Laredo, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana

Please find the photos for this entry here: Laredo, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)

Laredo, TX September 27, 2017

After paying $0.25 per person to the Mexican border guards, we began pedaling across the bridge. As we approached the other side some very unofficial looking cones directed us towards a semi-permanent looking tent structure. Surprised, I asked Cameron and Noah “are we in the United States now, is this Customs?” Yes, a checkpoint akin to what you might expect entering a stadium for the Super Bowl was all that lay before us. After the typical questions “Where are you going?” and “Where are you coming from?” the border guards looked at our passports and we were off. 

September 29, 2017

After having a gas station breakfast and coffee, we began pedaling further into Texas. Some of the first things we noticed different from Mexico, and most every other country, were all the new vehicles, which makes riding more pleasant as there are fewer exhaust fumes and vehicles are generally quieter. It is noticeable.

Nine months on the road and we had never heard a gunshot. Just a few miles out of Laredo, it began, the sound of semi-automatic gunfire rang out. We all looked at each other with nervous chuckles, recognizing the signs of being back in the United States of America. And everyone was worried about us in Latin America...

From Laredo we biked sixty miles to Freer, TX, beginning our ride toward New Orleans, where we would take two days off. After enjoying our first round of evening meals at the town Dairy Queen, we had our first opportunity to re-immerse ourselves in the small town America experience at the Dusty Boot Bar & Grill. It was Friday night, the Red Sox and Houston Astros were playing and folks were wearing cowboy hats; it could not have been better, except for the beer. The next day we returned to the Dairy Queen for breakfast. After too much weak coffee (supplemented with added Nescafe), biscuits, and what I assume was “just add water” gravy, we were back at it. The destination for the day, Beeville Texas.

It had been a long time since we had all camped out and we could not find any official camping on Google in Beeville. We decided to stop in the police station and ask if there was any place we could camp. Cameron had used this strategy a number of times in small towns while biking across the US in the past. But no luck this time, maybe the town was too large, as no officer on duty felt they could give us permission to camp in a local park. With it getting dark we needed to find a place for the night. The great thing about traveling so long is even the lowest cost sketchy roadside motel someplace in Texas will do great! So, with fifteen microwavable burritos we retired to our room for the evening, thankful just to know that the 'where do I sleep' decision had been made.

Two days later, we are sitting in a Chinese restaurant at eight o’clock at night and it starts to pour. After finishing our food, we biked the last six miles through Houston to our place for the night. The following day began really slow, waking up to rain after riding over one hundred miles the day before. After loading up the bikes we headed out to grab breakfast and continue East. Just twenty miles into the ride, Cameron gets a flat. Recognizing that we're already tired and not making the distance we should have by that point in the day, we find some cover to fix the flat and discuss our plan for the rest of the day. We decide on cutting the ride short and take half a day to rest with the intention of getting out early the following day and riding almost 100 miles to Starks, Louisiana.

October 4, 2017

It is beginning to get dark as we cross into Louisiana and is completely dark when we roll into the truck stop/casino/restaurant in the center of town. We know there is no official campground or hotel in town and ask the sheriff parked at the truck stop if we can camp some place. He explains that he cannot give us permission to camp anywhere, and when asked what his thoughts were on us dipping off the road into the woods, he responds “People shoot first and ask questions later around here." After some time discussing our options the truck stop owner offers space behind the establishment. When he initially thought this would not be adequate for us, he is excited to find we are more than happy set up camp there. After a dinner at the casino, and showers at the gas station trucker shower, we turn in for the night.

From Starks we planned three days to complete the two hundred and sixty miles to New Orleans. With a possible hurricane on the way, we focused on the two days rest we would have in New Orleans, after more than two weeks of riding with only one day off in Laredo Texas. Three days later, we found ourselves at the lowest point of our entire trip...we were below sea level for a weekend in New Orleans.

Please find the photos for this entry here: Laredo, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)

Puebla, Mexico to Laredo, Texas

Please find the photos for this entry here: Puebla, Mexico to Laredo, Texas (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)

As we set off from Puebla, we were all a bit weary of the long miles we'd put in and knew that we still had a good section to ride before we'd make it to the U.S. From Puebla, we'd planned to stay up in the altiplano or high plains of Mexico, because the altitude gave relief from the stifling heat. On our first day out of Puebla, we took to route 57, curving to the northwest around Mexico City, from Puebla. We rode at our own paces and eventually made it to the small town of Emiliano Zapata, where we enjoyed a cheap hotel and some pizza together, celebrating being back together and on the road again.

