Weeks 91 – 96 | Argentina

Oops… one step back to Chile…
I received a surprise-video from Alain Feytie, from France, who I met with his lovely wife, Régine while cycling towards the Chile-Argentina borders. I have no words to thank Alain for this really really beautiful video! Enjoy.

And now, at the same time period, my own video attempting to document my last ascend to the Andes. The quality is clearly lower, a first-person-shooter account, haha!

I entered Argentina at Paso Jama. It was the end of June and the cold was extreme. The weather forecast was giving -10 degrees Celsius and on top of that the wind you feel while cycling… I suffered a bit in the mornings, but all good.

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My bike in a proper mess (clothes readily available because at night I was putting everything on)
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Frozen (formerly flowing) water
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Some more uphill, it never really actually ends

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The first village I spent two nights in Argentina was Purmamarca. Seemed to be a tourist destination mainly because of the

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manufacturing of articrafts and traditional clothes
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and the Hill of the Seven Colors (which seems less fancy than its name)

I had some absolutely necessary time off there. Because of the steep and continuous climbs for many days I had developed saddle sores that were very painful and actually there was something more like a wound in the area. I had to “borrow” a little cushion from the hostel in order to put it on the saddle and ride peacefully to Salta. 193 km in total with approximately 120 km of downhill, and almost half of it steep enough so I can relax and enjoy a pedal-free joyful ride.

Salta

means jump in Spanish. And this was what I did, since I met Javier at the hostel. The man was so connected in Salta that I needed to pay no entrance or look for where to go or anything. He knew everyone, we where entering for free at the best clubs, straight to the VIP – hahaha.

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🙂
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στην κοσμάρα μου 😉

Yes.. some party time was necessary as my time from San Pedro, Chile to Salta in Argentina, was tough… Some mindlessness too, that can be depicted…

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like this!

Tucuman

Being in a hurry to reach Buenos Aires as soon as possible, I wanted to pass through Tucuman without a stop. My plan was to just spend the night there. However, I couldn´t find a free bed in the whole city the reason being that the following day, the 9th of July, was Argentina´s independence day and Tucuman was the city that in 1816, what was at that point Argentina, declared independence from the Spanish rule.

Ok, I said, I’ ll stay one more day in order to enjoy the National Parade. And so I did.

Very interesting indeed and to be honest it made me think. There was an intense moment for me, that I also happened to record it (video RMCA below, min 01:26). It is the moment where a young man passes in front of the crowd and shouts “viva la patria!” (= ζήτω η πατρίδα) again and again. Which is ok on the one hand, but on the other hand it makes me think: do we have any kind of celebrations for the whole planet? Do we have any kind of let’s say national activities that celebrate the things we have in common with other nations, or activities that celebrate peace and love among people independent of their country of origin. I am in favor of loving your country but this without putting it on top of other countries.

These thoughts come in hand with some discussions I had in Nasca, Peru (and also in other places) with young people from Spain, telling me they are not proud of being Spanish (because of the colonialist actions). And I was processing this thought in my mind as to where there should be a thing like “I am proud of being… Greek” let’s say.

Greece has a tremendous history and, undoubtedly, influenced the world a lot. However, should this make me more proud for being Greek than an Albanian being an Albanian, or a South Sudanese being a South Sudanese (South Sudan is the newest country in the world, 2011)? What did I do in order to feel proud? The fact that I was born in Greece and I am related in a way to all philosophers or great poets was pure luck. What I feel is a need to continue this great work, which seems more like a “burden”/responsibility than a reason to be proud. Quite the contrary, I feel shame for the current situation in Greece, given the fact that we have such a historical backround.

I don’t know, I am thinking that one of the results of parades and similar activities is fueling competition between countries and not unity. I can’t just say, though, I am against parades. I am thinking about it…

Cordoba

I had such a lovely time in Cordoba. On the one hand I was spending time and energy in finding sponsors to fund the air tickets to go to Africa and also to buy better equipment. On the other hand, the hostel was amazing, and I was surrounded by enjoyable and, also, thought-provoking people. I spent time with Yohan, whose name for me was Francia, haha and also with Thales. Thales, well guessed, comes from Greece, but grew up in France. It was a pleasure to speak Greek again, after months, and also be with such a nice guy! At times we were accompanied by… the mystery man. The mystery man left Buenos Aires because he did something really bad, I suspect some kind of robbery, and he just had to run away in order not to end up in jail. This guy was travelling without money. Without money at all. I told him at some point, we go to dance, come, he said I have no money. Another day I told him we go for beers, he said no money. Ok, myself sometimes I say I have no money at some occasions. But the complete phrase is “I have no money for this“. That is, my priorities are different and I won’t put my money on this. This man had absolutely no money. no money at all. He left Buenos Aires hitchhiking, he asked for food and he received food. he told his story at a truck driver and he gave him some money, so he found the cheapest hostel in cordoba to stay for 3-4 days. His plan was to leave the country… Crazy people around, eh? There was also some other beautiful people, el Chef, el Tucumano, el piloto… They were more than 40 years old, working in Cordoba for some time….. They had a particular life style that I can’t really share, but… very interesting!

Buenos Aires

Last, but not least, and definetely least comes… Buenos Aires! Throughout my stay in Argentina I couldn’t help but think that I am leaving from South America, Buenos Aires being the point of departure, my last city. I was thinking, the last ride, the last night, the last hostel. Everything had a dramatic bit into it. I loved South America a lot and in many ways it changed my life.

After spending some time at the kitchen of one hostel where I found very cheap “bed” and walking around and playing ping pong with Christian, I finally found myself in a very fancy area that, paradoxically, the cheapest hostel of Buenos Aires was located. I needed a proper bed and space in order to organise the next leg of my journey.

While the whole “crew” there was fun I had the pleasure to spend most of my time with Agostina (Argentina) and Pierre (France). We danced, visited museums, talked on life but most importantly we walked around. Pierre had one of the apps that count your steps and one day we had a walk of more than 30 km and at night we were dancing till 0800 in the morning!

Buenos Aires is full of parks..! We also went to the Ricoleta Cemetery, the Boca Juniors stadium and neighborhood, and the central Obelisk plaza.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Some friend of Agostina’s, musicians!

Being at Buenos Aires in a transitional stage (leaving Latin America, thinking of Africa) it felt just right being with Agostina and Pierre.. She, 21 years old, a bit crazy and revolutionary; he, 36, mild and calm (but still vibrant!)… Me, being age-wise in the middle, it felt like my past and my future combined.. In a crucial transitional moment… since the question of how much this trip is gonna last is never muted..

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…in the middle…

The idea was a bit crazy but there was no other cheap alternative. Find the right card boxes and ride with them to the airport, and there, do all the necessary… packaging.. It worked well 😉

All the above was my… whereabouts in Argentina. As to my… howabouts (haha):

… and also this …

Gems of Argentinian music…

Mercedes Sosa was an Argentine folk singer whose politically charged repertory led her to be known throughout Latin America as “the voice of the voiceless.” I found not even one person who was not respecting and admiring her. The natural way she sings is amazing. It worths listening to most of her songs.. here, two of my very favorites. The first one, a poem by the Uruguayan writer Luis Ramón Igarzábal… So good that it deserves learning spanish in order to understand it. The second one, a poem by the Chilean musician, Violeta Parra… just incredible!

This suggestion has an awkward beauty. It’s a modern version of a folklore song. The singer, Charo Bogarín, is singing and investigating folklore argentinian music and more specifically, indigenous music. She is coming from an indigenous family and there are a lot of songs she sings in Guaraní (indigenous language). This one, here, is called Indio Toba. Toba being an indigenous group that was widely persecuted by the formal Argentinian state, which resulted in them leaving their ancestral land. Enjoy!

Speaking of Argentinian music one cannot avoid Rock! Specially selected for you because I know your spanish is not so good. The lyrics are mostly in English.. Sumo influenced a lot the rock scene in Argentina and it worth checking it out.

As for… tango, a live performance above, in 04:57.

Leaving from South America

Weeks 80 – 90 | Chile [B]

The second part of an unforgettable Journey in Chile. My time in Santiago and the 5th crossing of the Andes mountain range.
My story in Santiago starts with this lovely lady here,
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Zuzanna.
ZUZANNA is a good friend from Poland. We had spent time together in Spain, back in 2013, and now we met again in Chile. ZUZA talked about me to her other half in Santiago, ANNA (pun intended), who was also in Spain with us but I had never met her, and ANNA (from Sweden) arranged with her flatmates to host me for a week at their appartment in the city center. The flat had a nickname:
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El Paraíso.

Truly a paradise as you can see and right at the right time because… I spent the holy week there, fortunate enough to attend the services and share these moments with my dearest friends from the Orthodox community of Guayaquil in Ecuador, that were at that time in Santiago.

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Then my dear Zuza, who I owe her so much, let me know about her boyfriend Richie,
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who in this photo looks a bit serious. In real life he is more like this
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hahhahahaaa sorry mi amigo Richie! hahaaa! Richie is one of the persons that I meet and I have instantly a very good connection with. You know, there are some people where your vibrations sync right away. The feels-like-we-know-each-other-for-ages-but-we-met-yesterday thing. He is in my heart for many reasons but most importantly because he kept the two of us alive during the scariest 40 minutes of my life. Riding a vespa in the highway…
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The post-traumatic stress had to be released in a meaningful way.
I invested in brushes and water colours. I still remember Richie that night at home, after the ride, singing with the guitar about me: “tenía mucho miedo pero sobreviví” = I was very scared but I survived.
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And here Richie in the guitar, and Thomas singing.
 Thomas is a friend of Richie who
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I spent a lot of wonderful time with!
and this because he and other friends of Richie hosted me at their living room for a period of… 1 and a half month!
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my bed,
and the sofa where I spent hours of listening and admiring Thomas this time,
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playing the guitar and singing.

Thomas had the ability to take the guitar and start playing for hours.. from reggae to hip-hop to rock to… acoustic reggaeton, in perfect english, spanish, german. I was so astounded that I recorded him at some point, and throughout my stay in santiago I was listening to him every day, again and again, during the countless hours I had walking around downtown, chilling in parks, thinking, reading, painting and writing.

but to be honest, it wasn’t only Thoma’s voice that I enjoyed so much. It was also
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Olivia’s,
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girlfriend of Thomas –
she had one of the sweetest voices that I had heard and it was such a pleasure listening to her.
Here  we are in Tunquén. Weekend excursion that apart from

it also had a very interesting visit to the Ballenario: the place where in the past the whales were brought to be processed and exploited. It was a visit full of sadness, or maybe better, some sort of melancholy and also… admiration!

You knew that

(blue) whales are considered the biggest animal ever inhabiting the planet? One of the reasons why they live in the water is that it would be extremely hard to sustain such an amazing weight (they reach the 180 tonnes, and only their tongue weight as much as an elephant) in land – that is, without the help of buoyancy. But here comes the best part,
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the captivating ultrasounds that produce to communicate (that can be heard underwater in a distance of 2.600 km!) is unknown to this day where exactly come from – what part of the whale is producing them and how; they don’t move neither the mouth nor their throat!
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We also went for a walk by the beach,
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you know that Pacific means peaceful, right? So here we are, myself and the ocean.

