Cartagena, Colombia to Managua, Nicaragua

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cartagena, Colombia to Managua, Nicaragua

At the end of our adventures in Colombia we were faced with the challenge of traveling to Panama. The Darian Gap marked the no man's land between the two countries. A wilderness with no roads and notorious for cartel activity and smuggling. our choices for travel were between air and water. We boarded the Wild Card, a 60 ft steel hulled sailboat to make the crossing from Colombia to Panama. We would spend the next five days living on the ship with 20 other passengers, four crew, and a one year old dog named Max. (photos 1 and 2)

Our first two nights and full day on the boat we spent on the open sea. The experience of being out of sight of land for a full day was new to us and reminiscent of the feeling of crossing the salt flats in Bolivia. Nothing but the horizon line in all directions and no reference point other than what you are immediately surrounded by. A sense of drifting in a void. A feeling of being in a place not meant for humans. Of intruding upon an empty world of wind and open sky unbroken but for the occasional pod of dolphins or school of flying fish. Aboard the boat we passed the time watching the waves and getting to know our fellow travelers.

We awoke after our second night of rolling in our bunks to the sight of the San Blas Islands. An islands chain of 378 separate islands off the caribbean coast of Panama. With crystal clear water, white coral sand beaches, and lolling palm trees they embodied a vision of paradise. We jumped off the boat to swim to shore in water only slightly cooler than the tropical air and spent the rest of our day snorkeling and lounging on the beach. The next few days passed in much the same way. Days spent on paradise islands enjoying seafood and coconuts in the sun, exploring the bright and lively world under the water with snorkels, and lots of rum. When our voyage came to an end we were ready to get off the confined decks of the boat and to be back on the mainland. The trip had been a good adventure and much enjoyed but it felt good to be loading up the bikes again. This would be the first time that the road we set out on would eventually lead us home.

After waiting for Cameron to rejoin us in Puerto Lindo, we put tire to pavement again and crossed from coast to coast ending our ride in Panama City. (photos 3-6) We regretted not having enough time to explore the City more than a few blocks but enjoyed and nighttime stroll through the historic district. A strange mix of buildings. The dilapidated and abandoned standing shoulder to shoulder with refurbished and modernized opulence. A pattern we would see more of as we crossed the country. A mixing of two worlds. One the exported vision of the American dream. Road side shopping centers, mega outlets, and new car dealerships standing stark against the trash lined streets and corrugated iron roofs.We passed a protest march demanding to improve the local school because it had dirt floors and no running water while just down the road stood billboards in English for half a million dollar beach front condos. An unsettling difference between a vacation destination being transformed into something resembling Florida rising up next to shacks and farms where people still live off the land and sea.

Our next day riding took us to the crossing of the Panama canal. Halfway over the bridge walking our bikes along the guard railed sidewalk we were stopped by the police and informed that bikes were not permitted across the bridge. It was made clear to us that we would be arrested if we tried to cross and the only solution we were provided was to return to the city and hire a taxi. This marked the fourth time in two days that we had been stopped and questioned by Panamanian law enforcement and the second time we had been informed that bikes were not permitted to pass contrary to any indication otherwise. Needless to say we were not happy campers as we spent the next hour trying to hitch a ride across the bridge.

Eventually we got picked up by two Spaniards in a small mobile home van. (photo and video 7 and 8) We piled our bikes in and chatted with them as we drove over the canal. When they dropped us off they left us with a moving answer of "Help is the greatest coin in the world" when we asked why they had helped us. We have found this to be true again and again over the last seven months on the road. It is a truth that transcends all divisions. The act of giving help when you can is a gift anyone can give. It is an important truth to remember as we face a world becoming more and more divided by differences.

The Panamerican highway stretched ahead of us and we rode. Through traffic, dirt shoulders verging on ditches, and sweltering heat we rode. The kilometers dropping away as we put in long hours on the road. We thought we had experienced rain before but the rainy season in Panama took things to a new level. The daily downpours came in sheets of water that turned the shoulder of the road into a literal stream. The soaking storms coming as a relief to the dripping heat and humidity. Our days spent half drenched in sweat and half in rain.

After a few days of rinse wash and repeat we took a lovely rest day camping on the beach. At playa Las Lajas we enjoyed the sun and practiced surfing on the gentle waves. We watched beautiful sunsets and felt like we got to see a different side to Panama then just what the highway had to offer. Our ride to and from the beach was rolling farm land and lush jungle. An escape from the rushing shipping lane of the Panamerican. (photos 9-13)

Then it was on to Costa Rica. We crossed the border and took a ferry across to the Osa Peninsula. A part of the country notable for the Corcovado National Park. One of the most biodiverse wildlife preserves in Central America. while we did not have time to enter the park itself we did get to ride around its edges and see Scarlet Macaws and Toucans flying over our heads.

We chose to take a "shortcut" and found ourselves on the dirt road less traveled and the steepest road we have seen so far. (photo 14) This single lane dirt track was at such a steep angle that at times we all were forced to walk our bikes. Something that none of us had done before. The loose gravel would make wheels spin out and kill momentum. As we sweated and dragged our bikes along step by step, the rain came. We could hear it coming across the jungle with a rushing sound of downpour on leaves. when the curtain of water reached us it turned the little dirt lane into a full stream of muddy water running inches deep in places. You would take three steps forward pulling the weight of the bike behind you only to slip back two. The 17 km of road took over three and a half hours to complete. It was a three and a half hours that made us thankful that after 7 months on the road we have become ready to face challenges and conditions that would normally leave someone defeated without prior experience of these crazy conditions.

We finished our ride that day riding into the night. Surrounded by the strange noises of the jungle and the calls of distant howler monkeys, we pushed on. Noah's family was meeting us for a week long visit in the little surf town of Dominical. We had planned to meet them the next day but had decided to push on and get there that night instead.

We were greeted with great excitement and welcomed to the house they had rented for the week. A beautiful place nestled in the jungle right next to a little waterfall and walking distance to the beach. (photo 15) It felt like decadence to have so much space and more modern amenities. Air conditioning and internet! The novelty of our very own washer and dryer.... what luxury indeed!

We all enjoyed getting to relax and visit with Kim, Bruce, Emily, and Owen. This was the longest any of us had spent staying in one place on the trip so far. It was a welcome change to the constant stress of travel that we had lived with for the past seven months. A moment to to spend enjoying the place we were in instead of just riding through. A welcome rest for body, mind, and spirit. We are all grateful for the McCarter family for visiting and for their supporting us in our adventure.

We went on a guided nature walk in the jungle and saw white faces monkeys, two types of sloths, poison dart frogs, and many more strange creepy crawlies. (photos 16-19) We rented kayaks in the mangroves and snorkeled with the tropical fish. (Photos 20-24) We played in the waves and surfed. We hiked through the rain to a large waterfall and ate fruit the foraging monkeys along the trail tossed down to us. The week passed far to quickly and when it came time to leave it was with heavy hearts we said goodbye.  (photo 25 of siblings enjoying some real beer!)

After the week with Noah's family, it was time to continue north. With well over 7,000 kilometers left to ride and only so many days and weeks before the snow, it was business time. Cameron had left a couple of days early from Dominical to ride north to Managua, Nicaragua solo. Photo 26 is a picture of his border crossing - this is the quote that he wrote to go along with the photo on his personal Instagram: "Feeling sentimental - 11 years ago, during the first semester of my senior year of college, I studied abroad with SIT (School of International Training based in Brattleboro, VT) in Nicaragua. I lived with Mamita and her two grandsons, Jorge and Luis. I've visited mi familia Nicaragüense every couple of years since 2006... during those visits, I often proclaimed that one day I'd arrive to Managua by bike enroute from South America. Tomorrow is that day  : )"  Long story short, Nicaragua is a very special place for Cameron and he was pretty excited to get a little time with his familia Nicaragüense. Though we all wanted to spend a bit more time exploring this region, Managua would mark a jumping off point for really making tracks towards home. The next several weeks will take us through Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and into Mexico, with the goal of crossing the U.S. border by mid to late September. The last photos and videos in the album linked to this entry show Cameron's homestay brother Luis, Mamita, his homestay mother who now must be at least in her 80s, and some of Mamita's coveted cooking... yum. 

The next update is likely to be from Mexico City! Until then, thanks for reading! 

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cartagena, Colombia to Managua, Nicaragua 

Colombia Part 2 - Dads time from Medellin to Cartagena

Please find the photos for this entry here (please note there are over 300 photos in this album, so photos aren't directly referenced in the blog post!): Google Album - Colombia Part 2 - Dads time from Medellin to Cartagena

The time had finally come for Eli and Cameron's dads (Jim and Mark) to meet us in Medellin! We had all arrived the day before, to an Airbnb in a very nice neighborhood. Unfortunately, we'd also be saying goodbye to Noah early the next morning, as he had to return to Utah for a week to sort out some homeownership business. 

