Category Archives: Argentina

Mind Games: Cycling Paraguay & The Gran Chaco

A 16 Minute Readimage

“Paraguay is an island surrounded on all sides by land.” ~ Augusto Roa Bastos, Novelist

The idea of success and perseverance to a goal is only as difficult as our mind will allow. There is only one obstacle between us and our goals. The mind. This is what prevents us from making the best decisions for ourselves, finishing or starting that project and following our dreams. When I sat down to write this post, my mind wouldn’t let me continue. It said you have no good ideas, there are other things to worry about and no one really cares. I was in a bad mindset. There was only cannot and excuses. I gave up for days and the page lay blank. It’s not that I didn’t think I had a good story to tell, it was the inner slob pouring out. I was not in a mindset to feel the inspiration I needed.

However, it’s all in your head. You are only going to be successful at what you do, if you allow your mind to break free. Dreams, abilities, strengths and weakness are all linked to our internal perceptions of ourselves. One moment we could feel like we can conquer the world and the next we have trouble getting out of bed. Sometimes laying there I feel like this. I think that home is so far away. There wont be anything interesting to see today. I convince myself I feel tired, hungry and thirsty. These are all just excuses of the mind. When you get out there and start taking action, things begin to fall into place. The same goes for this post. The same goes for setting new goals for ourselves. The same goes for getting out of my warm sleeping bag and putting another day in on the bicycle. Ignoring the distractions our minds create for us and getting on with things is one of the most important tools for achieving new boundaries of personal potential. Without a clear mind on your side, you are lost.
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“Gratitude is the least of virtues; ingratitude is the worst of vices.” ~ Paraguayan Proverb

I entered Paraguay via a ten minute ferry ride across Rio Iguazu from Argentina. I thought this would save time and a huge hassle at the renowned tri Argentina, Brazil & Paraguay crossing. All three countries meet at this point near Iguazu Falls. I found the ferry and immigration post easily enough, but was wrong about the time saver part. Not to bore you with Visa legality problems, but I will say I have an undeserving 600 Peso mark against me should I ever return to Argentina. There is also a border guard I am less than fond of now. In some places corruption prevails and no amount of truth will save you.

It was not the best way to leave Argentina, but soon all was forgotten and I was off riding in Paraguay. I sorted out some new country business and took the day to see the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It was pretty impressive to say the least. Paraguay is not known for their sights. They have almost no mountains, it is terribly hot, landlocked and extremely flat in most areas. It is skipped over by most travelers and who cannot even say why they didn’t go. However, this was the country I had been dying to see since I arrived in South America. Some may wonder why I was so excited, but it was the sheer fact that I knew nothing that interested me the most. Very few tourists visit here and I was thrilled at the opportunity to cycle from one end of the country to the other.

At first when I got rolling the road had a similar feeling to the one behind me. Hill after hill in extreme humidity. Stopping every few minutes to wipe my face and stare at another impending hill. I took lots of breaks on my three day ride to the capital of Asunción. The people were very friendly and I was already happy with my choice to come. I often dove into air conditioned gas stations beat red to cool off and snacked on empanadas. Learn about and see delicious empanadas receipes HERE.

On my final day into the capital I had to push myself very hard. I was exhausted entering the city with buses spewing black smoke and stopping all over the road. It was very typical of entering many capital cities on my trip, but I was almost out of steam. In Paraguay they drink mate, the same as Brazilians and Uruguayans, but instead of hot they drink it ice cold. Smart if you ask me. Many people carry around jugs of ice water to go with their stimulating mate. One man likely seeing I was struggling up another hill, stopped his car and filled my water bottle with some of his ice cold water. It was exactly what I needed to get me through the final push to my hosts house in downtown Asunción.

When I arrived at Silvia’s house I was greeted by her amazing mother, who instantly began to feed me delicious foods. For the next few days I got caught up on my things, ate up to my ears, explored Asunción and shared stories with my gracious host. I also did a presentation on my ride at Canadian School and met another Quattrocchi. This was quite possibly the most extended and random of chance encounters on my trip, but one of the most interesting. Not everyday you meet someone with the same last name as you in Paraguay. I certainly had never met anyone with an uncommon name such a mine that I wasn’t related to. I ate a pile of cheesy fries and we shared stories about our lives and family histories out of Sicily.

Saying goodbye to a nice host, comfortable bed and security is never easy. However, setting out into the infamous Gran Chaco of Paraguay was even more difficult. It didn’t help that every person told me I was crazy. I had 850km of completely flat, semi-arid and mostly empty landscape ahead of me to the first town in Bolivia. Taking a photo goodbye I felt that same old tough feeling which is hard to describe. A sense of adventure welled up in me for the next stage, as did a longing for some normalcy in my life. Something predictable to hold onto is always a sneaking white rabbit for the long distance cyclist.

“Paraguay is a well-kept secret of South America; and its music is a passport to international recognition.” ~ Berta Rojas, Paraguayan Classical Guitarist

(Click below to listen to some of Berta Rojas beautiful classical guitar)

Setting out into the ‘Green Hell’ of the Chaco, as it has been dubbed by some, I quickly discovered it was very green but not as hellish as I thought it would be. The road was completely flat. I have been promised flat roads countless times on my journey, but they were all lies. This was the first time it was completely true. After the road behind, no amount of isolation could dampen my spirits.

On my first night into the Chaco I was looking for a place to camp. However, the sides of the road were all full of very tall grass or marshy land. The houses had disappeared and were taken over by massive cattle ranches that stretched way back into the distance. I could see disinterested cows grazing in between the palm trees to keep shade. It was very hot and I was ready to be off the road. Seeing an inviting looking ranch sign and a bench I pull off the road. I saw a man walking around a very long driveway back to the ranch and decided I’d ask to camp. I waved at him and after a moment he noticed me and began to approach. It took him about 5 minutes to get closer to me as I didn’t want to trespass before given permission so I remained there smiling. As the man got closer I realized he wasn’t carrying a stick, but a large shotgun. He had a bulletproof vest on and looked hardened. At this point returning to my bike and pedaling away would have been a poor choice and I knew at once the answer to my camping request would be a big fat no. I asked anyways and got the answer I was hoping for. No.

