Story last updated at 6/13/2012 - 2:16 pm
Amélie and Marion Laurin, 28 and 30 years old, respectively, set out from their hometown of Paris on September 28, 2010 to travel the Americas south to north. They did not, however, set out to hitchhike the entire trip, but so far they have.
The sisters were traveling in Australia when they planted the seed to travel the west coast of the Americas, from Tierra Del Fuego to as far north as they could get.
"We didn't plan to travel the way we are doing it now, we thought we would be 'normal' back packers," they said. From France it made more sense for them to land in Brazil, then make the trek to Tierra Del Fuego, then up the coast to Alaska. But just south of Rio de Janeiro, they found themselves in a tight spot. They were low on cash, could not access a cash machine, and the bus they wanted to ride was not leaving for 12 hours.
"We thought 'What are the options?'" Amélie said.
Their solution was to stick out their thumbs. They kept telling themselves they would just hitchhike for a leg of their trip, and then purchase a car in Argentina. It didn't happen. Then they kept telling themselves they would buy a car in Mexico. That didn't happen either, and the two are very happy the way their trip has turned out.
"We've saved tens of thousands of dollars," Marion said.
A major benefit of traveling in other people's vehicles is that it's cheap, but the best part about hitchhiking, they said, is the friendships they have made.
"Overall it's been a wonderful experience. We made a lot of friends, which we didn't really think was possible at the beginning," said Marion. They knew they would make short-term connections, but "Meeting people that we say 'I love you,' or 'I'll miss you' to", Marion said, was something they did not expect.
The sisters are both naturally curious, and reveled in the diversity of the different people they met. They said that hundreds of times they were invited into people's houses after getting to know them during a drive.
"We eat with them, cook with them, get to know their families, their habits, their kids, [their] grandma," Amélie said.
When they didn't have a place to stay they simply approached people, which they called "asking for hospitality." One sister would stay with the bags, and the other would set out looking for a spot to sleep.
"We would always ask for the yard first. We explained what we've been doing, and explain, 'We're nice people, don't worry,'" said Amélie. Often they would be invited into a residence to cook, and then once their niceness was proven, they would be invited to sleep indoors. If they were turned down, "We'd just go to the neighbors," said Amélie. They estimated that they have stayed in over 200 homes.
"We always felt safe in the houses. We've had fantastic houses, beds each, swimming pools, and sometimes [we stayed at places] where there was no furniture and slept on the floor," Amélie said.
They also stayed at fire stations, chapels, hospitals, or in the back of trucks. They even stayed at police stations in Brazil, Columbia and Mexico.
"It makes sense," Amélie said. "We need a place to stay, and protection."
In Columbia the police would stop cars for the sisters and ask the drivers to give them rides.
In Belize, Amélie and Marion stopped at a scuba dive shop to ask if they could stay there. They were offered one of the shop's boats as a crash pad. The boat headed out on a diving trip, and the girls stayed aboard. They ended up receiving their diver's certification, trading photos for the cost of diving, (Amélie is a photographer).
The sisters had been told that the United States would be less hospitable, but "We didn't find that," said Amélie. Instead, they adapted the way they approached people. For example, in Central America, they were more direct, simply asking for a ride or a place to stay. But once in the United States, they found people to be more guarded.
"We were asking the wrong questions," Amélie said. They learned to say, "Hi, how are you doing? I'm traveling with my sister. Are you by any chance going in that direction?" versus just asking for a ride.
Of the almost 800 rides it took the sisters to reach Juneau, only once did they feel the need to exit a vehicle - in Brazil. The longest they had to wait for a ride was five hours, in Argentina.
Though the women had a goal of reaching Alaska in the summer of 2012, they were otherwise not that particular of the time they spent along the way. They stayed for a week and a half with one family in California. Often, they found, people would pick them up, explain they were just going 20 minutes down the road, but after getting to know the sisters, the drivers would admit they were going farther, and took them along too. They found that once they got to know people, and vice versa, their hosts were happy to go out of their way. One man they met at a gas station in California drove almost 250 miles out of his way to take the girls to the border at Arizona.
In Juneau, the sisters stayed with Aja Razumny. Marion had studied with a former exchange student of Razumny's.
On June 8, Marion and Amélie took a ferry to Haines, where they have plans to head north, explore Anchorage, and possibly get as far as Prudhoe Bay. Marion will fly from Fairbanks to India in July, and Amélie will explore the United States. They will reunite in Paris on September 28, 2012, exactly two years after their departure.
"It takes a long time," Amélie said. "When you travel for so long, it's not a holiday any more, it's a way of living."
Luckily, they've learned to live with each other their whole lives.
"We're sisters, obviously we argue," Marion said. "We're different characters, we have different personalities. We're not so similar, but we have the same will to travel, so we agree on most decisions, [like] 'Should we take left or right?'"
One thing they definitely agree on is that they both desperately miss their mother's cooking.
If you're dialed up on your French, you can follow Amélie and Marion on their blog at www.terresdame-riques.blogs.nouvelobs.com, or just browse the beautiful photographs.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.