With Ivanas jump for joy on the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, I want to wish everybody who reads this blog a wonderful 2011.
Regular readers and subscriber will have noticed that the blog ‘stopped’ in Belize and the photos in Panama. The updated South America Map shows what/where we have cycled and travelled past year, even though we have written no updates about them yet.
In this post, which will also be published on my photoblog ExposedPlanet, I will give a small update about what we have been doing past year and the plans for the next.
Though 2009 seemed destined to be the most powerful year in my personal history (even beating 2008!), the past year 2010 has yet again been even more crazy, interesting, tough, happy, sad, wonderful, strange and beautful. (“Will this never stop!”)
Looking back I realized that I have been quite active in many ways trying to avoid being a Zombie. It might be a good idea for you and me to reflect on what you have achieved past year in order to inspire for the upcoming year! Let’s stick to the easy to recall statistics on travel & photography, as that is what I do most
– I have not been posting much on the ExposedPlanet photoblog, but as you might have noticed lately, I am getting back up to speed… Only a few dozen pictures and all in the past months only, but I think the quality has improved a lot, which is more important than quantity
– We spent all the year in South America. It has been many years ago that I did not visit more than one continent in a year, but South America has proved itself much more diverse than I ever imagined.
– I shot over 7000 pictures on my Canon Eos 5D mark II and several on a new Lumix compact camera as well. Actually I probably shot much more, but these are the ones surviving the first round of critical ‘check-delete’ actions I also shot video but still need to learn more about that.
– We cycled almost more than 9700km (6000 miles) through 10 different countries including more than 55km vertical. That is more than 6 times the height of Mt Everest! We cycled from sea-level up to more than 4600m (15,000ft) and even spent 5 weeks non-stop above 3600m (12,000ft).
– One old dream came true: I travelled up the length of the Amazon and Napo rivers across the continent by way of 9 different boats, all the way from Macapa (near the Atlantic coast in Brazil) to Coca, only a few hours away by bus from Quito, Ecuador.
– The inhabitants of these countries I visited spoke in 5 different languages to me (Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch & French) as well as many older tongues like Quecha & Aymara and offered many different and wonderful foods
– I climbed and summited 5 mountains of over 5000m (16,400ft) and 3 mountains of over 6000m (19,700ft) including the highest Andean mountains in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador & Bolivia and a wonderful 6300+m peak in Peru.
Due to the easy access most of these climbs were only 2-4 (very long) days affairs, but wonderful nevertheless. The views from the thin air never fail to fill me with happiness.
– I minimized consuming, have become even more minimalist than I already was and am very happy about that. The great thing about travelling by bicycle is that you simply cannot take more than you need! I also did not eat any meat (just fish) and am healthier, lighter, fitter and younger than ever, even if I turned 40 past summer.
– I went on one (1) airplane flight (to the Galapagos Islands, another dream come true) as unfortunately there is no other way to get there anymore. That is one more flight than I took last year…
– We saw countless animals in the wildincluding vicunas, guanacos, llamas, capybara, alpaca, alligators, monkeys, armadillo, tuco tuco, snakes, vizcacha, marine Iguanas and turtles and their land-based cousins and hundreds of different types of sea- and land-based birds including nandu, flamingo, condor, red ibis, penguin, macaw, blue footed boobies and many, many more.
We witnessed giant leatherback turtles laying their eggs and even swam face to face with sea-turtles, dolphins, sea lions and strange and colourful fish, as close to nature as you can get.
– I started a new and very exciting company with a good friend (and built a website for it as well: http://Flexiwaysolar.com. The project is about to take off really soon now and should change the lives of thousands of people in a very positive way, while saving the planet a bit.
– I redesigned the ExposedPlanet photoblog, and switched it over to the WordPress platform for more flexibility Also I added a new blog, with photography tips, see http://blog.exposedplanet.com, the first 5 or so posts are already up.
– I started licensing some photos through Getty and already made several sales. I have sold some more through my ImageKind shop and directly to diverse clients for usage all around the world in magazines & books (Contact me if you are interested in my images).
– I still run my business 7summits.com full-time and had one of the best years ever, with an unbeatable 100% summit rate for all my Kilimanjaro clients, climbing on many dozens of different personalized expeditions. We employ local guides only which makes the trips not only 50-70% less expensive, but also ensures that even the prices are very low, most of the paid fees end up in Tanzania, Argentina, Tibet/Nepal etc. One thing that makes me proud as well are the wonderful stories the clients sometimes send back after the climb: check some of these out on the 7summits.com clients feedback page.