After saying goodbye to Mr. McCarter, we did some grocery shopping and hailed a cab to head to the airport, about a 45 minute drive from the city. The drive up and out of Medellin made us even more excited, as we knew that the dads would get a great introduction to the mountains of Colombia by taxi on the way back to the Airbnb. After the reunion with the dads, the taxi ride back was filled with an excited buzz. We were so happy to be sharing this experience with our dads.  

The next day, we'd decided to go to the town of Guatapé, we're we'd find an incredible natural rock formation, La Piedra de Guatapé. The couple hour winding bus ride was an experience in itself and gave the sons and dads time to catch up. After getting to Guatapé, we decided to go ahead and get the hike up the rock out of the way, along with Mark's fear of heights :)  The climb wasn't so bad... and the amazing engineering of the staircase distracted us from any shortness of breath. The photos show the views from the top! After a trip into the town of Guatapé for lunch, we headed back to Medellín and got the bikes ready to roll. 

The next morning, we'd head north out of town on the ciclovia, a blocked off section of highway only for cyclists and rollerbladers! We'd lucked out with our schedule, as this was the only morning of the week (Sunday) that the ciclovia was open and blocked off for public use. After the smooth roll out of town, we stopped for lunch at Graciela and her family's house (mentioned in the last blog post). Graciela made us egg filled pastries, and we talked for several hours about the history of Colombia, healthcare, what we were doing on our trip, etc. It was amazing to be able to share the time with our dads with an actual Colombian family. If you take a look at the video in the album, you can see Graciela and her husband talking about how they would welcome anyone to their home and that they have always been very open people. Their open welcome was a great way to start the ride and to welcome the dads to Colombia. After the very extended lunch, we would begin the climbing to our first night's stop in the town of Don Matias. The climb was a challenge regardless of bike, but the dads (especially Mark) had their work cut out for them on the 6 speed Bromptons. The bikes generally are very efficient, but don't have the gear range of our bikes. Mark was also running a much larger front chainring than Jim, which meant his whole gear range was a step harder. The next day, Mark realized that his bike also hadn't been shifting into the easiest gear... two counts against him. Starting on that climb we took things at our own pace and recognized that climbing with the Bromptons sometimes meant a walk/ride combination. Before too long, we'd reached a plateau where paragliders were jumping off and riding the wind currents in the area. We took a minute to regroup and clarified that the paragliders knew the currents well enough to ride them back up to the exact spot they'd taken off from... very cool. After another kicker up and over the summit, we coasted down into Don Matias, a busy little town with a great square.  After finding a spot to stay, and having dinner and ice cream in the park, we hit the hay, tired from the first day's ride. One thing that the dads immediately had noticed that day was how everyone seemed to be out and about, in the street, sitting outside the house with their families, etc. Mark commented on how nice it was to see people out and walking around, socializing, etc. It's something we'd come to take for granted, but the perspective from back home gave us a good reminder of the difference in how people often keep to themselves in the States... a shame really.

The next day, we'd continue our up and down ride through the mountains, with a plan to arrive in Yarumal that evening. We'd spread out and come back together for lunch in Llanos de Cuiba, before descending and climbing once more to Yarumal. At the end of the day (just like the first day), we were met at the edge of the town by a group of kids on their bmx/single speed bikes, who were gathering to bomb down the hills on the outskirts of town. They would then use the truck tow technique referenced in the last blog entry to get themselves back up the hill. The kids were always curious about what the hell we were doing, and we always made sure to hand out a bunch of the business cards with our information, website, Instagram, etc. On a side note, we definitely went through the cards at a faster rate in Colombia than anywhere else this far. That night we'd have a walk around the hilly working class town and eventually settle on a pizza restaurant with surprisingly good pizza! Afterwards, we made our way to the ice cream shop, agreeing that we maybe needed to start having both a pre and post dinner round of ice cream. Then it was off to bed, knowing that we were shooting for a longer 100 km day the next day.  

We woke early and met to look for breakfast - often consisting of fried pastries and coffee... this diet was welcomed for a while, but the grease levels did reach a certain saturation point a little ways into the section with the dads and we tried to steer towards some food diversity as the week wore on. After the last several kilometers of ascent, we were met with our first in a series of downhills that day. We'd regroup on short uphill sections, eventually gathering at the top of what we could see would be a very long descent into the river valley we'd follow the rest of the day. As we looked down on the clouds rolling into the valley below, I think the dads (especially Jim who'd never ridden this kind of descent) were pretty psyched for the winding road ahead... all of us knowing that this marked the end of the long climbs... and the Andes! We thanked the dads for joining us to polish off the Andes, got a picture, and hopped back on our bikes. After chasing (and passing at one point) semi trucks and a line of cars, we'd made it down to Puerto Valdivia, the first town in the river valley. After a great lunch and rest, we'd push on for the remaining 50 km of winding river valley, all the way to Tarazá, a small town at the beginning of the plains leading to Cartagena. On our way out of Puerto Valdivia, a couple of kids decided to jump on the back of Cameron's bike... he couldn't even see how many had decided to hitch a ride (Eli reported two), but it was definitely a heavy enough load to be noticeable... making the 70 PSI tires pretty squishy. Though the moment only lasted for a couple of minutes, it represented the kind of playfulness that we'd come to expect in Colombia, the people and kids always greeting us warmly and having fun doing it. The more countries through which we travel, the more we seem to be able to say that those with less material wealth seem to be the richest in happiness, playfulness, openheartedness, etc. Meeting kids like these is always a reminder to have fun. That evening, we met Pedro, a great guy working for the Red Cross in Tarazá. Pedro was from Medellín and had been living and working out of Tarazá for several months doing informational sessions for the damn (the second largest hydroelectric project in South America) that was to be built in the area. He was educating small communities on what was happening and what to expect so that there was not any more surprise about the effects of the dam than necessary. That evening, Pedro insisted we join him for food at a good, but affordable local eatery... this is where the human chain of connections really took off. Not long into our meal, we met Edwin, a guy who was working at the restaurant, but who also worked at the local gym. After hearing about our trip, he told us there would be a group of cyclists riding the next morning and that we could join them if we liked! He said that we should meet for breakfast at the same restaurant, and that the cyclists could join us to roll out at 6:30 AM. It was a plan!

 The next morning, we were up and out the door, and to the restaurant by 6:00, only to find that we were pretty much the only folks there. We figured, all good, we were up early and could get a good start on what was sure to be the hottest day yet. Then, without explanation, there was a camera crew from the local TV station at the restaurant. They started doing close-up shots of the bicycles and it soon became obvious that they were there for us and to record something about our trip. We still hadn't seen any sign of other cyclists. After finishing breakfast, Edwin told us to follow him. A minute later, he had hopped on the back of his girlfriend's scooter and we took off across town. On the other end of town, we realized that the cycling group had gathered and was awaiting our arrival. We were completely surprised to find probably 30-40 riders - the youngest a 9 year old. After talking with the kids and doing a short interview and photograph session with the TV station, we hit the road with the group and headed out of town. Not too far out of town, some of the riders peeled off to go a different route, but a group of strong younger riders stayed with us and showed a couple shortcuts off the main road. During that part of the ride we learned how serious they were, riding an average of 2-2.5 hours a day, complete with climbing, base miles, etc. We decided that we needed our first break of the day before too long and let the riders continue their 'rest day,' but it really was an experience to ride with the group and to receive such a warm welcome while in Tarazá. We still keep in touch with Pedro from the Red Cross and with Edwin from the athletic center, and we're hoping that with any luck we'll get the footage from the local TV station. That day, we continued on, covering the mostly flat terrain at a good clip and arriving to Caucasia by early afternoon in time for a roadside lunch. We were all a little parched at that point, having decided to call it a day after arriving in Caucasia, and while eating lunch we watched more motorcycle traffic than we'd ever seen at one time tear through the intersection beside us. After relaxing that afternoon, we ventured out for food and eventually settled on a Chinese restaurant that at first seemed questionable, but turned out to be quite good. After dinner, we were all ready to get to bed again and wake early to beat some of the scorching heat of the lowlands.

The next morning we rolled out of town to soon find a construction zone where we would be stuck for quite a while. We chatted with some of the locals on their motorcycles at the front of the line, and readied ourselves to make tracks through the dirt construction area once we had the go ahead. After cruising through the work area without incident, we continued on, stopping periodically for short caffeine and snack breaks along the way, and eventually making it to the town of Pueblo Nuevo... literally New Town. After a beer, shower, relaxation in air conditioning, and overlooking what appeared to be a wedding band's energetic street celebration, we headed out for a walk around the town to find some food. We ended up sitting in the street and ordered some meat, rice, and salad from a local vendor. As we ate, we realized that the local bakery, which had been in the process of a repainting when we arrived, was completely transformed - fresh paint, sponsorship logos, the works. It's often amazing to see how the organized chaos of Latin America seems more efficient than many of our daily happenings back home. You need to ride the bus? Don't worry about reserving a ticket - unlike the sparsely populated public transit of the US, bus stations in Latin America will surely have you on your way to your desired destination within a half hour. You need a knife sharpener? He's walking by the house - when he calls 'knife sharpening,' let him know you're interested. You need tortillas? Someone will be walking in the street yelling 'tortillas' at the top of their lungs... and they'll still be warm. For all of our modern 'efficiencies' back home, we'd say Latin America often has us beat... So, while eating dinner, and watching our vendor run to the neighboring store to grab us beers, we see the thunder clouds rolling in and we start eating a bit faster. After finishing up our food, we take a minute to eat an ice cream in the park before calling it a night. 

