|The Third Year In Pictures|
It’s that time of year again – another 365 days on the road and time for the appropriate features. This feature documents the year that’s just been through 24 pictures, starting on 29th April 2010 and finishing on 29th April 2011. Enjoy.
i. The worlds worst picture. I hate this picture: it's taken by someone who didn't know how to work a camera and depicts a sweaty, smelly guy who'd been struggling to cope with the heat of Southern Mexico. However it's where this feature starts as it shows me exactly one year ago today on the 29th April 2010, two years to the day since leaving England.
ii. Take me to the river. Now who doesn't think this looks fun? I was travelling in Guatemala and came across a bridge that had been washed away by recent storms. Luckily for me the locals had come up with a quite brilliant way of getting from one side of the river to the other and for a small fee they were only too happy to take me and my bicycle across so I could continue on my journey.
iii. Soldadura. Various components of the bike have fallen apart over the last three years but this was the first time that the actual frame had chosen to fail. I was in Guatemala when I found a crack on one of my front forks at the point where the rack joins the frame and whilst I got it welded back together it wasn't done properly and a few days later in Nicaragua the whole rack snapped off. The above picture shows the welder in Nicaragua welding the bike back together for me. It's held up ever since.
iv. Coping with loss. In Tegucialpa my fuel bottle and stove pump were stolen which left me in Central America without the means to cook - the above picture was the solution. By pushing two coke cans together and using a drawing pin to puncture in some air holes I made my own coke can stove that would run off alcohol. I made it in San Jose, Costa Rica and I would use it all the way until I arrived in Bogota.
v. The San Blas Islands. In order to get from Panama to Colombia I first had to wait on the above desert island for 5 days. My camera broke literally as I was arriving on the island so unfortunately this is the best picture I have, however what you can see is pretty much the entire island and the population is somewhere around 10. 5 days was more than enough for me here, however the moment our boat left I was longing to be back on dry land as I would spend the majority of the trip from Panama to Colombia throwing up.
vi. Bogota. A lot of people will be quick to tell you how dangerous Colombia is and will often give you a whole host of reasons as to why you shouldn't go. These people, quite simply, are wrong. Colombia is one of the most amazing countries on earth and Bogota, at 2,600 metres above sea-level, is spectacular. The place is safe, the food is excellent and the women are numerous and beautiful - if you can't have a good time in Colombia then you're doing something very, very wrong. This picture is taken from the mountain which overlooks the city.
vii. Well it had to be in here. The day I crossed the Equator I woke up to a frost, but that's what camping at 3,000 metres altitude will do for you. The equator itself is not particularly exciting but for stats fans out there it took 401 days for me to cycle from the Arctic Ocean to the Equator. It's taken a while to get used to cycling upside down since then as well.
viii. Fixing the Monkeys puncture. In Quito I stayed with Luis, a guy who dubs himself ‘The Monkey on a Bicycle’. He took me out for a ride around the city and as we were coming through an Army training park his bike got a puncture. The picture shows me mending the tube, whilst the Ecuadorian Army – in the middle of drills – run past.
ix. I'll be honest, they actually taste really good. I hadn't expected to see Guinea-pig on the menu until I got to Peru, however after bumping into these in the Ecuadorian town of Banos I couldn't resist. Chewy but flavourful, I genuinely enjoyed it and would recommend all of you folks back home in the UK head down to your local pet shop so as to set yourself up with an interesting new meal.
x. Can I see something else now? I travelled a little over 2,000 kilometres down the desert coast of Peru and apart from the odd town or city this is pretty much all I saw. Add to that the constant headwind and you can probably guess as to how much fun it was. I was more than happy when I turned off to Arequipa and went up into the mountains.
xi. Llama obsession. I took far too many photos of llama's during my time in the mountains of Peru and Bolivia, however here is my favourite of them all. It was taken as I left Arequipa, Peru and shows a llama seemingly contemplating a volcano. I worryingly have hundreds more llama pictures saved from the trip.
xii. How high do you want to go? I don't own an altimeter, but I'd love to know how high I went on this section of the ride from Arequipa to Lake Titicaca. On the third day of the ride I descended 10 km to a local villlage and upon asking our altitude I was told we were currently at 5,400 metres. If this had been true - given how far I had just descended - then I would have peaked up around the 6,000 metre mark and as such I knew the villlagers were wrong. Google places the highest point of the road just short of 5,000 metres but in truth it doesn't matter as it was still easily the highest I've ever been on my bike. I love how blue the sky is when your this high up.
