Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Traveling developing nations for invaluable perspectives

If you live in a developed nation and earn a currency such as US dollar, Euro or anything of such great value than it is silly not to travel to developing nations where you become immediately rich. As I write this I am in Nicaragua where minimum wage is about 4$ US a day and earning over 10$ US is a decent living wage. Every hour I work in Canada earns me days of living down here where I sleep in clean, safe and outrageously chill hostels. I eat fantastic fresh food. Beer costs 2$ for a L, an enormous papaya or 2 dozen bananas cost 1$, while tousism services ranging from surf lessons, guided volcano hikes, spanish classes or masage cost about 15$ a day or for the relevant time period.

I love coming down here and when I do I am not here as a lazy traveler but I am studying spanish learning about forests and agricultural and generally having challenging and rewarding experiences in a variety of forms. This is a good and interesting life, give it a shot. You will learn something and it might offer a valuable perspective of the goodness and faults of your own culture back home.

A valued perspective I have gained from my own travels in developing nations is a critical awareness that people in developed North America spend too much time working and pursuing what our society considers to be success. In my opinion success is not working 60, 70 or 80 hours a week until you are ready to retire. Success is not material wealth at the expense of health and social-ecological harmony. It is not fancy trinkets and expesnive cars. Too many people fall victim to the giant lie created my marketing and the fantasy of being rich and famous. Step into the real world where a glass of clean water is valued over a shiny diamond.

For myself success is characterized by having a keen awareness and appreciation for time. It is growing old slowly rather than years rushing by. Wealth -or well-being- is marked by richness of experience as well as non-monetary capital like environmental, social abundance and freedom of choice. I will always prefer to sleep in my tent on the summit of mountain than in a five star hotel. I would rather be in a hostel surrounded by real traveflers than in a fake resort. We need money but not as much we might think, to find contentment.

Traveling down here is a good way to learn that but dont come down on a short trip. Dont waste the airplane fuel and contribute the carbon emissions for a short excursion. Mind your footprint and calculate your carbon footprint from travel; its easy on the web. Come for a while and travel respectfully and concientously. Do not travel to say you "did it." To really experience a place its best to stay for a while. I know it is hard to find the time but remember that you make decisions in your life that guide your future. Their are possibilities layered upon possibilities and I am not the only person who has arranged my life so I have the freedom and opportunity to take extensively long trips. I have met couples, families, the young and the old doing the same thing as I.

With only one life to live I am determined to make the most of it. For the means two pursuing fulfilling and enjoyable experiences as well as living sustainably and leaving a positive legacy on the Earth. Somehow those two objectives combine very well in bicycle travel.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hospitality for us cyclists with a little help from technology

Bicycle travel is one of the most beautiful and rewarding activities I know but due to tough conditions and general uncertainty or wearyness it is sometimes also dangerous, lonesome and emotionally exhausting. Fortunately for us bicycle travellers, generous and supportive people, who may offer tips, meals or even their own house, are frequently encountered along the way.

On this trip we have been using a website called that connects bicycle tourists to people who offer beds, laundry, warm meals or lawnspace for camping to weary bicycle travellers. It seems that these people are generally kind people with an interest in bicycles and travelling but their motives and personalites are diverse so I will not generalize any further. Instead, let me share our experiences thus far.

Our experiences with

We had camped about 12 nights in a row, without an official laundry day as we entered northern Oregon so we were determined to find a comfortable place, ideally indoors, to spend our planned rest day in Seaside, Oregon. We were shocked that the hostel was 30$ a night to sleep in the dormitory so we logged into our accounts at, a site we had been recommended, and saw that there was a host in town. We called him, received no answer but left a message that we might call back.

Deciding that a campsite would suffice we cycled to the nearby rv park and were once again shocked and appalled that lawnsapce for a tent cost 45$ a night. To me this was an unjust price, I simply would not pay it.

We returned to town and once again tried the host from the website. Neil, a semi retired high school counselor and expierenced bicycle traveller, picked up but was confused as to who we were. It didnt seem to matter though; he gave us directions to the street and said his house was the one with the giant smiling face painted on the garage. He was not home but he instructed that the door was unlocked and fresh towels were on the dining room table. He sounded like an awesome guy, but this seemed too good to be true, was there a catch? No, it turned out to be better than we could ever ask.

He arrived shortly after us and again was confused about who we were. Apparently their were other guests on the way and as we chatted with neil, another man, about our age and with a bushy black beard, rode his odd bicycle into the garage. Before he could finish telling us his name and explain that his bike tires were 4 inches wide because he hoped to ride the entire Oregon coast hiking trail the door bell rang and another guest, a young guy studying film in northern Washington arrived on his bike.

Neil was having a hard time keeping track of all his guests for good reason as later on a fifth guy, a Japanese man working on his phd in California joined us. Neil invited us all to hang out and recharge. He showed us where the laundry  and computer was and insisted that we all make ourselves at home in his clean, ordely little home. Me and James slept in his daughters room who was away at college, the Japanes guy in the spare room, the young guy in the living room, and Andrew with the thick black beard in the garage. We stayed for three nights and in appreciation for his hospitality on the second day I offered to paint his computer room. Everybody pitched in on this and we managed to utilize several old rusty paint cans from his garage. I am a professinal painter and I can attest that we did an outstanding job, mixing up our own colours, sanding and priming everything well. Neil was overwhelmed when he got home and by the time me and James left we had formed a solid bond with the old traveller who had a passion to hear what motivated people´s travel and

That was an excellent introduction to the community but we did not use it again until Northern California where we wanted to take a rest day in a small town called Arcata in Humboldt County. This was a university town, full of beautiful young girls, and also an important hub of the California pot growing industry. Several people on the warmshowers website offered accomodation and the second one we tried invited us to come over.

