is an interesting mix of tourists and free spirits. You can almost taste the spirit of the Carribean! And with the relationship between the USA and Cuba getting warmer,  that Cuban spirit is only going to get stronger!

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North: Lake of The Woods, Minnesota – 17th June

Unfortunately, you can’t actually drive up to the northern tip during the summer without going through Canada. In winter, you can drive right over the frozen lake. So, we drove right up to the southern shore of this stunning lake, and enjoyed a sunset dinner.

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We reached the western tip of the 48 States with our friends from Hong Kong who drove all the way down from Vancouver to join us. It was foggy, and so when we heard deep, loud noises coming from offshore, we weren’t sure if they were ships or whales! With huge cliffs and mysterious caves, the western tip was a lookout for local tribes for centuries passed…_MG_9011

We only have seven states left to visit on the quest to visit all 48… but at the end of the day, it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters.

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Old Fashioned, Organic, and The Smashing Burrito

Before you read any further, you have to watch this short video… If you have watched the show Portlandia, you know exactly what Portland is all about. If you haven’t… sit back and relax…

We came to Portland to visit a friend, as we were on the way up to Seattle, and he told us to watch this video before we got there.

It turned out to be 100% accurate.

It’s all organic, chilled out, and young people do go there to retire.

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But we started the visit with a smashing burrito! Tomek, who is a partner at the “FUEGO burritos and bowls” food carts business, brought us a couple of his best burritos. Food trucks are one of the Portland staples, and Tomek’s burritos are one of the best! They’re only open for lunch and you can find their locations on their site.

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old-fashioned-short1Tomek is a friend from Poland, but he has lived in Portland for years, before  the hippie-organic movement exploded. He wanted to show us the best that his town has to offer, and so we went on the search for his favourite cocktail, the best “Old Fashioned” in town.

Michal and I are new to the Old Fashioned drink; it’s a simple, yet hard to perfect mixture of Bourbon, Bitters, Orange Rind and Simple Syrup. We sampled these delicious little drinks in bars all over town, and they all had their own twist. And they were made all the more enjoyable by the local bands that were playing here and there.

Mornings were lazy breakfasts from farmers markets or at brunch spots; at the farmers market, we took so many samples that we weren’t particularly hungry for breakfast… but of course, everything’s local, everything’s organic, and everything’s triple the price!

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The organic, vegan, local movement is hard to get used to… Even when Michal asked for some milk at a bar, they apologised and said that they were a vegan bar! A little bit strange…

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Portland is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and Tomek took us hiking to a spot with amazing views of several peaks. After the previous evening’s bar tour, it was good to get some exercise.

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After a good barbecue, we went to try a couple more Old Fashioned’s at a couple of bars that we couldn’t visit the day before since we didn’t have our passports (If you’re a foreigner visiting Oregon, make sure you bring your passport as ID otherwise they won’t let you in.)

When we came back, we were greeted by a garden on fire! The hot ashes from the grill had fallen onto the wood chips that the landlord recently spread all over the back garden. Had we come back an hour or two later, the house would probably have been gone!

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So after playing firefighters, we spent the rest of the night celebrating the fact that we had been spared and learned our lesson.

We had a wonderful trip – Portland is definitely a fun place. But the health-food hippie culture brought out Michal’s rebellious side – after finding out that the bar we were in was vegan, he asked for a steak…

But if you want eat chicken-with-a-name, sleep in until 11am, and live the 90s dream, Portland is the place to be.

Wild West

Louise’s 2nd July Concert to kick off the 4th July weekend seemed a little ironic – a Brit wishing Texans Happy Independence Day?

But, music is a universal language and the concert connected superbly with the audience. And since we had given ourselves one week to get to Los Angeles from Austin, as soon as the gig was over, we packed up the car and headed into the night.

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West. Wild West, truly!

We had seen some pretty remote parts of the states; the Badlands in the Dakotas, tiny little towns in Minnesota, never-ending fields of farmland in Missouri and Kansas.

But the vast expanses of desert in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were something even more incredible.

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The Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas and New Mexico border were our introduction to the rugged, wild terrain that continues across the south of the USA. Rich rocks filled with quartz, mountains lions, cacti and forest, snakes and deer – the mountains held a diversity of life thanks to their abundant water supply.

But as we headed further into the desert, the numbers of species fell and soon we were alone with lizards, birds, and bugs. There is nothing like the quiet, the darkness, the heat, the expanse of the desert.

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In towering sand dunes or vast canyons, with the unforgiving sun and no sign of water, it is easy to see how lost and helpless we are under the forces of nature.

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As we approached one of the world’s most stunning features, the great crack in its crust formed by a formidable earthquake, Grand Canyon, we wanted to have a different experience than we had had before – something more than taking that same photo that everyone has.

