Video #17 – USA

Video #17 – Amerika

USA – American Lithuanian hospitality, oddissey down the river Missisipe and a road trip in the southern states

Willis and Geraldine from Saskatchewan (Canada), where the prieries are so plain, you can see the dog that run away from home three days ago, ss they were going down through Chicago, kindly took as onboard and drove like 2000 miles in couple days. In Chicago we are planning to change our passports as the old ones are running out of pages. We also planning our new challenge – the canoe trip down the rivers. To share some of our challenges with American Lithuanians as well stroll around Shicago (as american pronounce Chicago name).

The very first Lithuanian moments in Chicago

Seniai nematėme tokio didelio miesto. | Long time haven't seen such a big city.

The massive cities do not lure us into the night life or the its rush. In fact the most comfortably we feel in smaller town, where we are able to make some acquaintances. Carrying two feelings in the pocket, we still coming to one of the biggest cities. We don’t want the possible spiritless streets, but we are so keen to visit some friends and hopefully see something personal. We are happy to stay with Dalia, who were so kind to host us at her family home, as well as to show as around and treat with Lithuanian meals, we haven’t had for quite a while now.


The moments in Lithuanian Chicago we would describe as quite unexpectedly welcoming. Why we are surprised? Australian Lithuanian were incredibly welcoming and hospitable, too. We are making a presentation to teenagers who come to learn Lithuanian language in Saturday school, as otherwise if the families do not persue the home their root tongue, majority of them would speak solely English.

We share our stories with adults, too. ‘I wouldn’t be able to do what you are doing, but you are doing great things’ people were excited and very inquisitive of the difficulties we encountered or the practical aspects of the trip. Adults were also very generous as well. We are grateful for their kind support that should keep us going further.


We wouldn’t be able to do any of those presentations, if not two fascinating travelers – Žilvinas and Diana. These cyclists made all the way from Chicago to Argentina. Have they not had their family circumstances changed, they still would have been going around the world on the bike. How much we had laughed exchanging our road trip stories. It doesn’t matter our styles differ. The people goodness they experienced is somewhat like an echo to our stories, it doesn’t even matter we hit different continents. ‘Toilet stories’ always have the same pain and laughter elements to cheer us up. By the way, if you are keen to check their adventures, get yourself on – you might be inspired to do something on your own.

Chicago surely is familiar from the movies we have seen. The scyscrapers, of course, are breathtaking both if you standing in front of them as well as looking out from the lake Michigan. We appreciated some small moments, like the dancing waters in the fountain when the wind plays with the sun and fountain drops. The rain in the free concert of Carmina Burana, performed by Chicago symphonic orchestra at the Millenium Park, didn’t scare us either. Chicago overall is quite a scenic city, having somewhat lively atmosphere.

But the most exciting part was getting started with our new challenge. That is the paddling the canoe down the rivers of Fox, Illinois and Missipe. Our friends and parents got a bit nervous (we thought they already got used to our mad round the world challenge anyway) that we are going on the water of the biggest North American river. What happens if we capsize? What if we have the headwind all the way? These and some other questions were on our minds before hitting the river. Luckily we have army maps, so at least we can locate ourselves and see the next spot for filling up the water or getting some food supplies.

Fox river – starting our oddissey

Paskutinis atsisveikinimas su draugais ir mes upėje. | Last saying goodbye and soon we are in the water.

Diana and Zilvinas got us at our starting point. The Fox river looked straight away small and picturesque. Shall we try our first moments? It seems we are stable enough to keep up on the water. Let’s go!

It’s sunny and calm, and we only hear the paddle sound and some birds tweeting. The water is shallow, so you can see some rocks sticking out of the water. Some are clearly seen, but some you have to watch out carefully from the rippling water. At some point it is so shallow, you even have to drag the boat to keep it going.

Fox upė be galo graži ir jauki, jokių laivų tik vienas kitas žvejys ir daug daug gamtos. | Fox river really beautiful, no ships just some fisherman and lots of beautiful nature.

The banks of the river are rocky and beautiful, no wonder that there is lots of private property alongside. Where we are going to pitch the tent then? We got a bit paranoid as we heard of angry hillbills or rednecks that can defend their property aggressively, even with guns should they see the need of it. And who knows how can they perceive two canoists.

So we choose to sleep in the islands. They are usually not posted, and so we can make our temporary homes out there. If you remember Tom Soyer and his friends some days out on the island, you can imagine some similarities in feelings we share with the characters. There is freedom, there is nature surrounding. Every night we make a fire, cook our dinner and stay very close to the nature. We don’t even need to see a tiger or an elephant, the small moments like deer or turtles sticking out of the water make us wonder and cheerful.

