Monthly Archives: April 2016
“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task” ~ Sophocles, Greek Tragedian
The human experience. One of the greatest gifts one could ever be privileged to. We have the potential to break personal boundaries and share with the world our individual powers, strengths and failures. Being accepting of our weakest points only makes us stronger. Keeping up appearances is destined to end poorly. Unwrapped, this is who we are. Approaching our flaws and growing from them makes us allow us to be who we really are. Embrace those weak points, by making them strong.
I’ve had thousands of hours to contemplate the human experience. What does it mean to be human? With the media in our faces and online glamour profiles we have become closer connected but increasingly disconnected from ourselves. We want to create the best image of ourselves. Online we can represent ourselves in business, personal and social forms. This connection has sometimes made us shallow and vain. In the last few years, a new dream has been born without definition or shape. It is frustrating and the world is trying to keep up in a race with no finish line.
Before, the road to ‘happiness’ was more defined. Family, kids, house, car and job. At least there was a goal, however somewhat materialistic, to work towards. We are more free to choose now than ever. Life shouldn’t be lost to hours on your phone or a checklist of gains. It is a beautiful experience, you just need to look up and look around. That is the main issue. There is no guide book. And there never should be. There is no definitive right or wrong way. Each individual should have the power to be their own person. To live their own life. That is why I cycle for education. Because it gives hope to those who otherwise do not have the same choices or options as I did growing up.
This brings me back to the human experience. It is just that. Life should be about each other. Helping others achieve their goals. Sharing in the achievements and bettering the lives of our fellow people. Whether they be right next door or on the other side of the world. We are all players in a spinning, living, natural world. We have the power to make a difference in our personal and broader world. We should leave a legacy that is real. Choose bright human futures, over decaying plastic superficiality. Life is the book we are all destined to write.
I was very excited to be in Nicaragua. The land of beautiful lakes and soaring volcanoes. It was the thirty-third country on my round the world tour. The terrain became instantly very flat, I had a pretty good tailwind and it was much cheaper than Costa Rica. I also had a lot to look forward to in the coming days. I would be meeting up with the people at the Free the Children community of El Trapiche as well as the Me to We team in Nicaragua. However, first I had to get there.
I got off to an early start from the hole in the wall where I slept the night before. The wind was generally on my side and I passed through a windmill farm along Lake Nicaragua. It is a massive lake that apparently has predicable winds year round blowing off of it. By the time I reached Rivas I was starving. I even met a French couple as well as a Slovenian cycle tourist on the way. I ate a massive and cheap breakfast. One of the best breakfasts I had in a while. Basically rice and beans mixed called Gallo Pinto, served with fresh salty cheese, eggs and tortillas. You can see the recipe for Gallo Pinto HERE.
I had only planned to make it to Rivas that day as I wanted to go see the volcano that sits within Lake Nicaragua. However, it was Good Friday and was told there were no boats running that day. While I thought about what to do I found a Burger King with internet and drank unlimited sprite. I decided to just make a break for the historical town of Granada where I was to meet my host, Camilo, the following day.
It was Holy Week so many people were on holiday, making the road extra busy. I hunkered down and made it into Granada at the end of a nice downhill. I found a cheap place on the outskirts of town and a got some dinner before bed. Exhausted after another long day, but feeling good about Nicaragua so far.
“I am still profoundly troubled by the war in Nicaragua. The United States launched a covert war against another nation in violation of international law, a war that was wrong and immoral.” ~ Bianca Jagger, Nicaraguan Human Rights Activist
The following afternoon I met Camilo for lunch and got settled in downtown Granada with his help. It was nice to see a friendly face and actually just do something normal for once, like meet someone for lunch. I was more excited than he knew about simply meeting for lunch. Almost all of my meals are alone or rushed at the end of a long day. It was nice to chat over good food with a friendly face. Not often is there someone waiting to meet me.
