The third epic. Or the continuation of the second one? This is a story about my ride in Americas that started in november 2012. Although two months had lapsed sinceI finished my Asian riding adventure, I would still consider the ride in Americas into the same set. In Asia I finished in Tokyo, which lies on an island called Japan – there was nowhere to ride anymore. Unless youre a Jeseus and can ride on water. I had to take a flight out, somwhere. At that time I was still in the mode of inspiration about the World and wanted to continue touring. So the logical option would have been to fly somwhere to the west coast of US. But I calculated. I had funds to continue, but, well, not for going as long as I wanted. I still had 2 months left until my Australian working visa expires. Why not use the oportunity and earn money for those two months to make this trip last longer, much longer. Decided. Two months later, on 11th of november I was back at the same international airport, Narita, servicing flights bound to US. With a considerable difference on my bank account. I had made the right decicion. The second half of the epic2 was about to begin.
As they say, most memorable parts of any story are the end and the beginning. That accounts perfectly for this trip. I was excited to be in the open waters again, burden from the two long working months slipping off my shoulders. As the plane took off, not just my physical body was flying, but my spirit as well. Ther was many flight stopovers on the way to Los Angeles, one of them being the capital of Philippines. I had exactly one short day to spend in Manila, too much to sit in the airport lobby tired from the previous flights, too little to make the effort, of dragging 2meter long bokebox all the way from airport to the center and back, worthwhile. I choose the second option. It was amagical day, where lack of sleep, shocking impressions of the streetlife, target shooting sidetrip and philippine cousine got mixed together. On top of that, next morning, the spacious taxi didnt show up so I had to flag down a standard sedan, which was not capable of fitting the bikebox in full length. ``No worries`` I immediately sensed the taxidriver attitude when he started pulling apart its back seat. We rode throgh the early morning Manila tarffic havoc both back doors open like wings of a bird, somehow attached with a rubber string. Fucking crazy philippinos!
By the time I arrived to Los Angeles, there was 5 flights behind me and I was fenomenally fucked up. But it didnt matter. As soon as the realization hit me, I was as energetic as on my best days – I was on a new continent!Everything was going to start now. There wasno lack of excitement. Before in Australia I had planned a silly step for Los Angeles, which meant I was niot going to take a hotel to rest. That day I road all the way cross Los Anggeles to the national park northeast of the city. Though I had a chance to see much of LA (well, mostly suburbs), I arrived my camping destination way after dark. Lucky for me I arrived at all! This habit continued all the way on the US territory. I was fresh and motivated, so I felt I could ride a lot. I was determined not to lodge in before Mexico, but it was superhard to find camping spot on the way to the border. All that amounted to finishing days many hours after sunset and still finding myself ``sleeping`` in some very ridiculous spots. Like next to a private property wall 3 meters from the highway, just few meager bushes hiding my existance from the bydrivers. On The ultimate day I reacheda science/innovation town San Diego. I thought I was very closeto the border now, as it tuyrned out later, I was not. There was still a fair bit to go for a completely exhausted rider and I remember I tracked down a supermarket-kind of building. As I hadnt been properly eating and sleeping for the last few days, I started to feel a bit delrious...when I walkked in the marked, everything shining around in bright and clean colors, I recognized...Santa Clause! Christmas decorations, pepper-coockies, red coloreverywhere! Am I going mad? Hang on...it IS the time. Middle of november, thats normal. Its just Christmas wasnt really in my mind when I planned this trip. Iretreated quickly from the Santa-trap, and there he was, in the parking lot, an early Christmas present for me – Robert Neveln, a local pal. He offered to take me almoust to the border with his car, giving me a short overview of town. I was a bit embarrased to haste through this history-full settlement, but didnt want to brake my budget rules and I was way too exhausted to suck in any knowledge. All I was thinking about was eat and sleep. Thank you Robert!
These were the memorable times. I dont want to underestimate all therest of the trip, but it just is the simple nature of things. You always remember best the knots in the rope, the turning points in life. I could describe every hour of these first few days, every kilometer covered.I rode along an industial street, Mexican border availing of its existence in the end of the strech. But I felt a growing vacuum in my stomach, I was sure its gonna expolode inward before I reach Mexico. So I stepped in a typical American food-bar (or how are they called anyway) the one we know from the movies, with the doorbell, waitress and everything. I ordered eggs and bacon for the breakfast...daaah, what else! As expected, it was a bitter-sweet breakfast. 5 dollars was anyway too much I could pay for one egg and infinitely thin slice of meat and my stomach collapsed even more after this minuscule snack. I smiled and headed for Mexico.