I bid a smiling farewell as he pointed down the road and claimed there was another place to camp. I tried not to look back as I rode, but he watched me until I was way out of sight. Whomever owned that ranch clearly did not want to be disturbed. I shrugged off my first failed attempt at camping and the next ranch welcomed me with open arms. I set up camp and fell into deep sleep until the rooster crowed the following morning. I awoke to a hoard of ants in my tent and danced like a crazy to shake them off me and out of my tent.

My days over the next week took a similar form as I plied across the flattest road to ever exist. Ride all day until a small village or gas station presented itself, stock up on supplies, mentally regroup and head back out into the green flat yonder. On one night one of the worst storms I have seen since Ethiopia descended upon me. It poured rain all night, blew my tent to pieces and I had a fitfully nightmarish sleep. Dreams of being swept away filled my moments of unconsciousness and my tent filled up with water. In the morning outside looked like a typhoon had hit and I was a personal disaster. I packed up my sopping wet things and set off to just get moving. My eyes kept closing on the road which had not seen a turn in a few days. The Chaco was now living up to the reputation I had heard of. However, the birdlife and butterflies were stunning. At times I found myself riding in nothing but butterflies. I felt like I was in some obscure Disney movie and the bottle trees looked like they were out of a Dr. Seuss book. I kept thinking of my favourite children’s book, ‘Oh, The Place You’ll Go’ and tried to remember the words as I rode. Back teaching Kindergarten in Sanya I used to read the book to my kids every few weeks, simply because I loved it so much.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer

Just when I thought that I was riding my bike into the back end of nowhere, civilization began to emerge. Shops with more than just stale crackers or aging empanadas emerged. I was entering which can only be described as a civilization within a country. The Mennonite towns began. Back in the 1930’s Mennonites avoiding persecution came to Paraguay from Russia, Germany and Canada. They came with the promise of religious freedom and to colonize Paraguay’s empty western frontier. To read more about the successes, struggles and history of the Paraguayan Mennonites CLICK HERE.

I rolled into the Mennonite capital of Filadelfia and found an organized society. Roads were on a grid system, the co-op was bursting with good food and everything seemed to run smoothly in the dusty town. Out of nothing these people had built their own society with functioning banks, a post office, nice hotels and a museum. I decided to take a peek at the museum for curiosity sake. I was given a full tour of three sections of the museum and a colonial house from a nice lady. The motto of the town was printed on one of the the walls as “The common good before personal interest.” When the lady asked me where I was staying that night, I told her I would camp somewhere outside town. She insisted I stay and sleep in an empty nearby classroom instead. Always one for strange vagabond sleep locations, I was thrilled. A nice man named Norbert was the grounds keeper and gave me Wi-Fi. He was sleeping in a dormitory next to the classroom and we made some jokes about being neighbors. “Keep it down in there!”, I banged on the wall. He was a lighthearted man. Before going to sleep I scratched ONE ADVENTURE PLEASE on the chalkboard, while a nighttime driving school class took place next door. I could smell my shoes in the corner of the room as I drifted into sleep.

I said a slow goodbye to the nice people in the morning and set out on the last few hundred kilometres to Bolivia. After a days ride I encountered the number one worst section of road on my trip. Straight well maintained road degraded into the most bumpy, patchy and completely destroyed piece of road I have ever seen. There are no nice words for this stretch of road which was once flat tarmac. I am told that it was only good for the inauguration and deteriorated soon after with all money scooped off in corruption to build a mirage. When inquiring about the state of the road one man just said, “Ask the President.”

I bumped through a terribly physical and emotionally crushing day. At some points I entered pot holes that were as tall as my bike as the only traffic, heavy oil trucks from Bolivia, carved deeper holes to find a path through the madness. At one point I was cycling just in front of one of these tanker trucks for over an hour. We were traveling the same speed forever, until he hit a flatter stretch and showered me in dust. In the heat and rocking of the road my mind began to play tricks on me. I hadn’t seen any life for hours and began to imagine a Jaguar prowling the Chaco was stalking me. In the corner of my eye I saw something move and I jerked to life in fright. My bike flipped sideways and crashed across the rough road. My leg was cut and bleeding. I looked behind to see the supposed Jaguar was nothing but a rogue cow. I laughed to myself and felt so ridiculous. Back to reality I came and pressed on until the pavement reappeared.

That night I camped out on the edge of a police booth and patched up my leg. I found some old looking empanadas and ate seven while looking like a zombie on a plastic chair as I lethargically swatted at hundreds of mosquitoes. During my dinner a tapir came out of the bushes and tried to take my dinner. With its’ weird nose and huge body it lumbered after me. Even though it was my first time to ever see this strange animal, I was not amused. The locals then joked I was eating tapir empanadas. I laughed politely, didn’t really care and escaped to my tent. I had one more day left of riding to reach Bolivia and I was worn out. Two more days to reach the first town on the Bolivian side. I told myself I could do it. My nose was burnt bright red and my energy levels were low. I was tired of the same old pasta and it was a mental drain each day to push forward.

My last day was a push to the border. I felt slightly sick and was tired of the slog on straight roads. After a few hours I had barely seen any traffic until three strange images emerged from the flat yonder as some touring cyclists. We chatted for over an hour and shared some cookies. It was exactly what I needed to make it to the border. When I arrived all of the border security were taking a day off, as it was Sunday, to play the most obscure game of volleyball I have ever witnessed. No hands were allowed. It was amazing to watch. There is no actual immigration here, it is more of a military post than anything. I had stamped out of Paraguay about 3 days before in Mariscal as protocol dictated. I had effectively not been in any country officially for the last little while. The one guard asked me if I wanted to join them and before I knew it he showed me to a nice cold shower, while the guards barbecued a delicious dinner. A nice end to a wonderfully difficult adventure I thought to myself as I went to sleep on a mattress laid out for me.