At the beginning we try to paddle using two oars. Having not too much of success in the progress, we take a spare one, and bind it with one of the oars. This double oar weighs quite a bit, but the speed increases, and so we will paddle with this new invention all the way.

In the first days were hard to imagine, that this is going to be our five week life. We wake up in the morning, make the fire and cook the breakfast, get ready and on the water. And the ‘work day’ commences – lots of paddling, time for yourself and for chats. Incredible, we are together for nine months now, and we still have so many topics to discuss about.

In the evening we spot an island, or later even any better looking bank to pitch a tent. We are doing it before darkness. As we have a very limited light capacity, we like old time people have to act according to the nature. Sleep when it’s dark, and work when is light.

We took on board lots of cans and porridges, we got some bacon (lithuanian quality) and chocalates, so at first we ate like kings. The water was plenty, and even though for the first weeks we did not have shower, we could swim in the river to get the sweat down.

Finally we hit our first dam. This will be the only time we had to carry our boat, as all the other times we were transported in a royal way – the dam was all to ourselves. It took us like an hour to carry all our possessions, and quite a few efforts as it was hot like in the middle of the summer. It seems that the drought which was so severe this year in States still has its foot here, despite the fact we are nearly in October now.

Fox river was a lovely short experience. Its beautiful banks were fascinating, we had all the water for ourselves – no other boats or barges, or yachts. We are coming though to Illinois, and the river gets wide. Really wide.

Illinois: to the boat jumping Asian carps and shaking hands with Grafton mayor

Kartais vėjas būdavo toks stiprus, kad lengviau kanoją tempti, negu irkluoti. | Sometimes the wind was so hard it was easier to drag the canoe than paddle.

‘Where are you going?’ the fisherman shouts. ‘To Mississipe’ we reply. ‘Yeeee!’ he sounded rather cheerful to hear our one word story. Our tempo gets speedier. At least we don’t need to drag our boat anymore. However the progress is not as we had expected. If we make 30 kilometres, we feel like we did a great job.

The first dam. Will they take us through? We are not a barge or a yacht. The workers seem to have no troubles with that. Soon after three or four of them we already know where to go, what rope to pull in order to make a signal to be taken through, and when to leave.

Štai ir pirmoji užtvanka ir pirmasis daiktų persinešimas. | The first damn and the first portage.

Illinois is actually well known for vast amount of Asian carps. Sometimes they hit your boat so strongly that you think they will make a hole in it. One such a brave one got into our canoe, and so we had a dinner later that night. In China, where this fish is originating, they soon will be running out, but here American don’t know how to cope with such vast quantities. They jump out of the water in twenties or thirties, never seen such a bountiful phenomena.

The wind is getting stronger, and soon we have to make numerous stops as we can no longer paddle. The current is non existant, and so the headwind prevents you of any progress. In fact, we have to change our daily routine. We wake up much earlier in order to be on the water just as the dawn arrives. We get some unnessessary long three four hour rest when the midday wind makes us impossible to go, and then paddle till the dusk is there. We don’t paddle at night. Despite the barges having the most modern imaginable navigation system, they still manage to hit the rafts at time. So we better keep out of the water when its dark.

Saulei besileidžiant laukuose. | Sunset at farmer fields.

We are coming closer to running our of the food. Our menu got more humble: it mainly consists of porridge and cans, and we ran out of chocolates too. We had two portions of army meal too, given so kindly by Geraldine (from Canada times). We intended to eat it when we arrive to Mississipe as a sort of celebration moment. However, when our energy is low, we change our minds and open up these thousand calory meals. Geraldine got the meals when Katryna hit the southern states. Army have provided people with those very handy packages. You do not need any fire to warm the meal up, and you only need some water from the river to fill the heater-in-the-plastic bag, and the chemical reaction commenses. The thai chicken and vegetarian burger were so good. Some sweets and cookies, and we are ready for the road again. In fact, that day we made our record – 38 km on the Illinois.

When we came to Grafton Harbour, and it is the town where two rivers meet, we were very low in food and water supplies. So while one is preparing the camping site on one of the islands, the other is out to hunt for some supplies. Soon that one is very successful – the town hall lady opens up the food bank, and we get cans, home made jams, fruits, and muffins, whilst the mayor shakes the hand. People are kind and hearing only river part story they already amazed. For us is so simple, it’s our every day life now.

We got tamed Illinois. The riverbanks and factories, forests with their nightly coyotte serenades became familiar. We were longing for another challenge. 200 miles left, 138 miles left, 45 miles left, and finally only a mile left to Missisipe.

