An Twelve Minute Read
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~ Anne Frank, Writer
This past week I was privileged enough to attend WE Day in Toronto. It was one of those experiences that really puts the pieces of our work into perspective. As I watched other change makers and hopefuls share their story, it truly was inspiring. To see the roar of the crowd and the countless people who believe in a better future take the stage was something I will never forget. To see the messages received by the youth of tomorrow and feel that connection was fantastic. Whether it was Gord Downie or Fire Chief Darby Allen sharing their stories, it seemed like we are all working together for something greater. A better future for all. Equality, change and perspective are things I think the world needs to continue to strive towards.
I often think back to those moments on the road. The times of extreme high and low. The poverty and riches that I saw along the way. Both extremes have left a lasting impact on the way that I now see the world. From cobbled roads of Italy, to the hectic Indian byways. From the affluence that is the western world and the imaginary lines that separate similar lands. I have flashbacks to faces and places that now only seem like images of a dream I once knew. The good, the horribly difficult and the monotone moments of challenging bliss in-between.
During those days I smiled a million smiles and felt the weight of my dream on my shoulders. Sometimes, the immensity of my goal weighed a little heavy. When the mountains snaked up on tiny roads beyond my sight or roads stretched out to nameless expanses, I felt that pull forward and pull back to reality. Was I going to make it home? Would people care enough to donate to my cause? Was it all worth it? The answer to all those questions was and always will be a resounding, yes.
“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter
(Below you can read the five-page full update from WE Charity on all of our schools fundraising projects throughout the world. Very exciting!)
Along this journey I had the unique opportunity to help give back. With well over three-hundred sponsors we were able to raise $50,000 for Free the Children (WE Charity). I am blown away by both sides of this accomplishment. The whole experience taught me a good deal about the people I call family and friends, as well as those throughout our world who wished to make it a better place. It showed me that one idea really can make a difference. That we can change someone’s world for the better.
Throughout those two years, people from all over the globe reached out to help me achieve my goal. However, in the process, it became a collective mission. It was no longer just one crazy guy’s idea on a bike. It was a goal that is now shared by hundreds of people. There were even schools throughout Eastern Ontario that rose to the occasion and helped push the metre ever higher. Without the endless donations and goodwill, our collective goal of giving children in struggling nations access to safe and reliable education would have never been possible. Five schools in five different countries.
I will admit, when I first set out, though my hopes were high, I did not know how far or how well the charitable portion of my journey would be received. I had this dream inside my heart of five schools in five countries around the world. However, I set out with one to start. I did not want to look over ambitious or fail miserably for the whole world to see. However, by the time I reached the edge of the Chinese frontier in Xinjiang Province, the goal for the schoolhouse in GuangMing, China was achieved. As I crossed into Kyrgyzstan on a cool afternoon, I knew we could achieve great things if we worked together. It truly was a feeling like no other.
To be able to give back to a country which meant so much to me, was a sign of good things to come. The school in China’s Sichuan province has been complete for some time now and I assure you the effects of which are felt on a daily basis. For the people that live in Guang Ming it represents a chance at a better future. A future that has more than hope at the end of it. Though I was unable to visit the community due to horrible flooding of the road, I plan to make a journey there at some point soon. To see the faces of the change and hear their stories. Sichuan was one of my favourite sections of China and it is a place that will always call me to return.
As I continued to bike, the support rolled with my tires. Countless people continued to donate and some even began to donate for a second time. On the road, I would connect with my sponsors through personalized emails. I wanted to know what made these people feel the pull towards my cause and thank them for their generosity. No matter if it was $1000 or $10, I sent a message all the same. Every donor meant the world to me while I was on the road. I knew that people were giving what they could and sometimes even when they couldn’t. It gave me the energy boost I needed. Sometimes, when I was feeling down or lonely, a donation from a friendly stranger would ignite the flame inside to keep moving.
In India, I visited the community of Verdara. I was greeted by long time change maker Lloyd and his team with WE charity. Thanks to my supporters, a new schoolhouse has been added to the High School where there previously was none. Children have access to a higher education than has ever been possible in their community. They no longer have to walk far distances or move to continue their education. I saw the smiling faces of their youth and experienced a celebration like no other in their village. You can read about and see photos of my experiences in Verdara HERE.
When I reached Kenya, I was met by the warm handshake and laughter of the Masaai people. I explored the daily life of the community, along with their struggles and victories. Here I learned the value of community. I saw their thirst for education, carried water buckets and practiced how to throw a rungu. By the time I reached the bottom of Africa, the fundraising for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya was complete. I knew we would make the final goal with continued hard work and support. You can read about my days in the Masaai Mara with Me to We HERE.
In the Andean mountains of Ecuador, I pedalled on up to the community of Shuid. Here I saw the struggles of mountain life mix with natural beauty. I was met by Ryan and his generous team. The views were spectacular and the need the same. The dichotomy of all these places truly amazed me. Later that week as I pedalled into Quito, I wondered about the little community on the side of the mountain. I walked about a glimmering shopping mall in search of some peanut butter for the road, wondering about the hard divisions that separate our world. Seeing all that their city counterparts had, I knew that achieving the goal here was more important than ever. Now the two-storey building is nearing completion thanks to my countless sponsors. To read about my experiences in Shuid CLICK HERE.