End of the street, few more turns, and there it was. Dark, dust-taken slumm of Tijuana a gigantic flag poking staright out of its center. I dont know who had dug the ditch between US and Tijuana, but I suspect that was more in the interest of Americans. A maze of on-construction bridges and pathways led me through the dark mass of Tijuanees, when I realized that knowbody had checked passport, let alone given permit or visa. I went back to the sopposed customs booth, where I got a hardly recognizable stamp in my passport. Later in Mexico, I met people, who had entered Mexico the same way but were stupid enough to think about this peculiarity another day. In the end they had much hassle with this issue and had to pay much more than for the normal permit.
When I went back towards the center of town, I was shocked by the action taking place in the dry ``river``bed also known as a border ditch. Some very shady(I mean very) characters were chased by the cops in a clumsy manner, half by car, half by foot. Packs of shady characters moved like savannah-dwellers, away from predators, until one of them is kicked out of the pack and eaten. In this case they werent kicked out, but voluntarily parted from the other tramps to do...who knows what! That stayed the mystery until the end. One possible explanation would have been, that they tried to make it across the border, or, they just tried to make it close to the fence to chuck some narcotics to the other side. Anybodys guess.
It went worse in the town itself. Constant police sirens howling, shady characters here and there, watching the steps ofnewly arrived tourists, especially close to the ATMs. Since I had previously been warned about Mexico, all this raised obvious questions – is all Mexico gonna be like that? In every town I visit, can I really just stay in the heavily secured center? Is there any real threat behind this seemingly dangerous environment? Looking back now, Tijuana was one of the worst settlements in the whole Latin America, challenged only by notorious bad boys like Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa.
Other first impressions. I couldnt talk shit. In spanish, I mean. Its one thing to repeat after an audio voice from a study tape, another to answer a real person. that didnt stop me to order some delicious mexican food, namely tortillas. Spicedwith the hard stuff and consisting of the best ingredients like meat, vegetables, cheese-like thing – tortillas are the most common past time snack in Mexico and also the most delicious one. Unfortunately, why I probably could never live in Mexico comfortably, is the sizes of the meals served. I order to fill myself with the average stuffed tortilla, I would have to order about 15of them. Which is ridiculous in itself, let alone the price I would have to pay. The same goes for the full meals. They are microscopic in any standards. I better not try to dicect the reasons here, because I will probably run against some contradictions. Such as, if I say, that Mexicans eat so little because they are small and they live in the highlands, then I will quickly remind myself, that I could say the same about peruvians, but peruvians eat 3 times more. Go figure!
Those first few days in Tijuana were the rest time for me, to recover the stocks of carbohydrates I had not taken in US. Finally, I had to go. Its always the same story. I had not been riding touring style for more than 2 months, hence my body had to acclimatize with the long distances again. Surprisingly, the greatest effect that Ican notice about my organism is that when unaclimatized, it will consume more food. Maybe (quite possibly) its got something to do with fat metabolism, since in a resting state (or every day physical satate), our bodies use less bodily fat, if not at all.In a touring state, when one rides 5-10 hours daily, body happily goes after fat reserves under skin and uses them even when at rest. So after few weeks in the Baja desert, I felt myself comfortably fall into this fat burning mode once again and didnt feel burning hunger every time my body ran out of carbohydrates.
So, Baja California, or California peninsula. A desert peninsula running smack 16hundred kmsouth from US border, is one of the biggest peninsulas on Earth. Desert over all of its lenght, it has inspired adventurers and missionaries throughout the centuries. It has been traversedand circumnavigated by foot and by car, recently paved for trucks and tourism. But inits gist it will remain a lonely and uninhabited place. Since I rarely collect any hard information about the road I take, i had no idea, Baja isthe land of cacties. I could only guess, where on entire Earth there is more cacties than on Baja. Cactiethorns in various shapes and sizes caused punctures almoust every day, Im still surprised I didnt run out of patches before reaching to La Paz, the biggest town in south of Baja. The desert conditions make cycling tougher but also memorable. Water specifically is an issue. Its not that hard to find water on the way, just that sometimes its neccessary to carry larger bottles for some distance, which your bike might not like. Also, when you go there in the hot season (which wasnt the case) you might find yourself in a big water deficiency very fast. LaterI met a Canadian exmilitary (not that tough fieldguy, though) who started off from some village with 15liters of water and by the lunch he had consumed all of it. He had to surrender and go back.
