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Packing for that Big Trip: 15 Tips to Travel Cheap, Light and Smart

A Ten Minute ReadGear

(My Gear: Post-Trip)

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Travel Writer

When I set out from China on my journey around the world, one of the hardest things was choosing what to bring with me. I had my four bags laid out on my bed and a mound of stuff that I thought I needed to take with me. I spent months before I left figuring out just the right stuff to bring on the trip. I am not sure what you would pack for two years, but it is easier said than done.

Before, I had done a number of lightweight trips that usually lasted a few weeks to a month. However, on most of those trips I didn’t need to be self-sufficient. They were also much shorter than the journey I was about to undertake. I knew I needed equipment that would last and would be durable in the rough conditions ahead. In most of China though, outdoor adventure stores are a niche market and expensive. As a result, I had to navigate Chinese websites to get all of my gear ordered online. With the help of my teaching assistant in China, I was able to do just that. It was a headache of a process, but I learned a lot.

Finally, with all of my gear laid out on my bed, I packed it up into my four bags with a tent. When I plopped it all on my bike, I felt the weight of all that stuff. After a heartfelt goodbye, I was off riding along with this monstrous load of weight in the sweltering heat of the South China summer. After a hard first day of riding, I was shattered. My bags were far too heavy.

That night I unpacked everything from my bags. I took everything I truly didn’t need and gave it away. For a week, I did the same thing almost every day and lightened my load to the point where I only carried what I truly needed. Periodically, I would go through my gear as seasons changed and my needs. Eventually, I rid myself of all unnecessary items. By the end of the journey, every single item had a purpose and a place. It was liberating. I could move faster, longer and happier. Freeing yourself from shackles of things, allows you to see the world around you as it is. It allows you to see the face of travel as it was meant to be seen.

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“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” ~ Spanish Proverb

There are many ways that you yourself can travel cheap, light and smart. I will dive more into how to travel cheaply in the future, but in many ways what you pack can directly impact the cost of your trip. This will make more sense later. The most important part, for myself, has always been to travel light. This allows you to have an increase in mobility throughout your journey. After traveling to over 60 countries, most of which was done lightly as possible, I have learned a few things from my different adventures. I will break down packing tips and tricks into a few categories below, with a bit of practical context for each. Remember, in many ways, what you own in turn owns you.

Money

(The only souvenirs I collect, besides memories & photos. I suppose I would be a mild collector, with all the bills from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam from Iraq, a Pakistani collection, old Russian rubbles & Chinese bills before Mao, as well as an extensive collection of all countries I have been to and more)

1. Travel Light:

It is easy to travel light if you know a little bit about where you are going. Look at your upcoming trip. Do some research. Google is your friend and easy to use. Where are you going? What season is it? Will you need a winter jacket or will just a T-Shirt be fine, even at night? How long are you going for? What type of trip are you headed out on? Are you going for a week or a month? Will you be moving your bags a whole bunch? Are you planning on camping or staying in nice hotels? These are all things to consider when thinking about what you may pack for your trip.

If you are wondering if you will be able to buy something related to clothing, the answer is yes. If you are going anywhere outside North America or Europe, things will generally be cheaper to pick up on the fly. In most cases, aside from specialized equipment, you will be able to find almost anything in the country you are headed to. I do understand that if you are on a shorter trip, chances are you’re not going to be interested in looking for a power adapter or a new pair of socks the moment you arrive. Weather and seasons aside, here are a few packing tips to save space, weight and mental breakdown with your luggage.

Roll your clothes. This frees up more space for other more important items. Packing what is needed goes a long way to avoid lugging around a heavy bag or suitcase for weeks on end. For two years I had only 3 shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 pairs underwear, 2 hats, 2 buffs, 1 toque, 1 pair of mitts, 1 pair long johns, 1 sweater, 1 pair of cycling shorts and 1 set of lightweight rain gear. This all fit into one small bag at the front of my bike. On my other trips where the weather was consistently warmer and I did not need to camp, I packed much less than this. Time and time again I have seen backpackers on short trips with double what I packed for two years. Most only stay in hostels and rarely need more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. What the heck do they have in those bags? Pack what you need.