On the dog days stretch of Central America, I burned into Nicaragua after a 8 day ride from Panama City. I was feeling the push for home. The end was in sight, but I knew I had unfinished business. The two years on the road had taken a toll on my mind and body. I was stronger than ever physically, but my mind was wavering. Once I met my friend Camillo from WE Charity and biked down to the community of El Trapiche with a group of boys, my resolve was stronger than ever. The $50,000 mark would be no problem at all. I returned to Canada with a mission and after a few short weeks the final goal came on a day just like any other. A feeling I can now proudly share with all of my sponsors. You can read about my time in El Trapiche HERE.
You can get involved with WE Charity or experience your own ME to WE journey by CLICKING HERE.
“He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity & enjoying life’s pleasures…breathes but does not live.” ~ Sanskrit Proverb
I have now returned to a life of a little more comfort. There is food in my fridge and a warm bed waiting for me each day. I have my wife, family and friends close by. All the little things that many of us take for granted, have been returned to me once again. But we always want what we can’t have. I still look at maps from time to time and have burst of nostalgia that almost hurts. When I ride my old beat-up bike to and fro I feel the pedals looking for the next hill. In some moments I wished I went a little bit slower or spent a day longer here or a week there. Sometimes, I wish I was still out there with the morning sun, evening stars, my tent and four bags. But, that was one adventure. Everything happened the exact way it should have. Had I stayed one place longer, I would have missed one person or another that directly changed the course of my journey and in turn the future of my life. I am on the next adventure and I can’t wait. No regrets. It was the ride of a lifetime.
I will never forget a feeling I had one night two weeks into my trip. While laying awake in my tent, I was looking at a map of China and the world. I had skirted a small slice of the monster that was China and put a pinprick on the world. I was going nowhere fast. I was terrified, alone and feeling down. I had left everything behind to pursue some crazy dream that looked better on paper than it was looking at this moment in real life. I took a deep breath and felt the world crashing down on me. I suddenly found that the idea of the whole world was too big. They journey was going to be too much to handle if I kept looking at it in this way. It was in this moment that I decided to live each day as it came. Forget about the long off finish line. This moment forever changed the rest of my ride and the happiness I felt in my interactions on a daily basis. Sometimes, I still need to remind myself of these moments as I pick away at my book and my goals for the future. One day at a time.
We too can all achieve great things with time, patience and a little help. I believe that with hard work and dedication, anything can be achieved in time. Without the help of all my donors, I would never have been able to get through some of the wild and difficult places that were thrown at me along the way. Without those days and the people who came at the right time, I would not be who I am today. For everyone that helped make a difference and construct the five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua, thank you. On behalf of all the people we have helped, a boisterous thank you. For believing in me, I humbly thank you all.
*Please see the inspiring full update from the good people at WE Charity (Free the Children) below as well as my YouTube video from around the world.
**In my following posts I will begin by highlighting some of the truly awesome people that I met on my way around the world. It is my duty now to share their stories and their world.
***To see my charity page from the journey and a rolling list of all the wonderful donors, schools and businesses, please CLICK HERE.
****You can also check out my alternate website at www.tinysbest.com.
My Cycling Journey Around the World
Gord Downie at WE Day
On the road to success there are always obstacles that will stand in your way. Some will seem like they are impossible to overcome, while others will just be minor annoyances. Overcoming these roadblocks are all part of the larger struggle that leads to new avenues of personal development. Change in the face of opposition can be the hardest mountain to overcome. But, with determination, all good things will come to light.
After over twenty-three months on the road I have finally completed my journey around the world. However, it does not stop there. My trip continues on in my heart and my mind. There are a good many things I still have left to share and a message I want to make known to the world. The bicycle served as a guidance system to bring me through the challenges I needed to face. In many ways, the ride was more of a mental struggle than any other aspect. It was a daily obstacle course that involved split second decisions and chance encounters. I believe that the game of life is no different. We just do not see the consequences of our actions as quickly. The impact of our actions are in fact compounded over time.
In the quiet moments over the last few days, I have had periods to contemplate the ride. Sometimes I think I have a handle on all of the things that happened over the last two years and in other moments it seems to just be a cloudy dream. Images of people and places jump out like stalking lions. Some lay on in plain view. It will take some time to make sense of all that has happened. I have taken the messages from the road and know what obstacles I must overcome to move on. At the moment I am encouraging people to, ‘Find Your Bicycle Ride.’
You can check out the recent story on my completed ride and homecoming by Global News Canada by CLICKING HERE.
“The great thing about the United States and the historically magnetic effect it has had on a lot of people like me is its generosity, to put it simply.” ~ Christopher Hitchens, English American Author
Our story picks up at the Mexican border post in Brownsville, Texas. Crossing over from Mexico was like stepping into another world. The affluence of the United States instantly blew me away. Throughout my journey stepping into a new country was always different. However, sometimes the changes were more apparent than others. Instantly people spoke English and I understood the world around me much better. In Southern United States there is still a heavy Spanish influence, but most people are able to speak English well. It really felt like I was coming home.
After a quick and relatively painless border check, I went to stay with some old friends who I hadn’t seen in five years, David and Diana. We had all taught English together in South Korea. During my break my good friends ensured I got a taste of American culture through some of the awesome food, sights and events in the area. It was a wonderful time catching up with them. Almost as if we had never been apart of one another. I even made the front page of the Brownsville Herald and was awarded a special honour from the Mexican consulate thanks to their help. It felt good to be with people who I had known from a different life. You can read the article in the Brownsville Herald HERE.
