Mon, Nov. 1, 2004: Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela
The ride through the Gran Sabana in southern Venezuela was amazing. The whole region is so big and empty, with only the vast rolling hills keeping me company for most of the way. The region is dotted with impressive waterfalls, the most noteworthy of which is Angel Falls, the tallest in the world, which unfortunately is far to remote and expensive to visit for my budget. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the Quebrada de Jaspe, which is a fairly small waterfall but one that flows over an amazing bed of jasper rock that`s tinted spectacularly in red and black. Very cool, and just off the highway. Unfortunately, while I visited the fall some stupid opportunist stole my gloves off the handlebars of my bike, which I`d locked up in the parking lot. My sweaty, stinky gloves that had logged almost 8,000 km. Whatever dude.
Also along the highway, which had one of the nicest riding surfaces I´ve seen in South America by the way, is the 50-metre tall Kamŕ Falls, where I actually spent the night in a very rustic little thatch-roofed hut. Funny story from that night, which anyone who knows my intense and illogical fear of frogs will enjoy (especially you, Mag). I got up in the middle of the night to go pee outside, opened my door and was startled by a green, tropical-looking, tennis ball-sized frog sitting on an electrical cord at exactly eye level right in front of my face, just staring into my headlamp. I screamed, jumped back inside and slammed the door. Thought about it for a bit, then opened the door again, saw the frog still staring at me, and once again slammed the door. I was torn. I really had to pee, but there was no way I wanted to go anywhere near that thing. I sat down on the bed and contemplated my plan of attack. I felt so helpless, and at the same time I realized the stupidity of whole situation. Finally I gathered all my courage and ran out the door, ducking as low as I could, and keeping my eye on froggy the whole time while I answered nature´s call. Repeated the process on the way back in, slammed the door, and was quite proud of myself for the rest of the night.
The kilometre markers along the road count down to the town of El Dorado, and so I, like many Spanish conquistadors before me, figured it must be something special. What a dive. It felt like your typical Mexican border town from some American movie. Just a bunch of surly-looking men lounging in front of a jumble of small shops and restaurants blaring bad latin music around a paved, glass-strewn plaza. Adding to my displeasure was the fact that although all the places seemed to have toilets and sinks, none had running water, and I was told that there never had been. Again, whatever dude.
I was glad to make it to Guasipata the next day, a slightly larger town that meant running water, and A/C and a television in my hotel room to boot. There, a friendly shopkeeper gifted me her last Venezuelan flag, and an incredible rainstorm knocked the power out in the whole town for a couple of hours. I was in a Chinese restaurant at the time, and when I tried to leave my sandals got sucked off my feet in the torrent of water running down the gutter. I searched for several minutes, with only the fierce lightning flashes cutting through the darkness, but I finally located them, one of them more than two blocks "downstream."
A couple days later was Halloween, and I wasn`t going to let the fact that it`s really not a big deal in South America ruin my fun. Using some materials I`d picked up in Guasipata, I fashioned a cape, mask and "Super Ciclista" logo, which I donned for the 50-km journey to Ciudad Guayana. I felt so silly riding by people, and couldn`t help laugh to myself as I tried to imagine what they must be thinking. I`m sure they though I`d lost it, and in fact the thought had crossed my mind as well.
Ciudad Guayana, spread out along the Orinoco River, is Venezuela`s fastest-growing city, and is comprised of the cities of Puerto Ordaz and San Felix, which have expanded into each other. It´s a very modern-looking place that reminded me of any small American city, with some very nice parks and plazas, several McDonald`s and even a TGIF Friday`s. Riding into Puerto Ordaz I met Jean Pierre and his mother, Teresa, who offered me lunch at their place. I followed them to their house, where I ended up spending the night in the company of some very nice, amazingly hospitible, people.
Today I cruised down the freeway to Ciudad Bolívar, where Simon Bolívar, known throughout South America as "The Liberator," orchestrated his rebellions against the Spanish. I´m looking forward to spending a rest day here checking out the city.
