Subscribe to Harry's bike blog, from Alaska to UshuaiaNews FeedSubscribe to Harry's bike blog, from Alaska to UshuaiaComments

Intermezzo: Interview with Ivana & Harry for Examiner

November 6, 2009 by , 2,949 views  
Filed under General

Nancy Vogel Sathre is not only cycling from Alaska – Ushuaia as well, she is doing it with her husband and two kids, homeschooling them all the way! They can be followed on http://familyonbikes.org

She also writes for Examiner.com and recently asked us for an interview. I might as well post it here, not just to help out other biketravellers, but also so you know some things we are doing when we are not writing updates or cycling :)

(The original interview was published here)

———– start of interview ———

Ø  Would you please explain a tad bit about where you’ve been and where you’re going.

We are Ivana (33, Argentina) and Harry (39, Netherlands) and we are currently cycling the Americas from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, visiting all the countries on the mainland on our way.

Ø  How long have you been on the road?

We started in July 2008, so now about 15 months. We think we are almost halfway. But both of us have been travelling the previous years as well, on other cycling and climbing trips.

Ø  Why the bike?  What is it about the bike that made you choose it over buses and trains and planes?

Cycling is the only way to go. Not just for obvious ecological reasons, but it the only way of transportation that:

  • Keeps you fit and healthy, physically as well as mentally
  • Is fast enough to travel to a new place every day
  • Is slow enough that you can enjoy the journey and scenery while travelling
  • Is flexible and small enough that you can stop and park everywhere to take a picture, talk with a local or eat a berry on the roadside (and can be taken up to the safety of a 4th floor of a house if needed).
  • Can carry more luggage than us! We can take extra stuff that would never fit in a backpack alone.
  • Is fun

–   Ivana: Buses make me sick and most of cars afraid and I basically I only like to travell by bike

Ivana in the Catavina desert (2)

Ø  What prompted such an extended journey?  Had you done a lot of touring before?

Ivana had done a long previous trip: Around New Zealand, then from Malaysia to India, hopping over to Turkey for a tour there. I (Harry) had mostly been climbing the past decade and had only done a few small trips (around the English channel, around the Irish Sea, from Amsterdam – Zermatt on a Tandem), all about 2-3 weeks. Of course in the Netherlands you basically bike before you walk, so I am used to cycling, it’s my way of life. I never owned a car in my life as it is not needed with the great cycling and public transport infrastructure we have.

We met in Tibet when I was climbing Everest and she was on her long cycing- trip. We met again after my climb, in India and I basically made her cut her bike trip short as she had planned to cycle through Europe as well.

We did do a short tour from Rome to Germany, but I promised Ivana that I would make it up with a long trip together. She wanted to see more of her home continent (South America), I wanted to show her the wonderful nature and good people of Alaska, Canada, The USA and my friends in Guatemala. So we decided to just go all the way

Ø  I know there are plenty of wonderful days when the sun is shining and you’ve got the wind at your back.  But there are also days when it’s raining or you face a headwind or you’re climbing a hill that just won’t end.  How do you get through those days?  What keeps you going?

Frankly, mostly there is not much choice. There have been few days of tailwind so far, but also few days of really horrible weather, though we had some decent hills. You just have to face the facts and be pragmatic: stopping will not do much good on the middle of the hill and as long as the luggage inside the Ortlieb bags is dry, it does not matter so much if you get wet as long as you are warm enough.

IMG_9902-harry-headnet-bugs

People who are just complaining about life or are afraid or getting out of their comfort zone or are afraid of other cultures will have trouble adapting to this. But once they do, they are lost forever, as once bitten by the BikeTravelling bug there is no turning back from a more open and receptive lifestyle!

Ø  As hard as it is to pick out one or two highlights – would you, could you?   Tell us about a couple of those incredibly wow-ing, drop-your-jaw experiences you’ve had.

The overall experience is much stronger than separate positive incidences, even if we had many. It is interesting to see that many times an experience only turned out very special in hindsight. Often we struggled up a hill or through a forest or desert while cursing the environment and life we were in while the sections turned out to be very special looking back.

The Dalton Highway in Northern Alaska is very tough, but also wonderful for its nature and remoteness. We really enjoyed the Redwoods in Northern California, getting invited on an Indian Potlatch and playing with a fox on the Cassiar Highway in Canada, seeing the coastline in the USA, enjoying the Baja California desert and the Mexican Highlands. Personally I also enjoyed off-bike activities such camping in Yosemite in winter, climbing Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, snorkelling with stingrays in Belize and seeing the independence parades in Guatemala.