Hahaha! I had no intention nor need to surrender to anything. I had Australian desert in my bones and head and this here was a childs play. Instead, I let myself carry by some fortunate afternoon mussones, hit the pedal full strenght and advanced 40km per hour. Speedy riding makes a person hungry. As I mentioned, Mexico is not a place for weighty and powerful pals who eat a cow at a time. I had to find my own solution. Since I couldnt cook (I have the stove but not gas) I normally bought bagfull of sandwichcomponent. Loafs of brad in Mexico, of course, are replaced by tortillas. for breakfast I ate (large) tortillas with jam(every now and then replaced by bananas) and milk. Fot lunch sausage, sliced tomatoes and onion wrapped in...you guessed it...tortilla. For dinner, same same.Mind that – this roadside-wrapped tortillas were so delicious that I did not get bored of them during all three months in Mexico.
Just as I started to stink hard after not having shower for few days, I met a bunch of germans. Klaus who was going solo from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Berthold whos was also going south but not decided how far, and a couple Dirk and Anita who had started from Alaska but their pace and discussions gave away that they wasnt going to make it until the south of Argentina. Who cares! As long as people are enjoying the trip and taking it day by day, all works out, one way or another. I left them the day before La Paz to catch the ferry to the mainland of Mexico. In terminal I met Dado and Marco by accident, two italian cyclists whom I had met already 2 times before on Baja. The change in people was noticable. Germans, being organised and meticulous about everything, differ greatly from italians, those singing italians.In Mazatlan, on the other side of Cortes sea, we found a common ground immediately, going out every night with beer and Mexican snacks. Not just funny beers but 1,2 liter beers, which mached perfectly with unusually hot climatic conditions that governed Mazatlan. You gotta give it to Mazatlan. First, gthere is the old town and the always-defining market area smack in the center of it. Second, undulatingseaside boulevard a part and party of old town, which, really, can be compared with the best relatives along Mediterraneaen. Thirdly, there is a superlong true beach connecting old town and the modern part. You cant go wrong with Mazatlan.
Hugs with Marco and Dado was a sign of saying goodby with tghis fenomenal town. I headed straight to the highland or Mexican plateau, whichever you like. This was not a common route. Most cyclist choose the coastal road to Guadalajara, second biggest attraction, university and innovation center after Mexico City. This way is much warmer in this time of the year compared to Durango, that suffers from freezing cold nights and sometimes snow. In Durango I had arranged a warmshowers host, at Fridas. Frida, as turned out, was not a person of a usual kind. From the age 10 until 18 she was a proffessional ballet dancer. As she found the perspective to continue with this career not lucrative enough, she went into law. By the age 30, as we were behind the table discussing this, she had aquaiered a doctor degree in law and was studying forthe second one. What is more telling, is that she was having a successful career as a judge assistant, about to become a judge in a year. She was living in a tailor made castel, barred and wired as usual in Mexico. The interior was spotless, hospital effect so to say. Zero dustgrain whatsoever. She lives by the rules and punctual timing. I could go on. But in effect, it all amounted her being a robot more than a human. She had a husband as well. But since they both were living this career-inclined life, they didnt have time for each other. Divorce was underway, but nothing too dramatic, they still got on very well. So, thanks to their superintensive worklife, I had pretty intensive time with them, mostly in Jorges animal clinic. Clients were pouring in all day long, it seems Mexico is doing well regarding the amount of not that poor petowners.
