Saturday, January 25, 2014

December 21 – January 10: Valparaiso, Chile to Seattle/Portland, USA via Guatemala/Florida

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and SURPRISE from… WASHINGTON! In order to surprise my family with my homecoming, most of you were probably in the dark about my leaving South America. So, surprise! I returned home on Christmas afternoon, went to Guatemala the next day, to Miami, and then back to Seattle to stay for no less than a few years; something already tells me though that I’ll be back somewhere in Latin America eventually… 
Heidi and I met this amazing lady on the plane and we wound up staying at her place in Guatemala City!
Antigua, Guatemala 

For our Water Project, we have not met our goal of $10,000, but we hit $6500, which allows us to sponsor a well, rather than completely construct one.  The best present other than being home with my family would be to bring happiness and security to the lives of hundreds of people just like us. Lets kick off 2014 the right way and get this well built so we can make a better life for someone on this planet. 

Heidi at the Cosmic Convergence 
All the lovely people at our camp
Bringing on the 2014 pre-dawn at the Desert Dweller's performance on the lake - incredible

So, I was home for Christmas, then I left for Guatemala on the 26th for a festival called the Cosmic Convergence on Lake Atitlan.  “It was a beautiful celebration of the heart, a cosmic gathering of intelligent people with big ideas, good intentions and flow in their body. An amazing mix of music, art, indigenous culture, inspirational cinema and ecological building practice.”  This is what the website says, and I’d like to just simplify it by calling it a spiritual hippie-fest.  
January 1st, 2014. - Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan

My home for a little while at the Miami airport
After bringing on the New Years and exploring some of that area of Guatemala with Heidi, I went to Miami, trying to get home on stand-by (vacant seats on the plane).  After a few days of trying to get out of Miami, I bought a ticket and wound up spending a week in Miami and The Keys.  
Some homies

Beach day with hostel folks
It’s not really my style, but I really appreciated all the Caribbean and Latin influence, as well as the 80 degrees and bright blue water beaches!  I met a Norwegian and an American, so the three of us rented a car and went out to the Keys for a few days.  I got a flight, had a little trouble in Houston, got re-routed to Seattle and took the train down to Portland, finally getting back on January 10th after nine days in transit from Lake Atitlan!
Highway 1, heading out into infinity
Out exploring the Keys for a couple days
Further from Washington than South America!
Bird Sanctuary
I am now in Seattle, back working for and am currently working on finding a new place to call home!  That said, this will be my last blog about the crazy bicycle ride between Cuenca, Ecuador and Valparaiso, Chile.  I might post some statistics and other photos if there’s enough expressed interest.  If any of you would like to follow my comparatively uninteresting life of backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, and sailing back in Seattle, feel free to ‘Friend’ me on facebook.  Otherwise, I’ll just close this chapter with the following:

Any great experience gives us the opportunity to redefine ourselves. Whether you jump on a bus bound for another city or leave on an adventure to an unknown continent, the way we perceive the experiences and relationships we’re surrounded by is up to us; we create our mood. I believe the secret ingredient to having a monumental adventure is to plan nothing and never use a guide, rather find your own ‘road less traveled.’ I use the bicycle with tattered photo-copy maps and recommendations from travelers – there are tons of creative ways to explore the worlds’ landscapes and cultures, it just takes a little imagination. From here, just flow, listening to where your soul and instincts takes you. This past year traveling held some of the best moments of my life and allowed me to recognize and change a lot of old habits, replacing them with new ideas and actions. I strove at first to find who and what I was looking for in this trip, but learned that if I had patience, what I lacked in my life would come. From experience to experience, relationship to relationship, everything happens for a reason and every day I live is to my astonishment always better than the last. 