But most of all, it is the people we met, all the way. Our many CouchSurfing and WarmShowers hosts and the dozens of strangers that have become good friends, from all types and backgrounds. The tens of thousands that have waived, smiles or even applauded from the side of the road. There is a good in the heart of all people that you can only discover by going out and finding them. See the ‘1000 Americans’ section on our blog for some photographic impressions (http://harry.biketravellers.com/1000-americans/) .

Ø  What about those days you wish you could forget (but you know you never will)?  Those days when everything goes wrong and then even more goes wrong?  Tell us about a couple of those.

mg-9942-harry-tent-mosquitos.pngWe spent my B-day in the rain on a muddy and steep section of the Dalton dirt road (Alaska) called “The Rollercoaster”. ‘Nuff said. We had to buy a big bag of ice and stuff them in our waterbags and put them on our body to cool down enough to sleep in a hot Mexican night. We got blown off the road in Baja California with no water in sight and Ivana had some scary close encounters with wheels of a truck. And most of all, I hate Mosquitoes. I do not discriminate, I hate mosquitoes in Alaska, in Canada, In the USA, in Mexico and in Belize. There are few things more annoying than climbing uphill with 4 miles/hour on a muddy road in Alaska while overheating and being eaten through 2 layers of clothes by Mozzies at the same time.

As a climber I have learnt to focus simultaneously focus on the present for safety, and ahead for relief as you know the suffering will stop at some time.

Fortunately our Santos bikes have not had a single problem, other biketravellers have had frustrating experiences with their bikes which can really ruin your trip.

Ø  You’ve toured through many countries and I know they each are unique and have their advantages and disadvantages.  But, if you were to talk with someone relatively new to cycle touring, where would you recommend they go?  Why?

It depends if you are an experienced cyclist and traveller to start with. For beginning cyclists it is best to start in ‘easy’ countries like The Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling is part of the culture (meaning that drivers respect you) and separate bike lines (and right of way!) make cycling easy, fun, flat (!) and safe, while there is a lot of culture and history and helpful people. And there is a bikeshop in every town and a pump in every house.

If you are already physically active you can head to some more hilly parts, basically the rest of the world J. Ivana loved Eastern Asia for the safety and people, I loved the remoteness of Alaska and Canada. You can also tour a few weeks in Europe and see a new country and culture every few days!

There are a lot of great routes in the US, see the Adventure Cyclists organization.

But cycling is only a small part of the travelling, so also try to get abroad and immerse yourself in new cultures, even if going just over the border into Mexico, which is a hidden gem.

Ø  Any special tips or advice to wannabe tourers?

Yes

–          Even though Ivana cycled over 8000 miles on a $400 bike without much problems, I would say: get good gear. Get good waterproof bags, get a good bike and good tires. You will enjoy it so much more if you do not need to stop every two days to fix a rack or a flat tire, leaving more time for nature and culture.

Ivana cycling through the Dutch heather on her Santos Travelmaster

Ivana cycling through the Dutch heather on her Santos Travelmaster

–          Then again, do not get fooled by the expenses: biketravelling is usually cheaper than sitting at home doing nothing. And yes, that includes the accommodation, food, gear and all. You can travel anywhere in the world (maybe not Japan) for $10/day. We travelled in Italy, US, Canada for less than that.

–          All trips and people are different. Don’t follow other people’s trips: nobody is forcing you to go 100 miles per day, every day because another cyclist did so; you can also do 25 miles, 2 days a week and still be in a different place every week. If you want to carry extra clothes or luxury items: just do it, not everybody enjoys travelling with only two, half-filled panniers, especially when on a longer trip. If you have the funds, do not want to ‘rough’ it and want to sleep in hotels and eat in restaurants? Go for it, you will help out the local economy.

–          Take your time anyway, bike-travelling is not rushing. That is bike-racing which is a fun sport, but a different experience. Get off the bike and meet the people, eat the food and see the sights.

–          Do not have the time for a long trip? Take short trip in your area or head out to a train station take a train and cycle back. There are no ‘laws’ for minimum distance (nor for maximum!).

–          There is also no age limit as many young kids as well as BikeTravellers in their sixties and seventies have proven. Biketravelling and cycling is for all ages and backgrounds.

