“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~ Confucius
Looking at the year past, I sometimes peek back at my old journals. They take me back to a different place. A place where sometimes I even have trouble remembering. That is why I wrote them. To capture those moments, to capture those tough days, the highs and lows of two years alone on the road. It was a different time in my life. We are always changing as people and reminding ourselves of who we once were, who we think we are now and hope to be for the future are very important.
This is a random journal entry I opened to today. A year and half into my journey. Have a look.
Dec 1st Yunchara – Bolivia – Acclimatizing
-Today was another extremely hard day
-Rode all day long and just covered 65km
-Though the scenery was stunning. Some of the best I have seen in a long time
-The climbs, hills and wind were less forgiving
-A tough road. Pushing most of the way up the big climbs on the rocky gravel towards Tupiza
-Sometimes I question myself, as I know this is not the main route to Uyuni. But I think it will be stunning, I have to get there
-First day of seeing Llamas today, they look a bit like camels
-Nice guy named Alan gave me a piece of chocolate
-Got to Yunchara and was looking for a place to camp
-The one lady told me to camp by the church in the middle of the village
-It was a little cold and very windy today, so I asked around
-A truck driver asked a friend and now I am sleeping in his house. All good and a new amigo. People here are so nice.
-Pretty sunset in the distance
-I want to curl up and sleep for days
-The altitude is kicking my butt.
In the quieter moments, I look back in wonder at how I ever did it. How different my life once was. In the days and months that have passed since arriving back, I have become comfortable. Sometimes, I wonder if we are all a little bit too comfortable. Comfortable in our routines, expectations and what we think the world owes us. Sometimes, I have to catch myself, when I think back to the days from the road. In those days, I expected very little. More like, hoped for very little. I hoped for a place to sleep, something to eat and water to drink. Everything else was a bonus.
I realize now, that those reading this are the minority. A vast majority of people live daily with those three hopes, shelter, food and water. It is not up to us to feel obligatory or sorry for our current position, but thankful and mindful of our privilege. For me, to be able to go on the bike ride was a complete privilege. I am only now really starting to understand all that I saw and experienced. The days were long and so much was happening, that sometimes it was hard to make sense of it all. Now, after a year in reflection, speaking and thinking about the ride, the pieces that I once struggled with like poverty, war, inequality and even my own selfishness are coming to light. I do not dwell on the past, but look to it for guidance on how I can be better.
Since finishing a lot has happened. I am now with the women that I love. My wonderful wife, who makes me stronger and better each day. After two long years of separation, we were united together. Sometimes, I take for granted how much we once missed each other, now that we are together. Those long periods of time between seeing each other were incredibly tough, but the wait was worth all the while. It is in the little moments with her, that I find the greatest happiness.
I also now work a job that I love. Motivational Speaker, sharing my story and the incredible work of the WE Movement. Without this opportunity, my transition to life back in Canada would have been much more difficult. I will be the first to admit, after the excitement of being home died down, I had a tough time. Trying to find my place in somewhere I hadn’t lived for four years was not easy. Eventually, I found something, but it was not what I envisioned. I had lived the last two years on the bike with an incredible purpose and then one day that purpose vanished and I had to sort things out. We all go through these periods in our life and with hard work we can make the changes we want to see. Then I was given the opportunity I was looking for. This year has been an introspective year as I searched through my two years finding the best way to share the story. I now go out each day excited about the chance I have to make a difference in people’s lives. I could have hoped for nothing better.
The ride put me closer in touch with the human and natural energy that guides our world. I see that it is important to understand what we have and embrace change as it comes. Life is not about filling your life up with things, but investing in memories. You cannot take any of it with you, so by investing in memories, you invest in yourself. Throughout my journey the common thread for happiness in all of the countries I have ever traveled to boils down to a few basic things. Happiness is having a place to sleep, food to eat and a few good friends and family to share your time with. It is that simple. On my bike ride I managed to always find the first two and the third was almost always missing. Now, I have all of those things. Embrace your happiness, it is already there. You don’t need to ride a bike around the world to find the secret to a happy life.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com. 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.
“Peru, Peru. My heart’s lighthouse.” ~ Steven Patrick Morrissey, Singer/Author
Cycling around in the Andes of an ancient civilization like the Inca, can give you unique perspective into the nature of then and now. We as humans like to believe that we are somewhat indestructible. We think that our particular civilization is the centre of the world and will last forever. I am sure most people in ancient Egyptian, Roman and Incan societies all thought this. We think we are the best and our way of life will continue to spread forever. However, only remnants remain of all these once powerful and great nations.
Have we learned nothing? Are we that deeply vain to believe our current life-ways will be any different? It is clear at our rate of consumption and modern way of living will not last on the course we are on. Tensions rise over non-renewable resources like gold, oil and diamonds. Wars still being fought over who the same man in the sky favours. Are we still this primitive with all our modern advances? I guess we are.
We have the intelligence to sustain ourselves in peaceful ways, but we choose to ignore the thoughtful path and let economists dictate the future of our world. Maybe not in my lifetime, but in the future another change will come and people will wonder how we all didn’t see it coming. It doesn’t take traveling long on ground level to see that the Chinese have already won the secret quiet economic war they are waging, no matter what the ‘value’ of the American dollar would have you believe. Weren’t they just on the brink of economic collapse? I guess everyone just forgot about it. While the world worries about immigration and ISIS, the Chinese shrug their shoulders and lend out another stack of cash and build another road in exchange for resources in Africa. I admire their ability to do it all so quietly with all eyes diverted to more entertaining developments. Grab your bottled water and microwave popcorn.
It was a rainy afternoon when I past into Peru from Bolivia. The rain picked up and turned the dusty border town into a muddy soup. I decided to resume my journey the following day as I checked into a cheap guesthouse to shake off the rain. The following day saw me riding along the vast banks of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. It was beautiful views to the right as hungry clouds puffed their muscles waiting to unleash in the afternoon. Being the rainy season in Peru, it rained with predictability almost every afternoon and most of the night. This meant my days started much earlier than usual. On one occasion I tried outrunning the clouds, which eventually caught me. They unleashed a freezing cold rain, followed by painful hail, that turned into snow and back into a horrible rain to finish things off.
During the sunny hours I plied along windy roads waving to farmers working their fields along the banks of the life-giving Titicaca. I made my way to the first large city of Puno, where I celebrated Christmas. It was another quiet Christmas for the guy on the bike. I walked about the main plaza wearing a santa hat I had bought and listened to the local police brigade play in their orchestral tribute to Christmas. I decided to treat myself to a new pair of shoes, as mine were looking battered and the smell was overpowering for the unsuspecting person. I found a new pair in the market and said goodbye to the shoes that pedalled roads since Egypt. For dinner I had some roasted chicken and got to bed early.