THANK YOU to all the donors who have helped us raise what we have for our water project in Africa. You know who you are and you should be tremendously proud of the humanitarian equalities you’re fighting for. THANK YOU Dad for beginning this adventure with me and essentially getting me started on a trip that I will think about every day for the rest of my life. THANK YOU Wilhelm for hosting us in Chiclayo, Peru - thank your grandpa for us for cleaning our blood in his special machine! THANK YOU Thomas for all the endless conversations and crepes and to you also Tenny, you guys both inspired me to do a surprise homecoming. THANK YOU Suzanne and Tobias for helping me through the Cusco ordeal and buying Oregano at the plaza in Cusco haha. THANK YOU Loic for launching me into the second chapter of my trip and for being a great companion for those months spinning south – so many oatmeal-tuna-cracker-soy meat-soup packet lunch mixes out in that damn windy desert… Rinconada! THANK YOU Gael, Grace, Rebecca, Juliana, James, Marianna, Nicolas, and Christa who made Sucre, Bolivia an incredible memory that I’ll never forget. THANK YOU Nigel for showing me that it is possible to tour with a bike too heavy to lift. So glad to see you doing something like this at your ripe young age. THANK YOU Anto, Mauro and Fauco for the early morning road trip around Salta and an introduction to the indescribable friendship that nearly every Argentinian shares. THANK YOU Lukas for introducing me to the art of meditation and positive energy. You helped me remember that my bike trip is not about biking; I hope to one day see you in rainbowland. THANK YOU Sr. Antonio in Belen for creating a haven for cyclists bounding with art and inspiration. THANK YOU Coco and Gregg for all those warm starry desert nights spent stuffed in the tent watching Breaking Bad or Boardwalk Empire. You douche bags really brought out the creativity in my life and reminded me that sharing everything is the only way to live. THANK YOU Vickie for spontaneously hosting six smelly cyclists in your tiny two-bedroom house when we needed help in Chilecito. THANK YOU Jackie and Kayla for those awesome nights camping around the fire – the ‘family song’ will forever be stuck in my head at the most unsuspecting moments. THANK YOU Miguel, Cecilia, and friends in San Jaun for not only accepting dirtbag strangers into your home, but for making us feel like your family. Grido’s, the asados, the boliches and endless Fernet and Coke… You guys are exceptional examples of a genuine friend. THANK YOU Victor in Uspallata for letting me into your home and for the opportunity to make Camping Venancio into a refuge for ‘people like us.’ Never did get your real name, gringo loco… THANK YOU Nastasia, Fanny, and Charlin for getting me on my feet with work in Santiago when I first arrived. THANK YOU Sina for the fun adventures around Santiago and to Francisca, Yuri, Santo, Pablo, and gang for all the late nights on the balcony with Spooky relentlessly licking my apparently delicious ankles. THANK YOU Ivan, James, Jason, Lena, Seona, Diedre, and others for sharing the good times at Ventana Sur Hostal, whether in the pool at 1am or dancing salsa in the family room. THANK YOU Juan Carlos for the pre-mountain pass motivation sesh and for offering your house to me in Santiago should I return. THANK YOU to Sierra and Liam for being the best fucking Canadians that ever lived OH CANADA... THANK YOU Poroto, Luke, Dave, Rafa, and Katrina for making my departure really really really hard. Throwing shapes at The Terrace, bike rides, drives, Chuckee Cheeses, rock climbing at the beach, jam sesh’s, countless after-party sunrises… The energy and happiness we share can move planets and one day we’ll all be howling again under that creamy Chilean moon.
Poroto, Luke, Dave and I
I would never have met the Valparaiso gang if I hadn’t known the Ventana Sur gang and I would never know the Ventana Sur gang if I hadn’t known Nastasia. I would never know Nastasia if I hadn’t met her sister Julianna, who I met because of Loic… I would never know Fran and the Santiago gang without Coco and Gregg, who I met with Lukas; I would never have met Loic or Lukas or any of these extraordinary souls if I had started with anyone but my Dad. 

To all of you that have followed this trip, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! Your support and enthusiasm is always treasured and I hope you took a little piece of inspiration from the trip to use in your own life. I hope you had a fantastic New Years and a 2014 filled with simplicity and happiness. All the relationships and experiences in our lives are connected, leading us somewhere; the decision is up to us whether to fight the current or take the risk and flow. Valparaiso happened to lead me back to the Northwest, but don’t believe for a second that I am ending my trip. I’m just changing locations
.  :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

November 11 - December 20: Uspallata, Arg to Valparaiso, Chile via Santiago

Hey guys!  I hope everyone’s winter/summer is going well.  I’ll have to say right now that the next month and a half will have to be heavily summarized as I could write a novel on everything that has happened in my life since leaving Uspallata.  With that, keep in mind that of the 40ish days I’ve written about, 7 were spent cycle-touring.  When I left you on the last blog, I was feeling a bit homesick there in tiny Uspallata, longing for the city and preparing to make the crossing over the Andes to Chile.  I left early from Uspallata on the 11th, riding west into the canyons that lead up to the Cristo Redentor pass over the Andes separating Argentina from Chile.  It was my first day riding solo on this trip and in the evening, my first time wild-camping solo while touring since Europe in 2009!
I've been on this general route for a good long time...
Camping in the flowers