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I set the camera very far for this one; the essence though is intact.
And since I need a way back to Santiago in my story, and we are at the sea, I ‘ll tell you that the nickname of the appartment I was hosted this time is “El barco” = the boat. Two more “passengers” are the ones that you see on the right, next to Óli and Thomas,
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Franko and Laura,
You see, love everywhere in Santiago! I was surrounded by couples!
The good news was…
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Nicolas,
another one resident of El Barco, that he too in this picture looks pretty serious. BUT, he can be transformed…
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hahahaa!!! Nicooo! I admire this guy a lot because he was so responsible, organised, independent and at the same time he knew how to party and… (this is the important part) he was (almost) always available! Even if the following day he had to go to work. And if you are looking for some fun in Santiago de Chile, the nightlife is indeed vivid! Music, dance, piscola! The legendary bar El tunel – awesome nights of fun with Nico, Iciar Javier and Jorge (from Madrid) and many more – fun and sweating!! And the cheap amazing (if you are drunk) pizzas after… oh… Also, in Santiago there is a lot of electronic fiestas, fiestas in plazas with guitars and drums, lots of concerts, bars with live music and the typical clubs mainly at the Bellavista area.
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Bellavista
And because we have to imitate the good exampe of our friends, I tried myself too, apart from having fun and also lots of personal time in Santiago, to do something that is productive in another level. Something that I couldn’t have done without the help of
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Heinz;
the last (but not least!) resident of El barco. As you most probably know, while travelling I am trying to enter elementary schools to do research for my dissertation in Education. For sure I am not dedicating as much energy as I would like in this area but it’s true that the intense travelling reality is absorbing me easily. Well, the point is that Heinz offered to help me gain access in a public elementary school in Santiago, and not only did he bring me in touch, but also he helped me a lot with translating the research documents I had prepared from English to Spanish.
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yeeeeeeah

I had 3 days of attending all of the classes of one professor, interviewing her and the principal and taking photos. The whole experience was very intriguing as it was very different to what I had seen so far in the USA and to what I had experienced as a student in Greece. I would like to thank Sophia, mr Matus, and miss Magaly for all their help!

Now, as you can imagine my time in Santiago was amazing and for this I am wholeheartedly grateful to my friends there, and also to Zuza+Anna that we happened to be at the same time in the same city – again.

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Anna, Zuzanna, and a not-so-serious version of me (yawning?)

The thing is that my time in Santiago was a lot more than having fun. I spent a considerable amount of time in just… being. I would walk to the park, sit on the grass, at the same tree everyday, and take my time. Or I would walk late at night with a bottle of hot water underneath my jacket because it was cold outside, and I would record some thoughts or observe the city when nobody was there.

It was wonderful and I feel extremely privileged for having the opportunity to experience such a vacuum in time and in space. It’s certainly a luxury in such a harsh and unjust world to be able for a little bit to be absolutely careless. When there are so many suffering or living in poverty or just preoccupied with so many everyday things, I was just taking time to work on myself and reflect upon the world, the individuals, nature and the overall surrounding reality (that is seemingly abnormal, chaotic and unrelated, yet there is an omnipresent and underlying causality.) #grateful

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 What else in Santiago?
– Fun! with Zuza+Anna [terremoto drink = fermented white wine + pineapple ice-cream]
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– More fun! with Zuza+Anna

– The psychotherapeutic effect of dance is proportional to how sweaty you  get. sweaty hair means good progress.

– My friends at el Barco and many others that I met in Santiago were well-educated, knowledgeable and they had an idea of what’s going on around the world. I had a lot of thought-provoking discussions, and it was interesting and indeed pleasurable to see that after one year of travelling in South America and listening “oh, you are from Greece?! Platón, Sócrates!!”, someone indeed knew about Plato, Socrates, about Alexander the Great etc. Of course I am not implying that the past year I had no meaningful interactions, neither I am comparing or complaining. I am just saying I missed this kind of communication and it fit well with Chile in general. Chile maintains, for me, a very nice balance between the cultural side (the latino-american element) and the functional side (having a state that actually works) (in Greece we are still lacking this).

– Also, the point I made earlier about my friend Nicolas, I realise it holds true for all the residents of El Barco (Richie is included as a former “passenger”). It is indeed a wonderful quality having the ability to enjoy life, live intensely, seize every opportunity and at the same time be responsible and make progress in every field (be it work, studies or I don’t know). It’s hard to keep the right balance.

– As I mentioned, in Santiago I was surrounded by couples. This was very beautiful but also irritated my desire to be in a relationship, despite feeling self-sufficient and happy with being single.

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Love and being loved is something that we always seek.

Something crazy: In one of my night walks at the Bellavista I was invited to sit with a man who had a big portable speaker playing by the street. He was asking for money from the passers-by and in exchange we has… putting songs. He had some 2-3 friends around. He was one step before being homeless, but he had a shelter and some basic hygiene standards. We sat together talking for more than 1 hour, drinking cheap wine that they had to hide every time the police was around. Then they suggested to go for a walk, to sit at a park. I was ok with the idea. Not that I trusted them but I was willing to explore how this would evolve. The guy that initially invited me, who kept repeating how cool Greeks are, at some point put his hand into my pocket and took my mobile phone. For the 5 first seconds I thought “no way…” but then he was not giving it back, pretending that he wanted to make a phone call… Of course I wouldn’t engage in a proper fight, but I wouldn’t just let my phone away like this.. I was trying to reach the phone while he had his hands extended at his back, and while he was insisting on not giving it to me I was in the right position to bite him, and so I did. Oh, I bit him for good at the chest. Got the phone back in 2 seconds and left jogging and thinking: what a hypocrite?! I would prefer an honest thief!

Something awkward: in Santiago I read a book called On the road, by Jack Kerouac. The style of writing and the content were in perfect sync with my state at that point in time and the book affected me profoundly. The thing is how this book came into my hands. I only knew the name Kerouac, nothing more – if he was a writer or football player or astronaut I didn’t know. The name just rang a bell. And then someone at some point while travelling told me “you have to read On The Road, you ‘ll like it because it’s about travelling… it is what you do”. One month before Santiago I was listening some poems on YouTube by the Greek surrealist poet Andreas Embirikos and he mentioned the name; Kerouac, and then he had a poem dedicated exclusively to this book! AND THEN I go to Santiago, I found myself hosted at the house of the friends of the boyfriend of a friend of mine, and there it is, on top of the piano. and Thomas says “of course bro, read it!” and it is in English too! The original version, the language of Kerouac. wow!

Something annoying: I stayed 6 weeks in El Barco. Before I left we had something like a farewell party.. Lots of persons I met during that time, came. I was so happy that I got too drunk too quickly and found myself in a bed after throwing up. dammit

Something improbable: An awkward coincidence took place. Not only I met a Greek guy travelling – the 3rd in 1 year in South America – but he also was travelling by his bicycle!! What is the probability?! Dimitris!! We spent some time together, we met some friends of a friend of him (that were staying at the 14th floor in a small apartment which if not the first is definitely in the top 3 of the most beautiful houses I have been in my life), we talked about life, and I hope I ‘ll meet him again because we didn’t say goodbye properly.

Something AWESOME: My time in El Barco…! Thank you guys for everything… I know it’s been a while without being in contact but I always think of you with love and gratitude..

And after Santiago?

After Santiago…. it’s crazy, but this country had more to offer. I am sure it had much more to offer than what I finally received, but certainly what I experienced in total is… just crazy. After Santiago I took a bus to go again to the city that I stopped cycling before I go to Santiago. It’s called Antofagasta.

I am looking for a cheap place to stay because I had spent a lot in Santiago. First very cheap room: I woke up at the middle of the night due to an awful smell and smoke..! the roof leaks and drops of water are falling into the power strip (πολύμπριζο) and at the tablet…! the owner of that place doesn’t give me my money back (for the night) because as he was saying “I cannot control the water of rain!” – goodness… I leave this place. Second very cheap room: I forget my watch at the shower! ohhh yes, this story oh my god now I remember, check this story:

I am in Antofagasta. After so much time in Santiago I felt guilty that I hadn’t written anything about my already 2,5 months in Chile. I said I’ ll do it now. I stay awake for some 30 hours, writing and video editing, and then I decide to take a shower to refresh myself. I finish shower and go to bed because I was very tired.. I woke up in two hours time for no obvious reason (!) and I am very upset; the first thing I do is grab my left-hand wrist with my right hand.. MY WATCH!!??!! Instantly I think about the shower I took before bed, I run to the bathroom and the watch nowhere to be found. That time at the hostel it’s me, an Argentinian man, Marcello, who is extremely friendly and a couple that I met in the morning but they left before I take the shower and they are not back. The strange thing, among others, is that I woke up RIGHT at the moment the cleaning lady was about to leave. I ask her: did you find a watch in the bathroom? and the first thing she says is “aaaah, you shouldn’t leave anything in the bathroom..” I raise my voice saying “I didn’t ask you this, I asked if you found anything..” she said “no, no, no”. I almost beg her to give me my watch back saying that we all know it was her. She leaves without wanting to further discuss. The owner comes, a very good lady at her 50s, teacher. I am telling her and she starts crying because I let her know that this watch was very important to me, and I have it since my mother was alive, 2008… She calls the cleaning lady, (it was Sunday), she calls the cleaning lady asking from her to come tomorrow and not the next weekend, that it was her next working day. She says yes but never comes up because she was “angry because I accused her” (she said over the phone, the following day).

Screenshot (22) (Medium)This watch meant so much to me. This watch was more Angelos Georgopoulos than myself. Literally. And I mean it, literally. Since 2008 that I owned the watch, in terms of my personality I have changed immensely, obviously. In terms of my body, I am not the same either.. Every 7 years more or less the vast majority of our cells die, and new cells take their place. Only brain cells (except a part) and at heart (some of them), cells do not die/being replaced… This watch was more Angelos Georgopoulos than myself. Hahahaaaaa!! I lost it and I got very very sad, despite I don’t want to be attached to things.. I bought the same watch again.

The only reason for sharing this story is that for me it is a breathtaking proof that what we call consciousness is only the tip of the iceberg. I went to bed without the slightest idea that I had forgotten my watch upstairs. I woke up having the knowledge, the information, that my watch is not there, with me. This alone is crazy enough. Then, there is the awkward thing that I woke up right at the moment the cleaning lady was about to leave, and as it seems she took it. I mean someone has to take it; it didn’t disappear. Very awkward!

Thankfully I found someone from couchsurfing to host me and I left that place. I found Gabriela, who hosted me for 2 days and it was very nice because we connected straight away. Apart from watching the same YouTube channels, that nobody during the trip had no idea about these channels, we had profound talks about life and it was very beautiful! Thanks Gabi!

I left Antofagasta with the plan to enter Argentina taking the shortest route.

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By no means I didn’t want to go back to Calama, and then to San Pedro and then enter Argentina from the northern pass since there was another route that was shorter. The problem was the 250 km of uphill from Antofagasta to Socaire, because this road not being the main one, there was not even a simple kiosk… no water refill.. nothing.

It was insane and also the nice part was that I found myself in a wonderful and usually very touristic area but I was at the low-season so the hostel that I stayed was just (another one!) couple,

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Jesus from Argentina and Elsa from France…

We had wonderful time and the whole hostel for us.

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I prepared A LOT of food,

I bought emergency kits for warming-up, I checked the route and I left for what it would be extremely difficult…

It took me 8 hours for 42 km… and not only this. I almost reached the end of the first great uphill and I realized that the sun is about to set… I couldn’t believe it… I was feeling like I spent 3, maximum 4 hours on the bike, but it was 8… I am at 4.400 m altitude, the sun is setting, I just stopped cycling and I am all sweaty, I start feeling that this is going to be a COLD night. Not only this…

In an attempt to pitch the tent at a little opening that had no snow, I had to pass from a snowy area that it was frozen, but not… frozen enough! I take the first step, all good, the second OK, the third finds me 20cm into the snow and now I have snow for good into my one shoe and I am trying to carry everything into the not snowy area, set the tent, change clothes… my camera is off because of the cold, same with both of the phones, my watch was stolen.. I have no idea of time… my foot gets numb BUT… I can clearly feel pain.. I feel dizzy because of the high altitude.. I am repeating to myself “stay focused, stay focused, in a bit you ‘ll be ok”. The 6 liters of water that I had been carrying have started to turn to ice.. My sleeping bag (comfort zone -7 °C) is usually very warm but now I am wearing all of my clothes too and I am still in the border line… I try to use the warming kit but there is a verb in spanish in the how-to-use that I don’t know what it means… finally after 20 minutes of shaking this sachet of a chemical thing it starts producing heat.. I manage to sleep but I wake up in 3 hours or so when the effect of this is over.. I sleep and I wake up every 20 minutes. The sun comes out… Glory be to God.. the water is a solid ice piece, the food is 100%  frozen , the electronics don’t work… but I am ok! The only problem is that I have no water and there are no cars because the road is closed due to bad weather… I eat snow for some hours and then my stomach is on fire.. I put snow in an empty bottle and later in the day melts because of the stong sunlight.