The upper Mississipe: policeman bananas and the Popeye birth place

St Luis

At first Mississipe doesn’t appear too friendly. After the sunny Illinois, the waves here seem like in the ocean rather than a river. The yachts that come out in the weekend do not help either. Two such posh boats, and the waves are so massive that if you do not put the boat front against them, they can seriously get the canoe out of ballance. And after we nearly hit the masive casino ship docked near the bank, we turn to get out of the water before it hits us completely. By the way, casino ships are popular since the states did not allow any permanent ones in their lands. As the river does not belong to any of them, they can go up and down the river with the clients willing to gain or loose money.

Coming closer to the riverbank we suddenly see a fisherman trying to hit a target. It’s a strange game he is playing. Later we realise it’s an animal he is trying to scare off, as this one just appeared and have no intention of moving away, but doesn’t allow to fish either. We helped to scare the animal away with the oar, and he offered us to give a lift to Aldi store where we could finally lots of food on a budget. In fact, the black fisherman acknowledged he came to live to this town solely because he couldn’t stand massive discrimination elsewhere. The similar story we hear in Hawaii, where a very helpful darker skin guy came back to his native island as he felt more comfortably here.

Vietinis policininkas | Local policeman

It was getting darker. Soon the park meant to close, but we were still trying our chances not to be thrown out. Of course, police noticing strangers came closer. Steve approached us but as soon as he saw our canoe, because friendly and listened carefully to our stories, getting amazed that some people travel ‘the ancient way’ and brought us his night lunch: fruits and beef jerkies. We somewhat feel we had pretty nice encounters with policemen. Apart from Kyrgyztan, where they ask some money for their tea, as we were sitting on the grass, and apparently its not allowed in there.

So the night arrived, and so the massive storm too. The wind, the rain and the lightings would be ok, if not the collapsed tent. Getting out or the tent and getting wet immediate it’s not a pleasant night break, but that’s a part of adventure. Sometimes you sleep under the starry sky, and at times you need to wake up and arrange soon-wet-to-be sleeping bags.

The next morning looks promising till we get into the water. It’s so windy again you can hardly move. Back again on the riverbank despite the fact, that we only 100 yards away from the dam. We hit Melving Price billion costing dam only next morning, where we finally back to our usual routine. In fact, after reaching St Lois the current gets so strong, that we double our speed and motivation. So the same distance of 200 miles we do in just a week unlike in Illinois we need more that two weeks for that.

After some days we are about to run out of our water supplies. The next livable stop is Chester. The atmosphere in this town is somewhat spooky. Even the mural of Popeye seem to be a bit strange and misplaced. We learn soon that this town contains a first degree prison (of the most difficult crimes). On the other hand, the spinach eating character Popeye was born in this town, too.

Cape Girardeu and an attempt to mug us

Ką tik pagauti šamai. | Fresh Mississippi catfish.

Just after we have passed a lovely town Cape Girareu (we luckily get to walk in it later), a pantoon boat comes to us. Niel, the owner of Thebes camping site offers a place to stay and get some hot showers, whereas Ron tells a story of his adventure.

Ron travels is somewhat similar to our oddisey. He starts off in Wisconsin though, a bit higher in the Fox river. After having divorsed from his wife some time ago, and his children well grown up, he lost his job and had nothing more to loose, so he started his Missisipe travel just by himself. Well, with his dog Molley, which is a very helpful companion. So Ron says. The dog guards him at night, and she is very tranquil in the boat too. ‘I have no one to talk to’ Ron tells once asked what he missed most on his 48 day trip. He stopped now in Thebes camping, where he will spent the winter. For food and bed, he will do some mending and fixing in the camping site. So already day and a half Ron sleeps not in the tent, but on the bed, and east not the peanut butter and instant noodles but proper food. Once Ron was running out of water for day and a half, and he was even about to drink from the river. When is hot like that (knowing that he was paddling in the summertime), the feeling is quite familiar. Generally he was surprised, how people were so kind and helpful to him. They often helped him to carry his canoe or gave him food. We only could agree with him, and share some of our stories.

Ronas | Ron

The Thebes landing stop would have been a perfect one if not the incident we had to go through. After having returned from the French looking and feeling Cape Girardeu with our freshly made laundry and new supplies, we all of sudden see two black kids walking throught the private territory carrying our blue dry sacks. They look twin to ours. ‘Check out bags’ – our nine months houses are gone. We sped up to catch with kids, which were not running away. ‘May I check the bags?’ – of course these are our bags stuffed with all sorts of things collected from our backpacks. ‘We haven’t done anything, we just found bags and took them. Some other kids done it’. The story sounded lame, but luckily they showed the ditch where we found our bags with the content all spread around, some damaged, some covered with mud and wet. We managed to unearth nearly everything. Couple more minutes though and we would have lost quite a few precious things – our external hard drives with all the pictures in them, our down jackets and walking boots. Even the lighters were about to be stolen. We tried to tell them that they nearly took our precious memories away, and about to destroy our homes. The younger one was in tears (however, after we have discovered, that voice recorder recorded their theft moment, the younger one was quite a feisty one). The older (around 16) like an old record was repeating the same unbelievable story. Anyways, we managed to heal the psychological wounds, and went further one. Niel had made us a full american breakfast and coffee to make us feel calm.