I was off the next morning towards Cusco. The road was relatively flat and riding was quick for the first section. At one point though I found myself at the summit of a 4,300 metre pass huffing for air up a slow hill. It was a good thing I had no idea it was coming or it would have been a harder mental battle to get going that morning. At the top of the pass I met another Canadian cyclist for the first time on my trip. We chatted for over an hour and wished each other good luck. We both had a huge downhill to look forward to. I flew like the wind for the next 40km meeting a German couple and a Korean cyclist on the way. I met more cyclists on the stretch from Puno to Cusco over four days than I did the entire time I was in Africa.
The road to Cusco became an up and down struggle but the valley views were spectacular and life in the little villages along the road was interesting. Putting in my last uphill battle I pulled into Cusco surrounded by honking horns and hoards of traffic spewing the typical fumes in my face. Tiny mini buses cut me off at every chance and people just did whatever they wanted on the road. Peruvian drivers are very impatient and don’t do well with stalled traffic in front of them. They honk as if their horns will suddenly part the cars and they will be given the all clear to go.
In Cusco I stayed at the Estrellita, which is known to be the hostel where cyclists congregate. It didn’t disappoint and soon I had met a good group of people waiting to celebrate New Years. Some of the French travellers put together a nice New Years dinner and we played some sort of miming game. I explored a bit of Cusco, but found it to be one of the most touristy cities on my trip. I found some local restaurants that served nice food for cheap, away from the centre of tourist pizza heaven. For lunch in Peru I always looked for the market. Almost every town has at least one central market, where for one or two dollars you could get a deliciously unique soup and a full meal with a drink. On the road this was always a welcome break and gave me the energy to continue tackling the monstrous hills that lay waiting for me in the afternoon.
From Cusco I took off towards Machu Picchu. It had been one of the few pin-points on the map I had actually planned on seeing during my time in South American. Most people in town were organizing some expensive tour to the site, which I could not afford or wanted to be apart of. The ticket itself was a huge expense for me, but I didn’t mind paying it. The cheapest route there involves a 5 hour collective van, followed by an additional van of 2 hours, which ends at a place called Hydro-Electrica. Here backpackers walk along the train tracks towards Agua Calientes, the town, at the foot of Machu Picchu. The train almost totally empty at times is the biggest scam going with white table clothes and white collar tourists. The walk to the town took an additional 3 hours on the tracks and I arrived to the sight of burritos and overpriced pizza once again. I was actually amazed by the power of tourism and the Disney Land created in the beautiful Inca valley.
“Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land.” ~ Hiram Bingham, Explorer
I grabbed a cheap dinner from the local market from a friendly lady and was off to bed. Up at 4am I started my climb with the line of other sleepy travellers to the top of Machu Picchu. There was already a line for the bus to the top. Yes, there is a bus to the top. For $24US you do not have to walk a step to get all the way to the top of one of the world’s most iconic and historical feats of ancient human creation. I arrived at 6am in time to enter and see the site before all the crowds arrived. Changing my shirt already soaked from the climb up I came around a corner to see the view for the first time and was blown away in the morning light. It was truly worth it. All of the effort cycling to get here made my contemplative moments more special, as I gazed over the terraced walls and restored structures.
I thought about the other pin-points on the map I had brought myself to with the power of the bicycle. The Taj Mahal, Iguazu Falls, The Great Wall, Pyramids and Colosseum. I found sitting there on the edge of the world, that same old feeling I always had at these places. Of course I was once again humbly overwhelmed when you consider the scope and grandeur of it all. I truly am a lucky person and I know it. However, I felt the feeling of emptiness. These places now only exist for tourists to come in droves with selfie sticks to share on Facebook. It is not these wonders which have given me the rich experiences I have achieved on the road. Sure these are massive pin-points on the map. They are somewhere to look forward to and set your sights on, but they are never the objective. What I love is what is in between. Meeting the people that call these countries home and seeing a clear road challenging me. I missed the freedom of my bike and returned down the same path to Cusco. I packed up and continued onwards where the real adventure and memories are made. For me, they are found out there on the road.
After Cusco I had a huge choice to make which would dictate the course of my Peruvian trip. I could head down to the coast where riding would be much flatter, warmer and easier, but far less interesting. My second choice, was the intensely difficult Andean route towards the Amazon where, I heard from my good friend and cyclist Steve, you could take a boat up the Amazon to Ecuador. The second sounded like the type of adventure I thrive on. From Cusco the climbs began and they didn’t stop. For days I would spend my entire day crawling up mountains at 6km an hour to reach summits over 4,000 metres. At the top I would be treated to a stunning view and then race downhill for next hour or two. Then repeat it all over again. The highs and lows were literal and mentally battles crushing.
On the road I broke my rear cassette at the top of a mountain pass and strode downhill with no pedals. I eventually found a spot to fix my bike and had to have my whole rear wheel rebuilt. I finally found some quality parts and took the opportunity to repair a few lingering problems. Out of a city called Abancay I descended some 10km and then climbed up 45km along a road that looked like it was a stray piece of spaghetti. At the end of the day, as the sun was getting low, I finally reached the top of my climb to see where I started my day. It was the first time I have rode all day long and could still see where I had begun. The climbs here were by far the most massive and difficult of my journey. Nothing can ever compare. The mountains from here wound their way along beautiful cliffs and windy stunning roads to Ayacucho, where I took a day to rest.
Here I ran into a French cyclist, named Remy, who I had met in La Paz and Cusco. We decided to ride to Huancayo together. Along the way we communicated in Spanish as his English was poor and so was my French. Our collective Spanish was surprisingly better. From Ayacucho the route was dry and full of cacti. The road narrowed and turned into a one-track route. We pushed through terribly steep climbs along the river, inside massive canyons. We camped in tiny towns, shared food and stories. One day we saw a small gathering of people where a truck had flipped off the side of the mountain and lay on the roof. Clearly the passengers had not survived and we were silent for a long while afterwards, each playing with our own thoughts. The riding in this section was extremely slow and involved a lot of hard work.
Camping in a small town we cooked dinner in a space where we were told to sleep. The village crowded around to watch us cook our dinner and asked us the same questions on repeat. I was slightly irritated at this point and wanted everyone to just give me a moment of peace after another long day. The next day saw some faster riding and we made good time until reaching yet another 35km hill. We talked it over and agreed that climbing this pass today was not in either of our interests or would make our trips any more fulfilling. From here we took a lift over the rest of the mountain pass and to Huancayo where we found a big proper dinner.
At this point Remy and I said our goodbyes. We both had a bit of a different way of riding after so long on solo missions. We also had different routes which we intended to take. It was nice riding with someone for a few days and I truly appreciated the company. However, I know myself and I always do better on my own. It is hard to describe to people when they ask about being alone, but if they were on this type of journey they might then understand how flying solo makes sense. Undertaking a trip like this you must know and understand yourself very well, if you are to involve another person in it with you. I spent the following day getting my dirty laundry sorted and explored the crazy weekend market of Huancayo, where I ate a delicious ceviche. For Peru’s claim to fame in culinary beauty and simplicity, see a recipe here on one of my favourites, delicious CEVICHE.
