Changing kids' lives from the seat of a bike
The Founders of TWV
January 2000, Brazil
At the end of last year a lot of people back home were talking about Y2K - what might happen after midnight on New Years Eve - food shelves empty, lack of drinking water, problems accessing money, riots, and chaos in the streets. Sounded like a description of times and places we had already experienced, so we were not the least bit concerned! We have gotten by the last eighteen months in more extreme conditions and learned that many places in the world deal with problems of food, water and unrest everyday.
February 2000, Bolivia
We spent Carnival, the four days before Ash Wednesday, in Oruru, Bolivia. The Carnival in Oruru is one of the biggest and most well known celebrations in Bolivia. People parade through the streets dressed in elaborate costumes, dancing and singing nonstop for four days. The dancers practice throughout the year and the ritual has intense religious meaning for those who participate. In Oruru, the focus is on .El Diablo,. the devil, and the costumes are of devilish figures and dragon-like characters. During the day the people in the streets sprayed foam and tossed water balloons. As gringos (foreigners) we were easy targets. We wore our rain jackets. On the final day of the nonstop processions through the city streets, the dancers filed into the main church and crossed the altar on their knees to receive the blessings of the church. The celebration seemed to be an interesting mix of Catholicism and indigenous religious practices.
April 2000, Chile
Our first night in a new country - again. Even though it seemed to be similar to Argentina, the newness creates anxieties about the way things will be - is it safe to camp? Who should we ask about finding a place to stay? Rio Blanco was the first village of any size we came upon and it was a place for us to stay the night. The former Rio Blanco Hotel had beautiful green grounds surrounded by forested mountainsides. It looked good for camping so we asked the caretakers. They gave us the keys to a suite of rooms lining one of the many courtyards of the hotel.
The rooms were completely empty, but gave us the feel of a lively hotel bustling with guests from Santiago away on a weekend retreat to the mountains. The wife of the caretaker showed us the grounds - the overgrown arched avenue of roses; the rock-lined swimming pool, now locked away beneath a wooden house; the giant old kitchen and huge dining room. The walls no doubt had many stories to tell. Back in our "suite" we laid out our Thermarests in one room, put our bikes in another, showered in the large old bathroom with wood paneled French doors and cooked our evening meal in the quiet courtyard. The hotel was for sale - improvements alone would cost a fortune but for us the experience was priceless - a warm welcoming to another country in our travels of the world.
April 2000, Chile
During the week of "Semana Santa" (Easter week) we found shelter for the night at a Benedictine Monastery near Quillota, Chile. The experience was religious to say the least. Sister Susan was the first nun we met and she spoke some English. After introducing ourselves she asked where we were from. Upon hearing Minnesota, her eyes lit up and the biggest smile came to here face. "I know Minnesota, my only place to visit in the USA is Minnesota!" she explained. She had been on an exchange to St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Other sisters from St. Scholastica had also visited the monastery in Chile. Small world!
"Of course you can stay!" Susan said. She showed us a large out-building (formerly a barn) where we could set up our tent inside and have some shelter from the fall weather. "What else do you need?" she asked. I explained that we were short on kerosene and I asked if we could build a fire to cook on. "Yes, yes!" she said. I was not sure if she really understood, but I accepted her positive response. Tanya was eager for a shower but we hesitated to ask for more.
A half-hour later, another sister came to our barn settlement. She carried with her a tray of fresh sweets, homemade empanadas (meat and/or vegetable pastries), a bottle of kerosene and keys to a shower room - Amazing! That night, Susan invited us to see their chapel and attend a service. In the morning we heard the bell and ushered ourselves to the chapel for the 7:30 a.m. .Laudes. service. I didn't understand the words of the scripture being sung by the sisters, but I felt the significance it meant to them to share their ritual. Breakfast was prepared for us after the short service. We then packed our bikes to be on our way. At 9:15 we heard the bell call for the next service. After the even shorter reading and singing of scripture, Susan asked if we could meet the other sisters. She told us that during "Semana Santa" they were not allowed to speak, but she would permit them to talk to us for the occasion. What a scene of smiling fun! We visited with the other nuns, shared tales of our adventure, took pictures and even had two of them riding our bikes fully loaded, with their habits belted up around their waists. We parted with gifts of chocolate and a card for us to hand deliver to friends of Susan in Duluth, Minnesota.
