A guest post by my partner and, sometimes, also travel companion Nastia.

Parô, parô, parô!! Where are you going?! STOP, NOW! You’re not crossing the blockade!” – we’re stopped by a group of angry truckers soon after we finally leave Rio.

“I just need to see my friend who’s running out of supplies on the other end. I am not going to cross the blockade,” calmy says our driver Luis.

“I don’t give a fuck. Tell him to come here. Nobody’s passing,” they demand.

Somehow, he persuades this bunch of his good intentions. But there are another four kilometers of the blockade, and we are stopped every few hundred meters “Encosta aê!” Luis calmly repeats the same thing he said to the other men before, but this one wouldn’t listen – “Encosta aê, caralho!” – the man’s eyes start filling with blood, and a hand is reaching out for a gun. “Please, just stop somewhere,” I’m begging our driver in my mind.

The night before leaving Rio de Janeiro my husband Mika and I learn that truckers went on a strike over gasoline prices and blocked major roads throughout Brazil. This caused a massive disruption because the country relies on trucks to transport everything – from food to fuel, making it difficult to hitchhike. But Mika has to be back home in Brasilia, a thousand kilometers away to give a presentation about his travels in a week. We don’t have a choice except to trust the gods of hitchhiking and kindness of the few drivers left on the road.

After several local rides, we get out of Rio and eventually find a truck who isn’t on strike (yet). He’s going where we want to arrive today. Naive of him. Soon we’re stopped by a group of enraged truckers. But Luis convinces all of them to let him get to his friend. “How?!” – “I simply knew what I was doing, and that it was right.” Unbelievable! It’s like in those movies – a cool cop calmly facing down an angry or scared young man pointing a gun at the cop. “You just need to know what you’re doing and confiar em yourself that this is the right thing to do.” Just trust yourself . . .

Luis and his friend share their food and “home” giving us some space in the cargo compartment where we set camp for the night. However, there’s one issue – I’m the only female among a mob of angry truckers, and I’m afraid to go pee. But our driver being a protective host reassures us “We won’t let them hurt her,” pointing to his machete, “And I also have something more, in case this won’t be enough,” implying a gun.

Yes, just about every trucker carries a gun because they’re often robbed. That’s why they’re not allowed to give rides and have trackers indicating a passenger in the car. But those who want to help travelers find a way to trick the system, risking their jobs and even lives. Hitchhiking in Brazil is quite challenging – people don’t trust strangers. Nevertheless, sometimes after we nearly begged for the ride, the drivers were holding back tears when goodbying.

Along our way, we have encountered so many helpful and kind people – they trusted to let us in their homes, they cooked for us, both they and we shed tears when leaving. After all this kindness, we wanted to pay back to the world somehow.

And the opportunity presents itself the morning after we arrived home. A shabby-looking man with the skin revealing that he works a lot in the sun rings the doorbell asking for a bag and some food. He says he knows Mika’s grandmother who’s out for some time. We decide to do something Mika would never have thought of before this journey. We invite him to sit with us for breakfast and ask to get some bread with our money. Not only he comes back with the bread, but also gives back the change. He was very humble and almost didn’t speak, and we were shy to ask his story watching him being clumsy with the fork and knife. The man was very grateful for the breakfast and sandwiches we give him for lunch. And we feel like this is the smallest but not the last thing we could do to give back what we received from the world.

Featured photo: a kilometers-long line of trucks picketing near Juiz de Fora, MG where we spent the night in Luis’ cargo compartment (Brazil, May ’18)

Long before we met, Nastia was already a devoted traveler, having hitchhiked around much of Eastern Europe and Germany. Besides exploring the world, she’s also interested in education (she’s an English teacher), the environment, and femininity, about all of which she reflects regularly on her blog — mostly in Ukrainian, sometimes in English. After we got married, we traveled together for several months in 2018 visiting friends and family across Europe and around Brazil. This is one of the many pieces Nastia wrote in reaction to her experience in my home country, adapted and translated into English for a travel writing scholarship application.

If you’d also like to be featured on the Not Mad Yet website, i’m open for contributions! The first step (if you haven’t taken it already) is to sign up for my weekly newsletter, where you’ll become familiar with my work and find out whether you actually want to be associated with it 😉

To contact me, simply reply to any of my emails, and we’ll take it from there 🙂

Guest articles: Nastia MF; hitchhiking; Brazil

Of Pisco and Peru: Introduction

A guest post by Las Vegas-based world traveler and writer Randy Duke.

It’s the edge of midnight and he’s losing it. The thick, flesh-filled folds twitch on the back of our driver’s neck as he fidgets with his Panama hat. Wiping the pouring sweat from his forehead, he peers past the fog roiling around the bus, out into the gloom.

And here I am, my thoughts skipping beats like a Ritalin-addicted ferret. “Not again!”