Again, check the weather for the season and know where you are going. It is easy also to wash your clothes as you travel. A bit of laundry soap and travel clothes line or even a piece of rope can go a long way. Wash your clothes when you have the chance in a sink. Most places I stayed for a day off had at least a fan, things dry quickly and you save a bit of money. Even if you are going on a week-long trip, you can save time and money by washing your clothes yourself. You can also save time by just taking a carry-on backpack. You don’t need to wait for your bags after getting off the plane, you just get to go. Aside from moving to China and South Korea, I have never traveled with anything besides a small backpack. You beat the rush at immigration and you’re off on your adventure before everyone else gets their bags.

First Five Tips:

-Bring only what you will actually need

-You can get the little things later

-Roll your clothes to save space

-Pack for the occasion, not the end of the world

-Know the seasons & where you’re going

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2. Travel Smart:

There are many items that you can bring that will make your trip much more enjoyable and safe. Bring a small lock with a key. If you are not staying in some fancy hotel with safety deposit box, then you will need to have peace of mind when going out for the day. Chances are you are not interested in lugging all of your things around each day, especially if you are hiking a mountain or walking long distances. In any hostel, there should be locker, where you can use the lock I just mentioned. You will likely be sharing a room with 8-10 people and sometimes you won’t even meet most of them. It is hard to know what everyone is thinking.

When there were no lockers, I pushed my bags underneath the bed and locked the most important bag. Nothing ever went missing. I have heard all of the horror stories about people being robbed. In most cases, in my opinion, people were doing something they shouldn’t have. Leaving a phone on a table in a busy restaurant, taking expensive cameras to a market, going to a bar late in a bad part of town and leaving a bag at a table to go to the bathroom. All of these people were robbed and they wonder why it happened.

Throughout my two years on the bicycle around the world and all of my other travels, I have only had two things stolen from me. My bicycle tools in Peru and a travel towel (little bit gross) in China. Truly inexpensive items, though slightly annoying things to replace. Maybe because I always looked poor, people left me alone. There are still a number of things you can do to prevent theft. One is trying not to look like a ridiculous tourist. Wear what you would normally wear and bring what you would normally use for a domestic trip back home. That way your clothes will be familiar and you don’t look like a target. There are people who make a living out of this type of thievery. In most cases, you will be fine.

If you are worried about your health, pack medicines and health items which are versatile. Check the health warning and any vaccinations you may need for an area. Even if something terrible does go wrong, I assure you, health services are better than you think in most countries. If you have adequate insurance then you should be covered, if anything goes terribly wrong. Don’t over pack on the medicines. You can get most of the same things for coughs, sore throats and diarrhea in any country. A basic medical kit is all that you need. Take regular vitamins to stay healthy, especially when you cannot access healthy foods and take care of your body.

For two years I carried the same bit of pills and medical equipment around the world. I rarely used any of it. I was only truly sick twice during that time. For all of the terrible places I ate and the worn out rough conditions I was through, I think that is pretty darn good. Along the way I ate a ton of garlic and onions, took my vitamins and ate healthy whenever possible. Preventative measures are the best way to keep the doctor away. It also helps you lighten the load and maintain a healthy mood. No one likes getting sick on a holiday. Take care of yourself before your go and while you are abroad.

Also, don’t forget a good set of earplugs. Much of the world is quite noisy, especially in the developing world. A decent set plugs will save you a good night sleep and your enjoyment the following day.

Five More Tips:

-Bring a lock

-Look like a normal person

-Don’t do dangerous things

-Pack only necessary medicines

-Ear plugs

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3. Extended Travel:

There a good number of key items that will allow you to cut down costs, save space and make your trip more liberating. For myself, the number one thing on any adventure trip is the camp stove. You can get a lightweight stove that runs off liquid gas for less than 80$ at your local camping outlet. Over time, this little invention will save you much more in terms of food costs as well as mobility of where you can travel freely. The stoves are easy to carry and less than a dollar to fill up. I used regular unleaded gas, because it is available everywhere. It is the most beneficial item you can have if you are on an extended trip into expensive or far off places of the world. Also bring a small knife, plate and lightweight pot. A spork is a handy tool for eating on the road and useful for stirring your pasta or rice. You won’t be able to cook the most amazing meal in the world, but I have whipped up some pretty satisfying things on the fly.