The next morning, we attempt to head to the bakery at 6:00 AM, but quickly realize it's supposed opening at 6:00 didn't actually mean opening at 6:00... the flip side of that previously mentioned organized chaos :) Fortunately there was a vendor in the street who sold us delicious empanadas for a total of about $7 for the 4 of us. When we asked about where we could find coffee, she took us across the square and showed us another vendor who was selling single serving cups of coffee. When we didn't have anything but big bills, she offered to change our money for us, running across the square to another store, changing our money, taking her portion (she took less than we supposedly had owed her), and returned to give us our change at the coffee vendor... all of this took place in about 15 minutes. So, from a closed bakery to fed and caffeinated, we'd done ok. After getting our water for the day, we were back at it, and moving through the scorching Colombian plains once again. That day, we'd decided to push as far as we could, with the itch of finishing the ride to Cartagena starting to creep into our thoughts. With that, we pedaled hard and fast, and pushed past the original town we'd planned to stop in... making it all the way to Sincelejo. After finding a bit nicer hotel than we were used to (Hotel El Florida - the second Florida hotel in our time with the dads), we wandered the park area looking for a place for dinner. We were all a bit hangry (hungry + angry) and weren't having much luck with finding a suitable place. Cameron took out his phone, which he was guilty of all too often, and found a restaurant called 'Mi Bici' (my bicycle) that looked great. Despite it being a bit of a walk, we decided the title of the restaurant was a sign, and we were off to Mi Bici. Upon arrival, the restaurant wasn't very busy (which we have learned isn't necessarily the indicator of a bad place) and we wondered if we should keep exploring... but we decided to get a table out front. We enjoyed a 'Super Bici' or a type of Picada plate - basically a huge plate of French fries, hot dogs, cheese, veggies, etc. Upon arrival, we weren't sure if we'd finish, but it all went down pretty easy :) We also asked the waitress about the name of the restaurant, and alas... it was really named after the Shakira song 'Mi Bici.' But after talking to the waitress for a minute, she asked if she could take our picture with the Super Bici to post to the restaurant's Instagram. By the time we'd made it back to the hotel, we were already tagged in a post by the restaurant, describing our trip, and linking people to our page - a nice surprise. Knowing that we were only 160-170 km from Cartagena, we were all pretty excited to hit the hay and get back to riding tomorrow. After another customary ice cream stop on the way back to the hotel, we were all headed to bed. 

The next morning, after a continental breakfast, we made our way out of town under a light rain and headed towards the coast. As we passed through a series of communities close to the coast, we realized that we'd reached a poorer area... when we stopped for a snack at a local shop, a young kid asked us for our food and change. This type of poverty wasn't something Mark or Jim had seen too much of, and the sights couldn't help but make them reflect on how it seemed that many of the people we came across subsisted on so much less than our 'normal.' We felt as though Colombia wasn't the most dire example of poverty, but we also recognized that we'd been a bit desensitized to the living conditions of those we pass. It's sometimes difficult to know what to feel when confronted with socioeconomic disparity, especially when it seems so foreign to your own experience of what 'poor' means. But something we have come to realize is that the folks we have met aren't looking for sympathy. They know they're 'poor' and that they don't have the material wealth that we're accustomed to, but I think they also have wisdom enough to know that their material wealth does not define them and that their choices of how to treat others, etc. are more important than whether they have a car or fancy house. The inner conflict is reasonable, but in talking to our fathers, we felt that the reflection on what we do have and what we may take for granted has more utility than sympathy that may not be able to be acted on... In a world of many classes, races, nationalities, cultures, languages, etc. we have to remember first that we're all people and that all deserve respect and kindness. Though many countries in Latin America were colonized by the Spanish, the Caribbean coast areas were also colonized by the British and have a much larger population descended from Africa. Some, areas, especially in Central America, of the Caribbean coast speak English or Creole as their first language, even if the national language is Spanish. This become a challenge in the classroom in that students aren't able to learn in their first language - similar to the challenges that native Spanish speakers face in the United States.... Bringing it back to Colombia, and our time with the dads, we continued on community by community, slowly but surely tiring from the heat. After a flat tire and waning energy levels, we'd decided that we wouldn't make the crazy attempt to Cartagena in one day. We were told that we could find a hotel at the intersection of the main highway leading into Cartagena, a small community called Cruz del Vizo. After arriving to the hotel and getting dinner, we called it a night and decided to sleep in until 7:30 or so the next morning. Another thing that we'd observed in this stretch was that personal stereo systems seemed to be the replacement for huge trucks... as in many of the local roadside bars and shops had huge, ear-piercing stereo systems that made your ears bleed while riding by. It felt as if the locals were competing with each other in a 'my speakers are bigger than yours' fashion. That said, we thought it was great... and even did a little dancing on the bikes when possible - to the cheers of locals :)

The next morning we set off, excited to make our way to Cartagena and the hotel that awaited. Just 10 kilometers into the ride, we came across a local cycling group. In our haste to finish off South America, we almost didn't stop, but Cameron decided to pull a U-turn and at least give the group one of our informational cards. With a couple minutes, we were in a group picture, before setting off again, leaving the group to their mid ride coffee break. Just a short while later, the cycling group caught up to and passed us in a pace line, and we couldn't help but be excited to join the crowd. The group was pushing the pace just enough to almost outrun us (and Jim was especially challenged with the easiest high end gearing and only being able to spin up to a certain speed) when one of the group members broke a chain. Fortunately, Eli the bike wizard had the guy back on the road in no time and we were off. The next 20 or so km had us riding side by side with the group, competing a bit on the hills, and talking during slower sections. When we thought we were about to say our goodbyes, one of the members insisted that they ride with us into the city. Before long, we were descending into Cartagena and were instructed to follow our new leader to a small roadside shop/impromptu Sunday bar where we were greeted with small plastic cups and liters of light beer. We felt we couldn't refuse and before we could argue, the second and third rounds of passed around liters of beer were served. Though we might have felt the effects for a minute, our metabolism was spiked enough at that point in the day that by the time we were back on bikes riding the last number of kilometers to the hotel, we experienced more of a 'I'd like a nap now' state. We bid our goodbyes to the group members who peeled off one by one and met another mountain biker on the last stretch into the city - he went by Jack as in Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean) and had a striking resemblance. After meeting Jack and giving him a card while riding, we wove through the last bit of traffic before arriving at our hotel in Cartagena - a beautiful spot overlooking the Fortress in Cartagena called Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. After checking in and having a minute to decompress we were out on the town en route to what had been described as a great pizza restaurant... and it sure was.  

Over the next few days, before Jim, Mark, and Cameron (Cameron flew home with his dad to visit family again before flying to Panama to meet Eli and Noah on the other end of their sail from Cartagena to Panama) we'd explore Cartagena's historic walled city, visit the fortress by our hotel, relax, visit a local by-hand car wash and get our bikes cleaned for next to nothing by the nicest guy ever, and enjoy great meals and the best ice cream we'd had yet. We were also happy to re-welcome Noah and have a bit of time with him and our dads before they had to fly back to the States. 

The time with our dads was very special. We all learned a lot and were really happy to have been able to work some seamlessly together as a group. We had meaningful reflective conversations on a daily basis and were able to refresh our sense of purpose in tackling this trip through our fathers' reflections and excitement for what we were experiencing together. After getting back to the States, my dad, Mark went for a ride with some of his friends back home and told me that he'd had more angry and less than courteous drivers on that one ride than during his entire time in Colombia. I think that's a good example of the many positive surprises that greeted us throughout the week and reminded us why we were so fortunate to share this with our dads. Here's to hoping it's just the first time :) 

On to Central America.

Please find the photos for this entry here (please note there are over 300 photos in this album, so photos aren't directly referenced in the blog post!): Google Album - Colombia Part 2 - Dads time from Medellin to Cartagena

 

Colombia Part 1 - Ipiales to Medellin

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Colombian Part 1 - Ipiales to Medellin

After a sleepy, rainy birthday, it was time to hit the mountains of Colombia. We had planned to ride north to Cali, would take a couple of days there to rest up, then we'd do the final push to Medellin to meet my and Eli's dad. 

The first day out of Ipiales started with a long 30-40 km decent towards Pasto - on the way out of Ipiales, I ran into the first of a series of national police. They came complete with a mascot and smiles, and despite their intimidating outfits, they were more than happy for a photo op (photo 1). We'd continue past a number of national police checkpoints throughout Colombia - and we were waved through with friendly thumbs ups for all but one stop where I was quickly searched and sent on my way. The rest of the day continued quietly to an end destination of Chachagui. 

