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
A Twenty-Two Minute Read
What constitutes as someone else’s regular? After spending two years rolling through the regular lives of forty different countries, my prior perceptions have been changed forever. I can tell you that the people I met along the way are just that, people. They are not all that different from you and I. We really all just want the same few things in life. We want a few people to hold close to us, a roof over our heads, food on the table and our health.
However, what is so interesting about these regular needs and wants are the cultures which make all regions of the world unique unto themselves. This is why we travel. Because, it is new and different. Along the way I experienced many societies in the way local people do. I got to see the daily grind, struggles and fascinations on the ground level. Stepping back from the things we consider normal, you would be surprised how easy it is to forget what makes our own home amazing. Quite often I would tell someone that a certain area is beautiful and they would stop, look, think and finally agree. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need those gentle reminders.
I was so long in someone else’s regular, that I was very excited to return to my regular. With Canada around the corner, I was beyond excited to experience old things in new ways. What is interesting about your regular?
“Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them.” ~ Pierre Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister
With a friendly welcome from Canada’s border officials, and a picture down by the water in Windsor, Ontario, I was off riding. After nearly two years of cycling I was finally back in familiar territory. I took in a bit of the scenery and I honestly have to say it really felt like being home. Though Canada can be compared to the Northern United States, in many ways, it really is a different place. I felt a huge burst of energy and made my way towards London.
One thing I did miss immediately from the United States were the wide shoulders that are perfect for biking. People in Canada were respectful, but in a blowing side wind, I felt a little cramped on the side of the road. I pushed on, rolling down country roads alongside Hwy 401 through places like Lakeshore and Chatham. On my first night back in Canada I made camp near a little town outside the home of a farmhouse thanks to an old couple, Ed and Donna. They were happy to let me camp for the night. The sun was nearly set and I got to work cooking my pasta with garlic, onions and a can of beans I picked up earlier.
I set up my tent for the night and put everything in place. For nearly two years my things have all had a spot. The same tent with four bags and a bearded man. The routine of the nightly cook and preparation for bed was almost finished. While my pasta cooled, I wrote in my journal as I always did. Then I watched the sun set from my tent while slurping up some bean filled penne. I knew this would be one of the last times I could experience this type of moment. The peace and quiet of my tent after a long day of riding. The ache of my muscles and the final zip of the tent as I closed myself off from the world for a few hours. I lay back and let out a big breath, as usual. The strain of the road wafting into the corners of my tent.
The following morning, I was up early and headed for London. A 140km kind of day was ahead of me. The weather didn’t look that promising, so I started moving quickly after a few bites of peanut butter and bread. I was to stay with a cousin, Mary-Anne, and her family. I was excited to see a familiar face and have a warm bed to sleep in that night. Dark clouds were brewing behind me. For most of the day, I kept a strong pace while the clouds spit rain at my tail. However, this was not to last forever. The rain came in freezing cold buckets. The only thing keeping me warm was the movement of a bike. I was about forty kilometres from my destination. I decided to press onwards in the rain and worry about my soaked shoes and clothes later. Every time a car passed a freezing cold burst of wind would blow up my soaked rain jacket.
After about an hour of riding in the rain it cleared with the sun warming my body once again. Stopping to shake a bit of water off, I squished around in my old shoes bought way back in Peru. The heels were broken and had seen nearly six months of road. They owed me nothing. I jumped back on the bike and made it to my destination in the early afternoon. It was so wonderful to see someone I knew once again and get caught up. We all talked that evening over a beautiful steak dinner with Mary-Anne’s family and a close family friend named Christine. It was great to have people to share my evening with.
In the morning, we had a delicious brunch and I was full of energy for a much easier day of riding to Stratford. We took a few photos together and I thanked them for their hospitality. Being part of a large extended Italian family has many wonderful benefits. Along the way Christine took photos as I rode up along the undulating hills north of London. I waved as she snapped some shots and thanked her for all the support she gave during my journey. With the wind at my back once again, I zig-zagged down country roads towards Stratford.
I was staying at the house of a long-time friend who I had not seen in quite some time, Spencer. He was out of town when I arrived, so I stayed with his parents, John and Kim. They were beyond hospitable and very enthusiastic about my trip. When I arrived a family friend and cycling enthusiast named Brent was there to meet me. We talked about routes, our cycling trips and looked at some maps for my trip home. Recently, I heard that Brent had a stroke, and is currently on the road to recovery. Please keep this friendly man in your thoughts.
During my time in Stratford, I ate like a king and relaxed before making the push to Toronto. Kim, who is a professional massage therapist, helped me get out the months and years of strain in my muscles. I felt like I was a new man afterwards. I also visited ‘Ross’ Bike Shop’ to replace my tires that were balder than anything. This would explain my recent heroic spill in downtown Detroit a few days earlier. When I arrived he had already heard of my story through a friend, Scott, who I did an interview with a day earlier in the Stratford Herald. (READ THE ARTICLE HERE) He told me not only did he have new tires for me, but he was going to do a whole overhaul on my bicycle for free, along with brand new water bottles. I think he felt a connection to my story, the work I was achieving through Free the Children and my hopes for the future. I was blown away by his kindness and chatted with the guys around the bike shop. In no time at all my bicycle had a new heart put back into it. It was one of the most generous acts of kindness on my whole journey. I cycled back to Spencer’s place, feeling humbled once again by the beauty of humanity.
“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer
That night I got caught up with my old friend and made plans for seeing each other at the finish line of my journey back in Rideau Ferry. I shot off towards Toronto on a 160km day with rolling hills. There was traffic up to my teeth as I approached Toronto. Riding through Brampton was very busy as I cut along near the airport and headed for my cousin Marina’s house in Etobicoke. Marina was one of my biggest promoters and supporters of the journey. This was also a very special day, as the love of my life, Eliza, was flying in that night from China. I could not wait. It was going to be a very special day of familiar faces. Once I saw her come though those gates, my heart felt whole again.
Picking Eliza up at the airport with Marina late at night was an emotional time. Seeing my fiancée after eight months of separation was one of those moment you never forget. United Airlines annoyingly lost her bag though. We were too happy to be bothered much by it. The following day Marina had arranged a potluck dinner and an opportunity to talk about my ride. It was the first group of people I was able to share my ride with in a long while. The food was fantastic and I was even able to meet Alexas from Free the Children, who helped me coordinate the construction of all five of the schoolhouses. From Etobicoke, I made my way on a short ride downtown Toronto after saying goodbye to Marina. Eliza and I got settled downtown and prepared to meet up with Global News and visit the offices of Free the Children. This was also something I had looked forward to a long time.
The following day, I spoke at Free the Children and got to meet some of the amazing people behind the scenes. They even had a cycling cake prepared for me after the presentation. However, the table broke as we were about to eat the cake. It was not meant to be. Global News wrapped up their story and I was able to rest up in Toronto for the next few days before saying goodbye once again to Eliza. She went to be with my parents, and I rode onto Lindsay on route homeward. This would be the final leg of the journey home.
“The fact that over 50 per cent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially. That is easily a city’s biggest strength, and it is Toronto’s unique strength.” ~ Anthony Bourdain, TV Host/Chef
I made it to Lindsay after breaking through the traffic of Toronto. I stopped on the way to chat with an old friend from South Korea and swung by another friend’s house on Lake Scugog, Dale and Nikki. With so many people to greet me along the way home, my face hurt from permanently smiling. A great problem to have as I rolled into Lindsay to stay with Aunt Bev. I arrived at a familiar house, where I made many fond memories as a child. We drove over to her son Dave’s and we had a delicious dinner with their family. The following morning Aunt Bev and I had a bit of brunch at a diner (awesome) before I cycled off to Peterborough to stay at her other son John’s place in Peterborough.
Now I was really back in familiar territory. For five years I lived and even worked in Peterborough while I went to school at Trent University. I went by Trent and a few of the old places I lived just for the sake of nostalgia. After an interview with the local paper, I continued on cycling to a few old haunts with a big smile on my face. Not far to go now, I thought to myself as I rolled over to John’s place to stay with his family. All these extended relatives opening their homes to me and sharing their lives was so amazing. We dined on some delicious kabobs and I jumped into the hot tub with the kids before it was time for bed. I was gaining weight for the first time in weeks after being so well-fed everywhere I went.
In the morning, I met my Aunt Joanne, Uncle Scott and their daughter Christina for a diner style breakfast. How could I complain. A great way to meet close family and get my day underway. After a proper breakfast I was off riding. The weather started to turn while I rode on route to Sharbot Lake. During the day I got soaked three times along busy old Highway 7. Trucks splashed piles of water onto me and the sun would appear to tease me. The humidity would rise high, while the storm turned around and hit with another cold shot of rain. Even during all of the horrible rain there was a brief pause where I came over a hill and watched a beautiful rainbow form. Eventually, I made it to Sharbot Lake after 170 kilometres of hard riding damp and ready for sleep. During the day I had stopped for a quick poutine, just because I could. To see a recipe for a Canadian classic CLICK HERE.
The following day, I met up with Eliza and saw my mother for the first time since South Africa. It was a nice reunion before heading off to Granite Ridge and St. James Major Schools to share my story. I had whipped up a quick PowerPoint to share with the kids and answered a ton of questions. I thanked them for all they had done to help me achieve my goals with building schools in different parts of the world.