After a good rest and a hard goodbye, I was off cycling into a northern headwind. The landscape was flat and punctuated by massive ranches. On the first night I had rode all day and as the sun went down the wind began to pick up. I hid my bike and tent behind a wall of a ranch entrance, hoping no one would discover me in the night. Waking early the next morning I found that my water supply was running a bit low and no service stations were present at all. I saw a guy waiting in a rest area and asked him for water, to which he happily gave me a few bottles. Eventually I made it up to Corpus Christie and continued onwards through the beginnings of rolling hills. The views were quite pretty and the camping was fairly easy.
One evening in a small town the police said I was not allowed to camp in the local park. The sun was going down and I saw a man on his porch so I asked if I could camp. Mike said it would not be a problem as long as I didn’t cause any trouble. He made it be known that he had lots of guns and was not afraid to use them. Later that evening he came out to my tent with a huge venison steak, a couple sausages and tortillas for my morning breakfast. I was blown away and very thankful for his generosity. Throughout the United States I was taken in by people or the recipient of random acts of kindness just like this.
“A huge dollar bill is the most accurate way to teach children the real motto of the United States: In the Almighty Dollar We Trust… Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule. It certainly is not ruling in our favor.” ~ Kyrsten Sinema, American Politician
The following morning on I went north. Throughout my time in the United States I also spent a great deal of time getting caught up on my calories in the various gas stations. The excess and consumption was sometimes hard to handle after so long in countries where people struggle for the basic necessities. However, many people went far out of their way to help me through this section of my ride. It was humbling and endearing to witness. There are simply too many stories to share from this leg of the ride in a single post. I spent a great deal of time camping in trailer parks, where I met down to earth locals and people with genuinely curious smiles. I ate with rehabilitated criminals, chatted with remote farmers and shook hands with cycling enthusiasts from all over the United States.
On I went through Texas towards Arkansas. The hills continued to roll and the scenery was beautiful. I loved the roads through Arkansas with their wide shoulders and quiet swamps. One night I slept on the lawn of a family who brought me out beef stew and some ice cream bars. I was a happy camper as I passed my way through Arkansas experiencing the Southern hospitality. While resting outside a dollar store one afternoon, a man walked up to me and gave me a dollar. I tried to return it to him and explain that I did not need any charity, but he was not hearing it. When he came back from inside the store, he gave me a flashlight from his car and would not take no for an answer. What a guy.
Throughout the United States there were many people who walked up to me just to ask where I was coming from and where I might be going. Sometimes I did not want to get into the whole story, but if they were able to get it out of me, they usually did not believe it at first. I had gone to many countries on this trip that people are taught to fear. I continually tried to convey the message that even people in the ‘dangerous’ parts of the world are just that, people. Ninety-nine percent of people are not out to get you. Most would simply like to go about their business and be left alone to enjoy their lives. During the course of my journey I can say that people are not inherently bad. People become bad when they are pushed enough by internal and outside influences that cause them to rebel against certain factors. It is important to remember that the people throughout the world are not a statistic, but living breathing humans with similar wants, desires and dreams. We are all not that different.
Cruising along through Arkansas I eventually made it through a horrible crosswind along a flattened road to Memphis, Tennessee. I was in the house of Elvis and took my second day off since beginning my cycle across the United States towards Canada. With so many roads available, my route was continually changing. In most cases, the howling wind usually had a direct impact on where I ended up and who I met. Wherever I found myself at the end of the day, it always seemed right. It never felt as if I was lost or on the wrong track. There was always a new face to talk to or give me the motivation to continue onwards. Throughout the United States it was a mostly a mental battle I was waging against myself. I was trying to make it back to Canada in time to meet my lovely fiancee Eliza, who I had not seen in eight months. She was flying into Toronto and I needed to be there on time.
I rested up in Memphis and made my way onwards through spitting rain towards Kentucky. Very quickly the hills came rolling along with a ever increasing headwind. By the end of the day I got soaked in a cold rain. I was feeling low and miserable. Over the next few days this type of thing played on repeat with a cool northerly wind whipping across the landscape and hills that undulated for days. One evening I camped out in the yard of a retired Navy Veteran named Roy. He was a well travelled individual himself. We talked into the night about the history of Kentucky, shared travel tales and ate strawberries from his garden. I later found out he was a big fan of barbecued raccoon. Check out a few recipes for raccoon…HERE 😦
I left Roy’s house late in the morning after a second cup of coffee. I pushed onwards through roaring wind towards Indiana. As a made my way onwards I entertained myself with some FM radio after months of the same music on repeat. Biking through different regions allowed me to listen to a wide variety of music and genres. It was always entertaining as were the commercials. “Maybe your not fat, maybe you’re just bloated,” went the radio. “Take just one pill and see the results immediately.” I cracked a smile with the drone of the radio and advertisements in my ears.
“The United States gave me opportunities that my country of origin could not: freedom of the press and complete freedom of expression.” ~ Jorge Ramos, Mexican-American Author
Arriving in Indiana I pushed onwards towards Ohio and another friend’s home who I also taught with in South Korea. However, along the way I ran into a bit of bicycle trouble. My rear wheel seized one day on the side of a fairly busy highway. I pulled off the road and tried my best to fix the problem. I had been stubbornly fixing the same issue for months and it had finally given out. I was tired of repairing spokes and could not get the wheel to budge. I got the bike to the next service station and flagged down a ride to the nearest bike shop in the next town. I quickly got a new near rim, replacing the one that had rolled with me since Brazil. Truthfully, it owed me nothing at all. I continued on my way through Southern Indiana past a few ‘Donald Trump For President’ signs.
