Tag Archives: Life Experiences

What I Learned from Traveling a Country by Bike

I learned that the physical act of riding my bicycle was only the beginning. It was hard, yes, but I was preparing for that. I knew I’d be slow and tired and then beyond tired…physically.

What I didn’t realize was how exhausted I would become mentally. And emotionally. Spending all day then all night camping with the same 2 people can really start to dig in. We got at each others throats, and usually not because they actually did anything bad or wrong. Usually it was each of us dealing with our own bodies pain and exhaustion and our patience was just worn out.

I became good at apologizing. And accepting apologies. We all learned how to talk through what we were going through in an open, supportive way. We learned we were %100 on a Character Building Tour. And I learned and grew SO much I can hardly believe it was only 3 months.

I learned how to get over my pride. Sometimes…

I didn’t know Spanish and was afraid of messing up…I was not a serious biker before this and was embarrassed at my lack of strength and know-how…I didn’t like being told I have qualities that are less than acceptable, and then having to apologize for acting out…but all of those things were overcome and worked through. I learned to laugh it off.

I learned that I still suck at packing. We all waaaay over packed.

I learned that I can do way more than I think I can.

And most importantly I learned that the occasional impromptu dance party can make the worst of days infinitely beautiful again.

Humans of Colombia

I’d say that 90% of the people I told I was going to Colombia, or that I went to Colombia responded with some version of “But it’s so dangerous!”.

(the other 10% were other bicyclists who were like – “Woah! Have fun and good luck with the Andes”)

I have met many people, including other Colombians who have had dangerous experiences in Colombia. But I want to be very clear that this is a country of beauty, and I don’t just mean the nature (which is surreal, by the way). What I’m referring to now are the people. Just as with any other place I’ve traveled, its the people I’ve met and the friends I made that create my favorite experiences.

For example, the couple the flagged me down on the side of the road and offered me coffee. We chatted about how beautiful the country is and how much we all loved Colombia- how inspiring to meet someone so passionate about his country!

IMG_0367Or the guy who saw me struggling up our first mountain and drove back to bring me a gatorade saying ‘mucho respecto’ and driving away before I could properly thank him. I stood stunned, almost cried, and then promptly chugged half the bottle.

Or the guy in a small mountain town who saw us ride in and offered to buy us a drink and snack from a bakery- which of course we said yes and got our favorite cookies- just because he was so impressed with what we were doing.

And the girl who stopped me to practice her English, introduced me to her whole family, and offered delicious coffee without pausing to hesitate.

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And the man who saw us late at night with our bikes eating dinner, asked if we needed someplace to stay, then led us to his house and let 6 of us camp outside and stay up celebration our first night of tour with his whole family just inside.

And the guy who drove a potato truck and gave us a ride further up the mountain (to be fair Casey and Sam did help him load some of the potato bags- I was too far behind and arrived just intake to load our bikes. bummer).

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On the potato truck!

And one of my favorite times was getting stopped by a pick up truck
on a rocky mountain road. He asked if I wanted a ride (apparently I just looked like a wreck)and I said yes please. I soon learned the driver was the mayor of the town IMG_0185we had just left. The MAYORWe picked up Sam and Casey and learned that the car behind were other city leaders as well and they were all headed to the same meeting in the next town. We got out to
snap this photo, and then they bought us all coca-colas and some chorizo and we never saw them again!

And of course, there were our couch surfing hosts from Bogota. They were gracious, and friendly, and welcoming, and fantastic cooks and made us feel like family immediately.

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And of course, there were plenty of people who wanted pictures with us. Young girls would shyly ask to take a picture with me, groups of people would gather around to welcome us and get photographic proof 3 gringos on bikes passed through their town. It was silly and weird and kind of awkward but beautiful and special all the same.

Colombia has some dangerous places, of course. But it is so, so much more than that- it’s caribbean coast line, it’s the tranquil, endless Andes, it’s massive cities and tiny villages, it’s people who are rich with gratitude, passion, curiosity and kindness.