It is prohibited to bring fruits and vegetables over the border and I took advantage of this law by helping myself to all the dumped produce on the side of the road.  A light wind started blowing across my face and progressed throughout the day into a hellfire of headwind, which accompanied an already fierce steep climb.  I stopped after only 70km, afraid I wouldn’t find a good place to camp down the road out of the wind, and had a nice evening to myself, going down and washing at the river, cooking a huge, delicious meal, and watching a movie before bed. 
Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in the America's
Sea-creature fossil here at 10,000ft - evidence that we live on an insane planet

The next day, I stopped off and did a little hike in the Aconcagua National Park to get a good view of the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas.  On my way back down to the bike and my stuff, I randomly ran into Aurora, the French lady I had originally met in La Paz, Bolivia at the Casa de Ciclistas.  If you recall that far back in the swampy wasteland of words and pictures that is my blog, you’ll remember that she is traveling with her dog that she brought to South America by plane!  With all the weight, headwind, and steepness, she pedaled pretty slowly, so I was able to take my time, and Lela (her dog) just trotted alongside us. 

Aurora and her dog Lela from France

The border was the most beautiful I have ever seen, with huge snowy mountains shooting up away from the canyon that held the tiny buildings and people controlling each country.  All the vertical landscape made it difficult to keep my camera tucked away!  Getting back into Chile was pretty straightforward, though my lentils were taken from me.  And on the other side, a huge downhill awaited us from some 11,000ft to 2,000ft.  I could hear Lela whining from her little bed above Aurora’s front wheel as we wound down the 50-something switchbacks.  Nowhere near the bottom, we found an incredible place to camp, with grass, winding streams, trees, rocks, and even a bathroom to use!  It was close to the road, but the sound of the water drowned everything out. 
Getting close to the border
Hello again Chile

Winding down
In the morning, we continued downhill to Los Andes, the first city in Chile on this route.  I saw a cycle-tourist climbing the hill while going down, so I went over to his side of the road, stopping in the dirt next to him and not only did he not stop, but didn’t make eye contact.  Some cyclist-tourists are like this – too driven to even have a conversation and too passionate about their journey that they forget the best part – its relationships.
Most beautiful border crossing ever
We arrived in Los Andes, got some money, used internet, and picked up groceries.  I was able to find everything I needed and even more than what I could find in grocery stores in the States!  Powdered soy milk, store-brand chocolate granola cereal, PB&J, German biscuits, soy milanesas, even seitan!  Aurora and I rode our separate ways thereafter because it boiled down to the fact that riding through cities is something I love and she hates.  That night, I found a fantastic grove of Eucalyptus trees near an irrigation canal to pass my last night before Santiago.  I rolled in early and caught the moonrise, enjoying bowl after bowl of chocolate granola cereal. 
Jumbo:  The greatest supermarket south of the U.S.A.
Chilean suburbia... bleh

Cycling into Santiago from the north wasn’t too bad, the traffic was horrendous but I managed to somehow avoid lots of ghettos that I had heard about in the north.  This wouldn’t be the case when cycling back out of the city a few weeks later through a different part of North Santiago.  Once downtown, I obtained a map and made my way to Nastasia’s house, the sister of a French girl I had met in Sucre, Bolivia.  She is studying and living in an awesome little house in a nice area of the city with other foreign students and a few locals.  Her roommate Fanny was even nice enough to give up her whole room for me to use for a few days while I was at their house!
Riding the autopiste...  Definitely blaring my music on this part
Moonrise in Santiago
SANTIAGO (mid-November to early December):

Santiago is no walk in the park, it’s an enormous city; you could combine the population of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, and you’d still fall short of Santiago’s 6+ million residents!   Keep in mind though that Chile is pretty developed, so it reflects an urban city with skyscrapers and financial districts, cultural and artistic neighborhoods, and everything else a city can offer.  Many people use Santiago as a base to explore the giant mountains to the east, or the beach which is equally as far to the west.  I was there to get my city-time in, I’ve missed it!  My first few days there were spent finding new clothes, shoes, and a good tattoo artist, plus learning how to get around the city on the crazy bike paths and through the parks. 
Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal
Providencia Neighborhood of Santiago
Some flowers

