(My Gear: Post-Trip)
“He who would travel happily must travel light.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Travel Writer
When I set out from China on my journey around the world, one of the hardest things was choosing what to bring with me. I had my four bags laid out on my bed and a mound of stuff that I thought I needed to take with me. I spent months before I left figuring out just the right stuff to bring on the trip. I am not sure what you would pack for two years, but it is easier said than done.
Before, I had done a number of lightweight trips that usually lasted a few weeks to a month. However, on most of those trips I didn’t need to be self-sufficient. They were also much shorter than the journey I was about to undertake. I knew I needed equipment that would last and would be durable in the rough conditions ahead. In most of China though, outdoor adventure stores are a niche market and expensive. As a result, I had to navigate Chinese websites to get all of my gear ordered online. With the help of my teaching assistant in China, I was able to do just that. It was a headache of a process, but I learned a lot.
Finally, with all of my gear laid out on my bed, I packed it up into my four bags with a tent. When I plopped it all on my bike, I felt the weight of all that stuff. After a heartfelt goodbye, I was off riding along with this monstrous load of weight in the sweltering heat of the South China summer. After a hard first day of riding, I was shattered. My bags were far too heavy.
That night I unpacked everything from my bags. I took everything I truly didn’t need and gave it away. For a week, I did the same thing almost every day and lightened my load to the point where I only carried what I truly needed. Periodically, I would go through my gear as seasons changed and my needs. Eventually, I rid myself of all unnecessary items. By the end of the journey, every single item had a purpose and a place. It was liberating. I could move faster, longer and happier. Freeing yourself from shackles of things, allows you to see the world around you as it is. It allows you to see the face of travel as it was meant to be seen.
“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” ~ Spanish Proverb
There are many ways that you yourself can travel cheap, light and smart. I will dive more into how to travel cheaply in the future, but in many ways what you pack can directly impact the cost of your trip. This will make more sense later. The most important part, for myself, has always been to travel light. This allows you to have an increase in mobility throughout your journey. After traveling to over 60 countries, most of which was done lightly as possible, I have learned a few things from my different adventures. I will break down packing tips and tricks into a few categories below, with a bit of practical context for each. Remember, in many ways, what you own in turn owns you.
(The only souvenirs I collect, besides memories & photos. I suppose I would be a mild collector, with all the bills from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam from Iraq, a Pakistani collection, old Russian rubbles & Chinese bills before Mao, as well as an extensive collection of all countries I have been to and more)
1. Travel Light:
It is easy to travel light if you know a little bit about where you are going. Look at your upcoming trip. Do some research. Google is your friend and easy to use. Where are you going? What season is it? Will you need a winter jacket or will just a T-Shirt be fine, even at night? How long are you going for? What type of trip are you headed out on? Are you going for a week or a month? Will you be moving your bags a whole bunch? Are you planning on camping or staying in nice hotels? These are all things to consider when thinking about what you may pack for your trip.
If you are wondering if you will be able to buy something related to clothing, the answer is yes. If you are going anywhere outside North America or Europe, things will generally be cheaper to pick up on the fly. In most cases, aside from specialized equipment, you will be able to find almost anything in the country you are headed to. I do understand that if you are on a shorter trip, chances are you’re not going to be interested in looking for a power adapter or a new pair of socks the moment you arrive. Weather and seasons aside, here are a few packing tips to save space, weight and mental breakdown with your luggage.
Roll your clothes. This frees up more space for other more important items. Packing what is needed goes a long way to avoid lugging around a heavy bag or suitcase for weeks on end. For two years I had only 3 shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 pairs underwear, 2 hats, 2 buffs, 1 toque, 1 pair of mitts, 1 pair long johns, 1 sweater, 1 pair of cycling shorts and 1 set of lightweight rain gear. This all fit into one small bag at the front of my bike. On my other trips where the weather was consistently warmer and I did not need to camp, I packed much less than this. Time and time again I have seen backpackers on short trips with double what I packed for two years. Most only stay in hostels and rarely need more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. What the heck do they have in those bags? Pack what you need.
Again, check the weather for the season and know where you are going. It is easy also to wash your clothes as you travel. A bit of laundry soap and travel clothes line or even a piece of rope can go a long way. Wash your clothes when you have the chance in a sink. Most places I stayed for a day off had at least a fan, things dry quickly and you save a bit of money. Even if you are going on a week-long trip, you can save time and money by washing your clothes yourself. You can also save time by just taking a carry-on backpack. You don’t need to wait for your bags after getting off the plane, you just get to go. Aside from moving to China and South Korea, I have never traveled with anything besides a small backpack. You beat the rush at immigration and you’re off on your adventure before everyone else gets their bags.
First Five Tips:
-Bring only what you will actually need
-You can get the little things later
-Roll your clothes to save space
-Pack for the occasion, not the end of the world
-Know the seasons & where you’re going
2. Travel Smart:
There are many items that you can bring that will make your trip much more enjoyable and safe. Bring a small lock with a key. If you are not staying in some fancy hotel with safety deposit box, then you will need to have peace of mind when going out for the day. Chances are you are not interested in lugging all of your things around each day, especially if you are hiking a mountain or walking long distances. In any hostel, there should be locker, where you can use the lock I just mentioned. You will likely be sharing a room with 8-10 people and sometimes you won’t even meet most of them. It is hard to know what everyone is thinking.
When there were no lockers, I pushed my bags underneath the bed and locked the most important bag. Nothing ever went missing. I have heard all of the horror stories about people being robbed. In most cases, in my opinion, people were doing something they shouldn’t have. Leaving a phone on a table in a busy restaurant, taking expensive cameras to a market, going to a bar late in a bad part of town and leaving a bag at a table to go to the bathroom. All of these people were robbed and they wonder why it happened.
Throughout my two years on the bicycle around the world and all of my other travels, I have only had two things stolen from me. My bicycle tools in Peru and a travel towel (little bit gross) in China. Truly inexpensive items, though slightly annoying things to replace. Maybe because I always looked poor, people left me alone. There are still a number of things you can do to prevent theft. One is trying not to look like a ridiculous tourist. Wear what you would normally wear and bring what you would normally use for a domestic trip back home. That way your clothes will be familiar and you don’t look like a target. There are people who make a living out of this type of thievery. In most cases, you will be fine.
If you are worried about your health, pack medicines and health items which are versatile. Check the health warning and any vaccinations you may need for an area. Even if something terrible does go wrong, I assure you, health services are better than you think in most countries. If you have adequate insurance then you should be covered, if anything goes terribly wrong. Don’t over pack on the medicines. You can get most of the same things for coughs, sore throats and diarrhea in any country. A basic medical kit is all that you need. Take regular vitamins to stay healthy, especially when you cannot access healthy foods and take care of your body.
For two years I carried the same bit of pills and medical equipment around the world. I rarely used any of it. I was only truly sick twice during that time. For all of the terrible places I ate and the worn out rough conditions I was through, I think that is pretty darn good. Along the way I ate a ton of garlic and onions, took my vitamins and ate healthy whenever possible. Preventative measures are the best way to keep the doctor away. It also helps you lighten the load and maintain a healthy mood. No one likes getting sick on a holiday. Take care of yourself before your go and while you are abroad.
Also, don’t forget a good set of earplugs. Much of the world is quite noisy, especially in the developing world. A decent set plugs will save you a good night sleep and your enjoyment the following day.
Five More Tips:
-Bring a lock
-Look like a normal person
-Don’t do dangerous things
-Pack only necessary medicines
3. Extended Travel:
There a good number of key items that will allow you to cut down costs, save space and make your trip more liberating. For myself, the number one thing on any adventure trip is the camp stove. You can get a lightweight stove that runs off liquid gas for less than 80$ at your local camping outlet. Over time, this little invention will save you much more in terms of food costs as well as mobility of where you can travel freely. The stoves are easy to carry and less than a dollar to fill up. I used regular unleaded gas, because it is available everywhere. It is the most beneficial item you can have if you are on an extended trip into expensive or far off places of the world. Also bring a small knife, plate and lightweight pot. A spork is a handy tool for eating on the road and useful for stirring your pasta or rice. You won’t be able to cook the most amazing meal in the world, but I have whipped up some pretty satisfying things on the fly.
Bring a lightweight and easy to set up tent. Again this only pertains to extended travel, but that tent, like the stove, will allow you to be out in the wild. If that’s what you like, the tent will allow you to experience nature and the people who live in those parts of the world. Free camping is exactly that, free. There are only a few occasions on my trip around the world where I agreed to pay for camping. When I rode my motorbike around Mongolia, I never did. It depends on the country and the type of comfort you are looking for with your travels. People are kind, so say hello. They will almost always allow you to camp on a patch of land near their home. I have a rule of always asking, if I don’t know. Gives you peace of mind while you sleep. You never know, you may even make a new lifelong friend.
A good sleeping bag. You can now get very warm and tightly packed sleeping bag that will allow you to sleep comfortably anywhere. In some places where I found the cheaper hotel beds to be completely filthy, (ie India and Ethiopia), a sleeping bag also comes in handy to separate yourself from the unclean sheets that won’t be cleaned even if you ask. Forget packing the bulky travel pillow and roll up your sweater or your towel for a fairly soft place to lay your head. If money is an issue, the more you save on buying the best of everything, will allow you to do what you came to do. Travel.
Lightweight electronics. Forget the huge laptop at home and invest in a small tablet or use your phone. This does not include a nice camera, if taking pictures is what is really important to you. The worst part about electronics though, is charging them. There are now many types of external battery sources from solar, electric and even self-powered energy devices. Find the one best suited for your trip and it will allow you to still stay connected in far off places and even enjoy your music.
Obviously with all of this stuff your bag is getting a bit heavier, but if you are going on a long enough trip with a budget and seeking adventure, I believe all of these items are liberating and will return their weight in cost and memories over time. Though it weighs more, I recommend bringing some sort of journal for those extended trips and making a point of writing as often as possible. It only takes a few moments to fill a page. Online blogs are nice, but there are certainly things you would write in a journal that you wouldn’t publishing online. It isn’t for anyone but yourself. You will likely be the only one interested in looking back later at your former self. On any long journey, always remember to bring an open mind. This can be the most important thing of all.
Last 5 Tips:
-A Journal & An Open Mind
These are just a few points to get you going in the right direction for your next trip. If you would like to learn more about these topics or have questions about travel in general, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, take care, travel light and live for the adventure.
*Now that we have reached our goal for five schoolhouses in five different countries, an update is underway by the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity). I look forward to sharing the full update on the progress of all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua with all over my sponsors. Stay tuned!
