(Dancing in India: Verdara, Rajasthan)
Lesson #1- You are the Only You: Be Yourself
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Writer
—-> Of all the messages I learned around the world, I believe this is the most important one of all. Just be yourself. Out in the wild reaches of our Earth I was forced to come to terms with who I was. On those long days, the bicycle allowed me to come face-to-face with my own shortcomings, failures and things I would like to improve. It taught me about who I was as a person and who I would like to be in the future.
When things went wrong during my trip, I had no one to blame but myself. If I didn’t pack enough food or water, took a horrible road or forgot to buy extra bike parts. In those moments, I got to experience myself just as I was. Things went wrong quite often. In the beginning, I would get stressed out about the little things. Soon I came to realize that it was all part of the puzzle that was this adventure. A new personality began to take shape. When I was alone, if something went terribly wrong there was no one to complain to. I usually said nothing and got on with fixing the problem or finding a solution. There was no one there to keep me motivated. I had to figure things out myself.
I believe that knowing ourselves is the most important thing we can have in life. However, in the modern age with all of the distractions and busy lives it is hard to cut through the noise. Past the advertisements, Facebook pages and familial influences, there is a person that is just you. Getting past all of the outside influences can be tough, but there is a great deal we can learn from ourselves.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer
For two years I was stuck with myself. On that type of trip, you have to know who you are before setting out. I had already done a great deal of group and solo travel beforehand. I always found that I do better on my own. Sometimes it is hard to like yourself all of the time. But, if you always need other people around, you never get down to the true spirit of your personal being.
Remember you are an individual. You are your own person. You have the power to control your future and be whomever you would like to be. Don’t forget to be you.
My 10 Lessons From Cycling the World:
Lesson #10 ~ Everything Will Never Be Perfect: So Start Today
Lesson #9 ~ You Don’t Need All That Stuff: Cherish What You Have
Lesson #8 ~ The World is NOT Scary: Travel
Lesson #7 ~ Exercise is the Best Medicine: Get Outside & Explore
Lesson #6 ~ Times Will Change: So Will You
Lesson #5 ~ The World is Full of Delicious Food: Have a Taste
Lesson #4 ~ We Can Make a Difference: Give Back
Lesson #3 ~ Never Give Up: It’s Not That Bad
Lesson #2 ~ People Are Friendly: Say Hello
Lesson #1 ~ You are the Only You: Be Yourself
Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I believe all ten of these lessons do not just pertain to a bicycle ride, but are part of a much larger picture of how we can live. Take care of yourself, explore and be the best person you can be.
*Two days ago we reached the final goal for the fifth school in El Trapiche and the ultimate goal of $50,000. I am overwhelmed with the support over the course of the last two years. Additions are always welcome and will be put towards work in developing the community of El Trapiche. Updates on all of five of our schools to come soon! CLICK DONATE.
** Stay tuned for future posts and thank you for continuing to read!
Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?
(Extreme Roads: Bolivia)
Lesson #3- Never Give Up: It is Not That Bad
“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill, English Prime Minister
—-> Life is not that complicated. However, we do a good job of making it just that. Sometimes the present seems impossible. We think we’re up against a terrible resistance and the end is nowhere in sight. Maybe something happens that impacts our life, seemingly irreversibly. Though some horrible things may come our way throughout life, it is important to keep focused on what is still important to us. It is important to focus on who you are. There is a bigger picture. Like in cycling, every up eventually has a down.
If you want something enough there shouldn’t be anything that stands in your way. Obstacles will come, changes will be needed and hard decisions are likely to ensue. Do not be a victim of circumstance. The world, your family and friends need you to be the best you. There are others out there that depend on you and you in turn will depend on them when things get tough. We need each other on the good days and the bad.
No matter how awful you think things may be in the present moment, years, months and weeks down the line, you will wonder why you felt so upset over those little things. We get bogged down by our present situation and forget what really matters. The tiny details that stress you out are but minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of our lives. Why stress about all the little details when they impact your overall persona but really do not matter?
I am sorry to say, but we’re all not that special. We share the world with over seven billion other people. Thinking the world revolves around you and your personal desires is not only detrimental to your present state, but impacts everyone else around you. Being selfish and ignorant of your surrounds, will get you nowhere. Being aware and in the moment is the most important aspect to enjoying life as it is and as it comes at you. Looking forward to certain dates is something we all do. However, don’t let it get in the way of living in the moment.
Whether it is getting over something traumatic or setting your sights on impossible looking goals the most important thing to remember is that you can never give up. Each day is a new one with struggles and annoyances, but eventually you will get there. One day at a time.