The next morning, while eating breakfast at a roadside restaurant, I would meet Graciela, and her husband and three children. The took an interest in my bike - wondering about the weird internal hub and what I was carrying, etc. It was a quick interaction, but very genuine, and little did I know... it wouldn't be the only time I'd see Graciela and her family, only the first of three separate meetings :) After breakfast, I continued on through the mountains (photos 2-4) and eventually arrived in the dark to the town of El Bordo. I'd end up in another hotel that felt slightly pre-established as a place couples went for private time... or where prostitution might have been part of the equation. On a bit of tangent, our time in Ecuador and Colombia in particular had us start thinking about prostitution (legal in both countries) and whether it was something that we believed should or should not be legalized. While we all agreed that we do not believe in a society that necessitates women to resort to sex work to survive, we also agreed that legalization of sex work, accompanied by regulations, testing, etc. may be more responsible than outlawing... if the work is legal, women, arguably may have better resources for support from health providers, law enforcement, etc. Maybe prostitution should be legalized, but being a pimp or selling others' sex labor should not be legal? It's obviously a very complex issue, but the legalization of prostitution in Ecuador and Colombia did make us question whether woman in the U.S. who are engaged (by choice or economic necessity) in sex work have the level of support that may be found here... where women have testing, could go to police if necessary, etc. It's a tricky issue, but something to think about. Back to arriving in El Bordo - that night I took myself out for pizza and ordered a large. When the waitress questioned my order, I assured her that if I couldn't finish it, I'd take it to go. Photo 5 shows just before finishing... only to be met with chuckles from the restaurant staff :)

The next day would be a bit of a slog to Popayan, but the final destination was a beautiful little city with an amazing park. After dinner, ice cream, and a walk, it was time for an early sleep. 

The next morning, I'd set off by a bit after 7:00 AM for Cali - pushing hard over the up and down hills to Santanda de Quilichao. Not far out of Popayan, I'd see a car pull up beside me, saying 'Cameron!!!' - low and behold it was Graciela and her family, who I'd met hundreds of kilometers away. They were from Medellin and had been on a family vacation. It turned out that we had the same route and when they recognized me, they had to stop and offer me some apples :) Small world indeed. During our conversation at the roadside, I explained that my dad and my friend's dad would be joining us to ride from Medellin to Cartagena. I asked whether they thought it might be possible for us to meet again with our fathers... knowing that that exchange with a real family from Colombia would be a memorable one. They, of course, excitedly said 'yes, let us know what works for you!' More on our meeting outside Medellin with the dads in the next post... A bit further down the road, I'd meet Maria and her stalled out scooter. We chatted for a minute at the bottom of one of the hills before agreeing to tie some parachute cord between my bike and her scooter. She'd push the scooter, I'd tow, and we'd make it most of the way up the hill to a little restaurant where she could hang out and wait for a ride. After using my phone to call a friend, I took off, but it was a fun 15 minutes :) (photo 6) From Santanda de Quilichao, it was a straight shot to Cali and I pedaled along at 20 kmph the whole way.

Over the next couple of days, we explored Cali and re-celebrated my birthday properly :) Photos 7-16 are from Cali and show: a boy and his cotton candy grin, the cat garden (a park full of cat statues decorated by different artists), the view to the western mountains at sunset, the well known Cali zoo, local dancing, and my birthday and 2 liters of birthday IPA.

After leaving Cali, we headed north towards Medellin, making it all the way to Andalucia the first day, without much trouble. The riding was the flattest we'd seen... maybe over the entire trip? The main things of note that day were the sunset and accompanying rainstorm (photo 18) and the pictures in our hotel rooms that night that reminded us of the fall in New England that was to come :) (photo 19).

Over the next couple of days we'd ride up and over our last Colombian mountains before reaching Medellin, passing coffee plantations and river valleys along the way (photo 20 and video 21). We'd also get a first hand view of kids grabbing onto the back of semi trailers as they were leaving town to climb a long mountain pass. After watching these kids on bmx bikes fly by us on the backs of trucks, Eli and I couldn't quell our curiosity any longer and at least had to try it. Eli grabbed on for longer than I was willing to try, but after trying it out, you could see why the kids did it... with such heavy loads, the trucks weren't going very fast up the hills and couldn't make any sudden changes in speed. Also, while in this section of riding we happened to receive an email from a guy in Boston who had read our article in Vermont Sports. He had ridden his bike south down the west coast of the Americas, had gone through Colombia and had seen the same truck riding practice when on his trip. When I emailed him back and asked whether he had tried the truck riding, he said: "I  did the trip with my girlfriend at the time, and she didn’t want anything to do that truck action, so I also only tried it for very short distances.  But we met a guy that was going in the same direction so we biked with him for a few months, he took full advantage of that.  One time he waited at the top of a climb for a few hours for us." Though not on this trip, I've sometimes wondered whether cycle touring Colombia could be done with the intention of getting truck pulls up the hills along the way :) Maybe on the next adventure. Regardless, here's a youtube video of the method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55zZQFjLTIE

After one last long climb (pedaling), we descended to Medellin - an amazing city. We'd gotten a nice airbnb in preparation for my and Eli's dad arriving. That night we were walking in the city and looked down on the highway to discover the ciclovia (photo 22) - the highway had been shut down for cyclists and rollerbladers for the evening. We then found out that the ciclovia was set up every Tuesday and Thursday night and from early morning to early afternoon on Sundays. We were scheduled to ride out of Medellin with our dads that Sunday and looked forward to pedaling the cyclovia with the dads :)

That's all for now.

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Colombian Part 1 - Ipiales to Medellin

Ecuador - Guayaquil to Ipiales, Colombia

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Ecuador - Guayaquil to Ipiales, Colombia

After the 18 hour bus ride to Guayaquil, we were all a bit fried. After wandering through the massive bus station and finding an ATM, we withdrew the first US dollars we'd seen in months. Yup, the currency used in Ecuador is US dollars. If you have some time, read up on how US dollars became the official currency - interesting stuff. The next task was finding a place to stay and some food before getting ourselves to bed as quickly as possible. Though it took us a bit to get our bearing, we did find a nice spot not too far from the bus station, with an attached burger joint - perfect. 

Though we do wish we'd had a bit more time to explore Guayaquil, we had under 3 weeks to ride the 1,600+ kilometers to Medellín, to meet the dads. Knowing that we'd have to approach averaging 100 km/day to make it, every bit of time we had for riding counted. With that, we packed up and readied ourselves for a 4 day push to Quito. Before leaving the hostel, we met a really nice guy, Juan, and his wife and 10 month old son. They were traveling from Venezuela in search of the prospect of a new life in Ecuador. After the devaluing of the Venezuelan currency, many citizens are fleeing to neighboring countries looking for a new life. They even travel just to change their money to a different currency before it plummets farther. We talked with Juan for a little while, and managed to get a photo together with his son before leaving the hostel (photo 1). Juan has kept in touch with us via WhatsApp, asking us how things are going and giving us encouragement from afar. It's amazing that even amidst Juan and his family's struggle, he's thinking about us, checking in and making sure that our trip is going well. After a stop at the grocery store (always takes a little longer in a new country), we were headed east out of Guayaquil. We'd decided to take a route that would head east through the lowlands, before climbing into the mountains. The climbing was inevitable, and we'd decided that we'd just as soon get out of the heat of the valley sooner than later. After getting out of the thick of the city traffic, we were moving along the shoulder of the two lane road and averaging over 20 km/hr. We snacked on our grocery store snacks and 60 km later, we'd made it to El Triumfo by mid-afternoon. Agreeing that we all felt good enough to keep pushing on a little farther, we grabbed our customary afternoon Coca-Cola (we don't love how Coca Cool controlled many of the drinks and purified water are down here, but sometimes we've gotta go for the pick me up... and at least it's made with real cane sugar). A couple hours later, we'd gotten close to the next town of Cumanda, but the sun was setting and it had begun to rain. We'd slowed our pace so as not to overdo it in the final kilometers. Slowly but surely, we made it to Cumanda, found a reasonable hotel, and cleaned up before dinner at a local restaurant on the street(Video 2 shows the frying operation... very impressive). We were joined for dinner by a couple street dogs, which we've come to realize is just part of most outdoor food experiences. After a delicious meal, we headed back to the hotel and got to sleep, knowing the a long climb lay ahead of us the next day. 