“A bicycle does get you there and more. And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun.” ~ Bill Emerson, Writer/Journalist
From Huancayo I made my way to the Jewel of the Andes, Tarma. It was a bit of a long day with a huge mountain pass that never seemed to end. The dogs in Peru are notorious among cyclists for being some of the worst in the world. They definitely did not disappoint on this day. I made it to the top and the sun began to start sinking behind the mountains and as I wound my way down to the city. It was one of the most beautifully set places I have ever rode into. With perfect looking terraces stretching out along the switchbacks, I meandered with my mouth open past waterfalls and beautiful green into Tarma at the heart of the valley. I found a cheap place to sleep and debated my onwards route through the Andes or to sink down early into the Amazon. Discussing with a few locals solved my problem and the next morning I found myself on a 75km downhill into the Amazon Basin. For many stretches in Peru the views have been stunning, but commuication with home and my beautiful supportive fiancé has been a bit more difficult than we all would like sometimes.
The weather changed almost instantly and the people seemed to change as well. It was as if I had entered a completely different country. Everyone wore flip-flops and seemed very laid back. There were pineapples for sale and even coconuts in fridges serving up cold coconut water. One of the best things you can drink on a hot day while cycling. I explored the little towns as I went and began to see fruits I had never seen before. Places like La Merced, Villa Rica and Puerto Bermudez were waypoints for me as I made my route towards Pucallpa. There were two large climbs on dirt roads which I sweat over ten litres of water. It was for sure top five hottest places on my journey and definitely the most humid. It was too hot to do much of anything, let alone cycle up the side of a mountain. However, I persevered for three days of sweat filled beautiful riding.
On one day late in the afternoon I was racing down a hill after a long climb when a truck stopped me to chat. A nice man named Walter introduced himself and invited me to stay the night. I happily agreed. Walter was 81 years old and was still working as a farmer. He got up everyday at five to tend to his animals and milk his cows. He was also rebuilding his house at the moment after some ‘terrorists’ destroyed it. I never understood what exactly happened to his house, but he was super welcoming all the same. He was of Italian origin and had lived in Peru all of his life. I enjoyed our chats together and after breakfast the following day, we took a photo and said goodbye. Another kind friend from the road.
I spent the night the following day, after a horribly steep climb, along one of the tributaries to the Amazon in Puerto Bermudez at the guesthouse of Spanish born Jesus. In 18 years of owning this rustic guesthouse, I was the first to arrive on bicycle. A huge complement and an example of how off the main track I had gotten myself. I was happy to share some stories with Jesus (believe me he had a lot) and left early the following day. From here it was a two day ride to Pucallpa, where the road literally ends and my Amazon boat adventure would begin. I sweat like crazy all day in the hot sun. The year was decidedly abnormal as it usually rains almost all day here during this time in the rainy season. Jesus made it clear he was very worried about this. However, it had not being raining at all. If it had the road would have been mostly washed away or impassable on a bike.
Sleeping in a mosquito filled guesthouse I got little sleep and started riding at 5am to make Pucallpa. However, my legs and energy levels were not agreeing. I felt sick and slightly cold, which was not a good sign. I was either dehydrated or had eaten something of poor choosing. I looked at the next hill like it was a mountain. I had nothing left in me and my legs felt very weak. A van passed by and picked me up. Finishing the day in Pucallpa, I was very ill and spent the following day recovering in a state of exhaustion. However, I had made it. Not the way I intended to arrive, but I was here and ready for my next adventure. We cannot always predict our paths in life, but sometimes must take them as they are and accept that it all happens for some reason or another. The story picks up in the following post, where the road ends and I float my bike down the Amazon River towards Ecuador.
The route through the Andes and down to Pucallpa in the Amazon Basin was wildly difficult. It was also some of the most stunning scenery I have ever been privileged to. The downhills were extraordinary and the stars at night jumped out of the canvas sky like real life characters. I would recommend the Andean route to anyone who has a bit of time and some patience for struggle. The alternative Pan-American Highway along the coast would have given me little to wonder about later on.
“If I listen I have the advantage, if I speak others have it.” ~ Peruvian Proverb
The Andean route of Peru was well worth my while and given me insight into a world I never knew exist. Life for the local people here is tough. It has few rewards and is demanding of mind and body to survive. I am happy to have shared a piece of their struggle. We are all not that different. We all want the same things in life; whether it is now or hundreds of years back during the time of the Inca. We are all chasing that internal dream of light and energy we call, the good life.
*In a weeks time I will be visiting our charity project with Free the Children in Ecuador. I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to sharing with you my experiences afterwards. I am still also sending out three more handwritten thank you letters to the next three sponsors. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**At the moment I am now cycling in Ecuador. After an adventure and a half up the Amazon, I have made it through Peru. It was a challenging and beautiful journey. Update and photos from that adventure to come soon.
***A Canadian friend I met while traveling in China and Kyrgyzstan, has just released a new travel blog for adventure backpackers and travel enthusiasts. Stephan goes to some pretty interesting countries and has a lot of experience in the wild yonder of our world. Check out his site here, with a travel guide specifically for Peru at http://www.unchartedbackpacker.com.
In our modern society we have been conditioned to think that the quickest way is the best. People thrive on speed and ease. We expect information to come in seconds and feel empty even when we have access to more knowledge than ever. Conversations that used to last hours are ended in moments with a quick Google search. We believe in 7 day weight loss programs, a pill for every ill and that the world generally owes us something. We live in a world of I.
The value of struggle has been lost. We want something and we want it now. Get rich quick schemes are all the rage. My junk mail box proves that. People are hoping to get ahead and not have do anything for it. With the New Year upon us, it is a booming time for gym memberships and diet programs. Typically, people will forget about these resolutions in a month, when life gets busy again. It is not that we aren’t good enough to follow through with these goals, we just approach things the wrong way. People give up because they weren’t ready and someone else told them what to do. No one likes being told what to do or how to do it. Take every child someone told do something. You need to come up with your own path to the changes you think you need to make.
We forget that any of the great feats in our world were not accomplished in a day. They instead took time, careful planning and exponential amounts of energy. The invention of the light bulb, automobile and the development of Wayne Gretzky’s hockey skill did not come overnight. All of these things took a lot of dedication.
I understand we are all busy, tired and stressed by modern day pressures. However, there are some simple things you can do to feel better about yourself in the New Year. Start small and grow gradually until those positive aspects become cornerstones of your life. Get to the point where you don’t talk about the change anymore, but just do it. It becomes part of a better and new you.
Making a regular healthy dinner is not that difficult, nor is writing a letter to an old friend. These are just examples, that involve simple planning and execution. However, the rewards far exceed the effort necessary in return. If you pour yourself into something that truly means a lot to you, you will succeed. Make 2016 something you can be proud to remember.
“May the sun set on where my love dwells.” ~ Bolivian Proverb
Crossing the Paraguayan border into Bolivia was not exactly what you would expect. I had essentially been in cycling limbo for the last three days after checking out of Paraguay some 300km beforehand. I crossed the military checkpoint and finally was able to punch into Bolivia at an ‘immigration’ post called Ibibobo some 50km from the border. The border control was basically a shack with one man giving stamps and a lady to change money.