Goodbye, Colombia

The moment after we jumped in the ocean on our first days’ ride where everyone was drying off in the sun daydreaming about what was to come.

The moment of arriving at our new camp site and all having rituals of setting up tents, jumping in the river, playing music and eating cookies.

The moment of reconnecting after a fantastic downhill where despite whatever else happened on the ride, in that moment we were beyond happy.

The moment of hearing a really good song and we’d all start singing.

The moment of hearing a really, really good song and we’d all start dancing no matter where we were.

The moment(s) of funny situations occurring from not understanding Spanish.

The moment of trying to act cool, but really we all wanted more dessert.

The moment of feeling anger and exhaustion and self-doubt and deciding to push through it for myself, and for my friends.

The moment of sitting around a campfire playing cards like this is just totally normal everyday life.

The moment of getting to the top of a climb or hike and feeling so tired and so awe-inspired at the same time.

The moment of realization that I’d rather be camping with these two people than in a hostel.

The moment of sunsets and sunrises.

The moment of realizing this is something I can, and want to do.

The moment of finally letting go.

The moment of knowing things about the people your with in a way that’s indescribable and then learning from it.

The moment of making friends with dogs more often than humans and not feeling bad about it (…duh it’s an adorable puppy why wouldnt we be happy).

The moment after moment after moment of feeling like all of this is too good to be true and there’s no way this is actually happening.

These moments and feelings are what I already miss fiercely about my first bicycle tour. I cannot express enough how extreme everything felt in every moment; the good and the bad.

I’d like to thank the academy, my travel companions, everyone I met along the way and most importantly, Colombia for this amazing trip. My heart is full and my head is light as I head off to my next adventure.

Biking Through a Colombian Desert

To finish our trek along the Caribbean coast, we decided to make our way to Cabo de la Vela for New Year’s Eve. Riohacha was our jumping off point for what we thought would be a day ride through a desert to get to a mostly Colombian tourist destination.

Almost immediately I began to regret doing this ride. The wind was so strong I could barely keep my bike moving. And oh yeah, we left most of our stuff at the hotel in Riohacha so I only had 1 small bag and my backpack with my sleeping pad just in case.

The view was stunning, of course. Blue-green water on our left and a barren expanse to the right. Until the road ended. The pavement literally just stopped and became compacted sand and dirt for as far as we could see. There are no real roads or paths, you just kind of go until you reach the other side. Alrighty then.

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I don’t know how long we were in there, but it was long enough for me to reeeeeeeallly hate my bike. And the desert. The sun and dust made it so uncomfortable I just wanted to sit down and hope someone with a truck would pick me up. The desert and I have a very special relationship in which I chose to express those feelings with a few choice words I yelled (repeatedly) into the wind.

But I did it. We made it through to a small, small town for some much deserved cookies and Gatorade. None of us particularly wanted to keep riding, and it was getting late, but this place had no hotels and we didn’t have our tents. So onward we went, laughing slightly hysterical at our situation…

…On to a rocky, dirt road, still no tree cover and definitely no stops along the way. It was bumpy and with only one narrow smooth, ish groove that the motorcycles would ride. My hands were numb, my eyes were glazing over in exhaustion making it hard to ride straight, Sam got a flat tire as the sun was setting and still we rode.

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And then finally, FINALLY we hit pavement again. It was probably the best feeling Ive had all trip. The guys were a ways a head of me and I mayyyybe made up a song about how much I loved biking on pavement. From then on we rode single file and I had a burst of energy taking the lead. I distinctly remember listening to my musical soundtrack dancing to songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Annie Get your Gun.

The city of manaure had only one hotel. We checked in, bodies covered in sweat and sand and decided food should come before shower. The streets were crowded and as we sat waiting for our pizza no one spoke. We were zombies unable to think or move. I felt like a child almost falling asleep at the table. But we’d done it. The hardest, longest, most exhausting day of riding in my life.

The next day we threw our bikes on a truck and got a ride the rest of the way to Cabo.