**If you didn’t see my new video from cycling around the world, you can check it out below, or even just watch it again! 🙂
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! 🙂
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
“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task” ~ Sophocles, Greek Tragedian
The human experience. One of the greatest gifts one could ever be privileged to. We have the potential to break personal boundaries and share with the world our individual powers, strengths and failures. Being accepting of our weakest points only makes us stronger. Keeping up appearances is destined to end poorly. Unwrapped, this is who we are. Approaching our flaws and growing from them makes us allow us to be who we really are. Embrace those weak points, by making them strong.
I’ve had thousands of hours to contemplate the human experience. What does it mean to be human? With the media in our faces and online glamour profiles we have become closer connected but increasingly disconnected from ourselves. We want to create the best image of ourselves. Online we can represent ourselves in business, personal and social forms. This connection has sometimes made us shallow and vain. In the last few years, a new dream has been born without definition or shape. It is frustrating and the world is trying to keep up in a race with no finish line.
Before, the road to ‘happiness’ was more defined. Family, kids, house, car and job. At least there was a goal, however somewhat materialistic, to work towards. We are more free to choose now than ever. Life shouldn’t be lost to hours on your phone or a checklist of gains. It is a beautiful experience, you just need to look up and look around. That is the main issue. There is no guide book. And there never should be. There is no definitive right or wrong way. Each individual should have the power to be their own person. To live their own life. That is why I cycle for education. Because it gives hope to those who otherwise do not have the same choices or options as I did growing up.
This brings me back to the human experience. It is just that. Life should be about each other. Helping others achieve their goals. Sharing in the achievements and bettering the lives of our fellow people. Whether they be right next door or on the other side of the world. We are all players in a spinning, living, natural world. We have the power to make a difference in our personal and broader world. We should leave a legacy that is real. Choose bright human futures, over decaying plastic superficiality. Life is the book we are all destined to write.
I was very excited to be in Nicaragua. The land of beautiful lakes and soaring volcanoes. It was the thirty-third country on my round the world tour. The terrain became instantly very flat, I had a pretty good tailwind and it was much cheaper than Costa Rica. I also had a lot to look forward to in the coming days. I would be meeting up with the people at the Free the Children community of El Trapiche as well as the Me to We team in Nicaragua. However, first I had to get there.
I got off to an early start from the hole in the wall where I slept the night before. The wind was generally on my side and I passed through a windmill farm along Lake Nicaragua. It is a massive lake that apparently has predicable winds year round blowing off of it. By the time I reached Rivas I was starving. I even met a French couple as well as a Slovenian cycle tourist on the way. I ate a massive and cheap breakfast. One of the best breakfasts I had in a while. Basically rice and beans mixed called Gallo Pinto, served with fresh salty cheese, eggs and tortillas. You can see the recipe for Gallo Pinto HERE.
I had only planned to make it to Rivas that day as I wanted to go see the volcano that sits within Lake Nicaragua. However, it was Good Friday and was told there were no boats running that day. While I thought about what to do I found a Burger King with internet and drank unlimited sprite. I decided to just make a break for the historical town of Granada where I was to meet my host, Camilo, the following day.
It was Holy Week so many people were on holiday, making the road extra busy. I hunkered down and made it into Granada at the end of a nice downhill. I found a cheap place on the outskirts of town and a got some dinner before bed. Exhausted after another long day, but feeling good about Nicaragua so far.
“I am still profoundly troubled by the war in Nicaragua. The United States launched a covert war against another nation in violation of international law, a war that was wrong and immoral.” ~ Bianca Jagger, Nicaraguan Human Rights Activist
The following afternoon I met Camilo for lunch and got settled in downtown Granada with his help. It was nice to see a friendly face and actually just do something normal for once, like meet someone for lunch. I was more excited than he knew about simply meeting for lunch. Almost all of my meals are alone or rushed at the end of a long day. It was nice to chat over good food with a friendly face. Not often is there someone waiting to meet me.
I explored around historical Granada for the rest of the day and the following morning. Camilo arranged for me to join a Me to We group from Winnipeg for a tour of the city and to visit ‘Café de las Sonrisas’. I met a nice guy named Joe, with the organization, and we headed to the café together. There we listened to Antonio’s inspirational story of how he came to Nicaragua and started a café where all of the employees are deaf. He also has a workshop that only employs people with handicaps to make hammocks for sale. He is an truly passionate and talented individual who is currently making a huge difference in the lives of people who would otherwise have few options for employment. Nicaragua would be a very hard place to live with any sort of disability and he gives people bright futures. Together they are making a massive hammock out of old plastic bags, which you can see below. He is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.
After lunch the group asked me to speak about my ride around the world. Antonio was a hard act to follow, but they were a great audience with a number of questions. The students had some time to do a bit of exploring around Granada at the end of the afternoon and then we said our goodbyes. I never know who I am going to meet on this trip. That’s what is always exciting.
“The lake is known to have been controlled by pirates as early as 1665 when Henry Morgan led six shallow draft canoes up the San Juan for an attack on Granada.” You can also read more about piracy on Lake Nicaragua and the real Captain Morgan HERE.
The next day I took my time cycling to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. On the way I took a break at the historical Masaya market and walked about for a while. When I reach the city ‘Where the streets have no name,’ I navigated my way to where Camilo had nicely arranged for me to stay. The streets actually have no names in Managua, making finding anything a bit difficult unless you live there. I went with Camilo that evening to meet another Me to We group and to hear him speak passionately about the history of Nicaragua and the work of Free the Children. You can read a brief account of the complex and interesting history of Nicaragua by CLICKING HERE.
Early the next morning was the big day. Up at 5:30am, I had a quick breakfast and set out towards the Free the Children community of El Trapiche. It was a direct 25 kilometre climb up to where I would meet a group of boys from the community. We would then cycle the rest of the way to El Trapiche together. I was very excited and spun my pedals in low gear all the way to the top of the pass. It took almost three hours of slow climbing, but I finally made it with the boys waiting to shoot down the dusty road to El Trapiche. There is a drought in Nicaragua at the time, so things were even more dry and dusty. This made for quite the fantastic downhill bike ride.
It was a dream come true to cycle with these kids to their school. We laughed together as we rode down the crazy road and talked about what music they liked. They were divided among their taste of Justin Beiber. I can understand the division. The youngest of the group was the strongest of us all it seemed. On a few very steep hills we all had to get off and push as he climbed on up. The one boy told me that they ride the road once a week to go to the highschool on the weekend. Two things that are a testament to the reality of life in rural Nicaragua.
We arrived thirsty, hungry and a little dusty. After a some food and a water break I shared my journey with the people in the community through the help of Camilo translating. It was so nice to hear their questions and reactions to what I have and hoped to accomplish with my trip. The one man said that to them I am a hero. I almost welled up when I heard this. In my day-to-day existence, my trip seems incredibly normal to me at this point. Navigating countries, finding places to sleep and embracing different cultures is essentially what I do. I have come to understand that I am good at what I do and am still able to have a lot of fun while doing it. An experience I wish all of the world could have.
Later that morning I helped with digging the new playground for the school with a Me to We group from Canada and the United States. It was fun getting to know the students, facilitators and teachers. After lunch I shared my journey to the group. We discussed my route, struggles I have faced, the change that they all can make in the world and following dreams. I call it ‘Finding Your Bike Ride’. In that very moment they were in the process of youth helping youth. For many young people, I think the experiences they have through Free the Children truly set in after they get home and return to the privileged reality of Canada. They see the reverse culture shock of the differences between societies. They see the power they have to actually make a change. To put a smile on a face and brighten the world for others is actually a very real possibly.
I was welcomed that night to meet Camilo’s lovely family and joined in for dinner after a full day. After the experiences we shared, I am proud to call him my friend. I am always blown away by the wonderful and passionate people Free the Children have on their team. I said my farewells and was off riding towards the colonial city of León the following morning.
I road past windy lakes and more stunning volcanoes. Nicaragua is one of those countries I would like to return to and explore more. The people are very friendly and are excited to share their home with the world. Arriving in León I found a hostel to park my bike and explored a bit of the city. At one of the focal points during the 1979 revolution, León represents more than just colonial fingerprints. People fought from street to street in a struggle to regain control of their freedoms. As you walk about you feel that there is more in the air than old churches and historic buildings. The revolution is in the eyes of the population. A lot has changed in Nicaragua in the last few years. I hope to return one day and see the continued progress and improvement of the daily lives of the people. Education, will be at the heart of this positive growth.
When I arrived at the border town of Somotillo some five kilometers away from Honduras, I checked into a rundown little guesthouse. As luck would have it I found a retired cycling couple from the United States there. Mike and Linda were headed south. We chatted that night over some dinner about our rides and routes ahead. Unexpectedly they even paid for my dinner. They said it was their contribution to my nice charity work. You can read about Linda and Mike’s journey at GONE 4 A Ride. Their trip is nearing the two year mark and they hope it will last another eight as they make their way around the world.
The following morning I was off fairly early and pedaled onto Honduras and the next chapter of my Central American adventure. After Nicaragua I was filled up with emotion and good vibes. I felt like I was really making a difference. That my ride was touching the lives of more people than I ever thought possible. The dream of changing the lives of individuals as I went and they changing mine in return, has been a continuous aspect of my journey. The power of the individual never ceases to amaze me. I felt like the wheels on my bike were rolling on more than just kilometres. I was being pushed by the hope and strength of the people. This is the human experience that drives me forward.
*At the moment we are moving our way towards the goal for the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. Please keep the people of Ecuador in your thoughts as they recover from the most recent devasting earthquake. As far as I have heard everyone in the Free the Children communities are doing okay as well as staff and Me to We volunteers. Only $4,000 to go to reach our goal after a kind sponsorship from Tom & Pat Morell. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**It has now been a year since the passing of my cousin Jamie Quattrocchi. He was tragically swept away by a rogue wave while sightseeing with his girlfriend Brittany at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia last April. Thanks to the hard work of my Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim, Brittany and support of the community as a whole back home, improvements have been made to safety at Peggy’s Cove. We all miss you Jamie and think of you often. You can read the article on improvements by CLICKING HERE.
***I am making my way through the hills of Mexico at the moment. It is a beautiful country with great food and a lot to take in each day. This week I reached a huge milestone at over 30,000km cycled since starting my journey. With home on the horizon I will be moving more quickly than usual, but still stopping to take in that which surrounds me. Thanks for reading!
Adopt-A-Village Initiative ~ Free the Children
A Video on the Beauty of Nicaragua ~ A Must Watch!