Later that same day, I got a flat. This was nothing new, as I was getting multiple flats almost every single day on my bald old tires purchased in Panama City. After patching the tube, that was now looking like swiss cheese, my bicycle pump broke. I was stuck on the side of the road again with no air and a very flat tire. As I was debating what to do, a man rolled up in a convertible. His name was Jim Jones and he offered to help me out. Stuck at the time, I welcomed his help. With the bike loaded up in his convertible we were off to get a new pump for my bike. Along the way, with the wind in our hair, he told me that he lost his leg on the very same highway when a transport truck hit him on the side of the road the previous year. His story of survival was amazing. As we drove he offered for me to join his family for a pizza, pasta and salad buffet. It was like a dream come true. We had dinner and shared some stories together.
After dinner we got the bicycle pump and he had originally planned to drop me off near where I left off. However, it was getting late. Jim suggested I come stay with him and his wife for the night. I was thrilled at the opportunity. When I arrived his wife was just getting home and she quickly welcomed me in as well. I was able to get a nice shower, wash my clothes and a soft bed for the night. I was blown away by this man. Even with his recent disabling accident, he had a lust for life and a genuine care for his fellow human. Saying goodbye the following morning was difficult, when he dropped me back off near where he found me the previous day. On I rolled towards Ohio with a heart full of hope and wonder for our world.
I had a good start on the day and had hoped to make it to my friend’s Zach and Bethany in two days. However, once I got rolling I decided to turn those two days into one. I arrived in Miamisburg, Ohio at 9pm after a huge 178km day over rolling hills and a crosswind. I was tuckered out and very excited to see some familiar faces once again. It was so nice to catch up with old friends and share some stories from old days working back in South Korea. I took two full days off to rest after my haul up from Memphis and was even treated to dinner at a Korean restaurant for old times sake.
From Zach and Bethany’s it was a long three day ride through the rest of Northern Ohio on into Michigan. I put in some big days and camped out along the side of the road. The wind was in my favour for once and pushed me forward through the final stretch of the United States. The terrain was almost entirely flat, so the long days were a little easier to handle. On the final few hours of my ride through the states I had to pass through the busy morning traffic of Detroit. At one point I ran into some construction, hit a patch of water and then a patch of gravel. Before I knew it, I had crashed and was rolling across the pavement. I was not impressed. I said I would replace my worn out tires as soon as possible back in Canada.
Finally, the Ambassador Bridge leading across the Detroit River to Windsor came into view. Even with my recent crash I was excited about my return back to Canadian soil. I wound around a loop of trucks and traffic as I made my way up the bridge. When I was nearing the halfway point of the bridge, a security lady jumped out of her truck, stopping both lanes of traffic. She yelled at me to get into the truck and put my bike in the back. The surly traffic police woman claimed I was not allowed to bike on the bridge. I had never had this problem my entire trip and was a bit annoyed. Especially, since her blocking both sides of traffic made the situation even more dangerous for everyone in the process. We got in the truck eventually and I asked her to just drive me the rest of the way across the bridge to Canada. She said, “no”, it wasn’t possible as I was on the American side of the bridge.
When I arrived back at customs no one was pleased to see me. I sat down in the group of other ‘randomly selected’ people and waited for the them to figure out what to do with me. I apologized for breaking the rules, I did not know existed, and was told to go down to the tunnel where I could get a shuttle to the other side. Apparently, biking back to Canada was not going to be a possibility. I came outside with all of my belongs gone through on a table. Begrudgingly, I put things back together and was off towards the tunnel. I asked if I could bike under the tunnel, but was told I had to wait for the shuttle. A bit annoyed once again, I waited for the shuttle and the ten minute ride over to Canada.
When I arrived back I was greeted by a few friendly border guards who asked a bit about my journey. They laughed when I told the story about the bridge. We all wondered why they just wouldn’t let me go. In total it was over 3,000km in twenty-two days of cycling through the states. I moved like the wind up from Mexico and had the massive expanse of beautiful country behind me. From customs I rode out into a sunny afternoon. I pointed my bike in the direction of home and let my pedals do the talking. It was good to be back. 🙂
*I am proud to announce with the recent outpouring of support from schools all around the Eastern Ontario region we are less than $3,000 from the final goal for the fifth school in El Trapiche, Nicaragua with Free the Children. This is like a dream come true not only for myself but mostly importantly for the young people we are helping around the world. A few donations are still to be posted online. #BeTheChange PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**After arriving home I have been busy speaking about my ride. If you would like to have me talk about my experiences in your area please contact myself at email@example.com to arrange a date. I use my ride as a platform to help others, ‘Find Their Bicycle Ride.’
***To view the live interview I did last week with CTV Morning Live PLEASE CLICK HERE.
****Thank you to everyone near and far who have made my journey a wonderful success. To my family, fiancee, friends and online supporters who have made my trip an unforgettable experience, I cannot thank you enough. I will be sharing the final leg of the journey home through Canada in a post coming soon. Please stay tuned and thank you for following along! 🙂
“Freedom means tremendous responsibility; you are on your own and alone.” ~ Osho, Freedom, Indian Mystic
To be free is an illusion of words and actions. I have learned that to be free for something is intrinsically different than to be free from something. Freedom, in the modern sense of the word, evokes the notion of free movement. Some would consider me free, because my movement for the last year and a half has been just that. But, it is not the freedom of movement that I look for. I search for another type of freedom, that makes all others seem like rusted chains. The purpose for freedom matters much more than what you are free from. I am free for a reason.
