Archive for September, 2006

A School in Huaraz – What do I say to public schools?

Thursday, September 28th, 2006
School Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Huaraz

   In Huaraz, hoping to give a school presentation, I arrived at Santa Rosa de Viterbo, a good public school, just as students were arriving. The entire school was gathering for their morning assembly of announcements and prayer (it is a Catholic school), and, after handing the director my business card and showing off my fully loaded touring bike, the director surprised me by immediately leading me on stage and handing me the microphone, giving me five minutes to talk to the entire school.

   What do I say to these public schools, where they don’t have a power point projector and where the students have a very small effect on global warming? (see comparison of U.S. and Peru) I first admit that my country pollutes enourmaously and has to take action – and for that, when I am done, I am going to return and bike the U.S., encouraging North Americans to act. But I also emphasize that I am talking about a global problem which we all need to work together to solve. I then talk about local pollution and global pollution – asking if it is fair to throw trash in the rivers or streets when that space is shared by the people in their town, or if it is fair to pollute the atmosphere when that space is shared by the world’s 6.5 billion people (I ask them all to learn that number!). As many of them own bicycles, I finally talk about the benefits of bicycle transport as a cheaper and healthier way to travel.

   At the least, I hope to give an idea of caring for the spaces that we share, and I want to show that there are people in the United States that care about this. It is impossible to measure the effect of visits like this, but I occasionally receive positive emails from students, suggesting that I am, at least, having some effect.

Across the Andes to Huaraz – Horse assisted bike touring

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

   From Uchiza, on the east side of the Andes, I had planned to take a road which turned out to be only a horse trail. Eager to get in the mountains I did the only logical thing: I found a guide, disassembled my bicycle, rented a horse, and started walking.

Embrita is ready to go!
Ivan, my guide, Embrita, the horse, and the bicycle
Horse, bicycle
This family cooked us dinner in San Pedro - ginea pig

   This trail was not through the wilderness – along the sides were coffee plantations, and every few hours we would pass a small village, where we could buy food or camp for the night. The last town we stayed in, San Pedro, even had some electricity (but all transit was by horse). The woman shown on the right with her 4 children fixed us dinner for $1 a piece.

   I asked people along this trail if they had ever seen a gringo on the trail before. Most said no, a few cited Italian volunteers for the church who had passed through, and one older woman said ‘Why yes! Some tall foreign women passed through here 22 years ago!’ and then she went on to describe the tall strange women.

   The third day we met up with the road, I mounted the bike, crossed a 12,500 ft pass, and descended into the town of Huacrachuco. From Huacrachuco, I continued east on a one lane dirt road, passing only two cars a day. I dropped into a deep dry river canyon before climbing again into the next range of the Andes. At higher altitude, I encountered more small towns, finding that here the locals speek the native language of Quechua. If you want to see my try to count to ten in Quechua, click on the video on the right.

Marañon river canyon
Campsite in canyon
Learning Quechua - count to ten

   Passing through more towns and more climbs and descents on one lane dirt roads, I eventually climbed into the Cordillera Blanca, Peru’s highest mountain range, with peaks reaching over 22,000 ft. After camping two nights at 14,000 feet overlooking a huge glacier, I mounted my bike and crossed a 16,000 ft mountain pass, the highest in Peru.

Good morning Cordillera Blanca
On the road
At 16,000 ft - Punto Olimpico

   I am now in Huaraz, a major tourism center, where I will use some emergency funds to get a new digital camera (mine broke right before the pass) and then return to take more pictures of the melting glaciers.

Yurimaguas to Uchiza – The Peruvian Jungle and Coca

Friday, September 15th, 2006

   From Yurimaguas, in the Peruvian Jungle, I followed dirt roads south and planned to cross into the Andes through the national park Rio Abiseo. Arriving in the town of Juanjui, near the park, I learned that my map had lied to me. The road did not exist.

I followed Huallaga river valley for a week
Only dirt roads on this side of the Andes
Students at I. E. Aplicacion in Juanjui

   My map also showed a road further to the south crossing into the Andes. This road was thicker on the map, so I had higher hopes for it. Before traveling, though, I first visited a school in Juanjui and spent the day at the fire station.

Helicopter searching for coca plants
Healthy coca plant (source of cocaine) and children, near the roadside

   Continuing south, I entered a region where helicopters were constantly flying overhead. I soon learned that the helicopters were paid for by the U.S. government, and were flying to look for coca plants to eradicate (coca plants are the source of cocaine, and the coca plant can be found only in the foothills of the Andes). While large scale coca farming has been largely eradicated in this region, the plant grows naturally, and the plant can still be found everywhere. For instance, on the right is a picture of a healthy coca plant with smiling children just 200 feet from the main road. (After taking this picture, one of the locals offered me coca leaves. “Chew on these while you bike, and you won’t get tired or hungry”).