The next morning, we hit up the town square for some amazing tamales before heading off and getting back to the main route. It was a bit of a grueling day, but we finished early enough and ended up at a very random hotel with Xmas themed decorations everywhere in the town of San Francisco. We hit the hay pretty early as we'd planned to put in Noah's first ever 100 mile day the next day.

The next morning, we were off a bit late, but the descents were a plenty and we made good time. This was also the day of the second earthquake in Mexico... we were riding and didn't feel it at the time, but in retrospect, we all agreed that we felt particularly unsteady on a descent at the time of the earthquake and wondered whether we had felt it without realizing it. It was weird to think about how, again, were just days ahead of an earthquake that took lives and destroyed buildings. We'd actually had ourselves scheduled to be in Mexico City when the earthquake struck, making it all the more surreal. That night, after completing the ride and celebrating Noah's first hundred miler, we all slept soundly in a nice quiet hotel in the town of San Jose de Iturbide.

The following day, though intended to be a rest day, turned out to be a bit of an adventure. From San Jose de Iturbide, we headed north on back roads, hoping to avoid the highway for a day. Eventually, after passing through a small town, the road turned to dirt and gradually became more and more rocky. After coming to a gate that was designed to keep cattle herds in the right areas, we knew we'd reached rural Mexico... Too late to turn back, we soldiered on into the evening, praying that we wouldn't suffer flats on the sharp rocks, with our nearly bald tires. Eventually, at dusk, we arrived at a small lake that had all but dried up... We thought we might find some cabins to stay in, but the town was nearly deserted and we had to make camp for the night in a small park. We talked to some locals and were assured that we'd be fine and that no one would bother us. Fortunately, we'd at least had the foresight to pick up dinner supplies that morning, and enjoyed our pasta by headlamp before bed.

After a restless night's sleep in the park, and too much caffeine the next morning, we had a weary day pedaling the highway again. We'd been at it for just long enough from Puebla to feel like we needed a break, and not long enough to get one... knowing that we still had nearly a week before we'd cross into Laredo, Texas. That day, we'd make it to a roadside hotel just north of Ciudad Hidalgo... and the real treat would come the next morning.

At the start of the day, we backtracked specifically to visit an all you can eat buffet at the side of the main highway. It was worth the $8 each for the several plates we each had... thinking to ourselves that the establishment definitely wouldn't have a sustainable business model if we were their regular customers. After stuffing ourselves, we were off again, back to the high plains highways of Mexico...

The last several days of this section continued in similar fashion, with not too much to note.

Our energy at this point of the trip does suffer at times. We've spent a lot of time together, we still have a long way to go, and while we were so looking forward to crossing back into the U.S., there were also dilemmas about how it would feel to be back in a country that we knew had had such conflicting relationships with many of the Latin American countries we'd come to love. Our bodies were tired, our butts sore, but we didn't have an excuse not to make good time on the mostly flat terrain. When we crossed into Laredo, we were surprised at how simple it was... no scans, no significant bag checks, just a look at our passports and we were off. In some ways, that was great, but we were admittedly a little disappointed when we asked for a picture with the border patrol guards and weren't allowed to take one. Though one of the guards had been willing, he was soon told by the supervisor that that wouldn't be allowed... For better or worse, we couldn't help but chuckle at this being our welcome back to the good ole US of A :)

Please find the photos for this entry here: Puebla, Mexico to Laredo, Texas (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)

Ciudad Hidalgo to Puebla, Mexico

Please find the photos for this entry here: Ciudad Hidalgo to Puebla, Mexico (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)

The crossing into Mexico went smoothly. The food poisoning that Eli and Noah came down with that night did not go as well. It was the full deal can't leave the bathroom for 6 hours body cleanse kind of night. By the time the morning came around both of them were completely drained and barely able to stand. They had no choice but to remain in the small border town for a day to recuperate and rest from the ordeal. Our trip is often full of fun and beautiful adventures but also there are many moments like these where the unexpected and unpleasant come to call. The hardships and challenges have been just as important for us as the joys. 

Cameron had made plans to travel solo to make a visit to Colombia from Mexico City - because he only had a certain amount of time to get to Mexico City and because Eli and Noah were sick, it made sense for him to separate from the group and continue solo.

Eli and Noah spent a day curled up and rehydrating before setting out again. Our narrative will follow them and their experience for this next section. While Cameron was not riding with them, he followed the same route and had a similar experience in many ways.