Sure enough, the next morning met us almost immediately with what we'd realize was a 4,000 meter non-stop climb over the course of about 80 kilometers. The approximately 13,000 foot climb was likely (apart from maybe our climb into Bolivia while adjusting to the elevation) the most difficult of our entire trip... and given that the Andes were soon to be over, likely the most difficult of the entire trip. After about 40 kilometers of climbing, we'd rising nearly 2,000 meters to the town of Pallatanga. We were hungry and tired and it was time for a good lunch break. After a typical lunch of the day of soup, chicken, rice, etc., we hit the road again, determined not to let our crawl up the endless climb take any longer than necessary. We ground along, climbing into the clouds through small communities with locals gawking at the crazy gringos riding up the mountains. We observed local corn fields like we'd never seen before - planted on probably 60 degrees of incline on the side of the road, the space between the rows like a staircase. We joked saying "oh yea, I got really hurt falling down the corn field," knowing how foreign that would sound to folks back home. After coming to a ridgeline, we could see the clouds blowing across the road, a bit of twilight zone type experience. Before long it would get dark and foggy, we'd turn our lights on, and hoped to reach some sort of civilization before two long (video 3 documents the final hour or so of this section). Luck would have our side again as we reached a gas station with an attached hotel (these are surprisingly common in Ecuador and Colombia). Now, this hotel wasn't the most glamorous, but for reasons we won't overanalyze, there were mirrors on the ceiling, condoms at the bedside. hmmm, an interesting form of a minibar. After a cold shower, and a gas station plate of food, we were ready for bed, wiped out from the long day of climbing over 10,000 ft. 

The next morning we suspected to summit the pass before long, but were again in for a surprise as the road just seemed to keep going up and up and up, one false summit after another. After climbing for over 11 total hours (video 4 shows the resulting bonk-like behavior), we were ready for a real descent... and that's what we got. After a bit of winding descent we were quickly shivering and knew that we needed a real meal. After a quick stop of the typical soup and fried chicken lunch in Cajabamba, we pressed on, passing a concrete plant that must have spewed stone dust into the surrounding. (One thing we've continued to realize is that we really do need sunglasses, even if only for the dusty air or diesel soot - thanks Julbo Sunglasses!) Unfortunately, next came the first (and hopefully last) real crash of the trip. Eli had been feeling under the weather and was admittedly a little loopy on a slight descent coming out of town. I (Cameron) didn't realize Eli was behind me and drifted into the gap on the shoulder, squeezing Eli out. Think Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan in this year's Tour de France... I was Sagan, without intentional wrong-doing, but Eli still got the short end of the stick. Fortunately, Eli's really an expert bike handler, and once he knew what was coming, tucked into the fall, stayed with his bike and walked away with little more than a scratch. Amazingly, his bike seemed fine too, until we realized his front disc was rubbing and wouldn't stop with a normal readjustment. After some investigation, we realized that the fork ends had actually bent a bit. We took a wrench and some weight, and soon had bent the fork back into place and were on our way. This is another reason we ride steel bikes. Yes, they are heavier, but they're comfy, strong, and steel can be bent back if something is out of wack... Aluminum doesn't work that way - bend it one way, and more likely than not, it'll break when forced to bend back. After a long morning climbing, the cold descent, and the bike mishap, we decided to take a breather on the other side of Riobamba at a local bakery. Eli was drooling over some eclair type pastries, so we grabbed some of those along with some cheese filled bread. After the afternoon refuel, we kept pushing, doing another several thousand feet of climbing out of Riobamba. Around 5:30 that night, we finally hit the summit and knew that we'd be headed mostly downhill to Ambato, where we had a hotel reservation waiting. The dusk descent was chilly, numbing our brake clutching fingers. It then began to rain, but were on autopilot at that point, knowing that we absolutely had to keep pushing to Ambato. The real finale was an incredibly steep downhill tunnel into Main Street Ambato. It was as if we'd reached the finale of a roller coaster that spat us out into a street filled with mouth watering restaurants - our hotel just a few blocks away. After checking in to the hotel, we made our way downtown in the rain, first stopping at a burger joint, then ice cream, then another slice of pizza to top it off :) We were tuckered and soon hit the hay, knowing we'd be up early again the next morning. 

After waking up feeling pretty wretched, Eli wasn't entirely sure whether he should make the final push to Quito... but being the Terminator he is, we pushed off for our final leg before a day off. The start of the day had us gradually climbing out of Ambato. Given our early pace, we weren't so sure about the Quito end goal, but decided an early second breakfast or first lunch made sense. After a rice and chicken dish and a Coke in San Miguel de Salcedo, we pushed north, now with more of a tailwind than we'd felt in some time. Though we were pedaling slightly uphill, the tailwind more or less flattened the grade as we pushed on at around 20 km/hr. Then we hit the first major climb of the day. Before reaching the top, we'd get caught in a cold, thundering rain. We were pretty quiet at this point, knowing we were within reach of Quito, but still had a chunk to go. After summiting and descending once more, we were quickly crushing kilometers and knew that we had only one more major climb. As we rode up on Machachi, we decided that a second lunch/first dinner was a smart move. We found a nice, but reasonable restaurant where we both had burgers, salad, etc. We even met a woman who had cycled in Europe and was very excited about our adventure. After fueling up, we were back at it. After a short, rainy end to the descent, we hit our last climb. We weren't too talkative at that point and put our heads down, let our minds wander, and kept pushing up to the top of the hills bordering Quito. With 20 or so kilometers still to go, we were in Quito, a crazy sprawling, polluted city. At that point, we coasted down the busy city streets, sometimes using the less traveled bus lanes to give ourselves as much space from traffic as possible. We'd take the next day off, before heading north towards the Colombian border. Pardon the lack of photos from this section - we were riding long days and felt the scenery was similar to what we'd seen in some other places :/

After pedaling to the outskirts of Quito, we were met with an amazing view and epic decent out of the high city (photo 5). We continued to a lunch stop and energy drink (photo 6), and pushed onwards, eventually reaching... the equator!!! (photos 7 and 8) It felt like a real milestone to make it here, and even though we knew we still had many miles to pedal, there was some comfort knowing we'd made it to the northern hemisphere. We continued, slowly climbing our way to the summit of a pass before dropping down to our destination town of Otavalo. Before the decent, we took a minute to look down on the cloud covered valley and setting sun below (photo 9). While walking the streets of Otavalo that night, we witnessed some sort of procession, possibly a funeral celebration (video 10). 

The next day we pushed on, continuing our decent into a very dry river valley environment. We knew we'd face a long climb afterwards and got a quick lunch at a gas station buffet before hitting the hills. I (Cameron) was feeling pretty sick with some sort of head cold, and told Eli and Noah to go ahead. I knew that I could make it, but that I couldn't rush. Photos 11 and 12 show the winding climb - not the most challenging we had faced, but it felt pretty tough that day. After the climb, I'd thought I'd meet Eli and Noah in a small town called La Paz, but after wandering around looking for them at dusk, I found them at the outskirts of town eating dinner at the lone restaurant. They informed me of the 'good news' (that my food was already ordered) and the 'bad news' (there was nowhere in the town to stay). We continued on another 10-15 km in the dark to make it to San Gabriel, where we found a place to stay. That night we had heard from the hostel owner/receptionist that 50 immigrants who had been in the U.S. were deported back to San Gabriel and had arrived that day. We were somewhat stunned, knowing that the current administration couldn't have helped the expulsion of the 50 local citizens trying to make a living in the U.S. to support their families locally. That night we decided that we'd try to get a short interview the next morning. Video 13 shows our interview - pardon the 90 degree rotation, we'll get it fixed at some point, but just can't seem to get it to work on the road! The woman is basically saying that she understands that maybe these people didn't have all of the necessary papers, but that there's more to the issue - that their families are depending on them, etc. In the video, I ask her about Venezuelan immigrants, like Juan who we'd met in Guayaquil - she responds by saying that we know they're in trouble and welcome them. She also mentioned that there were a number of Venezuelans working at another hotel just up the street. So, while the night before had been a late night, maybe the opportunity to speak to this woman was a blessing in disguise... and it all happened on the morning of June 25th, my birthday. Even though I was feeling well, this continued sharing of humanity with others felt like as good a present as I could have hoped for :)

That day, we pedaled slowly out of San Gabriel, eventually crossing the border into Ipiales, Colombia. That night we visited Santuario de Las Lajas - an amazing cathedral built into the rocks of a gorge between Colombia and Ecuador. The last photos of the album show the cathedral at night. 

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Ecuador - Guayaquil to Ipiales, Colombia

 

Cusco, Peru to Guayaquil,Ecuador

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cusco, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador

Apologies for the long delay in entries! We've been on a whirlwind tour from Cusco north to Ecuador and on to Colombia and are just now catching up on our blogging!  This next section will cover the stretch from Cusco to Abancay (in the mountains by bike), busing to Ica, a day in Huacachina on the sand dunes, busing north to Lima, and then to Huaraz, mountain biking outside Huaraz before riding through Cañon del Pato and to Trujillo, and hopping one last (we hope of the entire trip) to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

With a whopping 4,000 ish kilometers to cover in just over a month, we had to prioritize riding as much of the section between Cusco, Peru and Medellín, Colombia as possible. Upon leaving Cusco, we'd decided that we at least wanted to ride through a short section of the mountains of Peru outside Cusco. With that, we headed off towards Abancay, just over 200 km from Cusco. Day one took us up winding streets out of the city. We'd cross paths with kids like those pictured in photos 1 and 2 of the album, kindly heckling us and cheering us on after our longest break of trip. After a quick lunch at the summit of the climb outside Cusco, we continued, descending through a beautiful open valley. We'd then pedal up our next climb of the day, knowing that a small town, Limatambo, would greet us on the other side of the pass. After a steady climb, we were greeted with ridiculous mountain views - we were stunned. Photos 3-6 show the views from the top. After spending some time gawking, we headed down, descending hundreds of meters into the river valley to the small town of Limatambo.