Bring a lightweight and easy to set up tent. Again this only pertains to extended travel, but that tent, like the stove, will allow you to be out in the wild. If that’s what you like, the tent will allow you to experience nature and the people who live in those parts of the world. Free camping is exactly that, free. There are only a few occasions on my trip around the world where I agreed to pay for camping. When I rode my motorbike around Mongolia, I never did. It depends on the country and the type of comfort you are looking for with your travels. People are kind, so say hello. They will almost always allow you to camp on a patch of land near their home. I have a rule of always asking, if I don’t know. Gives you peace of mind while you sleep. You never know, you may even make a new lifelong friend.

A good sleeping bag. You can now get very warm and tightly packed sleeping bag that will allow you to sleep comfortably anywhere. In some places where I found the cheaper hotel beds to be completely filthy, (ie India and Ethiopia), a sleeping bag also comes in handy to separate yourself from the unclean sheets that won’t be cleaned even if you ask. Forget packing the bulky travel pillow and roll up your sweater or your towel for a fairly soft place to lay your head. If money is an issue, the more you save on buying the best of everything, will allow you to do what you came to do. Travel.

Lightweight electronics. Forget the huge laptop at home and invest in a small tablet or use your phone. This does not include a nice camera, if taking pictures is what is really important to you. The worst part about electronics though, is charging them. There are now many types of external battery sources from solar, electric and even self-powered energy devices. Find the one best suited for your trip and it will allow you to still stay connected in far off places and even enjoy your music.

Obviously with all of this stuff your bag is getting a bit heavier, but if you are going on a long enough trip with a budget and seeking adventure, I believe all of these items are liberating and will return their weight in cost and memories over time. Though it weighs more, I recommend bringing some sort of journal for those extended trips and making a point of writing as often as possible. It only takes a few moments to fill a page. Online blogs are nice, but there are certainly things you would write in a journal that you wouldn’t publishing online. It isn’t for anyone but yourself. You will likely be the only one interested in looking back later at your former self. On any long journey, always remember to bring an open mind. This can be the most important thing of all.

Last 5 Tips:

-Small Stove

-Tent

-Sleeping Bag

-Lightweight Electronics

-A Journal & An Open Mind

 

These are just a few points to get you going in the right direction for your next trip. If you would like to learn more about these topics or have questions about travel in general, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at markquattrocchi@hotmail.com. Until next time, take care, travel light and live for the adventure.

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*Now that we have reached our goal for five schoolhouses in five different countries, an update is underway by the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity). I look forward to sharing the full update on the progress of all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua with all over my sponsors. Stay tuned!

**If you didn’t see my new video from cycling around the world, you can check it out below, or even just watch it again! 🙂

 

 

10 Lessons From Cycling the World: Lesson #3

A Six Minute Read

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(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.

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**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!

10 Lessons from Cycling the World: Lesson #10

A Seven Minute Readindia“In the dim background of our mind, we know what we ought to be doing, but somehow we cannot start.” ~ William James, Philosopher

What can we take away from this life? I believe we all come into this world a blank canvas. Throughout our days, the people we meet, our parents, friends and even the media, all splash colours on us. They coat our canvas with hopeful blues, emerald greens and radiant yellows. Others dash our picture with aged greys, sunburnt browns and scarring blacks. They contribute all of their different colours onto our blank sheet in different ways. Over time, some colours run deeper than others. If we are not careful, we become more of them, than our own selves. It is up to us to figure out how we want our picture to look. How we want to stand out from the rest of the beautiful works around us.

Over the last two years, I have learned a great deal about a variety of cultures, foods, people and myself. The hard lessons I gained along the way, have shaped who I am today and hope to be in the future. This is the type of post where each point, has the potential to be a whole story unto itself. However, there will be a time and place for that in the book I am currently working on. In the meantime, I will be sharing with you a bit of that wisdom which I have gained on my cycling journey around the world. These lessons I learned before, during and after my ride, I hope can inspire anyone to go out and ‘Find Their Bicycle Ride.’