The Amazon. The very name conjures up a sense of wonder and images of adventure. People going into the unknown green madness with sweat stained backs as they endlessly swat mosquitos. They search of wild creatures, secluded tribes and medicinal herbs. It is the place where people go and never come back. They are taken hostage by the allure of rainforest. Some remain trapped mentally, others physically. I was certainly captivated by the majesty that is this massive piece of green flowing beauty.
To satisfy my hunger for adventure, I decided to step off the bicycle for some days and float down the Amazon on a series of boats to Ecuador. It is something I always wanted to do. The amazing vastness of the Amazon river and it’s tributaries cannot be full comprehended. It is huge; stretching across countries and landscapes. Here there are no more roads. The Amazon is the road and you must play by it’s rules. You give up all control to the river and the endless bends that lead the way home. This is where the adventure becomes real.
“We are the environment. The world is literally one biological process. The trees are our lungs. Look at the Amazon River system next to a human cardiovascular system, look at corals or trees and look at our lungs, you literally cannot tell the difference. They’re the same. So when we destroy our environment, we’re effectively destroying ourselves.” ~ Ian Somerhalder, Actor
My journey up the Amazon began in Pucallpa, Peru on the Ucayali River. I arrived at the loose sandy banks of the launches fairly early, after being told to get there to secure a comfortable spot on the boat. I had spent the previous day running around town getting extra food, water and a hammock. I boarded the boat and negotiated my way up to the third floor with my bike. It was almost empty at this point and I had my pick of places to string up my home for the next four (ended up being five) days to Iquitos. I had a great lookout alongside the window and settled in for the long haul north in my new hammock. This was to be my first and biggest boat of the trip, as well as the longest ride of my Amazon adventure.
My journey was off to a rocky start though. We departed to pick-up more cargo at a different dock and the boat caught on fire at the bow. It blazed up very quickly due to the dry wood crates surrounding the bellowing electrical fire. It is interesting to see the way people react in an emergency. A few rushed to save the boat from the blaze and others ran about, scared for their lives. Outside of mostly western countries, few people in our world learn to swim properly. I saw one man hoarding three of the very few life jackets around his neck and ready to jump. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that they were for his family, but I saw no family. I threw a few valuables into a waterproof bag and was confident with my hometown swimming lessons I could make it to shore if needed. The crew was busy tossing blazing cargo into the river and boats collected afterwards to scour the refuse like hungry vultures. Meanwhile, another firefighting ship arrived and saved the boat from the blaze. No one was hurt and we returned to shore. Pretty soon everyone was back to their laidback selves. It became clear very quickly we would not be leaving on time.
The loading continued for hours and into the night. Almost everything is loaded by hand. Hardened men sweat all day in the scorching sun, carrying loads that seem to be twice their weight. Men turned to mules. From my window, I watched the chaos as every imaginable item was loaded below and all around us. Chickens, potatoes, mattresses, dryers, refrigerators, sodas, snacks, tires, onions and the list goes on forever. In the distance I saw ships full of massive logs from the heart of the Amazon unloaded. They were sprayed with numbers and rumbled off ships with one last cry for help. The boat took on more passengers by the moment. My temporary oasis by the window was invaded by over two hundred people and their children. Hammocks were strung up like spider webs. Negotiating my way around immediately became difficult, between the crying babies and mess of people’s belongings.
Night came and went. In the morning we still hadn’t departed, when I woke up after a stagnant sweaty night. People were visibly agitated by the lack of knowledge about when we would leave and the rising heat of the day. I spoke to the laid back old salty captain, with a friendly demeanor, who assured me we would leave soon. He grinned a smile of capped gold teeth and also told me there would be no more fires. I don’t know if I could ever trust a man with gold teeth, but I had no real choice in this case. I returned to my hammock and sweat until the engine finally roared to life. I had already been on the boat for 28 hours before we even departed. The only thing that mattered was we were finally moving.
Once on route the mood of the ship picked up. I was happy to sit swinging by my windowsill and taking in the sights. Dinner was served as the typical meal of the voyage, rice and a tiny piece of chicken plucked from below the deck. We lined up like eager prisoners. The morning was usually some watery porridge gruel with bread. The rotation of food began. Luckily I brought some extra food with me and there were always people jumping onboard to sell fish, little snacks and drinks. On a cyclists appetite, the meals would not have been close to enough.
The first night I went up to the top deck and watched the stars light up the night sky. It was a beautiful showing with a full moon. As I looked off into space a shooting star blazed across the sky. I felt infinitely small at that moment, as the hum of the motor pulled us forward. I awoke the following morning in my hammock to the sun coming up over the canopy beyond the river. It was a stunning and welcome gift from mother nature. The days began early and finished the same with one lightbulb for the entire third floor. This was nice as the children would finally settle down to sleep in their hammocks or the floor that crawled with cockroaches.
There were many characters on my trip through to Iquitos. Some were more enjoyable than others. With only one other foreigner on board, everyone got to know me fairly quickly. I could focus on tons of people here, as I watched their personalities unfold during the course of the journey. But, because of time, I’ll just focus on one person: Angelo.