– BikeTravellers.com, the community for adventure cyclists has been re-built and redesigned as well, with some added functionality.
– I started preparing for a major personal event upcoming in 2011, something to do with tying knots, but not on mountains
So I am quite satisfied with the things I have done considering I also have to sleep sometimes even though I would like to change that as it is often a waste of time !
But what was much more important is that I met great people from many different countries, seeing culture and nature up close in away that can only be done while travelling (and really only by travelling by bicyle).
What did not happen?
What I regret a lot is not having time to update the WorldOnaBike.com blog. If you look there, it seems we are still in Belize (though the Map is updated to our current position). I would have liked to share more adventures, great places and nice people.
Unlike what many people feared and told/warned us that would definitely happen, we have not been robbed, assaulted, murdered or hit by cars, even when travelling ‘unprotected’ through ‘scary places’ like Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, The Guyanas, the Amazon & Brasil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia & Argentina.
We did not ‘Zombie out’. Unlike many others we have not stayed at home in front of a TV because of fear of the unknown, in need of consuming and passive feeding of fear and commerce by the TV. Instead we have actively approached the unknown and have been enriched by our experiences beyond description.
We made great new friends. Some we travelled with like the illustrous ‘La Familia‘, ‘ The A-team‘, ‘Tim sem Fronteiras‘ and the ‘Abnormal Austrians‘ as well as many other wonderful people that changed from strangers to friends slowly or instantly and that offered us hospitality along the way, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for weeks on end, muchas gracias!
And maybe even better is that all of this together could be done on a monthly budget less than what most people spend on car insurance or fuel alone… It’s about making choices in your life, nothing more, nothing less.
So what is there left to do in 2011?
Some of the things I had wanted to do past year had to be moved to 2011 and new ideas and projects will hopefully happen in 2011, including:
Switching 7summits.com to WordPress, climbing the highest mountain in Peru (the only one I wanted to but did not climb past year) starting my new blog on Minimalist Living, moving to Patagonia, getting married, writing new books, updating all the blogs, shooting at least 10,000 more photos, editing at least 5000 of them, choosing and buying parts and ordering and building my first self-built PC in order to be able to do so in time.
We also still have about 8000-10000km (5-600 miles) to go on our Pan-American mainland bicycle expedition, visiting the missing parts of Paraguay, North-East Argentina, Uruguay and Patagonia (Southern Chile/Argentina), which I am all really, really looking forward to. I will keep on promoting cycling and travelling by bicycle by offering free weblogs and info/help on BikeTravellers.com.
And of course I will run my climbing and photography businesses with full force in order to pay for all of this but also to let more people enjoy the joy of climbing mountains and experiencing the cultures surrounding the mountains
I will update ExposedPlanet with new images and stories, in order to share the beauty of nature and culture and to counter the fear and xenophobia that is still going strong in the world…
More than enough about me, let’s focus on the world around us again!
I started this post as I just wanted to share one of 2010’s great moments with you: Ivana jumping for joy on the beautiful Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia and will close with one of myself taken there as well, with a simple message for all of you:
May you jump for joy many times in the year to come.
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
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.
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.
We 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?
– 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.
– 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.”
Harry & Ivana
– 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
"Tropical the island Breeze, all of nature wild and free, this is where I long to be, la isla Bonita…"
Madonna 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.
But 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.
All 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.
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:
Go Slow on Caye Caulker: this is where we want to be…
We 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
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.
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:
Chilling at The Spit
There 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.
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.
Playing with Stingrays
Then of course: back to the hammock office and deciding which catch of the day we would eat…
Goodbye to my sister and niece, together alone again
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!
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!
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…
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.
It was great to see my only sister Margriet and her daughter/my niece Dawn again, as it had been over a year since we had said goodbye in The Netherlands. She always wanted to go to Belize and as she was tied to my niece’s vacation schedule, we were lucky that we could plan a few weeks together.
Her entry into Belize was not so easy as the airport personnel was so rude and aggressive that she was crying when she came out of the airport building. On top of that their luggage was delayed, so we had to spend an extra night in Jorge’s place.