–          Don’t plan everything ahead as the best things happen unexpectedly anyway.

Don’t get scared inside your house by false financial promises and xenophobic threats of the media: there is a whole world out there, waiting to be discovered and shared. You might as well get fit and healthy while doing it!

Finally, as Amelia Earhart said: “the only way to do it, is to do it.”

Thanks,

Harry & Ivana

Our websites:

–          Our current trip blogs with stories and loads of photos: http://WorldOnaBike.com (Harry, English) and http://ElMundoenBici.com (Ivana, Spanish).

–          More tips and trips and info for and from other biketravellers can be found on http://BikeTravellers.com (where all cyclists can open a free blog) & http://BiciPedia.com

–          Photos from this and past travels on and up 7 continents can be found on http://ExposedPlanet.com

–          Expeditions to the ‘7 summits’, the highest peaks on every continent: http://7summits.com

Day 393-401, 8-16 Aug 09: The Islas Bonitas of Belize: chillin on San Pedro & Cay Caulker

November 2, 2009 by , 4,773 views  
Filed under Belize, Central America, Trip reports

Kiet, San Pedro, Belize
"Tropical the island Breeze, all of nature wild and free, this is where I long to be, la isla Bonita…"

East side, Abergris CayeMadonna already sang it over 20 years ago: ‘I used to dream of San Pedro…’. San Pedro is the town on Ambergris Caye, better known as La Isla Bonita from Madonna’s hit-single.

Kiet and Dawn, San pedro, BelizeBut that was in the 80-s when San Pedro probably still was the paradise she sang about. Since then it has been invaded by US tourists, many of which have bought a piece of land and/or built a house. The palms are still there and though there are no real beaches, the water is clear and the fish abundant in the corals reef just off the coast.

Family in San Pedro, BelizeAll of this new money has made the prices too high for the locals and at the same time has attracted a lot of shady people as we had already met in Belize City, who offer to ‘help’ you at every street corner.

Many of these call themselves ‘Rastafari’, but as they do everything that a true Rastafari would not (eat anything that basically was alive and walking or swimming at some point for example), it seems more an excuse for being lazy, which is just on the other side of the thin line separating it from ‘relaxed’.

They also supply al possible drugs possible, which in return has attracted a less joyful crowd of young US teens visiting the island.

Us in San Pedro, Belize (2)Meanwhile you cannot cross the once empty streets without getting run over by a golf-cart, the most popular way around, both for owners as well as visitors.

It is difficult to find a decent place for a decent price, but Pedro’s Inn offered both including a swimming pool which of course is the best place to be during some of the short but torrential rains! Still, a tiny 2 person-room without bathroom costs B$ 20 (USD10) and eating out was expensive as well, so our budget went through the roof…

Here are some impressions:

Guatemalan vendor, San Pedro, BelizeBikebabe on San Pedro beach Local girl on swing, San Pedro, BelizeLas chicas, San Pedro, BelizeThe old man by the sea, Belize Middle street at night, San PedroBaby gecko, San Pedro beachhouses, San PedroSidestreet, San Pedro, Belize

Go Slow on Caye Caulker: this is where we want to be…

Caye Caulker beach, BelizeWe quickly had enough of the busy San Pedro, and hopped on another boat which dropped us off on the next Island: Cay Caulker. It is much smaller, only a few km long and between 100m & 400m wide. At many places on the island you can stand in the middle and see the sea on both sides :)

Main street, Caye Caulker, BelizeWhat’s more, the only pavement on the entire island is the small airstrip, the few other roads are all unpaved and sandy.

Everybody is either walking or cycling and the Island’s motto is “Go Slow”.

This is truly the paradise that Madonna was singing about, likely resembling San Pedro from the 80-s.

Fresh fish, Caye CaulkerMain street, Caye Caulker, Belize (2)

Sandy Lane

Our balcony at Sandy Lane, Caye CaulkerWe found a cheap place at the Sandy Lane’s guesthouse, which is unique in that it is probably the only place on the island without a sea view :)

Sandy Lane Guesthouse, Caye Caulker

But for B$25 per room (USD 12,50 for 4 persons together, not counting the in-house gecko which served as a ecological mosquito–trap), we were not complaining.