xiii.The Death Road. The famous ‘Death Road’ of Bolivia is a 64km descent starting at nearly 5,000 metres above sea level, descending all the way down to 1,800 metres altitude. It’s a massive tourist site nowadays (and also 100% safe to do on a bike) but of course, you can’t go to Bolivia and not do this. It’s well worth the visit and I went up fully loaded with panniers and all.
xiv. Improvisation: My side trip to Paraguay was what can for the most part be described as a disaster, however for a visual summary of what went on this photo pretty much sums up how my luck was. It was not only that I ran out of inner tubes on a sand road and had to put socks and underwear in my tyres to pad them out, but it's that if you look at the wheel itself then you'll see that as I was pushing the bike the 35 kilometres back to the nearest town all of my spokes were in the process of snapping. But I don't care, I still made it to Paraguay.
xv. Home sweet home. Here is the perfect example of how I spend 99% of my days: in the tent, in a field, cooking bad rice on my tiny little stove. It may not look fun to all, but to me this is the place I call home.
xvi. Switchbacks. The ride from Mendoza to the Chilean border is roughly 200km, was mainly into wind and climbs up to a little over 3,000 metres. Your reward for getting up there? Well when you cross the Chilean Customs you arrive at the top of this section; from the top it's a 13km descent on these switchbacks. It was as much fun as it looks to ride.
xvii. Fish out of water. In Chile I needed to take a boat in order to get to the Carreterra Austral, however all public boats were booked up for the next week. The solution was simple: I went to the port and asked around for any boat that could take me to my destination. I was offered a lift on the boat above - a cargo ship which was carrying 20 tonnes of seaweed - to the island of Melinka and from there I ended up getting a lift with the Chilean Navy back to the mainland. The above picture shows the ships' crew loading the seaweed into the hull, whilst my bike can be seen at the back left of the photo.
xviii. Arriving in Ushuaia. I'll own up and say this picture was actually taken the day after arriving in Ushuaia, as on the day I'd actually got there it had been pouring with rain. This also is not the more known 'End of the World' sign as in order to see that you needed to pay £10; I'd cycled from Alaska to Ushuaia, I didn't need to pay the extra to see a sign telling me so.This leg of the journey totalled 29,700 kilometres and was done in 565 days.
xix. You can't just shave off a beard. Not all of these photo's have to be serious and the above highlights one of the many hidden pleasures of cycling: shaving on the road isn't particularly easy or hygienic so I have a habit of just letting the beard grow until it needs shaving. Then when the time comes I get to play around with various styles and looks, experimenting just how terrible they appear. The above is taken in Ushuaia and was the last shave in South America. If I had to choose, I'd say I look best in the middle picture.
xx. Hitching is easy. My ride was from Alaska to Ushuaia. My passage to South Africa was from Buenos Aires. Was I going to cycle the 3,300km from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires? Was I balls. I was curious to see how hitchhiking on the bike would go and the answer is 'brilliantly'. I would never wait more than two hours for a ride and would arrive in Buenos Aires with plenty of time to spare in order to enjoy the city before flying to Cape Town.
xxi. Another leg bites the dust. I have to admit I surprised myself on this one: I was told I had a 20 kilo weight limit for my flight and would have to pay £90 extra to take the bike. As such, I purged anything that was not 100% necessary, packed everything into three panniers (one was hand luggage) and - amazingly - got everything down to the limit. I then got to the airport only to be told the bike was free and that I had 46 kilo limit. Either way though, in comparison to how the bike looked the last time I flew, I feel as though I'm now a bit of a pro when it comes to packing bikes for planes.
xxii. Cape Town. Upon arriving in South Africa a friend introduced me to Microsoft Ice, a program which will stitch panoramic photos together automatically. I wanted to test it out and where better to do it than from the glorious Table Mountain, which overlooks Cape Town. Upon arriving my knowledge of Cape Town had been minimal, but I have to admit I fell in love the place; a vibrant city, beautiful nature all arounds (your surrounded by mountains) and some wonderful people mean it's a place I'm looking forward to going back to.
xxiii. Ok, now I’m in Africa. South Africa in many ways is like being back in the UK; they drive on the left, the countryside is rolling green hills, the British influence on the towns is strong and as we are headed into winter the days have been short, cold and at times, wet. If it weren’t for the Baboons that occasionally run across the road you could very well be in England. That’s why I’m glad I went to Addo Elephant Park. Seeing elephants in their homeland? Now I’m in Africa.
xxiv. Where else to end? But with a picture of how I look on the 29th of April 2011. It’s exactly 3 years to the day since leaving, I’ve cycled 57,340 kilometres and I’ve been to 40 different countries. This time next year I should hopefully be back home, but there’s still a lot of cycling to go before then. Here’s to another great year on the road....