I have spaced these short reads over the next ten days. Each day, I will share a new lesson from the road. This will allow you to gain some perspective, on just what my journey was like and the impact of those times. These are just my lessons. Simple mixtures of the paints that were dealt to me. You can take bits of the colour, but it will never be all your own, nor would you want it to be. We are all individual and must paint our own canvas. We are all still learning, growing and changing. It is amazing what a dash here and there can do. Remember, it is never too late to start that picture over again.

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“Begin today. Declare out loud to the universe that you are willing to let go of struggle and eager to learn through joy” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach, Author

#10- Everything Will Never Be Perfect: Start Today

—-> Starting something new is scary, intimidating, and challenging. It is everything that most of us hate. That feeling of leaving everything that is comfortable and heading out into some unknown space can be hard. That same fear is what keeps us on the couch, keeps us at home and makes us feel like we are not good enough. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid people will laugh at us. We remain stagnant because of own looming self-loathing fear.

We use excuses for our short-comings and not beginning that new project. We blame others for our inability to make a change, like our children, spouses, family and friends. We blame everything and everyone but ourselves for not making that change in our lives. That change to a new career, losing the weight, starting your own business or traveling the world. I get that fear, because I have lived it over and over, each time I started something new.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Change can be the most exhilarating feeling in the world. The feeling of working towards something you are genuinely passionate about can be just the thing you need to get all the other aspects of your life in order. It is what allowed me to keep pushing forward on my journey. That feeling of doing exactly what you were meant to be doing in that time and space.

When you step back and look at your dreams, how does it make you feel? Does it feel fully complete or full of unfinished business? 

I remember when I first developed the dream of cycling the world. It was almost eight years ago, that the original idea was born on an idle Tuesday back at Trent University. At the time, I laughed at myself and barely entertained the idea. But, it remained. Every time I went on a trip, looked at a map or read something about travel, it was always there. Like a haunting memory of a former self, it jumped out more frequently as time went on. I knew I needed to act or I would regret not having tried for the rest of my life. The I started telling everyone I knew, so they would make me accountable. If I failed the whole world would know, but it didn’t matter, I had to try.

The bottom line, is that everything will never be perfect to make a change. There will always be an excuse to stay exactly where you are. It is in our human nature to search for comfort. In the end though, we have to consider if that comfort is getting in the way of what we really want. Is fear of an unknown failure keeping you chained down? Change does not come overnight, it comes with hard work and time. It begins with one choice. Your choice.

So, I encourage you, to start today.

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*We are now on the final few days of fundraising for the fifth and final schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua. With less than $550 to go, it feels truly amazing that we are so close. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for all of support to make this dream come true. A full update on all of the communities will be given once we reach the final goal of $50,000. I look forward to sharing this with you very soon. I would also like to thank J. Quattrocchi & Co. Ltd., Nick Pankiw, Donna Healey, Dorothy Edwards, Pat & Barb McGlade and our 300th donor, Brent Webley, for all their recent generous donations. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO EL TRAPICHE, NICARAGUA.

**You can check out a new feature in the Ottawa Citizen from Free the Children’s Marc and Craig Kielburger by CLICKING HERE.

***You can also look up an interview podcast I did on ‘Alumni Voices’ with Trent University Radio by following the link HERE.

****Thank you to everyone for your continued love and support!  

—–> Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #9.

The Battle of Heart & Mind: Cycling Ecuador

A Fifteen Minute Read

In a conflict between the heart and the brain, follow your heart. ” ~ Swami Vivekananda, Indian Hindu Monk
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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.
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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!

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*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 markquattrocchi@hotmail.com or consult the ‘Speaking’ section of my website above for more information. Thank you for all of the support and encouragement!

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Adopt-A-Village, Ecuador

My Favourite Life Advice Video

Up the Amazon River: Peru to Ecuador

A 20 Minute Readimage

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.

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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.image

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.

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*If you are truly interested in this once in a lifetime, do it yourself Amazon adventure please send me an e-mail at markquattrocchi@hotmail.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.