Angelo was a pouty little three year old boy that arrived with his baby brother, older sister and his Mom, just before departure. My arch-nemesis of the journey. They pitched up their hammocks next to mine and I knew we were in for a show immediately. Angelo was a very cute child, but it seemed that he and life in general did not agree throughout the journey. It was not ten minutes before he threw his first little tantrum over wanting some knock-off Peruvian Cola. Mom, of course, gave in to appease little Prince Angelo. As a Kindergarten teacher for two years, I found it hard not to step in at a few moments. It was hard to watch this poor overwhelmed mother deal with this child for five days of confinement. I often looked forward to Angelo’s naps and frowned deeply when I saw him guzzling piles of cola in between his sour poutings over nothing and river water baths. Looking back on the journey, it would not have been as memorable without him. Thank you Angelo.
On our second day we hummed along nicely all morning long. We were seemingly making great time until the ship came to a loud halt and everyone flung forward with the sudden stop. Angelo rolled to the floor like a bag of old potatoes. We had run aground on a hidden sandbar. No one was hurt. Though it is the rainy season in the Amazon, there has been a terrible drought this year. This has made the water incredible low and difficult to navigate. After some deliberation and a lot of coaxing the boat came unstuck. I could see in my mind the gold tooth captain grinning up at the helm when he got us free. It poured rain, thankfully, in the afternoon and we got stuck on another sandbar.
I spent most of my days window watching and writing in my journal. The view continued to show the wild side of the Amazon. At times the boat would stop and sometimes people would get off in the middle of a section of jungle with jeans and a sweater to walk inside. I presume that their homes are somewhere within the green reaches of the Amazon. I reflected back on my Grade 6 days, where a friend and I, used to write stories under the title of, ‘Adventures in the Amazon.’ We would present them every few weeks infront of the class. It was hard to believe I was actually here, though all the characters at play were much different than the ones my mind had created in my youth. There was always something to stay entertained with on the boat, as day dreams morphed into real-life.
“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made.” ~ Robert N. Rose, Poet/Writer
At night a storm rolled in again and we battened down the hatches as rain leaked in from all sides. At night you could hear the creaking of the old rusted ship as it carried us further up the river towards the larger mouth of the Amazon. In the quiet of the night after the storm died and all the little ones were gone to sleep, I listened to the sounds of the evening. Under the low hum of the motor I could hear the heart of the jungle beating in the veins of the river. It is the force of life that gives the jungle it’s energy. All things begin and return to the river.
During the fourth night, Angelo and his family departed at some unknown stop. In the morning my area was surprisingly barren and quiet in comparison to the last few days. It was as if I was now missing something. Angelo had a rather unfortunate time on his last day aboard though. He dropped his toy car down a set of stairs and it bounced into the river, never to be seen again. It took him a moment to understand the implications of his mistake, but when he realized that toy car wasn’t coming back, the waterworks exploded to new levels. I felt bad for him at this point. Mom quickly poured him a big cup of Peru Cola and bought him some candy from a toothless lady on board. Angelo soon forgot about the car as he wired himself for another night of his favourite game to play on his mom, “Where’s Angelo?”
The following day there were far few people on the boat. I went downstairs to get a final serving of prison gruel porridge from the ships cooks. The food on board, though included in the price of the ticket, left something to be desired. I was excited one afternoon when there was a bit of carrot in my rice. I brought cans of tuna, limes, onions and other snacks to spice things up along the way. I rationing my food like it may be the end of the world. We finally sailed into Iquitos, our destination, on the banks of the Amazon. Iquitos is the largest city in the world, that is not accessible by any roads. You either have to take a long adventure boat ride or a plane, as most tourists do.
Iquitos emerges out of the jungle like a temporary hallucination. Out of nothing comes a city bustling with activity and all of the amenities of any Peruvian city. On our way in, I saw pink river dolphins playing in the shallow water. In the distance, a beautiful cruise boat lumbered by with tourists dining in an open air hall, complete with riverside balconies to every room. I looked around at my squalor and wouldn’t have wanted it any other ay. While rolling up my hammock I looked at the space which I called home for the last five days and said farewell with a smile at the adventure that was the first leg of my Amazonian experience. When we docked the sky opened up and poured rain. Fitting. I disembarked the boat to struggle up the muddy garbage filled banks with my bicycle and gear. I arrived at a quiet hostel and fell asleep in a proper bed.
“If man doesn’t learn to treat the oceans and the rainforest with respect, man will become extinct.” ~ Peter Benchley, Author
It was not all beautiful sunsets and flowing jungle water though. Maybe it is the sheer size of the Amazon Basin that causes people to mistreat it so willfully. The fact that it has always been there during their life, they think it will always be that way. Throughout my journey the garbage and destruction I saw was disheartening. People on the boat throwing styrofoam containers and plastics like it was their personal dumpster. All the waste not necessary, directly into the water. The same water they wash in moments later and expect to deliver them delicious fish. Out of sight and out of mind.
In the following days, I explored the hectic Belen market where I ate fried grubs and saw barbecue alligator and gutted armadillos for sale. I got a very overdue haircut and shave. The humidity of the jungle is not somewhere that a big beard is particularly enjoyable. What took four months to grow disappeared in a matter of seconds at the hands of a discontented barber. I left the moustache for a few days, just for a bit of fun. One night as I wandered around looking for a cheap meal I was hit by kids with water balloons and a lady poured a whole bucket of water on my head. I laughed a bit and was told they were getting ready for Carnival the following week.