Sharbot Lake holds a great deal of memories from my childhood. I always remember visiting my Grandmother there and going to play at the beach. I rode by her house and thought about the old days. Grandma was a pretty big traveler herself and I often thought of her on my journey. From time to time, I wondered what she would think of the whole thing. We all had lunch with an old friend named Marg and my great Aunt Edith before I rode off to spend the night at my friend Josh’s about 30km on backroads away. More friends and friendly faces were to come.
It wasn’t far from Josh’s place to Perth. I made quick work of it and rolled into town ready for a talk at St. John Elementary on my ride. They were wonderful supporters throughout my journey, so it was so nice to share my story there. I had an interview with the local radio, Lake 88 and a final presentation at Queen Elizabeth School nearby. A few days early my best friend Dave & Tara McGlade had their first baby. That night I spent the evening with family having dinner then returned to Dave & Tara’s place to meet cute new baby Charles, before drifting off to sleep. It was a wonderful time to be back home.
From the other side of Perth, I made my way to Smiths Falls for three presentations on my ride to some of the supporting schools there. The speaking tour continued. Visiting St. Francis School where I went to as a young boy, was a very surreal experience. Returning to speak about my ride and encouraging young kids to follow their dreams seemed like it hit home for many of the listeners. As I wrapped up my day, I felt a huge sense of pride for all I had accomplished with my ride. Riding over to my uncle Joe’s I got caught up on a laundry list of e-mails and joined my family for dinner nearby at Aunt Fran’s with two friends from Trent. After a bit of celebrating it was time for bed. Tomorrow was a big day. My final day on the bicycle
After a good breakfast, I loaded up the bicycle one last time. I wheeled out into the driveway and thanked my everyone for their support. Global News was there to cover the last stretch of my ride. I pulled out on the road and began to ride as I always did. It was a cool and misty morning. The only difference between this and a regular day were the people cheering and signs posted welcoming me home. As I got closer to Rideau Ferry, I started breaking up on the bike. I had no idea it would be that hard. I saw a few more friends before I made my way towards the bridge to greet the group that would join me on bicycles to my home. Pushing over the bridge I saw the large crowd of people waiting with their bikes and signs. I was blown away. Tearing up as I roared down to the smiling faces I was overwhelmed and met with an endless supply of hugs. You can watch the whole story by Global News HERE.
“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” ~ Drake, Songwriter
After a quick bite to eat at Jimmy’s Snack Shack and a final interview, the group of riders kicked off to cycle the final seven kilometres to my family home from Rideau Ferry. From then on it was only smiles and laughs all the way home. All ages of people with a variety of bikes joined in riding together. Near the finish line a friend had set up a lemonade stand for everyone. A welcome break for those on route. In the final moments of my ride I took the lead at the front of the line. I was riding down the same old road I had cycled a thousand times. It was all too familiar. I rounded the corner to a group of family and friends. I picked up some speed on the bumpy dirt road and broke through the red tape at the finish line.
I was finally home.
Be careful following your dreams. One day they just might come true. 🙂
*I would like to thank everyone that has made this entire journey a huge success. From all of the people along the way that helped me get a place to sleep, some food to eat and spent some time to chat. To all of the sponsors who have helped us raise over $47,500 to construct five schools in struggling countries around the world. With the help of many schools in Eastern Ontario and over 275 individual sponsors, we have helped give young children hope for a better future. To Free the Children for all of their encouragement and the opportunity to make a different. To all of my friends who rooted me on during the course of the trip and joined me for the final leg home. Thank you to everyone who went out of their way to make my final days on the bike a warm and welcoming memory that will last forever. To my parents, Vince & Dorothy, as well as my brother Luke for always being there. And of course, my rock, Eliza for being my support throughout the entire journey. I couldn’t have done it without all of you working together. Thank you all for making it the ride of a life-time.
**We are now so close to the final goal of $50,000 for the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua. With less than $2,500 I know that we will soon achieve our goal there. You can read about the community of El Trapiche by clicking the link HERE and scrolling to the bottom for an overview of the work being done there. It is truly unbelievable how generous people have been and how near we are to the final goal. It is a wonderful feeling, with too many people to thank. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***Now that I have finished my ride I am continuing to speak around Eastern Ontario. On July 11th at 6:30 pm at St. James School (5 Catherine St.) in Smiths Falls, Ontario, I will be giving a general talk to the community about my journey. I call my presentation, ‘Finding Your Bicycle Ride’. It is designed to encourage young people and adults alike to follow their dreams through the use of my bicycle ride as a jumping off point. I share the hardships of people around the world, beautiful pictures and stories from my trip. There will be a period afterwards for refreshments and socializing. For more info on booking a speaking engagement CLICK HERE.
****Though my journey is over, I will continue to maintain this website. I have a great deal still left to share and travel articles to write. Look for updates and changes to the site in the following months, as I start my transition to a new format. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a book on my experiences over the last two years. Stay tuned for updates on this and other events. Thank you for following along!
*****Watch the interview with CTV Morning Live HERE.
******Happy Canada 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! 🙂
A Sixteen Minute Read
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ~ Alan Watts, Philosopher/Writer
What makes you, you? This is one of the most important questions we can ponder on those idle nights. Simply wondering why you are the way you are is deeply therapeutic. We are all influenced by a unique combination of upbringing, culture and circumstance. Throughout our lives hundreds of players have huge impacts on who we are to become. Every day we are told what we should be, how we should act and who we should idolize. These are outside sources influencing us.
However, sitting back for a moment and putting aside the buzz of the world is important. Forget the push and pressures of the modern society. Who do you want to be, right now? What do you want to do, right now? This is something we forget, the right now. We have the power to change ourselves throughout our lives. I know I am a completely different person from when I was as a child, teenager and even at the beginning of this journey. People need to learn to accept that we all change. Don’t let your past define who are today and will be in the future.
The most important part is following what you believe makes you the best you. We need to embrace the beauty of change. We need to embrace ourselves. Personal developmental growth is how we prevent stagnation. This life is a churning river of bends and breaks. Sometimes it is good to follow the ebb and flow. Other times, it is important to break away. Make your own path to new sources of personal discovery. Ask the tough questions of yourself. Make your own path. But most importantly, be you.
“Mexico is a safe, as well as a beautiful and warmly gracious, place to visit.” ~ Margaret Chan, Physician
I crossed into the state of Chiapas, Mexico from Guatemala in the scorch of the early afternoon sun. There was a power failure on the Guatemalan side of the border, but once into Mexico things went quite smoothly. Frontier regions are typically never the most welcoming places, but I felt quite happy to be officially in North America. My Central American journey was behind me with a camera full of pictures and a mind full of great memories.
I spent the rest of the day making my way through a fairly dry landscape to the first city of Tapachula. In comparison to the parts of Guatemala I was riding in, Mexico was much more developed. Food carts and little shops everywhere. Decent roads and gas stations with air conditioning to cool off in. I found a cheap guesthouse, grabbed a Mexican style Torta (sandwich) and did a bit of exploring around my new surroundings. I had been to Mexico many years ago, but this was a completely different situation. The week holiday in the isolated beach towns of Yucatan is not what really defines the hustle, bustle, sights and sounds of the Mexican heartland. I was excited about the road north towards the United States.
“I’ve seen zero evidence of any nation on Earth other than Mexico even remotely having the slightest clue what Mexican food is about or even come close to reproducing it. It is perhaps the most misunderstood country and cuisine on Earth.” ~ Anthony Bourdain, Travel Host/Writer
Through slow hilly roads with a crosswind I made my way along the southwestern coast towards the state of Oaxaca. The people along the way were friendly and generally very helpful. As I pedaled onwards, I began the culinary experience that is the beauty of Mexican food. Real Mexican food. I am not talking about burritos and gordita Crunches. I am talking wonderfully simple and flavourful tacos, bursting tortas, spicy salsas and handmade tortillas. The first time I had ‘Tacos Al Pastor’ I was blown away. One of the best things I have eaten on the entire trip. Basically meat done in the style of Arabic Shawarma, with some onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. I was absolutely hooked. In a small town one night I ate twenty Tacos Al Pastor and felt for once my eternal hunger was satiated. For a home recipe of Tacos Al Pastor CLICK HERE.
After a short cut through Oaxaca I turned away from the Pacific coast to cross the mountain pass towards the Atlantic. Throughout Mexico I had many options as far as routes were concerned, however, I intended to avoid a town that was coming up called ‘La Venta’. Literally meaning, ‘The Wind’. It is one of the most consistently windy places on Earth due to the geography of the region. Stories of trucks flipped over and flying debris is no place to intelligently head with a bicycle at this point in my tour. I elected the more difficult, though scenic mountain route to take me forward.
As I climbed up and over the mountains towards the state of Tabasco, I realized that this would be the last real mountain pass of my journey. The satisfaction of looking back from the top of a mountain road that took hours to crawl up is hard to describe. You are always happy that it is over, but the feeling and views are always worth all the sweat and struggle. I caught a roaring tailwind and made my way along through a much greener area up in the mountains. The air was much more comfortable but distances between food stops were longer. I made a poor calculation with food and water after passing the last town for 60 kilometres.
I pushed forward with only one thought on my mind, which was water. After a while nothing appeared and I was becoming dehydrated. I felt angry with myself for making such an easy error. As I pushed forward I was feeling terrible. After a large climb I was feeling weak and slightly dizzy in the sun. At the bottom I saw a police checkpoint and raced down to them. They helped fill my bottles with water and a truck driver gave me the rest of his lunch. I didn’t ask him for it, but happily devoured it like an animal. With this burst of kindness and energy I was able to make it to a camping spot that night outside a truck stop run by a nice family in the spiked green hills of Tabasco. It had been a long time since I allowed myself to be in that type of situation and vowed to be more prepared in the coming days.