A Closer Look at Bike Touring

Being on a bike tour and spending virtually all my time with the same two people is teaching me a lot more about myself than I expected. Bike touring is hard physically, yes, but also emotionally and psychologically.

Im learning that I like to keep things barried deep down, ignored, forgotten, and blissfully unaware of how what I do affects other people. And then when I’m told I’m not perfect it’s like, wait, WHAT?! How could that possibly be!

Turns out that at the ripe old age of 27 I still don’t know what I’m doing. About anything. Dealing with people, dealing with myself, dealing with people dealing with my self. It’s hard. And I give myself a hard time about it which probably makes me even harder to deal with.

I’m lucky to be traveling with two people that are patient, honest, open, and most importantly, caring. We hadn’t known each other for too long before we decided to take this trip together and it only hit how true that was once things started getting hard. And things have been harrrrd.

This whole trip has been a HUGE learning experience. After a long or hard or hot day of riding no one wants to do anything. I especially just feel like collapsing on the ground wherever I happen to end up. I want off my bike asap. But I can’t. We have to find a hotel or set up camp and start cooking and I have to try to not be a cranky child tagging along. We have to work hard all the time to basically fight our natural reactions in that exhausted state so we can work together to get whatever needs to be done, done.

I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. It’s hard for me to process so much so quickly. Not only am I learning to deal with riding harder than I ever have before and finding that deep down whatever in me that believes I can even do what it is I’m doing, I am learning to have a more open communication about what I need/ want (something that is surprisingly difficult considering how much I like to talk), trying to be aware of my mood affecting others, I’m trying to learn Spanish, stay hydrated, apologize- a lot, save money, plan ahead, have opinions even when it’s too hot to think and of course, have fun. My brain is on overload.

I love Colombia. A lot. And we are already looking back at those moments that were tense and stressful for one- or all- of us and laughing. Ish. We’ve all had our moments. What we are learning is how to handle them within ourselves as well as what to do when it’s someone else. Do they want help? Do they want to be left alone? Do they just need some cookies to feel better?

A few days ago we started off riding as usual. The ride was decently beautiful and all was well. Early on in the day we had two options- go 2k, see the largest lake in South America and camp for the night possibly someplace really awesome, but then ride 110k the next day to get to our destination: Mompóz. Or, we could keep riding towards Mompóz and not camp near a lake.

We chose the lake. And it was not what we expected. We were told the water was not safe to swim in which was a huge let down. We went to the place we were told to camp and Sams bike got infested with red ants. We were hungry. It was a million degrees out. No one could decide what to do. We were biting heads off left and right. Food and cold drinks didn’t help this time. We decided to go find a different place to camp by the lake… Then we were going to leave town… Then we decided to stay.

We stayed. We sat in chairs by the water, still in bike clothes, drinking a beer and not talking to each other. But after we had cooled off a bit we started chatting with some locals and a young kid asked us randomly if we wanted a picture of all 3 of us by the lake. It turned into this mini photo shoot of us being silly having to act like we liked each other for the picture. And they ended up being the best pictures of our trip so far. We look so happy. And it perfectly depicts us at our best. Which at the time, we weren’t.

I’m not sure that that actually has a point, it’s just a moment that gave us perspective. In the time it took us to stand up and take those photos, we were right back to our usual bubbly, teasing selves. And now that horrible day is captured forever in a series of amazing pictures. I guess what I’m trying to say is Bike Terrr is serious business, but it’s also insanely awesome.

 

 

Surfing: a Successful Mess

Despite having lived in California for 3 years, I never went surfing. It always sounded like a cool idea, but I just never got around to it. I finally got the opportunity in Portugal for a free half lesson. Apparently half lessons are a thing…

(In case you’re curious, this lesson came from a fair where I had to take a ‘surf quiz’ to try to ‘win’ a free lesson. I didn’t even know what the phrase ‘hang 10’ meant and received total score of 2/10. I still got the free lesson. They were giving them away)

I had the option to go early in the day with the kids, or to hang out for a few hours and go later with the adults. In a moment of panic I chose the kids.