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During the day, the camera comebacks to life

That day I had less uphill but still I had to focus to finish the uphill before the sunset because it was so steep that you couldn’t camp at all.

Next day there is some traffic. It seems that they opened the road for 1-2 hours. Drivers give me water, and I eat the pieces of food that I have put in a smaller pot and let them in the sun. There is a lot of silence, the sun is very strong, and then the downhill starts and I feel sooooo good! 5th time of crossing the Andes by bike, seems I am making it! I find this

and my tent is tailor-made for this little place there that offers excellent coverage from the stroooong winds. I try to sleep but I am thinking… all of these rocks that are close to the tent… how did  they end up here..? they  most probably fell. I got up and out into the extreme cold in order to relocate the tent. I still have two sos-warm-up sackets… One for the feet, one for the hands. I am again at the border line of being frozen because now I am not protected by the rocks and the wind multiplies the sense of cold. I managed to sleep, but I remember thinking “oh, Angelos, man.. you should plan for the worse… if the air-mattress gets a puncture… and you find yourself directly in contact with the ground what will you do??”
I wake up happy that I am alive but clearly it was a bad night’s sleep. I ride my way to the borders and… life is beautiful!

same photo, with decreased (left) and increased (right) brightness.

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Don’t forget, we LITERALLY are stardust!

🌟

Weeks 76 – 79 | Chile [A]

Weather-beaten and pretty tired I headed to the borders. I had approximately 10 days in and around the Bolivian salt flats. I was over exposed to rain and sun, my eyes were not completely healed, I was eating bread and bananas for the last 3 or 4 days and the bike was in a proper mess. I had drunk all the water I had left and now I needed 5 or 6 hours to the borders. I said to myself “when you enter Chile, you will drink a beer! You deserve it!

 

mapa
«…κι  είν’ αλάργα τόσο η Τοκοπίλα.
Από να φοβάμαι και να καρτερώ
κάλλιο περισκόπιο και τορπίλα…» (Καββαδίας, Πούσι)

Some hours later I was in Ollagüe, the first village of Chile. In the borders I asked for ATM and the guys there almost laughed.. “ATM you ‘ll find in Calama…” they told me, “…some 200 km from here!” – Damn! I had no Chilean money, I used my last SOS dollars to pay the hospital just before exiting Bolivia, and I had only a bag of 5 little breads left that a truck driver had offered to me.

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see the bread?

Almost desperate and with no plan I started cycling through the little village alongside the rail tracks. 2 minutes later a mini market came into my field of view, and there, totally unexpectedly, I saw this little sticker on its window. Yes right, the sticker with the 4 letters that reminded me of the other 4-letter word that I had forgotten: VISA -> BEER.

Hahahah! Almost unbelievable, but utterly true. After the scarce, without fridges, and even without bread mini markets of rural Bolivia, I found a place where I could pay by card and eat properly! I was very happy and the first beer was followed by a second, and at that very second I saw the first guys in Chile that would invite me at their place. More beers and a football match and some facts about Chile, that I had no idea. Chile is the most developed country in all Latin America. Now I call it the North America of South America. This country is more advanced than Greece. The streets are in almost excellent condition, the cities are relatively clean and in general, there is something here that’s missing from all the countries I have visited for the last year: order.

The following day I woke up and I was determined to make 200 km and reach Calama. It was downhill (from 4300m to 2700m), so I was optimist.. But! I didn’t know about the wind.. From 13:00 the wind started to blow furiously and it was just heart breaking to realize that I was facing only headwinds. I was in downhill slopes and the bike was not moving an inch on its own. I had to pedal every bit and at some point I said “no more, I will lie down by the road and sleep. At 1800 I will continue”. I didn’t want to waste my energy because (again) I didn’t have a lot of water. I knew that when the sun goes down the wind goes… I don’t know, somewhere else!

To that point I had done approximately 100 km in the Atacama desert, as it is called – and it’s the driest place on planet earth. For 7 hours I had seen just one village and less than 10 cars, but I was extremely lucky once more. I lied down right by the road and after 10 minutes a car passes, a door opens and I am listening someone shouting “que taaaaaal Griegoooo” = How are you, Greek maaaaan??! One of the guys that I met the previous night in the borders was going to Calama and he offered to take me there! Hell yeah, I am coming!

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I like this picture because it captures both the harshness and the joy of weeks of cycling.

That’s how I found myself in Calama.
The ugliest place of Chile, as they told me later, but for me it was Paradise transformed in a city at a high altitude, surrounded by lots of mines. People from all Chile and Latin America go to Calama to make money. One guy I was talking with told me he works at a mine. I responded that I already knew that, because I own it; it’s mine. He didn’t seem to understand my humor and continued his story: he gets a 1000 euros per month for 6 consecutive days of work and then 6 consecutive days of rest. He lives on the camp site near the mine, which means he has free bed and food so he is able to save almost 100% of his wage. And I say almost because the city, owning to the mines, had lots, and I mean loooots of prostitutes and strip-bars that were open and almost full from midday. I asked the prices to sleep with a woman (just by pure curiosity, hehe) and it was 16 euros for a quarter and 27 for an hour.

I stayed there for 3 weeks and had the time of my life. I liked it a lot because I did the things with the right order. I bought the best saddle for bicycle touring, new pedals, fixed my rack, charged my batteries. Then I wrote the post about Bolivia. And then I focused on some stuff I had written in Greek (and that was the most beautiful part).

After so much time of physical harshness and no-food-variety, I couldn’t stop eating sweets and junk food. It’s one of the contradictions of my trip that I like a lot: some days I focus on my body, some days I focus on my mind.

I spent 10 days sleeping and this was because I spent 10 nights awake. Right next to the hostel there was an unfinished building and at its terrace I would spend countless hours watching the stars, writing stuff on my phone, reciting, listening to poems online and contemplating about (my) life.

Did you know that the north of Chile is the best place in the WORLD to watch the stars? Stars stars stars stars!

The most interesting part of my time in Calama though, was right at the beginning of this writing-relaxing period (and it wasn’t actually in Calama). I uploaded the blog post and then I had an idea to go to San Pedro de Atacama (a very touristic city that was close), in order to get some inspiration and focus on writing. It’s a totally crazy story how I got to San Pedro hitch hiking, but I want to focus on something else now. I left everything in the hostel, and went to San Pedro only with my tent because it felt stupid to pay 2 hostels for 1 night. I decided to take no phones, no cameras, not even cash cards. Some money and pen and paper. Haha! I am free, I was thinking on my way there.

I reached San Pedro and I was instantly inspired. This place had something mystical and spiritual all over (apart from tourists). I walked around, got a beer and wanted to focus on writing a poem or two, because I had lots of ideas from my time in the salt flats, but I didn’t have the time back then. I went to a small park and from  2100 to 0100 I started thinking and writing and reciting, and walking here and there. At 01:00 something awkward happen.

A 64-year-old Colombian guy, 1 and a half head taller than me and plump, approached me and kind of scared me cause he came without me taking notice and his figure was simply imposing. He came and asked my name, and then my surname and my place of origin and then asked to see… my passport! I was like “man, are you a cop?” He wasn’t and to prove his word he invited me at his cousin’s house. I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing but I followed him just to see in what this could evolve. We got into the house and he locked the door. No cousin at home. At that moment I was a bit scared, and very cautious. He offered beer, which I accepted and stayed there talking with him for 4 hours.

After some intro stuff about our lives the tension rapidly escalated (in a good sense) because my new friend was in a confession mood and I was in a listening mode. At some point, while he was preparing a drink – I remember clearly that he wasn’t facing me –  he said:

And while I was left speechless, he was keeping it coming. He told me how police found out, how he was accused for stuff that other members of the gang did, how the police came with helicopters and everything. He finished saying “almost from one day to another I was charged 37 years in prison!!!”

“Of course I wasn’t going to stay in prison for so long so I tried to escape a number of times.” He told me everything, and also lots of other stories relative to his occupation and how he used his knowledge to get stuff done in prison. He told me all sorts of horrible things about the prison and damn I was a super-excited question machine. He spent 5 years in isolation, in a purely cement room, less than 2×3, without a bed or something. There was a hole on the floor (his WC) and the food was coming without cutlery below the door. There was just a little bit of artificial light coming into this room and he had 2 hours on Sundays to do what the word implies – see the sun on the yard. 2 hours of relative -of course- freedom per week… He was very touched throughout our conversation which did last a long time.

At some point he started crying. He was describing to me that some days the food was extremely little and at times they had one chicken for 25 persons in the prison cell. At this phrase he couldn’t hold it in and tears came out of his eyes. He showed me how 25 people can sleep in 4 mattresses. He had numerous stories of how they managed to find alcohol and we were laughing a lot, or he was telling me that when he had days out of the prison he would bring fruits to everyone (fruits are generally not allowed, because they make alcoholic stuff out of them). He was also telling me that you have to be tough in prison otherwise other prisoners will exploit you hard or they will kill you.

Despite all of the above, to my eyes this person was incapable of stealing or killing or even harming someone. He was like a huge angel; a bit reddish by the rum, round face, reciting the bible all the time, and very polite. I was extremely curious to learn how he got into this in the first place. I kept asking him and at the end he confessed that all started some 40 years ago, when his nephew had cancer. They couldn’t find the money for the chemotherapy so he had no other option. He thought “nobody is gonna miss that money and if I don’t do it my sister’s son will die”. He convinced a friend and finally it was extremely easy, he told me. It was that easy that he couldn’t stop doing it. He told me so many things. I will remember him.

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I ‘d like to tell you that he was so kind that he gave me his bracelet. He actually put it in my hand. It was a very touching moment that took place half an hour after I met him and not at the end. He told me “for my Greek friend”.

It was a gift of great symbolic value for me. A chain from someone who was in prison to remind me of my extreme freedom as a traveler.
I lost it and I felt horrible.

Ι got back to Calama from San Pedro with a very awkward semi-truck driver that said 4 or 5 words throughout the trip. I thanked him, nonetheless.

3 weeks flew over Calama and I felt it inside like 3 days. I started seeing “Semana Santa” in the streets and I realised the Easter is very close. I had to get a bus to go to Santiago, the capital of Chile, to celebrate the Holy Week. I tried to ride till there but the wind and the continuous uphills and downhills (despite cycling by the coast) made it impossible. I did 200 km and reached the coast in a route that I had 3 or 4 flats because my tires were completely worn off. The thing was that the salt from the salt flat had made the valve adaptor impossible to remove, so I had to cut the valve from the inside in order to got it out and change the tube.

I took a bus, and then I said “no no, I will ride to Santiago”. I got off… I tried once more. No way. Two days later, I took the bus again and after countless hours I found myself in Santiago.

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Fold it baby!
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Two guys from the USA that are W A L K I N G all South America
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It reminded me the ΡΕ ΜΗΠΩΣ Ο ΒΑΣΚΟ ΝΤΑ ΓΚΑΜΑ ΗΤΑΝ ΕΛΛΗΝΑΣ !;! I was laughing alone..

stars strata LQ

“And yet it moves” – Galileo Galilei | it

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In Antofagasta, by the beach
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Παραλίγο Άγγελος | Almost anAngel

 

Weeks 72 – 75 | B o l i v i a

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Only the first part (till Curahuara de Caragas) and at some other point, for a bit, was in tar. All the rest was dirt road or salar. I took a bus for a bit, for a part of the Salar. The residents of Lica were just too afraid to let me go into the salar. Followed their advice to enter the salar with a bus and then see if I can continue riding.