In Iquitos, I went to the post office to mail some letters and a friendly security guard asked me where I was from. I told him Canada and he howled like a wolf and said, “Wolves!” I laughed, then replied there were big wolves and howled back at him. We fist pumped and I was on my way laughing. During this time I also prepared for the next stage of my riverboat experience that would take me to Ecuador. The plan, for those interested in such a backwater adventures, was to take a series of boats from Iquitos to Coca. This would be a completely different journey than my Henry boat float days before.
I packed up and made my way down to the docks. When I arrived, there was a massive and steep set of stairs to go down with my bike. It was crowded and busy. A man offered to help me for a small price and I agreed. We reached the bottom and loaded my bike on top of a junky boat that was headed for Mazan. After the man departed I realized I was missing something. My entire bag of bicycle tools, which I had carefully collected since the beginning of my trip, was gone. A new bottle of mosquito spray I had just bought, for the deep reaches of the jungle, was also stolen. I chased back up the stairs to try and find who had robbed me. I returned to the boat with no luck and wondered at the awful person who had my things. In twenty months on the road no one had taken anything from me or for that matter, ever during my travelling. Tools that are vital and difficult to replace, would serve little purpose in the life of a regular thief. I hoped he enjoyed the bit of money he procured from my tools as he munched on the stale bread he bought. I made a list of things that were stolen and have since slowly begun to recuperate what was lost.
Soon we were off down the river on a short two hour journey and I forgot about the days earlier events. I watched life on the Amazon float by. We arrived on the banks in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. I unloaded my bike and biked across a small isthmus to Mazan. In Mazan, I found a ‘fast boat’ that was to depart for Pantoja (Peruvian border) the following day.
There is no schedule in this part of the world, and no one really has any idea when things leave. If people in Iquitos tell you that you must hurry and a boat leaves soon, they are just making things up to hurry you onto their boat. No one really knows. I got lucky though on this one and the captain said every Wednesday he leaves from Mazan. I settled up the deal and cooked a pasta dinner on the banks of the river to a gathering crowd. I spent the night for free on the boat in my hammock. Once again I was clearly off the beat and track. At times it felt like the back end of the world as people returned with the bare essentials to the isolation of the jungle.
We left the following morning, as the captain had promised. Another adventure had begun. The boat was relatively empty for once. There seemed to be few people making the journey to the frontier of Peru. Along with one adventurous backpacker from Belgium, only one other man made the entire journey to Pantoja. He talked the entire time. He talked even if no one was listening. I called him the talking man. Even when I put my earplugs in at night, I could still hear the low hum of his voice continuing to talk to me as I watched him swat mosquitos in his hammock out of the corner of my eye.
Most people got off on the first day at different locations along the river. It seemed like we were abandoning them at times as they waved goodbye with their few belonging. There was usually a few people coming to meet them. I felt bad when we left the deaf man on his own with a massive sack of rice and bread. I watched as he approached his village to get someone to help him. I had a lot of time to contemplate the difficulties of his life as we motored onwards.
On one afternoon, we ate a ball of rice with meat inside called Juane. The rice is set inside leaves from the jungle and boiled in water. It was actually really good. Read about Juane and some other typical types of Amazonian food at http://authenticfoodquest.com/surprising-amazonian-food-from-peru/
The feeling in general was very peaceful and quiet. I had the Amazon to myself. These people must survive on the things they grow themselves or are able to find in the jungle. I had one fruit that grew on a tree and tasted exactly like a sweet potato. It was a very interesting life to ponder as the dual motors roared us along the Rio Napo. I saw boats that chugged along slowly like the one they used in the horribly awesome 90’s movie, Anaconda. Sadly, I didn’t see Ice Cube or Jennifer Lopez aboard any of the boats though.
We stopped at dusk on the banks of a tiny village. I put up my hammock once again and prepared for another night on the boat. We had some dinner and a storm rolled in as I went to sleep under the covered roof of the boat. Up early, we were off roaring just before 6am. The sunrise came over the horizon of endless greenery and little riverboats could be seen skirting along out for a morning fish. It was one of those travel moments you dream about and will cherish for as long as you live. The Amazon came to life as it shook off the cool of the night and a pink river dolphin jumped out of the water in the distance. Another day on my Amazon adventure had begun as our captain guided the driver down the shallow banks full of old trees stranded in the water. We sped by many whirlpools sucking debris down into the depths below.
During the day a storm came up and we lost some time docked on the edge of the river to wait it out. The boat got covered in water and everything was damp, but the air was much cooler. We pressed on after the storm passed. As night approached it became clear we would not make Pantoja. We docked near someone’s home. The captain arranged dinner for us to be cooked by the family living there. Hey loved isolated in the middle of the jungle. We were all welcomed into their simple home and made small talk as dinner was prepared. We had a basic Caldo de Gallina (chicken noodle soup, kind of) and I went into a sound sleep in my hammock. The next morning we were off roaring towards the border at first light.
We arrived at the Peruvian border frontier around 10am. The vibe in Pantoja was not very friendly at all. The border patrol was clearly bored and likely saw almost no tourists through here. They looked at every item in my four bags. I checked out of Peru and was off on a fast boat towards Ecuador. Arriving near dusk I was stamped in very quickly and let to go on my way. I found a cheap place to sleep. My last boat remained in the early morning to where the road began again in Coca. I woke at 4:30am to pouring rain and boarded an overloaded boat for eleven cramped hours of sleepy head-bobbing.