As I was leaving another cyclist from France named Laurent rolled in. A huge surprise given our locality. We decided to have a bit of lunch together and shared stories from the road. As I was leaving Laurent tried to get his exit stamp to the sight of the border control taking off with the money exchange lady on a motorbike. I found out later he had chased the man down in the nearby village and received his exit stamp.
I rode off very tired into a new country after ten straight days of riding through the Gran Chaco of Paraguay. Though I was very excited to see a hill for the first time since Asunción some 800km back. There were parts of the road which were full of loose gravel where I had to walk my bike for short stretches. I thought very little of it at the time. I was mainly focusing on making it to the first town, Villamontes. Not far down the road was a return to civilization and a well deserved rest day. What I didn’t realize that this was a small warning for things to come. An ominous look into the misery of the Bolivian road system ahead.
Arriving in Villamontes I promptly ate two dinners and fell into a deep sweaty sleep. This part of Bolivia is known to be the warmest in the country. The temperature in my room was 38 degrees and only a small fan on the wall to cool off. After the first night I pushed my bed to the other side of the room to be closer to the fan. It didn’t help much and I avoided the oven of my room as much as possible. Instead, I stuck to drinking awesome fruit juices and eating Salteñas in the market. Though a Salteña is similar to an empanada, it is decidedly much better in my opinion. Click on Salteñas to see a delicious and savory recipe.
From Villamontes I decided to begin my ascent to the altiplano of Bolivia where the weather would be cooler and less rainy. The total climb would be upwards of 4,000 meters higher than where I currently was. The ascent started almost immediately. I was followed by hoards of little biting flies and a scorching sun as I cycled up the dusty dirt road. Stopping in a roadside village, I was invited in for lunch at a school. The kids all laughed at me and I shared a bottle of local cola with one of the teachers. Pushing on in the heat was draining and slow but the views along the canyon I was riding up were fantastic.
Near the end of my day I heard a terrible sound coming from the back of my bike. I inspected and my cassette had come loose. I tightened it back on but it didn’t last long and I was stranded with no hope of moving. I hitched a ride to the next town where a mechanic and I with the proper tools ‘fixed’ the problem. About 45km into the following day towards my next destination, Tarija, the problem returned once again. When I tried to fix the problem the cassette opened up and ball bearings went all over the road. I was upset as I had just replaced this part in Paraguay, but was sold a very cheap piece of equipment. Because of this my continuous route of cycling from Buenos Aires was broken. I felt down as I waited on the side of the road for a ride to the city over the mountain pass. When you invest yourself in something like this and things don’t work out, it is sometimes hard to swallow.
A nice man, also named Mark, picked me up not long after. Luck would have it he knew a mechanic who could help me in Tarija. We found a new cassette in the bike market and returned to the nice mechanic who promptly put the heart back into my bike. He wouldn’t take payment when I offered. I thanked him a dozen times and went off to my new friend’s pizza restaurant. His restaurant was inspired by his travels overseas and we shared a bottle of Orange Fanta while I admired the decor. I found a restful hostel called CASA BLANCA and got my mind back in order.
“It’s easy for people in an air-conditioned room to continue with policies of destruction of Mother Earth. We need instead to put ourselves in the shoes of families in Bolivia and worldwide that lack water and food and suffer misery and hunger.” ~ Evo Morales, Bolivian President
There was a very long and steep climb out of Tarija as I made my way towards Tupiza. By the time night rolled around a nasty storm was upon me and a little old lady invited me to sleep in her house. She cleared a room for me in what was most certainly one of the poorest families I had stayed with in a while. There was a knock later at my door and the lady had a nice looking soup in hand. I ate it quietly feeling humble as ever on my chair missing the back.
Talking to locals back in town, I was told that the road I had chosen was very difficult and I was decidedly crazy. If it was crazy and terrible that also meant it would be beautiful. I was certainly right about the beautiful part. But the locals were also right about it being terrible. It was one of the hardest roads I have ever traversed with rutted dirt tracks to the top of mountains and a howling wind. Once in a while tarmac would appear out of nowhere and I would coast like a giant along empty smooth roads. I have amazing memories of larger than life views with clouds crawling over the sides of mountain ridges. In a small town one night I had nowhere to sleep until a nice guy named Osman welcomed me to his house. He was still working, but let me into his place all the same. When he returned we watched a new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and I fell asleep.
In the morning Osman and I had some chicken soup together before I descended down my own ‘Road of Death.” Thousand foot drop offs with zero railings and crumbling loose gravel on the edges of the road. Every once in a while a bus would come roaring around a blind corner and shower me with dust. I usually stopped on some firm ground and waited for it to pass if I heard something coming. Though it was some white knuckle riding, it was completely worth the effort. The ride to Tupiza was stunning and the struggle for beauty was the reason I chose to come this way through Bolivia.
Arriving in the canyon town of Tupiza, I found a delicious lunch after days of cooking bland pasta. I then found a cold shower and scrubbed the dirt from my life. After exploring the markets of Tupiza I planned what can only be described as a hair brain venture down the wrong road. I was headed towards the largest Salt Flat in the world near Uyuni. Everyone I asked told me the road directly to Uyuni was the worst in Bolivia and I should take the route twice as long that was paved. I was here for adventure and I chose the exactly what you would expect. I chose struggle and misery, mixed with dashes of solitary beauty.
If ever there was a road I am happy to have left behind it was this one. It began with sandy riding through spectacular canyons. Supposedly where Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid met their end. I pictured olden days of people struggling through these passages with ox carts as I rode. Lightning struck off in the distance and set the scene for an end of days western shootout.
“Bolivians die with rotted lungs so that the world may consume cheap tin.” ~ Eduardo Galeano, Writer
Eventually, I made my way up to Atocha. It was one of the most interesting settings for a town I have ever seen. Set into the edge of mountain it lay at the side of an extinct river and a sleepy railway. As an old mining town it seemed that everything here had seen better days. There is a long history of exploitation in Bolivia and the use of their people to mine plentiful natural resources by developed countries at low cost. Nevertheless, I was welcomed by friendly curious locals into their town. I couldn’t afford the nicer hotel in town and was shown to the second cheapest room of my entire trip, at the equivalent of $2. The bed smelled like spit and the odor of the communal toilet wafted into my room through the cardboard window in my 4×4 square. I slept in my sleeping bag, with my cycling buff over my face and didn’t dare touch the stained sheets. I escaped the room as soon as possible in the morning and gagged one more time as I headed back in to grab my bags.
The following two days to Uyuni saw some spectacular but difficult riding through amazing rocky landscape. I followed a volcanically poisoned river and passed along high canyon walls. Later I bumped past as Llamas grazed on the sides of the road. I huffed up steep hills into a strong wind as the corrugated road bounced me to pieces. Sometimes the road wasn’t much more than a drift of sand and gravel. In spots roadwork was in progress, but at the rate they seem to be going it will be done in ten years. Eventually the dusty tourist jump off point of Uyuni emerged and I tumbled into reality like a space monster. Tourists laughed in the streets as they headed off on their tours with blinders on. I could see them through windows in English looking pubs eating pizza at outrageous prices while they drank cold Corona beers. It all seemed extremely odd to me after where I just came from. I ate my regular local meal of chicken with rice and hid away from it all in my room after a fruitless search for a new bungee cord for my bike.
