October 26, 2012
People. The true treasures of bicycle travel.
We are lying down on the cool tile floor of the kitchen. The smell of fresh tortillas mingles with perfume. A conversation on the side of the road while cycling down the Baja Peninsula led to an invitation to Adriano’s place in La Paz.
What I thought would be a single night’s stay turned out to be nine days as I helped Adriano and his brothers run their food booth during Carnival. The Gulf War had just begun, and many of the locals were afraid that Mexico, with its oil reserves, would soon be attacked by the U.S. I met all the neighbors, including “the girl next door.” When her mother told me if I stuck around until Valentine’s Day that she’d throw us a big party, it was time to move on.
It is a hot afternoon and I’ve crossed the border from Costa Rica into Panama after three months of pedaling in Central America. I’m hot and want nothing more than some cold water or fruit juice. These gentlemen insist on buying me a beer. The small roadside cantina is buzzing with flies, and the radio blares with a local soccer match.
My newfound friends are jovial and boisterous. The beer is warm. There are kids playing baseball in the sparse field across the road. The men are all smiles -- until they pose for the photo. Everyone outside of this photo is laughing hysterically.
New Zealand, 1993
Mark was his name. He was a New Zealand kid from the North Island on his first bike trip. We are crossing a bridge on the west coast (also known as the wet coast) of the South Island. He called me grandpa because I was the oldest bicycle traveler he’d met.
He didn’t have much money and detested pasta, so he was lugging a 20-pound bag of potatoes along with the rest of his gear. I’d never seen any human eat as much as Mark could at one sitting. He slowed his pace to travel with me a while.When I asked him how far he usually traveled in a day, he replied, “Oh, I guess about 130 to 180 kilometers a day. Is that good?”
I assured him that even for most cyclists who weren’t lugging around a 20 pound sack of potatoes, that was a healthy daily distance.
Photos: By Willie Weir
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at http://yellowtentadventures.com/.