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Kindness of Heart: Sun and the Sudan

A sixteen minute read

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“Someone who is pointing his finger to another person is not always aware that the four remaining fingers are pointing in his direction.” ~ Sudanese Proverb

Entering Sudan was unlike anywhere else on my trip. You are unable to simply cycle up to the border, given Egypt’s incesant control over internal security. Therefore, the option was to take an early morning bus ride through the desert to Abu Simbel, where after some confusion, it eventually drove onto a ferry and shunted down the Nile to the most chaotic border I have ever encountered. It was nuts. People pushing to get through security checkpoints on the Egyptian side. The bus was stuffed to the rafters with endless bags and boxes that they were transporting to Sudan, bicycles, fruits, ironing boards and everything inbetween. After the Ferry arrived we drove for a bit, unloaded the whole bus, went through security, loaded the bus and then 500 metres later unloaded the whole thing for the same ridiculous procedure and chaos at the Sudan border. No one seemed to know where to go. This border is newly open to land traffic. Until a fews months ago it was only a weekly Ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. But I made it.

Finally arriving in Sudan and Wadi Halfa, the sun was going down on the dusty desert city. I was completely out of patience and time in this dusty down. Upon entering Sudan as a foreigner, one must register with the police and pay yet another fee. I did not care and decided to take care of it later. Wadi Halfa can best be described as the back-end of nowhere. As I pedalled around looking for supplies I ran into a nice Chinese man. Strange I thought. We got to talking as I revived some of my rusty Chinese skills. He worked at an electricity camp out in the desert. He and his colleagues invited me out to their company camp for the night and promised me delicious Chinese food. I was sold. I threw my bike in the back of their pickup and we were off through the desert on loose sand. I kept thinking, I have to bike back through this tomorrow. When we arrived they showed me to my ‘container’ where I would sleep. While we waited for dinner we played a quick round of ping-pong, no joke. The one guy was insanely good and took it very seriously. I guess thats what 10 years working in the desert with ping-pong as your only entertainment will get you. Dinner was completely Chinese and I ate like a monster.

“And the spirits of the desert are out riding, midnight driftin’ slow” ~ Matt Mays, Musician/Indio

The next morning they shipped me off after a simple Chinese breakfast and made sure I was stocked up on water. Dinging my bell twice I slid off through the sand with the heaviest bike since starting my trip. Over 10 litres of water and food for the next few days. Eventually finding my way back to the main road I charged towards Dongola over the next 3 days. Taking breaks whenever shade presented itself. May and June are the hottest months of the year in Sudan. This is saying a lot. Temperatures peaked at 53 degrees. By hiding in the shade there was a 15 degree difference. It was still hot. I learned quickly not to ride between about 11 and 4pm. The heat was simply too intense. I had cracked dry lips even with applying cream continuously and a bubbling sunburn on the back of my left leg.

On the first night I slept in the open desert with no settlements presenting themselves near sunset. This was a poor choice of camp spot. Even behind a huge rock the wind blew my tent all night like a hurricane and sand filled my tent. I got no sleep and rose early. The next day I rode hard through a terrible side wind and repeated the cycle of the previous day. Drink, ride, eat, drink, ride, eat. The scenery was actually pretty stunning though. This was turning into a proper adventure. That night a man gave me permission to sleep in his tea shack. With zero light pollution and clear skies, every night in Sudan there was an astoundingly beautiful showing of stars. I haven’t looked at such amazing stars since the Tibetan Plateau of China. It was always something to look forward to after boiling another pot of pasta for dinner. My meals simple, my days a little mundane, but this was adventure and survival at the most basic level. As I rode there was little other on my mind then one thing, water, unless I had just got water. Then, I was busy thinking how much I could drink and when.

After 400km I made it to the first ‘city’ after the border, Dongola. When I arrived looking at one shop for some food a man said, “Sit I will bring you something.” He brought me some bread and eggs with falafel, which would later become my breakfast staple. Seeing I was happy he said, “Would you like some cheese and olives?” “You have cheese and olives!?” I asked surprised. Turns out he was the owner of the shop next door and gave me some of what was probably the most expensive merchandise in his store. Fresh black olives and feta cheese in the desert. I was a happy, dirty man. When I tried to pay for the bread, eggs and falafel after finishing, I found he had already taken care of it. I went over to his little shop to thank him. He simply said, “You are my guest.” And handed me a cold sprite. I took a rest for a day, completed my annoying registration with the police and refuelled on supplies before I headed out into the desert. I packed extra water, knowing there would likely be no where to fill up along the way to Karima. I turned away from the life-giving River Nile and headed into the desert on my mission towards the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal.