At this point I was far more consumed by the adventure ahead. The largest salt flat waited for me in the morning. I was truly excited. It serves for most cyclists in South America as the quintessential cycling experience. As I approached the entrance to Uyuni the following day I heard a loud snap and a broken spoke. Terrible timing with Uyuni some 15km behind. I rolled into the town on the edge of the Salar and found a truck mechanic. We used his tools to take off my new cassette and my ball bearings exploded all over the sand. With his kids we picked up all of the little pieces and put the thing back together. A ten minute job turned into two hours. (I have now purchased all the tools to do this myself) When I finally entered the Salar de Uyuni, the wind was already roaring, not in my favor. I met four cyclists around one of the hotels made of salt. They were being carried by the wind without even pedaling. I’ve never been so jealous.
I pushed onwards into one of the most naturally stunning landscapes on the planet. A completely flat and a magically disorientating experience to cycle. At first the Salar was truly fun. I took lots of silly photos as I headed to an island called Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar to camp. However, after seeing the island in the far off distance for more than half the day it seemed to come no closer. I kept thinking it must just be a few more kilometers ahead. But it never materialized. The sun was getting low and I stopped in the howling madness to snap some photos. At this point the wind was stronger than ever and I was exhausted. I resorted to pushing my bike towards the outline of the looming island. My mind was playing tricks on me and I imagined nightmarish creatures following me. To be honest I whimpered a bit and felt delirious from the sun and wind. By the time I arrived it was after 9:30pm and had been dark for hours. I found the tourist centre and pitched my tent with my last ounce of energy. I ate some cookies in my tent and passed out.
I was awoken early by the arrival of hoards of tourists to the island. Less than impressed, I packed up and ate some bread as people snapped photos of me where I gave a begrudging thumbs up. The nice ticket man let me go up the island and take a photo for free and gave me a bottle full of tea. He said he saw me arrive late the night before and I think he was worried about me. I felt exhausted beyond all belief, but knew I couldn’t stay where I was. I headed for land and the volcano in the distance.
After a few kilometers of riding I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt awful and threw up a number of times from exhaustion. I positioned my bike in front of the sun and lay in the shade under my bike and had a nap. When I woke up the sun was beating down on me, but I felt much better. I got back on my bike and slowly made it to land where I found some nice tourists that shared their dinner with me.
From the volcano Tunupu, I carried along a very beautiful and sandy road towards Salinas de Garcia Mendoza feeling much better. In this part of the world water is very precious and it was many days before I was able to get a shower. As I turned to rejoin the main road towards La Paz, I met a cyclist from Mexico who told me just three kilometers down the road it turned to asphalt. I have never been so happy. From that point on the hills were less strenuous on a fully paved road all the way to La Paz. Along the road I watched deer grazing in the distance while dust tornados whipped up around them. I flew past Llamas and Alpacas as I rode with speed on the finished road.
Approaching La Paz I was on my last bit of steam and in need of a break. When I came around a bend in the road and saw La Paz in the valley below from El Alto, I was speechless. I had never seen anything quite like it. I felt insanely small as I pictured myself down in the mass of buildings that seemed like little toy pieces from above. As I weaved my way down into La Paz I felt like an airplane coming in for a landing. I landed in the famous Casa de Ciclista where I recharged my batteries and met some nice people before heading to the border of Peru and onto the next adventure.
It was a month long journey through Bolivia with extreme highs and some serious lows. Coming through on the other side I can certainly say that it was a challenge worth the time and effort. It is one of the most raw and beautiful countries I have ever been to. Biking here definitely has all of the rewards you can imagine. Getting away from the main roads is where the adventure happens and the light of the world sparks the engine for adventure inside your heart. Maybe it was the adrenaline of sheer cliffs or the pressure of thin air, but I look back with extreme fondness on my days in Bolivia. Here you can learn the true value of struggle.
*We are now at 195 donors and over 1/3 of the way to the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. Pretty awesome stuff! If you hung on and read this far, I am proud of you. I also like to honour the type of lessons I preach. Therefore, I will be sending every donor up to #200 a personal handwritten thank you letter in the mail. Your name will also appear in the next post. If you are lucky you may receive a letter from the Amazon as I head north. I know most people don’t collect stamps anymore, but I think that would be really cool location to get a letter from. But, that’s just me. Thank you for all of your support! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**At the moment I am riding in Peru, where the views are larger than life and the mountain climbs are monstrous. I spend most of my days huffing up massive hills as I head north and will eventually find my way down to the Amazon Basin. Here the road itself ends and I begin my great Amazon adventure towards Ecuador. Thanks for reading and stay tuned.
*** Below is a nicely written message from my walking friend, David, which I received around New Year. It is hard to stay in touch with everyone I have met along the way, but this is one chap I am always happy to hear from. Walking to India at A TASTE OF ANCIENT ROUTES.
“You are doing the ultimate and every day brings you closer to your final goal. This is for you my friend, when I think about your journey:
It can be tough, it can be a breeze;
some days are filled with hardship,
others gust with ease.
The people wave,
And smile and frown,
You pass them by,
Heading out of town.
The bed is hard,
the ground is your home,
Even if you feel it,
You’re ever alone;
Thoughts move in your brain
As you leave the road behind you,
Again, and again, and again.
“Paraguay is an island surrounded on all sides by land.” ~ Augusto Roa Bastos, Novelist
The idea of success and perseverance to a goal is only as difficult as our mind will allow. There is only one obstacle between us and our goals. The mind. This is what prevents us from making the best decisions for ourselves, finishing or starting that project and following our dreams. When I sat down to write this post, my mind wouldn’t let me continue. It said you have no good ideas, there are other things to worry about and no one really cares. I was in a bad mindset. There was only cannot and excuses. I gave up for days and the page lay blank. It’s not that I didn’t think I had a good story to tell, it was the inner slob pouring out. I was not in a mindset to feel the inspiration I needed.
However, it’s all in your head. You are only going to be successful at what you do, if you allow your mind to break free. Dreams, abilities, strengths and weakness are all linked to our internal perceptions of ourselves. One moment we could feel like we can conquer the world and the next we have trouble getting out of bed. Sometimes laying there I feel like this. I think that home is so far away. There wont be anything interesting to see today. I convince myself I feel tired, hungry and thirsty. These are all just excuses of the mind. When you get out there and start taking action, things begin to fall into place. The same goes for this post. The same goes for setting new goals for ourselves. The same goes for getting out of my warm sleeping bag and putting another day in on the bicycle. Ignoring the distractions our minds create for us and getting on with things is one of the most important tools for achieving new boundaries of personal potential. Without a clear mind on your side, you are lost.
