Category Archives: Uruguay
“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.
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.
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.
**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.
“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.
“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.
*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!