Left Puno and the beautiful Titikaka Lake to head to Bolivia. I stayed in Puno for 8 days being mainly focused on writing the post about Peru. I think Puno was the cheapest place I ´ve been so far in South America, liked it 😉

I wanted Copacabana to be the first place I would visit in Bolivia. A beautiful, by the lake, touristic destination. But then a rain came and somehow I lost the turn to Copacabana. There were no signs and I didn’t have in mind at all I need to turn at some point. So my plans changed and the goal of the day was just one: enter Bolivia.

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Ι love rain in the countryside. Not just drops.

An awkward note. In this ride I realised that after almost 5 hours I had done no stop whatsoever. After 100.6 km I stopped to take a picture and put the second battery and I had the following thought:

It is amazing how our body works and how our body is in contact, in communication with us… In this ride I did 145 km and I consumed ONLY 350 ml of water and 3 little breads. It was flat, it was cloudy and I didn´t feel like eating or drinking, so I had no stop. I was not tired either. And I remembered my rides in the Peruvian coast or in the jungle. I was drinking 5 litres of liquids per day but I was peeing only for 5 seconds during the whole day!!! (because I was sweating) I don’t know, you may think “ok, it’s natural”, but I find it fascinating – we are machines…

I went to the borders. I was illegal for 41 days (131 in total) (wow). When I was entering Peru, I was asked at the borders “how many days do you want, 180 or 90?”. I said 90 in order to push myself not to stay for so long. Well, I stayed. 41 days = 41 us dollars. Not so many, but I tried to avoid them. I had a quarrel with the customs guys because I asked them what are my options if I am late and I don´t have money, and they didn’t mention that there is an option to deport me. Of course… they want the money. I paid after 3 hours of bureaucratic mess and spent the night in a hostel at the borders. I paid 15 bolivianos, and this was… 2 euros… I charged my batteries and next day I left to La Paz..

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After 10 hours I was entering the city… What a view !?

As I told you, I was cycling in approximately 4000 meters altitude. That’s OK for your body, but only if you are very calm. If you force yourself for something (for example, for climbing the stairs) you will have dyspnea. This holds true for cycling too, if you keep your heart pulse below a certain level you will have no issues, if you push yourself though, (something necessary if you have an uphill or if you go a bit faster) you will have the following issues:

Apart from shortness of breath, your lungs will be in light pain (this also may be caused because of the cold air), then you have stomach ache (σουβλιές), your head will feel like a raisin (σταφίδα) because of the lack of oxygen and headache at the back of your head will begin. I also had some strange sensation in my leg muscles (tingling).

I was eating some coca leaves that alleviate some of the symptoms and then I turned my electric assistance on, and I was way better. Hehe.

I met Franklin on my way to La Paz. Crazy guy from Colombia who goes to Argentina to seek a better life. He had no passport so we needed to split just before a police control. He was also travelling by bicycle. Extremely lightweight. Without sleeping bag, without tent, without cooking equipment… I asked him where do you sleep, and his answer was “wherever, I am looking for a shelter if I see rain coming, but in general, in nature”.. These are truly crazy people.

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“…Pablo Escobar, our Leonidas!!”

I reached La Paz. Bolivia is the poorest country of South America and this is very obvious in the roads condition which is terrible… The minimum wage in Bolivia is 1800 Bolivianos, and this is 250 euros… In countries like this sometimes we think that everything is very cheap. Well, this is not true. It depends on what do you want… For example I wanted a professional bike maintenance because I had my bicycle in a very bad condition and just for maintenance I paid 200 Bolivianos (27 euros)!! Obviously a place that only reach Bolivians go..

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Roy, that now has on his phone more than 30 greek words/phrases for every type of situations

In La Paz I met Roy from Spain, I mean, from Galicia (part of Spain).
Now if you ask me why I wrote it like this, it is because in Nasca, Peru, I met Alicia and Eulalia from Spain,  I mean, from Barcelona (part of Spain).
I was talking with A. and E. in Nasca and they were telling me that they would have no problem watching the Spanish flag being burnt.. I was like

Inkedsay_whaaaaaaaaat_meme_by_therealfry1-d4r4vmu_LI

I would be certainly offended if someone was putting the Greek flag on fire. I asked them “you are not proud of being Spanish?”, and the answer was “Of course not, look at all the murders of the conquistadores/ colonialists. We almost vanish the local culture here..” It´s true… but I didn´t expect that. Roy added another point. He told me that during the Franco dictatorship in Spain (1936-1975!!!), Franco was trying to unite lots of different regions under the umbrella of the “Spanish nation”. So lots of people in Spain they still don´t like this unity as it oppressed their local identity, which, as they say, and as I ‘ve personally experienced it for 4 months in Bilbao (“capital” of the Basque region) it’s very distinct. Examples. The Basque country in the North, Galicia, and Cataluña. What is amazing is that these 3 regions had their own language which differs significantly (or totally as is the case with Euskera, the basque language) from Spanish. This is the reason why we see so many independence movements in Spain today. Roy was also pessimist in regard to the future of Europe and the Europian Union.. He is sure it will dissolve. Let´s see…

I had a relaxing time in La Paz, doing stuff online mainly and spending some time with Roy. We went to the largest market of Bolivia, in an area called El Alto, which is the place with the highest percentage of indigenous people in all South America! Indeed, we found very few white people. The market was surprising in its variety (especially the section with the car parts – every part of a car could be found there).

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the fun part is why he wanted this 😀

Another thing I enjoyed in La Paz has to do with another change that takes place in my life and has to do with cooking. I had always in my life been very bored to cook. And when it comes to washing the dishes, I prefer to dig a 2 m hole in the ground instead. However, interestingly, during the trip I am in the mood of cooking. I had spent thousand of hours watching my friend George cooking, and all this knowledge is somewhere inside me. This combined with an intrinsic tendency to improvise and experiment results in… if not delicious, very tasty stuff! I am cooking 😀 I ‘d also like to mention here, that after lots of encounters with VEGeteriANS during the trip, my eating habits have changed dramatically. Avoiding meat where/when possible and being thoughtful of my food choices in general.

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(don’t be fooled, that’s George’s)

On my way out of the city of La Paz, I tackled a huge uphill. Maybe the worst of my life. For 8 km I had to climb 400 m and although the average inclination would give something like 5%, there were many parts with ridiculous steepness. I had to push. I thought twice of quitting but I didn´t. I needed almost 2 hours for the first 8 km and 11 more for the rest 197 km of that day… 205 km in total… can you imagine..

It’s part of my routine at this point.. Not the first, nor the last time I hit 200 km… However this doesn’t mean that I don’t find it equally impressive every time… two hundred thousand meters, with 30 kg of load… I ask myself every time, literally, every single time, I ask myself: How are you doing it? The answer comes almost without thinking: I just keep cycling. You just continue. The Keyword here, and in life I suppose, is perseverance.

My desire in Bolivia was to cross the famous and largest salt flat in the world. The Salar de Uyuni. I spent some time zooming in and out in Google Maps and, having in mind to reach the salar as soon as possible, I plotted my route. I feel life sometimes is like plotting your route on a map. You know where you are, you know where you want to go and you pick a direction, a series of actions, a route. However, like life, maps cannot tell you a great lot in regard to the road condition, is it uphill/downhill, are they busy roads or not, and of course, whether weather will be in favor or against. I picked the shortest route to take me to the Salar, but heck I didn’t know I am gonna spend the vast majority of my time in bombarded, isolated, village-ish dirt roads, where mini markets (for food and water) were absolutely non existent for 60+ km or where there were no signs whatsoever and there was nobody to ask. For hours. I spent almost 2 weeks on a very tight budget (no ATMs), eating mainly bread and bananas (or tomatoes, or carrots), pushing my bicycle a lot, facing daily rain, hail, muddy roads, salty terrains, extreme sunshine, cold in the absence of light, mechanical failures of all kinds, water deprivation, and taking-shower limitation.

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Y e s

But daemn’t, I was so paid off by the incredible, the magnificent, the surreal, the otherworldly beauty of this place: Salar de Uyuni. Its insane appeal touched my heart and triggered my thinking. You know what was crazy? The absence of the horizon (o χωρίζων)… Because I went there during the wet season, there was a lot of water. Difficult to ride at points, and annoying, but it created the effect of reflection. The land and the sky became one and you had the feeling of floating in the sky. The view was so broad that everything felt like being present and at the same time incredibly distant. You could watch many realities take place in different parts of your view-field – you could enjoy them all.. Example: at night. I had numerous very bright stars on top of me, above the tent. I had the moon, very bright too, coming out of the land, being reflected on the salty and watery surface at the East, and all around, at points, there were storms where you could see the lightnings every 20-30 seconds. All this parallel, but unparalleled, optical input – a spectacle – was being contrasted by the absolute auditory nothingness – Silence. There was no wind, no animals, no trees.. just my breath and my heartbeat.The apogee came as I put the Apodeipno on my cellphone, looking at the sky. The stars losing the battle of being-brightness as the moon was on its way to the top of its arch. Needless to say, how peaceful I felt, how all the hardship of the previous days were instantly forgotten. No no… not forgotten. On the contrary! It was reminded, it was put in its place – in juxtaposition to the amazement of the moment. All the past discomfort was related to my present which would be a present if I had put no effort. But I had put a lot. My place there was deserved, it was conquered. The sense of achievement, the subtle ever-present principle of “no pain, no gain” was intensified. But at that moment I was on the “gain” part – it felt great.

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Rat race, inversed.

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I finally bought that drone! 2132 dollars, but I control it only with my brain waves, and so, it´s easier to hold flowers while riding. Worth it.
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Could be a lot better, but had no battery left. Also, VERY hard to keep the bike in this position for more than 30 seconds.

Now, on the “pain” part, I have to move back in time for a bit and describe 7 incidents:

When I started going uphill on my way out of La Paz, what was killing me psychology-wise was not that I was tired, that muscularly I couldn’t handle the moment. What was extremely difficult to handle was the future. The next moment. I couldn’t help but look in front of me and the view of the mountain, of the hill, of that steepness, was discouraging to the level of desperation.

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When your day start like this. And it unfolds with 196 km more. (205 in total)

For a week there was rain each and every day. Wet shoes and feet for 6 days. One afternoon I got caught in the rai when pitching the tent. In a matter of seconds I was wet, but I managed to keep the interior of my tent dry. The rain turned to fierce hail. I put my helmet on and started walking and jumping around the tent to keep myself warm. I am at 3800 m and when there is no sun, no matter what time of the year, it’s very cold. My tent is for one person and it’s very tight. I can’t get inside as I am, so wet. The rain doesn’t stop and I am contemplating hard. What should I do? Strong winds too, and I am a bit worried. This is the problem: when problems are combined. Cold and rain and wind. I need a way out of it. I take off all of my clothes and I stay nude outside the tent with heavy hail-fall, I through a towel in the tent and after a moment I get myself inside. I am shivering for 10-20 minutes and then I am getting warmer inside my amazing sleeping bad. All good.