On my journey, sometimes I would get wrapped up in distances and deadlines. I would forget to stop and take it all in. During those moments, I sometimes lost sight of why I set out in the first place. I set out to experience the world, see the beauty of nature, make a difference and talk to the people that share our world. Sometimes I had to catch myself and slow down. Rolling through everyone else’s normal for two years, it sometimes came to be my normal. At times I was spoiled by the beauty I was rolling through. Sometimes I took myself for granted as well, pushing too hard and too long on the bike. I had to use these instances to step back and really look at where I was. Even when the road was tough and I wanted to throw it all in, I had to remember why I was there in the first place. Taking into account past decisions for my present circumstance, was something that always helped me make sense of it all.
Our present state is a culmination of our decisions. At one point we wanted something more than anything else. Living with our decisions and moving forward is one of the harder aspects in life, but in time things get easier. Don’t give up, it is all part of our greater history and journey.
**You can expect Lesson #2 tomorrow. Almost there! 🙂
***Bolivia, one of the most challenging, wild and unforgettably beautiful countries on my trip. If something is worth doing, it won’t be easy. I had some extremely tough and wonderful days in Bolivia. Days I wouldn’t trade for the world. Never give up, it will be worth it in the end!
(Study Group: Masaai Mara, Kenya)
Lesson #4- We Can Make a Difference: Give Back
“We so often feel powerless to do anything about the many problems in the world around us. We are so often left to wonder whether one person can possibly make a difference.” ~ Craig Kielburger, Free the Children/ME to WE
—-> In the grand scheme of things Canadians are pretty lucky. I read an article the other day that said Canada ranked number two in the world for the highest quality of life. After cycling around the world and visiting over sixty countries throughout my life, I can say for certain that the article is not far off the mark. We have it very good here. Yes, we complain about the rising prices of goods, gas and taxes, but the services we get in return, cannot be matched. We are well off and monetarily we live above many other places in the world. With our disposable income and time we have the power to make change a reality for people in struggling parts of the world.
It doesn’t mean we all need to start a fundraising campaign to build schools, health clinics and clean drinking water projects around the world. What it does mean is that we all have the power to make change happen. This can be right in our home community. I also understand there are plenty of Canadians that are going through a tough time and need our help as well. Volunteering at the local shelter, lending a hand to an old neighbour or using whatever skills we possess to help the less fortunate are just some way you can help. We don’t need to change the whole world with our actions, but we have the power to change individual lives in the present. I know when I give back, the feeling of having done so goes a long way for my present state of mind.
On my cycling trip I decided to partner with Free the Children, because I was passionate about education. As a teacher I knew the power that education can have on the lives of people around the world. In the modern age, without education, many people are lost and without much hope for the future. Because of that initiative, four schools have been built and one final school in El Trapiche, Nicaragua is on the way. It is hard to believe, but we are almost there. With less than $320 to the final goal of $50,000, I am blown away. When I look at the long list of over 300 individual donations from great people throughout Canada and beyond, it leaves me speechless. If you would like to donate on the last push of the fundraising journey, please CLICK HERE.
*A full update on all of the schoolhouses constructed under my cycling journey will come once the final goal of $50,000 is met. Not long now!
**You can expect Lesson #3 tomorrow. Almost there! 🙂
Free the Children – Who We Are
(Spice Markets: Kabul, Afghanistan)
Lesson #5- The World is Full of Delicious Food: Have a Taste
“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” ~ Doug Larson, Columnist
—-> With transportation, trade and communication bridging the gap between countries around the world, we are privileged to a wider array of ingredients, flavours and information than ever before in history. People used to sacrifice their lives bringing spices from China and India, now they are available in almost every town. We eat the foods that were once only available to the richest and most powerful people. We have the opportunity to eat, healthy fresh and delicious food from around the world.
However, many of us fill our stomachs, baskets and fridges, with subsidized junk. Food that lacks energy, takes zero effort to make, expands your waistline and does nothing more than fill that empty hole. In return, we get the sluggish people, slow minds and self-inflicted sickness. Taking a bit of extra time to prepare something healthy will repay you in the long run. With the food selection today, healthy does not just mean salad anymore.
When I was on my cycling trip and actually had the opportunity to visit a ‘real’ grocery store, I would often go in and spend hours just gawking at the excess. Coming from the mountains, desert or countryside into a big city and visiting one of these stores, I felt like an alien. Typically I would shop at local markets and tiny shops on my route. Almost every grocery store in Canada is packed to the brim with foods that can make us feel awesome, but we oftentimes choose items packed with salt, sugar and fat. If you don’t know how to cook, buy a beginner cookbook, take a class or ask a friend to help you. It’s never to late to learn.