I explored around historical Granada for the rest of the day and the following morning. Camilo arranged for me to join a Me to We group from Winnipeg for a tour of the city and to visit ‘Café de las Sonrisas’. I met a nice guy named Joe, with the organization, and we headed to the café together. There we listened to Antonio’s inspirational story of how he came to Nicaragua and started a café where all of the employees are deaf. He also has a workshop that only employs people with handicaps to make hammocks for sale. He is an truly passionate and talented individual who is currently making a huge difference in the lives of people who would otherwise have few options for employment. Nicaragua would be a very hard place to live with any sort of disability and he gives people bright futures. Together they are making a massive hammock out of old plastic bags, which you can see below. He is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.
After lunch the group asked me to speak about my ride around the world. Antonio was a hard act to follow, but they were a great audience with a number of questions. The students had some time to do a bit of exploring around Granada at the end of the afternoon and then we said our goodbyes. I never know who I am going to meet on this trip. That’s what is always exciting.
“The lake is known to have been controlled by pirates as early as 1665 when Henry Morgan led six shallow draft canoes up the San Juan for an attack on Granada.” You can also read more about piracy on Lake Nicaragua and the real Captain Morgan HERE.
The next day I took my time cycling to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. On the way I took a break at the historical Masaya market and walked about for a while. When I reach the city ‘Where the streets have no name,’ I navigated my way to where Camilo had nicely arranged for me to stay. The streets actually have no names in Managua, making finding anything a bit difficult unless you live there. I went with Camilo that evening to meet another Me to We group and to hear him speak passionately about the history of Nicaragua and the work of Free the Children. You can read a brief account of the complex and interesting history of Nicaragua by CLICKING HERE.
Early the next morning was the big day. Up at 5:30am, I had a quick breakfast and set out towards the Free the Children community of El Trapiche. It was a direct 25 kilometre climb up to where I would meet a group of boys from the community. We would then cycle the rest of the way to El Trapiche together. I was very excited and spun my pedals in low gear all the way to the top of the pass. It took almost three hours of slow climbing, but I finally made it with the boys waiting to shoot down the dusty road to El Trapiche. There is a drought in Nicaragua at the time, so things were even more dry and dusty. This made for quite the fantastic downhill bike ride.
It was a dream come true to cycle with these kids to their school. We laughed together as we rode down the crazy road and talked about what music they liked. They were divided among their taste of Justin Beiber. I can understand the division. The youngest of the group was the strongest of us all it seemed. On a few very steep hills we all had to get off and push as he climbed on up. The one boy told me that they ride the road once a week to go to the highschool on the weekend. Two things that are a testament to the reality of life in rural Nicaragua.
We arrived thirsty, hungry and a little dusty. After a some food and a water break I shared my journey with the people in the community through the help of Camilo translating. It was so nice to hear their questions and reactions to what I have and hoped to accomplish with my trip. The one man said that to them I am a hero. I almost welled up when I heard this. In my day-to-day existence, my trip seems incredibly normal to me at this point. Navigating countries, finding places to sleep and embracing different cultures is essentially what I do. I have come to understand that I am good at what I do and am still able to have a lot of fun while doing it. An experience I wish all of the world could have.
Later that morning I helped with digging the new playground for the school with a Me to We group from Canada and the United States. It was fun getting to know the students, facilitators and teachers. After lunch I shared my journey to the group. We discussed my route, struggles I have faced, the change that they all can make in the world and following dreams. I call it ‘Finding Your Bike Ride’. In that very moment they were in the process of youth helping youth. For many young people, I think the experiences they have through Free the Children truly set in after they get home and return to the privileged reality of Canada. They see the reverse culture shock of the differences between societies. They see the power they have to actually make a change. To put a smile on a face and brighten the world for others is actually a very real possibly.
I was welcomed that night to meet Camilo’s lovely family and joined in for dinner after a full day. After the experiences we shared, I am proud to call him my friend. I am always blown away by the wonderful and passionate people Free the Children have on their team. I said my farewells and was off riding towards the colonial city of León the following morning.
I road past windy lakes and more stunning volcanoes. Nicaragua is one of those countries I would like to return to and explore more. The people are very friendly and are excited to share their home with the world. Arriving in León I found a hostel to park my bike and explored a bit of the city. At one of the focal points during the 1979 revolution, León represents more than just colonial fingerprints. People fought from street to street in a struggle to regain control of their freedoms. As you walk about you feel that there is more in the air than old churches and historic buildings. The revolution is in the eyes of the population. A lot has changed in Nicaragua in the last few years. I hope to return one day and see the continued progress and improvement of the daily lives of the people. Education, will be at the heart of this positive growth.