When we got got back on our bikes we found we had lost a lot of our strength and only managed to limp to the nearest town the first day. After that, we slowly improved and our strength returned. We found Mexico to be one of our favorite countries to ride in other then Colombia. The road conditions improved over what we had become accustomed to in Central America, and we were warmly welcomed by the people. So many people had warned us about Mexico being dangerous but, as it had been in so many countries before, we never experienced anything where we felt unsafe or in danger. Only friendly people interested in us and our trip.

Southern Mexico was hot but flat riding. The next few days past without much to note. The landscape rolling jungle broken by grasslands and distant hills. We spent another rest day on the beach to say goodbye to the west coast before heading inland. Then it was up into the mountains again as we headed for the city of Oaxaca.

We found the mountains to be beautiful and the towns we stopped in to be relaxed. As the evening would come everyone would go out into the streets to walk and visit each other. There was a feeling of peace and community. This was a drastic difference from what we had found in many of the towns we had passed through in Central America and a welcome change.

An experience that stood out from this section of riding was stopping for lunch in a tiny mountain town with only a few houses. There was a man selling home made Tequila and Mescal at a road side table and he called us over. He asked us about our trip and was very interested. He wanted us to try all the different flavors he had for sale. We had to stop after only a few because it was the middle of the day and the drink much stronger then what you would find in a store. There aren't many regulations when you grow, harvest, and distill your own agave in the mountains of Mexico. Needless to say, we made sure to eat a large lunch before getting back on our bikes.

We got to the city of Oaxaca after a long day of riding and finished in the dark and rain. We found our hostel and made friends with our roommates before settling down to go to bed. As we lay there, all of a sudden we felt a growing vibration. Every one in the room looked at each other and then, as the sensation grew, it was quickly agreed it was an earthquake. The next two minutes were  some of the scariest we have had on this trip. The entire world was rattling, like driving fast on a bumpy dirt road. It was so strong that it was hard to stand. It wasn't just the movement that was scary, but the feeling of being powerless and in the hands of fate. There is not much else you can do in a natural disaster than to try to stay calm and hope for the best. When the world stopped moving, we found that luckily there was no damage to the building and we were all fine, other then being badly scared. As it turned out, this was the worst earthquake to hit Mexico in the last century and there were many deaths and injuries around the country. We had been incredibly lucky because the epicenter had been just off the beach town we had spent our rest day, only four days earlier. The shock wave had decreased a lot by the time it got to us and the damage was much more extensive closer to the source.

We spent the next three days in Oaxaca and took a rest break to act as tourists for a little while. We toured a pre-Colombian Zapotec temple ruin and crawled into one of its tombs. We learned more about the difference between tequila and mescal and how they are made. We visited the home of a local rug weaver who showed us how all the dyes she used were made from natural materials she had gathered. We also visited the city market and tried spiced grasshoppers from a street vendor. It was a good view into aspects of Mexican culture and history.

When we set out again, we separated for a few days of riding alone. When we spend so much time together, taking time apart is often a needed break for us. It is also a different way to travel and experience when you are cycle touring on your own. When we rejoined in Puebla outside of Mexico City, we celebrated Mexico's Independence Day and rejoined with Cameron. We set out again together for our last stretch of riding in Latin America.

Please find the photos for this entry here: Ciudad Hidalgo to Puebla, Mexico (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)


Managua, Nicaragua to Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Managua, Nicaragua to Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)

Managua Nicaragua - August 20, 2017

With the three of us riding together again we set off from Managua looking forward to quickly making progress north cycling through Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In ten days we would reach the border of Guatemala and Mexico, our last passport stamping before entering the United States, after nine months of travel.

The first day was easy going as we pedaled the flat roads of the Pan American highway, a road we first traveled months ago in Chile. As the last few hours of the ride approached a group a lycra clad cyclists passed by, going twice our leisurely pace. We looked at each other wondering if the group warranted a chase, why not? It's good to keep touring interesting with some race pace efforts. Accelerating, we caught their wheels, as Cameron started talking to them they dropped the pace slightly so we could easily hold their wheels. Turned out one the riders, Larry, is Nicaragua’s under 23 National Champion. It was great to ride with some local cyclists and get a good workout to finish the day.