The next day, we'd wake to over 30 km more of descent, before crossing a river to begin our next climb. We'd descended to 1,900 meters, or about 6,000 ft below Cusco. After winding up and up and up (photo 7), we decided that that day would be a short one, landing us in the town of Curahuasi. After getting lunch in town, we found a hidden gem of a place called Casa Lena (Click Here for their Website!), a bed and breakfast, and an NGO focusing on the education of rural children in need. Casa Lena was started by a mixed Belgian-Peruvian couple in 2012. Stefanie greeted us when we arrived and showed us where we could camp - in any spot of the beautiful grassy overlook (photo 8). After dropping our bikes, Stefanie was sure to show us the school and introduced us to the many children in their various programs and classrooms. She explained how the school had started, funding, differences in instruction for the diversity of students, etc. We also met a number of volunteers, mostly from Belgium, who were volunteering at the school, and Stefanie explained how they're always trying to grow this group! So, if you're looking for a unique place to volunteer, consider contacting Casa Lena. That evening, we relaxed, listed to music, cooked, and slept soundly on the softest camping surface we'd had in quite some time. 

The next morning, we'd continue climbing to the top of the 4,000 meter pass. As the long climb pressed on, we were thankful that we hadn't decided to continue the day before... knowing that we wouldn't have made it to the top of the pass without a struggle. Photo 9 shows the view looking back towards Curahuasi, just part way up the long climb. On the way up the climb, we ran into a group of kids who started running after us, asking about our bikes and really excited to hear about our adventure. After grilling us about the number of bicycles we had back in the United States (and Eli and I admitting to owning around half a dozen each), they insisted that we bring them bicycles and asked when we'd be coming back with their bikes - next week? no? Ok, next year? This back and forth bicycle negotiation continued (us riding, kids running) straight to their house by the side of the main road. Though we knew we couldn't promise to deliver bikes to Peru on a certain timeframe, they were sure to show us exactly where they lived in the event of our return :)  After the refreshing exchange with local kids, we continued up the climb and cheered with glee when we reached the summit and saw the descent into Abancay that lay before us.  Check out our Instagram feed from a couple of weeks ago for GoPro footage of part of the descent! After a quick 35 km to Abancay, we headed straight for the bus station, knowing that there might be overnight buses to the coast. Fortunately, we found a 9:00 PM departure to Ica, giving us time for a leisurely dinner and a shower before boarding for the 11 hour ride through the mountains to Ica. 

 Leery eyed, but in good spirits, we arrived in Ica early the next morning and headed, by bike, straight to Huacachina, a small desert oasis just outside Ica. We all agreed that the little town made us feel a bit like we were in a Mad Max film, dunes surround a small body of water, sun baked tourists roaming around - definitely a surreal vibe. After finding a hostal and some coffee, we decided that we'd splurge for the $10 dune buggy and sandboarding tour. We were a little hesitant, but figured we'd better do it while we had the chance. And... it didn't disappoint. The dune buggies were all homemade 8 cylinder, 12-15 seater, monsters. They were loud, dirty, and fun. Our veteran driver screamed around the dunes, scaring the sh&* out of us. But, we loved every second of this sand roller coaster. After a couple attempts (and earfuls of sand) at sand boarding, we headed back into town and joined other tourists for dinner and dancing that evening.  Photos and videos numbered 10-14 show the dunes and our buggy and sandboarding experience!

The next morning we'd head to Lima, again by bus. After a short ride, we were in Lima and headed to our hostel in the Miraflores district. We'd spend the next couple of days walking around Lima, visiting the beautiful coastline, and enjoying the best ceviche we'd ever tasted. We also made it to the famous fountain park and light show and to some of the government buildings and parks in the center of the city. Though some had said that they didn't think Lima was that special, we enjoyed our short time there. Photos 15-19 show Lima's coastline and part of the fountain park.

After a short time in Lima, we hopped a bus to Huaraz, a well known Peruvian trekking destination. My (Cameron's) college outdoor leadership advisor, John Abbott, told us about a group called Galaxia Expeditions (photo 20), and recommended that we try mountain biking with one of their guides. Though we were all a bit weary from the bike ride, we obliged and met one of the many brothers involved in the company, Jean, for breakfast at 8:00 the next morning. After a quick meal, we stuffed the four of us and rented mountain bikes into taxis and headed up to a pass at 4,000 meters, about 1,100 meters above the city of Huaraz (photos 21-22). From there, we descended on single track, open rock faces, sheep fields, backyards, etc. and made it back to Huaraz thoroughly tuckered out, but with smiles on our faces. We'd take the rest of the day to relax and get ready for riding towards Trujillo and Puerto Chicama over the next several days.  

We'd been told that the ride from Huaraz would be beautiful and mostly downhill, but boy were we in for a treat. Cruising at well over 20 km/hr (fast for us!), we followed the river north and towards the coast. Along the way, we took time to stop and admire the views of Huascaran, the fourth highest peak in South America, and the highest in Peru, at over 22,000 feet. Photos 23 and 24 show another peak from the Cordillera Blanca and Huascaran respectively. The river valley flowed northwest, eventually taking us to Cañon del Pato (photos 25-28), or duck canyon. As the walls of the canyon closed in to our right and the road began to wind tighter and tighter, we came upon the first in a series of tunnels along the left side of the canyon. At first we thought we were lucky for the thrill of several tunnels, but soon realized that they seemed never-ending. Tunnel after tunnel wound along the canyon, with guardrail-less, narrow stretches of road in between. Though some of us are more afraid of heights than others, the drop off of the road into the canyon to our right gave us all a thrill - picking our way down the beautiful and foreign terrain. Eventually, the road leveled off, making it feel as if we were climbing away from the river dropping below. Before long, we hit the inevitable switch backs, first passed by a couple of cars, who underestimated our ability to descend as quickly as most cars. After overtaking the traffic over several speed bumps, we arrived in the small town of Huallanca, a community that seemed only to exist because of the hydroelectric dam that was found at the end of Cañon del Pato. After an ice cream search (to no avail) we were lucky enough to find the last can of Gloria (in our opinion, the very best condensed milk), giving us motivation for our nescafe lattes to be enjoyed the next morning. We had decided that we really wanted to camp that night and continued on down the river valley, passing coal mining operations along the way, and taking in the rich colored rocky hillsides bordering the widening canyon. After a bit of a climb away from the river, we reached Yuracmarca, a small community perched on the side of the river valley. After grabbing fresh water in Yuracmarca, we set off once more, in search of a riverside camping spot. Just as the sun was setting (photo 26), we discovered a small dirt road leading to the river, and as luck would have it, the riverside spot was just right (photo 27). That night we cooked over a small fire, told stories, and were lulled to sleep by the sound of the fast moving water.

The next morning, before setting off, Eli realized he'd gotten a flat and that there had been a number of long, sharp thorns on the path to our camping spot. After repairing the tire and checking for thorns, we climbed back to the road to let Noah know about the thorns and to make sure his tires were thorn free. After a cursory glance down, Noah declared that his tires were all set. He hadn't flatted yet and seemed convinced that today wasn't the day for his first... Fast forward an hour or so, and Noah's discovered his rear tire is very soft. Eli and Cameron can't help smirking, immediately knowing the culprit. After 45 minutes or so, 5 tube patches, and some patience, we were back on the road and were all confident that Noah had learned that there was utility to checking your tires proactively. As we continued our descent down the river (photos 28-29), we were met with a stiffer and stiffer headwind, more or less negating any assistance that gravity had given us. We also noticed the temperature rising little by little - we were, after all, descending 10,000 ft to the coast. After lunch in a small town, mostly consisting of simple shacks, we were met with another mechanical challenge... the sole of Eli's shoe had cracked in so many places, that after unclipping from his pedals, the cleat of his shoe was turned nearly 90 degrees (photo 30). Unsure how exactly these shoes would make it to the next town, let alone Colombia, where we'd meet Eli and Cameron's dad's, we were faced with some problem solving and decided that shimming a piece of plastic bottle between the cleat and sole of the shoe might just hold the cleat in place long enough for Eli to keep pedaling. And it worked! (all the way to Colombia) After the shoe mishap, we pushed on, now more parched than we should have been at that hour. Soon after the town, we knew that we'd hit a turn for a small private road that we'd read about as a shortcut. We found the road, crossed to the northern side of the river, and realized that we'd be back on dirt for some time. Several hours and 40 km or so of dirt road later, we'd hit pavement once more and closed in on the next real town - Chao. Before getting to Chao and the last stretch of the ride on the busy Panamerican highway, we hit the longest tunnel we'd seen - this one two lanes and plenty wide for passing traffic. Not long after entering the tunnel, we were caught and passed by a van. We didn't think much of it until the van stopped and started reversing in the opposite lane. Initially we were a little unsure what was going on and proceeded with caution. But, true to our experience thus far, the van driver had decided that he'd back up to us, let us pass, and make sure we had the light from his headlights to travel the remaining length of the tunnel. After again being warmed by humanity, we pushed on, pedaling into the sunset and towards the Panamerican highway (photo 31). After t-ing with the highway, we made sure our bikes were all set with head and tail lights and hit the road one last time, coasting with a slight downhill on the fast pavement towards Chao. After finding a hotel and food, we hit the sack, tired from the epic day. 