When I arrived at the border town of Somotillo some five kilometers away from Honduras, I checked into a rundown little guesthouse. As luck would have it I found a retired cycling couple from the United States there. Mike and Linda were headed south. We chatted that night over some dinner about our rides and routes ahead. Unexpectedly they even paid for my dinner. They said it was their contribution to my nice charity work. You can read about Linda and Mike’s journey at GONE 4 A Ride. Their trip is nearing the two year mark and they hope it will last another eight as they make their way around the world.
The following morning I was off fairly early and pedaled onto Honduras and the next chapter of my Central American adventure. After Nicaragua I was filled up with emotion and good vibes. I felt like I was really making a difference. That my ride was touching the lives of more people than I ever thought possible. The dream of changing the lives of individuals as I went and they changing mine in return, has been a continuous aspect of my journey. The power of the individual never ceases to amaze me. I felt like the wheels on my bike were rolling on more than just kilometres. I was being pushed by the hope and strength of the people. This is the human experience that drives me forward.
*At the moment we are moving our way towards the goal for the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. Please keep the people of Ecuador in your thoughts as they recover from the most recent devasting earthquake. As far as I have heard everyone in the Free the Children communities are doing okay as well as staff and Me to We volunteers. Only $4,000 to go to reach our goal after a kind sponsorship from Tom & Pat Morell. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**It has now been a year since the passing of my cousin Jamie Quattrocchi. He was tragically swept away by a rogue wave while sightseeing with his girlfriend Brittany at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia last April. Thanks to the hard work of my Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim, Brittany and support of the community as a whole back home, improvements have been made to safety at Peggy’s Cove. We all miss you Jamie and think of you often. You can read the article on improvements by CLICKING HERE.
***I am making my way through the hills of Mexico at the moment. It is a beautiful country with great food and a lot to take in each day. This week I reached a huge milestone at over 30,000km cycled since starting my journey. With home on the horizon I will be moving more quickly than usual, but still stopping to take in that which surrounds me. Thanks for reading!
Adopt-A-Village Initiative ~ Free the Children
A Video on the Beauty of Nicaragua ~ A Must Watch!
Bruce Springsteen ~ Streets of Philadephia (For Antonio)
A Sixteen Minute Read
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.” ~ HG Wells, English Author
Heaving myself over the crest of another hill I stop for a moment to take it all in. I take in the green view on the Panamanian horizon. The morning humidity rises in a haze of heat as if an oven element were sudden switched on. The sound of nature hums to great the day. With a new day the world is busy. Wildlife and modernity collide in a losing battle. A man motions me over for a cold cup of water. I feel the sweat and salt already beginning to form. I am in a new land, new continent and a new day.
The individuality of each unique day, person and experience is what makes life so interesting. It is what fuels the tank for travel. You can see all of the countries in the world, but each day and each person only happens once. It is the people that make travel interesting for me. The unpredictability of seeing or meeting someone new is very exciting. On the bicycle I am in the drivers seat of a daily ethnological experience.
By traveling to a new place you are seeing many things for the first time. That is always why it is so exciting and home may seem like the same old bore. But, no two days are ever exactly alike. Though some days may seem similar and mundane to the untrained eye, I assure you, they are not. To see the world as something that is new and exciting each day is a skill worth working on. To wake up and feel the thrill of the day open before you, is to live in the exact moment as it was meant to be. You, our people, the sun and wind, converging on a single moment. A single beautiful individual day.
The story picks up as I safely arrived in Jaqué, Panama after an eight hour sun scorched foodless journey on a small fishing boat. After over a week of waiting and problems with immigration in Colombia I was ready for my adventure by bicycle to resume. However, I knew this meant at least one more boat.
When I arrived immigration was waiting on shore and I waded through the shallow water with my bike and all my gear towards land. I bit farewell to Justino and was glad to put that part of the trip behind me. I spoke with the immigration official and found there was a boat leaving in a few hours to Panama City. I was so happy. He said I could not be on it. At this point he already had my passport and said he had to ‘verify’ me. Most borders take ten minutes maximum to do this type of thing, so I was having a hard time understanding.
