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Top 10 FAQ ~ After Cycling the World

A Ten Minute Readimg_6969

“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” ~ Pablo Picasso, Painter

Since I was a young kid I always loved getting out in nature and having mini-adventures. Building forts, having bonfires and exploring with friends from the countryside of rural Canada was always something that I will look fondly back upon. Growing up in the country allowed me to get hurt and learn from my mistakes. When I finally started my cycling adventure around the world my days spent camping were a constant throwback to a nostalgia that was waiting to be awoken again. Throughout the journey, I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from those moments of hardship. They have continued to make me stronger and shape the way I see the world from the more comfortable side of the seat.

You never know where you will end up. I would have never thought years ago that I would have actually gone after my dreams and succeeded. That single decision has irreparable changed my life for the better. It has opened my mind to new horizons and given me a deeper perspective on what truly matters in life. There are certain things I no longer take for granted after seeing the hardships of our world firsthand. I see things more clearly than ever before.

In a world that has been so giving I feel that I am obliged to give back in some form, whether it be through charitable work, speaking engagements or maintaining this website. Recently, I spoke at the yearly ‘Just Us Youth Day’ with all Grade 10’s from the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario as the keynote speaker. It was an event I was honoured to be part of. We all have the power to make a change in our lives, community and country. It was inspiring to see the engaging attitude from the youth of tomorrow.

This post of ‘Top 10 FAQ’ was inspired by that talk and the collection of questions I typically get on my ride. If you have any others please feel free to drop me a line at any point.

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“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” ~ Nancy Wynne Newhall, Writer

1-How many countries did you visit? 

I visited 40 countries on my round the world cycling tour. I have travelled to over 60 countries total in my life. Other notable adventures include a motorbike adventure through the wild steppe of Mongolia and the rolling beauty of Laos. I also have fond memories from my backpacking trips in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

 

2-How old are you?

I am 28 years old. I began the trip around the world when I just turned 26. I am happy that I started the trip when I did. However, it is never too old to begin an adventure such as this. I met people doing similar things who were more than twice my age. I believe that a journey such as this ages you internally, rather externally.

 

3-What is your favourite country? Least favourite country?

This is one of the toughest questions of all. I really do not have a favourite country from the journey. I like different countries for different reasons. For example, I like Mexico, Greece and India because of the food. I liked Peru and Lesotho because of the diverse stunning views. I like Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Turkey, South Africa, Paraguay, Colombia and Mexico because of the people. I liked Bolivia and India for the mental as well as physical challenge. China because it will always hold a special place in my heart. I like Canada because it feels like home. I do not have a least favourite country, however, I did have a very difficult time in Ethiopia. But, that is a story for another day.

 

4-Did you ever feel lonely?

The honest answer, rarely. I think if I did this trip even ten years ago I would have felt a lot more of that lonesome feeling. However, with the recent development and improvement of new communication technology I was typically able to stay fairly connected to my wife as well as people back home when I wanted to. In most of the world, phone plans are quite cheap. I would simply get a SIM card and top it up with some 3G data. There are simpler ways to do this, but I became an expert in figuring out the easiest way to communicate back home. When I knew there might be long periods where I would be out of touch, I would try to let certain people know in advance, so they didn’t worry. They still worried though.

 

5-Did you ever have any problems along the way?

This is the most popular question of all. It is the most popular question because when people ask they are not asking about problems with my bike. They are asking if I was ever basically robbed, frightened or threatened along the way. The truthful honest answer is always a resounding no. In Peru I had a very tiny problem where someone stole my bicycle tools out of my bag at a busy port in Iquitos. Other than that, absolutely not. There were the daily challenges of finding food, places to sleep and the elements of course. I was hit by an ice cream truck in Greece, which was an accident I am lucky to have walked away from. If anything people were too kind in most of the places I visited. People are just nice, that is a fact.

 

6-Did you ever get lostHow did you know the way?