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It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new ride

My biggest trouble though came after the salar. I wanted so bad to enjoy the landscape while being at the salar that I didn’t wear glasses… That wasn’t a wise decision. The high altitude make the sun rays very strong and this, combined with the white terrain that reflects the sun, make the sunshine almost unbearable. I felt nothing during my presence in the salar. Nothing but a small tiredness at my eyes, which I thought was normal. In total I had done approx. 100 km in there. I get out of the salar, I do 30 km more, I pitch my tent, at 1930 I am in my sleeping bag, at 2030 I am sleeping. At 2300 I woke up with very intense pain inside my eyes. I can hardly keep them open for 15 seconds, because keeping them open make me produce a continuous flow of tears and the pain is worse as I receive more light. Even the light from the moon was painful. I have to keep my eyes closed. But even so, my eyes are full of tears from the inside. It was crazy. In a matter of 5 seconds my eyes were producing 2-3 tears each and when I was opening my eyelashes tears were running down to my air mattress.. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know we can produce so many tears, so fast and for so long. 8 hours I was doing more or less the same thing. Wiping my tears, trying to breathe rhythmically, and relax. I was angry and I was afraid. I remember opening my eyes to check if I can still see. My view was like being in a swimming pool for 20 hours. Everything was very white-ish. I was aftaid. I got up at 6 to pack my stuff before the sun comes out. It was pretty hard and I used my touching a lot. I went to the street and sat down keeping my head looking at the ground having my eyes closed, with sunglasses on, and my hands on top. The sun was unbearable!! 4 cars pass by in a matter of one and a half hour. I explained them without even looking at them. They were all going to the opposite direction. There was a health center close by. I was very lucky!! Unbeknownst to me, one of the 4 cars called the Municipality and a vehicle came for taking me into the health center. They ask “and what will we do with the bicycle?” – It’s a folding one, I say, and I show them the mechanism. They put everything in the car and in a matter of 10 minutes we are there. The doctor gives me anti-inflammatory pills and antibiotic drops to put in my eyes. She says the cost is 14 bolivianos, and I am like “oops, I have no money at all”. I had to be in Chile for some days now but the roads are terrible and the salar had water, it was very difficult to advance. She says ” I am sorry about that, it’s 14 bolivianos”. I have 10 dollars in case of emergency. They accept that. I spent all day and night in a room with my eyes closed. Next morning felt a lot better, but still I couldn’t ride my bike. They gave me the change in Bolivianos so I spent one more day-night in that village, in a hostel that didn’t even have shower. I didn’t care. I was significantly better next morning and I left to enter Chile.

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real eyes realise real lies (nothing to do, but I like it)

One thing more that was a bit scary was that I got lost into the salar. The advice was, “after the island” reach the coast and follow the dirt road. Ok, seems simple. I enter the salar, and right away I saw one big island at some distance. “That’s it”, I said… Well, it wasn’t. My friends, that was an optical illusion.. It wasn’t an island, it was the top of a mountain, but at that distance only the top was seen as it is, the bottom part was reflected, in a way united with the rest of the reflection.. I couldn’t tell but as I was approaching, the parts close to the upper part of the hill were revealed, and when I got really close (after hours) I realised that all of this mass of land is connected with the rest! Daemn’t and where is the island. Well, I’d passed it 2 hours ago…. and now the land here is almost non-bicycl-able. And I have no water left – and… Now what??

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Reached the coast after hours..

Something else that took place was that because of the terrain being so harsh and in such a bad condition the bike was heavily challenged. The folding mechanism broke. Hopefully, I was going very slowly (even if I wanted, I couldn’t go fast), so I just stopped the bike and looked at my spare parts. I had bought in the States what was necessary because I knew that at some point I’ll face this issue. Honestly I am glad that it made it so far. I know hat the bike was not made for heavy loaded touring – in dirt roads! I repaired it and continued.

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OO ps

Another thing that didn’t go very well was that at some point my yellow jacket fell off the bike. I didn’t realise it but 2 hours later. And I know it was 2 hours because I saw my photos and in one of them that the bike was depicted, the jacket was not where I ‘d put it. I got sad because I liked it a lot, but continued my way into the Salar because I had just got in and I didn’t want to cycle for 2 hours in the opposite direction… But then again, after some time, it comes in my mind the fact that I had my pump into the jacket and I have a flat tire!!!! Oh!!! There are no gas stations within a radius of… I don’t know, days of cycling, and during the night my tire will be totally flat. (every morning I was inflating. There was a very small hole somewhere that I couldn’t trace. I patched 2 holes but still it loses air) The point is I have to go back, I have to find my jacket! I got mad. It was already 1800. The sun was on a sunset course and I was cycling like a crazy man to get out of the salar and into the road again. On my way out, right before I get into the road I saw a vehicle. I throw the bike down, and I start running full speed to them shouting desperately. I reached them and my pants where almost off. I was in panic. I explain, they let me put the bike and stuff in the car, we go back, but they go from another road (through the salar, while I had been going from the coastal road).. I am desperate. I can’t tell them, you know something, can you go from the other way… I am already obliged to them. It’s a couple of 70 years old. At some point he leaves the salar and gets into the coastal way and after less than a minute we see my jacket on the street and the pump was inside. I was so relieved and happy that I shouted really loud!! That seemed very awkward to them. They didn’t really understand that this was a sign of happiness. I gave my hand to the lady while goodbying and thanking them and I asked her name. She almost didn’t give her hand back and responding to me asking her name. She was looking at me like I am mentally unstable.
Carlos and Esmeralda, I think, were their names. All good.

On my way out of Bolivia, I chose to get out of the salar for the last part because it had rained the previous night and it was impossible to ride on the muddy parts of it. My phone gps was indicating another route through the mountains – 36 km. I said ok, I am heading that way.. Oh my God. What a wrong decision. Not only I had to go uphill but also the road was for 4×4 and at parts, I am sure even 4×4 couldn’t go. I was pushing the bike for hours… for 1 day actually…

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1 day of swearing – 1 photo for a lifetime

and when I made it to the other side of the hills, instead of heading to the Chile-Bolivia borders I went to the other way!!!!!!!! Yes it’s true, I don’t know why, how, what exactly, but I did it. And I was like “yes, let’s go, you can do it, it’s all is in your mind” (I was very tired, hungry, thirsty)  and I didn’t want to check the gps. I wanted to see the borders in front of me. I did 25 km or something like this, and almost two hours later, I am like, ok what’s going on, where are the borders, are you kidding me??? I am thirsty, I can’t handle this any more. I stop, I eat some bread and my last carrots, I check the gps and OHMYSWEETGOD, instead of seeing the borders in the next 1-2 km, (which was what I expected), the gps says it’s 45 km far…. I can’t believe my eyes, but it’s true…. i was going the wrong way! I am shocked, but I have no option but to turn around and go back. There was road maintenance works, so on my way back,  I meet a truck driver and I am on the verge of crying for some water. He gave me his last bottle and also his snacks. His name was Felix. Some time after our separation, I see another truck driver and he is moving his hands, making a gesture, I don’t get it – he gives me two bottle of waters. Felix had told to all the truck drivers and every one was giving me one. After 1 hour I had six bottles. Hehe. In a bit, I ‘ll be in the borders. One more awesome country is past right now. My memories and this post will keep it alive in my heart.

It’s Bolivia, baby, not Oblivia.
😉

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Salar in the rainy season. (I had the chance to give a name to my bicycle after 15 months and 15 thousand kilometers and 15 countries. Baptized as Pausanias. Greek – advancing through pauses – same beard style)
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Nice way to finish the day
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Relief. Out of the salar.

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#vamosvamos #nosvemos
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Weeks 54 – 71 | P e r u

Some months before leaving my house in order to travel I had written about the trip:
I call it a fast forward slow motion trip ” – It’s true!
I can ride 250 km in one day, 601 km in 3 days in a row, and 1800 km in 2 weeks, and at the same time I can spend 4 months and 1 week in only one country: Peru!

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Static: here

Iquitos

Iquitos was the first place I stayed for a long time in Peru. I spent one month there. Why? Because it was my birthday! And by that I mean my travel birthday. 1 year on the road.. I wanted to make a video summing up all the beautiful moments. And I wanted it small.. not 30 minutes… I was very lucky that my friend George from Athens had already done a first scan+edit but I also needed myself to see literally hundreds of videos from my first year, and after drinking enormous amounts of coffee, to end up with this.

One of the things I enjoyed the most in Iquitos was the Sunday nights out. I was walking with friends or alone and it was really a very pleasant thing to do.. Enjoying a nice drink of aloe vera, called emoliente, and watching all of these beautiful stuff.

However, I need to mention that my time in Iquitos was really intense because some other things happened too, related to the 3 hostels I changed.

(I just erased what I had written. Lots of stuff.. No  need to get into details.) Rude man from Brazil, my age, working at the hostel, he stole some money from me. I took them back. I left. I left to go to a better place and I went to a… worse place…

I had never in my life made so many bad thoughts about someone…Luis, from Puerto Rico (or Costa Rica, not sure) was one man that was working there. 35 approximately.

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Luis, two of the French ladies and Bill

I went to the hostel in a very good mood because I had left from the other hostel. I talk with Luis, seems a nice man. I buy him ice-cream, beers… I am all day there, working, we have good relationship. (erased lots of stuff, just the core)

Luis was responsible for the whole hostel during the evenings. He was usually leaving for 10-30 minutes, letting me know about it, in order to unlock the door, welcome the newcomers etc. One night he left, there was nobody inside, I was waiting for him outside for half an hour , I wanted to go to the toilet. He comes, says nothing, opens the door. I am telling him the following day “man, you didn’t even say sorry – it’s your job to be at the door from 1700-0000. ” – “oh yes”, he responds, “sorry sorry”. But in a way like saying “ok ok, I don’t care”. Next afternoon he wanted to leave again. He says “Ageluuus ya vengo, ya vengo” = “now I am coming..” I am telling him “no man, you are not coming, you are going, and I don’t care. I am here in the pc, with my headphones, I have to finish what I am doing. It’s your job to be at the door. I have nothing to do with that”. He says “ok, ok”. He leaves.

Someone enters into the hostel, goes to the first room, steals the Iphone of a French lady, locks from the inside and leaves. I didn’t understand anything. Luis comes, he’s telling me “why the room is locked?” I have no idea. They have no other keys. The 4 French ladies that they are the only ones that stay in the room, come. The Iphone is missing. I start accusing him because he left leaving the door open. He understands that it’s his fault and says “I was inside when this happened and I saw the man exiting the corridor… (a total lie, that apart from nonsense, it was also stupid)”. French lady is crying, I am mad with his lies and the fact that he doesn’t accept it’s his fault. I demand that the owner of the hostel come. She comes with 3 more friends.. We discuss for about an hour, maybe more.

It was very difficult to discuss with these (uneducated) people.
Logic, arguments, reasoning, conditional speech… Unknown to them.

They insist “your belongings is your responsibility”
I answer “I agree with that. Can I take all of my belongings in the toilet, while taking a shower?” (they don’t understand what I am talking about, for 10 minutes, I force them to answer and I repeat) “Can I take all of my belongings in the toilet, while taking a shower? You don’t have a locker. Can I, every time that I want to go to toilet, take everything I own, inside the WC? Someone entered the hostel, it’s private space, entered the room, stole something. Luis should be in the door. Here is the seat and his desk (at the reception). He should be here all the time or lock the door when he is not, like Bill (the morning guy) does”

After 1 hour or more, they get the point. They start to accuse Luis. I am telling them about refund… Hahahhaa!!! There is no way they will give money back… It’s so obvious, but I insist just for the sake of it. These people listen to the word RESPONSIBILITY and they get sick. You ask “who’s to blame for this or that?” No reponse. They live in the whatever-goes-wrong-I-am-not-here land. Now, check this…

Luis comes into my ear and whispers:
Mañana sales, vamos a solucionarlo yo y tu afuera del hostal.

Μaaaaan, seriously? I am thinking… Did he just say:
Tomorrow you are leaving, we will find a solution to this, you and me, outside of the hostel.
?????????

And then I am scared. I say to myself “I don’t care about phones, or nothing”
I pretend the stupid guy and go to bed with my taser at hand. In the meantime, the owner of the hostel, age 45, was insisting, while talking to the French lady “no no, go to the police, go to the police. We have a way to protect ourselves”…
French lady left the following day with her friends. I didn’t.

I was sad for this man. I tried to help him when I stopped being angry and sad (after a week or so). “Friends” again.. Nothing.. Pure disappointment.