I pleaded with the guy to stamp me in, so I could leave on the cargo boat to the city. I explained I had already waited one week for the last boat, but he didn’t seem to care at all. I sat outside on the step of the immigration building as he said I couldn’t go inside. While I waited the boat left without me, again.
I watched him go in and out of the building and pretty much ignore me. I’d ask when I could have my stamp, but he would just tell me to wait fifteen minutes more. He just walked about the dusty jungle town texting and doing a whole lot of nothing. Five hours later as the sun went down he walked out and handed me my passport. I let him experience my discontent.
I was extremely hungry and frustrated at this point. There was even less in this town than Bahio Solano. I found the single rundown guesthouse and got some dinner into me. I had another bucket shower and dreamed of the day for running water. I then began asking around town and instantly knew my options were terrible. The police said the next cargo ship was the one that just left and would return again in one week. Devastation. There was the possibility of a boat that went to near where the Pan-American highway begins in Panama, but there were no boats going at this time. Even if I got to there it still meant three days of biking to Panama City. One man said he would take me, but for $500. He needed a boat load of people to make it worth his while and drop the price. People were generally helpful at this point though. I went to bed exhausted.
The next morning I set out again to annoy everyone in the little town until I got a ride out of there. The same answers from all new people. ‘One week. A lot of money. I don’t know.’ Until one nurse who actually spoke English had an idea. “Why don’t you take the plane that leaves tomorrow for Panama city?” He said. It was a 35 minute ride on a single propeller plane. It would in turn cost the same if I waited a week for the cargo boat. Time was money and sanity. The point of taking the Pacific route was to cross the Darién Gap by not flying, but I had seen enough and was excited to get going on my bike once again. This was my ticket out. I took it.
We convinced the lady who sold the tickets to book me a seat. She was worried about my bike though. I would have to take it apart and pack everything really small. This was no problem, but took a few tries for her to accept how compact I had my bike. One of my pedals was seized onto the bike and the were totally screws stripped. After an hour of smashing with the local bike mechanic, it wouldn’t move. He found a handsaw helped me saw it in half. For all of the work he wouldn’t take any money, but accepted a cold box of milk. Time to get new pedals in Panama City. I was a bit sad, as the pedals were one of the few parts that had made the entire journey so far. Everything was approved by the lady and I thanked my new friend Javier many times for negotiating and helping me make my escape back to civilization.
In the morning a man with a wheelbarrow arrived to take the pieces of my bicycle and bags to the airport. There are no roads in Jaqué, just walking paths and bike routes. I paid him a dollar and we walked towards the airstrip at the edge of the village. They weighed all my stuff on a scale as old as time itself and told me I should pay for everything including my ticket in Panama City. The first time I’ve ever boarded a plane and paid after. I guess there was incentive for us to arrive.
Once a week a tiny plane arrives in Jaqué. From what I gathered, it is a big event. After a bit of waiting a huge crowd had formed. All of these people surely couldn’t be going on the plane I thought. Then out of the distance it appeared, humming seemingly right out of the jungle. The children were all pointing as it roared up and cut the engine. It was tiny and I was excited. A few people got off and five people got on, myself included. In a few moments we were roaring down the runway. I was sitting right behind the pilot and could see all the little controls and switches. It was actually really cool and a unique experience for me.
“The Panama Canal is like a wound that humans inflicted on the Earth – one that nature is trying to heal.” ~ Abdiel Perez, Locks Superintendent Panama Canal
In no time at all Panama City and the canal came into view. All of the ships waiting to go through the locks passed under our wings and I was taken from the jungle town with one restaurant to a massive city with everything you could imagine. I got all my gear sorted and set to putting my bike together at the airport. In no time at all the crazy man everyone would stop and stare at for a moment had put together his bike and was off riding with one pedal.