Bruce Springsteen ~ Streets of Philadephia (For Antonio)
A Sixteen Minute Read
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.” ~ HG Wells, English Author
Heaving myself over the crest of another hill I stop for a moment to take it all in. I take in the green view on the Panamanian horizon. The morning humidity rises in a haze of heat as if an oven element were sudden switched on. The sound of nature hums to great the day. With a new day the world is busy. Wildlife and modernity collide in a losing battle. A man motions me over for a cold cup of water. I feel the sweat and salt already beginning to form. I am in a new land, new continent and a new day.
The individuality of each unique day, person and experience is what makes life so interesting. It is what fuels the tank for travel. You can see all of the countries in the world, but each day and each person only happens once. It is the people that make travel interesting for me. The unpredictability of seeing or meeting someone new is very exciting. On the bicycle I am in the drivers seat of a daily ethnological experience.
By traveling to a new place you are seeing many things for the first time. That is always why it is so exciting and home may seem like the same old bore. But, no two days are ever exactly alike. Though some days may seem similar and mundane to the untrained eye, I assure you, they are not. To see the world as something that is new and exciting each day is a skill worth working on. To wake up and feel the thrill of the day open before you, is to live in the exact moment as it was meant to be. You, our people, the sun and wind, converging on a single moment. A single beautiful individual day.
The story picks up as I safely arrived in Jaqué, Panama after an eight hour sun scorched foodless journey on a small fishing boat. After over a week of waiting and problems with immigration in Colombia I was ready for my adventure by bicycle to resume. However, I knew this meant at least one more boat.
When I arrived immigration was waiting on shore and I waded through the shallow water with my bike and all my gear towards land. I bit farewell to Justino and was glad to put that part of the trip behind me. I spoke with the immigration official and found there was a boat leaving in a few hours to Panama City. I was so happy. He said I could not be on it. At this point he already had my passport and said he had to ‘verify’ me. Most borders take ten minutes maximum to do this type of thing, so I was having a hard time understanding.
I pleaded with the guy to stamp me in, so I could leave on the cargo boat to the city. I explained I had already waited one week for the last boat, but he didn’t seem to care at all. I sat outside on the step of the immigration building as he said I couldn’t go inside. While I waited the boat left without me, again.
I watched him go in and out of the building and pretty much ignore me. I’d ask when I could have my stamp, but he would just tell me to wait fifteen minutes more. He just walked about the dusty jungle town texting and doing a whole lot of nothing. Five hours later as the sun went down he walked out and handed me my passport. I let him experience my discontent.
I was extremely hungry and frustrated at this point. There was even less in this town than Bahio Solano. I found the single rundown guesthouse and got some dinner into me. I had another bucket shower and dreamed of the day for running water. I then began asking around town and instantly knew my options were terrible. The police said the next cargo ship was the one that just left and would return again in one week. Devastation. There was the possibility of a boat that went to near where the Pan-American highway begins in Panama, but there were no boats going at this time. Even if I got to there it still meant three days of biking to Panama City. One man said he would take me, but for $500. He needed a boat load of people to make it worth his while and drop the price. People were generally helpful at this point though. I went to bed exhausted.
The next morning I set out again to annoy everyone in the little town until I got a ride out of there. The same answers from all new people. ‘One week. A lot of money. I don’t know.’ Until one nurse who actually spoke English had an idea. “Why don’t you take the plane that leaves tomorrow for Panama city?” He said. It was a 35 minute ride on a single propeller plane. It would in turn cost the same if I waited a week for the cargo boat. Time was money and sanity. The point of taking the Pacific route was to cross the Darién Gap by not flying, but I had seen enough and was excited to get going on my bike once again. This was my ticket out. I took it.
We convinced the lady who sold the tickets to book me a seat. She was worried about my bike though. I would have to take it apart and pack everything really small. This was no problem, but took a few tries for her to accept how compact I had my bike. One of my pedals was seized onto the bike and the were totally screws stripped. After an hour of smashing with the local bike mechanic, it wouldn’t move. He found a handsaw helped me saw it in half. For all of the work he wouldn’t take any money, but accepted a cold box of milk. Time to get new pedals in Panama City. I was a bit sad, as the pedals were one of the few parts that had made the entire journey so far. Everything was approved by the lady and I thanked my new friend Javier many times for negotiating and helping me make my escape back to civilization.
In the morning a man with a wheelbarrow arrived to take the pieces of my bicycle and bags to the airport. There are no roads in Jaqué, just walking paths and bike routes. I paid him a dollar and we walked towards the airstrip at the edge of the village. They weighed all my stuff on a scale as old as time itself and told me I should pay for everything including my ticket in Panama City. The first time I’ve ever boarded a plane and paid after. I guess there was incentive for us to arrive.
Once a week a tiny plane arrives in Jaqué. From what I gathered, it is a big event. After a bit of waiting a huge crowd had formed. All of these people surely couldn’t be going on the plane I thought. Then out of the distance it appeared, humming seemingly right out of the jungle. The children were all pointing as it roared up and cut the engine. It was tiny and I was excited. A few people got off and five people got on, myself included. In a few moments we were roaring down the runway. I was sitting right behind the pilot and could see all the little controls and switches. It was actually really cool and a unique experience for me.
“The Panama Canal is like a wound that humans inflicted on the Earth – one that nature is trying to heal.” ~ Abdiel Perez, Locks Superintendent Panama Canal
In no time at all Panama City and the canal came into view. All of the ships waiting to go through the locks passed under our wings and I was taken from the jungle town with one restaurant to a massive city with everything you could imagine. I got all my gear sorted and set to putting my bike together at the airport. In no time at all the crazy man everyone would stop and stare at for a moment had put together his bike and was off riding with one pedal.
Cycling through roaring traffic I found a hostel with an empty bed after a few tries. It was in Casca Viejo, the old downtown. This was my second trip to Panama. I had come four years prior almost to the exact day with my brother Luke on a March break holiday. We went to the San Blas Islands, explored Panama City, visited the canal and walked up Ancon Hill. A completely different trip entirely. It was nice change though, because for the first time in almost two years I was somewhere I had actually been before. Though it had been a while since I was last in Panama City, a lot was still familiar. I enjoyed walking along the harbor and taking in the fish market. I grabbed some cheap fish ceviche and took in a bit of modern reality. One of my favourite cities on the trip and I would certainly return again. (For tips and tricks from the Huffington Post on making one of my favourite dishes, Ceviche, CLICK HERE)
The next day I dealt with my very worn out bike. I found a shop and had a complete tune up to start my final leg home. My tires had been rolling since South Africa and were completely done. I got new pedals and a whole bunch of little parts replaced. My bike had a beating heart again. The following morning I was off riding early. I was excited to be back on the road and see what the next adventure had in store. There was even a new bike path with beautiful flowers along the sides to guide me out of the city.
Cycling in Panama was a nice break from the massive climbs of South America. Though it is an undulating series of low hills I could actually find a rhythm and speed along pretty nicely. In the morning, I got caught up in a bicycle race with people on lightweight road bikes. Along the higheay every few kilometers there were stands with Gatorade, water, granola bars and bananas. They were more than happy to share their snacks and I was more than happy to take a few bottles of Gatorade for the road. Pretending to discover the stands each time was fun for me. On one of the hills I passed by a group of cyclists in the race with my fully loaded bike, I felt proud at how strong my legs had become over the course of the trip. That night I camped near the beach and cooked my simple pasta. Life was back to normal and I was in my happy place once again.
After taking in a beautiful morning ride I set down to pedal through heat. On my second night I camped at the house of a lady that saw me two days earlier near Panama City. Martha was her name. A very friendly women who owned a fresh juice shop. While I waited for my pasta to cook I drank fresh cold pineapple and mango juice. She had to leave early in the morning before the sun rose, but trusted me to let myself out. Moments like this really teach me a lot about the nature of humanity and the good will that exists. The propagated fear and disparity seen on the evening news is not what deserves attention. It is not even the norm of human society, but we choose to promote it and believe. I have seen the true nature of humanity from the seat of my bike. And it is beautiful.
The following days saw a continuation of the up and down slopes towards the border with Costa Rica. I camped at a police station one night. They even gave me a full dinner and a place to shower. The one officer friendly grilled me on my adventure while I ate another pile of fried plantains. As I cycled out the following day there was some serious construction happening along the road. The workers cheered me on and often offered ice cold water they had in big jugs along the road. I must have looked dead tired, because they always offered before I asked. In the scorching heat of over 40 degrees each day, ice cold water breaks were a dream come true. Sometimes I would even hide out in a McDonalds if it appeared, drink unlimited Sprite while using free Wi-Fi and enjoying the air-condition.
“Witnessing Panama’s overnight transition from banana republic to middle-class retirement haven is like watching the Univision version of Extreme Makeover: it feels so tacky but you can’t change channels because you just have to find out what happens next.” – Andrew Evans, Writer
The roads in Panama were generally very good and took me towards my thirty-second country, Costa Rica. I was excited about making good time through Panama and looking forward to cycling the beautiful Costa Rican coast. Overland travelers are supposed to have onwards tickets out of the country, however, the border lady looked the other way and let me pass through. I was becoming worried about my passport filling up as I had no new pages left and a few countries to still get through. I hoped the next few crossings would be understanding and welcoming. I realize that this is a really fortunate problem to have though.
In the first ten minutes of cycling Costa Rica I blew a spoke. I found some cover from the sun and fixed it up while a nice man bought me a Pepsi and watched me curiously. At this point some of the spokes were quite old and becoming rusted from days on the road. They break easily and I just get on with it, fix it up and try to get moving again as quick as possible. These little things which used to be a huge problem are now just daily annoyances which I have come to deal with.
“As the eco- and adventure-tourism capital of Central America, Costa Rica has a worthy place in the cubicle daydreams of travelers around the world.” ~ Lonely Planet
Off rolling in Costa Rica showed a beautiful green scene in amongst the roaring traffic headed for the capital. I met a English cyclist at the end of the day and we decided to try and find somewhere to camp together. We rolled down a quiet road in Piedras Blancas National Park and found a man to ask to pitch our tents. He said he had a cabin we could sleep in not far away. It was actually only half finished surrounded by vegetation, but we climbed up top and threw out our mattresses. With a bit of bug spray there was no need for setting up the tent. We chatted into the night about our rides and said farewell early in the morning. The National Park was buzzing with birds and sounds of thousands of insects. A really memorable sleeping spot.