Some people, only by being, by existing, they insult Life. They are trying to avoid Living in many ways… They don’t really feel, they don’t really connect, they are lying all the time, they don’t try for nothing. You see them, being there, doing nothing, thinking nothing, caring about how they will mock someone so they ‘ll get something without effort. This man, after my attempt to be OK with him again, tried to accuse me for something in the eyes of a tourist at the hostel. First time after my childhood that I got up from my seat and moved to his side to punch him!!! I would never punch someone (I think) but I was SO furious. “Don’t look at me again” I told him “don’t talk to me again”.
I was transparent for 3 more days and then Ieft.

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transparent

Hard to concentrate under these circumstances. I left and went to another hostel. La casa de Frances. I focused a lot on my video. I was full. Of emotions, of things to do, I was under pressure.. God sent at that hostel a Greek man of great soul, my age. At last I speak some Greek – I communicate. He was the valve in my pressure cooker. I spent 3 days without doing anything. We talk all day and drink beers. He leaves. I am back to life on a crazy schedule.

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It was rare to spend less than 20 hours in this internet cafe. 2 weeks on that schedule. My record: 28 hours (left due to power cut)

Doing what I felt like doing.
But then again, being under time pressure
why I am here for so long,
again.

I did a huge campaign for promoting the video. I must have sent more than 150 messages, in Greece and abroad. The vast majority, personified. I was not copy-pasting. Not only for promoting the video, but the trip too. I am running out of money and I am trying to think how I can generate money without working from place to place. If need be, I am doing it, 100% . I am not going back to Greece due to lack of money. I write it now and I am laughing, of course not.
All good though, I am very positive.

Travelling on a Riverboat

I left Iquitos and hopped into a big boat that goes through the river until a city called Yurimaguas. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that has no access by land. It was hot, humid, with lots of mosquitos.

On the boat I was sleeping almost all day and all night. I was seriously sleep deprived. I was travelling with good company thought. I met an Argentinian couple that I had met it randomly in Iquitos 2 days ago, and I met it, again randomly, in the central plaza of another city, some days later! I enjoyed my time in the boat, doing nothing… We were eating in the boat and we were always moving. I met a German guy and an Austrian guy. We had a wonderful night at the roof of the boat, drinking beers and watching the night sky while the boat was moving without lights (!) and at both sides there was the tropical rainforest with its night sounds. (The German guy told me that he had been working in Australia for 1 year and saved 35.000 euros, so now he has been traveling for the last 2 years with that money.)

Cycling 13/14 days, 1756 km, Jungle – Andes – Pacific

If you check the top of the page again, at the map, I am referring to the part from Yurimaguas to Lima…

This was an extreme journey..! I had exactly 14 days to do approximately 1800 km, because on the 15th day I would fly to the Machu Picchu area. Reminder: I had no electric assistance as they had stolen from me the motor in Ecuador. I had to exit the tropical area, cross the Andes, and then ride along the desert-like Peruvian coast, with no help . I was

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but… no problem! I was in the mood for riding, baby! I had 1 and a half month without cycling.. Drinking beers and coffee and eating chocolates – disgusting!
Haha, no.. I am kidding. I just needed to return back to my travelling/moving modus vivendi. And yes… It was so beautiful…

except this very sad moment…

Sounds terrifying? It was. Especially the fact that I didn’t know what the problem was. Food poisoning or poisonous snake? Grrr…
However, that was just a bad moment in a very beautiful and colorful journey, a defective pixel in a full HD screen, a rotten lentil in an awesome lentil soup. Enjoy the video..

Machu Picchu

I came to Lima on time! Seemed impossible really! I met my friend George who came from California in order to take a flight to Cusco, the capital of Incas! From there we would then go to Machu Picchu!!

You can imagine, I guess, how much I enjoyed the whole Incas ruins, and civilization in general. However, what was also great and of considerable help, was spending time with George; discussing, getting closer. It was for both of us a step out from our everyday “routine”. A particular topic that came again and again was the following:

I don’t like complaining. Or, to put it better, I like complaining, I don’t like people who complain, and especially those people that do it all the time and poison the whole atmosphere and my mood. However, while being with George I was complaining a lot. On the one hand, that was because the chaotic element of South American culture (that very much I enjoy some aspects of it) is really annoying, when it’s concentrated. What I said earlier about responsibility. Some times you see how these people function, how they do things in their everyday life and you can’t help but think:

They don’t want to make their life better?

(I was telling Luis in Iquitos: look, this is hostelworld.com, and tripadvisor.com. You see the hostel that you work, it is this one here. I am on my PC all night here, and I have the rubbish bin by my side super-full and rubbish on the floor (I am telling him), look at my phone, you see the photo of this mess (the rubbish, I am showing him). Amigo please empty the rubbish bin at night, it’s full, I’ve told you a thousand times. I will post it on-line and it will be very bad for the hostel. He didn’t. After a week I had my legs on the opposite chair. Mice all around!!!)

The worst thing is that when you are trying to show them that there is a better/ more efficient/ more professional way to do stuff they are getting angry no, not angry. Their face goes like “ok buddy, I don’t care, what are you talking about, relajate” (relax, tranquilo). I have a million of examples, but the point that I want to illustrate is the following:

Should you complaint/ express your disappointment / possibly engage in a verbal quarrel with them? My opinion is YES! Of course you should, for the sake of them and for the future receiver of their service. If nobody complaints “just to get his/her job done quicker and don’t complicate stuff” then they have no feedback and they will always be, to say the least, annoying.

I exaggerate some times. George was pointing on that. Because, imagine, in South America this kind of phenomena are of everyday. The logic is… you can’t live complaining. Just accept it, or you ‘ll go mad.. It’s true.. but… check this one:

We are walking our magical pathway to go to Machu Picchu.

I have a guy in front of me who is drinking coca-cola. Bottle. I pass by and 1 minute later I listen to the sound that makes the bottle when it hits the ground. The place is so beautiful that I get desperate from the sound, I get sad. I stop, turn and ask this Peruvian of 35 yo guy

Why?
– There were four more there…
Now they are five!
– Yes, now they are five..

Rubbish everywhere! I love Peruvians, they are very friendly and we are having very good time… but so many rubbish…. Everywhere!!

It was for me very important to share with a friend some things in regard to the trip. Thanks George!!

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Lima

I reached Lima on the 12th of December. I wanted a very cheap place to stay, because I knew I will spend some time there, and I also wanted somehow to experience the local culture, because there were Christmas and New Years Eve ahead.. Who wants to be alone these days? I didn’t just want to find a cheap hostel because that wouldn’t give me the opportunity to meet locals. But I had no other choice, since I couldn’t go Couchsurfing for so long… And finding something really cheap was my priority. What I did was:
Googled and asked around about the largest bus station in Lima. I went there and started looking for hostels – the hostels that local people go. Either they were telling me that I cannot stay for so long or they were way more expensive. At some point I am approached by Oscar, a smiley cyclist. He is around 50 years old and asking if I need any help. I told him I was looking for a place and if he could suggest something.

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Oscar in front of the Lima Cathedral, Plaza de Armas.

He is telling me “where I live, there is a room, that has it’s own door and you ll have your shower, and your keys, and you can use the kitchen. But we have to ask first the lady that owns the place. We went there, we asked. The lady, señora Julia, is an angel. She said yes.
I stayed there for almost 50 days, waiting for a package to arrive (I had some logistical issues), and doing some stuff online, and sending cards.

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Señora Julia, on my left.

The deal was to pay 10 soles (2.7 euros) and  have my own room (finally), where I can have my stuff untidy and don´t care if they ´ll be stolen or not. I had my private space after 9 months in South America. I had wi-fi and I was eating with the family at least once every day. If not, there was a public restaurant (comedor) very close, that I could eat for 2 soles an enormous amount of food.

I need to say here that señora Julia, after 50 days with them, didn´t want to charge me at all. At the end I gave way less than what we had agreed.. My time with the family was fantastic. Was beyond any expectation. I am obliged to Oscar who was helping me in anything I needed, Mikal was cooking some delicious meals, and most of all, señora Julia. I had a very beautiful connection with her and we were talking a lot. No, not a lot, but in depth. We had some very fruitful discussions, we were not talking about…  the weather

τσιγάρο
ποτό
καιρός
κινητό
της αβολίασης, αποθετήρες

(something came in Greek, I wrote it). The “weather” is the the place to go when you are looking for something to say, either because you hadn´t said nothing before, or because you have nothing to say after.
I love Señora Julia. She reminds me of what I have named somewhere Mothers of the Earth. Mothers that from the first time they look at you, they treat you like their child.

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Christmas dinner with the family!

What struck me the most from my time there
– we normally had water from 06:00 to 13:00 (but the señora had extra tanks of water)
– they keep food like how we used to do it some years ago in Greece. They eat  a lot of seeds
– celebrating New Years and Christmas… Lots of fireworks
*(a post I wrote about Christmas, in Greek, was hosted here)
** here in Peru, it´s typical in New Years Eve to make 12 wishes while eating 12 grapes. I feel very fortunate to share my wishes with the Family and also listen their wishes too.
– From now on, when hosted, I have to be very careful on things I do, but mostly, on things I say. With the family, with the neighbors, with everyone. Because they are friendly it doesn’t mean that they all have good relationships with each other. A misunderstanding took place that made me very sad, I apologized and things got OK.
– some people, literally LIVE through Facebook.. I am astonished.
– one of the daughters of the family “confessed” to me that she had never gone out after 2200! to a bar, or club, or… wherever, nope. (26 yo)
– in this simple and calm family, there is love and good relations
– the señora told me one day.. “When you start making money, fear comes in”
– my names here are gringo, baraba, jesus, vigil, barbon, barba. Needless to say I cannot go to the market without being stopped at least once and discuss about my life and why I am here
– people were very friendly. Despite being a relatively poor neighborhood I never ever felt being in danger
– on the contrary, I played football with the guys there and we were drinking our beers at night.
On Friday and Saturday nights you walk in the street and there are many many groups of 3-7 people, of all ages, mainly but not limited to men, that are together, sitting on benches, or in the doors of houses, that they drink their beer. There is always music coming from somewhere.  What I like is the way they drink! They have one bottle of beer and one glass. You put your beer in the glass and give the bottle to the next one, you drink and pass the glass. This may happen for 8 hours…. But there is always one bottle open. In New Years Eve there was a box with 10 beers in the center of the circle, around it we were dancing. But only one beer open. Very beautiful.
– There was also a lot of cocaine there. They offered, I didn’t accept and it is ok for them. If I don’t accept beer, they are kind of insulted.
– one day I met someone in the street and talked with him for 1-2 hours. He gave me his Facebook. I didn’t add him because I just forgot it. After a week he came at home (!!!) asked for the guy with the beard, came up to my room in the third floor, knocked the door of the house, the señora opened and called me! I was sleeping. “Man, I am saying, what are you doing here!? I am hosted, it’s not polite…” – He says “you haven’t added me on Facebook” (!!!!!!!!!!!!???????) [The funny thing is that this man is a good and honest guy. I mean, you may think he is crazy, or dangerous. But he was just innocent and good.]
– I fell in love in Lima. With a dog. Her name was Laika. First lady that peed  herself of joy when touching her. Hehehe. I miss her.
– in Lima I created and wrote 37 cards for 44 persons. 24 envelops and 7 packages. Unfortunately, I couldn’t send to all I had in my list. People that helped me throughout the journey and family. I began and I had in mind “for all”, but the list was huge, and at some point I realised I need 3 months to send a card to all 😦
– I missed my family during these vacations (maybe the cards “helped” on that)
– and I was particularly worried because I couldn’t be at my brother’s becoming-a-father moment, TWINS!!!
– I walked one day for 6 hours in order to meet my friend Shirley and have a Friday night out. I did more than 20 km and I liked it a lot.
– I had a crazy dance night out… You can read about it, in Greek, here
– I was interviewed by the Municipality of Lima, you can check the video here
– I ate the best ceviche of my life at the Cevicheria of my friend Shirley!

