Reflecting back on a year
On this day, one year ago, I left my friend Inertia’s apartment on my road bike and Bob trailer, and cycled off towards the end of the world.
Today I am in Fortuna, Costa Rica.
How did I begin? Did I start alone? Was I scared?
It was Summer of 2011 when I made a final decision that I was going to get on the bike and ride out of the United States. I chose to cycle the Americas instead of Europe, on one condition, that I would have a riding partner. On a cycling forum I found a Korean, Hyojin, who wanted to cycle the same route, and I knew this fellow Detroiter, Amelia, begun her tour from Alaska. I contacted Brittney who hosted me for a week in Arizona before I left. She was my inspiration to not fear this “dangerous” route cycling Latin America. The journey had already started off on the wrong pedal, when Hyojin decided to ride as a solo woman. Well, we gave it one day cycling together, and afterwards we had to call it quits. I was going to cycle alone into Mexico. I was fighting doubts from my friends and family that cycling through Northern Mexico alone would be suicidal. I was not concerned about running into Narcos in Mexico. I was more concerned about my ability to do this on my own; I didn’t speak Spanish, I hardly knew anything about bike repair, and who would I turn to if something were to happen to me?
About a week later, I met the bike-rebel anarchist from Alaska, Birch, and the benevolent Swiss, Crigi, in the mountains of Chihuahua. Alright, so I found friends, but I had many more doubts like could I cycle these monstrous mountain ranges that lay ahead? Before, I was thinking I could avoid all the ranges by sticking to the coast.
Has it been difficult cycling and living outside?
In the last year I cycled; through mountains, beaches, jungles; from a one store village and through a city of 20 million; on rocky roads and smooth-paved fast lanes. Being outside on the bike and camping for the last year has tested my willingness to endure the extreme climates; high wind, tropical rains, killer humidity, and nearly froze during a few cold nights. I haven´t lived through a proper season, just changing climate zones and altitudes.
Where did I sleep?
For the first couple weeks, all my host were arranged through Couchsurfing. With Chris, it was a mix of camping, Couchsurfing and a few hotels. Paul goes by a strict “no pay for hospitality” principle, but we will pay for dinners if we could camp in a restaurant. The routine is looking for a camp site an hour before dark. Usually we ask property owners, but there were times we would crawl under barbed wire (and when the farmers found us, they never turned us away). Majority of the time, I sleep on my air bed in my tent, or I hang my hammock. A list of a few places I have slept:
Hotels and hostels
Next to rivers
On a roof in Los Mochis, Mexico
On a overnight ferry, Lake Nicaragua
In a papaya farm, Mexico
In a Winnebago, Belize
2 bike shops, including Maya Pedal
On Tobacco Island, Belize
In a theater, Guatemala
In a swim park, Guatemala
In a bar, Bar la Clau, Guatemala
On the summit of San Pedro volcano.
The number 1 ranked Cotton Tree Lodge, featured in National Geographic Travel Magazine, Belize.
In my hammock, under a parked commercial truck in a Nicaraguan truck stop.
Next to gas stations in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
On a sailboat name Winnie (the bear) belonging to a French sailor name Winnie (‘cus he likes honey).
And in many homes of sweet families that invite us to rest, sometimes they gave us their bed or an extra.
And what did I eat?
Well, I tried to keep my vegetarian diet. It only lasted as long as when I crossed the Mexico border to eat a hot dog.
For morning, I eat oatmeal, but during the last few weeks of the year, I am sick of it. I miss my granola mixed with oatmeal and chocolate chips in the cold mornings in the mountains of Northern Mexico.
For lunch, I use to make sandwiches with avocado and tuna, but for the last half year, it’s just easy to eat at a comedor (a small restaurant). They serve the good ‘ol rice, beans, salad and tortillas. Sometimes; fried platinoes, cheese, cream, empanadas. Plenty of chicken, fried or baked. But, hands down, I order fish if I am close to the sea.