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So we started hiking down into the canyon. As soon as you start to descend, you start to understand the sheer size of the place. We walked for hours, and had not even got close to the bottom. One can not easily conquer these wild places.

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One of the most fascinating features of the Wild West is the number of abandoned, or almost-abandoned towns that are scattered across the landscape. We came across several mining towns that had fallen into ruin, with their run-down buildings, scrap cars in yards, and mine shafts – some still with undetonated explosives!

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It is amazing to let your imagination create the stories of those who lived here; why they came, how life was, what finally forced them to leave. And for those who have stayed, how do they possibly survive when there is no-one for miles and nothing to build a life around?

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Amazingly, the post office and the railroads are the veins that keep the life blood flowing; connecting and crisscrossing and keeping these tiny towns alive. In the most remote of towns, high in the mountains or deep in the desert, post boxes line the roads and are a welcome sign of life.

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Perhaps the creepiest place that we came across was while we were off-roading in the Mojave desert. We had turned onto tiny dirt tracks, when we crested a hill and found an old trailer; the windows were gone, and it was covered in plastic sheeting.

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Bullet casings and shotgun shells were strewn everywhere, and our minds immediately jumped to Walter White and Breaking Bad! It was a great hideout… shielded from view and protected from the rear by mountains. So either someone there had a score to settle with the coyotes, or the King of the Hill had something else going on…

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But that night, we found a perfect camp of our own. In the middle of nowhere, peaceful, with the brightest stars we have ever seen. It is easy to see why our ancestors worshiped the moon and the stars; these bright oracles bring light in the midst of darkness, and their beauty is astounding!

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As night fell, the howl of coyotes greeted our ears. We made sure the door was firmly locked that night!

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While the days are hot and bright, the nights are usually dark and cool and peaceful. But when storms come, the lightning is awe-inspiring. Driving towards Las Vegas, the air was thick with the smell of electric charge – it looked like “Sin City” was under attack with fierce vengeance! With lightning all around us, in every direction, piercing through the night sky with great cracks of light, once again we felt the force of nature – knowing we were at its mercy and have no power to stop it.

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It is an amazing feeling to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty and wildness of our world. It can be uncomfortable, daunting, truly scary. But it is always an enriching, humbling and inspiring experience.

Half Way There

Half way through our journey. Half way through the year.

The half way point is an interesting place to be – you look back just as much as you look forward. It’s the beginning of the end, but right in the middle.

We are almost exactly in the middle of our trip. We have been on the road for nine weeks, and have just over nine weeks until we say goodbye to the Land Rover for a little while. We’ve been to the most Eastern, Southern and Northern points of the continental USA, and still have the Wild Wild West ahead of us.

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And we are almost exactly in the middle of the USA! Although we only have 13 states left to visit, those 13 make up almost half of the country and we will probably double the 11,000 miles that we have put on the odometer.

So, at the half way point we look back at the truly beautiful times: the parks, the people, the concerts and the open roads. And the challenges: the heat, the cold, the bugs, the lack-of-hot-showers!

And we look forward to even more to come: meeting amazing people with their stories, breath-taking views and being inspired creatively.

This is our first long overland expedition, and even though we’re driving through a “first world” country, it’s definitely a learning curve. We’re using this as preparation for future trips in more remote places in the world.

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From Austin, we’re on our way into the desert, mountains and then, if we make it out the other side, back to the ocean!

If you’re enjoying being part of our journey, please click “Follow” on the right of the post, to subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. We’ll try to keep it fun!

The First of June

The First of June: it’s International Children’s Welfare day, it’s the eighth anniversary of Michal arriving in Asia for the first time, and it marks one month of us being on the road in the USA.

Looking back at our first month, we have come a long way – both physically and metaphorically! From freezing feet in Maine to sweating and swatting mosquitos in Florida, we have seen the length of the East Coast in almost its entirety, and are amazed by the uniqueness and beauty of this country. Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting our 20th state, Tennessee! Only 28 more to go…

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And then there’s the people – artists, travellers, tourists, locals. I have to say that so far the Mississippians have been the most friendly! But everywhere we go, it has been great to meet old friends, make new acquaintances; the chance meetings along the way are where the magic truly is. Our website on the side of the car has attracted plenty of attention and we’ve made new friends because of it.

To all of you who have written to us, posted photos and stopped to say hi – thank you! You bring us so much joy.

Eight years ago today, Michal arrived in Hong Kong. And soon after that, he started working with a great organisation in the Philippines. Through that organisation, 14 precious, talented kids became part of our lives as we created a choir. As we don’t have children of our own yet, these kids showed us just a glimpse of what it will be like to be parents, and will always have a piece of our hearts!

So today, to celebrate International Children’s Welfare Day, we are remembering the ICM Children’s Choir and dedicating ourselves to continue making their world a better place. These kids represent those in life who deserve more, because they have so much more to give. Here are their stories:

In five and a half years, they have come so far. We’re sad to not be spending time with them as they prepare for another big performance, but their videos are always with us!