I was nervous and alone and just wanted to go and get it done with. However,  if I had known the coach was going to make us run and warm up on the beach and that all of the kids’ (about 8-12 yrs old by the way) parents were going to be watching, maaayyybe I would have chosen to wait.

Now let’s keep in mind that despite years of ballet training, I am as awkward and clumsy with the best of them when it comes to day to day life. Step 1: put on a wet suit. Step 2: Carry a long surf board across an extremely long and extremely windy beach and get it in the water past all the huge waves crashing into shore? haha riiiight.

I am surprised there is even an ocean left considering how much of it I swallowed or inhaled that day. Sometimes, it was not even because I fell off my board. Sometimes, it was because I was waiting for a wave to pass and it ended up being more massive than I expected and so it tried to drown me. I felt like an idiot. A lot.

I did however actually manage to stand up a few times. I get it now. Surfing is addicting. I always wanted one more wave no matter how tired my muscles were.

After a few more hours (and a slightly less awkward than I expected experience of taking off my wetsuit), the surf company dropped me back at a bus stop so I could catch a ride back to Lagos. And me being my awesome self forgot it was Sunday and that buses don’t run as often sooo I ended up waiting 3 hours by the side of the road…

It was cold and while I was listening to my ipod I started dancing to stay warm. Sometimes I was doing the lip sync for a music video. Sometimes it was contemporary modern. The cars driving by were not impressed.

Overall it was a good day. I want to go surfing again with out a doubt. If anything I have to get one of those mandatory ‘Look at Me Next to a Surf Board’ pictures that I didn’t get my first time around because I was too embarrassed to ask.

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Life as an Au Pair

Last night the 2 older kids I work with basically demanded hugs and kisses before putting them to sleep, and despite all my complaints, I realized it will be quite hard to leave Munich and [the kids of] this family. There have been a lot of good and a lot of not so good times and lessons learned while being an Au Pair. I want to always look back on this in a positive light, so maybe this is as much for me as it is for others to get a glimpse into my life over the last 9 months.

In general I like to think I helped the kids with their English. It’s still not perfect, but for being only 5 and 8 years old they do a fantastic job of translating and they no longer say “I want to tell you what”.

I also taught them the term ‘goofball’, which is now how we all refer to each other. The title of “# 1 Goofball” goes to whoever is the goofiest that particular day. Usually me, or the baby.

We discussed time differences a lot: if it’s dinner time in Germany, then it’s breakfast in America (Pacific time) and tomorrow morning in Australia. wow!

I also taught them how to play Tic-Tac-Toe, what s’mores are, the Dizzy Whizzy game (you know, the game where you spin around in a circle until you fall down…), what a knuckle sandwich is- no I didn’t hit them it was all just teasing, and also how California has trees so big cars can drive through them.

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At bedtime I learned I am horrible at making up stories on the spot. Solution? Tell them stories of movies I know they haven’t seen. Mulan, Shrek, Sound of Music, Rescuers Down Under, Hook, and Harry Potter (they even know what different spells are and pretend to use them on each other- expeliarmus, diffindo, stupify etc.) are just a few of their favorites now.

I’m proud to say I taught them the classic American phrase
“I’m rubber.
You’re glue.
whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you”

As for the 1-year-old I have taught him how to ‘High-5’. And the #1 song I used to sing him to sleep: Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid.

I like to think I was pretty good at my job.

IMG_2126For myself, I think this was a very eye-opening experience. It’s not one I would ever do again, but for others it’s worth it. I didn’t like living without my friends. I didn’t like having my home life and work so intertwined. I didn’t like my host parents as employers and as people in general. But it was not all for nothing.

I learned how to properly eat a Bavarian weisswurst.
I am now competent in ironing and properly folding clothes (including dress shirts!).
I can make a mean chai-tea latte with the amazing all-in-one machine the family has.
And I have also acquired a rather intense coffee addiction via that same machine.
I have not, however, mastered the German language.

Not even a little bit.