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The following are stories written for the Selkirk Journal and the Comox Valley Record during my 11-month bicycle expedition through South America, from January to November, 2004:

Border Bound (a pre-trip introduction)
Against the Wind Through Tierra del Fuego
Hurry Up and Slow Down (cycling in Patagonia)
Chugging Through Chile (cycling Chile's Carretera Austral)
Argentina a Lot Like Canada (crossing the Argentina pampas)
South America's Hidden Gem (travels in Uruguay)
The Bolivian Paradox
Pushing Through Peru (misadventures on a Peruvian riverboat)
Jungle Journey a Drag (cycling the Brazilian Amazon
Grand Finale (cycling Venezuela)

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Grand Finale
by Ryan Parton

I collapsed to my knees, overcome with emotion, and felt the cool water of the Caribbean lap at my thighs. I scooped a handful to my lips, the taste of its salt providing tangible proof that after 299 days and 9,000 hard-earned kilometres, I’d finally made it.

It had been 10 months since I’d set out by bicycle from the windswept island of Tierra del Fuego, in the southernmost reaches of South America, not sure if I’d actually be able to pull off this monstrous endeavour upon which I was embarking. From my vantage at the bottom of the world, the Caribbean Sea seemed impossibly distant, existing in a completely different world somewhere at the northern extreme of the continent. It wasn’t until I finally arrived in Venezuela, after having cycled nearly 8,000 kilometres, that I knew I was going to make it.

Entering Venezuela, the final country of my trans-South American adventure, gave me that same excited tingle that I get while flying the moment the captain announces that we’re beginning our descent to our destination. Spurred by my own impatience, I set out at a near-frantic pace into the rugged beauty of southeastern Venezuela, a vast, empty region known as the Gran Sabana. I felt so alive cycling through the silent countryside, past rolling, palm-studded savannahs and picturesque waterfalls, the region’s signature flat-topped mountains, called tepuis, standing stoically on the horizon.

It was when I pulled into each new town and had to deal with the ubiquitous shouts, whistles and dumbfounded stares that had been my constant companions in more than 200 towns, villages and cities since Tierra del Fuego, that my mood tended to sour. Someone once said the getting there is half the fun, which I suppose is true to a certain extent. There comes a point, however, like when you’ve been “getting there” for more than nine months, that the fun starts to wear a bit thin.

As I rolled through these towns looking for accomodations, a process that had become as routine as brushing my teeth, I wanted more than anything to be inconspicuous, just another face in the crowd. The fact that such anonymity was impossible, given my light Canadian complexion and fully loaded touring bike, sparked dramatic mood swings that at times bordered on rage. I knew that my anger was senseless, but that only frustrated me more. I was a regular Jekyll and Hyde on two wheels.

My fickle-tempered tour of the Gran Sabana ended with a twisting, white-knuckled descent to a rag-tag cluster of bars, hotels and restaurants unimaginitively known as Kilometro 88. After a restless night kept up by the couple next door in a seedy hotel where the first rate I was quoted was by the hour, I hastily left town and rode north to the marginally less depressing town of El Dorado, boldly positioned at kilometre zero. With its glass-strewn main intersection lined with shifty-eyed men in various stages of sobriety, shouting to be heard over the obtrusive Latin music belching from the gaping doorways of the restaurants and cervecerias behind them, El Dorado was the spitting image of every Mexican border town that’s ever appeared in a Hollywod movie.

Now, more than ever, I was desperate to get to the coast. I continued my pursuit north, making brief stops amidst the ultra-modern office bulidings of Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela’s fastest-growing city, and the colourful, colonial-style homes and bustling street markets of Ciudad Bolívar, the birthplace of Simon Bolívar’s 19th-century rebellions against the Spanish that led to the independence of five South America nations. From here, a massive suspension bridge spans the Orinoco River, the only bridge to do so over the Orinoco’s entire 2,140-kilometre course, after which a relentlessly flat and equally boring highways stretches north all the way to Puerto La Cruz, my ultimate destination.

For the last 15 kilometres of my journey I followed a busy urban corridor into Puerto La Cruz, the flags of the eight countries that I’d traversed to get there waving behind me on a makeshift reed flagpole that stood nearly two metres tall. Although I knew the sea was nearby, it remained hidden behind the dense tangle of urbanity the surrounded me.

It wasn’t until I turned left, onto a side street toward downtown, that a field of blue suddenly appeared ahead of me, the morning sunlight dancing off its reflective surface. Words can’t describe the intense rush of emotion that flooded me at that moment. The memories of all that I’d been through, 299 days of good times and bad, to get to this point, swarmed through my mind as I watched the sea grow closer and closer.

Finally the street ended at a large boulevard, beyond which lay a sandy, palm-studded beach that was more perfect than anything I’d imagined. I crossed the boulevard, pushed my bike onto the beach and leaned it against a palm tree. Slowly, as if in a dream, I removed my shoes and socks and turned toward the water, focusing for a moment on the tiny islands rising from it surface several hundred metres off shore. Then, the irrepressible smile on my face growing larger with each step, I walked proudly into the Caribbean Sea.


Previous

Border Bound (a pre-trip introduction)
Against the Wind Through Tierra del Fuego
Hurry Up and Slow Down (cycling in Patagonia)
Chugging Through Chile (cycling Chile's Carretera Austral)
Argentina a Lot Like Canada (crossing the Argentina pampas)
South America's Hidden Gem (travels in Uruguay)
The Bolivian Paradox
Pushing Through Peru (misadventures on a Peruvian riverboat)
Jungle Journey a Drag (cycling the Brazilian Amazon
Grand Finale (cycling Venezuela)

Back to my writing samples
Back to Atravesando Fronteras home page