Cycling through roaring traffic I found a hostel with an empty bed after a few tries. It was in Casca Viejo, the old downtown. This was my second trip to Panama. I had come four years prior almost to the exact day with my brother Luke on a March break holiday. We went to the San Blas Islands, explored Panama City, visited the canal and walked up Ancon Hill. A completely different trip entirely. It was nice change though, because for the first time in almost two years I was somewhere I had actually been before. Though it had been a while since I was last in Panama City, a lot was still familiar. I enjoyed walking along the harbor and taking in the fish market. I grabbed some cheap fish ceviche and took in a bit of modern reality. One of my favourite cities on the trip and I would certainly return again. (For tips and tricks from the Huffington Post on making one of my favourite dishes, Ceviche, CLICK HERE)
The next day I dealt with my very worn out bike. I found a shop and had a complete tune up to start my final leg home. My tires had been rolling since South Africa and were completely done. I got new pedals and a whole bunch of little parts replaced. My bike had a beating heart again. The following morning I was off riding early. I was excited to be back on the road and see what the next adventure had in store. There was even a new bike path with beautiful flowers along the sides to guide me out of the city.
Cycling in Panama was a nice break from the massive climbs of South America. Though it is an undulating series of low hills I could actually find a rhythm and speed along pretty nicely. In the morning, I got caught up in a bicycle race with people on lightweight road bikes. Along the higheay every few kilometers there were stands with Gatorade, water, granola bars and bananas. They were more than happy to share their snacks and I was more than happy to take a few bottles of Gatorade for the road. Pretending to discover the stands each time was fun for me. On one of the hills I passed by a group of cyclists in the race with my fully loaded bike, I felt proud at how strong my legs had become over the course of the trip. That night I camped near the beach and cooked my simple pasta. Life was back to normal and I was in my happy place once again.
After taking in a beautiful morning ride I set down to pedal through heat. On my second night I camped at the house of a lady that saw me two days earlier near Panama City. Martha was her name. A very friendly women who owned a fresh juice shop. While I waited for my pasta to cook I drank fresh cold pineapple and mango juice. She had to leave early in the morning before the sun rose, but trusted me to let myself out. Moments like this really teach me a lot about the nature of humanity and the good will that exists. The propagated fear and disparity seen on the evening news is not what deserves attention. It is not even the norm of human society, but we choose to promote it and believe. I have seen the true nature of humanity from the seat of my bike. And it is beautiful.
The following days saw a continuation of the up and down slopes towards the border with Costa Rica. I camped at a police station one night. They even gave me a full dinner and a place to shower. The one officer friendly grilled me on my adventure while I ate another pile of fried plantains. As I cycled out the following day there was some serious construction happening along the road. The workers cheered me on and often offered ice cold water they had in big jugs along the road. I must have looked dead tired, because they always offered before I asked. In the scorching heat of over 40 degrees each day, ice cold water breaks were a dream come true. Sometimes I would even hide out in a McDonalds if it appeared, drink unlimited Sprite while using free Wi-Fi and enjoying the air-condition.
“Witnessing Panama’s overnight transition from banana republic to middle-class retirement haven is like watching the Univision version of Extreme Makeover: it feels so tacky but you can’t change channels because you just have to find out what happens next.” – Andrew Evans, Writer
The roads in Panama were generally very good and took me towards my thirty-second country, Costa Rica. I was excited about making good time through Panama and looking forward to cycling the beautiful Costa Rican coast. Overland travelers are supposed to have onwards tickets out of the country, however, the border lady looked the other way and let me pass through. I was becoming worried about my passport filling up as I had no new pages left and a few countries to still get through. I hoped the next few crossings would be understanding and welcoming. I realize that this is a really fortunate problem to have though.
In the first ten minutes of cycling Costa Rica I blew a spoke. I found some cover from the sun and fixed it up while a nice man bought me a Pepsi and watched me curiously. At this point some of the spokes were quite old and becoming rusted from days on the road. They break easily and I just get on with it, fix it up and try to get moving again as quick as possible. These little things which used to be a huge problem are now just daily annoyances which I have come to deal with.