The next day, we left with the plan to reach the border town Somotillo and cross into Honduras the following day. Once we reached Somotillo we began to explore the small town, we were picked out by a man who was determined to invite us to his hotel. Instructed to follow him in his minivan, we continued out of the town until the road turned to dirt. Not knowing what to expect, but being comfortable as we have become accustomed to this type of situation, we soon arrived to his driveway. The room had everything we needed; a few beds awkwardly placed, some bedframes with beds and others without, a bathroom with about five bars of opened soap and most importantly a working AC unit. After a somewhat disappointing mission to get dinner, resulting in terrible ice cream, we settled with a few beers in a makeshift backyard bar before walking back to our room. The next day we would ride to the border for breakfast.

Honduras - August 22, 2017

We left our room in Somotillo after a few cold Nescafe coffees and some leftover snacks to hold us over until reaching the border. We had been talking about how it would be possible to cross Honduras in one day, as we were only along the short south western coast. But we would have to see how the day played out and perhaps we owed at least one night in the country. After quickly being processed into Honduras we sat down on a large stack of toilet paper waiting to be moved one way or the other across the the border. But, for now it would serve as seating for our breakfast of baked Yuca and meat.

After finishing breakfast we continued into Honduras looking for a quick stop to get some water. The heat and humidity of Central America often had is drinking six or more liters of water during an entire day, along with sodas and Gatorade. We found a busy little shop and each filled our 6 liter dromedary water bags, when we returned the empty bottles we were each gifted a cold carton of orange juice. After this act of kindness we talked with the store owner about our trip and asked him why he felt compelled to give us the orange juice (see video in album of his response).

Once we started on our way again, leaving the busy border behind; we thought it might be best to spend a night in Honduras as we had such a great experience in a few short kilometers. Once the heat of the day began slowing us, we found some shade underneath a tree beside the road. After a few moments, a man carrying a heavy load of firewood he had gathered for cooking stopped to rest under the tree. I offered him some water from my steel cup and gave him the remaining chips I had been eating. We watched a few others pedal past, also with wood they had gathered, as the three of us enjoyed a few last minutes of rest from the sun. We said goodbye and set off on our way as the man began his walk home once again.

That night we ended up stopping in Nacaome, we had planned to continue but once the heat of the day hit us we decided not to push for the border before night fall. The next day we biked 35 kilometers to the border with El Salvador and continued the city of San Miguel.

El Salvador - August 23, 2017

Particularly in a few of these Central American countries we had been warned to reach a hotel or hostel before dark. In San Miguel it was clear this cautionary advice held true. We arrived with a few hours before sunset to a busy city with vendors on the streets. By seven o’clock, as the sun was setting, streets emptied, stores closed, and the hotel staff waited for guests to return for the night before shutting the doors to the parking area. This served as a reminder that places can change quickly and to remain aware of how people are acting around you. After interacting with hundreds of people along the thousands of miles of roadway in South America and now Central America, body language becomes a key component in reading a situation. Especially when the language barrier comes into play. In rural regions of Bolivia and Peru people often looked at us with a sense of fear and uneasiness, other places folks would react with excitement and curiosity and some would rather ignore us all together. More often in Central America, I would sense people having concern or fear for our safety. However, we can now say that we traveled through this entire region without feeling directly threatened by anyone.

Our next stop in El Salvador was a day and half spent in San Salvador with the family of Noah’s uncle’s partner Cecilia. She had grown up in San Salvador and was very excited to show us the city and surrounding area. This stop also served as a history lesson and reminder of the ill-effects of US involvement in many of the countries we had been traveling through. We heard first hand experiences of living through the civil war during the 1980s and had time to ponder our country’s influence on the lives of so many outside the U.S.

Guatemala - August 27, 2017

We had contrasting hotel stays during our two nights in Guatemala. Another reminder of the constant uncertainty of what our next 24 hours of travel might bring. The first night we happened upon a hotel and restaurant on a smaller secondary road we had been traveling. With beautiful gardens and very clean rooms with fresh sheets it was more akin to what you might expect in a countryside B&B back home; although for a fraction of the cost you would pay.

Our second night we found a roadside motel on the Pan American with rooms available per hour or the night. The rooms each included a framed poster of a scantily dressed woman and too many mirrors placed on the ceiling and walls. For dinner we cooked outside our rooms in the parking lot, each eating a few ramen soup cups, adding an egg and chopped onion to each.

The next day we had about 140 kilometers before the border with Mexico. We woke up early and rolled out as the sun was just rising. At some point during the day we had a meal that resulted Noah and I (Eli) spending forty eight in a hotel after crossing into Mexico.

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Managua, Nicaragua to Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico (Photos/videos should be pretty self explanatory, but just let us know if you have questions!)





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:

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