My favorite dishes were mole in Oaxaca, Mexico and the coconut gravy on coconut rice in Belize.
For dinners, this time is like tradition when the cyclist gather together after a long day and get creative with their stock. Nearly every time it’s pasta, or rice. Paul and I had a streak of making curry with fruits like banana, mangoes, or papaya. Bananas are great.. cheap, abundant, and they keep well. I think I have eaten more bananas than anything else for the last year.
Is it dangerous?
I have never felt threatened by anyone nor anything during this last year. There was one incident in Mexico when Birch and I were kicked off the Chepe train at gunpoint by the station officers (they hate cyclist). And only one time, something was stolen, which was Paul’s sunglasses her left out on his bike (asking for it). A few close danger encounters with cars, and a giant tree branch (fell a couple meters near us in the night.)
First week, I was alone. Then I found other crazy guys on bikes. I sent a couple days riding alone in Oaxaca.
So come on folks! Get on a bike and ride the world. Everyone is doing it.
Do I like any other activities? O, yes. This year has been fantastic as I built up a list of first-time activity experiences that I had never done before this trip:
Hiking, namely, volcanoes, San Pedro, Guatemala, and Conception, Nicaragua at a height of over 1,600 meters. (I have “hiked” in the US a couple times, but I didn’t record the elevation)
Snorkeling, in the Caribbeans, Belize
Scuba Diving, in a volcano crater lake, El Salvador
River Rafting Upper Balsa river, Costa Rica
Kayaking Moho River, Belize and Nicaragua Lake
Cave Exploring? Why not. Mexico
And the overused slang?
I love the various expressions in Latin America.
Mexico: No Mames! Que Chido!, Que edo? Ore le!
Guate: Va pues, Vaaa, Calidad!
El Salvador: Hey Mitro! Se le cayo whey! Va, chivo ues!
Costa Rica: Pura Vida!
In one year? Only six countries?
Yes, I went really slow. A year ago I thought I would be in South America, maybe even entering the last country Argentina. At one point I estimated I could make it to Columbia by May 2011. But, hey, I am enjoying the time. Pura Vida.
How many? How far?
My odometer ran out of battery life in Mexico, so I lost the total count of kilometer ( yes, I very much like counting in the metric system). According to Paul’s last estimation, today I have rode over 8,000- 8,500 kilometers.
Well, I took a handful of buses. Only 3 buses for a total of 60 kilometers replaced my bike distance. The others were for tourism or handling matters, and they did not replace kilometers of the tour.
After a year on the road, today, I am:
In the cyclist mentality. Thanks to the awesome people I cycled with and personal experience. I am confident about continuing on the road, alone for now, and I look forward to meeting more fellow cyclist out there.
A traveler, and I love to travel by bike. Instead of taking big leaps from one popular destinations to another, I really love the slow ride, discovering the change of regions and countries. I don’t think I could travel like the back packer style and map my journey only according to Lonely Planet. I like what I do now, which is the freedom to move on my own time and go with no plans. I avoid buses when I can. I’ll board planes to get to anyplace fast enough to see my friends (but I think cycling all the way to see them is so much more rewarding), and I have taken many boats. I like cruising on boats. I expect to sail on more in the future.
Bilingual. I think I can officially say I reached a level of intermediate Spanish.
And am I still a tree hugging hippie like I was back in SF and Detroit?
I don’t know where you all get that, since I was never a hippie, but I still have a love for innovative and sustainable-aimed projects and I seek out these like minded folks. I will volunteer my time and energy, and share on my world-wide journal, if I’m down with the ethics of some projects, such as:
Did I map my ride?
It´s not marked in great detail, but here it is.
And when do I think I’ll be finished?
I don’t have a date! And where it ends… I don’t know!
Thanks to ALL my friends and family for their love and support. I have had a fantastic year sharing this journey with you all. Every word, every bit of support, and advice has been my fuel to keep riding and motivation to keep sharing.