The people I was staying with had a party, where I met and talked with Ivan, the owner of a hostel nearby.  He said that I could move there and begin working, so I did.  In exchange for work in the evenings most days, I lived at the Ventana Sur hostel for a few weeks, which was a fantastic experience.  Unlike most hostels, Ventana Sur attracts many people looking to live in Santiago, so of the 19 beds, 7 or 8 were usually occupied by people staying for over a week, sometimes over a month.  My sleep schedule quickly became waking up at noon and falling asleep around 4 or 5 every day, which persisted until the end of December. 
I have dozens of street-art photos, but I chose this one
Nastasia's place
Surrounded by delicious Chilean wine
Coco and Gregg told me over email that they had arrived in Santiago a few weeks prior and were still there, so I spent many nights where they were staying at Francesca’s, the apartment of a Chilean girl they had met a few months back.  Always a good time with lots of people at Fran’s.  During the day, I explored the city by bike, and in my last week in Santiago, I began recording short clips of cycling through beautiful parks, heavy traffic, past walls of street-art, and through all the various neighborhoods I could find.  I’ll use my movie-maker when I get back home to compile a STGO BIKE short film if any motivation still remains.  On one of my descents down the big Cerro San Cristobal in the middle of the city, I hit a patch of water and crashed the bike, but thankfully only injured my skin, whew!  Unfortunately, I should have been recording the crash on video, but I accidentally pressed ‘record’ twice at the top of the hill.  Next time.
Oh yea, it's that time of year
Checking out the cemetery with Nastasia and Fanny

A friend I had met on another trip was living in Santiago, so with a few of the folks from the hostel, we all went to Valparaiso one weekend.  Valparaiso is a very artsy port-town near many of Santiago’s closest beaches.  On the bus ride over, I had a sudden urge to change the hostel we had booked for another one that I had heard about from the folks at Ventana Sur.  We arrived at the new place ‘Planeta Lindo’ and were immediately taken in by good people.  After less than one evening in Valpo, Poroto offered me work and I realized I wanted to relocate here from Santiago, for now at least.  The owner of the hostel is Poroto (Spanish for bean) and is one of the most chill, friendliest guys around.  Also working at the hostel is Luke from Colorado, Dave from England, and there was a guy Rafa from here in Valpo that left for Brasil while I was there.

Heading up to Cerro Alegre in Valparaiso, Chile
Wicked old electric buses
The view from Pablo Neruda's house
I saw a lot of the city, which is built on a steep hill, making for not a single flat street, and I even found a little hiking trail up in the forests above the city with a fantastic view out to the Pacific.  The beach is right up the coast 20 minutes by bus so we did that one day; how I missed the ocean!  The weather here is a lot like San Francisco, so there was no swimming to be had, but by the brave.  It was a hazy weekend, and one night we all went to a place Poroto knew about where there was live Reggae several times a year.  The show was located at the end of the only pier in downtown Valpo, out on the deck above the water – it was incredible.  Sunrise even crept up on us a bit when we were leaving to get munchies. 
Neruda about Valparaiso: "You never finished combing your hair, life has always surprised you."

I returned to Santiago Monday afternoon, taking it easy and hanging out with Fran, Yuri, Pablo, and their friends, then packed my stuff on Tuesday and saw a few museums.  I took care of some last-minute stuff in the city on Wednesday and left for Valpo by bike after breakfast, which happened to be around 2:30pm…  I wanted to take a really obscure route that went over a mountain pass and dropped me into a National Park, so that’s what I did.  I fought Santiago traffic including some rich parts and a few ghettos for 3 hours or so until I finally reached vineyards and eucalyptus groves again.  At one point leaving the city, I felt in one area that if I stopped I’d be robbed, but I just kept whistling and kept comfortable, trusting in the city, and everything was fine.  I saw some heavily-laden cycle tourists pass me while I was taking a roadside juice, but didn’t stop them as I had looked forward to cycling alone for a while now. 
Parque O'Higgins, Santiago
Every individual has a right to life, freedom, and personal security
 I found a ‘3-star stealth’ (as I’d like to call it) camping spot in a sheep-grazing area and luckily managed to fall asleep around midnight.  The next morning I met an Argentinian working in Chile who had a son who cycle-tours, so I think I might stay at his house and have a barbeque when I get back to Santiago for at least one night.  I climbed up and over the pass, meeting the cyclists from yesterday at the top, a couple from Buenos Aires – very cool people.  Going down the hill, I recorded some awesome footage of the crazy curves and scenery, then rode up to the La Campana National Park.  After some negotiating, I was able to stay for free next to the ranger station, in place of having to spend 6,000 pesos ($12) just to camp!
Cerro La Campana
Sunset from the national park
The next day was one of the longest of my trip, using exhaustion as a measurement.  I woke up late because an earthquake in the night rocked me awake and I was a bit spooked to fall back asleep so easily.  After getting all my stuff ready, I started climbing Cerro La Campana, a 6,000ft peak in the national park.  I walked as fast as I could, knowing I wanted to be in Valparaiso for Friday night and made the top after a few hours.  There were many biospheres going up, and I got to see the color of lizards change from black to bright green/blue when I got near the top.  The flowers, types of trees, etc also changed as I got near to the top, which really reminded me a lot of Mt. Si in Washington as it’s a low-elevation mountain near a lot of flat land and a big mountain range on opposing sides. 
Heading up
At the top
Mr. Blue Lizard
I met some cool people at the summit, and then started down, making it back to the bike by 4:30, where I quickly switched gears, changing shoes, shorts, packing my panniers, etc and I left.  I cycled hard towards the coast and down to Valparaiso, stopping once to pick up some empanadas.  I hit the ocean and followed the boardwalk down through the evening and arrived at Planeta Lindo around 9pm, where the magic started.  I thought that after a 10-mile hike up a mile-high mountain and 70km of cycling in rolling hills would do me in, I was wrong.  We all went out around midnight to a rooftop house-converted-club that allows you to bring your own – whatever you’re consuming – and went crazy.  I’ll just say, it was a beautiful sunrise from the hostel terrace and I really never went to bed – just kind of floated through Saturday in a haze. 
After six months, the Pacific again
Coming up on Viña del Mar
VALPARAISO (early December to ???):

