UK, 11th November 2009
Get ready as I think this one could be a bit of an epic blog!
It has been about a month since we have returned to the UK and we are still adjusting to our life and new routines.
We just wanted to write this final blog before we fling ourselves back into work to say a big thank you for all the amazing emails that we have received recently with touching words of encouragement. We didn't realise just how many people had been following our blog on a regular basis.
Before we left the UK on our adventure, we wondered if the journey would be worth it. Was it worth giving up our jobs, renting out our flat and selling most of our belongings? Too many "what ifs?" circled our thoughts. Unequivocally, we can now answer these questions, it was undoubtedly one of the best years of our lives.
We knew that the journey was not going to be easy. We had read endless accounts of the fierce Patagonian winds, the struggle cycling at altitude and the relentless mountain climbs through Peru and Equador, not to mention cycling come rain, wind, snow or shine. Even with our initial baptism of fire with Dave's rack breaking, snow, hail and the incredible winds in southern Argentina, just on the first day, we knew that it was all worth it.
The cycling must have suited us, exercising all day, out with nature. We soon started receiving emails congratulating us on looking happier, healthier and looking ten years younger. We've learnt that simplicity is better. With less technology and bombardment of the media, we have more time to appreciate the simply things in life more.
It has only just been in the last few days that we have managed to look back at all our photographs, the experience turned out to be rather an emotional one as we reminisced about our journey and our life that was the road. It still amazes us to think that we have cycled so far. In doing so, we also feel like we have matured and learnt a little bit more about the world in the process and at the same time possess a quiet confidence in ourselves about what we can achieve.
Already, we are missing being on the bike - the sense of freedom that it brings, the freedom from excess material possessions, the big skies and incredible scenery, the sense of movement and stillness. Being out in the elements and feeling the change of nature, meeting new people every day and watching the wildlife up close. These are experiences we couldn't put a price on.
A very good friend asked us recently what we had learned along the way and we thought we would share with you our thoughts and observations-wondering if you would agree with them?
One of the things that really took us by surprise was how afraid people are of each other. Before we left, we were asked if we would be carrying knives or any weapons and how did we feel about all the thieves and bandits in South America. As we carried on our journey, the theme stayed the same, we were always warned about the next village, the next town or the next country. We wondered how much of this fear is media or government driven? Some of the warnings could have been enough so stop people from doing the trip in the first place - drug traffickers in Colombia, kidnappings by the FARC, swine flu in Mexico and then the rest of the world, gang killings in Mexico etc.
Luckily for us, we just took it all with a pinch of salt, trusted our instincts and used our common sense. We had our own rules established, such as not to put our tent up until dusk/dark, not having fires, asking people for permission to camp etc. However, in the time that we were on the road, our overriding joy was the hospitality that we received. People were courteous, interested, talkative and warm hearted. So many people took us into their homes, allowed us to camp on their land or helped us out in ways we can never repay. It humbled us how accepting and accommodating people were when appearance indicated that they had no material wealth. We were also surprised at how we formed bonds so quickly with people that we had just met, more often than not, tears would be forming as we all bid our farewells to each other - was it the bikes that broke these barriers down, was it the length or type of trip that we were doing? What made people want to reach out and protect us?
We were constantly inspired by other cyclists that we met along the way, people such as Lucho and Igel and Paola who have opened their houses up to cyclists to recharge their batteries. Meeting refreshing people such as Riding the Spine, Austin, Dave, Dave and Tom or families cycling with children - Family on Bikes and the Verharge Family. As our trip progressed, Dave and I realised just how lucky we are to be able to go on such an adventure and travel the entire length of Central and South America on 90 day tourist visas soley because of our British status. We met many people in Latin America, with the financial means to travel and with honest intentions but due to their passport and country of origin are barred from travelling to many countries, even just for a short holiday.
Human nature is indeed a strange thing, most people want to know whether anything went wrong on our trip. We are not sure whether this is to confirm their suspicions that the "other" is a dangerous place or whether it is purely voyeuristic question. Fortunately for us, we can only regale them with one or two stories - the time when four guys tried to steal our bikes in the middle of the night in Ecuador (Dave bravely confronted them) or the time when a coconut was hurled at my head in Panama (thankfully I wore my helmet). With the bike stealing incident we had broken all our normal rules, feeling no danger we set up our camp early, chatted to lots of people and had a fire. Perhaps if we hadn't have done these things, we wouldn't have been such an easy target for four guys just trying their luck with our bikes. But these incidents didn't cloud our judgement about the adventure, the countries we travelled through or the people we met. I know more people who have been mugged in London this year alone! So perhaps we need to look at our own country first before we begin to judge other countries.
Our experiences of hospitality has made us think about how we are going to take those lessons with us into the future and get over our typical British reserve. For Dave and I it has made us more confident to go up and chat to people, to trust people a little more and to question things when we see something unusual or curious. We are looking forward to eventually having our own place again so that this time we will be able to host other travellers through sites such as www.warmshowers.org and www.hospitalityclub.org.
British reserve is perhaps something we need to look at too. What I loved about South America was the Latin American warmth of welcome. It seems most countries we travelled through had their expected standards of welcome, whether it was two kisses in Argentina, one kiss on the cheek in Chile or having to shake everyone's hand in Peru, from the oldest down to the youngest child (at one party we had to shake about 30 people's hands to say hello and once again when we said goodbye). It seems coming back to the UK there is an awkwardness in our greetings, should we kiss, hug, shake hands? Should we greet everyone in the same way or only certain people? We have observed that it has lead to a various amount of amusing, hesitated and stilted movements or sadly, some people's presence not noticed or valued at all.