The Gran Chaco will stand as one of the greatest mental challenges of this trip. Though the road may have been completely flat, it is not for the unprepared or beginner. The Chaco will test every inch of your resolve and spit you out if you’re not careful. All of that being said, Paraguay stands as one of my favourite countries on the journey. It was the challenge I needed to refocus my future goals. I have many wonderful stories of the people along the way that I cannot fully share here now. The Chaco rejuvenated my love for the wild and seldom explored reaches of our planet. It made me remember why I started this journey in the first place. It made me feel that life pumping energy you get from exploring the new and unknown. It made me think about all that I hold dear in my life and thankful for the strength of mind to persevere. All of this has changed me into someone that is more adaptive than I ever thought possible.

As I pedaled on into Bolivia I thought, ‘Oh, the places you’ll go…’

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*We are off to an awesome start with the fundraising towards the new schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. In only a few short weeks we have already raised over 1/4 of the money to build the new schoolhouse. Beautiful work! A big thank you goes out to St. Joseph’s School in Toledo as well as J.L. Jordan for all of their hard fundraising. Seeing kids helping kids is one of the most rewarding parts of this experience. I would also like to thank close family and friends for getting the ball rolling as well. You are all wonderful people! Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE

**I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Last year I celebrated in India and a year later I am riding in Peru near the highest alpine lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. It is amazing where the world can take you. I am thankful for more things than I can count this holiday season. Updates on the beauty, struggle and challenge of Bolivia to come soon. Thank you for continuing to follow along!

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Capturing Moments: The South of Brazil

A Fourteen Minute Readimage

They say that anger is just love disappointed. They say that love is just a state of mind. But all this fighting over who will be anointed. Oh how can people be so blind?” ~ The Eagles, Hole in the World

The hardest part of anything is the start. Committing to something that is new, strange or difficult can be a daunting task. When you don’t know if everything will work out in the end. It is far easier to stay in that comfort zone. We convince ourselves of excuses to leave things as they are, when deep down we are truly unsatisfied. This can be quitting the job you hate, starting your own business, asking someone you like out or even riding a bike around the world.

The hardest part of starting my journey was just that, starting. Saying goodbye to the known and setting out into new territory can be terrifying. This is the same for anyone. Giving up what is comfortable for something you truly want in your heart can be difficult. Once you are off, then motivation kicks in and finally you are alive again. Living something you dreamed of for so long. You are in it. You are not just dreaming. This is the new you. This is your life. Capture those moments you will regret later on and be the person you want to be. Maybe you will fail and the whole world will see. Maybe it will end horribly. But, at least you tried. That is more than most people can say. To try and fail is better than an eternal question.

I have said it many times before. Dreams are dreams because they require hard work. If dreams were easy, then they wouldn’t be dreams.
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Crossing the bridge into Brazil was an interesting mission. When I arrived at the border there was a guy sitting idle on a Sunday in the office. He told me the man who stamps passports into Brazil was not here today. I should go to the next city, Uruguaiana and get it done there tomorrow. I thought this a bit strange, but I biked on. In a shop I stocked up on a few items for the empty road ahead and as I was leaving the nice man working gave me an extra bag of lime flavored chips for free. He gave a bit of wink that only old can people do. I was off riding until the rain came pouring down like crazy. My first date with El Nino. I let it pass under the cover of a random shed and was off again.

Arriving after dark in a city on your first day in a country where you don’t know the language, Portuguese, or where you will sleep can be a bit tough. I was starving, but a safe place to sleep comes first. I walked into a ‘Farmacia’ as that was the only thing open on a Sunday night and asked the girls where I mind find a cheap place to sleep. A man overheard and even spoke English. He had heard of a new hostel and I followed him there. I was eternally grateful with my sore knee and hungry stomach. I took the next few days off to rest in the lovely new hostel called Marques de Carabas. If ever in Uruguaiana I highly recommend it. Follow the link to their page HERE.

After a good rest I was off to tackle the first challenging section of my South American tour. Once I was past Sao Borja the landscape turned into a wavy undulating beautiful nightmare. I was continually blown away by the purity of the scenery and kindness of the people, but exhausted to no end each day. Up one steep hill, then immediately down and back up without ever gaining any real altitude can be a taxing mental kick. In any case, I pushed forward. As I drove I saw lots of giant salamanders on the road, guinea pigs by the dozens and an armadillo that was turned into a big mess on the road. I’ve seen every type of road kill on this trip. It barely phases me anymore. I usually smell it first.

To make an error is human, to keep doing it is foolish” ~ Portugese Proverb

On one night I pulled into a very dark and gloomy looking town, searching for somewhere cheap to sleep. I saw a motel and went inside, as I did the garage door went down behind me and I was trapped in a little area between another garage door. A tiny window opened up from the wall and a man began shouting at me. I yelled back at him to let me out, but couldn’t really see him because it was dark. I was trapped and felt very uncomfortable about what was on the other side of the door. He shouted some more at me, at which point I went to my bag and grabbed my wrench. I threatend him through the window and asked him again to let me out. He opened up and I got out of that strangely awful place. I don’t put up with that sort of intimidation business or whatever he was trying to run there. It was a very unique situation that I still don’t quite understand, but believe I did the right thing given the circumstance. I found a place to camp nearby and forgot about it.

After this it was all positive vibes onwards. Can’t let one encounter ruin the image of a whole country. I found the rolling hills exceedingly beautiful. The further I got from Buenos Aires, the warmer my riding became. One of my favourite things in Brazil was the buffet lunches found almost anywhere and the drinkable tap water. These buffets could be found at even some of the smallest gas stations. I would load up for a few dollars and be ready to tackle the afternoon of hilly hot riding.

