Bike tourists tend to be a little different—in all the best ways—but even I thought these young French parents crazy. Three to a bike (see above photo) they pedaled Canada, the United States, and several South American countries.
The father has enough video footage to create a travel documentary, which he hopes to sell once he pieces it together in France. At a Chinese restaurant in La Paz all six cyclists and I shared a meal and stories; a combination of French, English, and Spanish used to communicate ideas when one language’s vocabulary was exhausted.
On an Oregon reservation they stayed with an Native American chief, in California a man pulled his car over to give them his vacation home’s keys, saying “It looks like you could use a place to rest,” and in Bolivia the mountains forced them to abandon their bikes for a VW Wagon in which they’ll tour the rest of South America. Over dinner the father said something I’ve found to be a common glue amongst “crazy” bike tourists, “We were about to construct a new house with enough rooms for all the kids, but suddenly realized collecting experiences was more important than collecting things.”.
Belgians Paul and Coline appeared at the La Paz Casa de Ciclista a few days after my arrival. I liked them instantly and found their relationship to have grown in innocence and understanding during their cross-continent tandem ride, like a couple stuck in a permanent dating phase where personal freedom and a constant attention to detail never sputtered away with time. After a coca tea we went to the outdoor market to buy ingredients for crepes. During our kitchen conversations I learned that Paul had completed a solo bike trip from France to Nepal and now both were using their one-year sabbatical, a legal right every Belgian is entitled once during their career, to bike South America. Colombia is their end destination, then they return home to engineering jobs that await them.
This mystery bike was parked in the courtyard of my cheap hotel near the salt flat in southern Bolivia. When I asked the manager where I could find the bike’s owner the reply was always the same, “He’s sleeping.” He must have been very tired; he slept for two days straight.
These two French cyclists were the shining envy of every backpacker who arrived by gas-powered jeep to the remote salt hotel, a several hour drive to the nearest town. Actually, these cyclists were probably bombarded with travelers’ questions more out of morbid curiosity about how they managed to survive the blinding white expanse than any real desire to do the same. I managed to steal their attention by saying I too was a cyclist and soon learned they had arrived via the same route I am about to bike. They said Brazil was a trip highlight, that Brazilians were the most hospitable people they encountered. We exchanged blogs, but unfortunately I lost the tiny scrap of paper that linked to their journey. Watching them pedal away I thought how incredible it would be cross El Salar by night, all that white illuminated by moon.
German cyclist Dorothee began as a dot on the horizon, then gradually took the form of a water buffalo on ice skates. As soon as we realized she was a cyclist, Walter, the same jeep guide who was driving me back to the town of Uyuni for free, offered Dorothee the shade of our tailgate, our lunch leftovers, and juice to fuel her desert crossing. Very German-like, Dorothee accepted as if these middle of nowhere luxuries were her entitlement. This is a by-product of her extended time in South America. Incredible hospitality in the form of free food and lodging is a daily occurrence here, to the point where they cease to be generous gifts and become expected handouts. I’m glad I saw this cyclist attitude up-close in order to avoid it myself and show gratitude to those who enrich my travels with generosity. During our short conversation an overeager Japanese tourist insisted, several times, that she visit him in Japan—apparently the Japanese even have middle-aged women cyclist fetishes. On this tour Dorothee had biked Russia, Australia, parts of Asia, and was heading from Chile to Venezuela before returning home.