I was never really lost on my journey. Everything was always new, so I was in a way lost most of the time. I had a good navigation system using HERE Maps and consulted paper maps whenever possible. I had an external power source which allowed me to charge my electronics for up to four days. Between that time, I could take a break somewhere to get things booted up. If I had to do it again I would get a dynamo hub that charges your gadgets while you ride.

I really did not know the way, but would plan key points I would like to reach as a guiding direction. The plan changed almost daily as I lay awake in my tent planning routes at night. Some countries I missed entirely as routes, weather and feeling guided me towards another. As I got close I would research Visa expectations and what would be feasible. You are never really lost if you are not sure exactly where it is you were supposed to be in the first place.

 

7-Are you married?

Yes. I am newly married to my wonderfully supportive wife Eliza. You can actually check out our wedding story from China with explanations, videos and pictures by CLICKING HERE.

 

8-Did you have any sponsors and how did you pay for the journey?

I get this one a lot more often from adults. Many believe it must take a massive sum of money to take off on a trip for two years. Most of these people are used to the week away holidays and do not understand the actual cost on the ground as the locals live. I will say that I had a good job and I made saving money for the adventure a top priority. Some people save for a new fancy car, I saved to have an adventure of a lifetime with memories to last the same.

On a daily basis I tried to live very cheaply and camp for free whenever possible. I took breaks to get caught up on my life in cheap hostels and guesthouses. In many places I could find a place to sleep for 10$. It was not luxurious, but it was a place to sleep and that is all I needed. On days where I ‘free camped’ I could usually live off around 5-10$ a day. If I had enough food on me, sometimes I would spend nothing in a day. Of course unexpected costs arose, airplane tickets between continents were a hassle and paying for a fair amount of travel visas got slightly expensive. But other than these types of things my day-to-day was fairly cheap. I have no exact number and frankly, I don’t want to know how much I spent. There are no regrets in that respect. Money is made to be spent. I would rather spend mine on memories.

I did have a massive support base of people from all over who helped me raise enough money to build schools throughout the world. You can read a recent post on an update from all five of the countries we were able to build schools in with WE Charity by CLICKING HERE.

 

9-Would you ever do it again?

This is a tough question. Would I do the exact same trip over again? The simple answer is no. Well not right away. I would return to almost every country I have visited, but knowing everything I know about how difficult some of the places along the way were, I would be hard pressed to get out there and do it all over again.

That being said, after getting back into a comfortable sort of life, I do yearn a bit for that thrill of adventure. That big question mark of the day. The wonder and awe for the world. The beautiful camp spots and the friendly locals that go with exotic lands. I am always looking to new places and there are quite a number of locations along the way I had to make hard choices about. Places like Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Namibia, Chile and more of the Balkans.

I would have liked to go everywhere of course. All of these places were serious considerations and hard bypasses. Some places I chose over others and some it simply wasn’t in the cards. Time of year, visa restrictions, conflict, logistics and the mood of the day changed my course quite regularly.

It is my hope that I can go back some day and fill in some of these gaps. I desperately would like to see Iran, Pakistan, more of the Middle East and Western Africa. I was not going to rush it then and I am not going to rush it now. It is a long life.

 

10-What made you want to cycle the world?

A huge combination of things led to me wanting to cycle the world. However, actually getting started is another thing entirely. It is one thing to dream, but another to go live it. The dream was born back in university after reading an excellent book on the topic and deciding that was something I would also like to do. After first it was a hopefully little idea, then it became something I had to do. It was during a time that my love for international travel was growing. I devoured travel books by the dozens and poured over the globe with dreams of wild far off lands from the literature I was reading.

In 2010 I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English. I had a phenomenal time getting to know a culture I knew almost nothing about before going. It was here that I really started to travel on my own to new exotic lands. I returned to Canada to get my Bachelor of Education and then got an incredible offer at a Canadian International School in Sanya, China. It was here that I knew I would begin my cycling trip around the world after my two-year contract was complete. I would have time to save some money and mentally prepare for such a journey.

During my time in China I further entrenched my love for travel and explored a variety of very interesting countries in Asia like Mongolia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Philippines to name a few. I always travelled light and cheaply. This was preparing me for the challenges that were to come.