After 2 nights and one superintensive day, I continued south. Farmlands, not more, not less.But the highland dry season weather was fenomenal. Skies cant get much clearer and bluer than this. Was not east to find camping spot, but I didnt mind. Zaccatecas was waiting for me. Zacatecas is a former mining town, situated in a unusual place, on top of the hill in the middle of farmlands.Full of museums and such, my deal with Zacatecas was to rest, and hard-style. I found a lovely guesthouse, probably one of the best Ive ever had. Since it seemed to be the only travellers joint in town, I had wonderful time with an austrian and australian girls, Marie and Rachel. There was also this interesting character from northern US, an ex ITguru and now freelance writer who had no rush to leave Zacateccas. Zacateccas is just that good.
Since in my mind I was appointed to be in Mexico City for New Years Eve, I was in a kind of a rush. That said, I still had enough time to spend the most memorable few days in all of the travels. Firstly, in Dolores Hidalgo, I was picked up in the market by a sex hotel owner and a former traveller, Carlos. He and her other side invited me to spend Christmas Eve with them. Just a small gathering with few falily members. Well, it turned out to be more than few, more like a whole falily tree, which, of course, is norm in Latin America.
Well, if you have managed to read this far, congratulations. From here on, I will keep it short for I dont want to write a book, yet. All in all, Mexico was and is the most memorable country traversed. not just for me or the rest of the bicycle travellers, but also for backpackers and the kind. I would lack fingers when I started to count all the invitations I got from hospitable locals. That said, for some cyclists, Mexico has turned out to be a misfortunate place. It seems, especially forcouples since they are more vulnerable due to the female part. They have been robbed and lost all their belongings. It is not wise to deny the danger, that certainly exists in Mexico, but this reality has given birth to another fenomenon in Mexico as well as in Central America. People are proud about their country´s notoriousness and try to stress it at every possible time.
On Yucatan peninsula I had finally the opportunity to to suck in first lungfulls of humid tropical lowland air. This sequence continued in Belize. Moreover, the whole Belize is buried into this unreal humidity, which it seems, has had a detrimential effect on the county´s ability to be normal. In fact, Belize is all but normal. Insted of colonial architecture, a visitor view is captured by inclined wooden shacks like Pisa tower, wich piled up in a mangrove swamp make you feel you are in some big city´s outermost suburb. That in case, of course, you can find a settlement at all. Then there are those ``mennonites``, the natio-cultural group of very pale and sick-looking people who like to practice incest and ride their buggies. So much for Belize, ``the state of Belize``, although I personally really disagree with that term.
Now I was entering the so called criminogenic zone – Central America. I was so lobbied before about that all those counties are so dangerous, that I really was afraid. Fortunately, due to extensive tourism and big population, Guatemala is the best countrie for lodging. During all my stay there, I remember only one camping night which was so ridiculous, I still think about it every now and then. I pitched my tent between the furrows of maize silently praying that a harvester wont chop me up the next morning. Since the field was infested with moscitoes, i had only few seconds to shit before eaten up by them, so I had to do it next to my tent smelling the consecuences all night long.
Normally I withdraw a certain amount of cash that I predict to suffice during my stay in country. So if the reserves are running out a little before border, I just move faster and save more on food and accommodation. This is exactly what happened many times in Central america in all those small countries. Never minded, except when it happened before Honduras. I thought I could rest in the first village in Honduras...noup. The country is really fucked up both in economy and everything else that derives from it. The first village where I intended to rest, didnt have any hotel availabilities, although it wasnt the time of fiesta or any other occasion. It was just a normal day. A day when the most popular tourist town is out of rooms. That I call Honduras. So I was forced to move on and found myself camping in a ditch that night. A little while after a truckfull of bandits curved past me, screaming and shouting and banging their guns. They werent really. But it surely felt like they were about to bang their guns. It was so unnerving that I could not stop riding the next day and actually, all the way in Honduras. I just wanted to get the hell out of that joint. This was also when I began to feel ichiness in my chest, and what do you know, on the heart-side, retreating long after when I put the brakes on in South America.
Luckily, the next country, Nicaragua, is much more subtle in terms of unnerving ambience. Instead, the population consists of lot of black-genes, those laied-back neg..., you know. Therefore I could easily leave my stuff at the hotel and head out for a filling meal. The thing with Nicaragüenses is, that they like meat. Roughly half of every meal is big chunk of any meat (beef or chicken or...turtle)leaving the other half for ``gallo pinto``, that is rice mixed with beans. Its hot, its poor...but its relaxed. and it really feels much more secure. I met some relly nice people, wose sole had been teaken by God, Jesus particularly. I didnt care much, as long as they let me camp on their property and give me free food. I felt embarrased, too, as I couldnt compensate their hospitality because of my lacking spanish.