After a day I turned down a nice secondary road where I belonged. This is where the magic began. Quiet little villages with beautifully unique central plazas and friendly people. At this point I was blowing spokes almost everyday again. I needed a new rear wheel desperately. The thing was terribly bent and had rolled over 22,000km. It was done. I chanced a quick fix in a small town called Roque Gonzalez. They called a local bike repairman from the gas station and I followed him to his house as I waved bye to the small crowd that had gathered. We couldn’t get the thing fixed with the parts he and I had. He assured me there was a good bike shop in Santa Rosa and I found a place to sleep. It poured rain for the next three days and I rested in a place that cost 5 dollars, had Wi-Fi and an all you could eat breakfast. I wanted to live there.

The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.” ~ Vik Muniz,

Setting back out I hobbled along the rutted road on egg shells towards Santa Rosa to fix my bike. On the way a police brigade lieutenant stopped me. Apparently he was a bike enthusiast and from his reaction, not many tourists cross this part of Brazil. We chatted for a while, as you do in this part of the world and I told him about my bike problem. We shook hands and parted ways. About an hour later he came back unexpectedly in the opposite direction and handed me the card to the bike shop. He explained that when I got there later today everything I needed would be paid for. I couldn’t believe it. Something I would have never imagined. I wanted to hug him, but didn’t think that was appropriate.  We took a selfie instead in front of the police truck instead and he gave me a bottle of water.

I arrived very tired at the bike shop to a warm welcome at GAGO BIKES. The guys were expecting me and got right to work. Full service and a new wheel. We chatted a long time about my trip. Some of the most caring and awesome guys I have met. My bike was brand new again. They gave me extra parts for the road and three of them showed me to a cheap place to sleep for the night. No words can describe this experience.

The following day I turned down a dirt road to take a ‘Short-cut’. After a few kilometers it wasn’t looking that good. The gravel became very loose and I had to walk my bike down hills and slid all over going back up. That night I was offered by a man named Pedro to sleep at his house. He owned a tilapia farm and was having a fish fry with friends. Needless to say, I was now loving Brazil. The energy of the people and the landscape had a hold on me. We had a fantastic night and I got a late start in the morning. Pedro told me of a quick boat ferry that crosses the Rio Uruguai. It would save me 200 kilometers and show me a unique part of his province. I was stoked. We said our goodbyes after breakfast and I biked for two beautiful days until I reached the Itaparanga river crossing at sunset. The boys on the boat were thrilled to have me for the fifteen minute journey. In this part of Brazil people were always stopping me on the road to ask where I was from. A conversation with a retired boxer was a memorable one.

From here I would climb up a very steep incline that stretched for thirty odd kilometers in the humidity. Pedro didn’t tell me about that part. Over the next few days I made my way along the Brazilian and Argentinean border with my sights set on seeing the Iguacu Falls. Read about one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World HERE. Every few kilometres I had to stop of wipe the sweat off my face, it was extremely humid and hilly. I crossed back into Argentina and spent the next two days climbing one hill after another. I was whimpering by the end of it. Exhausted and nearly tearing up when I would get to the top of one hill and see the next drop and steep climb. Rolling into Puerto Iguazu, I kicked off my dirty smelly shoes and passed out in a hostel.

It had been a month getting to the falls from Buenos Aires. One of the few tourist sights I had plotted to see on my route through South America. At this time though something sad was happening back home. I found out my grandmother had passed away the day after I arrived. It was very hard to take away from home. It had been a difficult few months for my family with the tragic loss of my cousin Jamie and now Grandma. It was her wish that I not return for the funeral. It would have been quite the challenge given my location and situation. I chose to honour her memory in my own way. Walking along the falls I thought of her and Jamie. Listening for something more than just the crash of water. Here I found the peace and solitude I needed. Loss is a difficult thing and we all deal with it in our own way. For me I deal best with things on my own, writing or thinking. I was told the tribute to her life was a heartfelt event with the coming together of loved ones. Cherish your family. You never know when may be the last time you see them. Enjoy your life and days together. When they are gone, remember them as they were and never forget your times together. Below is something I wrote for her to help.

Your Story
There is a light that burns still awake,
When the call comes from heavens gate.
To a distance place we slowly depart,
Feet caught tripping on a heavy heart.
In the pit of our souls we find our place,
As hope smiles again with a peaceful face.

Clouds divide, bowing way.
Crying their welcome dance of the day.
Greetings to kindred spirits gone before,
These reunions ease the search for evermore.

Peace found on grasses lush and green,
With bright tomorrows yet to be seen.
Remembering your days of glory,
We add them to your book, an endless story.
Forever we will share your light.
The candle will never fade, always shining bright.

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**With less than $500 to go we are at the finish line for fundraising towards the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. In a recent update from Free the Children, construction has begun on our schoolhouse. A few weeks back some three hundred people from the community came out to see the inauguration ceremony of the first new schoolhouse. With our goal in sight construction is now underway for an excited community of people. The feeling is wonderful. Thank you to all who have made this possible. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

***From Puerto Iguazu I crossed over into country #26 Paraguay. Updates on that part of the journey to come. Currently cycling in Bolivia.

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The Road to Becoming: Argentina & Uruguay

A Twelve Minute Readimage

“Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian Poet

The idea of becoming has been on my mind lately. As we grow we change. We move forward through different parts of our lives. We become sons, daughters, teenagers, adults and the elderly. Throughout our lives we have labels. They are placed on us without our consent. This is what we are, but not who we are. Later we can choose what we want to become. To become a chef, doctor or waiter. To become an amazing spouse, parent or friend. To be an ear to listen, a voice of reason or the responsible one. The slouch, drunkard or solicitor. We can be many combinations of these things. We can become anything we want, with the cooperation of mind, body and heart.

