Today I want to introduce you to a hero of mine. I first stumbled across the blog of Patrick Falterman about two years ago and instantly I was hooked. Pat has taken hitching to a whole new level and has been on the kind of expeditions which, until recently, I could only dream of. Though I have never met him, he has been the single biggest inspiration for me to get out there, hit the road and just see what the hell happens. Pat’s blog is unlike any other I have encountered, it betrays a raw talent for beautiful, often amusing, observations about the world and those who inhabit it. Pat’s writings are sporadic, for sometimes he is in the jungle for months at a time, but he never ceases to amaze me with the sheer scale of his adventures… Pat is something which I aspire to be, one of the last great adventurers, a true explorer. Recently, I have been haranguing him with questions…
1. So how long exactly have you been on the road and what first drew you to Hitchhiking
I first started in October 2009. A lack of money mostly drew me to hitching, and then the realization that it was kind of badass to go 3,000 miles with nothing but a sleeping bag and a hat.
2. Do you know how far you have hitched?
I find it’s too much work to keep track….but yeah, I’ve gone pretty far.
3. I read that you once got stuck in a desert and nearly died whilst hitching?
Oh yeah! Well once upon a time in 2010, I found myself in a bit of a situation in northern Chile. I went wandering along down a dirt road with no traffic and no people with just two bottles of water. Maybe didn’t think that one through. Of course, I thought there would be traffic. But I was 20, made from fire-hardened steel — you know what I mean. But anyways, luckily I found a little shack on the roadside filled with bottles of water. Roadside memorial, apparently, to a woman who died of thirst somewhere around there, according to local legend at least. I helped myself to a few. It turned out the Argentine checkpoint was just 15km further down the road. So I would have probably been fine. But still, I was pretty worried at the time.
4. Have you had any other close calls whilst hitching.
Nah. Mostly chill times. A few crazies here and there, but that’s business as usual.
5. How have you found hitching in South America in general? Are the locals friendly?
In most areas it’s easy as pie, though some parts of southern Brazil and Argentina can be tedious with those long waits. It helps vastly if you can speak either Spanish or Portuguese. And of course, the locals are very friendly. Without there help I would have never made it as far as Guatemala, let alone into the Amazon with my canoe.
6. How many days have you now spent canoeing in the Amazon and how do you survive?
By now it must be close to 300 days on the river. Paddling days, mind you. Not including rest days. I survive mostly by fishing and will shoot the occasional junglefowl or paca to supplement that. I also bring rice and farinha, along with other dry goods.
7. How exactly did you learn to hunt?
I’m from Texas. Any infants born without the innate ability to kill animals with firearms are immediately sacrificed to the Rodeo Gods. Failure to do so will cause the Dallas Cowboys to lose Monday Night Football for six hundred years and Hillary Clinton to be elected Queen. Book of Willie Nelson, verse three. Look it up.
In all seriousness I’ve been hunting since I was a boy. For me it was just another part of growing up in the Texas hill country. So why not do it down here? It’s worth noting that it is illegal here for everyone except for locals who were born on the riverside and rely on it for sustenance. Even though it’s technically illegal, I hunt responsibly and sustainably – meaning, I eat every edible bit of what I kill (including livers, hearts, and gizzards if there is one) and I only hunt abundant species which reproduce fairly quickly such as fowl, rodents, and certain species of caiman.
8. What are your thoughts on Pirannahs
I think piranhas are delicious. They’re meaty, abundant, and a mouth-watering delight when fried. They’re a schooling species and so you can catch large numbers of them easily with nets. I see them as toothy little Happy Meals.
As to their notoriety as man-eaters, that’s mostly Hollywood bullshit. Swimming in piranha-infested rivers (and all of the rivers in the Amazon are piranha-infested) presents little real risk. They mostly prefer to attack other fish, including each other, and only then when the victim is dead or dying. The only situation when I could imagine piranhas tearing the flesh off of a perfectly healthy swimmer is if they were trapped in some isolated pool with no food for many months. Even then, it’s a bit of a long shot.
9. How do local people react to you paddling down the Amazon?
Incredulous looks, repeated queries as to why I don’t just buy a motor, and ultimately, respect and friendship. Fluent Portuguese helps immensely. The few kayakers who occasionally paddle down the Amazon River sometimes report hostility from locals but this is usually due to a failure to communicate. Some locals are a bit suspicious, but some fishing talk and half a bottle of cachaça is enough for you to make friends just about anywhere in the Amazon.
10. How much longer do you plan on canoeing, do you have more big expeditions planned for the future?
Hm, well I really don’t know. Maybe years more, maybe not. Hell, I could leave tomorrow or I could live here until I’m 90. But in all probability two-ish more years. I have several expeditions planned for 2015. One repeat to the Serra do Aracá and another up near São Gabriel da Cachoeira on the Rio Marié.
11. How do you support yourself financially? Have you gotten much work in South America?
Oh, I learned the ways of the road from the street hippies down here. Anyone who has travelled here knows the type. I can twist names out of wire and mend earrings and weave bracelets. I do that on the road, mostly for booze money. I’m also fluent in Portuguese and can hold my own in Spanish. Sometimes I’m a fishing guide. I translate people’s websites. I make and sell cocktails in backpacker towns. And then there’s those times when I just haul sacks of cement up stairways or unload semi truck trailers or scrub the toilets in restaurants. You can always find something to do – if you lower your standards enough.
12. What would you say to someone who wants to do a real adventure like this?
By all means, go. But you’ll have to give yourself some time for the lifestyle to sink in. After all, it’s not for everybody.
13. Whats the most important thing when planning an expedition?
Better to overestimate yourself than to underestimate. That way, even if you don’t reach that super distant waterfall, well hell, you still went pretty fucking far.
14. Have you had many other adventurers join you on your travels? Can I come?
Sure, plenty of buddies have joined me on the road and two or three on the river. I enjoy my solitude but also it’s fun to have others with you to laugh and shoot the shit with. You can come paddle with me, but only if you take off the marigold necklace. I’ll tolerate your hat. Bring alcohol.
About Hitch The World: Hi! I’m Pat; I was born and raised in the hills and forests of Texas. I’ve been on the road since 2009. When there’s no roads to hitch, I paddle my canoe along the Amazon…. Yeah Will I had just finished writing a cool bio about myself for your website but then the power went out before I could send it and then my friend Eduardo came by and we went to his house and burned one and then I went and ate a sandwich in the plaza and had two beers and smoked a cigarette and after I went on my bicycle to answer your email but then I remembered I had to go to the post office to see if any letters came while I was hitchhiking in Mato Grosso so I went to the post office but it was closed so I came back to the LAN house to answer your email but I got distracted by my unsent drafts from 2011 while looking for an automatically saved draft version of the first good bio I wrote but it wasn’t there for some reason and then I saw an email from 2011 in Spanish from when I lived in Santiago and I read it and I thought I sounded like such a douche how did I even manage to exist so anyways then I didn’t feel like writing about myself anymore so this is as good as you’re gonna get for now. Good luck on your travels in Guatemala, it’s a pretty cool place from what I remember. Lots of banana trucks.
As I said before, Pat is a bit of a hero of mine. Check out his site – for the budding adventurers there is so much useful information, including some really great kit lists, hitching tips etc which will help you plan your own expeditions. My great thanks for Pat to letting me interview him and I very much hope to write about Pat again soon – hopefully on some sort of Amazonian team up adventure!