Although I spent little time in Costa Rica, I could tell lot about it, since the county is so different from its neighbours. But above all, I remember most the pain and misfortune. It had been so longe since the last real altitudes in Mexico, that when I rose up to just to 2000+ meters to cross this minuscule chain of mountains to the capital, I suffered incrdedible lack of oxygen. I could have died if the climb had lasted longer. But it didnt. Instead my tire almoust blew up, so I had to patch it all the way to Colombia, from outside, with the patches meant for inside tube.
Panama flag in the sight, it reminded me of something hot and jungellike and..bananas. Indeed, Panama has the best bananas in the world, challenged only by Guatemala. Much more interesting is the notion that behind every banana, there is one immigrant chinese. Every small shop in Panama, from east to west, is run by chinese family. This meant unavoidable get-together with ``Chinese logic``. There you go, here´s the next example of it. In Panama, I went superfast on the endless straight strech from David to the capital. I was so hungry all the time that at some point I ate two lunches in a row, the second being bag of bread and milk. I put the rolls of bread on the cashier table knowing the exact sum I had to pay, because the price was labled on the very packages of both of the items. Then she (the chinese) types in the sum. The one she types in for the bag of bread is competely different from the price on the label. I point at the lable-price and look at her. She counts the rolls of bread and makes a confirmed gestion that the price typed into the machine is correct. I look at her again, now already having a yes-I-have-been-in-China-look in my eyes. She freaks out and God knows what the next Chinese-logical step will be, I dont stay there to find it out and escaped from the shop.
The notorious Darien Gap is the obstacle between Panama and Colombia of incredibly dense jungle, swampland and mountains, that normally is not crossed overland. Travellers are obliged to find a way around, which is, if choosing the easy way, not cheap. To skip the most commonly used option of 600dollar sailing boat, one has to take either a plane or a smaller boats or a combination of them. I chose the latter one. As I have become very financially concious during this trip, especially with food shopping, I tried to implement my well-acquired skills on composing my itinerary ceoss the gap. Result – 2 days from Panama City to Medellin, cost approximatelt 200 dollars. I had read before that its possible to make it that cheap, but the web warned that the traversing time might be up to a week. Good luck I guess.
And then...I really was in South America. One could even say, this is the real destination of every traveller bound to south. The rest of the countries on the way are just something that have to be crossed in order to get to south. But they are not the destination itself.
The beginning, though, was a bit of dissappointment. The notoriousness of Colombia has long been diminished after the death of Pablo Escobar. Of course, colombianos remain the best nation in terms of position and skills for trafficing drugs, but nowadays common people hardly get involved in all this action. Instead,Colombia has grown to a developed countrie, being an oasis of cycling in the area. Moreover, the level of cycling in Colombia is so strong, that some of the European professionals give up competing there. They would just lose. But Colombians are not afraid of competing in Europe. The only guy how could beat Nairo Quintana, the eventual winner of both mountains and young riders jersey at Tour de France 2013, was Chris Froome.
In Colombia I had a little competition myself. I had come very close to my friend Loic, whom I cycled with in China last year. So I decided to catch him to enjoy team cycling for a while. We met in Cali, where his hostess, a Colombian family, invited me to spent one day in Cali. Thats where I had a chance to meet a Colombian girl. Named Mayeli. The thing is, that somewhy there is a myth going around about Colombian girls being something of a special breed, divine beauty and all that. Well, Mayeli held up with those expectations pretty well. She was both educated and beautiful. She could drive a car like a man and didnt mind partying. There is a reason for the myth.
This was pretty much the highlight of Colombia. Just before Equador, the long-awaited mountains started again. Ecuador is probably the only country where the Pan-American highway is in the high mountains at full lenghth. The road just kept going up and down, 1000-3000. The rains that started pouring already in Colombia kept doing so in Ecuador. Fortunately the pattern was mostly the same – the rains hit late afternoon, just at the time for camping. So we hid ourselves into our castles and enjoyed the noisy dribbling against the waterproof shields all night long.