Besides, we had a front-row seat to the football matches and the sea was less than 100m away on both sides…

Here are some more pix of our ‘area’ and of some other, more expensive hotels on Cay Caulker:

Stevie, Caye CaulkerSoccer championship, Caye Caulker Waiting for dinner, Caye CaulkerSeaview from the guesthouse, Caye Caulker

Beach road hotels, Caye CaulkerTropical Paradise Hotel, Caye Caulker Ignacio's, South Caye Caulker Firestation, Caye Caulker Drinking is fun, Caye CaulkerSide street, Caye Caulker

Chilling at The Spit

Young biker near Lazy Lizard, Caye CaulkerThere is a small channel, separating the inhabited Southern Part from the uninhabited Northern part, called ‘The Spit” and there is the only real beach. Accompanied by the beats of the nearby Lazy Lizard pub you can snorkel or relax.

Gate of Lazy Lizard, Caye CaulkerThen it is a maximum of 10 minutes walk back to your hostel, while on the way you can order some ‘fry lobsta’.

Cleaning fish, Caye CaulkerWe felt much more at home on Caye Caulker, without all the hustle and bustle and nightclubs of San Pedro.

The people living here seemed more friendly and truly relaxed, not the pushy fake ‘relax, man, we just want your money’-attitude from San Pedro.

.

.

.

 

Here are some more pix of The Spit:

Lobster, Caye Caulker fastfoodBeach at The Spit, Caye CaulkerLazy Lizard art, Caye CaulkerThe pier at the spit, Caye Caulker

Lazy Lizard, Caye CaulkerTouring boat, Caye Caulker

Playing with Stingrays

Stingray alley, Caye CaulkerWe wanted to go on at least one snorkelling tour and took the popular one that would take us to two of the reefs and to the Stingray alley.

Stingray alley, Caye Caulker (2)The tour was great and we all enjoyed snorkelling through clouds of colourful fish and corals.

Beach view, Caye CaulkerThe special part was when we stopped at a shallow part, where stingrays up to several feet in diameter came up to us. You could touch them and even hold them which was wonderful.

Then of course: back to the hammock office and deciding which catch of the day we would eat…

Belizean houses, Caye CaulkerBeach grill, Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker office, BelizeView from the office, Caye CaulkerGo Slow, no hospital, Caye Caulker

Goodbye to my sister and niece, together alone again

Dawn in private plane, Caye CaulkerAfter spending nearly two weeks together, it was time to say goodbye.

To avoid the hassle and unfriendly crowds in Belize City, we decided it would be better if Margriet & Dawn used one of the small planes to get to the International airport. Besides, it would give them one more evening and night with us!

Go Slow sign, Caye CaulkerWe were surprised to see that as they were the only 2 persons flying, only a small Cessna showed up: a private plane!

Ivana in sea, Caye CaulkerWe said our goodbyes, not sure when and where we would see each other again…

We stayed another few days on the Island as we had to await for Jorge to come back from vacation, as our bikes were still stored at his place in Belize City.

But that was no hard thing to do, it was nice to have some extra time on the ‘Go Slow’ island, catching up with some work, swimming more and preparing mentally for the next part on the bike: down South through Belize towards Guatemala!

A final look at Caye Caulker: as always:

click to enlarge automagically, see the photos section for more pix of Belize and the islands!

Ivana at Sandy Lane guesthouse, Caye CaulkerFruity palms, Caye Caulker Street in Caye CaulkerStreet in Caye Caulker (2) Creole wisdom, Caye CaulkerCaye Caulker taxiRico Novelo, Caye CaulkerMain street, Caye Caulker (2)Caye Caulker head Main street, Caye Caulker (3)Go Slow, Caye Caulker Beach hotels, Caye CaulkerSide street, Caye Caulker Traffic jam, Caye CaulkerMain street, Caye Caulker (4)

1000 Americans: Rico Novelo, Caye Caulker, Belize

November 2, 2009 by , 2,049 views  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Rico Novelo, Caye Caulker (2)

Rico is one of the few inhabitants of Caye Caulker, that was born and raised there.

After a hurricane destroyed most of his fishing gear, he changed to fixing boat engines and renting out some houses on their land. Now, in his 70’s, he still loves his small island…

1000 Americans: Mr Marin, Caye Caulker, Belize

November 2, 2009 by , 2,005 views  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Marin's restaurant, Caye Caulker

Where other restaurant owners would be busy around lunch-time, Mr Marin took his time to read his newspaper in his restaurant on ‘Go Slow’ Caye Caulker, Belize.