“If we’re not willing to settle for junk living, we certainly shouldn’t settle for junk food.” ~ Sally Edwards, Author
On my website, I almost always made a point of sharing at least one recipe from all of the countries I made my way through. I believe to understand and experience the food of a culture is half the battle. It is the gateway into people’s homes and lives. Whenever I passed through new lands I always ate what the local people ate. Often times, it was the cheapest and most delicious thing to be had. Chow Fan in China, Kabuli in Afghanistan, Biryani in India, Kushari in Egypt, Shawarma in Turkey, Pizza in Italy, Chips Mai in Tanzania, Braai in South Africa, Encebollado in Ecuador, Ceviche in Panama, Tacos in Mexico and Barbecue in the United States. The list goes on. My stomach growls just thinking about it all.
In any big city you can experience food from all over the world. A quick Google search will allow you to step into new culinary adventure in any big city. You’ll find hidden gems that will keep you coming back. Remember, in Canada we are able to eat bananas in December and mangos in February. We are a lucky people. Take a chance and have a bite of someone else’s culture. You might just be surprised.
(You can expect a post on my top ten favourite dishes from around the world in the future.)
*Less than $320 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #4 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Kabul Pulao – Afghan Cooking
A Six Minute Read
(Stunning Sunsets: Kerala India)
Lesson #6- Times Will Change: So Will You
“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.” Stephen Chbosky, The Perk of Being a Wallflower
—-> We are not the same people we were in the past. It is important to always be working on ourselves and not look back with regret with who we used to be. People change. We have to accept the people we knew throughout our lives are always adapting, growing and changing as the pressures of the world mould their new selves. The world is a difference place than ten years ago. A good many things have changed. Being ready to say ‘yes’ to something new is key. It may sound hard, but being open to the wild and wonderfully new may change your life forever.
If we were the same person throughout our lives, I think it would be pretty boring. As our careers, interests and life expands, we become new people. In fact, every seven years we biologically become a new person as cells and blood is replaced. Over the course of that time all of our skin cells have been replaced and replenished by new ones. So if you look at it from a biological standpoint, by the time you are 35 years old, you are just beginning your 6th self. If you look at yourself as a multitude of people, and not one singular being, it is easier to let go of your past and move towards a new future.
We may look back at nostalgia at the old days and think that nothing will ever be as good as that one point in life. I think that thought is flawed. It leaves your present self at an unfair advantage. As if you will never be that fit, charming or intelligent again. The game is never over until the end. I say don’t fight for the good days, make every single one count and never idolize the past to the point where the present moment is forgotten. It is important to remember that those past ‘Glory Days’ have shaped you dramatically, but they do not need to define you wholly.
“But all he kept talking about was, Glory days, well they’ll pass you by.” ~ Bruce Springsteen, Songwriter
By working on aspects of our personality, physique and the impact we would like to have on our surroundings, we continue to grow as people. We can make ourselves into something better. Stagnation in our development is never going to help us turn into a happier person in the future. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. Learn a new language, try something that scares you, hit the gym or take a trip to somewhere new. I know I have my flaws and I am trying to work on them. No one is perfect, but realize personal development is a never-ending journey. Stay motivated.
*Less than $320 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #5 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Waking Life – The Gap/Stories of Progress
(Endless Road: The Paraguayan Chaco)
Lesson #7- Exercise is the Best Medicine: Get Outside & Explore
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” ~ Plato, Philosopher
—-> Take care of your body. You only get one. We have to ability to be as healthy and active as we want to be. It is all about motivation, time management and caring. Even those with the busiest of lives can find a few minutes a day to get that body moving. In a society with a rising blood pressure, obesity and clogged arteries; we can’t blame everyone around us. It comes down to our own choices.
I know in my experience, when I haven’t been paying particularly good attention to my body, I feel lethargic, weak and tired. Just like anything in life, you get back what you put into it. As I traveled throughout the world, I found that for most people, life takes place outside. However, in North America and Europe, I found much more closed types of lifestyles. People’s homes in the developed part of the world are very comfortable. Inside there is a television and more gadgets than you can think of. Kids spend more free time inside in these societies and less time running around. These sedentary habits carry over into adulthood.
Start a routine that suits you. If you really don’t like running or biking, then don’t run or bike. You are sure to give it up, if it is something you really don’t enjoy. Find another activity which you do like and keeps you active for a little bit each day. There are lots of options. It is important to get that heart racing each day. Once you get into that rhythm, you will feel younger and all other aspects of your life will benefit. Exercise is a stress reliever and mood enhancer.