Somewhere at that time I contracted a stomach disease, not just a temporary one like in China, but a serious thing and almost had turned to a doctor, which I normally never do. Since I already knew what the concept of ``tough``means, I was able to keep cycling, but not with much joy in it. I was busy with pain and lacked communication, no wonder Loic didnt want to cycle with me anymore in Peru. We aparted after the first impressive desert roads and towns in Peru, but both of us were about to ride the hardest mountains ever. This is just what peru is like. Andes, dividing all South America from north to south into uneven parts, have a different face in every countrie. In Peru it was endless up and down, this time altitude variations from 1500-5000. Peru is a very big place and you can choose not just weather you want to ride in sticky Amazon, freezing mountains or dry desert, but you can also choose on which surface you wanna do it. It seems, more touristic parts of Peru lie in the south of Lima, hence more asphalt there. Recently they paved all they way from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado and onwards until the border with Brazil, so its possible to ride now from Pacific to Atlantic without eating a grain of dust.
Both Peru and Bolivia have preserved their indigenous heritage very well. Or, to put it more precicely, it has been natural way of things – nobody except indigenous people are neither able nor willing to inhabit those high and remote areas of Andes, where agriculture is done by hand without exceptions as everything else. Time over there, if not has stopped in the sense of the western world, then at least slowed down 3 times. Combined this, the breathtaking rugged peaks of Andes, almost impassable dirt roads – riding there gives one a sense of being out of time and this world. Something that cant be achived no other way than going there. More south of Peru and in Bolivia, there are more celebrations held. Evenasmuch, that one finds himself at a local dance parade in every major village. Of course, its the season, too.
What happens if you take a buch of people and put them to live where the clouds are and planes fly, and let them simmer there for a long time. You get bolovianos. Thats what God had in mind when he created Bolivian plateau. Although plant still grow at this altitude and can support certain amount of life, people shouldnt live there, in my opinion. Bolivianos are obviously chronically brain-damaged from lack of oxygen, by the way, this is not a joke. When one spends some time in Bolivia, he will satrt notice these little differences in people – reaction speed to questions, thinking logic etc, are all a bit slower and weirder than elsewhere. Nature, owing to the height, then, is absolutely astounding. When a visitor lets erself carried away by these conditions, she finds herself in a dizzing upperworld with all its haunting beauty, crispy nights and howling near-jet stream winds. She finds a worlds highest city, worlds highest navigable lake, worlds highest capital. In the south-western corner of Bolivia, Sud Lipez, things get really tough, even for the well-seen of us. -20 degrees Celsius combined with superstrong winds is a norm, one has to bet for luck or loose screw to be able to cross that fewhundred km part by bicycle. I seem to have both, so I did it without losing too many days in the end of my life.
Decending down from the plateau, the whole new world begins. It is here, where is naturally and historically drawn the line between strong and weak indigenous influence, western and non-western way of life. Chile is the most economically developed country in South America and booming at the very moment. Hence, cost of travel is much higher here than up north, but people nevertheless come her and dont seem to mind much when their wallet is emtying in a whopping speed. Guess, there is something in Chile that gets into people. In the first run I planned to spend in Chile just for few days to rest and get some cash (US dollars to be precise) for Argentina. In reality, I lingered for a week, enjoyed Chile independence celebrations and established some long lasting bonds with people.
Off to Argentina it was, again over the Andes, in the belt where they are still very wide and high, so crossing resembled a lot to Bolivian plateau itself. As hard as it was, I finally made it to Argentina to make the most of multiple agriculturally born cities situated on the mountain-pampa divide. Some of them, like Tucuman had grown to a big one where I also took part in a paragliding event. Dont suggest at all. Try to avoid it. Better go cycle a bit. All in all, nothing really happened in Argentina except of too much confort, too cheap, too easy to camp and so on. Paradise can be boring sometimes.
That was it. The the ride in Americas. The third epic, as promised. It was, as expected – the real adventure, genuine latin rythms, astounding nature, alien people filled with affection that we lack in western world. But, there is still a bit more left in the tank for the afterlogue. I commence the final leg of this journey through Mediterranean coast and Eastern Europe, on my way home.
|One of the last entries to the logbook in a small ski-resort village Uspallata, Argentina.|
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