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Posts tagged ‘friends’

A Friend to the End

When_I_decided to hop on my bicycle after high school, I knew that I wasn’t alone.  My best friend, Joe Burgum, also chose what is unconventional and created an experience.  He lived and worked in Australia, traveled to New Zealand, and made a difference.  Now, I am glad to say that his experience has led him here to Patagonia (with warm socks, snacks, and lots of peanut butter), where he will join us for the final leg of our journey.

Joe and I share a lot.  We enjoy playing croquet and cards, organizing and leading events, taking risks, and serving.  We did everything together in high school.  We rallied a community to Fill the Dome, volunteered across the United States with Students Today Leaders Forever, constructed an ice tree for our school, and so much more.  He’s well-spoken, intellectual, courageous, and witty.  He has been someone I have missed dearly on this trip, and someone I am now ecstatic to share it with.  It brings a smile to my face to know that I will be among both brothers and best friend as I ride to the end of the world on Tierra del Fuego.

Joe, writing a few postcards home before riding with us to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

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City of Kings

The_past_days of Bound South have felt a little indulgent.  We’re used to the grit and sweat and stress of life on the road.  Arriving in Lima, a connection with a Dartmouth classmate and her coworkers at an international public health NGO led to a restful weekend in the capital of Peru, a sprawling “City of Kings” set above sandy ocean cliffs and an endless coastal desert.  Jonathan, a native Coloradoan-20-something, described Lima as “Quito’s bigger, dirtier, older brother.”  Seeing as how this same description fit me rather well, I figured I’d get along well with Lima.  We enjoyed the rare company of a number of American-volunteer-20-somethings, laughed about 12-hours-a-day, and explored Lima’s legendary gastronomy, colonial center, and superb laundry services.  We danced swing in a Cuban bar, ate ceviche, ate our first good ice cream since the States and watched the sun set over Miraflores.  We made some new friends who we are determined to see again in the States someday.  Sometimes, indulgence isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Our fantastic hosts with their fantastic pancakes in Lima.

Gliding above Miraflores in Lima.

Highway below the cliffs of Miraflores.

Small Worlds

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.

Waitresses in Colombia model next to David's bike, "Goliath" for a photo.

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.

Our camping spot at a local stadium near Pasto, Colombia gave us front row seats to this sword fighting rehearsal.

The pit crew at our roadside pit stop in Colombia.

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.

We had much to teach these two children while we were staying with their family in Garzon, Colombia. Here they are showing off their "fist bump".

Jumping for Joy

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.

One small hill separated this bus from a gradual descent to Cuenca. We (minus David; he supervised) helped them over the top.

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.

Avenue of the (Hidden) Volcanoes

When_a_given stretch of highway is titled “Avenue of the _________”, we know great riding is in store (like our days on the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California months ago).  Thus, excitement was my immediate response when I heard from our host in Tumbaco that our route would lead us to the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a portion of the Pan-American Highway in Ecuador that lies between two mountain chains and their respective volcanoes.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Leaving Tumbaco the next day, we familiarized ourselves with the cloud-shrouded Cotapaxi, the second largest volcano on the avenue at 19,347 feet, as we climbed up 6000 feet over its shoulder at 12,000 feet.  At the top of our ascent, we were treated to spectacular views of the volcanoes lining the highway ahead.  Before long, however, clouds rolled in and blanketed the peaks.

The Avenue

Nathan's rain gear: yellow rain jacket, orange dish gloves, blue rain pants, and black booties. Now that's style!

Ribbon of road in the highlands

We were treated to hot cocoa, juice, bread and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast with the Ambato family

Our time on the avenue after those brief glimpses was one of hidden volcanoes and inclement weather.  Rain, hail, and lightning fell from the sky.  Clouds enveloped us in fog on high mountain climbs and descents.  In spite of these daily trials, our time was also filled with incredible encouragement.  Honks, cheers, and waves became common, and increased in regularity with each additional rain drop. Even our favorite “two hands off the wheel thumbs up” was deployed by one very enthusiastic truck driver.  A family gave us space to sleep sheltered from the rain.  Kids showed us shelter near their favorite soccer field.  A restaurant housed and fed us.  After each rainy night, we started the next day energized and dry.  The conversations, food, and laughter we shared with the people along the avenue contrast with the challenges we faced while riding it.

Roadside panaderias (bakeries) are trending for Bound South. Fresh buns and pastries for a dime each hit the spot. Plus, Jif from Miami is still in good supply.

Approaching the clouds

So many roads to explore

The clouds created a nice backdrop for this monument in Alausi

Caution was absolutely necessary in the fog.

Mariella and her mom

One night outside of Ambato especially stands out.  A family of eight brothers gave us an unfinished home to lay our sleeping mats and sleepy heads down for the night.  Handshakes and greetings abounded while we were shown our sleeping quarters.  It wasn’t long before we were seated around their dining table enjoying coffee, bread, and conversation and joined by their sisters and daughters of similar age (it’s funny how that works).  I sat next to Mariella, one brother’s one-year old daughter.  With a growing vocabulary, her parents solidified us as her new friends.  At first, we were her “nue-ego”.  With a little practice, though, it wasn’t long before we became her “nuevos amigos”.

Our second-most favorite sign

Into the fog

Wait, someone is missing.

Found him!

This boy and his friend insisted on hanging on to our bicycles as we rode out of town. The push up out of town was appreciated, but it became a bit dangerous as we started descending. Even after Isaiah sternly told them to go home, they chased us down the main highway.