Adventure is right there in your neighbourhood or not far from it. Exploring old places, in new ways, will give you an added respect for your home country. Ride a bicycle, go for a hike or camp wild. Leave the phone at home and get that heart racing.
*Less than $320 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua A special thank you to my Aunt Fran Quattrocchi for her nice recent contribution to bring us that much closer. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #6 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Danny Macaskill ~ The Ride
A Six Minute Read
(The Solo Road: Sudan)
Lesson #8- The World is NOT Scary: Travel
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin, Cuban Essayist
—-> We live in a world that is becoming increasingly complex. Wars are fought with ulterior motives, religion is at the forefront of debate, fourteen killed here, a rainforest chopped down there and Donald Trump is crazy. This is what you hear about the different places of the world. But beyond those imaginary lines, there are beautiful vast expanses of our world. Rugged mountains, wild plains, desert badlands, clear lakes and rolling hills. These wild landscapes have moved in shape over thousands of years. We get to experience but one piece in our Earth’s extensive history. Embrace the outdoors, wind, rain and sun.
They say that travel is the best medicine. It teaches you the things you will never learn in any classroom. It shows you the complexities of our world. It allows you to see the beauty of the Earth and learn a lot about yourself. It allows you to spend time by yourself. Whenever I am traveling I have a feeling of being completely free. Like the unknown is welcoming me forward. Some say travel can age you; however, inside you will feel younger than those that never go anywhere.
I meet many people who think that they need to travel with someone. Though this does have benefits, it limits you in many ways. You are less likely to meet new people if you already have that other person to talk to. You are less likely to go outside that comfort zone and explore beyond your personal boundaries. On my bicycle ride many people asked me, if I ever got lonely. The simple answer is, almost never. There were always people to talk to. The more you explore this world, the better you will understand how difficult it is to actually get away from people. We inhabit most of the planet, in one way or another. Very rarely on my journey outside regions of Bolivia, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Western China, was I far from someone I could talk to. We are a social species.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain, Writer
I believe that unless you travel alone, you never get down to that bare bones of self-reflection. I understand that this is not for everyone. I get it. But, people often wondered why I travelled on my own. On a journey over two years, you have to know yourself. I knew traveling with someone else was not right for me on such a trip. You are not forced to look inside yourself and see who you really are. Thousands of hours of contemplation while cycling, meals alone and hundreds of evenings spent in my tent, taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. I now know who am I am what I hope to accomplish in the future. Travel wide, wander free and see our world. It can teach you a great deal.
You can see all of the wonders of our world, but don’t stop to look at what’s in-between. Talk to the people where you are visiting, eat their food and spend a little time on yourself.
*Less than $550 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #7 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Walter Mitty ~ Downhill Longboard in Iceland
Lesson #9- You Don’t Need All That Stuff: Cherish What You Have
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Rogers, Humorist
—-> Bank memories, not things. That is the message. At the end of your days the last thoughts will not be on the newest iPhone or that expensive car you once had. Well, hopefully. You will more likely be looking back on the people and memories you are leaving behind. Did you live a good life? Did you treat people with kindness, love and compassion? What legacy are you hoping to leave? Did you do what you loved?
We really do not need all of the things we fill our lives up with. The feeling of buying something new can make us happy, but it is only a fleeting moment. The memories we look back on with the most nostalgia are the ones spent with family, friends and the people that shared this experience we call life. I know remembering a funny moment with a friend long ago, has more value to me than the memory of buying my iPad.
On my journey, I had but four small bags and a tent. All of the items I had with me were essential in my daily life. I was self-sufficient and living in the now. My life was not cluttered in any way. All of my things had a place that was their home for two years. There were very few extras necessities, especially when considering places like the Peruvian Andes with massive seventy kilometres climbs. Life was simple and sweet. My things were few but my memories and experiences will last forever.
Throughout all my travels I can honestly tell you there is only a certain level of possessions we need to make us happier. Beyond a certain plateau of material wealth, we do not become any more content inside. We simply become more competitive to keep up with our neighbours. It becomes an internal lifelong race to beat the credit card bill. This idea that happiness can be bought or sold is flawed to the very base. What we will all remember are the people we are leaving behind and how we lived our lives. Everything else is a distraction.
Eventually the pearly gates will come calling for us all. They will not care what types of things we carried with us throughout our lives. The extra bits that wore us down under all that stuff. We have the ability to live as simply as we like. The less you crowd up your life with, the freer you will be to move. Quit wasting your time buying things. These are moments you will never get back. Get out there and start living!
*Less than $550 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #8 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
What’s in your Backpack – Up in the Air (Video Clip)
“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.