After a few strong days of riding I rolled into the province of Veracruz and headed to the capital city. On the way I was drinking a Pepsi at a family shop in the middle of nowhere when the kids living there came out and gave me a big bowl of rice with tortillas and freshly cooked chicken. Throughout Mexico this type of random generosity was almost daily. People would tell me all the time that I didn’t need to pay for my lunch, sometimes hand me a cold drink or invite me to eat with them. It is not the Mexico you hear on the news. That is not the Mexico people want you to know about. But, in my experience it is the Mexico I will always know, remember and love.
I am not going to pretend Mexico isn’t without problems. It was around this time, as I approached the coastal area of the Atlantic, I began to see the armed conveys of military and federal police, working to combat the influx of cartel activity. They patrol the highway in full swat gear in armed pickup trucks with M-50 machine gun mounts and automatic wielding guards. On one morning, a convoy of armored vehicles passed me by on patrol, loaded to the teeth with weapons. It looked as if I was riding into a battle zone. I asked people along the way but all of them assured me that it was normal and there was a base nearby that keep the area safe. Never on my journey north to the United States did anyone make me feel like I was in danger.
I stayed with a nice family in Heroica Veracuz before making my push north along the stunning coast towards the state of Tamaulipas. While I visited with them we ate a large feast of Tacos Al Pastor one night and I listen to the history of the state from my new friend Joaquin. Veracruz was the site where Hernan Cortes landed with the Spanish in 1519 and consequently changed the face of modern Mexico. Read about Cortes HERE.
The route I chose through Mexico was one which was completely off any sort of tourist trail. I had set an original route which would hit all the big sights. But, I realized quickly that Mexico is a place I would like to return to. After two years of seeing sights, I realized that seeing them on my own does not make me any happier. My journey I have found has never been about the sights, they were only simple markers on the map to work towards. I decided to leave parts of Mexico which are famed for tourism to later. It is a long life and will mean more to me later. I would like to see them someday with my wife to be. Two years on the road can leave you a bit saturated and lacking the anticipation that famous sights bring to other tourists. I decided to put my focus on meeting people, exploring culture and you guessed it, eating.
Veracruz was a stunning off the beat and track province. I would recommend it to anyone who has a bit of time and patience. Places like Catemaco highlight the unknown beauty of Mexico. Pretty lakes and rolling green hills make cycling here worth all the while. The landscape slowly changed on route to Tamaulipas. The road was full of trucks carrying freshly picked oranges. Sometimes it smelled sweetly wonderful and other times a whiff of rotting produce would wake me up. I stopped along the way to check out historic churches in little towns and at in roadside stalls. I loved the energetic pump of a Mexican breakfast of eggs, beans, and endless tortillas.
“My sole ambition is to rid Mexico of the class that has oppressed her and given the people a chance to know what real liberty means. And if I could bring that about today by giving up my life, I would do it gladly.” ~ Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary
I was a little bit hesitant with the final state of Tamaulipas. Known mainly for cartel control and corruption. However, people had been nothing but nice so far and I felt that it would continue, even in the less stable regions. In Tampico I was set up with a cousin of my good friends David and Diana whom I used to work with years ago in South Korea. Arriving in Tampico, Pamela and Oscar welcomed me into their home like an old friend. I was privileged to join them for a typical Sunday of family and food. Some of the best sandwiches (tortas) I have ever had on fresh Arabic bread. It was one of my most memorable days in months. I ate my heart out with both sides of their family and enjoyed time walking along the pretty windswept beach. The day finished off with a typical Mexican barbecue, I was stuff and happier than ever.
With my belly full and batteries recharged, I was off for the final push through the wild east of Mexico towards the border town of Matamoros. Along the way my wonderful friend Diana also set me up with her brother in Cuidad Victoria, another city known for all the wrong reasons. David and Diana were waiting for me across the border where they lived in the United Sates in Brownsville. On the way I was able to meet the whole wonderfully welcoming extended family. Diana’s brother Gonzalo let me stay at his home for the night, even though he had only just moved in. We went out for some delicious Mexican food and chatted with some friends of his girlfriend. Everyone was so enthusiastic and excited to help me achieve my goals. I was feeling extremely comfortable and loved by all.
From Victoria I had only two days to the border of the United States. I rode hard and long. On both mornings there was a terrible fog that soaked me in the humidity of the morning. Wild sunflowers grew along the highway with pastures of crops. I crossed green swamps and battled a horrible crosswind for two days. On route the Mayor of San Fernando offered to host me. Though he was busy, his assistants took me out to dinner and made sure I had food for the following day. People were all very excited to help me get through Tamaulipas safely and happily. Though the riding was long and hard the kindness along the way made up for all the work. I always asked the police at checkpoints about the safety of the road ahead and they were usually very friendly giving me the thumbs up. Over the course of my journey I think I have become slightly numb to the heavily armed guards that exist in extreme areas throughout the world.
On a final haul to the border I felt a huge surge of energy along with satisfaction at crossing Mexico. It was well over 2000km of cycling from one end to the other. Along the way I got to experience something few people ever get to see of Mexico. The friends I made along the way are something I will always take with me. It is not a place to be feared. The kindness I experienced here was one of the best I have seen on my trip. Crossing the bridge from Mexico into the United States I entered a different world. One with trimmed lawns and styled suburbs. I looked back across the border once more and felt I would miss the part of the world I had just left behind. A new adventure loomed in the United States. One country separated me from my home back in Canada. I cycled over to the home of David and Diana. I heard a familiar voice call my name and saw friends I hadn’t seen in five years. I was almost home.
*We are now less than $7,500 from the final schoolhouse in Nicaragua. I can’t believe we are almost at the final goal of $50,000 raised during cycling journey around the world. That is incredible! I have to thank all of the people who have made this dream come true for children in struggling communities around the world. Together we are lighting the spark to brighter futures. Thank you so much! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**I am currently cycling in the state of Ohio, United States. I am less than 350km from crossing the border of Canada and beginning the final road home. Exciting times to come!
***If you are interested in backpacking around Mexico, check out a travel guide for off the beat and track Mexico by my friend the Uncharted Backpacker by clicking http://www.unchartedbackpacker.com/top-5-offbeat-places-in-mexico/
Anthony Bourdain: Tacos in Piedras Negras
“Paraguay is an island surrounded on all sides by land.” ~ Augusto Roa Bastos, Novelist
The idea of success and perseverance to a goal is only as difficult as our mind will allow. There is only one obstacle between us and our goals. The mind. This is what prevents us from making the best decisions for ourselves, finishing or starting that project and following our dreams. When I sat down to write this post, my mind wouldn’t let me continue. It said you have no good ideas, there are other things to worry about and no one really cares. I was in a bad mindset. There was only cannot and excuses. I gave up for days and the page lay blank. It’s not that I didn’t think I had a good story to tell, it was the inner slob pouring out. I was not in a mindset to feel the inspiration I needed.
However, it’s all in your head. You are only going to be successful at what you do, if you allow your mind to break free. Dreams, abilities, strengths and weakness are all linked to our internal perceptions of ourselves. One moment we could feel like we can conquer the world and the next we have trouble getting out of bed. Sometimes laying there I feel like this. I think that home is so far away. There wont be anything interesting to see today. I convince myself I feel tired, hungry and thirsty. These are all just excuses of the mind. When you get out there and start taking action, things begin to fall into place. The same goes for this post. The same goes for setting new goals for ourselves. The same goes for getting out of my warm sleeping bag and putting another day in on the bicycle. Ignoring the distractions our minds create for us and getting on with things is one of the most important tools for achieving new boundaries of personal potential. Without a clear mind on your side, you are lost.
“Gratitude is the least of virtues; ingratitude is the worst of vices.” ~ Paraguayan Proverb
I entered Paraguay via a ten minute ferry ride across Rio Iguazu from Argentina. I thought this would save time and a huge hassle at the renowned tri Argentina, Brazil & Paraguay crossing. All three countries meet at this point near Iguazu Falls. I found the ferry and immigration post easily enough, but was wrong about the time saver part. Not to bore you with Visa legality problems, but I will say I have an undeserving 600 Peso mark against me should I ever return to Argentina. There is also a border guard I am less than fond of now. In some places corruption prevails and no amount of truth will save you.
It was not the best way to leave Argentina, but soon all was forgotten and I was off riding in Paraguay. I sorted out some new country business and took the day to see the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It was pretty impressive to say the least. Paraguay is not known for their sights. They have almost no mountains, it is terribly hot, landlocked and extremely flat in most areas. It is skipped over by most travelers and who cannot even say why they didn’t go. However, this was the country I had been dying to see since I arrived in South America. Some may wonder why I was so excited, but it was the sheer fact that I knew nothing that interested me the most. Very few tourists visit here and I was thrilled at the opportunity to cycle from one end of the country to the other.
At first when I got rolling the road had a similar feeling to the one behind me. Hill after hill in extreme humidity. Stopping every few minutes to wipe my face and stare at another impending hill. I took lots of breaks on my three day ride to the capital of Asunción. The people were very friendly and I was already happy with my choice to come. I often dove into air conditioned gas stations beat red to cool off and snacked on empanadas. Learn about and see delicious empanadas receipes HERE.