Finally arriving in Coca I had my first real taste of a new country and the end of my Amazon riverboat journey. It was a bittersweet moment at the port. It was some of the most introspective days I have ever had in my life. I don’t know if it was the beauty of the jungle or the life giving energy of river, but I felt alive. I felt like I had connected with a part of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I felt free of body and mind. I felt ready to get back on that bike and cycle the rest of the way home. I was ready.
*If you are truly interested in this once in a lifetime, do it yourself Amazon adventure please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will give direct details on prices paid, times of boats and what to expect. You wont find this trip in any guidebook and you will never regret it. It is one of the last great adventures of public transport available. Only necessity is patience and time. Time and patience.
**A big thank you goes out to Des & Judy McKenna, The Laidley Family, Edith Devlin, Shirley Kindellan and Queen Elizabeth School in Perth. They are all the recipients of personal thank you letters in the mail and have brought us up to 200 donors on my journey home. I am so blown away by this. Thank you to all the individual people, organizations and schools that have come together to help build a better future for kids around the world. I am currently heading towards Shuid, Ecuador and the site of the next schoolhouse. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***To read more about the amazing force that is the Amazon River CLICK HERE.
“Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” ~ Thomas Fuller, Writer/Historian
With over $30,000 raised, the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya is now under construction. I cannot thank everyone enough who rose to the call and gave what they were able. Together we are making dreams come true for young learners in different parts of the world. We have now accomplished building a school in Guangming, China and the second schoolhouse in Verdara, India is now underway. I am without words. When I look back at my humble dreams of making a difference in the education of tomorrows youth, I would have never expected this. Simply getting on a bike everyday and going for a ride, has given young children the opportunity for a better future. The dream of having a memorable childhood is the gift we are giving. Seeing the smiling faces in these communities is all the thank you we can ever need.
My next hope is an additional $10,000 and a schoolhouse for the children in Shuid, Ecuador. I know working together we can achieve this. Together we are powerful. Together we are strong. We can make a difference. We have already proven that. Giving others hope and a better life is one of the best feelings in the world. We are already off to a great start thanks to wonderful donations by Eleanor Glenn and the Rutherford family. Below is a look at Shuid, Ecuador. Some of the accomplishments, needs and details about the community are listed here. I hope to visit the site in the coming months, as I make my way up South America. Together our potential is limitless. We may not change the entire world, but at least we can give hope and alter the course of someone’s life forever. This is what it is all about.
“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” ~ Brian Tracy, Author
To make a difference in the world is not about throwing money at a problem and looking away. It is about extending your hand when someone else is down. When they are out in the cold both figuratively and literally. It is easy to forget about people worlds over or turn the channel. Those with the smallest voices need the most help. The people that just want to live in peace. My experiences throughout my journey are amazingly positive. If you open yourself to the world, you never know who you will meet. The people that had the least always seemed to give the most. When a little is a lot. When times are tough and they were still about to help. The places you’d at least expect kindness were the most giving. This world never ceases to inspire me. Something to think about:
Feels like Home
We closed up and left our shop,
We walked away, with no more talk.
Stealing away under darkened care,
Together we walked all the way there.
The heat rose from the daytime light,
While familiar noises banged in the night.
We took what we could drag, roll or carry,
We did it together, even if it was scary.
Arriving was not a typical scene,
“You’re a refugee.” What does that mean?
A girl I met had the same story,
There were no more bells, no more glory.
We waited in that place forever it seemed,
We talked knee to knee, in small spaces I dreamed.
Reports came in, they were always bleak,
There was no place to go, no shelter to seek.
Inside the gates, caught between curled spikes,
Out of mind and out of sight.
We finally got news of something good,
We packed our few things, happily with Mom and Dad I stood.
Boarding a big plane, it rumbled up high,
Into the night we flew, below dark as the sky.
“Where are we going?” I asked my Dad,
Looking off in the distance, a little sad.
He smiled and said “Somewhere beautiful where we can live free.”
“Welcome to Canada!” The man greeted happily.
I nodded and thought, “Feels like home to me.”
Pieces of people walk,
They pass and they glow.
Open books, filled up with talk.
Hopeful we all know,
Know that there is more.
Lifestyles built on a hollow core.
We pass on open roads,
Practical and passive,
Bearing secret loads.
The gap grows, it is massive.
Plugged into lives dictated to be free,
While invisible forces of spirit divide you and me.
We trowel for diamonds in the dirt,
Searching with broken tools and sun cracked eyes.
Amid all the shroud of veiled hurt,
A child’s voice muffled, silencing all their old cries.
Goals lost to political treason,
Hate falls, halting all for no reason.
Flickers of light stain the side of turned faces,
As unwanted feelings bubble deep inside.
Complacent looks shrug away the traces,
Moods dampened, that we easily hide.
Distractions come by the many, they are plenty.
Not my problem anymore,
Call it someone else’s war.
This is dedicated to all of the heroes who have made my journey every bit possible. To all the people who have opened their homes, lives and hearts to me. I am forever grateful. For every bit of freedom you gave me and all of the hardship you saved me from. Thank you for allowing me to show that the world is a good place. Thank you for reminding a guy on a bike, wherever I go, there will be kind people. I encourage those all over the world to look inside and reach out to people in need. Please welcome those the same way you would want to be. We are all of the same world. Just like you. Just like me. Just like us.
To join the cause and help give the children of Shuid, Ecuador a safe place to learn, CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Here is a recent article by Stacey Roy about my ride and charity from my hometown paper. A big thank you to all of my supporters back home! CLICK HERE TO READ.