To reach Cairo where the lower Missisipe starts and then down the river was as hard as hell. The wind was strong and impossible to fight against in the daytime. We didn’t make to Memphis, even though it was never a plan at first. The experience was all worth it. We had all sorts of moments of course. Like the broken tent at night, where you have to invent something on the spot as otherwise you cannot sleep in it anymore. The wind is blowing so hard, you can hardly stand it, and the storm is coming, too. But then you are so close to the nature, you can feel every move and change of it.

Mūsų geras draugas Keith atvyko visą kelią parvežti Žilvinui ir Dianai kanojos ir susitikti su mumis. | Our good friend Keith came to grab the canoe and see us from Michigan (!!).

Our friend Keith came all the way from Mitchigan to collect our canoe an bring it back to Chicago. But we also made a road trip too down the south till the very Laredo, the border town to Mexico.

We only passed the Elvis Presley Graceland in Memphis. It did not impress us too much. Surely, the actual house might have been an interesting view of how posh the singer lived. Otherwise, it’s a cheap commercial site, and if were Preslis, it would have been nice to have somewhat more solid memory rather than piles of cheap mugs or pink girl tshirt declaring love. We in fact much rather preferred our camping site near Edik lake. We were back in our nature – swimming in the lake, greeting deer and squirrels in the morning, making our simple foods. Keith though made a surprise again. The very first evening when we met, he brought us a delicious Mitchingan pie. Berries were melting in our mouths. For this evening he brought some Halloween mulled wine and even three glasses. We haven’t had such civilization for quite some time now.

Šalia Naujojo Orleano | Close to New Orleans

Back on the road to New Orleans, a very French European who managed to recover perfectly after Katryna hit it strongly. The road to this city leads through swamps, as Mississipe divides itself into thousands of rivers, and you can get easily lost among them. After arriving to the city already in the dark, we realize what we missed in the city culture. An old town, plazas, the artist boutiques, the live jazz, the atmosphere. New Orleans contains it all. We drop into Blue Nile, a cozy blue bar, where ‘Little Maker’ performs their jazzy tunes. The violin and trumpets add quite a bit to young armstrongy voice, and we stay here for a little while. Then Keith invites for a dinner. Shrimp etoufe or seafood combined platter were mouth watering. We really like collored greens, too. In fact, some white people (cannot believe it is still happening) do not eat that or black eyed peas (that might be the origin for the known band’s name), as this is the ‘black’s’ food. Oh well, we ate it with full hands and mouths. The catfish and seafood was so delicious, that it totally made our day.

Šventėje | In the Fair

Houston is our next stop, and we were keen to see in the Rennessaince fair, how Americans imagine Europe in that period of time. Lots of people came well prepared and dressed, it seems they paid massive efforts to look authentic. Some though seeemed to be lost from Antique era or modern transformer times. The entire site was full of shops and workshops, and places to try European food. However, the most popular meal that featured on every country’s menu was a turkey leg. Everyone seemed to chew it.

People come here in thousands. The site is massive, so not too overcrowded, you can entertain yourself with lots of shows in amphiteatres built on various sites. It’s a good day out for kids, too.

We are so grateful to Keith for all the adventures and gifts he surprised us with. He is the ‘top giver’ on our list, and we have to learn lots how to be so dedicated to others.

Laredo – leaving USA

Everyone, we mean everyone, as soon as we say we are going to Mexico, warned us of dangers out there. Not simple annoyances, but of kidnapping and even killing too. Maybe it is the first time in our journey, that scared us so much. Keith us left in the truck site with hope we will catch one to Mexico.
We sat down to realize what to do next. Ryan and Cliff, truck drivers, sat next to us and we started to tell the story. Soon, they started to think how to help us. The bad news they told, that American trucks do not enter Mexico. They only receive the load on the border, and then off through America.
So the ideal plan has to be reinvented. Ryan and Cliff gave us their shower coupon ‘you don’t know when you are going to have shower again’. We said goodbye to them, and had to think of our new plan.
The bypass that we thought to try was a ‘no go’ simply because they don’t allow non commercial passengers. So we need to go Laredo, that we tried to avoid so much, and cross the border there. But how we are passing the border, wait for Mexican virtual stories.

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