On my final day into the capital I had to push myself very hard. I was exhausted entering the city with buses spewing black smoke and stopping all over the road. It was very typical of entering many capital cities on my trip, but I was almost out of steam. In Paraguay they drink mate, the same as Brazilians and Uruguayans, but instead of hot they drink it ice cold. Smart if you ask me. Many people carry around jugs of ice water to go with their stimulating mate. One man likely seeing I was struggling up another hill, stopped his car and filled my water bottle with some of his ice cold water. It was exactly what I needed to get me through the final push to my hosts house in downtown Asunción.
When I arrived at Silvia’s house I was greeted by her amazing mother, who instantly began to feed me delicious foods. For the next few days I got caught up on my things, ate up to my ears, explored Asunción and shared stories with my gracious host. I also did a presentation on my ride at Canadian School and met another Quattrocchi. This was quite possibly the most extended and random of chance encounters on my trip, but one of the most interesting. Not everyday you meet someone with the same last name as you in Paraguay. I certainly had never met anyone with an uncommon name such a mine that I wasn’t related to. I ate a pile of cheesy fries and we shared stories about our lives and family histories out of Sicily.
Saying goodbye to a nice host, comfortable bed and security is never easy. However, setting out into the infamous Gran Chaco of Paraguay was even more difficult. It didn’t help that every person told me I was crazy. I had 850km of completely flat, semi-arid and mostly empty landscape ahead of me to the first town in Bolivia. Taking a photo goodbye I felt that same old tough feeling which is hard to describe. A sense of adventure welled up in me for the next stage, as did a longing for some normalcy in my life. Something predictable to hold onto is always a sneaking white rabbit for the long distance cyclist.
“Paraguay is a well-kept secret of South America; and its music is a passport to international recognition.” ~ Berta Rojas, Paraguayan Classical Guitarist
(Click below to listen to some of Berta Rojas beautiful classical guitar)
Setting out into the ‘Green Hell’ of the Chaco, as it has been dubbed by some, I quickly discovered it was very green but not as hellish as I thought it would be. The road was completely flat. I have been promised flat roads countless times on my journey, but they were all lies. This was the first time it was completely true. After the road behind, no amount of isolation could dampen my spirits.
On my first night into the Chaco I was looking for a place to camp. However, the sides of the road were all full of very tall grass or marshy land. The houses had disappeared and were taken over by massive cattle ranches that stretched way back into the distance. I could see disinterested cows grazing in between the palm trees to keep shade. It was very hot and I was ready to be off the road. Seeing an inviting looking ranch sign and a bench I pull off the road. I saw a man walking around a very long driveway back to the ranch and decided I’d ask to camp. I waved at him and after a moment he noticed me and began to approach. It took him about 5 minutes to get closer to me as I didn’t want to trespass before given permission so I remained there smiling. As the man got closer I realized he wasn’t carrying a stick, but a large shotgun. He had a bulletproof vest on and looked hardened. At this point returning to my bike and pedaling away would have been a poor choice and I knew at once the answer to my camping request would be a big fat no. I asked anyways and got the answer I was hoping for. No.
I bid a smiling farewell as he pointed down the road and claimed there was another place to camp. I tried not to look back as I rode, but he watched me until I was way out of sight. Whomever owned that ranch clearly did not want to be disturbed. I shrugged off my first failed attempt at camping and the next ranch welcomed me with open arms. I set up camp and fell into deep sleep until the rooster crowed the following morning. I awoke to a hoard of ants in my tent and danced like a crazy to shake them off me and out of my tent.
My days over the next week took a similar form as I plied across the flattest road to ever exist. Ride all day until a small village or gas station presented itself, stock up on supplies, mentally regroup and head back out into the green flat yonder. On one night one of the worst storms I have seen since Ethiopia descended upon me. It poured rain all night, blew my tent to pieces and I had a fitfully nightmarish sleep. Dreams of being swept away filled my moments of unconsciousness and my tent filled up with water. In the morning outside looked like a typhoon had hit and I was a personal disaster. I packed up my sopping wet things and set off to just get moving. My eyes kept closing on the road which had not seen a turn in a few days. The Chaco was now living up to the reputation I had heard of. However, the birdlife and butterflies were stunning. At times I found myself riding in nothing but butterflies. I felt like I was in some obscure Disney movie and the bottle trees looked like they were out of a Dr. Seuss book. I kept thinking of my favourite children’s book, ‘Oh, The Place You’ll Go’ and tried to remember the words as I rode. Back teaching Kindergarten in Sanya I used to read the book to my kids every few weeks, simply because I loved it so much.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer
Just when I thought that I was riding my bike into the back end of nowhere, civilization began to emerge. Shops with more than just stale crackers or aging empanadas emerged. I was entering which can only be described as a civilization within a country. The Mennonite towns began. Back in the 1930’s Mennonites avoiding persecution came to Paraguay from Russia, Germany and Canada. They came with the promise of religious freedom and to colonize Paraguay’s empty western frontier. To read more about the successes, struggles and history of the Paraguayan Mennonites CLICK HERE.
I rolled into the Mennonite capital of Filadelfia and found an organized society. Roads were on a grid system, the co-op was bursting with good food and everything seemed to run smoothly in the dusty town. Out of nothing these people had built their own society with functioning banks, a post office, nice hotels and a museum. I decided to take a peek at the museum for curiosity sake. I was given a full tour of three sections of the museum and a colonial house from a nice lady. The motto of the town was printed on one of the the walls as “The common good before personal interest.” When the lady asked me where I was staying that night, I told her I would camp somewhere outside town. She insisted I stay and sleep in an empty nearby classroom instead. Always one for strange vagabond sleep locations, I was thrilled. A nice man named Norbert was the grounds keeper and gave me Wi-Fi. He was sleeping in a dormitory next to the classroom and we made some jokes about being neighbors. “Keep it down in there!”, I banged on the wall. He was a lighthearted man. Before going to sleep I scratched ONE ADVENTURE PLEASE on the chalkboard, while a nighttime driving school class took place next door. I could smell my shoes in the corner of the room as I drifted into sleep.
I said a slow goodbye to the nice people in the morning and set out on the last few hundred kilometres to Bolivia. After a days ride I encountered the number one worst section of road on my trip. Straight well maintained road degraded into the most bumpy, patchy and completely destroyed piece of road I have ever seen. There are no nice words for this stretch of road which was once flat tarmac. I am told that it was only good for the inauguration and deteriorated soon after with all money scooped off in corruption to build a mirage. When inquiring about the state of the road one man just said, “Ask the President.”
I bumped through a terribly physical and emotionally crushing day. At some points I entered pot holes that were as tall as my bike as the only traffic, heavy oil trucks from Bolivia, carved deeper holes to find a path through the madness. At one point I was cycling just in front of one of these tanker trucks for over an hour. We were traveling the same speed forever, until he hit a flatter stretch and showered me in dust. In the heat and rocking of the road my mind began to play tricks on me. I hadn’t seen any life for hours and began to imagine a Jaguar prowling the Chaco was stalking me. In the corner of my eye I saw something move and I jerked to life in fright. My bike flipped sideways and crashed across the rough road. My leg was cut and bleeding. I looked behind to see the supposed Jaguar was nothing but a rogue cow. I laughed to myself and felt so ridiculous. Back to reality I came and pressed on until the pavement reappeared.
That night I camped out on the edge of a police booth and patched up my leg. I found some old looking empanadas and ate seven while looking like a zombie on a plastic chair as I lethargically swatted at hundreds of mosquitoes. During my dinner a tapir came out of the bushes and tried to take my dinner. With its’ weird nose and huge body it lumbered after me. Even though it was my first time to ever see this strange animal, I was not amused. The locals then joked I was eating tapir empanadas. I laughed politely, didn’t really care and escaped to my tent. I had one more day left of riding to reach Bolivia and I was worn out. Two more days to reach the first town on the Bolivian side. I told myself I could do it. My nose was burnt bright red and my energy levels were low. I was tired of the same old pasta and it was a mental drain each day to push forward.
My last day was a push to the border. I felt slightly sick and was tired of the slog on straight roads. After a few hours I had barely seen any traffic until three strange images emerged from the flat yonder as some touring cyclists. We chatted for over an hour and shared some cookies. It was exactly what I needed to make it to the border. When I arrived all of the border security were taking a day off, as it was Sunday, to play the most obscure game of volleyball I have ever witnessed. No hands were allowed. It was amazing to watch. There is no actual immigration here, it is more of a military post than anything. I had stamped out of Paraguay about 3 days before in Mariscal as protocol dictated. I had effectively not been in any country officially for the last little while. The one guard asked me if I wanted to join them and before I knew it he showed me to a nice cold shower, while the guards barbecued a delicious dinner. A nice end to a wonderfully difficult adventure I thought to myself as I went to sleep on a mattress laid out for me.
The Gran Chaco will stand as one of the greatest mental challenges of this trip. Though the road may have been completely flat, it is not for the unprepared or beginner. The Chaco will test every inch of your resolve and spit you out if you’re not careful. All of that being said, Paraguay stands as one of my favourite countries on the journey. It was the challenge I needed to refocus my future goals. I have many wonderful stories of the people along the way that I cannot fully share here now. The Chaco rejuvenated my love for the wild and seldom explored reaches of our planet. It made me remember why I started this journey in the first place. It made me feel that life pumping energy you get from exploring the new and unknown. It made me think about all that I hold dear in my life and thankful for the strength of mind to persevere. All of this has changed me into someone that is more adaptive than I ever thought possible.