I rode off looking to escape the traffic. Finding the road towards the coast the highway improved greatly as well as my mood. The riding was nice, green and fairly easy for the most part. However, Costa Rica is much more expensive than anywhere I had been since Europe. When a coke costs four times what it did in Panama you have the feeling that moving quickly is the best option. There is a reason why people have come and will continue to come to Costa Rica, because it is stunningly beautiful and they have made a huge effort to preserve their natural ecosystems. However, all other touring cyclists I met were making a quick route through to return to cheaper territory. It is fine on a week long holiday, but extended travel and Costa Rica are a difficult combination for the budget traveler. I brought most of my food with me from Panama knowing this would be the case.
Over the next two days my bike decided it would just fall apart. In the span of one moment I broke two spokes. I fixed them both and immediately broke another. I gave up on that as night was coming and needed to find a place to sleep. In another moment I had a flat tire. I found a camp site luckily, then begrudgingly fixed the other broken spoke as well as the flat tire after I washed and ate dinner. I spent a sweaty night in my tent and got going early. Not long after my gears seized and my headstock started making awful noises and wobbling all over. I took it off to inspect and the ball bearings crumbled into dust. The original parts of the bike had lasted all the way here, so I couldn’t be too upset. At this point I had a severely crippled bike stuck in only one gear. It had been a while since I had a day off. I headed towards Quepos and got a bed at a hostel. It was Sunday so everything was closed. The next day I had all things set straight again on my bike when the shop eventually opened and felt good about things again for the moment. I relaxed a bit and swam around in the hostel pool.
I headed off for the border of Nicaragua. It wasn’t far from here and camping would be easy for the next few days as I left the allure of the coast behind. Early on the first day I cycled over a bridge that was full of huge crocodiles in the river below. Pretty awesome to see actually. After a sweaty day and one big climb, I was down on the coast again. I camped out on a beautiful beach almost completely to myself. I cooked my pasta and enjoyed the sunset. These moments are what it is all about. When I can soak in the beauty of nature, the quiet of the night and reflect on how far I have come.
Nicaragua was not far now and I had only two more days riding to get there. The terrain became more scrubby and rugged as I approached the frontier. I drank cold fresh coconut water during the hottest part of the day. Something I had missed for a while. A throwback to my beginning days of cycling back in Hainan China where my ride began. Natures’ Gatorade. It was a hot two days but I made it just in time for the border to close after breaking two more spokes. They rushed me through and the sun set as I hurried around looking for a place to sleep on the Nicaraguan side of the line.
I took a deep breath and knew that tomorrow would be another beautiful individual day. Full of victories, struggles, beauty and mystery.
*We are now more than halfway towards the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. I would like to thank Lori Bryden as well as Annette & Derek Buffam for their recent donations. Please continue supporting the cause by CLICKING HERE TO DONATE.
**Check out a recent guest post of mine featured on Stephen Gollan’s site the ‘Uncharted Backpacker’. It gives insight into my opinions on bike travel and my motivation behind cycling the world. Follow the link to the article. http://www.unchartedbackpacker.com/freedom-bicycle-cycling-home-china/
***I am currently cycling in the rugged region of Chiapas, Mexico. I am now back in North America. Hooray! Keep following along for future posts on Central America. Home is on the horizon and I have been moving quickly. The next post with be on Nicaragua and my experiences visiting the community of El Trapiche with Free the Children and Me to We. There is always more to these stories than I have time to share, but I do my best. Thanks for reading! 🙂
A Cool Time-Lapse of a Panama Canal Crossing
A Relavent Music Video on Modernity ~ Matt Good 21st Century Living
An Eighteen Minute Read
“Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.” ~ Paul Coelho, The Alchemist
The pursuit of happiness. The eternal search and notion which we all strive for. We search high and low with no success. Where we go wrong is exactly within the search itself. Happiness is not a thing to be found. It is something to be earned.
We are told throughout our lives what will make us happy. From advertisements, to our parents and friends. We are conditioned in what to look for. We are taught how to search for this elusive green monster. Little clues are given throughout our lives. But, some of them are false. Some of them lead us down the wrong paths. From there we have to start over and go about things a different way.
We search for happiness because it makes life more interesting. It is the thrill of the hunt which makes things seem worth all the struggle. For many they believe happiness is linked to success. A good job equals money and therefore, happiness. Right? It is why people indirectly sacrifice their relationships for that big promotion. They think having money will make people respect them more. This will then in turn, make them happy. But, sadly the joke is on them. They have sacrificed the only real fountain of happiness available.
Some may think I am in search of some sort of happiness as I cycle about our Earth. But, I would be searching for answers where there are none. I am not on a quest to see what makes me happy. I already have realized many of these things. They are in the simple moments, with loved ones. Mountains and adventures are fleeting glimpses of happiness, but they wont sustain you. No amount of Facebook selfies will fill the void you are looking to fill. Working hard to cultivate relationships and moments that are meaningful and true are what will make you happy. Simple. Fill your short time here with people and moments that are important to you.
There are many reasons why I chose to cycle around the world. Staying true to your goals is the most rewarding part of the journey. Seeing what makes other people happy in far off places of the world is inspiring. It always seems to be in the simple things. Reflecting on long endless roads, I see the commonalities that exist between cultures. Happiness almost seems to play out in similar sequences throughout the world.
After all of this searching, wandering and wondering, I can tell you that happiness cannot be described, measured or seen. It is not found in money, things or fleeting excess. There is no search. You don’t just find it one day. It is procured throughout our lives. Happiness grows likes a cactus and blooms when the time is right. Quit searching and start harvesting. You have more than you know what to do with.
“Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy.” Louis CK, Comedian
Crossing into Colombia was an exciting moment. After getting stamped through immigration my friend Remy and I were off riding in the late morning of Colombia. We were hungry and looking for some lunch. In the small town near the border it seem everyone was only interested in barbecuing ‘Cuy’. Guinea Pigs. The classroom pet was for lunch. Everywhere we went they were being roasted rotisserie style outside for the lunchtime customers. I was actually pretty interested in having a whole Guinea Pig to myself, but it was more than I was willing to spend on lunch. We found a cheap place to eat and set off riding in new territory.
It rained soon after and we hid with some passersby until it ended. While we waited a cycling tourist named Juan from Spain came crawling up the hill. Juan was cycling for cancer awareness with a very unique story. He was cycling to Ushuaia at the end of South America from Nicaragua. However, he was doing it without a stomach, colon, rectum or gallbladder after a cancer operation he had. He is cycling to live life to the fullest and give others hope. Listening to his story was very inspiring to say the least. After the rain passed we said goodbye and flew down the hill our friend had just been struggling up for some 40 kilometers. As I flew onwards Juan gave a lot for me to think about. You can support Juan or follow his blog in Spanish at http://www.runnife.com/.
All good things must come to an end though and soon it was back up the mountain. The roads in Colombia are some of the steepest I have seen in a while. In Peru the climbs are much longer, but built in a way that is more conducive to climbing up. The steep grades of Colombia put all the your stamina to the test. I kept thinking the end would come soon, but with evening approaching we were only 17km into the climb and decided to finish the pass the following morning.
Tired and hungry we went down into a small village and found the local police. We were told we could camp out at the local cultural centre for the night. After cooking my typical pasta that night I was out like a light and up early to make my morning oatmeal. Packing up was some quick business and before long we were at the top of the hill. Racing down to Pasco we took the rest of the day off in a hostel. The first thing on my mind was food.
After a short rest it was back out to the road. The climbs were hard and the scenery beautiful. I felt extremely proud to have made it this far and could taste the end of the continent. One particular climb wound way up into the mountains after crossing a bridge guarded by the military. As I reached the top I could barely see the bridge I had crossed hours earlier. The sun was hot and my face covered in sweat. On the downhill I got a flat tire and swerved all over the road until I regained control, stopped and patched it up. I was still in search of some new tubes and more importantly, new tires. Mine were worn through with the whole of South America under their belt as well as part of Africa. They owed me nothing.
On route to Popayan Remy and I split up once again with dividing interests. I was set on heading to Panama via a Pacific route by boat and he was going to Medellin. After so long on the road on my own the company was nice for a change. However, when I am biking, I truly do prefer to go it solo. Knowing yourself is very important before setting out on a trip like this.
I arrived in Popayan after more steep climbs with lots of buses. I took a day off to rest and explore the markets. I found new tubes for my bike and was happy with how things were going once again. One of my favourite things about travel will always be the markets. I bought a fresh pineapple and had it cut for me in seconds by the vendor. I drank a delicious fruit juice with milk and ate a heap of empanadas. That night I ate Arepa with Chorizo from a vendor on the street and got to bed early. (See recipe HERE) My stomach is clearly encased in iron at this point.
“Colombians might live in one of the best places in the world to grow coffee beans, yet their cups of coffee come from dehydrates granules in tiny plastic packages. This is the definition of tragedy.” ~ Bryanna Plog, Author
I left with the sun on the following day through an up and down landscape which eventually shot me out into the Cali Valley. I was making incredible time and for the first day in months the terrain was actually flat. I used all of my stored up energy and ploughed through towards Cali in a single day. On days where I end up riding 150 kilometers I always feel lighter than air. Maybe it is just exhaustion, dehydration or the burn of hundreds of calories, but it is always a euphoric moment in the end.
While in Cali, the salsa dancing capital of Colombia, I discovered there was a boat leaving for the frontier of Colombia in two days from Buenaventura. It was a good two days ride away, but I decided I would make it there. I felt bad about not meeting up with an old friend in Medellin, but sometimes you have to trust your gut. The Pacific route to Panama was known to be the wild west of border crossings. Corruption, apparent drug smuggling and almost no information for tourists made me excited about this adventure. I said yes to the challenge and turned left towards the Pacific coast.
There was a large climb over a final mountain pass before heading all the way down to the coast. Things got very humid and at one point I was even cycling in a mist of low clouds. Riding in clouds is wet business, but always a uniquely awesome experience. I found my way down to Buenaventura. Known for its lawlessness in comparison to the rest of modern Colombia. Largely now in control, Colombia is essentially a new country and very safe in most regions for tourism. I was happy I didn’t see the shady article about Buenaventura until after I reached Panama. However, throughout my time in Colombia with the exception of one person, (keep reading) everyone was nothing short of amazing. Some of the most friendly people in South America. You can read the ugly article about Buenaventura HERE.