A guy named Sequioa opened the door,
holding a three foot bong and welcomed us to Humboldt County. Inside Sequia showed us a huge bowl of marijuana on the table. "Its all legal," he said as he then explained that him and all the house mates had their California license to smoke medicinal marijuana. I'm afraid I can't recall to many of the other details of that two night stay but I assure you it was a cultural highlight as we were given an insider welcome the the laidback hippie town full of interesting, colourful people.

Our third host was near the beautiful mountain fringed town of Santa Barbara, California, which is about a days ride before LA. The campsites in Southern California are frequented by transients that are difficult to trust, sometimes obviously on drugs and at least in one incident screamed alone in their tent all through the night. We were tired of keeping vigilante watch over our possessions at these campsites so one night we phoned up a warmshowers host.

It worked out very well, not so well as the others, but we had a nice place to camp in an avocado farm and the host, a very cheerful, strongly built woman invited us into the house for a hot shower and supplied us with amazingly soft, clean towels. In retrospect it was an excellent arrangement for the night but at the time I think we were expecting something that rivalled our previous experiences.

Our last host in the United States was an incredibly wonderful, generous and just generally awesome young woman in charge of a dormitory at Nazareen University in San Diego. Her flat was placed at the entrance of a dorm that housed over 200 college girls, an excess of 200 gorgeous girls, and was just 2 minutes walk from the beach. We had a room to ourselves with comfortable beds and an excellent of view of the surpisingly captivating streets out front. And yes, there were hundreds of beautiful young girls everywhere around us. Many of them came by to visit our host's little black dog and a several of the dorm residents had a lot of questions about our apparently impressive undertaking. This was a spectacular finale to our trip down the California coast, which featured incredible scenery of beaches and the beautiful people who frequent them. We also enjoyed longer more restful sleeps there than we would have at a hostel and this was helpful for the long gear shopping day required before we were ready to enter Mexico the next day.

We had received a lot of cautionary warnings about Mexico from Americans tuned into news coverage of the drug wars taking place in Mexican border towns so we were a little apprehensive about leaving the US behind. Our entry into the country went fairly smoothly and we escaped Tijuana alive, without even a mysterious tatoo or tequila hangover, but were a little concerned about where we might spend the night. Our anxiety was calmed when we received a call from a warmshowers host named Nick via the cell phone of our friend from Scotland who we had first met in Oregon and then reunited with that morning in San Diego. His pad was just a few miles down the road from us, at 38 km from the Mexican border, and he directed us to stop at a specific fish taco shop where Pancho, the chef, could direct us to the house.

Nick was just on his way down from San Diego and he happened to spot us on the road. He guided us to the fish taco stand near his house where we endulged in the first Baja fish tacos of the trip as well as frosty cold beers. Afterwards, he showed us his unusual house. It was set in a trailer park community of mostly American expats. Infront was a brick patio with a concrete tile fence surrounding it. We walked past spiky agave plants through the gate, framed with an old surf board as the header, and up the narrow wooden staircase to a rickety wooden balcony. The balcony had a strange arrangement of floor boards suggesting that it was built during incremental projects and was enclosed by a handrail of 2x4´s that capped vertical bamboo spindles. The balcony wrapped around a room of timber framed windows giving views in all directions.

Immediately it felt like we were up in a tree house except that the interior had a basic kitchen in it, a bunk bed, a tv with a soft purple couch for two people. A fairly elegant looking ceiling fan span slowly below a long board and short board that were securely attached to the ceiling. He led us up another steep staircase to his bedroom, which was alone on the top floor and had a 360 degree view around it, plus another large rickety patio wrapping along its walls. This balcony had a bamboo ceiling over it for shade and a beautiful hammock seat for peaceful relaxation. He showed us that if we desired we could further ascend by hopping over the railing and climbing a short ladder onto the roof. At sunset me James and Joanna, our friend from Scotland, brought our beers onto the top roof and gazed in amazement at the novelty of the coastline culturally distinct from that we were accustomed to in California. Ramshackle houses staggered along the steep ocean cliffs in juxtaposition of gleaming tourist condos rising in the distance.

Later that night we met a guy named coach who was, by the way, totally hammered and he told us that he had been involved with the construction of the house. The unit started as a trailer with a roof built over it for shade. One day while driking beer on that roof they got the idea to build walls around it and later another floor was built upon this one, then joined to another growing house. The house grew incrementally in this sporadic manner like a tree might over many decades. This gave it the original, treehouse like appearance and also resulted in the house having a serious lean to one side and a strong wobble could be felt whenever anybody moved around rapidly.

Nick was such a great guy that we stayed for another night and by the time we left we had arranged another secure warmshowers place for the night. Quite incredibly this next place was owned by a mexican now living in the United States who decided to buy a house just so that bicycle tourist could go crash there at leisure. It was set in an authentic Mexican neaighborhood and contained a shelf of free stuff left by other cyclists. After this we were clear of the Mexcian border towns and off riding like mad into the heart of Mexico.

The potential challenges ahead of us are too numerous to list and while I ebrace the self-suficient nature of bike touring I accept and truly appreciate all the help that people lend me along the way. At times during my other travels the help from strangers has pulled me out of serious energetic lows, recharged my spirit and inspired my will to adventure on. Big thanks to all the generous people I have met along the way. This story is written for you.