The next morning, after finding breakfast, we hit the Panamerican and headed north towards Trujillo. After the long couple of days we weren't moving too quickly and decided that it might be nice to cut our intended destination of Puerto Chicama a little short... so we did. Not realizing that the beach town right outside Trujillo, Huanchaco (photo 32), was also a well known surf spot, we decided that spending a bit of time there instead of trekking out to Puerto Chicama made sense. We knew that we'd have to be busing north from Trujillo to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and it also made sense not to have to backtrack too far. 

After doing the surf town thing and enjoying the nice city of Trujillo for a couple of days, we were Ecuador bound and hopped a late night bus for Guayaquil (fingers crossed that this would be the last bus of our whole trip). One note before wrapping up the Trujillo area is that we regretted not finding the Trujillo bike house (casa de ciclistas) - apparently the original location in all of South America. The casas de ciclistas are basically warm showers style (look up Warm Showers if you don't know about them!) houses where people offer their homes for traveling cyclists. Though we haven't been able to take advantage of many of these houses, we're excited to meet more people through Warm Showers and casas de ciclistas as we roll north.

We'll pick up the story in Guayaquil, Ecuador!

-Cameron, Eli, and Noah

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cusco, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador

  

Cusco, Peru

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cusco, Peru

Our visit to Cusco was the longest stay in one place of the trip so far (and likely the whole trip!). Cameron took time to visit his family in Vermont, Eli's mom and sister visited, and Noah spent time with Eli and his mom, Laurieann, and sister, Maggie, as well as some time exploring on his own. For this entry, Noah and Eli have each authored sections below: 

Noah writes:

To appreciate the city of Cusco as it sprawls amid the mountains, one must first change their perspective. You must look beyond the buildings to their foundations. Look past the present to the layers of the past. See not just the people but the places they came from. The beauty of the city is hidden in the taste of its food and the stones in its streets.

So often, we only see what is on the surface and do not look deeper or perceive what has come before to influence and form the present moment. In Cusco we got to see the layers of history one on top of the other. The murmurs of Quechua, the pre Spanish native language. Stones from the Incan empire. Foundations and walls shaped by hand with stone and bronze tools long before the West ever set eyes upon the land. The bones of their civilization buried under the next wave of culture as the Spanish Roman Catholic empire left its mark. Spanish architecture and cathedrals showing the glory of their conquest. Asian influence in the food and music from laborers brought by the Spanish ships to work their plantations. The new development of the modern age as railways and apartment buildings spread outward from the city's heart. Pavement meeting cobble stone streets built before cars or carts. Footpaths and stairs reaching where roads never could up the mountains sides. White plaster and tile next to cement and rebar. Worlds and times touching and intermingling to create something unto itself. Bustling markets with strange sights and smells. Hidden courtyards harboring music and drink. Central plazas crowded by tourist groups and the flash of their cameras. Local teens practicing their traditional dances in the streets. A moving flowing thing that comes together to become the city of Cusco.

Eli writes:

After five months of travel without spending more than a number of days in one region, we arrived in Cusco, Peru where we would spend two weeks. My (Eli) mom and sister would be spending a week with me and traveling to Machu Picchu, spending time visiting the towns of Ollantaytambo and Urubamba located in the Sacred Valley.

I was excited to have the opportunity to share traveling outside the US with my family. It’s hard to describe over a phone conversations or through pictures what it means to live in a completely foreign culture. After the 24 hours Cameron, Noah and I had in Cusco before my family arrived, I was relieved to know the region offered a choose your adventure style culture shock. In some ways, this was a shock to us after traveling through rural Peru and Bolivia before reaching Cusco, the site of Starbucks, Subway, KFC, and McDonalds in the main square felt somewhat uncomfortable. But, explore the smaller cobble streets and traditional food could be found. To welcome my mom and sister to Cusco we opted for the local option and promptly broke all the “food rules” the travel doctor had given them before leaving.

After a night in Cusco, we opted for private taxi to Ollantaytambo, this would offer the smoothest introduction to public transportation and driving in South America. Later, we would choose the cheaper options that really put you in the action on the roads of South America where driving seems to be more of a sport rather than mode of transportation. If Formula 1  was to start a bus class, the drivers here would be at the top of the game.

In Ollantaytambo we would take the train to Aguas Calientes, essentially basecamp for Machu Picchu. We woke up at 5 am to find the line already growing for the buses that take up the winding road leading to Machu Picchu. We explored the site of Machu Picchu and began the hike up montaña Machu Picchu for the view of the main site and Huayna Picchu mountain, this is the iconic mountain just beyond the main site in many pictures. What I found most amazing was just how difficult it must have been to construct stone buildings at the location. Just what did day one of construction entail high up on the granite ridge covered with nearly impenetrable jungle.

As we began to summit montaña Machu Picchu clouds began drifting by, after a few minutes of looking over the cliff edges at the surrounding jungle and site of Machu Picchu the clouds thickened blocking the view just as rain started to fall. Pulling out the rain jackets we started down the stone steps leading back lines of people waiting for the bus back the Aquas Calientes.

*After reuniting in Cusco, Cameron, Eli, and Noah continued by bicycle to Abancay, Peru - through incredible mountains and valleys. The next entry will cover the ride to Abancay, some busing to Ica, Huacachina, Lima, pedaling from Huaraz to Trujillo, and the ride from Guayaquil, Ecuador north to Colombia!

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Cusco, Peru 

Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, and Lago Titicaca

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, and Lago Titicaca

After the beautiful, but grueling lagoon route, we arrived in Uyuni tired and hungry for a meal other than bread, jam, and spaghetti. We quickly found a nice hostel (that served eggs for breakfast!!!) and took a couple days to rest and prepare for the next leg of our journey - the Salar de Uyuni - the world's largest salt flats (and supply of lithium!). 

We rode north out of Uyuni before heading west, directly across the salt flats towards Isla Incahuasi, an island of land in the middle of the Salar. The first day took us about 30 km from the island, where we decided to camp and enjoy the desert sunset. We'd also noticed that there were 'potholes' in the salar - literally holes in the salt surface. In each of the 'potholes' we thought we saw water, but later learned that there was a liquid brine beneath the salar made up of a number of different minerals. In this brine exists 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves. Photos 1-6 show the Salar, the holes where you can see the brine beneath the surface of the salt flat, and some photos of the sunset and evening on the salar. 

The next day, we pedaled on towards Incahuasi, unfortunately into a very strong headwind. After reaching the island (photos 7 and 8), we enjoyed lunch inside before hitting the salar again - this time due north and with a slight side/tail wind! We also decided that this was our opportunity to try out bike sailing, yes bike sailing. We rigged up our tent ground cloths and set off, tacking north across the salar :) (photo 9) That night, we arrived in Coqueza, on the northern edge of the salar, with an amazing view of Volcan Tunupa (photo 10). 

Though the salar was absolutely the experience of a lifetime, we all agreed that we were thankful to be back on a real (dirt) road and headed north towards La Paz the next morning. Though we had another 40+ km of dirt road, we knew that pavement awaited once we reached the small town of Salinas de Garcia Mendoza. (photos 11-12 show the ride from Coqueza to Salinas de Garcia Mendoza)  That night, we met a French woman, Pepita, who shared stories from the road north and gave us advice on the route. It was great to hear her stories and to have a better idea of where we'd be headed next. (photo 13)

The next few days took us back towards the main north/south route in Bolivia through rolling plains. Along the way, we'd stop in small working class towns and bunked up in (we'll call them rustic) alojamientos or boarding houses (photo 14) and bought food from local markets (photo 15). Though we were and continue to be thankful for our travels, it was during these few days before arriving to La Paz that we found ourselves missing the comforts of home... a working shower, potable water, family, etc. Though there had been a number of 'novelties' early on in the trip, this section had us agreeing that the novelties were maybe wearing off... at least a bit. 

As we approached Oruru, we agreed that we'd had enough of the plains riding and made the executive decision that we'd hop a bus to La Paz that evening. It was an in the moment decision, and in retrospect, a good one. We are forced to come back to the fact that we have a plan to finish this trip in approximately 10 months - this requires us to balance riding as many kilometers or miles as we can without burning out and with the time to see places along the way and to have the personal interactions that will ultimately shape the story of Mundo Pequeño.