As I pedaled on into Bolivia I thought, ‘Oh, the places you’ll go…’
*We are off to an awesome start with the fundraising towards the new schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. In only a few short weeks we have already raised over 1/4 of the money to build the new schoolhouse. Beautiful work! A big thank you goes out to St. Joseph’s School in Toledo as well as J.L. Jordan for all of their hard fundraising. Seeing kids helping kids is one of the most rewarding parts of this experience. I would also like to thank close family and friends for getting the ball rolling as well. You are all wonderful people! Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE
**I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Last year I celebrated in India and a year later I am riding in Peru near the highest alpine lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. It is amazing where the world can take you. I am thankful for more things than I can count this holiday season. Updates on the beauty, struggle and challenge of Bolivia to come soon. Thank you for continuing to follow along!
“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.
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” ~ Tim Cahill, Travel Writer
We live in a beautiful world. In our daily experience we are only seeing a piece of the magic it has to offer. It is but a slice of the pie. If one were to travel forever it would only be to soak in the faintest image of daily life. Seasons and times change. Places degrade in their authenticity and never seem as wonderful as they once were. We are but players in the ever-changing reality that is our planet. The world is a magical place because of that very fact. Things are only the way they are once and we are only ourselves in that moment. Years later we are different people with alternative preferences, ideals and goals. We change in the way we see others, our world and most importantly ourselves. Looking back on those nostalgic moments it is important not to forget how the present space only happens once and we are only going to have that chance right then. We have this one moment. Don’t waste it.
I awoke on the Tanzanian side of the border and my tire had gone flat in the night. On the downhill towards Malawi I had repaired two spokes the day before. I now had two more broken spokes and a flat tire to take the wind out of my sails right from the beginning. However, I wasn’t going to let it dampen my spirits, for I had a new country to attend to, Malawi.
“I went to sleep dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are powered by your heart.” ~ William Kamkwamba, Malawi Author
I quickly found a shop on the Tanzania side, spent the last of my money by fixing the spokes and bought an extra tube. My tubes were starting to look like the dreadful patchwork I was once used to. By mid-morning, I was off on my own in Malawi. The terrain was flat for the first time in months and I sped along quickly. After a few miles I caught up to a group of retired Germans and their Rastafarian guide. They were cycling from Kilimanjaro to Victoria Falls. I chatted as we rolled to the first town. During our search to find a cheap guesthouse we were separated when I went to the bank to get some Malawi Kwachas and find some food for dinner. I curled up under my mosquito net with the power cut for most of the evening.
The following morning I started very early, due to the time change between Malawi and Tanzania. I made good ground and camped near the beach of the beautiful Lake Malawi. It is one of the largest lakes in the world and home to the most diverse selection of freshwater species. Beautiful, peaceful and pure. I eventually climbed up into the mountains, where the temperature was significantly cooler, especially in the morning. I camped out at a hostel in Mzuzu for the night. The next morning I was off after a ridiculous incident involving myself, the owner of the hostel and a toaster. Needless to say I ended up eating my stale bread on the side of the road.
All was soon forgotten with a long downhill that took me through the morning all the way to Nhkata Bay. I took a long overdue day off and relaxed by the water. Days off when you’ve been going for many in a row are usually not that relaxing, but filled with annoying little chores like ever dirty clothes, getting plenty to eat and catching up on a long list of e-mails. I do set aside time to enjoy myself a bit, take a few pictures and in this case float around in the complementary kayak the hostel had to offer. Beautiful waters and a clear sky.
After a rest I shoved off early and put in a very long day through a wavy landscape and strengthening headwind. In Malawi, there was always a wind from the south. Sometimes faint and others soul crushing. I pulled in late to a campsite near the lake to spot a familiar tandem cycle. It would seem I had met up with my old friends David and Steve once again. They had taken a train through a section of Tanzania, but I had caught them here. We were headed the same direction and rode together through a very windy road the following day. We had ‘eggy bread’ (French toast) for breakfast and it kept us going most of the day. At one point we all had a stock of very chewy maize to chomp on as we pushed along. I felt like a local as I grinded through the tough barbecued corn while riding. Finding a cheap guesthouse we collapsed for the night. Still hungry after dinner, Steve and I went out exploring for a bit of fried chips. While searching we found barbecued mice with the fur still intact, tails and teeth. I settled on some spicy chips at a different stand.
“Gold is a debt we can repay, but kindness not till our dying day.” ~ Malawian Proverb
Eventually, I would say goodbye to my friends from England after a final dinner at their wonderful friends house Emmanuel in Malawi. The father and son rode from Mombasa, Kenya to a small town near Lilongwe on tandem. I was proud to share the last day of their journey with them. We are all players and actors in the stories we take home with us. For the people we tell about our journeys they are only names and photos. For us on the road they are our brothers, the people we camped next to, battled winds with and shared a bit of food. This is what we will remember.
The next morning Emmanuel offered a lift to the capital and it was hard to refuse considering a full day uphill ahead. In Lilongwe I quickly procured a Mozambique transit visa and was off climbing up again towards the Mozambique border of Dedza. It was a full day as I rolled into a hilltop campsite. I camped out back of a guesthouse that was way too nice for me. I walked inside to charge my annoying and always dead gadgets. While I waited I listened to the next table joke about Hyenas in the area. Funny stuff for them sleeping safe in their beds. That night I had a terrible dream about Hyenas outside my tent. When I woke to pack my tent in the morning my bike had clumps of fur all caught in the chain and bolts. Was I dreaming? Was it just some stray dogs? Or were there really Hyenas outside my tent? I’ll never know.
The following morning I turned a curve and dropped down into Mozambique. As I caught the downhill I’d been dreaming for days I had time to reflect on Malawi. Rolling on I thought about the peculiar and endearing moments I was witness to amid the bouts of solidarity. Daily dinners on my own with the same old pasta I’ve been making since Sudan. The peaceful nature of Malawian people. A bicycle nation. The general poverty and heartbreak of the developing world. Begging of children on the side of the road, but in a sort of playful manner as opposed to Ethiopia. A nice conversation with a man at a local stand. Litchi soda. Kachumbani salad or ‘relish’ (see receipe HERE). And of course, bicycle taxis.
Who could forget the bicycle taxis? Malawi is among the top ten poorest countries in the world. Due to the recently withdrawal of foreign aid from western countries, because of governmental corruption, it has sunk even lower. 42% of their yearly budget came from foreign aid. Mind-boggling when you think about it and the subsequent implications for an already struggling people. This of course hurts the poorest of the poor much more than those who already lined their pockets. Which returns me to the bicycle taxi. When people cannot afford cars or motorbikes to get around, the bicycle taxi is the next best thing. Nothing as fancy as the Indian rickshaw, but simply a bike with an extra seat on the back. Some are decorated nicely and others are a simple work horse. They wait in queues in small towns for passengers to climb aboard. On one occasion, I recall following one of these taxis with a women and her baby on the back. The baby starred at me for miles strapped to the mother. All I could see was his face with his body stuffed into a bright cloth. He starred at me and I starred right back. It was mesmerizing.
“Don’t think there are no crocodiles just because the water’s calm.” ~ Malawian Proverb
From the border my bike rolled on with Malawi at my back. Across another imaginary line into a new world. I felt the same old feeling of those first strides into new territory and the excitement that goes with it. The feeling of starting a new job, seeing an old friend again, Christmas morning and a long weekend. The knowledge that anything is possible. The canvas is blank and we are the painter. Savoring these first moments is one of my favorite parts of the ride. I’m fortunate, I know, to have this opportunity. This piece in time where it is just me, my bike, 4 bags and a tent. The open mountains beckoned me forward and the wind gave me a welcome burst to let me know it was still there. I pushed onwards not knowing where I’d lay my head that night, then cracked a smile knowing it would be just fine.
*Thank you to all the recent donations to my charity with Free the Children. Because of your contributions we are now less than $2,000 away from meeting our goal for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. I would like to specifically thank my friend Linda for her amazing and most recent contribution, it all blows me away. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**This week on Thursday is WeDay Toronto. A grand gathering of youth using their power and voices to help other youth. To learn more about WeDay CLICK HERE.
***The stories I share, the people I mention and pictures I post are only just slices of a bigger idea. When I write down my thoughts it is a constant struggle to choose the moments. There are endless pages in my notebook of kind people and amazing sights. I hope I’m able to share it all one day. Pictures that go on for days and memories to last a lifetime. Piece-by-piece. Thanks for following!
A nineteen minute read
“What one hopes for is always better than what one has.” ~ Ethiopian Proverb
The nature of humanity is now a mixture of ancestral roots and modern influences. These vines of joy, change and sorrow are planted deep in the heart of Ethiopia. In parts of the country the global rush to urbanize has taken over, while others life continues on relatively uninterrupted, besides the occasional buzz of a cellphone. We are all apart of the global push to follow the thin yellow line. How we define ourselves is a complicated task when taking into account the bombardment of information each day. The many are following the prudent few.
Ethiopia opened my eyes into a world where outside influences and local acceptance do not always mesh. We are impacted drastically by the changing tides of global pressure. Trends and spotlights come and go. Africa has been dubbed the dark continent, but I believe it is the continent of hope. For years it has been pillaged at the expense of local lands and populations. However, in many parts that purity still reigns relatively true. To be of Africa, is something of a legendary tale. The land offers so much to the world and people just continue to take without even a nod. The world needs Africa, but it is never spoken. No one just builds a road into the desert for free.