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Night out with Shirley, Adriana and their friends! That night had it all! (Even karaoke – hehe!!)

The plan was to leave from Lima on Monday, but when I went to the Church on Sunday I had an encounter that would change my plans. A., from Austria, has been living in Peru for the last 8 years and we had a very interesting discussion after the Holy Liturgy. He is one of the people you meet sometimes and you are like “ok, tell me more! I want to learn from you”. He is a Theologian with almost infinite knowledge on the subject, and on Philosophy, and Physics and… many more. He very kindly hosted me for one night, so when I left the lovely Sifuentes family, I went at his place only for one day. Just to discuss. We went a walk to the Catacombs, and then continued talking until 03:00 am. A. told me a lot about the hard times of the Orthodox Parish in Lima… He himself was kidnapped and he is often threatened… More on this on another post.

Nasca

So I left Lima on Tuesday, and I had in mind that my next multiple-day stop would be in Lake Titikaka, up in the mountains. I didn’t know that on my way there, there is Nasca, with the famous desert and the Nasca Lines. So I found myself in a place which had lots of tourist attractions and opportunities and also I was in an extremely nice hostel with Roy, the owner, who was a very sincere, intelligent and hard-working man. This guy was sleepless… partying and drinking at night with us, the customers, and waking up at 07.00 to pick tourists from the airport and go for tours..! I saw myself in him a little bit, as my life in Athens was really full.

I spent 4-5 days in Roy’s Hostel and they were very very interesting. I met Stefanie and Stefie from Germany, Cooper from the States, Alicia and Eulalia from Barcelona, the Holder sisters from New Zealand, and also Renar, from Nasca, friend of Roy’s. We talked a lot and danced a lot, and, also, drunk a little bit. We also went to the desert with an awesome vehicle! Enjoy the video..

I had a very nice connection with Roy. And also with his lovely mother. He offered me to stay there and work with him and build the second floor of the hostel (oh, yes, I didn’t tell you – Roy has built the hostel alone… watching tutorials on YouTube!), but…. the trip has to be continued, right?

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“Assasination”

Arequipa

This city had one of the most magnificent Cathedrals I had ever seen in my life. Located (where else?)  in the Main Square of the city, that is named (what  else?) Plaza de Armas. Which means The Army Square. All of the main plazas in Peruvian Cities are called Plaza de Armas. Wondering why they didn’t use Plaza of Friendship, or Plaza of Love…

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During the night it was… spectacular!

My time in Arequipa was very very special and intense. I stayed there for 7 days, in an extremely cheap hostel (3 euros for a bed, kitchen, and descent internet connection). It was one of the hostels that tourists don´t go. Travelers yes, and mostly from South America. 7 days there I was the only one not from South America. This place was special because of its second floor. At the second floor you could find the private rooms (I was in a dormitory – 1 room, 8 beds). At these private rooms there were no conventional travelers. In one of them was Tio A., drug addict, in another one was Tio O., alcohol addict. In another one was Tio IneverLearnedHisName, alcohol addict. All of them more than 50 years old, staying in that hostel for 2-3 years, paying by day! For one reason or another they found Arequipa is a good place to make money on the street, so they… stayed there. Tio A for example was going in the streets every day with his walking stick, asking for money. He told me “people see you with the walking stick, and they just help you”. In 4 hours of “work” he could make approx. 40-50 soles (12-15 euros). He was paying the hostel (20 soles), buying his drugs (10-15 soles) and the rest was for food. More or less, this was his daily practice.

Well, in this environment, in another room, I met J. and G., from Argentina, 34 and 27 years old, respectively. I spent 7 days with them, and when I left, I felt like leaving 2 brothers. Drug addicts, but diamonds. You know, there is a thing with people who suffer from this kind of addictions. They are vulnerable and they are sincere. They are fragile. They cannot hide themselves, their intentions, their feelings. I loved these 2 guys because they were beautiful souls. They were good in their heart. We cooked a lot, and spent almost all day together. With them I had some of the most beautiful discussions that I had during the trip. Genuine thought, will to learn, intelligence semi-lost in the abyss of drugs, but still there. They asked me extensively about the trip, I asked them extensively about drugs, and about their life before, and… about their life in the future.

For the first 3 days, I was only with J.
J. was consuming drugs for a bit more than 10 years. With him I had the most intense conversation of the trip, possibly of my whole life. He told me his story and I was so touched that my stomach became a proper knot. It was very awkward and I cannot describe it in English. All the feelings of compassion I had were manifested in my stomach in a very real way. J. told me about his effort to get out of drugs, the clinics, the difficulties, the stages. J. was an athlete, a runner with distinctions, and aslo he had served in the army in a very respectable position. He was an exemplar for his family, a model to follow. And then he started drugs because he couldn’t handle some stuff and then… he disappeared! He left his house, city, country and nobody knew anything about him. After 3.5 years he returned for a couple of days and at some other point in time, later,  he saw them again for a bit. Of course without saying anything about drugs. Apart from these 5 days in total he has no contact with them whatsoever – they know nothing. He told me he is very ashamed to go back. I loved this man, instantly. We spent a lot of time together, all day practically, apart from the 2-3 hours he was going to work on the street. Selling candies or just by talking, asking for money. He had worked in restaurants, so we cooked a lot together. I ‘ll miss them both, but I’ll keep them alive in my memory through my prayers.

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Hermanos.

Needless to say, that during these 7 days I couldn’t do anything online. Not posting, nor facebook, mails, nothing. I wanted to absorb everything this environment had to offer. The one I did was to communicate with my family, and write a little bit in Greek. I was very touched and this encounter and the whole environment made me think… All of these people we see in the streets… They have a life so unconventional, so different. Some of them are lost, sick, they are in need of help, they don’t have real friends or people who care deeply about them. All of these -so called- marginalised people… they are real! They have a life in parallel with our. They have their anxieties, they want to get out of their vicious circle, they need help. How society is treating them? Have you ever thought about it?

Ι left Arequipa with all of these thoughts in my mind and also with some other thoughts of a totally different nature. My brother, Panos, was about to become a father. His wife Eleanna was about to give birth to the most beautiful twins planet Earth has seen. I had made a video wishing to them… (I am singing in Greek, so it’s better to volume down, or skip this part 🙂

My next multiple-day stop would be at Puno. Where lake Titicaca is. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world. Altitude: 3820 m! So you get the point. It was hard to come up here! After these days in Arequipa, I said to myself, no hostels this time. “you should not meet anyone in Puno. Stay focused on the blog.” This was because I am not satisfied with the way I keep track of my trip. I don´t like my blogposts being that large. It´s not easy for me, and nor for you I guess. I´ll start writing one post every week, maximum 2 weeks.

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How to make an AWESOME Pisco Sour – You just need that look when using the blender.
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What 10 soles (2.9 euros, 3 dollars) can offer you in Peru´s fourth largest city.
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What 3.5 soles (1 euro) can offer you in Peru´s highest located city. ( I have eaten some of the pasta and chicken, but the juice AND the tea came later)
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Decorate your wall? Change your wallpaper?
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Space and Time Travelling Facial Hair | Every Day I Am Different | 493 Days

Weeks 38 – 53 | E c u a d o r

Why 3 months in such a small country like Ecuador?

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Ecuador is the most diverse country I had ever been in my life. From West to East we have: the Galapagos islands (wildlife refuge with incredible biodiversity), the Pacific Coast (beautiful beaches, famous for surfing), the Andes mountain range that consists of some of the most magnificent volcanoes (and the highest place on Earth), and finally, the Amazon region (with Tropical rain forests, rivers, national parks – jungle, basically)!!

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My time in Ecuador in a Legendary Map. Mountains – Coast – Mountains – Jungle.

 Casa de Ciclistas – TUMBACO

While being at the Casa de Ciclistas (house of cyclists) in Tumbaco I had the opportunity to meet approximately 20 cyclists that had already been cycling in the country or had specific plans about it. I listened carefully their routes and kept the best of every suggestion to create an epic journey. Unfortunately, Galapagos was very expensive, but I thought that maybe hiking to the highest place on earth (which was much cheaper to do) will compensate. In order to do what I had in mind, though, I had to leave from this awesome place that touring cyclists are hosted at…! I couldn’t do so because of an issue with one tooth that needed 1 month to be properly addressed. . .

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Dr. Carlos Finol from Venezuela took care of it (and made me a generous 60% discount!)

During this month, I had wonderful time with the Lara family, who is hosting touring cyclists for the last 24 years… More than 1000 persons have been hosted. Can you imagine? Sharing your kitchen, for example, with so many others that may not even speak your language..That may come for 1-2 days or 1-2 months..

While being there:

– I had to go to the borders again because I didn’t get an entry stamp when entering the country (the road was wide open and I didn’t know I have to look for that stamp) (pretty stupid, I know). Things got awkward because I was deported from Colombia for overstaying and not paying the fine. Not fine, you see, if the absolute condition for getting the entry stamp was COLOMBIA EXIT DATE = ECUADOR ENTRY DATE (that was in reality 10 days ago). The Colombian side was telling me “we can’t do anything, you are deported” and the Ecuatorian side was insisting on the above condition. I was in-between 2 countries and I couldn’t go to none of them. I slept at the borders and next day I went back begging, almost crying. Colombia updated my date and… all good.

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The first one is on the 13th, actually

– In the Casa de Ciclistas I had the following thoughts:

First and foremost. We say “touring cyclist” and by and large we have a common concept of what this means. If you had no idea whatsoever before your friend Angelos started this trip (I hadn’t) you now know more or less what it is like. Well…no! Apart from using 2 wheels and moving your feet in a circular way, pretty much all of the rest can be so very different. I was shocked to meet cycling tourists who were introvert, shy, isolated. Or people who ride every single day or people that are regular smokers. Or people who carry… (hold your breath, please) 80 kgs with them! Honestly…. yes! People that think like “well, I spend everyday on the bicycle, I want a tent of 4 people in order to rest properly”. Or, “I need to carry all of my kitchen/wardrobe with me, because travelling with a bicycle doesn’t mean I need to be deprived of my stuff..” (I left Athens with 20 kgs load). Or people who the total cost of their bike and stuff is no more than 200 euros! I saw Germans and North Americans with equipment of thousands of euros and, I am not putting any blame, but let’s be clear: you can cycle around the world only by having the will and the wheel(s). I literally felt stupid for spending  a great part of my initial budget on things I could really avoid.

Second. There are lots of people that send me messages of love. Support is very welcome and truly necessary. But, honestly, it’s not me to be admired but some of the people I met… People who work on their way to make money to continue. People, who as I said before, left their homes with a pretty cheap bicycle and equipment. Or people who have a serious goal. Meet some of them.

Lucy from Brazil makes and sells stuff or cooks wherever she has a proper kitchen and sells in the streets.

Andres from Argentina, too. (Travelling without bank card!)

Sebastian  and Mauge from Uruguay selling photos of their trip

Simon from Slovenia had been working 6 or 8 (not sure)  years in McDonalds to save for his trip (Alaska to Ushuaia)

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Armando from Venezuela who rides with this Chapulin costume in order to inspire people. (Chapulin was a very famous latinoamerican TV persona – he was an “everyday hero”). With Dario, from Colombia – a true cycling-on-a-low-budget man!

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This guy who I met a bit later. From Switzerland, riding against animaltreatment (hehe)

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Vivi from Brazil… Carrying 80 kilograms!!! Tough lady, that´s for sure!

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Respect to the real heroes!

In the Casa de Ciclistas, also:

–  For the first time after 9 months of travelling I finished answering my facebook messages and responded to all of my e-mails.
– I started writing posts in Greek, and had the idea to create a section in Greek
– I undertook these projects: creating a portable solar oven and taking some nice photos

…with the bike hanging from that tree…

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Left tree’s leaves left, just right the one at right, right?