“Gratitude is the least of virtues; ingratitude is the worst of vices.” ~ Paraguayan Proverb
I entered Paraguay via a ten minute ferry ride across Rio Iguazu from Argentina. I thought this would save time and a huge hassle at the renowned tri Argentina, Brazil & Paraguay crossing. All three countries meet at this point near Iguazu Falls. I found the ferry and immigration post easily enough, but was wrong about the time saver part. Not to bore you with Visa legality problems, but I will say I have an undeserving 600 Peso mark against me should I ever return to Argentina. There is also a border guard I am less than fond of now. In some places corruption prevails and no amount of truth will save you.
It was not the best way to leave Argentina, but soon all was forgotten and I was off riding in Paraguay. I sorted out some new country business and took the day to see the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It was pretty impressive to say the least. Paraguay is not known for their sights. They have almost no mountains, it is terribly hot, landlocked and extremely flat in most areas. It is skipped over by most travelers and who cannot even say why they didn’t go. However, this was the country I had been dying to see since I arrived in South America. Some may wonder why I was so excited, but it was the sheer fact that I knew nothing that interested me the most. Very few tourists visit here and I was thrilled at the opportunity to cycle from one end of the country to the other.
At first when I got rolling the road had a similar feeling to the one behind me. Hill after hill in extreme humidity. Stopping every few minutes to wipe my face and stare at another impending hill. I took lots of breaks on my three day ride to the capital of Asunción. The people were very friendly and I was already happy with my choice to come. I often dove into air conditioned gas stations beat red to cool off and snacked on empanadas. Learn about and see delicious empanadas receipes HERE.
On my final day into the capital I had to push myself very hard. I was exhausted entering the city with buses spewing black smoke and stopping all over the road. It was very typical of entering many capital cities on my trip, but I was almost out of steam. In Paraguay they drink mate, the same as Brazilians and Uruguayans, but instead of hot they drink it ice cold. Smart if you ask me. Many people carry around jugs of ice water to go with their stimulating mate. One man likely seeing I was struggling up another hill, stopped his car and filled my water bottle with some of his ice cold water. It was exactly what I needed to get me through the final push to my hosts house in downtown Asunción.
When I arrived at Silvia’s house I was greeted by her amazing mother, who instantly began to feed me delicious foods. For the next few days I got caught up on my things, ate up to my ears, explored Asunción and shared stories with my gracious host. I also did a presentation on my ride at Canadian School and met another Quattrocchi. This was quite possibly the most extended and random of chance encounters on my trip, but one of the most interesting. Not everyday you meet someone with the same last name as you in Paraguay. I certainly had never met anyone with an uncommon name such a mine that I wasn’t related to. I ate a pile of cheesy fries and we shared stories about our lives and family histories out of Sicily.
Saying goodbye to a nice host, comfortable bed and security is never easy. However, setting out into the infamous Gran Chaco of Paraguay was even more difficult. It didn’t help that every person told me I was crazy. I had 850km of completely flat, semi-arid and mostly empty landscape ahead of me to the first town in Bolivia. Taking a photo goodbye I felt that same old tough feeling which is hard to describe. A sense of adventure welled up in me for the next stage, as did a longing for some normalcy in my life. Something predictable to hold onto is always a sneaking white rabbit for the long distance cyclist.
“Paraguay is a well-kept secret of South America; and its music is a passport to international recognition.” ~ Berta Rojas, Paraguayan Classical Guitarist
(Click below to listen to some of Berta Rojas beautiful classical guitar)
Setting out into the ‘Green Hell’ of the Chaco, as it has been dubbed by some, I quickly discovered it was very green but not as hellish as I thought it would be. The road was completely flat. I have been promised flat roads countless times on my journey, but they were all lies. This was the first time it was completely true. After the road behind, no amount of isolation could dampen my spirits.
On my first night into the Chaco I was looking for a place to camp. However, the sides of the road were all full of very tall grass or marshy land. The houses had disappeared and were taken over by massive cattle ranches that stretched way back into the distance. I could see disinterested cows grazing in between the palm trees to keep shade. It was very hot and I was ready to be off the road. Seeing an inviting looking ranch sign and a bench I pull off the road. I saw a man walking around a very long driveway back to the ranch and decided I’d ask to camp. I waved at him and after a moment he noticed me and began to approach. It took him about 5 minutes to get closer to me as I didn’t want to trespass before given permission so I remained there smiling. As the man got closer I realized he wasn’t carrying a stick, but a large shotgun. He had a bulletproof vest on and looked hardened. At this point returning to my bike and pedaling away would have been a poor choice and I knew at once the answer to my camping request would be a big fat no. I asked anyways and got the answer I was hoping for. No.
I bid a smiling farewell as he pointed down the road and claimed there was another place to camp. I tried not to look back as I rode, but he watched me until I was way out of sight. Whomever owned that ranch clearly did not want to be disturbed. I shrugged off my first failed attempt at camping and the next ranch welcomed me with open arms. I set up camp and fell into deep sleep until the rooster crowed the following morning. I awoke to a hoard of ants in my tent and danced like a crazy to shake them off me and out of my tent.
My days over the next week took a similar form as I plied across the flattest road to ever exist. Ride all day until a small village or gas station presented itself, stock up on supplies, mentally regroup and head back out into the green flat yonder. On one night one of the worst storms I have seen since Ethiopia descended upon me. It poured rain all night, blew my tent to pieces and I had a fitfully nightmarish sleep. Dreams of being swept away filled my moments of unconsciousness and my tent filled up with water. In the morning outside looked like a typhoon had hit and I was a personal disaster. I packed up my sopping wet things and set off to just get moving. My eyes kept closing on the road which had not seen a turn in a few days. The Chaco was now living up to the reputation I had heard of. However, the birdlife and butterflies were stunning. At times I found myself riding in nothing but butterflies. I felt like I was in some obscure Disney movie and the bottle trees looked like they were out of a Dr. Seuss book. I kept thinking of my favourite children’s book, ‘Oh, The Place You’ll Go’ and tried to remember the words as I rode. Back teaching Kindergarten in Sanya I used to read the book to my kids every few weeks, simply because I loved it so much.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer
Just when I thought that I was riding my bike into the back end of nowhere, civilization began to emerge. Shops with more than just stale crackers or aging empanadas emerged. I was entering which can only be described as a civilization within a country. The Mennonite towns began. Back in the 1930’s Mennonites avoiding persecution came to Paraguay from Russia, Germany and Canada. They came with the promise of religious freedom and to colonize Paraguay’s empty western frontier. To read more about the successes, struggles and history of the Paraguayan Mennonites CLICK HERE.