He chuckles and we’re instantly slaloming into the oncoming lane for a better angle of attack on the next S-curve, Isle of Man Race-style.   

I close my eyes and press my head against the seat in front of me. I’m the sole, conspicuous gringo in a bus crammed beyond capacity, creasing mile after stomach-churning mile through the Andes.

With each soul-crippling curve, the bus lurches violently, provoking an outburst of frenzied Spanish from the tortured voices quailing from the back.

But hey, I saved an extra 150 soles.

The mind’s constantly screaming, “Do something!”

But the body’s glued here, trapped to this seat. So I’m stuck here, basking in the joys of travel.

What is travel, after all, but fleeing from life’s normalcies? Why does my electric razor start smoking when I plug it in? What’s a Delta-Wye transformer? What IS the cross currency exchange rate between the moose jaw centennial and a rai stone from the island of Yap? For that matter, what is the proper etiquette for hailing a cab in Mongolia? How does one get a wifi password in logographic kanji? How did my luggage make it to the other side of the earth without me? Hola. Excusez vous but vas linguaggio naar je sprechening? Oh, and why am I straddling a freshly dug pit swatting away tropical sand fleas when I could be seated on a post-1851-style toilet with all its newfangled technologies, like rolled toilet paper? WHY?

And what’s this oversized ladle for?

Where am I?

My stomach tightens. Bodies twist from the torque of another S-curve.

What’s that smell?

I tuck in my arms and do the calculations. Five hours walking at altitude bookended by a full day’s worth of jitney shuffles on planes, trains, and now what quasi-officially counts as an automobile. The tourist trifecta. Did I shower today?

None of this fazes the Peruvian sleeping beauty draped on the seat to my left, head burrowed deep in her red traveling jacket. A strand of spittle vibrates on her tucked chin as she snores, blissfully unaware of the mass psychotic breakdown afflicting the passengers still awake.

The driver exchanges glances with his thick-jowled wingman, who flashes a devious smile. Suddenly, ear splitting Andean flute opera cranks up from the battered boombox perched lazily on his lap.

High-pitched screams from the back.

Now what?

The playlist instantly shuffles to fare from ABBA, Journey, The Beatles, and some Phil Collins thrown in for good measure.

What’s going on?

I look back just in time to see an old lady slap some young guy so hard his chullo flies off.

Maybe he got too handsy?

The brim of a cowboy hat pokes the back of my head, and a wrinkled face juts past me, mottled lines creased with age. A spastic finger shakes circular jabs at the driver’s back, driving home some urgent point.

Is this normal?

Wait! Calm down. This is my fault. I should have known better than to wake up one morning, take a hard look in the mirror, then head to the first place picked at random by a drunk at my favorite dive bar. Voila! Instant lifestyle switch.

Now I’m a world traveler. Sounds so exotic. Never mind that dead-end job I ghosted. That’s so yesterday’s non-news. Now I’m an expat. Worldly. Cultured. Cosmopolitan. Really? How will this play out? Me posing in a blazer and khakis at far-flung cocktail parties drinking wine spritzers, telling most interesting man in the world travel snob stories?

No house. No pension, but hey, I’ve been to Mumbai. Every year still zipping off to far-flung countries in search of . . . what? Maybe I should go run with the bulls before I need that artificial hip?

Everybody hates travel stories. Especially the insipid details and insignificant incidents, such as, for instance, falling off a precipice sometime after midnight from over a mile up in the Andes.

Our driver could take us straight off this cliff yawning out beyond his windshield and he might not even care. Anything to quell this mutiny behind him. A little zigging when he should have been zagging, then a fleeting, final nanosecond of wide-eyed, doomed clarity. The wheezing sound of thirty sphincters puckering in unison as we crash against the escarpment, churning into an eggbeater of dashed dreams, bashed brains, crunched bones, and ripped arteries. Then, a final banshee’s shriek in our collective psyches as our bodies break apart all set to the beat of Sussudio.

Featured photo: the quintessential Machu Picchu shot (Peru ’16)

Randy Duke is the pen name of Doug Tesch, an avid traveler based in Las Vegas, where he lives with his Peruvian “sleeping beauty” wife Magda. He’s written dozens of short stories, teleplays, screenplays, and is now trying his hand at a book — a travelogue of his wife’s homeland, where they also plan to travel again soon. Doug hangs out online on Scribophile, where he interacts with amateur and professional writers sharing drafts of their work and feedback, and can also be reached on Messenger or via email — he is eager to hear your impressions about his work!

If you’d also like to be featured on the Not Mad Yet website, i’m open for contributions! The first step (if you haven’t taken it already) is to sign up for my weekly newsletter, where you’ll become familiar with my work and find out whether you actually want to be associated with it 😉

To contact me, simply reply to any of my emails, and we’ll take it from there 🙂

Guest articles: Randy Duke; Peru