Before I left, I knew that I also wanted to do something more than just ride circles around the world. I wanted to give back. Education was something I was very passionate about. After careful research and a few phone calls, I found that Free the Children a Canadian based International charity was a perfect match for me. In the beginning, I was not sure how the charity would be received. I had goals of raising enough money to build five schools, in five different countries that I would go through. The locations on the map I believed would keep me motivated and moving towards a larger goal that would continue to give back long after my ride was done. I started with one school and worked my way up from there.

When I finally set out, it was this dream of a putting forth a challenge bigger than myself. As the final days of preparation loomed, I felt a sense of extreme fear and excitement all at the same time. The dream was finally coming true after six long years of quietly daydreaming. I wanted to read, write, meet people, take photographs, experience hardship, failure, get to know myself and most of all, feel alive. For all of those reasons, I set off into the wild unknown. It was just something I had to do.

 

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*Thank you to all the people who continue to follow and read my website. It is because of you that I continue to write and share my story. I am also working away at my book when time affords. Be patient, these things take time.

**News on a big change for the new year to come soon!

***In my presentations, I do not show the whole clip of my cycling trip around the world, but just the first few minutes. I am working towards a more concise and revised version. In the meantime, enjoy!

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Human Boundaries: Biking Nicaragua with Free the Children

A 14 Minute Readimage

To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task” ~ Sophocles, Greek Tragedian

The human experience. One of the greatest gifts one could ever be privileged to. We have the potential to break personal boundaries and share with the world our individual powers, strengths and failures. Being accepting of our weakest points only makes us stronger. Keeping up appearances is destined to end poorly. Unwrapped, this is who we are. Approaching our flaws and growing from them makes us allow us to be who we really are. Embrace those weak points, by making them strong.

I’ve had thousands of hours to contemplate the human experience. What does it mean to be human? With the media in our faces and online glamour profiles we have become closer connected but increasingly disconnected from ourselves. We want to create the best image of ourselves. Online we can represent ourselves in business, personal and social forms. This connection has sometimes made us shallow and vain. In the last few years, a new dream has been born without definition or shape. It is frustrating and the world is trying to keep up in a race with no finish line.

Before, the road to ‘happiness’ was more defined. Family, kids, house, car and job. At least there was a goal, however somewhat materialistic, to work towards. We are more free to choose now than ever. Life shouldn’t be lost to hours on your phone or a checklist of gains. It is a beautiful experience, you just need to look up and look around. That is the main issue. There is no guide book. And there never should be. There is no definitive right or wrong way. Each individual should have the power to be their own person. To live their own life. That is why I cycle for education. Because it gives hope to those who otherwise do not have the same choices or options as I did growing up.

This brings me back to the human experience. It is just that. Life should be about each other. Helping others achieve their goals. Sharing in the achievements and bettering the lives of our fellow people. Whether they be right next door or on the other side of the world. We are all players in a spinning, living, natural world. We have the power to make a difference in our personal and broader world. We should leave a legacy that is real. Choose bright human futures, over decaying plastic superficiality. Life is the book we are all destined to write.

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I was very excited to be in Nicaragua. The land of beautiful lakes and soaring volcanoes. It was the thirty-third country on my round the world tour. The terrain became instantly very flat, I had a pretty good tailwind and it was much cheaper than Costa Rica. I also had a lot to look forward to in the coming days. I would be meeting up with the people at the Free the Children community of El Trapiche as well as the Me to We team in Nicaragua. However, first I had to get there.

I got off to an early start from the hole in the wall where I slept the night before. The wind was generally on my side and I passed through a windmill farm along Lake Nicaragua. It is a massive lake that apparently has predicable winds year round blowing off of it. By the time I reached Rivas I was starving. I even met a French couple as well as a Slovenian cycle tourist on the way. I ate a massive and cheap breakfast. One of the best breakfasts I had in a while. Basically rice and beans mixed called Gallo Pinto, served with fresh salty cheese, eggs and tortillas. You can see the recipe for Gallo Pinto HERE.