I rolled into the Mennonite capital of Filadelfia and found an organized society. Roads were on a grid system, the co-op was bursting with good food and everything seemed to run smoothly in the dusty town. Out of nothing these people had built their own society with functioning banks, a post office, nice hotels and a museum. I decided to take a peek at the museum for curiosity sake. I was given a full tour of three sections of the museum and a colonial house from a nice lady. The motto of the town was printed on one of the the walls as “The common good before personal interest.” When the lady asked me where I was staying that night, I told her I would camp somewhere outside town. She insisted I stay and sleep in an empty nearby classroom instead. Always one for strange vagabond sleep locations, I was thrilled. A nice man named Norbert was the grounds keeper and gave me Wi-Fi. He was sleeping in a dormitory next to the classroom and we made some jokes about being neighbors. “Keep it down in there!”, I banged on the wall. He was a lighthearted man. Before going to sleep I scratched ONE ADVENTURE PLEASE on the chalkboard, while a nighttime driving school class took place next door. I could smell my shoes in the corner of the room as I drifted into sleep.
I said a slow goodbye to the nice people in the morning and set out on the last few hundred kilometres to Bolivia. After a days ride I encountered the number one worst section of road on my trip. Straight well maintained road degraded into the most bumpy, patchy and completely destroyed piece of road I have ever seen. There are no nice words for this stretch of road which was once flat tarmac. I am told that it was only good for the inauguration and deteriorated soon after with all money scooped off in corruption to build a mirage. When inquiring about the state of the road one man just said, “Ask the President.”
I bumped through a terribly physical and emotionally crushing day. At some points I entered pot holes that were as tall as my bike as the only traffic, heavy oil trucks from Bolivia, carved deeper holes to find a path through the madness. At one point I was cycling just in front of one of these tanker trucks for over an hour. We were traveling the same speed forever, until he hit a flatter stretch and showered me in dust. In the heat and rocking of the road my mind began to play tricks on me. I hadn’t seen any life for hours and began to imagine a Jaguar prowling the Chaco was stalking me. In the corner of my eye I saw something move and I jerked to life in fright. My bike flipped sideways and crashed across the rough road. My leg was cut and bleeding. I looked behind to see the supposed Jaguar was nothing but a rogue cow. I laughed to myself and felt so ridiculous. Back to reality I came and pressed on until the pavement reappeared.
That night I camped out on the edge of a police booth and patched up my leg. I found some old looking empanadas and ate seven while looking like a zombie on a plastic chair as I lethargically swatted at hundreds of mosquitoes. During my dinner a tapir came out of the bushes and tried to take my dinner. With its’ weird nose and huge body it lumbered after me. Even though it was my first time to ever see this strange animal, I was not amused. The locals then joked I was eating tapir empanadas. I laughed politely, didn’t really care and escaped to my tent. I had one more day left of riding to reach Bolivia and I was worn out. Two more days to reach the first town on the Bolivian side. I told myself I could do it. My nose was burnt bright red and my energy levels were low. I was tired of the same old pasta and it was a mental drain each day to push forward.
My last day was a push to the border. I felt slightly sick and was tired of the slog on straight roads. After a few hours I had barely seen any traffic until three strange images emerged from the flat yonder as some touring cyclists. We chatted for over an hour and shared some cookies. It was exactly what I needed to make it to the border. When I arrived all of the border security were taking a day off, as it was Sunday, to play the most obscure game of volleyball I have ever witnessed. No hands were allowed. It was amazing to watch. There is no actual immigration here, it is more of a military post than anything. I had stamped out of Paraguay about 3 days before in Mariscal as protocol dictated. I had effectively not been in any country officially for the last little while. The one guard asked me if I wanted to join them and before I knew it he showed me to a nice cold shower, while the guards barbecued a delicious dinner. A nice end to a wonderfully difficult adventure I thought to myself as I went to sleep on a mattress laid out for me.
The Gran Chaco will stand as one of the greatest mental challenges of this trip. Though the road may have been completely flat, it is not for the unprepared or beginner. The Chaco will test every inch of your resolve and spit you out if you’re not careful. All of that being said, Paraguay stands as one of my favourite countries on the journey. It was the challenge I needed to refocus my future goals. I have many wonderful stories of the people along the way that I cannot fully share here now. The Chaco rejuvenated my love for the wild and seldom explored reaches of our planet. It made me remember why I started this journey in the first place. It made me feel that life pumping energy you get from exploring the new and unknown. It made me think about all that I hold dear in my life and thankful for the strength of mind to persevere. All of this has changed me into someone that is more adaptive than I ever thought possible.
As I pedaled on into Bolivia I thought, ‘Oh, the places you’ll go…’
*We are off to an awesome start with the fundraising towards the new schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. In only a few short weeks we have already raised over 1/4 of the money to build the new schoolhouse. Beautiful work! A big thank you goes out to St. Joseph’s School in Toledo as well as J.L. Jordan for all of their hard fundraising. Seeing kids helping kids is one of the most rewarding parts of this experience. I would also like to thank close family and friends for getting the ball rolling as well. You are all wonderful people! Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE
**I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Last year I celebrated in India and a year later I am riding in Peru near the highest alpine lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. It is amazing where the world can take you. I am thankful for more things than I can count this holiday season. Updates on the beauty, struggle and challenge of Bolivia to come soon. Thank you for continuing to follow along!
“They say that anger is just love disappointed. They say that love is just a state of mind. But all this fighting over who will be anointed. Oh how can people be so blind?” ~ The Eagles, Hole in the World
The hardest part of anything is the start. Committing to something that is new, strange or difficult can be a daunting task. When you don’t know if everything will work out in the end. It is far easier to stay in that comfort zone. We convince ourselves of excuses to leave things as they are, when deep down we are truly unsatisfied. This can be quitting the job you hate, starting your own business, asking someone you like out or even riding a bike around the world.
The hardest part of starting my journey was just that, starting. Saying goodbye to the known and setting out into new territory can be terrifying. This is the same for anyone. Giving up what is comfortable for something you truly want in your heart can be difficult. Once you are off, then motivation kicks in and finally you are alive again. Living something you dreamed of for so long. You are in it. You are not just dreaming. This is the new you. This is your life. Capture those moments you will regret later on and be the person you want to be. Maybe you will fail and the whole world will see. Maybe it will end horribly. But, at least you tried. That is more than most people can say. To try and fail is better than an eternal question.
I have said it many times before. Dreams are dreams because they require hard work. If dreams were easy, then they wouldn’t be dreams.
Crossing the bridge into Brazil was an interesting mission. When I arrived at the border there was a guy sitting idle on a Sunday in the office. He told me the man who stamps passports into Brazil was not here today. I should go to the next city, Uruguaiana and get it done there tomorrow. I thought this a bit strange, but I biked on. In a shop I stocked up on a few items for the empty road ahead and as I was leaving the nice man working gave me an extra bag of lime flavored chips for free. He gave a bit of wink that only old can people do. I was off riding until the rain came pouring down like crazy. My first date with El Nino. I let it pass under the cover of a random shed and was off again.
Arriving after dark in a city on your first day in a country where you don’t know the language, Portuguese, or where you will sleep can be a bit tough. I was starving, but a safe place to sleep comes first. I walked into a ‘Farmacia’ as that was the only thing open on a Sunday night and asked the girls where I mind find a cheap place to sleep. A man overheard and even spoke English. He had heard of a new hostel and I followed him there. I was eternally grateful with my sore knee and hungry stomach. I took the next few days off to rest in the lovely new hostel called Marques de Carabas. If ever in Uruguaiana I highly recommend it. Follow the link to their page HERE.