When I look back on the road from Alaska, people are what I remember most (and maybe the food, too).  Mountains, lakes, coastlines, deserts, roads, towns, and cities blend together to form a vague painting of the americas in my mind.  Only when I reflect on our new friends does that painting gain clarity and color.

Owned and operated by three sisters, this beautiful restaurant took very good care of us. La Escondida, just south of Chunchi, has delicious food (especially grilled cheese), groovin' 80s american tunes, and friendly staff. A big thanks to them for giving us shelter for a night.

Our bike alarm for the night outside the restaurant

Cold drizzle beaded on our skin, eyelashes, and hair in the fog. Here's me, being all serious.

Sunlight breaks through the clouds near Chunchi

Friends in High Places

People_define_our time on the road.  Each day we wake with the sun, ride against its flight across the sky, and fall asleep with its departure.  Each day we manage to taste, smell, hear, and see a glimpse of local culture aside from simply getting from A to B.  People are what we remember most.  After our time in the Sierra Nevada of Mexico, I am overjoyed to say we now have friends in high places.

Our route from Guadalajara led us to Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, where we encountered some incredibly steep cobblestone roads.  From there, we traversed volcanic and agricultural highlands to the city of Pátzcuaro, where we met Bruno, a young and well-traveled architect.  Well known for its lake and Day of the Dead celebrations, he had much to show us.  We visited Tzintzuntzán, home of  the Tarasco empire’s pyramids and decorated cemeteries, had carnitas at a local hot spot, and encircled Lake Pátzcuaro.  Later that day, we sat in his home and played music together.  Over the strum of his guitar and beat of his drum, he told us about his dreams to build a ecological home for himself in the mountains and to continue to travel the world.  He told us the importance of dreams, that without them it is hard to find purpose.  We shared much with him and rode on into the new year.

Dance performers in Patzcuaro

A mini Jack-O-Lantern we found in a cemetery

Leaving Pátzcuaro, we entered the Michoacán state, where we met Highway 15, Mexico’s principal north-south artery.  Upon entering, we began to climb and didn’t stop until we crossed half the state.  Temperatures dropped as we gained elevation.  Cold nights in highlands required clothing that had not seen use since Oregon.  Despite the cold, we found warmth with a logging family along 15.  They welcomed us to their home and place of work, and gave us a much-needed flat area for our tent.  Their children had numerous questions and found interest in our dinner preparations and Melodica.  Sitting around their campfire, we shared dinner and gave a few music lessons.  Tired legs soon beckoned and with the warmth of the fire transferred to our sleeping bags, the night found us sound asleep.

Music by fire light

Frisbee in the morning

Before leaving for the school the next morning, the kids joined us for a game of frisbee.  Laughter and smiles ensued.  Saying goodbye was difficult, but a 30 kilometer descent greeted us thereafter and brought us to Ciudad Hidalgo.  By chance, a father and son we met on the ferry ride to Mazatlán spotted us in the city and sent family members to retrieve us.  An hour later, we were being fed home-made enchiladas in the family’s home in Tuxpan.

The stillness of the night at Los Azufres

It didn't take long for my soccer "touch" to come back

The family (9 adult brothers and 4 sisters, several cousins, and dozens of kids) was gathered for the holiday season; add three gringos to the mix, and commotion is guaranteed.  An unplanned excursion to the hot springs of Los Azufres proved relaxing (the cramped ride on windy, mountain roads to get there, not so much), even after an intense game of Marco Polo.  Our departure the next day was delayed for hours as we gave rides to kids on our bicycles and played keep-away games of soccer.  The kids loved it, and so did we.  Once again, we mustered the strength to say goodbye and rode off.

Joy

We felt the monarch butterflies in the area were a must-see, so we set our sights on El Capulin, a reserve outside of Zitácuaro in the Mexico state.  Each year, monarch butterflies migrate to this area of Mexico from Canada and the United States for the winter months (one commonality we share).  Between 60 million and 1 billion butterflies fly to high mountain sanctuaries in Mexico annually.  We arrived at the reserve late in the day, and a local guide showed us to a camping spot on his property where our gear would be safe while we hiked up to see the butterflies the next morning.  His sons helped us make camp and daylight provided an opportunity for more frisbee fun.  A campfire provided warmth for dinner and we were tucked away in our tent soon after in anticipation for a sunrise hike.

Making camp with some new helpers

What you can't see in this photo is the frisbee flying towards me and the camera!

Following the guide the next morning was more than challenging.  First, he was on horse and we were not.  Second, the trail was comprised of loose rock and pine needles.  And finally, the trail was extremely steep.  Stumbling behind the guide in the darkness (we began the hike before first light) we ascended 2000 feet to a foggy meadow.  The early morning light combined with the fog was spectacular. And so were my newly blistered feet!  A short trail from the meadow led us to a roped off outlook.  He pointed to the trees and all we saw were trees.  We were bewildered.  Seeing our confusion, he waved us across the rope closer to the trees.  Upon closer look, we began to see clearly.  In the cool of the morning, the butterflies were clinging to the trees. Together, they created a textured blanket on every tree, top to bottom.  It was amazing.  We stood in awe as we attempted to grasp the number of butterflies in the sanctuary.

Foggy meadow in the morning

Marisposas Monarchas

Sliding down the trail to our campsite, I reflected over the days leading up to that moment. Circumstance allowed people to touch our lives. Only when people enter our world is it possible for us to share this amazing journey.