With_a_ribbon of road stretching back thousands of miles to Alaska, we have many stories to share. Those we meet usually hope to distill the vast spaces and places into a few highlights. It’s hard to comprehend what we are doing in any other way. Upon meeting new people in new places, one of the first things they ask for is our “favorite part of the trip.” They know and we know that this is almost an impossible question to answer, but we try nonetheless. People are the highlight of Bound South without a doubt.
Traveling by bicycle is unlike any other kind of travel that I’ve ever done. I’ve had my eyes opened to the endless possibilities one can grasp with a bicycle and a tent. At this point, I do not know if I could ever go back. We could trade country roads for train stations, tent sites for hotels and hostels, and would miss most of the amazing people that we meet along the way to Argentina. It wouldn’t be the same. In some ways I think our travel by bicycle harkens back to a more sentimental and perilous era of tourism. Perhaps there were days before Lonely Planet, before the internet, before tourism was big business. Travel was composed of much more discomfort, random searching, danger, inefficiency, and luck for better or for worse. And perhaps the attitude towards travelers was different; they were less consumers and more students, people from a strange land who had something to learn and something to share. This is not to idealize the past, because modern tourism has opened the world up in profound new ways. To travel by bicycle channels the most powerful aspects of historical travel; in the modern age, it is hard to do this any other way.
We have noticed on this bicycle expedition that the most wonderful and hospitable people in the world are typically the furthest from centers of tourism. We’re a little more extraordinary and less annoying that way, I think. Based on the flocks of children that gather to stare at us while we eat at rural South American restaurants, we know we’re out of the ordinary. The relative coldness of the cityscape is not a new stereotype, to be sure. In Bogotá, we were just a few faces in a sea of people, a few cyclists scrambling to escape the freeways of the city. We wouldn’t dream of approaching a stranger on the sidewalk and asking if we could set up our tent in his apartment. These are simple realities of urban living the world over. Only a few days later, when we were in the empty mountain roads outside of Mocoa, we didn’t hesitate to approach a farming family and ask for a place to camp for the night. We are asking for help, and a safe place to tent is a gift of generosity that we never take for granted. Deep down there is satisfaction from the knowledge of mutual benefit; we know that we have made others’ lives richer through our travels and stories. Everything we do here on our blog is made more powerful and more poignant in the company of a few new friends.
Our journey is built upon the simple kindness of strangers, the humble and hard-working families of nine countries between Anchorage and Ushuaia. They are of limited means but have more than their parents ever had. They work hard and dream for the even better opportunities that their children will have. They are farmers, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, storytellers, carpenters, mothers and fathers. They are “authentic” as far as touristic parlance goes; but when we’re looking for a family in South America, that’s the last thing on our minds. You realize how far you’ve come from Alaska only when you’re sitting in a family room in South America seeing kids’ eyes go wide.
If you would like to experience this kind of travel and learning for yourself and your family, we heavily recommend signing up for two online services: Couchsurfing and Warmshowers. They can be an economical window to the world and a means to share your world with others. Even if you can’t host us for a night on our journey to Ushuaia, you can help someone like us on their journey elsewhere.
What an awesome way to meet people. Blessings to you.
Thank you for another great post! The heart and soul of a nation is not found in its natural beauty, architectural wonders, or GNP. But, as you’ve found, God working in the heart and soul of the people who live there.
It also encourages me to do all I can to make our home here in Starkweather as warm and welcoming to friends and strangers as the families who have taken you boys in these past seven months.
Pay it forward,