We mentioned the hospitality of people who have taken us in when they themselves have had nothing. One of the hardest things to see on this trip was the poverty and injustice that this brings. We have seen first hand, and lived with people who are living on a hand to mouth basis, many in extreme poverty, earning less than a dollar a day. We have met many children that are able to go to school for free but instead have to go out to work to help the family survive. J. Sachs, in his book, "The End of Poverty" believes that extreme poverty is something that can be abolished within our lifetime, and I would urge everyone to get informed and find out what you can do as an individual to make this happen, as well as pressurising the governments.
Many of you have kindly donated money online toward our two charities, Julia's House and SOS Children's Villages. We have visited both these organisations and have seen how this money is helping to bring joy into hundreds of children's lives and in such circumstances, offered them hope along the way. To these children, this is a priceless gift. We still haven't quite met our total, but we are hoping to carry on fundraising whilst we are back until we reach our target for each charity.
Some of our friends and family kindly gave us money to give to people along the way, and this money has gone towards helping a farm devastated by a volcano, helping to buy a new cooker for a family so that they can survive during the oncoming harsh winter and a little towards helping an art foundation.
So what else have we learnt? We have learnt that it is really important to try and get informed about our world and what is going on within it, not just what the government want you to believe. Only in this way can you have a voice and help to make changes for the better. Throughout our journey, we have been really drawn to learning about the environmental issues that are affecting our planet, from learning about the mining companies in Chile using up precious water supplies to the indigenous Peruvians that were shot dead whilst protesting against the government for continuing to exploit their lands for oil.
It has been inspiring to visit some towns that have completely banned the use of plastic bags and has made us question why there isn't an out and out ban on the use of plastic bags in the UK and excess packaging. We have been ashamed at times about our own "throw away" mentality as we are encouraged to consume more and more and believe that new is better. We were intrigued by people's resourcefulness whilst we watched people carefully mending, repairing or reusing things that our culture would have ditched long ago. If you have 20 minutes spare watch www.thestoryofstuff.com.
Travelling has also made us question our food industry. Throughout our journey we have absolutely loved shopping at the markets and the community spirit that followed it. On the whole, when we weren't making our own food, we ate in local restaurants tucking into local homemade food - not a microwave in sight. We were able to buy produce from many small scale farmers and the markets or independent restaurants. The food always amazed us with their flavour.
It is very easy to bury our heads in the supermarket trolley and believe that it is just more convenient to shop there, but we have begun to realise the devastating effect that the industrialization of food has had. How it has affected the farmer and his rights, how companies such as Wal-Mart are destroying local businesses in Latin America as they wheel their huge machine into these countries. We have witnessed the devastating effect that monocultures have had on populations in order to continue to feed the fast food industries, such as the soya bean crops. We have learnt that the low prices we pay in supermarkets have a frightening and huge hidden cost on our world. More and more people need to stand up and make these multinational machines more accountable for their actions. We need to reclaim our local shops and identities back.
However, I think that one of the lessons that we have learnt is how much our family mean to us.
Finally, so many people have said to us, I wish I could do a similar journey or challenge that you have done. All we can say is just GO FOR IT. It is so easy to put obstacles in the way or use children as an excuse not to do very much. It did take quite a lot of planning and saving for us to achieve our dream, but we wouldn't have been able to go without our determination to say, above all else - we are going not matter what. We haven't looked back and wouldn't have changed our year for the world.
People have asked us a number of similar questions so we thought that we would share our answers with you:
Total number of kms cycled: 14,500kms
No of punctures per bike: Kelly 8 in total, Dave 8 in total.
Kelly: broken gear hanger, broken hub, one tyre change, new derailleur.
Dave: broken his frame twice - soldered back together, one tyre change.
Two weeks into our adventure, finally a day without a headwind!
The lakes, mountains and volcanoes of the Carretera Austral in Chile.
Cycling all around Bariloche/Colonia Suiza, Argentina.
Seven Lakes, Argentina.
Canon del Pato, Peru.
Hospitality in Patagonia, taken into hacienda's, being looked after by road workers.
Cycling with our friends for two weeks, Debs and Jack
Swimming in the warm waters of the Caribbean sea.
Christmas in Colonia Suiza with family, Argentina.
Perito Moreno Glacier.
Stars in the Atacama desert.
Snorkelling around the San Blas Islands.
Jungle in Ecuador.
Cracking our last major climb in Colombia!
Argentina/Chile for cycling, camping and big scenery.
Colombia for the people
Peru - fell in love with the country for the second time. The people, diverse scenery, culture, history.
Mexico - Chiapas region, beautiful scenery, great food.
Getting stuck knee deep in mud in the Peruvian highlands a few times and having to get a bus.
Getting completely lost in Bolivia and having to push for two days.
Being sick in Argentina early on in the trip and having to get on my bike and cycle to the nearest settlement 50km away with a headwind.
Seeing the Caribbean sea for the first time and realising we had cycled the length of S. America.
Amount of money spent in 11 months
(excluding flights and insurance)
2500 pounds per person.
Marathon XR tyres.
Freeloader solar charger.
Countries/ places we would like to go back and visit:
Northern Argentina, Mendoza, Salta, Jujuy
Colombia's Eastern side
The rest of Mexico that we didn't get a chance to see.
Would you do it again?
Without a doubt we would jump on our bikes and cycle again.