“The basic dream of many Colombians is to have a secure nation, without exclusions, with equity, and without hatred” ~ Alvaro Uribe, Colombian President
I arrived in the late morning just before the sky exploded with rain. I purchased my ticket on a cargo boat headed for Bahio Solano near the border of Panama. There are no roads leading through the Darién Gap. One must either take a plane, or cross by boat. People have been known to hike across to Panama, but it is still quite dangerous. This wild region of jungle generally where the last resistance of FARC hang out along with wild paramilitary groups and indigenous tribes. If you don’t run into one of these groups, the green wild of the Darién will likely set up other surprises for you. So, I chose the more adventurous boat route instead.
After seeing a bit of the city, the cargo ship left at 7pm. The lights of the Buenaventura and humongous freighters in the port of Buenaventura faded off in the distance as the roar of the motor carried me towards new horizons. I tucked myself into a bunk bed stacked 3 high and fell into a nice sleep.
The following day was filled with watching the beauty of the Darién float by and chatting with people on board. The food was actually really good and crew were quite friendly, as far a cargo crew goes. One crew member dropped his phone in the ocean and complained to me about his terrible misfortune. The salty air blew by comfortably as we rocked forward on low waves.
Arriving in Bahio Solano was where the chaos began. Getting my bike and bags off the boat was a challenge. I had to unload onto another boat and then onto a dock amid large groups of people looking on at the new arrivals. I quickly found the immigration and was told to find a man named Justino, who had the only authorized legal boat to make the journey to Panama. I found him riding his bike around town. His lip had a huge band aid over it as he had recently took a spill off his bike. His eyes were almost clouded over blindness. I felt bad for him, but desperately hoped he would not be driving the boat. We discussed a price that began outrageously high and he was not budging. As the only boat heading to Panama legally, the price was dictated as such. He wanted a large amount to take my bike as well. Claiming his boat was very fast and we would get there tomorrow afternoon. I was not so impressed, but knew that I had no choice and he wasn’t going to move.
I returned to immigration to get stamped out of the country, but the officer seemed uninterested in letting me leave. He told me to come back at five in the morning the following day. However, Justino’s boat was due to leave at five and another would not depart for a week. I was desperate but told him I would come back in the morning. After a restless night of wondering I turned up at just before 5am. He poked his head out of the door and just said no. I was not happy. He came back out and said to bring him Justino. Which made no sense. I brought him along soon after, but he wouldn’t come to the door. I could see him watching TV inside. With no stamp in my passport there was no way I could head to Panama. The boat left.
I went to the police to report the border official on a petty power trip. They were well aware of this type of action on his part. Many people also said that he was indeed a bad man. The police said there was a boat leaving that day to a small village closer to the frontier which had boats also going to Panama. I waited a few hours and was suddenly aboard a roaring speedboat with dual 150 horse power engines. Back on track I thought, as we raced across the ocean for three hours.
In Jurado I was met by a friendly border official named Michael. He was determined to help me out and appalled by his counterparts actions. However, he didn’t have good news for me. There was in fact no boat scheduled to leave for Jaque, Panama. Like Bahio Solano there was also only one man who legally had permission to make the trip. He was currently in Panama. I was told to wait and wait is what I did. Camping on the beach I passed my days reading and walking about the village. Everyone soon came to know me and were all friendly asking when I was going to Panama. I always asked in return if they knew of a boat heading there. No one had any idea, but would tell me that there might be one in a few days.
On the fourth day I was buying some bread for breakfast when I met a man named Jorge. He said he was returning to Bahio Solano on a speed boat soon and I could come back with him. I knew that Justino would be leaving in a day or so for the border so thought I would try my luck back there. I tore down my tent and was down at the boat launches in no time. We roared off back to where I started a few days back. I was back inside the realm of the horrible border guard again.
I stayed at Jorge’s house and we cooked dinner together. Fried plantains and rice was on the menu. There was a tiny airport there with infrequent flights which Jorge was in charge of picking people up at. Sometimes I joined him on these trips to the airport with little else going on in my life. I found them interesting and his van had air conditioning.
I arranged with Justino to leave the following morning but we made sure I would get my stamp this time. It took the majority of the day for him to get all the necessary stamps and papers together just to make the trip in his tiny boat. Once all of that was together we went to the immigration to meet the horrible border guard. He was sleeping when we arrived (surprise) and came to the door with his shirt off. During the whole process he never even acknowledged I was there and took his sweet time. I got the stamp and walked away. It was very hard to keep my mouth shut, given the things I wanted to say to him over the last week. But, I knew it wouldn’t help me at all. I was defeated at this point and just wanted to get out of there.
The following morning at 5:30am we met for the journey to Jaque, Panama. It was myself and big Colombian Mama making the trip. The boat was tiny. The size of a small fishing boat with a little 40 horsepower engine. It was going to be a long and slow trip. Already Justino and the driver were fighting about which way to go. Not a good sign. The driver gave me a smelly old lifejacket and we were off. I remember seeing Jurado pass by as we skirted along the side of the green Darién. I thought about myself hanging out on the beach and wondered if I would still be there if I hadn’t taken action. On this route if you don’t act then you will be stuck for weeks.
Near the frontier we were boarded by a very large and fast Panamanian police boat. Three massive motors rolled up to our tiny fishing boat. They asked a lot of questions and searched to boat for drugs. We had nothing illegal on board so there was no worry. One of the guards asked me if I had a license for bicycle. I just said it was not necessary with a bit of a laugh. I joked with the police and asked them if they would take me the rest of the way. Their boat was clearly much faster. Justino gave them a loaf of bread to remain on friendly terms and we were off. The gas for the boat was beginning to run low and we stopped to syphon some into the main barrel. Yes, it was a barrel. We finally reached the frontier of Panama not long afterwards. I was not through the journey yet though. In Jaque there are still no roads and one more boat was necessary to get to Panama City. However, I had finally made it to Central America. More on the last leg of the journey to come in the following post. Stay tuned and thank you for reading!
“Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.” ~ Harold Kushner, Rabbi
I once thought as I spent more time on the road it would get easier. Though physically I am more fit than I have ever been in my life, the mental challenges are a daily occurrence. Sure I can fix almost anything on my bike now, but things break more often than ever it seems. After almost two years on the road with the same old TREK, this is to be expected. As I near the end of my journey, sometimes it seems I’m being challenged more than ever. There are still many hoops to jump through it seems. All I have learned about myself is being tested. However, my will to go on, to succeed in finishing what I have started, can never be diminished. The strength of mind will prevail in, as one cyclist put it, “Moods of Future Joy.”
*I am now cycling in Nicaragua. It has been an incredible time in wonderful Central America so far. Tomorrow I will be visiting the village of El Trapiche with Free the Children. I am very excited about this opportunity. I will be cycling with some youth in the village to their community. It is truly a dream come true. Details of this and experiences leading up to here coming soon. A special thanks to Marina Quattrocchi for her generous and kind donation as well as Barb & Arnold Mahon. We are now halfway to the school in Ecuador. Please continue to help support giving children the gift of an education. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**If you are interested in travelling to Colombia, a truly beautiful country of history and scenic beauty, check out my friend Stephen’s travel guide to Colombia by following here at http://www.unchartedbackpacker.com/colombia-travel-guide/
***Happy Easter to family and friends from all corners of the world.
My Favourite Comedian: Louis CK Talking Sense
A Fifteen Minute Read
Sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads. These moments make us look deep inside. We look towards the chorus of voices calling us. The voices of our heart. Thinking and contemplating aside. If you listen in between the beats, you will see your path.
At first it can be hard to accept the new or difficult. It makes the normal look like a big fluffy pillow. The unknown is daunting. It plays tricks on our minds. It creates problems and illusions of failure, trouble and danger. This is our mind. The heart put the thought there originally. The mind likes to be comfortable. The mind doesn’t like to work when it is not needed. That is why it likes television reruns. It knows what to expect. There are no surprises. There are few thoughts to compute and decisions to be made, other than a third scoop of ice cream perhaps.
The heart always has the harder task. But it is always ready. The mind sets up blockades while the heart pumps them away. Once the heart has convinced the mind to see things as they are, it becomes much easier for the mind to let go. To let the heart guide the body in the direction the mind knows is right. The first and last steps are the hardest.
At this point in my journey it is only the mind that stands in my way. My heart knows what it wants. The mind only has a few games left to play. Working together, they can make an awesome team. Follow your heart and your mind will come.
“The point of going somewhere like the Napo River in Ecuador is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there.” ~ Annie Dillard, Author
I arrived in Coca via the Napo River in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It was the beginning of Carnaval. A national time of celebration where people let loose. People spray each other with coloured foams and throw water balloons. I found myself getting off a boat from the border in the middle of the chaos. The dancing and unexpected splashes of water, made going outside the eternal adventure.
On a cloudy morning I left Coca. It had been raining for the last few days. The rains lasted all day long and made moving difficult. I had seen enough rain and left determined to get going. I had planned to meet my hosts with Free the Children in just a few days back up in the Andes. I had a ways to go with massive climbs on the horizon. With a quick breakfast of Encebollada soup, I was off riding under dark skies.
(To see a recipe for Encebollada, one of my favorite dishes on the trip, CLICK HERE)
After about thirty minutes the rains made their appearance. It was hot and humid, so I didn’t mind riding in the cool rain. I rode for most of the day and took breaks under various shelters when it all became too much. Stopping in the late afternoon, I pulled my bike off at a small town with a police station. I asked where a safe place might be and the captain led me to a room behind the building. It was full of dead cockroaches scattered about the floor. But, it would do. I swept up the cockroaches and cleaned the room up a bit. I pitched my tent on the floor out of the rain and did my best to dry my things for the following day. That night I cooked the same old pasta, talked with the police and slept soundly in my tent. A typical day on the road. Nightmare for some, normal now for me.
Off early the next day, I ate a breakfast of boiled eggs and bread. My hunger these days has turned to an insatiable quality that I cannot describe. I am never satisfied. Unless I cook for myself, I am never full. Packing insane portions away into nowhere. When I eat out at the local ‘comedors’ I am always hungry immediately after. Sometimes I walk a block and eat the same typical meal of rice, beans, salad and meat again. The eggs and bread were nothing more than something to start the engine.
Over the next few days, I made my way towards Rio Bamba. On the way I stopped in touristic Banos, where it poured rain for all but a few minutes. Waterfalls fell off in the distance in a fairytale like setting. However, it is not the type of place I feel very at home. It has all of the amenities of tourist adventure travel and leaves out the realities of Ecuador. The people on the mountains in the next valley over don’t see the tourist dollars or pizza dinners. Separations are well defined on the brink of a smoking volcano.
From Rio Bamba I headed south and continued along the according box of deep hills towards the Free the Children community of Shuid. Stopping along the road I watched a soccer (football) game while eating some fresh clementines. I devoured them by the dozen. Little balls of cycling energy. Wherever I stopped there was always a friendly person to chat with it seemed.