I was met with a terrible side wind. There was nothing to protect me from the wind and the sun scorched the pure desert for miles upon miles. Making slow progress and with nowhere to hide from the sun, I was going through my water fast. In this type of situation you need to keep making decisions. If you don’t act, then terrible things can happen very quickly. I soon realized my speed and water were not going to match up with making it to Karima. It was decision time. I pedalled along getting hammered by the wind and hadn’t seen another vehicle in quite some time. When a large truck approached I hopped off my bike and waved him down. The driver happily greeted me with a toothless grin and heaved my bike in the back. We chugged along for the next while and I grew more happy with my decision to hitch a ride as the empty miles poured on. I simply wouldn’t have made it. I also learned a valuable lesson about the unforgiving nature of the desert and how dangerous it can be. We munched on juicy watermelon in the truck and stopped for obligatory prayers along the way. He let me off outside Karima and I waved a joyful thank you as I searched for a place to sleep.

The following day I was met with an unreal tailwind and flew south with relative ease. Along the way I explored the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal. These amazing ancient structures sit completely undisturbed by tourists. After gawking and exploring for a while, onwards I went. There are only a few roads in Sudan and very few towns with supplies. At a junction headed towards the capital Khartoum I stopped and drank down another glass bottle of Pepsi to energize myself. While I was stopped I asked a man for directions just to be sure it was the right way. When I first saw him he had tears in his eyes, which I thought at first was just from blowing sand. After showing me the way, he handed me the piece of paper he was holding. It was a medical diagnosis in English. It spoke of an inoperable cerebral cyst. He had obviously just received this news through the mail after going for tests far away. I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want anything. We simply looked at each other for a while in silence. I slowly said goodbye and felt terrible for a long while afterwards. What could I have done to help him? Could anything have been done? Would he accept my help?

I stopped that night at a road side tea stand and repair shop. I pitched my tent and cooked my dinner while the family looked on with laughing eyes. It was a comfortable evening with a nice breeze. I woke early and continued on towards Khartoum. It was in my sights now. Distances between shops were long but I was making quick progress. On my final day towards Khartoum the wind changed directions and picked up drastically. By 10am it was a full blown sandstorm. I was trapped. I was getting whipped with painful sand and couldn’t find a place to hide and wait it out. I was dirty, tired and running low on water. Decision time yet again. It wasn’t safe to keep riding as visibility was very low with the sun blocked out by the blowing sand. The buses and transport trucks were barelling along still. Each time they passed it was like getting hit by a brick wall. I had to close my eyes and get off the road or be blown over.

The last 100km of desert to Khartoum was simply out of reach and not worth the risk. I was getting a bit worried until a nice man stopped with his wife and baby to pick me up. I thanked them profusely for their kindness. His name was Adam Mergy and he had excellent English. We exchanged many questions about our respective countries along the way. I even helped him push his truck out of the sand when we got stuck. We discussed Sudanese customs, Darfur and shared some fun stories. He dropped me off in Khartoum in time for me to find the only youth hostel. I pitched my tent at the hostel and had my first shower in over a week. My clothes were crusted with dirt and grime. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to reach civilization on this trip. I only later felt bad about the smell I must have brought with me into Adam’s truck.

“The issue in Darfur is complex, but like many matters in Sudan, it is not as complex as Khartoum would want the west to believe” ~ Dave Edgers, What is the What

After leaving Khartoum I was bound for the Ethiopian border. What I encountered was a thin road and some terribly dangerous traffic. Buses cruised at lightning speed and blared horns from behind as I dodged for my life off into dusty gravel. It was quite unnerving. My days were punctuated with tiny acts of kindness, a break here and a laugh there. I watched trains of camels walking by and donkeys pulling heavily loaded cart. Mostly, I was tired and pushing the long road to Ethiopia. The landscape relatively flat and full of annoying thorn trees. I rode carefully scanning the road so as to not puncture my tire on one of those two inch suckers. The wind had now begun blowing from the south and was regularly in my face. As I approached Ethiopia the landscape slowly got more fertile. However, the plastic bag trees became more frequent. In the desert if you throw a plastic bag it will eventually snag on a low tree or bush, revealing one of humanities most ugly of contributions to the world.