Ever since I´ve been in Venezuela I´ve been so eager to put in kilometres as I get closer and closer to the coast. Now, less than 400 kilometres remain, and I can almost smell that Caribbean air!
Sat, Nov. 6, 2004: Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela
I`VE MADE IT!!
299 days and 8,989 kilometres after leaving Tierra del Fuego I`ve arrived at the Caribbean Sea! It was a very exciting day. I set out from Barcelona flying the flags of all the South American countries I`ve cycled through up until now, with the Canadian flag waving proudly up top. The whole flagpole was more than six feet tall! I`d left myself only a 15-km ride this morning, and although I was fairly near the coast all day I couldn`t actually see the sea, since it was a very urban stretch with many buildings in the way.
When I finally turned onto a street into downtown Puerto La Cruz and saw blue up ahead where the road ended, I felt such an amazing rush. I screamed or laughed or something as I rode down the street, people must have thought I was nuts. As I approached the sea I was flooded with emotion as I thought of all that I`d been through, the good and the bad, to get here, to this point, right now. I nearly cried. The road ended at a large boulevard called El Paseo, which I crossed and walked my bike onto a small beach, with little palm trees and eveything. A few islands dotted the horizon, it was a much more perfect scene that I`d imagined. Immediately I leaned my bike against a palm, took off my shoes and socks, and walked into the sea, where I pretty much collapsed to my knees in the water. What an amazing moment!
My original plan had been to bring a stone from the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego and skip it into the Caribbean, but unfortunately my skipping stone decided to leave the expedition somewhere in Bolivia, and so instead I simply celebrated my arrival in the same manner that Gwendal, Damien and I celebrated our departure way back in January next to the Beagle Channel: With a bottle of champagne.
While I was taking a bunch of photos and video of my arrival, a man approached me and started chatting me up. His name was Napoleon, and long story short, I ended up throwing my bike in the trunk of his car and spent the day with him visiting some of the city`s sights. Later, he and his wife took me out for lunch. What a great day!
My plan for the moment is to spend a night or two here, then head over to Caracas, where hopefully I can store my bike at the apartment of a friend of an Uruguayan friend, and then continue west down the coast (by bus, no more cycling for me thank you) and spend four or five days surfing in a little fishing village called Cuyagua.
Which reminds me of the such good luck I`ve had lately. Three days ago as I was riding I was stopped by a van with two cyclists from Caracas who wanted to know about my trip. Then yesterday, they stopped me again, on their way back to Caracas, and one of them, Segundo, got his bike out and rode the 30 km to Barcelona with me while his friend, Edwin, drove behind us in the van. Anyways, I mentioned to Edwin that I wanted to do some surfing, and he told me that he has his board (I had no idea he was a surfer!) stored at a friend`s place in Cuyagua and I`m free to use it. Sweet! His friend also owns a hotel and restaurant, so I`m pretty much set. Bought a big new book, and I`m ready for my well-deserved down time (and waves, of course, waves).
I remember arriving in Ushuaia more than 10 months ago and feeling scared out of my wits at the mammoth expedition that lay ahead of me. I remember looking at a map of South America and thinking that there was no way I´d be able to do this. But with a couple of good friends to cycle with and get me on my feet (or on my wheels as it were), some gritty determination and, yes, with a couple well-timed bus rides, I´ve made it. It´s hard to believe that the tanned guy strolling the streets here in Puerto La Cruz, happily chatting in Spanish with the locals, is the same scared lad that nearly cried himself to sleep in Ushauia.
Of course I´d like to thank all of my sponsors who helped me get this dream of mine underway, and all my friends, family and all the anonymous friends who have been following my adventure online and offering me the support that has at times been the only thing that kept me going. Thanks so very much for all your support, and above all go out there and reach for your own goals and cross your own borders.