It took me a while to come to terms with my time in Ethiopia. It has been the hardest place for me to write about, because it was the hardest to deal with mentally. I still find it hard to come to grips with it. What I will tell you is the short and sweet version of my struggles through one of the most beautiful countries I have had the privilege to ride through. It took me a while to write this as I often got down about it for various reasons. But the story must be told all the same. This will not be the most positive of posts, but a reality of the situation from the seat of a bike.
The moment I entered Ethiopia it was different. There was instantly more people. They looked and dressed more liberally. People were just strolling back and forth across the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, like it was a walk in the park. I was checked quite thoroughly as a man ruffled through my medicine bag. I had heard all of the horror stories of people who had biked through Ethiopia. It seemed like a nightmare and in many ways I wasn’t looking forward to it.
After some hoops at the border, I was on my own in the late afternoon of my 14th country on my round-the-world tour. I knew Ethiopia was going to be hilly. But it started immediately. As soon as I crossed the border gate there was a hill leading up through the town. The heckling started right away. “You, you, you!!!” “Where are you go!?” “Ferengi”(foreigner) or “China!” These few lines would be the soundtrack to my existence in Ethiopia. At first I played along. I actually thought the China one was pretty funny. But, this was my first day and I wasn’t bothered yet. There were few places to sleep in the bustling border town of Metama. I found one place that was filled with three very large spiders and an open toilet that fermented the room with a lovely stink. One of the spiders was the size of my palm and looked like something from a National Geographic special. I pitched my tent on the bed, not wanting any mosquitos or that hairy spiders crawling on my face in the night. I ate some of the local specialty, injera with tibs(beef), an Ethiopian staple and headed off to bed. The music boomed on Africa loud late into the night at the bar outside my room. Later there was a big rustle in the bed and around my tent, I was happy with my decision to lock myself away and tried not to think about that hairy spider.
I started early and begun my first day of riding in Ethiopia. Throughout the next two days I climbed my way into the mountains on the way to Gondar. The people on the first two days of my journey were actually quite nice and I was left relatively alone. There were small groups of curious children that surrounded me with huge smiles when I stopped for water breaks. Sharing my biscuits, we laughed together at nothing. I had a great conversation at lunch with a local man about the present state of Ethiopia and their achievements in recent history. I was happy to be riding in more bearable weather and food was more readily available than through the desert stretches of Sudan.
After a long day of riding I found myself in a small village with no sort of accommodation. I located the church and asked to pitch my tent. The ‘leader’ of the church allowed me to camp and invited me to his hut nearby for dinner. It was cold injera with meat that looked like it has been sitting around for a long time, with a chunky milk in the middle. I ate and he didn’t, which should have been a sign. It was pretty unappetizing but there was no where else to get food and I didn’t want to be rude. I ate enough to satisfy him and myself, before crawling away in my tent. Some hours later that same man proceeded to shout, sing, talk and chant from one to seven in the morning over a loud speaker attached to the church. Not to mention the electric thunderstorm and heavy rain that rolled in. I got zero sleep and was going crazy.
In the morning I waited until the sun rose and got myself moving. When I got out of my tent there were about 50 people hanging around outside to greet me. Surprised, tired, hungry and feeling slightly sick I packed up as the entire village watched. The man continued to shout through the loud speaker. I got out of there as quickly as possible after a thank you for letting me camp.
I eventually made it to Gondar. Dubbed as Camelot, it boasts amazing castle complexes high in the mountains. I was shattered when I arrived after 8 long days on the roa and found a cheap guesthouse to rest. In the night I woke up extremely ill. I was sweating like crazy, freezing cold, every bone in my body hurt and getting very sick. I had a hallucination there were dogs in my room that wouldn’t leave and broke the toilet cover when I swear I saw a massive centipede jump at me. I suffered through the night and tried to make it downstairs to get some water in the morning.
I was way too sick to even think about venturing to the clinic. I had never felt this terrible. I knew I needed to go to the hospital, but I could barely function and was running to the toilet every few minutes. I met a French guy name Ludo the day before who came by to check on me and brought some soup. I eventually dragged myself to the ‘clinic’ which was the last place on earth I really wanted to be. There was a lot of really sick people there, including me. The building was rundown and in the back of a damp alley. I almost passed out while I was waiting due to dehydration and when a man crowded next to me with breath that reeked of old meat, I nearly lost it. The doctor was very nice and after some tests which I wont get into, he told me I have a severe gastrointestinal infection due to some parasites and was now dehydrated because of the illness. He gave me some medicine that never worked and I spent the next 2 weeks sicker than anything. Days later another trip to the hospital also solved nothing more than making me thankful for Canadian healthcare and cleanliness. I have seen better days.
During this time my body was wiped out. I couldn’t eat anything for days and spent most of my time holed up in my awful little room feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I knew it would be a while, even when I recovered, before I could ride again. I lost a lot of weight that I didn’t have to lose. With some massive mountain climbs on the horizon, I took a bus to the capital Addis Abeba and rested at a friendly Italian mans house until I was ready to continue on. I celebrated my 27th birthday in a miserable state of slow recovery.
From Addis I pushed back on the bicycle for a 730km journey to the Kenyan border. During this time I saw some of the most beautiful scenery on my trip. Throughout my time in Ethiopia I was blown away by the natural beauty. I was also blown away by the way Ethiopian people and in particular the kids acted towards someone on a bike.
“Cycling has encountered more enemies than any other form of exercise.” ~ Louis Baudry de Saunier
When I was off the bike it was generally no problem. People left me alone and carried on as usual. However, riding from Addis to the Kenyan border of Moyale was the worst experience of my trip. I was constantly shouted at all day. Kids would chase me and hurl rocks from the roadside. I was hit with sticks and had soccer balls kicked at me as I sped down dangerous hills. One kid ripped a Canadian flag off my bike and ran into the forest. In small villages people swore at me for no reason or jumped in front of my bike and demanded money. It seemed no one went to school. I had a rock fight in a village with a grown man after he tried to hit me off the bike as I passed and then threw a rock at me. At this point my patience was gone. We exchanged a few rocks back and forth before I got out of there at lightning speed.
The road was either under construction and was a dusty bumpy messy or full of huge terrible pot holes. In 3 years it will be a beautiful road, but for now it is a disaster aside from a few finished sections. I generally like to see the positive of the places I visit and so far on my this trip the kindness has been out if this world. At the end if each day I did my best to reflect on some of the nice encounters and friendly conversations with the local people. It was the only thing that kept my spirits high for the following day.
There was such a contrast from the welcoming nature of the Sudanese people. Everywhere on this trip I have felt overwhelming generosity and hospitality from complete strangers and it was sometimes hard to deal with the realities of cycling in Ethiopia. Upon reaching Kenya, life returned to as normal as it can be. The imaginary line I crossed into Kenya came with the disappearance of ‘You, you, you!” and I was just me again. I am back to full strength and people are as welcoming as ever. I now sense the warm genuine nature of Africa I had imagined in my mind.
The present state of Ethiopia has a lot to do with the failure of the west. During a famine back in the late 80’s thousands of people gave money and aid to Ethiopia. However, it was poorly managed. Handouts do not fix the problem. It was only a band aid. People then came to expect this money and have since seen white people as an opportunity for handouts. Maybe you would remember the images of children with bloated bellies and a sweet person talking about their sponsorship back in the 80’s and 90’s on daytime TV. This was done in good spirit, but again poorly managed and not sustainable. I was a rolling dollar sign. To live in Ethiopia is a difficult life and can never be properly understood from an outsiders perspective. Images streaming on the television are not the reality of a whole nation. Sometimes I don’t blame people for the way they acted towards me. I must look insanely crazy to them. Many people rode by and put a hand out the window as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ A valid point in some respects, when many people struggle on a daily basis. I struggle by choice.
“In Ethiopia… you might find a seven-year-old expected to take 15 goats out into the fields for the whole day with only a chapati to eat and his whistle. Why are we so afraid to give our children responsibilities like this?” ~ Joanna Lumley
We are so fortunate back home to have all of the freedoms and luxuries we so often take for granted. In Ethiopia many children do not go to school, because in many places it is not available or they cannot afford it. I experienced Ethiopian healthcare firsthand, with kind doctors who were dealing with a neverending stream of people, under pressures of limited resources. Even if a doctor is able to help someone, the family may not be able to afford the medicine. The five dollars it cost me when I was ill, I didn’t even have to think about. Though if someone gets very sick in Ethiopia, it may mean the difference between recovery and a whole family eating. Things we generally do not think about back home. There is no safety net. People need to work and they work hard.
So it is with a heavy heart I look back on my time in Ethiopia. A mixture of emotions often wells up when I think about it. I wonder what I could have done differently or how I could have changed something for the better. It comes back to me as I ride alone down quiet roads. The images you see of Africa on television are not the reality. Yes, poverty does exist in large numbers, but it is a starkly beautiful part of the world and in general the people are full of a deeply proud heritage. There is food on the shelves of stores and it is by no means a wasteland. Wthiopia is beautiful, mountainous and green. He roof of Africa. However, sometimes people don’t always need our help and we don’t always know best. To share knowledge is a gift, but to force change is to be met with failure. Working together is the key. I saw many shades of light in people’s eyes. They all bear pieces of an individual story. Some of struggle and some of hope. I wish I had time to hear them all.