Some of the animals had very little space, others had more, but all were surrounded by a thick jungle, so you could feel like an explorer, meeting al 5 cats of Belize, the largest eagle in the world and much more..
To the West: Ruins, Horses and Parrots’ Nests in San Ignacio
After the luggage finally arrived, we said our thanks and goodbyes to Jorge, who had patiently helped us out, and boarded a bus West. All ‘public’ buses are privately owned and they are all refurbished USA school buses. This means tights spaces, no luxury and loads of diesel fumes.
The fun thing is to see the diversity of people inside the buses: the Creoles, the Mennonites, the Mayas, the Guatemalans and the tourists all travel together for a few dollars. The Western Highway leads past the capital of Belmopan towards the main town of San Ignacio, just 20km from the Guatemalan border.
it is a well-known tourist spot, located in the hills and many foreign-owned eco-lodges are located here, in the midst of jungle, ruins and caves, while the famous Maya site of Tikal, Guatemala is only a few hours away.
I had seen it 9 years ago when I first visited Guatemala and would have loved to see how it had changed. But due to the expensive (single entry!) visa for Ivana and the exit taxes we would all have to pay, we decided to skip Tikal in favour of some local sights.
No other visitors had hiked up the steep hill and we could explore the ruins alone and Margriet & Dawn enjoyed it tremendously.
CouchSurfing and horse riding around the Parrot’s Nest
The Parrot’s Nest is a great place to relax, float on the river, watch the giant lizards and butterflies and to awake at the sound of toucans chatting away.
We rode through thick jungle, up steep hills, past hidden ruins and friendly people.
Back to the North: Lamanai Ruins via Croc-land and Biscayne
We had to get back to Belize City before we could take another us up the Northern Highway. Ivana & I had seen a place named Croc land, which seemed like a fun place: some crocodiles and the largest swimming pool of Belize ((without crocs :)).
First we camped in another place we had scouted out: a small grocery store that had a camping space and a shower! Dawn spent time playing with the kids and we had our very first ‘Rice & Beans’ in Belize.
The swimming pool in Croc Land was indeed very nice, and we enjoyed it, but upon further inspection it turned out that Croc-Land not only housed a few dozen Crocodiles in horrible circumstances but also other animals including a mountain lion and even a jaguar, hidden away in a far corner; going mad in a concrete cage without shade. This place should be shut down immediately…
Back in time on the New River
I wanted to show them at least one more bigger Maya site and we decided to go to Lamanai. This old Maya centre is located next to one of the largest rivers in Belize and though it boasts some very impressive grand buildings, the boat tour to get there is just as fun.
He slowly passed some Spider Monkeys, to give them a chance to grab some bananas off the boat and then went at full speed through some of the other curves of the river before showing us around the historical sites. It was hot and the bugs were attacking, but still a great day out.
Orange Walk to Sarteneja.
We returned too late to get to our next destination, so we decided to skip Corozal as planned and stayed another night in Orange Walk, enjoying Guatemalan tamales & Salvadorian pupusas off the street.
We stayed 2 nights while swimming in the warm Corozal bay. ahh, the hard life of the Bike Travellers
Coming up: Belize with Family, part 2 (final): La Isla Bonita
Remember when Madonna sang about the place with the Tropical Breeze, this was where she wanted to be?
Next stop: San Pedro, “La Isla Bonita”…
Nathalie is one of the many new Belizeans: originally European, but she has since emigrated to Belize.
First to study, but later she enjoyed the more relaxed life-style, away from the rat-race and she started building a small ecologically friendly resort, the Backpacker’s Paradise.
He had sold his land to two European ‘Gringos’, for them to build a little ecologically-friendly backpacker’s place.
Under one condition though, he could still come and collected the ‘nances’, the small little yellow fruits that fell from the tree during the night-time, so he could make and sell his wine.
The old guy was proudly selling his small bucket of home made tamales, a corn-paste filled with meat (usually chicken, including bones, so take care) or vegetable, steamed and delivered in oily banana leaves.
His wife made the tamales as home and together with this grandson, he tried to sell all of them on the side of the Central park, Orange Walk, Belize.
Carol Lee and her friends are enterprising women, running a supermarket and a small eatery near Biscayne, on the Northern Highway of Belize.
Her daily specials do not change much: you can choose your Rice & Beans to go with ‘fry fish’, fry chicken’ or ‘fry beef’…