[Colombia, August 2009]
This section, which should have been written before setting off to South America, is now seven weeks, three countries, and 669 miles late. Since leaving our two-year homebase in Austin, Texas we’ve paralleled the Atlantic from sunrise to sunset, sang off-key boleros in Barranquilla, pitched tent under endless diamond skies, and climbed mountain highways that spiraled upwards like the Tower of Babel. Without a doubt, Bob, Surly, and I have had ample time to answer the question “What is this craziness?” After some serious soul-searching we’ve concluded….
…we hate bus stations.
That thick smell of stare in the terminals, that vending machine hum that makes sleep impossible, the boredom that stains like a tattoo, those slick oil puddles in the empty bus slot that remind everyone of what they’d prefer to forget: the real purgatory has yet to arrive. The bus trip is always some eight hour fetal position due to lack of leg room, air-conditioning set to meat locker cold, with a lavatory that belches stench with each minor pothole and a cartoon movie voice that squeaks from speakers above your head. The baby two rows back screams the exact moment you begin to doze. Every time.
Been there, done that.
Bob, Surly, and I wanted to travel differently. Past travel experiences (see above) have forever left their mark; we now know what we like and don’t like. Blue skies, fresh air, and exercise are preferred to the cramped confines of a bus—even though the latter is by far the easier way to travel. We wanted a freedom to enjoy everything South America has to offer that was not dependent upon bus schedules, major cities, and the limited routes that connect them.
“Bike travel will set us free,” slurred Surly one poker night, too drunk to understand his statement’s irony: all Surly travel is bike travel. Nonetheless, his statement affected Bob and I profoundly. Over breakfast tacos the following morning we made a pact to bike South America.
We realize we are not the first to bike South America, but still feel this adventure is uniquely our own. We choose the route, the schedule, and to a lesser extend the people we meet. The rest is a daily destiny surprise which we hope to share with you through this blog.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
TREVOR: The author keeps drifting farther and farther from his birthplace, Dickinson, North Dakota, U.S.A.—most likely to escape the genetic, almost Canadian disposition of thinking snow is an acceptable phenomena. At age four, he moved south(ish) to the small town Wayne, Nebraska (pop. 5,000) where he spent his formative years sneaking popsicles from the freezer and playing with objects of high-scarring potential in the backyard. He knows what is inside a golf ball thanks to gasoline and hedge cutters. He once shot a squirrel with a homemade bow-and-arrow, then progressed in violence to slingshots and BB guns. Now he repents more than boasts about this projectile past.
Sports were discovered soon after, and thus his after-school hours were consumed and his small town worth increased. As a fifth grader he skipped Valentine’s Day wrestling practice to go on his first date, nervously waiting until the credits to initiate the fabled hand-hold. This is when he realized he would prefer to wrestle girls, even if it was decidedly more difficult. He quit the spandex sport the next day, dedicating himself solely to basketball and football for the duration of his school days.
During one high school summer break he lived and studied Spanish in Barcelona, Spain. If definitive moments are as dramatic as Hollywood would like us to believe, where what existed before and after the flash of clarity is like a store front before and after a riot, then this time abroad forever transformed the author’s life into a sort of Easter Egg hunt on a global scale. From this moment on, instead of looking under couch cushions or in corn fields, he would always look toward the horizon and travel there if necessary to find the prize.
The author attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln—not the University of Hawaii of which he often fantasized while skating to class on ice—and completed undergraduate degrees in International Business, Spanish, and Latin American Studies.
Several summer breaks were spent working at the National Boy Scout High Adventure Sea Base in the Florida Keys, first as a guide who prepared adolescent sailing crews for one week expeditions, then as a live-aboard third mate on a 72 foot schooner, The Yankee.
Eventually, the author graduated. Though his UNL diploma has served him well somewhere in box in his parents’ closet, his real education occurred outside the classroom. His semesters in Mexico and Costa Rica were particularly important. It was during this year that he perfected his Spanish with people from all walks of life and adopted a certain hybrid Latin attitude toward life.
Upon reentry into the U.S. the author almost immediately decided to leave again, not giving reverse culture shock a chance to cool its hot head. For one year he worked as a Jimmy John’s delivery driver and medical interpreter to save money, sold his mustard-colored Ford Escort, then relocated back to Costa Rica to attend a public university. In the tiny green country he held various paid positions, including the oh-so-impressive titles of bilingual telemarketer (“I outsourced myself!”) and professional translator.
Later, the author worked for a study abroad organization based out of the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, Texas, U.S.A. He traveled the nation extensively to speak to university students about academic opportunities abroad. Conversations with students that reminded him of his younger self brought him immense joy. During the muggy Texas summers he was a program director in Costa Rica helping students realize that drinking themselves silly in a foreign country will not make them fluent in the country’s language.
It was in Austin, Texas that the author met Bob and Surly while stubbornly and purposefully living without a car on even the hottest Lone Star days. This motley crew’s coming together, not just for beer and poker as was their initial common interest but to explore the unexplored while laughing through life’s deep sorrows, is proving to be the most definitive moment to date in the author’s short yet happy existence. This sentence onward is unwritten history.