That afternoon I pulled into a town named Gaumote, after a fairly relaxed morning of riding. I only got rained on once and had just sped down a huge hill. Climbing up the cobbled streets of the town I found a Carnaval parade in full swing. People in traditional outfits were heading through the streets and dancing up a storm. Sometimes I get lucky. Showing up with no knowledge into a fully local experience. At the end an old man rode on a horse with a staff, seemingly to be the chief at the end of the parade. I grabbed some of the good food being cooked along the street and found a place to sleep for the night.
I had two days to go and only a short distance to make before Shuid. I took my time exploring the town the following day and made the trip down the road to Alausi. A beautiful town set in the valley of large mountains. Clouds rolled through the town at night. I ate food from local vendors and stocked up on supplies at the market. The boy at my guesthouse was really interested, as I did some minor repairs on my bike. He shouted every question at me as if I was deaf, when he found I didn’t understand his rapid fire questions. I laughed and continued with my work under his watchful stare.
I spent the day before heading to Shuid resting in the garden of a nice family in Guasuntos. A town nit far from Shuid. The man who owned the house had lived in the New York for many years and we got along well. He was very proud of his beautiful flowers in the garden. I spent my day resting and preparing for the climb the following morning. At night they locked the garden for safety. In the morning, I had to throw small rocks at the window while shouting to remind them I needed out. They were already awake, but had forgotten about me down below. I ate three bananas and a loaf of bread and was off up the mountain to Shuid. A winding road with beautiful views and steep passes took me further up into the Andes, for another amazing adventure.
For a look at my time in Shuid check out ‘https://oneadventureplease.com/2016/02/22/the-edge-of-the-mountain-charity-update-ecuador/‘ for the previous post on my experiences at the site with Free the Children. You can also CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
When it came time to head back down below, my hosts Ryan and Luis offered me a ride back to Rio Bamba. Seeing no need to ride the same road twice, I took their generosity and headed back on track towards my northern route home. That night I slept in the Free the Children office after meeting some more nice staff. I was off riding towards Quito where Ryan had made arrangements that I could stay in his apartment, even though he would be off with another Me to We group in the Amazon. Super kind!
“Ecuador is a country which defends the right to life.” ~ Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador
I climbed some rather large hills as I made my way to Quito over the next two days. On the first day there was a roaring wind at my back. I had a huge day of riding. I felt full of life as I climbed onwards to another big city. Quito came into view early in the second day. I was trying to beat an impending rain that bubbled off in the distance. Quito itself is built on a fairly flat surface but anywhere outside the centre and your either flying down a hill or struggling up another through traffic. The road eventually narrowed and I put on my buff to eliminate some of the black diesel spewing from buses and ‘collectivo’ vans. One last curve remained as I found my way to the beautiful centre. Surrounded by homes on rolling mountain hills, Quito is one of the more brilliant cities I have had the pleasure to see. I even found a cycling lane downtown. Something I haven’t seen in forever. I navigated my way to Ryan’s place and recovered during the following day. I cooked up a storm, ate all day long and admired the view of the city.
Leaving Quito was a bit more simple as there was a long downhill most of the way out. I was heavily loaded up on food and got a broken spoke on the edge of town. It took the wind out of my sails as I just got going. The sun was scorching and I made my way over the next two days up and down some beautiful scenery. At one point the wind was so strong that I had to even pedal downhill. A truly defeating feeling to say the least.
While I was taking a break at a roadside junction I noticed a familiar image coming my way. It was the French cyclist Remy. This was now the fourth time we had met. We carried on together and chatted about our individual trips in the Amazon and Ecuador. He was feeling a bit sick at the time and was struggling with the wind. Late in the afternoon I got a flat tire. All of my tubes had four or five patches on them. I had seen the day before that there was a 85km climb coming up. We talked about this for a moment and decided to hitch a ride up the monstrous pass that loomed before us. Within minutes we were picked up and saved almost two days of horribly difficult riding.
The following day we woke early to make it to the Colombian border. My tire had gone flat in the night. I changed the tube and after a few minutes it was also flat as we began riding. I patched the other tube and was getting quite frustrated. I felt bad for Remy waiting. This time the patch held, but I desperately needed new tubes. Before this mess I hadn’t had a flat in weeks, so new tubes were not on my mind. They were all garbage and I looked forward to the first city in Colombia. With my tires rolling we entered Colombia and my 30th country on my round the world tour. I was excited about the next adventure ahead.
My mind and heart were ready to work together once again. Thanks for reading!
*After my visit to the community of Shuid in Ecuador, I am even more thrilled with the opportunity to help with the fundraising for the new schoolhouse. I am looking forward to working with Free the Children to meet my goal. It is very important to me to help give the kids in Shuid the dream of a proper education and memorable childhood. Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**I am currently riding in Panama. After a long and wild journey along the Pacific coast on a series of boats, I have finally made it. Update on Colombia and the Pacific journey to come soon.
***I am now on the homestretch towards Canada. I expect to arrive in early June. With just a few months to go, it is hard to believe. If you would like to have me speak in your area about my journey cycling home from China, please contact me at email@example.com or consult the ‘Speaking’ section of my website above for more information. Thank you for all of the support and encouragement!
My Favourite Life Advice Video
I see the road where I am. I feel the power of the mountain pulling down towards our Earth. I hear the call of the birds and creaking of my wheels. I taste the morning dew and crisp lime in the food. I breath in a new day as if it was my last.
I ask questions because I do not know. I listen because it is more powerful than my speech. I wonder at all the small complexities that form the world. I think about how it is today and may be tomorrow. The past is gone and looking back should only be lessons. No longings or fated worries. In a world where no two days have ever been alike, we find ourselves at the point of the brush. It is up to us to give our lives colour. To feel the radiant Earth beneath our feet and give taste to the tasteless. To give shape where no shape was before. The power lies in us all. Hiding within different forms of clarity and vice.
We are makers of the future. We are players in the most dynamic drama to ever exist. We are not victims by circumstance, but have the power to change. The power to change our lives and those around us. To change lives for the better. To leave a small imprint that is timeless during our days. The history of our world is infinitely long and challenging to understand, when contemplating the sheer magnitude of existence. However, with careful thought we can squeeze out our own little story. Our own little drama. Players of the mind and creators of personal destiny. We are born to understand that meaning through the course of our days. Challenge, beauty, growth and all.
“Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.” ~ Les Brown, Author/Motivational Speaker
I arrived in Shuid, Ecuador late in the morning after a very steep 1,200 metre climb. Shuid is the village I am supporting to construct the fourth schoolhouse with Free the Children. The thirteen kilometres which brought me from the valley below to the village above, was one of those epic moments on the bike. The air slowly became thinner as I made my ascent in the early morning light. I removed the heavier layers of clothing as sweat began to peak on my back, face and chest. When stopping to take photos or catch my break, I would take in the scenery while the cool wind chilled my damp clothes.
I pushed onwards and upwards until I saw a sign that read, ‘Bienvenidos Comunidad de Shuid.’ Taking a photo of the sign, I felt extreme happiness for having made it here myself. I had been thinking about this moment for months. I wondered as I rode on aimless miles, how I would feel when I arrived. The mountain climb that would take me to my destination made me feel like there was actually a true goal for once. A destination with a purpose and message. I felt proud above all else.
Making my way to Shuid, the road forked upwards to the right, turning to loose gravel. I was not quite there yet. The views became more stunning as clouds built up steam and rolled over mountains in the distance. Grinding my way through a winding road with sheer drop offs, it reminded me of remote Bolivian roads not long behind. Shuid eventually came into view as I crested a corner. The mountain was dotted by little homes. I could see people walking their few cows along tiny paths. A radio echoed in the distance. I moved forward and entered the community.
I asked directions to the school from a timid lady and she pointed upwards. My climb was not over. I asked a second opinion and a man in a truck said the same thing. He on the other hand assured me I was close. I followed the road upwards as it got increasingly more steep. At two points I had to get off and push my bike. Even while pushing the loose gravel made it a tough task. Then I finally saw the cluster of buildings in the distance near a church. I hopped back on my bike and finished strong as I rolled up to the school.
When I arrived it was recess. Lucky me! There were many children running about playing games in the schoolyard. Kids being kids. It was an awesome sight to see. I found one of the teachers and we began talking about who I was and where I was from. He was very interested in my ride and gave me some porridge with crackers the kids were having for morning snack. I chugged it down happily, chatted a bit and returned to my bike, talking to kids as I went. When I got back to my bike, leaned against the fence on the side of the mountain, there was a group of kids busy dinging my bell. I made sure everyone had a chance to ding it at least twice. A few kids were even brave enough to try on my helmet. We all agreed my head was too big.
At that moment, my hosts Ryan and Luis arrived from Me to We. A group of High School students from New York also had made the journey with a facilitator named Carlos. It was amazing to see so many faces at once after days on the bike. As it turns out I had already met Ryan in Kenya briefly. While I was cycling through the rest of Africa and South America he had moved to Ecuador. It was nice to catch up with him and to see a familiar face for once. There are not too many of those on the open road.
(You can read about my experiences with Free the Children in Kenya by clicking https://oneadventureplease.com/2015/12/07/just-like-us-charity-update/ and in India at https://oneadventureplease.com/2015/08/19/from-distant-stars-charity-update/.
The alarm sounded for the kids to return to class and we did a tour of the school grounds. Set on the edge of the mountain the school is in the centre of the community. It is divided into upper and lower Shuid; with about 1000 people. If there are awards for picturesque locations for schools, this one would take the cake. Though it may be beautiful there, the people face many struggles on a daily basis. (See Shuid’s community profile below) Beautiful mountains do not put food on the table or children through school. My local guide Maria told me of the accomplishments and difficulties these people have seen recently. It was nice listening to her describe the community and see it in person for real.
Through positive encouragement families are beginning to understand the benefits of leaving their children in school. Many of the men do not work in the village itself, as there is very few jobs which would sustain a whole family. They travel to neighbouring towns to work and the women take care of the house along with the animals. This requires the children to grow up quite quickly and take on responsibilities they normally wouldn’t, in a place like Canada. With a typical family of eight children, there is a lot of pressure to leave school and begin working to help support the family.
“Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” ~ Plato, Greek Philosopher
With the partnership of Free the Children, the village has begun to transform and overall enthusiasm has increased. It can be difficult, as most of the people still continue on with their traditional ways. But, through continued education of the whole village and the appearance of new physical structures, the morale has been boosted. In Ecuador, a Minga is called when something in the village needs to get done. It calls upon all able people to come help with a project on a certain day. At first in Shuid, people were somewhat reluctant to join and it was mostly children who showed up to help. However, now people are much more involved and take pride in their school on the mountain that is attended by over 300 children in two shifts each day.