I started working at the hostel the next day, and a few days later Poroto gave me my own room in his big antique house down the street!  Luke and I have a lot in common so we’re always walking around or getting into some kind of trouble.  Dave is a vegetarian cook and has tons of incredible music, so we also have tons in common.  Being at the hostel seems to be what we all love to do, hanging out with the people, taking them on walking tours around the city and showing them the local nightlife…  Poroto has lived here his whole life and so knows the city well, from parks to cultural centers, to nature sites, to the best secret nightlife.  
Cerro Concepcion, Valpo
Where it all happens - Planeta Lindo

Liam from BC
Life in Valparaiso for the last two weeks has been a lot of not sleeping, good times with friends here, always doing something fun and/or sitting on the terrace jamming out.  Poroto gave me a room in his house down the hill, though I usually only use it for sleeping and am always at the hostel hanging out with the people staying here.  I try to go on a walk or bike ride most days as to not let 4pm hit, which is the point at which I know I will spend the rest of my day and night on the terrace at the hostel or out with hostel folk.
The beach
Hostel is the pink place on the right corner
It’s great to just go down to the beach in Viña del Mar or walk around the cerros of the city.  Cerros (hills) are the names given to the neighborhoods in Valparaiso as each is atop a different hill and thus changes dramatically in between.  The hostel is on Cerro Alegre and the house on the more popular Cerro Concepcion.  I went for a few long day bike rides to other nearby towns, beaches, or mountains nearby, but the city itself is pretty impossible to get around by bike as all the hills are insanely steep and made of cobblestone. 
Riding around cities with Luke
Terrace Times

 The relationship Poroto, Luke, Dave, and I have is really close, always having ‘hostel meetings’ to jam on the drums/guitar/piano or have a round of Fifa (soccer video game).  Music is always playing somewhere and lots of time gets spent sitting the afternoon away on the front stoop.  There is no check-in time, no check-out time, no sign out front, no shifts for us, no ‘duties list’ or something.  We just keep the place clean when it looks dirty and take turns sleeping at the hostel at night, because we are otherwise usually there anyway.  Whoever hears the doorbell does the check-in and the new guests become a part of the family for however long they stay (which is usually at least double the days they intend to stay).

Poroto getting the hostel bar ready
Eduardo, who sometimes comes and plays guitar with us

Poroto is a really incredible person – he is relaxed about everything and is positive about everything in life, strongly believing in the law of attraction which he implements in his hostel by not having a sign, by always keeping extra beds available should someone want to stay longer, etc.  He doesn’t like money so shares it with people who need it in the city; he would rather lose some potential money than to let in someone aggressive or sketchy, unlike most hostels.  He keeps everyone at the hostel smiling and is very trusting of us, knowing we’re all good people.  He even offered me his pickup truck to use when I was thinking about going to Viña del Mar.  I know that when I leave Valparaiso, it will be a ‘see you later’ kind of goodbye with a lot of the people I met here.  And for now, I am living in the now, excited for Christmas and New Years!  I’ll send a Christmas blog, so keep an eye out for it, Chow!