We change at different stages of our lives and have the ability to become more than we were before, or slip into obscurity. On the contemplative days on the bike, I look back with disbelief on parts of my life. Comments made as a child or recent transgressions. It is important not to regret but learn from past experiences. To move forward and grow. To become better. We must work as individuals as as a society to reach new levels of social development. To become the people we were meant to be. Growing as a whole.

As I left Africa and headed for South America, I had a lot to reflect on. The journey down had been anything but easy. It did however give me deeper perspective on the nature of our people and a continent that is often forgotten, avoided or stereotyped. The journey from Cairo to Cape Town left me feeling like anything is possible. It prepared me for the final leg of my journey. Toughening up my inner resolve to persevere and remember my goals. To ride for the charity, challenge and change I initially set out for. Looking at the map and the intrepid route home was a bit daunting. It would be hard and trying all the same. Each day is what you make of it and I was ready for the next challenge.

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“One must harden without ever losing tenderness.”Che Guevara, Argentina Revolutionary

I arrived in Buenos Aires from Cape Town after a roundabout flight pattern. I elected to fly instead of searching for a boat. I am happy with this choice given my present circumstance. I did this due to costs, time, motivational time-lapse and seasonal logistics. That night in Buenos Aires I found myself putting the pieces of my bicycle together at 11pm after being dumped off downtown from 42 hours of travel. A new land, language and beautiful challenge lay ahead. I biked off in search of my bed for the night.

While procuring travel visas for Brazil and Paraguay I spent some time exploring Buenos Aires. A bustling capital city with beautiful architecture. I enjoyed walking around the many parks and sitting around looking at beautiful cathedrals. During this time there was an upcoming federal election. The Argentinians’ are quite passionate about their politics I came to see. One day I found myself watching drums, trumpets and umbrella toting flag wavers from a high balcony. Everyone was kind of stopping to watch all the noise as the street filled with flyers of the next candidate.

Soon after I was off riding north towards Uruguay. Choosing my route through South America was not easy. There were a few locations I wanted to see very much and I based it on that. The route is always changing, but built on the same basic principles. It was a clean slate and I promised to ride it without any lifts. On the bicycle you are limited in your direction and you cannot have it all. Backpackers seem to flit about on 17 hour bus rides from one sight to the next. What I see and love is what is in between. The things most people miss and the experiences I gain from it. It has never been about the main sights, but the journey itself. The sights are but waypoints on the map. Placeholders and times for a break. I set out with that same old foundation of ideas that has got me to where I am today.

Leaving Buenos Aires on a Sunday morning was a relatively pleasant experience. Traffic was extremely low and the sky was a cloudy cool grey. After a good days ride, I found myself on a country road leading to Campana. I smiled at some unexpected nature and pressed on. Spending the first night with a welcoming young guy named Facu we chatted through broken English and Google translations. I made a promise to myself to truly begin taking Spanish seriously as a personal goal for this trip. The following morning we rode out of the city together towards a massive bridge. Facu waved goodbye and I was on my own again through rolling land punctuated by little streams and lakes.

I spent the first few days in Argentina camping out in nice campsites and eating really delicious sandwiches. I was enjoying the bit of tranquil riding before the real hectic sections of South America began. On one occasion I arrived after dark into a campsite and was welcomed to a bit of Argentinian style barbecue called ‘Asado’. Argentina proved itself to be a very developed, safe and a welcoming beginning to my South America ride.

On one day I pushed too hard with a 150km day and felt a strain on my knee. When I woke up the following day I felt a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long while. A sheering pain in my left knee kept my days fairly short. At one point I wondered if that was it. Would I need to pack it all in because of a strained knee? I wouldn’t let that happen. Crossing the bridge at Colon I passed over into Uruguay for a bit of exploration while pedaling with one leg. I took a day off, explored the cobbled hilly avenues of Paysandú and rested my knee.

“I’m not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.”José Mujica, Former Uruguayan President

(Jose Mujica is one of the most fasincating people I have ever read about. Giving 90% of his wealth away and living on a farm down a dirt road. His country is a testament to his recent achievements and mindset. Read an article about President Mujica HERE)

Now that I am into the thick of chaos I reflect with great romanticism on my days of cycling Uruguay. The hills were rolling, low and slow. The temperature was wonderful with a gentle push from the wind. Camping was welcome mostly everywhere and people were superb. Things simply worked smoothly and there is a certain fluidity about daily life. No one seems particularly stressed out. Sometimes as I ride I feel the energy of the people run off on me. I am now becoming a combination of the many people who have accepted me at their tables and into their lives. I feel a strong sense of belonging in this world. A piece that fits almost anywhere. In every country I have been to, I try to picture myself living there in some way or another. What I might do or who I would be. I always end up being myself in the end. I’ll always feel a connection to the places I’ve rolled through and the people who welcomed me.

One day I asked a family to camp in their yard and they eagerly received me. Unfortunately, the repairs to my tent had given out and two of my poles snapped. The son was an enthusiast of fixing all things and we put together some repairs to get my tent standing. His work still holds up in the strongest winds. The following morning I joined his mother for breakfast. She was completely distraught when she burnt my toast. I told her it didn’t matter and happily ate it. I rode off on my merry way with black teeth. Beautiful stretches of farmland gave way to tiny towns with nice parks and plazas. In Uruguay things simply work. Life is pretty comfortable for the most part and life exudes a style of relative tranquility in the persona of the population. They sip stimulating hot mate on the street in social circles and laugh in cafés over litre bottles of beer. Read about the wonders of ‘Yerba Mate’ HERE.