May 2000, Costa Rica
Our plan was to take it day by day as we had the previous 22 months in foreign places - gather information locally and make good decisions and all would work out fine. Outside information from people who had very limited, outdated or no travel experience in Central America suggested that Costa Rica would be a pretty safe place to travel; avoid Nicaragua at all costs; Hurricane Mitch destroyed Honduras and travel would be impossible; Guatemala, kind of an unknown; and Mexico... be careful! What we discovered while traveling in Central America for three months was that the outside information we had was highly inaccurate. News throughout the 70's and 80's and even today presents a somewhat troubled view of a region rich in culture, tradition, unmatched natural beauty and opportunity for adventurous independent travel.
June 2000, Nicaragua
There were more homeless people along the roadsides near the border of Nicaragua and Honduras than we had seen in other parts of our travels in Central America. Our safety zone seemed to be closing in on us. Children begged for money as we passed. People stared at us from their cardboard and corrugated tin shelters built like loosely put together lean-tos. A strong wind would surely topple these temporary roadside structures. The smells of sewage and smoke from trash and scrub brush cook fires wafted across our path. These were living conditions we had seen in other parts of the world, but a sight I couldn't get used to or feel comfortable with. The inhabitants of these shanties dressed in worn out T-shirts with logos from public events and sports teams: .Libertyville July 4th Celebration,. .5K Run for MS.. The greatest relief these tattered clothes provided was a tax write off for the donor back in the United States. Children stood in the road begging for US dollars and candy. Men gathered in small groups smoking, while women tended to the cooking fires and young. We passed through and reaffirmed our belief that giving relief to those in need must be a two-way exchange. Disastrous consequences may occur if a society is given everything except the empowerment and tools to improve the quality of life for them selves.
June 2000, Honduras
We were unsure about camping in Honduras, having heard both positive and negative stories from other travelers. We spent our first night in the mountains in a small concrete hovel. The room cost less than US$2 and we got about what we paid for. The room was small and damp, on the bottom floor of a concrete two-story building. A wooden plank door with a padlock gave us some privacy from the family quarters across the hall, where we heard the TV and laughter of kids throughout the night. The bed was a straw mattress with tattered quilts covering most of the soiled linens. Our Thermarests and own bedding made it possible for us to sleep on the bed. A small table in the corner was covered with layers of plastic bags. Loose wires hung from the walls and low ceiling. A light bulb with a switch gave us light as long as we did not accidentally disturb the wire nest near the door. At least we were out of the rain. This was a kind of place where we feel really adventurous - we just never know what we are getting into sometimes.
I think the hovel scene and the carry over memories of parts of Nicaragua were the beginnings of a travel slump for me. There were times in our travels where the spirit of adventure and wanderlust wore thin. It never got to a point of wanting to quit, but at these times we had to make a change to get some new energy. Our plan to that point had been to get to Tegucigalpa quickly so we could use the internet for Tanya to line up a job back home. To me, biking everyday, moving on just to be one day closer to a destination, was not interesting. The thrill of travel is not the destination but the road there. I was in a slump and the journey we were on was getting me down. We needed to make a new plan.
July 2000, Mexico
Mexico offered us an exquisite ending to the unknown adventures of the two-year journey. Our experience here was one of peace, beauty, health, and reflection on what we learned on the road. We held closely to the few remaining days of free-form travel life. It was here in this country we conceived our next adventure - our first child. We now live by a learned truth - give yourself to others, open yourself, and others will give to you.
Before we left for our world trip, Tanya's great uncle said, "I admire your courage but question your judgment." That quote stuck in the back of my mind and occasionally forced me to make a reality check. We got a message from the relative of a friend of mine after she read one of our last articles. Her comment was,
"It's beautiful, it's a song of freedom, it's an act of love." I like that quote better.