La Paz was amazing. As we wound down the hillsides surrounding the center of the city, we were in awe, recognizing that we'd never seen a place like this. La Paz sits about 500 meters below the surrounding city of El Alto - with that, the hillsides leading down to the city center are littered with houses and cliffs interspersed between. Even though the population of the city and surround metropolitan area is just a couple million people, it looks much larger with its sprawling and mountainous landscape. Over the next several days in La Paz, we'd relax, repack our belongings (we'd all decided to modify what we were carrying, and all planned to drop at least some of the weight that we'd started with), and explore the most 'first world' environment we'd experienced in weeks. The highlight of our visit to La Paz must have been 'El Teleferico,' the city-wide gondola system used for commuting from the hillsides into the city. Because the system isn't intended as a tourist attraction, one way tickets are 3 Bolivianos, or less than 50 cents. With this, we decided to spend a couple of hours on the different routes, observing and watching the sunset from above. (photos 16-19 show La Paz and the views from El Teleferico)

We left La Paz rejuvenated (and we even got to ride the gondola up and out of the city with our bikes instead of riding the crazy climb!), but also a bit weary of heading back out into the country. Unfortunately, we'd also all been bit with some sort of bacteria and were suffering some unfortunate 'side effects.' Thanks to a bit of advice from Laurieann, Eli's mom, we all took a small regimen of antibiotics and Imodium, and were feeling better quickly. The next several days would take us to Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at around 12,000 ft. Once we reached Lago Titicaca, we were refreshed with new views and the first real greenery we'd seen in almost a month. We agreed that deserts were 'cool,' but that life and trees and birds and animals have a certain calming and restorative quality. (photos 20-22 of Lago Titicaca and a very interesting barge ferry)  

After riding alongside Titicaca, we arrived in Copacabana, Bolivia, the most touristy (almost disconcertingly so) place we'd seen since leaving Chile. After finding a place for the night, we made a plan to visit Isla del Sol, a place known as the birthplace of the Incan empire. Unfortunately, Noah came down with another bug and decided it wasn't a good idea to set out on the 2 hour ferry ride to the island. But, we had also been rejoined by Luke, a great guy from the Washington D.C. area who we'd first met in Uyuni and who was traveling solo by bicycle with a plan to conclude the South American portion of his trip in Cusco, Peru before flying to the United States to do a cross country ride. That day, we explored the island of the sun, saw our first Incan ruins, and enjoyed a day off (fortunately Noah was feeling much better that evening). (photos 23-26 of Copacabana, Isla del Sol, and Luke!)

The next day, we set off for Peru, just 6 kilometers out of Copacabana. Unfortunately, we had a slight delay when Noah realized he didn't have his passport with him at the border. Fortunately, after a couple of phone calls, we figured out that the passport was at the hostel we'd stayed at in La Paz. With that, Noah took it upon himself to travel back to La Paz solo, with the agreement that he'd bus ahead to Puno, Peru to meet us a couple of days later. Though an unfortunate circumstance, we counted our blessings, and moved on. 

The next couple of days took Cameron, Eli, and Luke to Puno, about 150 km from Copacabana. We put our heads down, shared the wind, and made good time. Fortunately, though quite a grueling ordeal, Noah arrived in Puno safely and as planned. (The stretch between Copacabana and the mountain valley leading into Cusco didn't inspire many pictures, but we did get a good glimpse of the real world of a working class city in Juliaca - photo 27)

Over the next several days from Puno to Cusco, we'd continue pedaling through high plains, covering over 100 km on our first day. In this section of the trip, we'd see very creative uses of transportation (llamas on the roof of a van - alive and tied down with their heads popping up, sheep in a pickup truck - photo 28) On day two, we rolled into Ayaviri and were greeted with the best meal of chicken we'd had on our entire trip, complete with french fries and a salad bar! A side note - Peruvian food is our favorite of the trip so far. In most towns, we eat a full course meal (soup, main dish, dessert, and tea) for around 5 soles, or less than $1.50. The food is consistently great and fast! After our filling meal of chicken, we decided to post up in Ayaviri, and we're glad we did. That evening, we'd meet Daniel, a local guy working at the hostel we stayed at who was an avid climber and local guide. Daniel was beyond enthusiastic about our trip and made us feel more connected to the locals than we had been in quite some time. (Photo 29 - Daniel and the group before leaving Ayaviri) 

The next day, we rode to Aguas Calientes, a series of hot springs with a number of different pools. We arrived that evening after summiting another 14,000 ft pass and felt pretty lucky to have a good soak that evening (photo 30-32 - the mountain pass and hot springs).  

We decided while soaking the night before that we might make a break for Cusco the next day. With about 170 km of mostly downhill riding, we thought we could at least get within striking distance of the destination that meant the longest break of the trip so far. We were up early and on the bikes before 8:00 am, flying down through the valley between the mountains. We stopped for a mid morning meal, then again for a late lunch, before pulling into Urcos (130 km) around 4:00 PM. At that point, we were ready for Cusco and decided to hop a local bus for the last 35 km, putting us in Cusco in time to find a hostel and enjoy our first real IPA's of the trip :)  (photos 33-35 - the remains of a church on the day before Cusco, the view of the city from our hostel, and family in Cusco!) 

Arriving in Cusco marks a nice long break for all of us. Eli's mom and sister arrived yesterday morning (May 16th) and it's been great to spend the short time we have with people from home. Cameron's flying home tonight to see his family and friends for a little over a week. Noah's going to do a bit of traveling on his own, but will be joining Eli and his family to see Machu Picchu. All in all, we're feeling really good about what we've accomplished thus far - with over 6,000 kilometers and over 400 hours in the books, it's time for a bit of respite mid-adventure. 

In the next entry, look out for more photos and stories from the Cusco area, Machu Picchu, etc. 

Until nest time,

-Cameron, Eli, and Noah

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, and Lago Titicaca

The Lagoon Route - Bolivia

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - The Lagoon Route - Bolivia

As we prepared to leave San Pedro Chile we all checked and re-checked our supplies. We each had ten days worth of food and two days of water. The crossing into Bolivia and the entrance to the lagoon route lay ahead and above us. We would then spend the next week crossing through the mountain passes before descending and getting to the next small town. This route had been almost a mythical entity to us since we set out. We had heard again and again from cyclists heading south that the Lagoon Route was the hardest part of their trips. Some had said they pushed their bikes and couldn't go more than a crawling pace. Others said that they had wept everyday. All three of us knew that this section would be a challenge, but none of us knew to what extent.

The largest challenge we knew to expect was the elevation. San Pedro de Atacama was at 8,000 ft and the highest point we would reach on the lagoon route would take us to 16,000. The first 30 miles or so of our ride would take us on a non stop climb to 15,000 ft and to the border crossing into Bolivia. We had to break the climb into three days of riding to limit how much altitude we would gain in a day, allowing our bodies to adjust safely. Our first day of climbing met us with the rising full moon (photo 1). The second day of climbing, just 6 km, but about 2,000 feet of elevation, set us up with a roadside camp with a view (photo 2).

After crossing the border, we would have a full week in the wind swept and desolate landscape of snow capped volcanic mountain passes and shallow mineral rich lagoons. An empty land with little life and inhospitable climate. A land stark in its lonely beauty. The dry dusty plains of volcanic destruction spreading bellow. We would find ourselves in a world that looked like it came out of a science fiction novel and we all felt like wandering visitors in this alien world. Our winding roads would be dirt and the winds fierce. This would be a test of how strong we had become and the conditions we had weathered over the past few months on the road (photos 3-6).

The first night in Bolivia was spent aside Laguna Blanca, before we'd continue on to Laguna Verde (photo 7) and to the thermal hot springs (photo 8). We decided to spend a couple nights at the hot springs, continuing to acclimate to our new environment. We'd also met Phil and Tara, a couple from the States also cycling the lagoon route. It was great to find solidarity in the struggles of altitude with Phil and Tara, and though we didn't see them after a couple days into the route, we were thankful to share stories over the daily spaghetti dinners served at a couple of the refugios (modest refuge type hotel on the route) (photo 9).

After resting at the hot springs for a couple of days we continued over the highest point of the lagoon route at around 16,000 ft (photos 10 and 11). The roads were worse than we'd seen yet, but we'd soon have a view of Laguna Colorada (photo 12) and descent that led us to our next night's sleep (thankfully inside, as the temperatures often dipped to around 5 degrees fahrenheit at night). The next morning, we took our time riding the perimeter of Laguna Colorada, making sure to spend a little time with the flamingos (photo 13). We reached the park border that day, and asked for help from the staff of a mining company at the border - again, kindness and generosity greeted us as we were met with a hot meal and beds to sleep in. The following several days took us to Uyuni, Bolivia where we rested for several days before continuing to the famed Salar de Uyuni. 

The biggest take away from the lagoon route was that the altitude hit us like a wave. A force weighing us down and dragging at our every movement. The only way to imagine it is to picture yourself trying to jog in chest high water. Then add a bad hangover with pounding headache and upset stomach. Spice that up with trying to breath through a straw after sprinting. If you feel like really getting it right you might put on some weights and blast a high powered fan in your face. It was a constant struggle just to breath at rest let alone while cycling. We had no choice but to push through the discomfort and venture onward and upward. See our desert bandit costumes to battle the sun and wind in photo 14 :)

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - The Lagoon Route - Bolivia