From Salta I made my way through the sparsely populated northern region with roaming farmland and wild camping for the taking. I was cautious on my weak left knee and took my time to explore the countryside as I rolled forward. I arrived in the border town of Bella Union on a Sunday with a pesky broken spoke. In Latin America little goes on during a Sunday and most shops are closed tight. I stopped a man who was on a bike and he led me to the nearest bicycle mechanics house, who we appeared to have woken up. Clearly this was his day off as he unlocked the shop. He didn’t seem to care and got to work on my bike. When I tried to pay he wouldn’t accept it. I pedaled off from another act of kindness and devoured the biggest burger I’ve ever seen after many days of plain pasta. I will leave the story there, as I crossed the bridge to Brazil and a new land loomed in the distance.

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*We are now $500 away from reaching our goal for the school in Esinoni, Kenya. Looking back at the beginning of my journey, I am amazed with all we have achieved and the impact we have had on the communities we have helped in China, India and Kenya. Updates to come soon on progresss & development. Together we can enact great change. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

**At the moment I have made it to Villamontes, Bolivia after crossing the length of Paraguay through the sparsely populated, difficult and beautiful Chaco region. I look forward to sharing stories of these days in the coming weeks. I’ve cycled over 3,000km of South America so far and right now it is time for a rest. Thank you for reading and please continue to follow along!

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The Thunder Behind My Eye: Racing Into South Africa

An Eleven Minute Readimage

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician

There comes a time when we must make decisions in our lives. Crossroads present themselves in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes decisions are quick and without thought. Others linger for weeks and plague mental patterns day and night. If we value change or growth, these moments come with some frequency. These decisions mould us, shape our present reality and the roads which bring us to the next junction. We are never the same person twice. The goals which we once had years, months and even weeks back, may seem like frivolous bothers in the present. They look like minor deviations from the whirlwind of our daily lives. However, everything culminates during daily micro-decisions to bring us to new avenues of opportunity.

Letting worry take over and cloud your modern reality is a needless distraction to the bigger picture. I’m sure we would find it hard to look back and remember with fondness on our most recent worries. It is much easier and positive to look back on moments of nostalgia, even if they weren’t that great at the time. On a bicycle journey, there is a surplus of time to think. I’ve put in a great deal of time contemplating and arrived at a few conclusions. They are apparent in my present state. If you want something bad enough, you’ll chase after it, I know I have. The end is not reached with the rabbit, but only leads to another series of holes. Enjoy the hunt.

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“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” ~ Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country

It was an early morning entrance to Botswana. Another country with new sets of rules and geography. For the first time in months it was flat. I entered from the Plum Tree border station and rode on fumes to Francistown. Relaxing in the shade I made a forward plan towards South Africa. With the wide shoulder and a relatively uninteresting section of road ahead, I decided to make my break. Putting in my longest day in Africa of 176 kilometres from Francistown to Palapye I arrived after dark. Setting up my tent on some crusty ground, I cooked some tasteless pasta and it was lights out. The next day, it was up early again as I skidded off towards the South African border. There was no service stations until I reached the border over a hundred kilometres away. Drinking orange Fanta out of coolers from the side of the road, I spent my last bit of money on a fly covered bun with warm cream inside.

If you are wondering, why all the hurry? It was because I was running behind schedule for an important meeting on the horizon. My girlfriend and family were coming to visit. They were due to arrive in Johannesburg in just a matter of days. Every moment counted to get me there on time. I returned the bottle of Fanta and slugged my way to the border. Crossing into South Africa felt like I was returning to civilization. There were functioning stores in each town with a wide selection foods and affordable delights. South Africa is the most developed country, given most respects, in Africa. I quickly felt at home and the welcoming nature of the people. I saw the first McDonalds since Egypt and to say I didn’t order up the ubiquitous ‘Big Mac’ meal would be a lie. Sometimes on trips like this, that little bit of familiarity can go a long way to make you feel at ease. When everything is always new and unknown, those little pieces of the known go a long way.

Rolling into Lephalale, I was searching for a local campsite when a man almost backed his truck into me. After he saw me and we chatted a moment, he asked where I was headed. I explained my plan of action and he invited me to stay in one of his guesthouses for free. It ended up being my own apartment with hot water, kitchen and laundry. Cycling dreams are made of this magic. My new friend, Victor, introduced me to the welcoming nature of South African people. After I was rested up he invited me for a breakfast before I was off riding again. We had an instant connection and some inspiring chats. The local newspaper showed up and an impromptu interview took place. They sent me sailing with a happy first impression and a bag full of food. That night I slept on the soft green grass of the local golf course amid warthogs and skittish little monkeys.

“Travel is more than a seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard, Author

On route to Johannesburg a friend I had met in South Korea named Dene, had arranged for family members of her husbands to host me. They picked me up and took me off to their farm. Jaco and Jessie gave me the first taste of true South African ‘Braai’. You can read more on the process and style HERE. It is basically barbecue, but treated with a sport like seriousness. They even have a ‘Braai Day’, which I will get into on a following post. In any case, my first experience was a beautiful appreciation for food, as I slowly began to put on weight. One of the most amazing things they did for me while I stayed with them was returning my shoes, that were nearly headed for the garbage bin, looking brand new. At this point I only had one day to make it to the airport in time to meet my girlfriend. Jessie offered to take me most of the way into Johannesburg. I left feeling like I was part of the family and a warm energy bubbled inside. I made it to the airport with 20 minutes to spare. Cutting it close to say the least. I rubbed my burley face wishing I had time to shave.

Seeing a familiar person on a trip such as this can do more than you know. I didn’t need to introduce myself or be that guy on the bike. I was simply able to be me. With my family and girlfriend, Eliza, it was just like old times, only we were in South Africa. After a day of rest we went out on safari. Something I had only done by the seat of my bike all through Africa. Now I was the person that rolled past people in the big vehicle as hundreds of white kneed tourists had done to me throughout Africa. Only this safari was more than about just seeing herds of zebras and spotting lions. All down Africa I had thought about it carefully. On the top of a mountain just after sunrise I asked the love of my life to marry me. Slipping the ring onto her smooth trembling finger I felt all the world coming together. Looking up to see the tears in her eyes what I saw was my soulmate. The woman I would spend the rest of my days with. I am not sure what I said as the morning sun swallowed us up on that rocky outcrop. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Without the careful planning and help of my parents I couldn’t have pulled off the proposal. I am so glad we were able to share in it together.