In Shuid, older children go to school in the afternoon and young children in the morning. Currently, there is not enough room to accommodate them all at once. This is where we all come in. They are now digging the foundation of two new additional schoolhouses. One of the schoolhouses was the one I have been supporting with my ride. You can see photos of the current and future schoolhouses below. Most of the buildings have now been replaced in the main area of the school. They are expanding to give kids full day education with a growing population of enthusiastic learners. This will mean more teachers and a greater need for supplies.
One of the other projects on the go, was a nearly complete communal cafeteria for all the students. When I arrived that morning the children were all out in the schoolyard carrying around their hot cups of porridge. The cafeteria will be a comfortable place to eat and a sanitary place to cook the food as well. Looking in the busy classrooms and at the cafeteria, I could see that the transformation in process. The walls are coloured brightly and the children all looked sharp in their nice uniforms.
Change does not come overnight but involves hard work and dedication in all areas of development. Education is only one aspect of the challenge facing remote communities in struggling parts of the world. It is not about handouts. This does not solve the problem. It is the old story of the fisherman. If we teach children how to help themselves, they will forever hold the keys to success. It is about creating sustainable change. Change that lasts and is a beacon of hope. It is a chance. If I do nothing else but help give these children a proper childhood, that is enough.
In the afternoon, I joined the students from New York to help dig the foundation for the school I am fundraising for. It felt awesome to dig the holes where the foundation will soon be laid and a new building erected. The fact that it was the building I had been working towards was all the more special. However, the building does not belong to me, my sponsors or even Free the Children. It belongs to the people of Shuid and their community. It is their responsibility to ensure the upkeep and well-being of the building as well as their children. They are proud of these structures and the hope they symbolize for the future generations.
Before we all departed I was asked to do a short impromptu talk to the students from New York about my ride. They were an excellent audience as I discussed my motivations, my route and the difference we all can make. Earlier that day they had all helped dig the future school. Because of that they could see firsthand how important the school was to me as well as the people who lived in Shuid. They also had some excellent questions about my ride that I had never even thought of. Before they left Ryan discussed the topic of passion and what it means to all of us. We discussed the power of the individual and how all people can make a difference, in the way we talk, think and live.
“Thinking is the best way to travel.” ~ The Moody Blues, The Best Way To Travel
As I meet people around the world and speak in front of future generations, I encourage them to follow their dreams. However, in a world where we are bombarded by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, finding our inner voice has become increasingly difficult. I realize not many people want to ride their bike around the world. But, with careful introspection and thought we all can find something we are truly passionate about. For me, I have found my passion it is education and experiencing our world on my own terms. This is not for everyone. This is what works for me. I cannot tell you what to do with your life. It is your job to find your bicycle ride.
*Thank you everyone for supporting my ride to build schools with Free the Children. With over 200 donations from wonderful individuals, schools and organizations we are well on our way to reaching the goal for the school in Shuid. Powerful! Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Questions to contemplate: What does passion mean to you? What are you passionate about? How can you change your community and world? What problems do we face as a modern society? How can we solve them on a collective and individual scale?
***Full details and photos on my ride through Ecuador will be coming soon. It is a beautiful country, full of kind people and mountainous scenery. I will take you from the low reaches of the Amazon back up into the Andes in next instalment. Currently, I am cycling in Colombia on route to the end of South America. Please continue to follow along and share!
Me to We, Ecuador
An Inspiring Speech
The Size of Our Universe
“Freedom means tremendous responsibility; you are on your own and alone.” ~ Osho, Freedom, Indian Mystic
To be free is an illusion of words and actions. I have learned that to be free for something is intrinsically different than to be free from something. Freedom, in the modern sense of the word, evokes the notion of free movement. Some would consider me free, because my movement for the last year and a half has been just that. But, it is not the freedom of movement that I look for. I search for another type of freedom, that makes all others seem like rusted chains. The purpose for freedom matters much more than what you are free from. I am free for a reason.
The Amazon. The very name conjures up a sense of wonder and images of adventure. People going into the unknown green madness with sweat stained backs as they endlessly swat mosquitos. They search of wild creatures, secluded tribes and medicinal herbs. It is the place where people go and never come back. They are taken hostage by the allure of rainforest. Some remain trapped mentally, others physically. I was certainly captivated by the majesty that is this massive piece of green flowing beauty.
To satisfy my hunger for adventure, I decided to step off the bicycle for some days and float down the Amazon on a series of boats to Ecuador. It is something I always wanted to do. The amazing vastness of the Amazon river and it’s tributaries cannot be full comprehended. It is huge; stretching across countries and landscapes. Here there are no more roads. The Amazon is the road and you must play by it’s rules. You give up all control to the river and the endless bends that lead the way home. This is where the adventure becomes real.
“We are the environment. The world is literally one biological process. The trees are our lungs. Look at the Amazon River system next to a human cardiovascular system, look at corals or trees and look at our lungs, you literally cannot tell the difference. They’re the same. So when we destroy our environment, we’re effectively destroying ourselves.” ~ Ian Somerhalder, Actor
My journey up the Amazon began in Pucallpa, Peru on the Ucayali River. I arrived at the loose sandy banks of the launches fairly early, after being told to get there to secure a comfortable spot on the boat. I had spent the previous day running around town getting extra food, water and a hammock. I boarded the boat and negotiated my way up to the third floor with my bike. It was almost empty at this point and I had my pick of places to string up my home for the next four (ended up being five) days to Iquitos. I had a great lookout alongside the window and settled in for the long haul north in my new hammock. This was to be my first and biggest boat of the trip, as well as the longest ride of my Amazon adventure.
My journey was off to a rocky start though. We departed to pick-up more cargo at a different dock and the boat caught on fire at the bow. It blazed up very quickly due to the dry wood crates surrounding the bellowing electrical fire. It is interesting to see the way people react in an emergency. A few rushed to save the boat from the blaze and others ran about, scared for their lives. Outside of mostly western countries, few people in our world learn to swim properly. I saw one man hoarding three of the very few life jackets around his neck and ready to jump. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that they were for his family, but I saw no family. I threw a few valuables into a waterproof bag and was confident with my hometown swimming lessons I could make it to shore if needed. The crew was busy tossing blazing cargo into the river and boats collected afterwards to scour the refuse like hungry vultures. Meanwhile, another firefighting ship arrived and saved the boat from the blaze. No one was hurt and we returned to shore. Pretty soon everyone was back to their laidback selves. It became clear very quickly we would not be leaving on time.
The loading continued for hours and into the night. Almost everything is loaded by hand. Hardened men sweat all day in the scorching sun, carrying loads that seem to be twice their weight. Men turned to mules. From my window, I watched the chaos as every imaginable item was loaded below and all around us. Chickens, potatoes, mattresses, dryers, refrigerators, sodas, snacks, tires, onions and the list goes on forever. In the distance I saw ships full of massive logs from the heart of the Amazon unloaded. They were sprayed with numbers and rumbled off ships with one last cry for help. The boat took on more passengers by the moment. My temporary oasis by the window was invaded by over two hundred people and their children. Hammocks were strung up like spider webs. Negotiating my way around immediately became difficult, between the crying babies and mess of people’s belongings.
Night came and went. In the morning we still hadn’t departed, when I woke up after a stagnant sweaty night. People were visibly agitated by the lack of knowledge about when we would leave and the rising heat of the day. I spoke to the laid back old salty captain, with a friendly demeanor, who assured me we would leave soon. He grinned a smile of capped gold teeth and also told me there would be no more fires. I don’t know if I could ever trust a man with gold teeth, but I had no real choice in this case. I returned to my hammock and sweat until the engine finally roared to life. I had already been on the boat for 28 hours before we even departed. The only thing that mattered was we were finally moving.
Once on route the mood of the ship picked up. I was happy to sit swinging by my windowsill and taking in the sights. Dinner was served as the typical meal of the voyage, rice and a tiny piece of chicken plucked from below the deck. We lined up like eager prisoners. The morning was usually some watery porridge gruel with bread. The rotation of food began. Luckily I brought some extra food with me and there were always people jumping onboard to sell fish, little snacks and drinks. On a cyclists appetite, the meals would not have been close to enough.
The first night I went up to the top deck and watched the stars light up the night sky. It was a beautiful showing with a full moon. As I looked off into space a shooting star blazed across the sky. I felt infinitely small at that moment, as the hum of the motor pulled us forward. I awoke the following morning in my hammock to the sun coming up over the canopy beyond the river. It was a stunning and welcome gift from mother nature. The days began early and finished the same with one lightbulb for the entire third floor. This was nice as the children would finally settle down to sleep in their hammocks or the floor that crawled with cockroaches.
There were many characters on my trip through to Iquitos. Some were more enjoyable than others. With only one other foreigner on board, everyone got to know me fairly quickly. I could focus on tons of people here, as I watched their personalities unfold during the course of the journey. But, because of time, I’ll just focus on one person: Angelo.
Angelo was a pouty little three year old boy that arrived with his baby brother, older sister and his Mom, just before departure. My arch-nemesis of the journey. They pitched up their hammocks next to mine and I knew we were in for a show immediately. Angelo was a very cute child, but it seemed that he and life in general did not agree throughout the journey. It was not ten minutes before he threw his first little tantrum over wanting some knock-off Peruvian Cola. Mom, of course, gave in to appease little Prince Angelo. As a Kindergarten teacher for two years, I found it hard not to step in at a few moments. It was hard to watch this poor overwhelmed mother deal with this child for five days of confinement. I often looked forward to Angelo’s naps and frowned deeply when I saw him guzzling piles of cola in between his sour poutings over nothing and river water baths. Looking back on the journey, it would not have been as memorable without him. Thank you Angelo.
On our second day we hummed along nicely all morning long. We were seemingly making great time until the ship came to a loud halt and everyone flung forward with the sudden stop. Angelo rolled to the floor like a bag of old potatoes. We had run aground on a hidden sandbar. No one was hurt. Though it is the rainy season in the Amazon, there has been a terrible drought this year. This has made the water incredible low and difficult to navigate. After some deliberation and a lot of coaxing the boat came unstuck. I could see in my mind the gold tooth captain grinning up at the helm when he got us free. It poured rain, thankfully, in the afternoon and we got stuck on another sandbar.