One day while idly having a drink in the shade two men rolled up in their Toyota Helix and started asking me about my trip. After a quick discussion they invited me for lunch. I agreed, always feeling hungry. However, it was a bit of a distance down the road and too far for me to follow safely. We threw my bike in the back and sped off. After sometime we turned off the main road and headed through the sand and a maze of straw and stick huts. Children waved happily and I got to see some pretty interesting ‘back road’. Eventually coming to a clearing and a few homes we got out of the truck.

What I stepped into was an unbelievable feast. A daily occurrence I was told. These twelve men all worked together at a nearby factory and had a lady hired to cook their daily lunch. Most of the men had already eaten when we arrived and were kicked back with some sugary tea. The wonderful lady brought us out a fresh tray of food. I have to say the best food I had the entire time I was in Sudan. Real Sudanese food. Amazing spicy goat, juicy pieces of beef, with fresh baked bread, veggies and some sort of raw meat with cheese that I steered clear of. At the end of the meal came obligatory sweet tea and something I had never tried before. Fresh milk mixed with sprite. A surprisingly good combination. They all laughed as I tried to figure it out. After we washed up and they dropped me back at the main road. I continued on full as could be and happier than ever.

On my final days as I broke towards Ethiopia I was welcomed to sleep almost anywhere. I never felt threatened or in the least or like anyone would give me trouble. I camped in places I would have never dreamed of in other countries. No one hassled me and people generally left me to my own devices or shared a bit of conversation. I remember talking with a man who was displaced from DARFUR and the bleak future life holds for his family in Sudan. I also discussed with a village teacher the difficult realities he faces on a day-to-day basis and the broken system that Sudan operates under. Along the way I recall one man telling me, “There are 150 villages along this part of the Nile, but only 10 schools and only 2 secondary schools.” There is great work to be done in Sudan to emphasize the need for education and childhood development to governments as well as parents.

People generally sleep outside on string beds under the night sky. Temperatures still hovering around 35 degrees at night, a welcome breeze is all you could hope for. On my last days in Sudan I camped on the side of the road, beside a broken old house, next to a gas station, on the floor of a nice man’s house named Wafi and actually in a bed at a Hospital research centre for tropical diseases that I was offered. I finally made it to Galabat and the border of Ethiopia on a never-ending road that started show signs of getting hilly. I had made it. After some ridiculous bureaucracy and a final egg and falafel sandwich I crossed out of Sudan and into Ethiopia. Things were immediately different.

As difficult as Sudan was, it would have not been possible without the kindness of the people. Sudan is a very hard country to live in. Intense weather, pounding heat, failing infrastructure and rolling blackouts make it one of the poorest places I have ever been. However, the people are what made it unforgettable and at all possible. What I have shared here is only but a snippet of the kindness and hospitality. I was given so much free food, tea, places to sleep and nice conversation. No one asked me for money. It may well be the most welcoming place I have been on the whole trip or ever travelled to. This is coming from a people who probably had the least to give and shared more than anywhere else. Almost everyone I met outside Khartoum said with a big smile, ‘Welcome, welcome to Sudan.’ They are an amazingly proud people, with a lot to share the world. Of course there is still conflict and unrest in some parts of Sudan, however, the vast majority of people are intensely welcoming and caring. They are the definition of what true Islam teaches. We can learn a lot from these kind people. We hoard our wealth in the west and hide behind fake smiles. To be truly without monetary riches, but full of inner wealth should be the ultimate goal of humanity. Sudan, I am without any more words.

**I would like to thank all of the recent donations from the schools back home that have tirelessly continued to fundraise towards the goal of building a school for the kids in Verdara, India. Thank you to the dedication and support of staff and students at St. Joseph School Toledo, Holy Name of Mary Almonte, St. John Elementary and St. John Catholic High School in Perth. Amazing stuff. We are almost there! To donate or continue tracking our progress CLICK HERE.

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