“You must regard this deviation from plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place…Absence of certainty is its essence. People…who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises.” ~ Adam Yamey, Aliwal

After a few days of wonderful wildlife, relaxation and full stomachs, a tearful goodbye was on the horizon as I prepared to get back on the bike. I knew saying goodbye to my parents would be tough, but seeing my new fiancée off was going to be even more difficult. I wanted to quit. I said that I had come far enough. That the end of Africa was achievement enough. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I should pack it all in and call it a day, when I reached the southern edge of Africa in Cape Town. Eliza said that there was no way I was quitting. As hard as that may have been for her to say, it wasn’t what I wanted hear, but what I needed. She could have been selfish and let me take the easy way out. I could have quit right there at the airport and boarded a plane anywhere else. But I returned to my bike knowing I wouldn’t see her until I reached the finish line back in Canada, thousands of kilometres away.

Knowing everything I already do about life on the road, it would have been the easy way out. Returning to a life of comfort with vegetables in the crisper and 600 TV channels, would be ideal for a time. But, that route would have haunted me in years to come. Like a puzzle missing the final piece, I would only see that hole. The rest of the picture would be forgotten. Eliza could see this. As much as she may have wanted me to quit, she supported my dream without a doubt. This is what every man wants. To feel the support and understanding of his mindless plight. To be there for him when the future he presents is a bit hazy. She looked into my eyes and beyond the shadowy thunder that is my mind, she saw something more. On first day I ever met Eliza, I told her that I would ride a bicycle (which I didn’t even own at the time) around the world. She never thought I was joking and she stuck by me through all of those distant nights. If I were to quit now, it would be breaking the very first promise ever I made to her. Now, that is something I could never live with.

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*The rest of the South Africa story will continue in the next post along with adventures through ruggedly beautiful Lesotho and eventually to the stunning coast of the Garden Route towards the end of Africa in Cape Town.

**Please continue to help support funding for the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. We are less than $1,600 away from reaching our goal. Which is so amazing! Thank you for the surprise early donations from some of our supporting schools back in Eastern Ontario. You guys rock! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

***To follow along with daily photo updates from my phone through the South American section of the journey link to my Instagram by CLICKING HERE.

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The Decay of Normal: Adventures through Mozambique & Zimbabwe

A Fifteen Minute Readimage

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” ~ Robert Frost, Poet

When the first light kisses the misty dawn I shift like a waking baby. My internal metre begins to tick. I flip my hood down and shake off the pieces of the night. Rolling on my side I check the time. The same as always. I rise with the sun and burn with the heat it brings. Peanut butter on dry bread and a slug of water that tastes of old taps. The parts go back to their places. The puzzle melds back into 4 bag shapes and a cylinder. My tent, my home. Unzipping my window to the world I feel the first cool respite of the day. Spitting my toothpaste and giving my face a wipe, I set off again. Another day that promises nothing but new. The world changes slowly for me, but provides solace in the slow brew that bubbles before me. The result is anything but disappointing. Each place offers up a different flavour. It is up to all of us to order it the right way. See it the right way. Let it invade your senses. Let it poison you with the glorious magic it holds. Feel the earth, soak in the sun and slight of the wind. We are the fabrications and combinations our favourite dreams. Trace the light home.

Crossing into Mozambique was a downhill of new proportions. The landscape was different and so was the demeanor of the people. A friendly welcome or wave followed my passing along the relatively quite roads. Obscure Mozambique with distinct homes, beautiful mountains and a wind that followed me. It blew like a dragon as I lost altitude towards Tete. The capital of the western region promised to show itself soon. At times this region is known to be a bit rebellious, but I never witnessed anything but good people.

In a small town I repaired my creaking bicycle. Two more broken spokes and a hammer to the rear axel. Cringing in desperation, I watch as my bike was put to pieces once again by a mildly intoxicated man. Off towards dusty Tete while I sipped cool Litchi soda from random coolers on the road. I loved the local vigor and salesmanship. These guys made a tough job interesting and fun. Sorry, I don’t need a red bull at 8am, but I appreciate your enthusiasm.

“Go to Mozambique! As long as you don’t expect to find flawless infrastructure, just go. Because this is a country where people have not quite grown accustomed to tourists. You still feel a genuineness that no longer exists in countries where tourism has been industrially developed.” ~ Henning Mankell, Writer

From Tete I made my way back up slow mountain climbs. The road I was on slowly stalked higher on route to Zimbabwe. Beautiful villages punctuated the landscape with Baobob trees splayed along the road. It was quite hot and isolated distances made me feel very small. Spending the first night camping with a local family was humbling as we shared a pack of cookies and laughed at my pasta dinner.

I reached Zimbabwe on my fourth day through Mozambique. I only had a transit visa so moving those pedals to the Zimbabwe border was very important. Crossing into new territory once again I grabbed a bit of food and put my dormant American dollars into an accessible location. Zimbabwe was one of the places I had read a great deal about. The fall of the African bread basket is no secret and if you talk to locals it almost came overnight. Inflation into the billions and general panic. I’m not going to get into specifics of Zimbabwe history, but if you want to read more CLICK HERE. People were displaced, lives changed forever and an economy that was once quite strong, crumbled to nothing. Even to this day they hang upon infrastructure of a different day and that moment in the sunshine. Things are changing with the influx of American dollars and investment, but it is a long hard climb.