**After a huge effort from many schools in Eastern Ontario we have achieved our goal of raising an additional $10,000 towards building a new schoolhouse with Free the Children. A total of over $22,000 has been raised since I started my ride. This always blows me away. The work done by Free the Children is part of a sustainable development project that puts education at the heart of their initiatives. Construction of the school in Verdara, India is set to begin soon with updates to follow. To donate to the next school project in Kenya CLICK HERE.
***This week I celebrated my 1 year anniversary since beginning my adventure in China. With over 15,000km cycled in 16 countries it has been a life altering experience. Words cannot describe the beauty and kindness I have experienced this year. Looking back on old photos, it sometimes doesn’t even seem real. Is that really me? Was I really there? Then I feel the hardness of my legs and softness of my heart and know it was all true. It makes me welcome the following year with open arms. Thank you to everyone, near and far. We are all part of the same world. Find your adventure. Find your place.
A sixteen minute read
“Someone who is pointing his finger to another person is not always aware that the four remaining fingers are pointing in his direction.” ~ Sudanese Proverb
Entering Sudan was unlike anywhere else on my trip. You are unable to simply cycle up to the border, given Egypt’s incesant control over internal security. Therefore, the option was to take an early morning bus ride through the desert to Abu Simbel, where after some confusion, it eventually drove onto a ferry and shunted down the Nile to the most chaotic border I have ever encountered. It was nuts. People pushing to get through security checkpoints on the Egyptian side. The bus was stuffed to the rafters with endless bags and boxes that they were transporting to Sudan, bicycles, fruits, ironing boards and everything inbetween. After the Ferry arrived we drove for a bit, unloaded the whole bus, went through security, loaded the bus and then 500 metres later unloaded the whole thing for the same ridiculous procedure and chaos at the Sudan border. No one seemed to know where to go. This border is newly open to land traffic. Until a fews months ago it was only a weekly Ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. But I made it.
Finally arriving in Sudan and Wadi Halfa, the sun was going down on the dusty desert city. I was completely out of patience and time in this dusty down. Upon entering Sudan as a foreigner, one must register with the police and pay yet another fee. I did not care and decided to take care of it later. Wadi Halfa can best be described as the back-end of nowhere. As I pedalled around looking for supplies I ran into a nice Chinese man. Strange I thought. We got to talking as I revived some of my rusty Chinese skills. He worked at an electricity camp out in the desert. He and his colleagues invited me out to their company camp for the night and promised me delicious Chinese food. I was sold. I threw my bike in the back of their pickup and we were off through the desert on loose sand. I kept thinking, I have to bike back through this tomorrow. When we arrived they showed me to my ‘container’ where I would sleep. While we waited for dinner we played a quick round of ping-pong, no joke. The one guy was insanely good and took it very seriously. I guess thats what 10 years working in the desert with ping-pong as your only entertainment will get you. Dinner was completely Chinese and I ate like a monster.
“And the spirits of the desert are out riding, midnight driftin’ slow” ~ Matt Mays, Musician/Indio
The next morning they shipped me off after a simple Chinese breakfast and made sure I was stocked up on water. Dinging my bell twice I slid off through the sand with the heaviest bike since starting my trip. Over 10 litres of water and food for the next few days. Eventually finding my way back to the main road I charged towards Dongola over the next 3 days. Taking breaks whenever shade presented itself. May and June are the hottest months of the year in Sudan. This is saying a lot. Temperatures peaked at 53 degrees. By hiding in the shade there was a 15 degree difference. It was still hot. I learned quickly not to ride between about 11 and 4pm. The heat was simply too intense. I had cracked dry lips even with applying cream continuously and a bubbling sunburn on the back of my left leg.
On the first night I slept in the open desert with no settlements presenting themselves near sunset. This was a poor choice of camp spot. Even behind a huge rock the wind blew my tent all night like a hurricane and sand filled my tent. I got no sleep and rose early. The next day I rode hard through a terrible side wind and repeated the cycle of the previous day. Drink, ride, eat, drink, ride, eat. The scenery was actually pretty stunning though. This was turning into a proper adventure. That night a man gave me permission to sleep in his tea shack. With zero light pollution and clear skies, every night in Sudan there was an astoundingly beautiful showing of stars. I haven’t looked at such amazing stars since the Tibetan Plateau of China. It was always something to look forward to after boiling another pot of pasta for dinner. My meals simple, my days a little mundane, but this was adventure and survival at the most basic level. As I rode there was little other on my mind then one thing, water, unless I had just got water. Then, I was busy thinking how much I could drink and when.
After 400km I made it to the first ‘city’ after the border, Dongola. When I arrived looking at one shop for some food a man said, “Sit I will bring you something.” He brought me some bread and eggs with falafel, which would later become my breakfast staple. Seeing I was happy he said, “Would you like some cheese and olives?” “You have cheese and olives!?” I asked surprised. Turns out he was the owner of the shop next door and gave me some of what was probably the most expensive merchandise in his store. Fresh black olives and feta cheese in the desert. I was a happy, dirty man. When I tried to pay for the bread, eggs and falafel after finishing, I found he had already taken care of it. I went over to his little shop to thank him. He simply said, “You are my guest.” And handed me a cold sprite. I took a rest for a day, completed my annoying registration with the police and refuelled on supplies before I headed out into the desert. I packed extra water, knowing there would likely be no where to fill up along the way to Karima. I turned away from the life-giving River Nile and headed into the desert on my mission towards the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal.
I was met with a terrible side wind. There was nothing to protect me from the wind and the sun scorched the pure desert for miles upon miles. Making slow progress and with nowhere to hide from the sun, I was going through my water fast. In this type of situation you need to keep making decisions. If you don’t act, then terrible things can happen very quickly. I soon realized my speed and water were not going to match up with making it to Karima. It was decision time. I pedalled along getting hammered by the wind and hadn’t seen another vehicle in quite some time. When a large truck approached I hopped off my bike and waved him down. The driver happily greeted me with a toothless grin and heaved my bike in the back. We chugged along for the next while and I grew more happy with my decision to hitch a ride as the empty miles poured on. I simply wouldn’t have made it. I also learned a valuable lesson about the unforgiving nature of the desert and how dangerous it can be. We munched on juicy watermelon in the truck and stopped for obligatory prayers along the way. He let me off outside Karima and I waved a joyful thank you as I searched for a place to sleep.
The following day I was met with an unreal tailwind and flew south with relative ease. Along the way I explored the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal. These amazing ancient structures sit completely undisturbed by tourists. After gawking and exploring for a while, onwards I went. There are only a few roads in Sudan and very few towns with supplies. At a junction headed towards the capital Khartoum I stopped and drank down another glass bottle of Pepsi to energize myself. While I was stopped I asked a man for directions just to be sure it was the right way. When I first saw him he had tears in his eyes, which I thought at first was just from blowing sand. After showing me the way, he handed me the piece of paper he was holding. It was a medical diagnosis in English. It spoke of an inoperable cerebral cyst. He had obviously just received this news through the mail after going for tests far away. I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want anything. We simply looked at each other for a while in silence. I slowly said goodbye and felt terrible for a long while afterwards. What could I have done to help him? Could anything have been done? Would he accept my help?
I stopped that night at a road side tea stand and repair shop. I pitched my tent and cooked my dinner while the family looked on with laughing eyes. It was a comfortable evening with a nice breeze. I woke early and continued on towards Khartoum. It was in my sights now. Distances between shops were long but I was making quick progress. On my final day towards Khartoum the wind changed directions and picked up drastically. By 10am it was a full blown sandstorm. I was trapped. I was getting whipped with painful sand and couldn’t find a place to hide and wait it out. I was dirty, tired and running low on water. Decision time yet again. It wasn’t safe to keep riding as visibility was very low with the sun blocked out by the blowing sand. The buses and transport trucks were barelling along still. Each time they passed it was like getting hit by a brick wall. I had to close my eyes and get off the road or be blown over.
The last 100km of desert to Khartoum was simply out of reach and not worth the risk. I was getting a bit worried until a nice man stopped with his wife and baby to pick me up. I thanked them profusely for their kindness. His name was Adam Mergy and he had excellent English. We exchanged many questions about our respective countries along the way. I even helped him push his truck out of the sand when we got stuck. We discussed Sudanese customs, Darfur and shared some fun stories. He dropped me off in Khartoum in time for me to find the only youth hostel. I pitched my tent at the hostel and had my first shower in over a week. My clothes were crusted with dirt and grime. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to reach civilization on this trip. I only later felt bad about the smell I must have brought with me into Adam’s truck.
“The issue in Darfur is complex, but like many matters in Sudan, it is not as complex as Khartoum would want the west to believe” ~ Dave Edgers, What is the What
After leaving Khartoum I was bound for the Ethiopian border. What I encountered was a thin road and some terribly dangerous traffic. Buses cruised at lightning speed and blared horns from behind as I dodged for my life off into dusty gravel. It was quite unnerving. My days were punctuated with tiny acts of kindness, a break here and a laugh there. I watched trains of camels walking by and donkeys pulling heavily loaded cart. Mostly, I was tired and pushing the long road to Ethiopia. The landscape relatively flat and full of annoying thorn trees. I rode carefully scanning the road so as to not puncture my tire on one of those two inch suckers. The wind had now begun blowing from the south and was regularly in my face. As I approached Ethiopia the landscape slowly got more fertile. However, the plastic bag trees became more frequent. In the desert if you throw a plastic bag it will eventually snag on a low tree or bush, revealing one of humanities most ugly of contributions to the world.