I spent most of my days window watching and writing in my journal. The view continued to show the wild side of the Amazon. At times the boat would stop and sometimes people would get off in the middle of a section of jungle with jeans and a sweater to walk inside. I presume that their homes are somewhere within the green reaches of the Amazon. I reflected back on my Grade 6 days, where a friend and I, used to write stories under the title of, ‘Adventures in the Amazon.’ We would present them every few weeks infront of the class. It was hard to believe I was actually here, though all the characters at play were much different than the ones my mind had created in my youth. There was always something to stay entertained with on the boat, as day dreams morphed into real-life.
“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made.” ~ Robert N. Rose, Poet/Writer
At night a storm rolled in again and we battened down the hatches as rain leaked in from all sides. At night you could hear the creaking of the old rusted ship as it carried us further up the river towards the larger mouth of the Amazon. In the quiet of the night after the storm died and all the little ones were gone to sleep, I listened to the sounds of the evening. Under the low hum of the motor I could hear the heart of the jungle beating in the veins of the river. It is the force of life that gives the jungle it’s energy. All things begin and return to the river.
During the fourth night, Angelo and his family departed at some unknown stop. In the morning my area was surprisingly barren and quiet in comparison to the last few days. It was as if I was now missing something. Angelo had a rather unfortunate time on his last day aboard though. He dropped his toy car down a set of stairs and it bounced into the river, never to be seen again. It took him a moment to understand the implications of his mistake, but when he realized that toy car wasn’t coming back, the waterworks exploded to new levels. I felt bad for him at this point. Mom quickly poured him a big cup of Peru Cola and bought him some candy from a toothless lady on board. Angelo soon forgot about the car as he wired himself for another night of his favourite game to play on his mom, “Where’s Angelo?”
The following day there were far few people on the boat. I went downstairs to get a final serving of prison gruel porridge from the ships cooks. The food on board, though included in the price of the ticket, left something to be desired. I was excited one afternoon when there was a bit of carrot in my rice. I brought cans of tuna, limes, onions and other snacks to spice things up along the way. I rationing my food like it may be the end of the world. We finally sailed into Iquitos, our destination, on the banks of the Amazon. Iquitos is the largest city in the world, that is not accessible by any roads. You either have to take a long adventure boat ride or a plane, as most tourists do.
Iquitos emerges out of the jungle like a temporary hallucination. Out of nothing comes a city bustling with activity and all of the amenities of any Peruvian city. On our way in, I saw pink river dolphins playing in the shallow water. In the distance, a beautiful cruise boat lumbered by with tourists dining in an open air hall, complete with riverside balconies to every room. I looked around at my squalor and wouldn’t have wanted it any other ay. While rolling up my hammock I looked at the space which I called home for the last five days and said farewell with a smile at the adventure that was the first leg of my Amazonian experience. When we docked the sky opened up and poured rain. Fitting. I disembarked the boat to struggle up the muddy garbage filled banks with my bicycle and gear. I arrived at a quiet hostel and fell asleep in a proper bed.
“If man doesn’t learn to treat the oceans and the rainforest with respect, man will become extinct.” ~ Peter Benchley, Author
It was not all beautiful sunsets and flowing jungle water though. Maybe it is the sheer size of the Amazon Basin that causes people to mistreat it so willfully. The fact that it has always been there during their life, they think it will always be that way. Throughout my journey the garbage and destruction I saw was disheartening. People on the boat throwing styrofoam containers and plastics like it was their personal dumpster. All the waste not necessary, directly into the water. The same water they wash in moments later and expect to deliver them delicious fish. Out of sight and out of mind.
In the following days, I explored the hectic Belen market where I ate fried grubs and saw barbecue alligator and gutted armadillos for sale. I got a very overdue haircut and shave. The humidity of the jungle is not somewhere that a big beard is particularly enjoyable. What took four months to grow disappeared in a matter of seconds at the hands of a discontented barber. I left the moustache for a few days, just for a bit of fun. One night as I wandered around looking for a cheap meal I was hit by kids with water balloons and a lady poured a whole bucket of water on my head. I laughed a bit and was told they were getting ready for Carnival the following week.
In Iquitos, I went to the post office to mail some letters and a friendly security guard asked me where I was from. I told him Canada and he howled like a wolf and said, “Wolves!” I laughed, then replied there were big wolves and howled back at him. We fist pumped and I was on my way laughing. During this time I also prepared for the next stage of my riverboat experience that would take me to Ecuador. The plan, for those interested in such a backwater adventures, was to take a series of boats from Iquitos to Coca. This would be a completely different journey than my Henry boat float days before.
I packed up and made my way down to the docks. When I arrived, there was a massive and steep set of stairs to go down with my bike. It was crowded and busy. A man offered to help me for a small price and I agreed. We reached the bottom and loaded my bike on top of a junky boat that was headed for Mazan. After the man departed I realized I was missing something. My entire bag of bicycle tools, which I had carefully collected since the beginning of my trip, was gone. A new bottle of mosquito spray I had just bought, for the deep reaches of the jungle, was also stolen. I chased back up the stairs to try and find who had robbed me. I returned to the boat with no luck and wondered at the awful person who had my things. In twenty months on the road no one had taken anything from me or for that matter, ever during my travelling. Tools that are vital and difficult to replace, would serve little purpose in the life of a regular thief. I hoped he enjoyed the bit of money he procured from my tools as he munched on the stale bread he bought. I made a list of things that were stolen and have since slowly begun to recuperate what was lost.
Soon we were off down the river on a short two hour journey and I forgot about the days earlier events. I watched life on the Amazon float by. We arrived on the banks in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. I unloaded my bike and biked across a small isthmus to Mazan. In Mazan, I found a ‘fast boat’ that was to depart for Pantoja (Peruvian border) the following day.
There is no schedule in this part of the world, and no one really has any idea when things leave. If people in Iquitos tell you that you must hurry and a boat leaves soon, they are just making things up to hurry you onto their boat. No one really knows. I got lucky though on this one and the captain said every Wednesday he leaves from Mazan. I settled up the deal and cooked a pasta dinner on the banks of the river to a gathering crowd. I spent the night for free on the boat in my hammock. Once again I was clearly off the beat and track. At times it felt like the back end of the world as people returned with the bare essentials to the isolation of the jungle.
We left the following morning, as the captain had promised. Another adventure had begun. The boat was relatively empty for once. There seemed to be few people making the journey to the frontier of Peru. Along with one adventurous backpacker from Belgium, only one other man made the entire journey to Pantoja. He talked the entire time. He talked even if no one was listening. I called him the talking man. Even when I put my earplugs in at night, I could still hear the low hum of his voice continuing to talk to me as I watched him swat mosquitos in his hammock out of the corner of my eye.
Most people got off on the first day at different locations along the river. It seemed like we were abandoning them at times as they waved goodbye with their few belonging. There was usually a few people coming to meet them. I felt bad when we left the deaf man on his own with a massive sack of rice and bread. I watched as he approached his village to get someone to help him. I had a lot of time to contemplate the difficulties of his life as we motored onwards.
On one afternoon, we ate a ball of rice with meat inside called Juane. The rice is set inside leaves from the jungle and boiled in water. It was actually really good. Read about Juane and some other typical types of Amazonian food at http://authenticfoodquest.com/surprising-amazonian-food-from-peru/
The feeling in general was very peaceful and quiet. I had the Amazon to myself. These people must survive on the things they grow themselves or are able to find in the jungle. I had one fruit that grew on a tree and tasted exactly like a sweet potato. It was a very interesting life to ponder as the dual motors roared us along the Rio Napo. I saw boats that chugged along slowly like the one they used in the horribly awesome 90’s movie, Anaconda. Sadly, I didn’t see Ice Cube or Jennifer Lopez aboard any of the boats though.
We stopped at dusk on the banks of a tiny village. I put up my hammock once again and prepared for another night on the boat. We had some dinner and a storm rolled in as I went to sleep under the covered roof of the boat. Up early, we were off roaring just before 6am. The sunrise came over the horizon of endless greenery and little riverboats could be seen skirting along out for a morning fish. It was one of those travel moments you dream about and will cherish for as long as you live. The Amazon came to life as it shook off the cool of the night and a pink river dolphin jumped out of the water in the distance. Another day on my Amazon adventure had begun as our captain guided the driver down the shallow banks full of old trees stranded in the water. We sped by many whirlpools sucking debris down into the depths below.
During the day a storm came up and we lost some time docked on the edge of the river to wait it out. The boat got covered in water and everything was damp, but the air was much cooler. We pressed on after the storm passed. As night approached it became clear we would not make Pantoja. We docked near someone’s home. The captain arranged dinner for us to be cooked by the family living there. Hey loved isolated in the middle of the jungle. We were all welcomed into their simple home and made small talk as dinner was prepared. We had a basic Caldo de Gallina (chicken noodle soup, kind of) and I went into a sound sleep in my hammock. The next morning we were off roaring towards the border at first light.
We arrived at the Peruvian border frontier around 10am. The vibe in Pantoja was not very friendly at all. The border patrol was clearly bored and likely saw almost no tourists through here. They looked at every item in my four bags. I checked out of Peru and was off on a fast boat towards Ecuador. Arriving near dusk I was stamped in very quickly and let to go on my way. I found a cheap place to sleep. My last boat remained in the early morning to where the road began again in Coca. I woke at 4:30am to pouring rain and boarded an overloaded boat for eleven cramped hours of sleepy head-bobbing.
Finally arriving in Coca I had my first real taste of a new country and the end of my Amazon riverboat journey. It was a bittersweet moment at the port. It was some of the most introspective days I have ever had in my life. I don’t know if it was the beauty of the jungle or the life giving energy of river, but I felt alive. I felt like I had connected with a part of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I felt free of body and mind. I felt ready to get back on that bike and cycle the rest of the way home. I was ready.
*If you are truly interested in this once in a lifetime, do it yourself Amazon adventure please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will give direct details on prices paid, times of boats and what to expect. You wont find this trip in any guidebook and you will never regret it. It is one of the last great adventures of public transport available. Only necessity is patience and time. Time and patience.
**A big thank you goes out to Des & Judy McKenna, The Laidley Family, Edith Devlin, Shirley Kindellan and Queen Elizabeth School in Perth. They are all the recipients of personal thank you letters in the mail and have brought us up to 200 donors on my journey home. I am so blown away by this. Thank you to all the individual people, organizations and schools that have come together to help build a better future for kids around the world. I am currently heading towards Shuid, Ecuador and the site of the next schoolhouse. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***To read more about the amazing force that is the Amazon River CLICK HERE.
“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.