After a good rest I was off to tackle the first challenging section of my South American tour. Once I was past Sao Borja the landscape turned into a wavy undulating beautiful nightmare. I was continually blown away by the purity of the scenery and kindness of the people, but exhausted to no end each day. Up one steep hill, then immediately down and back up without ever gaining any real altitude can be a taxing mental kick. In any case, I pushed forward. As I drove I saw lots of giant salamanders on the road, guinea pigs by the dozens and an armadillo that was turned into a big mess on the road. I’ve seen every type of road kill on this trip. It barely phases me anymore. I usually smell it first.
“To make an error is human, to keep doing it is foolish” ~ Portugese Proverb
On one night I pulled into a very dark and gloomy looking town, searching for somewhere cheap to sleep. I saw a motel and went inside, as I did the garage door went down behind me and I was trapped in a little area between another garage door. A tiny window opened up from the wall and a man began shouting at me. I yelled back at him to let me out, but couldn’t really see him because it was dark. I was trapped and felt very uncomfortable about what was on the other side of the door. He shouted some more at me, at which point I went to my bag and grabbed my wrench. I threatend him through the window and asked him again to let me out. He opened up and I got out of that strangely awful place. I don’t put up with that sort of intimidation business or whatever he was trying to run there. It was a very unique situation that I still don’t quite understand, but believe I did the right thing given the circumstance. I found a place to camp nearby and forgot about it.
After this it was all positive vibes onwards. Can’t let one encounter ruin the image of a whole country. I found the rolling hills exceedingly beautiful. The further I got from Buenos Aires, the warmer my riding became. One of my favourite things in Brazil was the buffet lunches found almost anywhere and the drinkable tap water. These buffets could be found at even some of the smallest gas stations. I would load up for a few dollars and be ready to tackle the afternoon of hilly hot riding.
After a day I turned down a nice secondary road where I belonged. This is where the magic began. Quiet little villages with beautifully unique central plazas and friendly people. At this point I was blowing spokes almost everyday again. I needed a new rear wheel desperately. The thing was terribly bent and had rolled over 22,000km. It was done. I chanced a quick fix in a small town called Roque Gonzalez. They called a local bike repairman from the gas station and I followed him to his house as I waved bye to the small crowd that had gathered. We couldn’t get the thing fixed with the parts he and I had. He assured me there was a good bike shop in Santa Rosa and I found a place to sleep. It poured rain for the next three days and I rested in a place that cost 5 dollars, had Wi-Fi and an all you could eat breakfast. I wanted to live there.
“The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.” ~ Vik Muniz,
Setting back out I hobbled along the rutted road on egg shells towards Santa Rosa to fix my bike. On the way a police brigade lieutenant stopped me. Apparently he was a bike enthusiast and from his reaction, not many tourists cross this part of Brazil. We chatted for a while, as you do in this part of the world and I told him about my bike problem. We shook hands and parted ways. About an hour later he came back unexpectedly in the opposite direction and handed me the card to the bike shop. He explained that when I got there later today everything I needed would be paid for. I couldn’t believe it. Something I would have never imagined. I wanted to hug him, but didn’t think that was appropriate. We took a selfie instead in front of the police truck instead and he gave me a bottle of water.
I arrived very tired at the bike shop to a warm welcome at GAGO BIKES. The guys were expecting me and got right to work. Full service and a new wheel. We chatted a long time about my trip. Some of the most caring and awesome guys I have met. My bike was brand new again. They gave me extra parts for the road and three of them showed me to a cheap place to sleep for the night. No words can describe this experience.
The following day I turned down a dirt road to take a ‘Short-cut’. After a few kilometers it wasn’t looking that good. The gravel became very loose and I had to walk my bike down hills and slid all over going back up. That night I was offered by a man named Pedro to sleep at his house. He owned a tilapia farm and was having a fish fry with friends. Needless to say, I was now loving Brazil. The energy of the people and the landscape had a hold on me. We had a fantastic night and I got a late start in the morning. Pedro told me of a quick boat ferry that crosses the Rio Uruguai. It would save me 200 kilometers and show me a unique part of his province. I was stoked. We said our goodbyes after breakfast and I biked for two beautiful days until I reached the Itaparanga river crossing at sunset. The boys on the boat were thrilled to have me for the fifteen minute journey. In this part of Brazil people were always stopping me on the road to ask where I was from. A conversation with a retired boxer was a memorable one.
From here I would climb up a very steep incline that stretched for thirty odd kilometers in the humidity. Pedro didn’t tell me about that part. Over the next few days I made my way along the Brazilian and Argentinean border with my sights set on seeing the Iguacu Falls. Read about one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World HERE. Every few kilometres I had to stop of wipe the sweat off my face, it was extremely humid and hilly. I crossed back into Argentina and spent the next two days climbing one hill after another. I was whimpering by the end of it. Exhausted and nearly tearing up when I would get to the top of one hill and see the next drop and steep climb. Rolling into Puerto Iguazu, I kicked off my dirty smelly shoes and passed out in a hostel.
It had been a month getting to the falls from Buenos Aires. One of the few tourist sights I had plotted to see on my route through South America. At this time though something sad was happening back home. I found out my grandmother had passed away the day after I arrived. It was very hard to take away from home. It had been a difficult few months for my family with the tragic loss of my cousin Jamie and now Grandma. It was her wish that I not return for the funeral. It would have been quite the challenge given my location and situation. I chose to honour her memory in my own way. Walking along the falls I thought of her and Jamie. Listening for something more than just the crash of water. Here I found the peace and solitude I needed. Loss is a difficult thing and we all deal with it in our own way. For me I deal best with things on my own, writing or thinking. I was told the tribute to her life was a heartfelt event with the coming together of loved ones. Cherish your family. You never know when may be the last time you see them. Enjoy your life and days together. When they are gone, remember them as they were and never forget your times together. Below is something I wrote for her to help.
There is a light that burns still awake,
When the call comes from heavens gate.
To a distance place we slowly depart,
Feet caught tripping on a heavy heart.
In the pit of our souls we find our place,
As hope smiles again with a peaceful face.
Clouds divide, bowing way.
Crying their welcome dance of the day.
Greetings to kindred spirits gone before,
These reunions ease the search for evermore.
Peace found on grasses lush and green,
With bright tomorrows yet to be seen.
Remembering your days of glory,
We add them to your book, an endless story.
Forever we will share your light.
The candle will never fade, always shining bright.
**With less than $500 to go we are at the finish line for fundraising towards the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. In a recent update from Free the Children, construction has begun on our schoolhouse. A few weeks back some three hundred people from the community came out to see the inauguration ceremony of the first new schoolhouse. With our goal in sight construction is now underway for an excited community of people. The feeling is wonderful. Thank you to all who have made this possible. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***From Puerto Iguazu I crossed over into country #26 Paraguay. Updates on that part of the journey to come. Currently cycling in Bolivia.