“You’re gonna love Key West!”

“You’re gonna love Key West!” is what everyone told us. Naturally slightly cynical by nature, we thought that perhaps we wouldn’t love Key West, if everyone kept telling us how much we would…

IMG_0082We arrived on Friday night, and were meeting a friend of a friend of a friend – it’s always a huge benefit to have someone local to show you around, especially in such a tourist-trap as Key West. We met at the Hogfish Bar and Grille, a locals’ place on a working waterfront of Stock Island, and a few minutes later had met the owner of the place, had heaps of delicious food in front of us, had been offered a place to stay in Key West, a place to stay in Colorado, and were discussing the embargo on Cuba… it was a first-class first impression!

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Key West is the (almost) furthest south point of the 48 states. (I say almost because there is a private island that is further South, but there wasn’t any hope of us being able to visit there… at least not on this trip). It is actually closer to Havana than Miami, with many monuments proclaiming “90 miles to Cuba”. A beautiful drive down from the mainland connects the Florida Keys, by what used to be railroad, and is now an impressive engineering feat of hundreds of miles of bridges and highways stitching together dozens of islands as you drive further and further out into the ocean.

The sea is shallow, warm and boasts beautiful sealife. The island itself is nothing particularly remarkable except its southerly claim – it has everything you would expect from a tourist spot: bars, a couple of beaches, boutiques and botanical gardens.

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Funnily enough, the monument to the furthest south point in the 48 states is not even on the furthest south point of the island… but still the tourists line up for their photo, fresh off the cruise ships from the Bahamas or the East Coast of the USA. And then of course you have the proud ‘southernmost house’, the ‘southernmost bar’, ‘southernmost grocery store’… and the more unusual ‘southernmost hockey club’…

_MG_4821In some ways we came at the wrong time of year. Louise played two gigs at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon – highly recommended place with amazing food, great fun staff, and great music! [website] But even for a long weekend celebrating Memorial Day, they were quiet evenings. The “snow birds”, as they are referred to, spend their winters in Florida, and when it gets hot they make their way up North. Many of the bar staff that we met were also preparing to leave for the off-season, and told us that their busiest season is October to February. But still, the average number of daily tourists is 25,000… as much as the population of Key West itself!

So we were glad to be in town on a quieter week, and thankfully, we didn’t have to pay the extortionate hotel rates – they are as expensive as rooms in downtown New York City. We stayed at a friend’s boat yard, which allowed us to see the “real” Key West – the people who work on the coast; border patrol, fishermen, boat builders.

Before we left, we had our introduction to the world of the Laundromat. A stark contrast to the tourist world just minutes away, we were joined by Spanish and French speaking immigrants, who were getting pushy over who was next in line to the few machines that actually worked.

IMG_0080And then our farewell lunch was at the place where we had been so wonderfully welcomed – the Hogfish – where we toasted Key West’s working waterfront by ordering the workman’s lunch: Meatloaf, Mash and Gravy.

So again, we are on our way… and the only way from Key West is North!

Heading West

It’s the first of May. And we are officially starting our trip, from the Easternmost point in the United States. Since we have come from the “Orient”, or the East, in Hong Kong, it seemed perfect for us to start on the East of the United States.

This morning, in Lubec, Maine, we were the first people in the country to see the sun rise. It was stunning.
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Lighthouse at Quoddy Head State park

When we woke up this morning, it was 1 degree outside! Our sleeping bags are definitely earning their keep. We’re pretty sure that we’ll be missing this brisk weather when we’re sweating in the Arizona desert; but it has made the start of this trip a little chillier than expected.

(The British influence is coming out as I feel the need to report on the weather!)

We have already spent a couple of nights camped out in the Defender. We’ve heard of people who have lived out of their cars for years at a time… and we’re definitely not pros yet! We’re still trying to figure out what should go where, on the roof, in the back, or under the seas to make sure that the most frequently accessed stuff is easy to get our hands on. Luckily we have had ideal conditions without rain or wind making things too interesting; but it’s an difficult task trying to get water and power and food and light all going before the sun goes down.
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Famous Maine Lobsters

From Maine, we will head down to Boston, Rhode Island and then Connecticut. We have already driven through some beautiful scenery in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, so our list of visited states is off to a good start.

We’re beginning to see some of the diversity and extremes of this country. There’s still snow on the ground in some higher hills, while it’s grilling and sunbathing weather further South. From the wide, industrialised highways to the narrow dirt tracks on the edge of the country, our Land Rover is taking us to this nation’s four corners.

From East, now we’re on our way South. We really don’t know what to expect… sitting watching the beautiful sunrise, we’re dreaming of the months ahead. Louise already has some opportunities to play music in NYC and    further south. We’re dreaming up some creative projects, but lets see where the road take us…