I had only planned to make it to Rivas that day as I wanted to go see the volcano that sits within Lake Nicaragua. However, it was Good Friday and was told there were no boats running that day. While I thought about what to do I found a Burger King with internet and drank unlimited sprite. I decided to just make a break for the historical town of Granada where I was to meet my host, Camilo, the following day.

It was Holy Week so many people were on holiday, making the road extra busy. I hunkered down and made it into Granada at the end of a nice downhill. I found a cheap place on the outskirts of town and a got some dinner before bed. Exhausted after another long day, but feeling good about Nicaragua so far.

“I am still profoundly troubled by the war in Nicaragua. The United States launched a covert war against another nation in violation of international law, a war that was wrong and immoral.” ~ Bianca Jagger, Nicaraguan Human Rights Activist

The following afternoon I met Camilo for lunch and got settled in downtown Granada with his help. It was nice to see a friendly face and actually just do something normal for once, like meet someone for lunch. I was more excited than he knew about simply meeting for lunch. Almost all of my meals are alone or rushed at the end of a long day. It was nice to chat over good food with a friendly face. Not often is there someone waiting to meet me.

I explored around historical Granada for the rest of the day and the following morning. Camilo arranged for me to join a Me to We group from Winnipeg for a tour of the city and to visit ‘Café de las Sonrisas’. I met a nice guy named Joe, with the organization, and we headed to the café together. There we listened to Antonio’s inspirational story of how he came to Nicaragua and started a café where all of the employees are deaf. He also has a workshop that only employs people with handicaps to make hammocks for sale. He is an truly passionate and talented individual who is currently making a huge difference in the lives of people who would otherwise have few options for employment. Nicaragua would be a very hard place to live with any sort of disability and he gives people bright futures. Together they are making a massive hammock out of old plastic bags, which you can see below. He is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.

After lunch the group asked me to speak about my ride around the world. Antonio was a hard act to follow, but they were a great audience with a number of questions. The students had some time to do a bit of exploring around Granada at the end of the afternoon and then we said our goodbyes. I never know who I am going to meet on this trip. That’s what is always exciting.

The lake is known to have been controlled by pirates as early as 1665 when Henry Morgan led six shallow draft canoes up the San Juan for an attack on Granada.” You can also read more about piracy on Lake Nicaragua and the real Captain Morgan HERE.

The next day I took my time cycling to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. On the way I took a break at the historical Masaya market and walked about for a while. When I reach the city ‘Where the streets have no name,’ I navigated my way to where Camilo had nicely arranged for me to stay. The streets actually have no names in Managua, making finding anything a bit difficult unless you live there. I went with Camilo that evening to meet another Me to We group and to hear him speak passionately about the history of Nicaragua and the work of Free the Children. You can read a brief account of the complex and interesting history of Nicaragua by CLICKING HERE.

Early the next morning was the big day. Up at 5:30am, I had a quick breakfast and set out towards the Free the Children community of El Trapiche. It was a direct 25 kilometre climb up to where I would meet a group of boys from the community. We would then cycle the rest of the way to El Trapiche together. I was very excited and spun my pedals in low gear all the way to the top of the pass. It took almost three hours of slow climbing, but I finally made it with the boys waiting to shoot down the dusty road to El Trapiche. There is a drought in Nicaragua at the time, so things were even more dry and dusty. This made for quite the fantastic downhill bike ride.

It was a dream come true to cycle with these kids to their school. We laughed together as we rode down the crazy road and talked about what music they liked. They were divided among their taste of Justin Beiber. I can understand the division. The youngest of the group was the strongest of us all it seemed. On a few very steep hills we all had to get off and push as he climbed on up. The one boy told me that they ride the road once a week to go to the highschool on the weekend. Two things that are a testament to the reality of life in rural Nicaragua.