On route towards Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, I gawked at amazing rock formations and sped along with long metre long grass on both sides. The images you have in your mind of Africa, well this is it. Baobob trees, golden tall wild grasses and burning miraculous sunsets. The best sunsets I have been witness to in Africa and quite possibly ever, have been during those Zimbabwe days. Each day I rode into the dark. The sun set at 5:30 which made for long days on the bike into order to make ground during those African winter days. The sun seemed to plummet below the horizon as I pushed on during the last moments of daylight.

One night I found myself stuck in the pitch black looking for somewhere to sleep. Pulling into a local home after a tiring day I asked for a place to camp. The man welcomed me warmly but said he was unable to host me and I must stay with the chief as dictated by local law. Tired and dirty I agreed. We walked through back bush roads and up a steep hill. I was sent from house to house like a dirty torch. At one point it looked a bit bleak but I was not worried and mainly exhausted as we tramped around the one track trails. Looking up at the moon I felt that this situation was way too normal for me. A search through back country in the dark for a safe patch of ground to pass the evening. My typical is slowly decaying into obscurity I thought.

A few days ride brought me into Harare and a well deserved day off. On route I saw people going shopping with wheelbarrows and entertaining mini bus decoration with names like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Falcon’ or ‘Shady’. Yes, there is nothing more I would love than taking a ride in a sardine stuffed van labelled ‘Shady’. I arrived with a wonderful host named Keith. He did a bang up job of pointing me towards a proper bike shop where I had my rear wheel rebuilt. We ate as much food as I could handle and the guy even offered up his own bed. We chatted of cycling adventures and of Zimbabwe. I had my first taste of Biltong, which you can read about HERE. It can be related to a style of beef jerky taken very seriously in hese parts. As African capitals go, I found Harare very quiet to cycle into. Upon asking about this phenomenon, I found people simple didn’t have the money to put gas in their cars. Life can be tough in Zimbabwe at times.

“The economic and social decline of Zimbabwe is shocking and appalling. Life there is unrecognisable from that of the recent past. Each day is a struggle for basic survival.” ~ Lucy Powell, British Politician

I bid farewell to yet another awesome host and rolled downhill out of Harare. The road was recently resurfaced and I smiled on long hills in the shining sun. Even with a late start I had a mildly Olympic day and pushed on quite far. At sunset I was taking a picture when a man pulled up in his truck and asked me if I wanted a place to stay. I jumped at the chance and not long after I was at another family home, sharing stories and eating steak. My goodness. The kindness of some people cannot be accurately described. This family was even in the midst of moving their home I later found out as we unloaded a very heavy stove from the back of a truck. They still had the time to host me, ask questions and poke fun at my extremely sun burnt nose. For the first while they called me Rudolph, to my dismay.

In the morning I hitched a ride with their son up the road after they insisted I stay for breakfast. Hard to refuse. The following night I slept at a lion park. I nearly gave myself a scare as I rolled in at sunset to the sounds of lions in the distance. I stopped to ask a car if it was safe to be on the road but they blew by me in a cloud of dust. Turns out the danger was only small and I camped behind a huge fence in the park. After complementary coffee, an apple and a nice conversation with an elderly man in the morning I was off on my way to Bulawayo. I floated along windy roads towards Botswana.

“Having travelled to some 20 African countries, I find myself, like so many other visitors to Africa before me, intoxicated with the continent. And I am not referring to the animals, as much as I have been enthralled by them during safaris in Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Rather, I am referring to the African peoples.” ~ Dennis Prager, Radio Host

The night before I arrived in Botswana I camped at one of the oldest schools in Zimbabwe with a beautiful church in a place called Plum Tree. I had a prime tour from the gym teacher on his summer holiday. The school began long ago with only a few boys. In the centre of the college sized campus are reconstructions of the original classroom huts. The gym teacher had overheard my conversation with a surly women at the only local guesthouse in Plum Tree. She was asking far too much for a bug infested room with no water or electricity. He took me off her hands as we talked pleasantly about the history of the school. When we arrived he introduced me to his three sons and wife who lived with him at the school. A peaceful evening and a lucky last day in Zimbabwe. Botswana waited ten kilometres down the road.

“A face is a road map of someone’s life. Without any need to amplify that or draw attention to it, there’s a great deal that’s communicated about who this person is and what their life experiences have been.” ~ Chuck Close, Photographer
As I navigate around the world, I pour over my maps. Places are never as how I imagine them in my minds eye before I arrive. I turn those pinpoints on maps into faces, friends, photos and memories.  Throughout my journey I have always said that it has never been about getting to a particular place, but about the people and moments in-between. Those lives that intersect for minutes, hours and days. We are brought together by the road. Now these places are more than just nameless voices on a map. They have image, shape, colour and life. We are all connected by the roads that lead us home. Pieces of our everyday normal connect us. They weave the web that keeps us all together. By focusing on our inner drive we can achieve what we are all looking for. However, we cannot do it alone. Dreams are not solitary. We are a social beings and our hopes sometimes need a helping hand. These dreams will only remain figments until we are stubborn enough to act. Chase that golden sun home.

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*We are less than $2,000 away from achieving our goal for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. Together we can make dreams of a safe education a reality. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

**At the moment my mother (Dorothy) is in the process of giving presentations about my ride at home in Canada. The presentation focuses on motivating people to follow their dreams, explore the world and educates about the power of social energy. Highlights also include updates and information on my charity with Free the Children and how you can become involved in giving children the opportunity to have a safe education. If you are a school or organization and would like to arrange a presentation in your area please contact myself at markquattrocchi@hotmail.com or message Dorothy directly at quattrocchidorothy@gmail.com.

***I’ve now made it to Buenos Aires after finishing the long road through Africa in Cape Town. It was beautiful, difficult, heartbreaking and inspiring all in one. Updates and thoughts on my final days through Africa to come from Botswana, SounAfrica and Lesotho. I look forward to this new leg of my journey. It is always tough to get started again. A new continent, new language and people. But, I ride on with enthusiasm for all that lays ahead if me. Check for updates on Instagram and watch my route unfold. Thank you for all the support!

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