Camped next to this family´s house

   The eradication has hit the local economy hard. A hotel I stayed at in Tocache was nearly empty, and I was told it was full a year ago. I camped on a farm of a man who grows coca – “nothing else here makes any money” he told me, and then told me everyone was waiting for the helicopters to go away so they could grow more coca. This region is poor, and eradication has made it poorer – outside the cities there is little electricity, and some people I stayed with work with a machete for $3 a day. On the other hand, one farmer I talked to said that although he had less money, he was more relaxed, ”with all the drug traffickers there was a lot more crime.” (Indeed, it would not have been safe for me to travel here a year earlier.)

   Turning into the mountains, I learned my map had lied to me again. The road to Huacrachuco was under construction, and I either had to rent a horse or keep biking south. To see what I did, wait till the next entry, or go here.

   Thanks to the bomberos of Yurimaguas, Tarapoto, and Juanjui, who helped me out and even gave me my own bombero uniform (photo center and right). I also attended my first fire in Juanjui – a palm tree on fire from a lightning strike, which eventually went out from the rain (video below).

Bomberos de Yurimaguas
Bomberos of Tarapoto and my new Bombero outfit
Bomberos de Juanjui
Tree on fire in Juanjui - good thing there are bomberos!

Ride for Climate passes 100,000 page loads

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

   The journals and photos of Ride for Climate have recently passed 100,000 page loads for 2006. Every day, according to my statistics counter, between 50 and 100 different people look at the journals and photos, and there are over 300 page loads. Most of this traffic appears to be word of mouth (and not links from other sites) and return visitors.

   It means a lot to me that people are following along. It means that my message – that global warming will affect all the people of the Americas – is getting out. But also, perhaps as important, these visits keep me going – when there are hard days, it is good to know that people are checking in. So, keep visiting, and keep telling your friends about Ride for Climate. And, of course, stay tuned for the upcoming announcement of Ride for Climate USA – the trip across the U.S.

   I am currently on the east side of the Andes, in a land of dirt roads, jungle, and slow internet (see map). The road I planned to take across the mountains turned out to not exist, and I am finding the route as I go. Hopefully I will be able to post another update (and upload pictures) in a week, from the city of Huaraz, on the other side of the Andes.

Two weeks up the Amazon River

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006
River boats at the dock in Manaus
Everyone sleeps here

   From the city of Manaus, I biked to the river port, where I found a boat headed upriver towards Peru. A space to put a hammock and food for six days of travel cost $100. I purchased a ticket, a hammock, and then made friends with a Colombian-Spanish couple who had a cabin on the boat and would guard my valuables while I slept in my hammock.

Up the Amazon/Solimoes river - it is a big river

   The river here is enormous – in Manaus, 1,000 miles upstream from the Amazon’s mouth, the river is already by far the world’s largest river (over 150,000 cubic meters of water per second), and over 300 feet deep. Manaus is a large city of 3 million people, yet the other side of the river is almost unpopulated.

   My boat followed the largest of the Amazon tributaries (sometimes called the Solimoes, sometimes called the Amazon), upstream towards Peru (see map). To maintain sanity while on the boat, I woke up every day at sunrise and ran laps on the deck (see video, center– I had company). This was followed by a shower, reading until lunch, lunch, more reading, a nap until dinner, dinner, and then talking with other people on the boat until bedtime. It was a demanding schedule.

Fredrico, Kaise, and I did laps in the morning to keep our sanity
Children on board

   The boat did make a few stops in small towns along the way, unloading goods and picking up passengers. Most of the riverside, however, was unpopulated.

Our boat, the Manoel Monteiro II
At a stop near the Peruvian border
The last night on the boat, near Tabatinga and the Peruvian/Colombian/Brazilian border

   Arriving upstream, Peru, Colombia, and Brazil’s borders all meet, and in the course of a day, I visited all three before boarding another boat, this time a high speed cruiser (shown left below) to take a one day trip to Iquitos (map). Iquitos, with half a million inhabitants, is the world’s largest inland city with no roads to it – you can get there only by boat or plane. In the late 1800s, the town experienced a brief boom from rubber production, which produced a number of now-historic buildings in the town’s center.

Note the bicycle on top of the boat - took this boat from the border to Iquitos
Family I stayed with the first night in Iquitos
I stayed at Loreta's house for the next two days

   I intended to go to the fire station to ask if I could stay there, but never made it, as two families offered me a place to stay first. Unable to choose between them, I resolved the problem by staying three days, giving me enough time to also visit two schools and appear in the local paper. I also received a tour of the town from three high school students, and also visited an AIDS clinic (perhaps one of the saddest parts of this trip) with a group working for the Catholic Church.

Colegio Fernando Lores Fenazoa
Colegio San Agustine, Iquitos
Jose, Lander, and Fran are my guides around Iquitos

   From Iquitos, I took a two and a half day trip upriver to Yurimaguas. The trip–food included–cost less than 30 dollars, and only after paying did I realize that I had paid for first class hammock space – second class, in the floor below, cost 15 dollars.

My boat to Yurimaguas - the Eduardo I

   I have now arrived in Yurimaguas, a small city in the jungle, thus ending my two weeks of boat travel on the world’s largest river system. From here there are a series of small dirt roads that I will be able to follow southwest and into the Peruvian Andes.