One day while idly having a drink in the shade two men rolled up in their Toyota Helix and started asking me about my trip. After a quick discussion they invited me for lunch. I agreed, always feeling hungry. However, it was a bit of a distance down the road and too far for me to follow safely. We threw my bike in the back and sped off. After sometime we turned off the main road and headed through the sand and a maze of straw and stick huts. Children waved happily and I got to see some pretty interesting ‘back road’. Eventually coming to a clearing and a few homes we got out of the truck.
What I stepped into was an unbelievable feast. A daily occurrence I was told. These twelve men all worked together at a nearby factory and had a lady hired to cook their daily lunch. Most of the men had already eaten when we arrived and were kicked back with some sugary tea. The wonderful lady brought us out a fresh tray of food. I have to say the best food I had the entire time I was in Sudan. Real Sudanese food. Amazing spicy goat, juicy pieces of beef, with fresh baked bread, veggies and some sort of raw meat with cheese that I steered clear of. At the end of the meal came obligatory sweet tea and something I had never tried before. Fresh milk mixed with sprite. A surprisingly good combination. They all laughed as I tried to figure it out. After we washed up and they dropped me back at the main road. I continued on full as could be and happier than ever.
On my final days as I broke towards Ethiopia I was welcomed to sleep almost anywhere. I never felt threatened or in the least or like anyone would give me trouble. I camped in places I would have never dreamed of in other countries. No one hassled me and people generally left me to my own devices or shared a bit of conversation. I remember talking with a man who was displaced from DARFUR and the bleak future life holds for his family in Sudan. I also discussed with a village teacher the difficult realities he faces on a day-to-day basis and the broken system that Sudan operates under. Along the way I recall one man telling me, “There are 150 villages along this part of the Nile, but only 10 schools and only 2 secondary schools.” There is great work to be done in Sudan to emphasize the need for education and childhood development to governments as well as parents.
People generally sleep outside on string beds under the night sky. Temperatures still hovering around 35 degrees at night, a welcome breeze is all you could hope for. On my last days in Sudan I camped on the side of the road, beside a broken old house, next to a gas station, on the floor of a nice man’s house named Wafi and actually in a bed at a Hospital research centre for tropical diseases that I was offered. I finally made it to Galabat and the border of Ethiopia on a never-ending road that started show signs of getting hilly. I had made it. After some ridiculous bureaucracy and a final egg and falafel sandwich I crossed out of Sudan and into Ethiopia. Things were immediately different.
As difficult as Sudan was, it would have not been possible without the kindness of the people. Sudan is a very hard country to live in. Intense weather, pounding heat, failing infrastructure and rolling blackouts make it one of the poorest places I have ever been. However, the people are what made it unforgettable and at all possible. What I have shared here is only but a snippet of the kindness and hospitality. I was given so much free food, tea, places to sleep and nice conversation. No one asked me for money. It may well be the most welcoming place I have been on the whole trip or ever travelled to. This is coming from a people who probably had the least to give and shared more than anywhere else. Almost everyone I met outside Khartoum said with a big smile, ‘Welcome, welcome to Sudan.’ They are an amazingly proud people, with a lot to share the world. Of course there is still conflict and unrest in some parts of Sudan, however, the vast majority of people are intensely welcoming and caring. They are the definition of what true Islam teaches. We can learn a lot from these kind people. We hoard our wealth in the west and hide behind fake smiles. To be truly without monetary riches, but full of inner wealth should be the ultimate goal of humanity. Sudan, I am without any more words.
**I would like to thank all of the recent donations from the schools back home that have tirelessly continued to fundraise towards the goal of building a school for the kids in Verdara, India. Thank you to the dedication and support of staff and students at St. Joseph School Toledo, Holy Name of Mary Almonte, St. John Elementary and St. John Catholic High School in Perth. Amazing stuff. We are almost there! To donate or continue tracking our progress CLICK HERE.
An 11 minute read
“Egypt gave birth to what later would become known as ‘Western Civilization,’ long before the greatness of Greece and Rome.” ~ John Henrik Clarke, Writer/Historian
“Hello, hello, hello!” “Stop, Stop, Stop!” Children walk in groups on route home from school. The occasional bicycle challenges and a friendly laugh. Questions and staring eyes ensue on a dusty road. Scorched by desert heat, the ground quivers in a haze. The morning sun blisters in the open spaces. Later, descending hard and fast in the early evening. Green on the right and endless desert expanses on the left. Don’t wander far. Respect the sky. Cherish the wind at your back. Finishing ever last drop of the day, like water in a crushed empty bottle. Rubber and pavement. Sun and sky. Water and life.Me and the road. Partners in this challenge.
Egypt. One of the countries I had been anticipating the most on this trip. An astounding history with modern complexities. The very notion of Egypt sends endorphins of anticipation to my senses. Walking about Cairo amid the pyramids and ancient markets, I was blown away. Words cannot describe the majesty and depth of power that radiates from it. This extends much deeper than ancient temples and tombs. If you look under the curtain of the tourist touts you will find something captivating. A modern Egypt. One without self-entitlement and full of generosity.
Staying for a few days in Cairo with an extremely nice family, I learned of the modern difficulties that plague Egypt as well as their successes over the last decade. There is a changing face of a new Egypt with a deeply passionate people. I shared my story of challenge and charity to eager students at the Canadian International School of Egypt. With a kind welcome to the school, it was an excellent start to a new continent. While staying with the most hospitable family they shared their house, food and experiences with me from home and abroad. A humbled guest, I was lost without words at the realization of how little I have to offer. How do I repay all of the wonderful people along the way? To the countless souls who have opened their doors and let this weary traveller enter their lives, I extend my most heartfelt thank you. For being an inconvenience, a drag and general annoyance at times, I am sorry.
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” ~ Mark Twain
Due to the security situation in Egypt I was urged by many to start my journey a little further south of Cairo. To respect the wishes of government officials, family and the general concerned I took their advice. Beginning my African odyssey, I held the vibrant colours of the life-giving Nile River on my right and rocky moonscape of desert on my left. A slow wind urged me along as I explored Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Sites of eternal glory. As I rode towards Aswan the temperatures rose with the sun. My bike computer peaked at 52 degrees as my pants split in the decaying heat and my shirt crusted over like old cardboard from evaporated sweaty salt. Drinking water on the edge of being boiled, keeping cool was a constant issue. The dry weather cracked my lips and burned my face. Closing my eyes, I could feel the heat inside my eyeballs. Little room for escape.
Regardless, I loved the ride. It had been so long since I felt the warm scorch of the day. The visible strain and challenge of riding in difficult countries. Europe was a scenic break. Camping was simple and grocery stories readily available. Egypt was a rebirth into what I love. The moments of struggle. Seeing the visible rewards of my achievements and miles under my tires. Pushing hard with regained conviction of my purpose. Dirt, dust, sweat and salt of my labours. Badges on my fading clothes. To stumble with exhaustion into stores with cooked eggs for brains in search of nameless items. The local staple of ‘Kushari‘ (recipe) was my go to dish at less than a dollar per carbohydrate loaded serving. A dish that brings together the cultural influence of countless regions over Egyptian history. Rice, pastas, chick peas and lentils mixed in a hearty tomato sauce, topped with fried onions and spiced to taste. I was in food cycling heaven.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” ~ Fight Club
Arriving in Aswan I was set to acquire the elusive Sudanese tourist visa. My next destination. While waiting I got a frantic message to call home. Never a good sign. Tragedy had struck. My cousin Jamie had been swept away into the ocean by a wave while exploring out east with his girlfriend at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. I was in utter disbelief. My family brought to their knees in grief. How could something like this be possible? It is still very hard to believe. Life can change just like that. I was on a plane home the next day. During that time of extended solitary contemplation I had a great deal of time to think about Jamie’s life, our connection and what it all meant.
Jamie was a wonderful person that I shared many close memories with. Growing up together we were like brothers. We played together for years as kids and worked side-by-side for many more. He had an amazing joy for life and held dear to him the people that mattered most. He was never anything but himself. He brought the best out in those around him and made the world a better place. Fair and true. Funny and respectable. We will all miss you more than words can ever describe. To Uncle Jim, Aunt Caroline, Jessica, Jeremy, Jeanna, his loving girlfriend Brittany and her family, we are all here with you even if we can’t be near each other. Life is fragile. Love family. Cherish your moments together.
“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” ~ José N. Harris, A Story of Faith, Hope and Love
*CLICK HERE to read more about my Aunt Caroline and Brittany’s initiative to make Peggy’s Cove safer for tourists. It is the hope that no other families have to feel that same pain and loss of someone taken too soon.
**Thank you for the continued support of the schools in Eastern Ontario. I would like to thank St. Gregory’s and St. Mary’s specifically for your most recent donations. The kids of Verdara, India are now that much closer to achieving new hope and a new school. CLICK HERE TO DONATE
***Tomorrow I head to Sudan, my 13th country on this trip. It is with great anticipation I resume my journey through Africa. To the intense heat, sand and dust of the Nubian Desert ahead. See weather report for the next week with temperatures set for the mid-forties and UV index of 12 HERE.
India by Cycle: GoPro Hero 3+ Video