We arrived thirsty, hungry and a little dusty. After a some food and a water break I shared my journey with the people in the community through the help of Camilo translating. It was so nice to hear their questions and reactions to what I have and hoped to accomplish with my trip. The one man said that to them I am a hero. I almost welled up when I heard this. In my day-to-day existence, my trip seems incredibly normal to me at this point. Navigating countries, finding places to sleep and embracing different cultures is essentially what I do. I have come to understand that I am good at what I do and am still able to have a lot of fun while doing it. An experience I wish all of the world could have.

Later that morning I helped with digging the new playground for the school with a Me to We group from Canada and the United States. It was fun getting to know the students, facilitators and teachers. After lunch I shared my journey to the group. We discussed my route, struggles I have faced, the change that they all can make in the world and following dreams. I call it ‘Finding Your Bike Ride’. In that very moment they were in the process of youth helping youth. For many young people, I think the experiences they have through Free the Children truly set in after they get home and return to the privileged reality of Canada. They see the reverse culture shock of the differences between societies. They see the power they have to actually make a change. To put a smile on a face and brighten the world for others is actually a very real possibly.

I was welcomed that night to meet Camilo’s lovely family and joined in for dinner after a full day. After the experiences we shared, I am proud to call him my friend. I am always blown away by the wonderful and passionate people Free the Children have on their team. I said my farewells and was off riding towards the colonial city of León the following morning.

I road past windy lakes and more stunning volcanoes. Nicaragua is one of those countries I would like to return to and explore more. The people are very friendly and are excited to share their home with the world. Arriving in León I found a hostel to park my bike and explored a bit of the city. At one of the focal points during the 1979 revolution, León represents more than just colonial fingerprints. People fought from street to street in a struggle to regain control of their freedoms. As you walk about you feel that there is more in the air than old churches and historic buildings. The revolution is in the eyes of the population. A lot has changed in Nicaragua in the last few years. I hope to return one day and see the continued progress and improvement of the daily lives of the people. Education, will be at the heart of this positive growth.

When I arrived at the border town of Somotillo some five kilometers away from Honduras, I checked into a rundown little guesthouse. As luck would have it I found a retired cycling couple from the United States there. Mike and Linda were headed south. We chatted that night over some dinner about our rides and routes ahead. Unexpectedly they even paid for my dinner. They said it was their contribution to my nice charity work. You can read about Linda and Mike’s journey at GONE 4 A Ride. Their trip is nearing the two year mark and they hope it will last another eight as they make their way around the world.

The following morning I was off fairly early and pedaled onto Honduras and the next chapter of my Central American adventure. After Nicaragua I was filled up with emotion and good vibes. I felt like I was really making a difference. That my ride was touching the lives of more people than I ever thought possible. The dream of changing the lives of individuals as I went and they changing mine in return, has been a continuous aspect of my journey. The power of the individual never ceases to amaze me. I felt like the wheels on my bike were rolling on more than just kilometres. I was being pushed by the hope and strength of the people. This is the human experience that drives me forward.

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*At the moment we are moving our way towards the goal for the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. Please keep the people of Ecuador in your thoughts as they recover from the most recent devasting earthquake. As far as I have heard everyone in the Free the Children communities are doing okay as well as staff and Me to We volunteers. Only $4,000 to go to reach our goal after a kind sponsorship from Tom & Pat Morell. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

**It has now been a year since the passing of my cousin Jamie Quattrocchi. He was tragically swept away by a rogue wave while sightseeing with his girlfriend Brittany at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia last April. Thanks to the hard work of my Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim, Brittany and support of the community as a whole back home, improvements have been made to safety at Peggy’s Cove. We all miss you Jamie and think of you often. You can read the article on improvements by CLICKING HERE.

***I am making my way through the hills of Mexico at the moment. It is a beautiful country with great food and a lot to take in each day. This week I reached a huge milestone at over 30,000km cycled since starting my journey. With home on the horizon I will be moving more quickly than usual, but still stopping to take in that which surrounds me. Thanks for reading!

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Adopt-A-Village Initiative ~ Free the Children

A Video on the Beauty of Nicaragua ~ A Must Watch!

Bruce Springsteen ~ Streets of Philadephia (For Antonio)

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