“As the eco- and adventure-tourism capital of Central America, Costa Rica has a worthy place in the cubicle daydreams of travelers around the world.” ~ Lonely Planet
Off rolling in Costa Rica showed a beautiful green scene in amongst the roaring traffic headed for the capital. I met a English cyclist at the end of the day and we decided to try and find somewhere to camp together. We rolled down a quiet road in Piedras Blancas National Park and found a man to ask to pitch our tents. He said he had a cabin we could sleep in not far away. It was actually only half finished surrounded by vegetation, but we climbed up top and threw out our mattresses. With a bit of bug spray there was no need for setting up the tent. We chatted into the night about our rides and said farewell early in the morning. The National Park was buzzing with birds and sounds of thousands of insects. A really memorable sleeping spot.
I rode off looking to escape the traffic. Finding the road towards the coast the highway improved greatly as well as my mood. The riding was nice, green and fairly easy for the most part. However, Costa Rica is much more expensive than anywhere I had been since Europe. When a coke costs four times what it did in Panama you have the feeling that moving quickly is the best option. There is a reason why people have come and will continue to come to Costa Rica, because it is stunningly beautiful and they have made a huge effort to preserve their natural ecosystems. However, all other touring cyclists I met were making a quick route through to return to cheaper territory. It is fine on a week long holiday, but extended travel and Costa Rica are a difficult combination for the budget traveler. I brought most of my food with me from Panama knowing this would be the case.
Over the next two days my bike decided it would just fall apart. In the span of one moment I broke two spokes. I fixed them both and immediately broke another. I gave up on that as night was coming and needed to find a place to sleep. In another moment I had a flat tire. I found a camp site luckily, then begrudgingly fixed the other broken spoke as well as the flat tire after I washed and ate dinner. I spent a sweaty night in my tent and got going early. Not long after my gears seized and my headstock started making awful noises and wobbling all over. I took it off to inspect and the ball bearings crumbled into dust. The original parts of the bike had lasted all the way here, so I couldn’t be too upset. At this point I had a severely crippled bike stuck in only one gear. It had been a while since I had a day off. I headed towards Quepos and got a bed at a hostel. It was Sunday so everything was closed. The next day I had all things set straight again on my bike when the shop eventually opened and felt good about things again for the moment. I relaxed a bit and swam around in the hostel pool.
I headed off for the border of Nicaragua. It wasn’t far from here and camping would be easy for the next few days as I left the allure of the coast behind. Early on the first day I cycled over a bridge that was full of huge crocodiles in the river below. Pretty awesome to see actually. After a sweaty day and one big climb, I was down on the coast again. I camped out on a beautiful beach almost completely to myself. I cooked my pasta and enjoyed the sunset. These moments are what it is all about. When I can soak in the beauty of nature, the quiet of the night and reflect on how far I have come.
Nicaragua was not far now and I had only two more days riding to get there. The terrain became more scrubby and rugged as I approached the frontier. I drank cold fresh coconut water during the hottest part of the day. Something I had missed for a while. A throwback to my beginning days of cycling back in Hainan China where my ride began. Natures’ Gatorade. It was a hot two days but I made it just in time for the border to close after breaking two more spokes. They rushed me through and the sun set as I hurried around looking for a place to sleep on the Nicaraguan side of the line.
I took a deep breath and knew that tomorrow would be another beautiful individual day. Full of victories, struggles, beauty and mystery.
*We are now more than halfway towards the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. I would like to thank Lori Bryden as well as Annette & Derek Buffam for their recent donations. Please continue supporting the cause by CLICKING HERE TO DONATE.
**Check out a recent guest post of mine featured on Stephen Gollan’s site the ‘Uncharted Backpacker’. It gives insight into my opinions on bike travel and my motivation behind cycling the world. Follow the link to the article. http://www.unchartedbackpacker.com/freedom-bicycle-cycling-home-china/
***I am currently cycling in the rugged region of Chiapas, Mexico. I am now back in North America. Hooray! Keep following along for future posts on Central America. Home is on the horizon and I have been moving quickly. The next post with be on Nicaragua and my experiences visiting the community of El Trapiche with Free the Children and Me to We. There is always more to these stories than I have time to share, but I do my best. Thanks for reading! 🙂
A Cool Time-Lapse of a Panama Canal Crossing
A Relavent Music Video on Modernity ~ Matt Good 21st Century Living