Cooking and cycling for 251 km 🙂

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After being for so much time on the mountains of Colombia I really wanted to go to the beach. I wanted to see how the Pacific Ocean looks like and visit Montañita (the hottest beach tourist destination of Ecuador). I checked the altitude difference from Tumbaco to Montañita and saw that in order to go to the coast you have 135 km of pure downhill! At that point one crazy idea was born: I wanted to see how many kilometers I can do in just one ride. (I know it sounds childish, but I wanted to see).

Honestly what a crazy day… and when I say “day”, I mean it.. that ride lasted, in total, 19 hours! I left at 06:45 from Tumbaco and I started pitching my tent at 02:30 at night – 250,2 km and 14:30 hours of pure riding later. Apart from this ride being the longest of my life it was also the first time since I left home that I had a flat tire that I had to change it en route. I realised I had my patches, but I didn’t have glue, and also I didn´t have a new tube! The only thing I had was… liquid electrical tape!!! Α viscous liquid that when it dries it’s relatively hard. Thank God it worked!

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With my solar oven in operation and add-e  in action

The fun part was that the reason why I stopped cycling was not because I was tired. Muscularly speaking I was ok, I could ride for more. The problem was I was extremely sleepy!! I didn’t know that it can happen. But it’s true. 22:00 approximately my body was shutting down…and unfortunately I had no coffee with me! The thing was that the road conditions were not very good. The recent earthquake had caused damages on the street and something very awkward happened! I was riding my bicycle in the dark and at some point, in a glimpse, literally in less than half of a second, I found myself walking!!!! yes! my bike stuck on the ground but I didn’t fall, I just hopped off and walked my way for 1-2 meters more!

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So I said ok, I should stop on the first village or at the first place that I could pitch my tent. And so I did. 3 o ‘clock I am at bed and at 7 am sun beams say good morning. I get up and at 8 o’ clock , I am riding again…. The sun was so strong that day that was unbearable….. At some point I decided that on the next village I will just look for a room – a proper bed after 50 days…

Some time later and before the next village, I am approached by a motorbike. The man who is riding it I had greeted some miles ago.. He starts chatting and I am asking him how far and what is the next village because I am not gonna ride more today…. He says that his village is the next village and he welcomes me at his friend’s house… So here I am, invited and being cared by Edwin and hosted by Yadrin, for four days in the super tropical village of Zapallo! Who could tell??

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…and this is a truly unique experience! I had  never in my life been in such a tropical place. Green and wild beauty that you cannot imagine and I am living in a house of 11 people, in a pretty poor family that however has a “private” river at its backyard (where I am taking my shower)!

Traditional family in the village,
on a wooden house of 80 years,
with Edwin taking me here and there with the motorbike everyday!
Priceless.

I am setting my tent on their yard finally, as I noticed that the arrangement is pretty awkward because of the recent earthquake and I don’t find it necessary to get into a room. The dueña de la casa (lady of the house), the mother of Yadrin approaches me and says “I am the owner of the house, we like travelers here” and the phrase I will not forget: “El pan de cada dia de esta casa es para ti tambien porque Dios permite y nunca nos falta”  or somethng like this. The meaning, though (which I am sure of), was that the everyday bread that we have in this house will be for you too, as God allows and we never have a lack of it!

I could write a small book for these 4 days but my goal was to write a very concentrating blog post, so I need to focus now. The life in the countryside, or better, the life of the people that live in the villages, is hard. The thing is that you work, you make money and you live. There are no bank accounts, there are no cars, there are no luxuries. At least for the majority. Of course there are exceptions. But I am talking about the norm. The family had animals. 4 pigs, at least 30 chickens, a parrot, a dog, some cats… Yadrin was doing something related to chickens – selling? cooking and selling? growing them for chicken-fighting?  I never really understood completely. Needless to say that the language there is not exactly Spanish, it’s “panieS”, and by this I mean that not only every word misses some letters, but what’s missing has no pattern. hahaha . It’s not that they don’t say the end or the beginning of the words. Every conversation was a trivia!

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Washing the star from Puerto Rico  – Preparation for battle

Yadrin was also working in the Casa Comunal of the community (Community Center). And he was also “coaching” some chickens to fight in the chicken fighting competitions! Yes yes! Betting of course and advanced stuff, he had one chicken from Puerto Rico that was his star! He had also to take care of the house’s garden… All kinds of fruits you could find there. 3 types of bananas and mangos and sugar canes and avocados and… many more! We went one day to cut some branches with the machete… Hard work! Yadrin had 3 kids from a previous wedding.. He was 35 or something like this.. His wife… hold tight.. 17.. Yes yes. Edwin’s wife, 18? this is absolutely normal here.. 14, 15 they get married.. I saw many young girls dressed with the school uniform, holding babies …. At Yardin’s house, there were also his sister with with husband and kids, his parents, his cousin, the family of his cousin…etc

Edwin was working in the Municipality at the small city close to Zapallo, but he was also in the process of getting a driving license for 22-wheel trucks… I am truly very grateful because Edwin show me the places around and also he took me to a celebration the village had that weekend for the new bridge that was built.. Music and food and… sports! That was the amasing part… No matter their physical condition or age it was impressive to see how many people of all ages were gathering every evening to play football and mostly volleyball!  I was shocked at how good they were playing. Of course not professionally or even close but it was obvious these people play everyday!

I also enjoyed a lot how people interact.. Lots of fun and jokes and physical contact and what was very interesting was that everyone could whistle! Hahaha! I noticed that Edwin (or as people were calling him, “Colorado” – κολοράδο) could whistle in more than 5 ways… without hands on his mouth.. Different whistle in every occasion? person? I didn’t understand, but it was very funny. I was surprised how much life and vibrancy was hidden just in one road. Vertical on the main street (the Panamericana highway). One road – 50-60 houses, one village, one casa communal and… one school of course! Lots of children!

I left Zapallo after 4 days of staying there despite having in mind to stay there just for one night. Everything was so new that I didn’t want to leave and when I was ready to leave and I literally prepared everything in order to leave, I went to Yadrin to say goodbye and thanks and he told me in such an honest and straightforward face “stay one more day” and I said yes, instantly. He was working hard during the weekend and we didn’t have time together. He asked me “what do you want to do today?” I told him “I wanna accompany you on your normal day. What do you have to do today?” We fed the animals, cut the grass, went to the city with the bus to do some stuff, cleaned the casa communal. He is a real trabajador (worker)… working all day, doing little things, knowing lots of things.. He was formerly working on a company, cutting wood with heavy machinery… Having spent some time in Quito, the capital. Respect.

Manta, Montañita, Guayaquil

I left Zapallo and did 130 km to reach Manta, a coastal city that I’d have my first “eye contact” with the Pacific Ocean -hehe. As I was approaching it, I could see lots of factories related to the fish industry, mostly tuna. As I reached the city center I started looking for a cheap hostel, and I found a “rooms to let” place, where I had my own room for 5 dollars per night… Finally a bed, a proper service of the bike, and a proper re-allocation of my stuff.

Spent 2 nights there to do all the necessary and I left for the hottest touring attraction of Ecuador. A little beach town, ironically called… Montañita (little mountain). I didn’t party at all.. I camped for 2 nights in an organised camping trying to make my computer charge, but without a result.. I was in a hurry as I wanted to reach Guayaquil on Saturday, because on Sunday I wanted to go to the Orthodox Church of Guayaquil as it was the celebration of the Dormition of the Theotokos. In Greece we celebrate it on the 15th of August, but in some orthodox christian traditions they celebrate it 15 days later.

Indeed, on Saturday I left Montañita and reached Guayaquil in a very pleasant and quick ride. I left my solar oven in Montañita as there was no more sun and I was tired of carrying it.

In Guayaquil I had mixed feelings. For a good part of my time there I was extremely pissed off because:

– My laptop wouldn’t charge and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I had the error message “plugged in, not charging”. I couldn’t tell if it was a hardware or a software issue.
– My phone’s power on button was stuck inside and the phone kept rebooting on its own…

So I had no electronics to communicate and to make some progress with the blog.

However, I was very lucky to find an amasing Christian Orthodox Community there that was literally impressive and deserves a dedicated and exclusive blog post. I am very grateful to Jacobo and Leonardo, because they took care of me like brothers. We had our walks, I met their friends, they invited me out, but what was the most helpful, was the feeling I got that there is someone in the city  that cares about me… Their company, their effort with the parish, and the whole Christian community there was a spiritual boost for me, and I am blessed that I met them.

Mount Chimborazo

Next stop: Riobamba. The closest city to the Chimborazo mountain. Really tough to get there (especially after one month of inactivity)! From 0 m altitude in Guayaquil, I had to climb up until the 4.000m. I had decided not to use my electric assistance in order to practice and get ready for hiking the mountain to the top. I paid 280 dollars in order to rent equipment and a guide for hiking and I didn’t want to fail. The normal price is around 450 $ and guides are obligatory. However, I got a better price because I didn’t stay into the refuge, but instead, I camped close to it. I could pay even less if I could find another person and share the guide, but I didn’t do that because if one of the two cannot continue, both should return. I said to myself: prepare yourself and reach the top of the world

– But, wait a second, Everest is the top of the world!
– Well, no. It’s mount Chimborazo. It has to do with
the shape of the Earth and the very geographical position
of the mountain. More here (English) and here (Greek)

Preparation, I thought, means training: “I´ll stay up in the refuge for 1 week or more and then I will hike. In this way I will be used to the high altitude and the breathing problems” However, when I got to the refuge (4800m – with my bike!) I was told that staying for so long is not a good idea, since, because of the lack of Oxygen, after 3-4 days the whole body deteriorates. I was suggested to spend 3 days in the mountain, 3 days in the city. So I did… 3 days in Riobamba, 3 days at the Refuge, 2 days in Riobamba, 3 days at the Refuge. I was ready to hike but there was heavy snowfall which makes hiking really difficult and reaching the top (at 6300 m) even more difficult. I was angry. I went for 2 days in Ambato, the city where I would be passing from after hiking, and then I got to the mountain, once more! I was dedicated this time, no matter what, I am hiking.

The whole experience of the hike was A M A S I N G ! Just incredible, there are no words. I was challenged, needless to say. The mountain was very inclined at parts, I had never used hiking equipment before (it wasn’t just another walk on the mountains… It was proper mountaineering), the snow was soft and a lot – every step was… a decision! But, I was liking it – I was ready. I had my proper hydration (powerade), I had super-food gels (another traveler gave them to me), I had aspirins (for increasing blood circulation, anti-nausea treatment), I had thermal patch for my back (because I have pains when hiking). And most of all, I was properly acclimatised (I had spent time and energy). I was ready for the top!

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At 6.384.387 m from the center of the Earth. (6.384.687 m is the maximum that it gets)

Apart from one thing. I had a very unprofessional (to say the least) guide. Oh my God, he was a pure disaster. He was bored, to put it simply. He was very tired, he wanted to go home. He was falling asleep during the breaks (when returning). Despite knowing about the heavy snow, and the fact that I had never done something similar before, we left pretty late. The whole hike is taking place during the night, and this is because during the day,  the sun is very strong and it affects the glaciers (permanent ice) and there is a high risk of avalanche. So, when the sun was rising we were pretty high, but not high enough. The worst thing he did, though, was to violate our contract. He put another hiker in our rope-chain, because the other guy’s partner could not continue. So they had (both of them) to go back. But my guide invited him with me… I was very upset, but I didn’t say anything because at 5500 m it’s no time for arguing.

He was also… insulting me! That I can’t make it, that I am going very slow (oh my God, how much he pissed me off!) I was telling him “man, it’s the first time I am doing it, show me how to walk, how to put the crampons, how to hold the ax!” He was just advancing and pulling me… On our way back to the refuge, I told him that at the refuge I would like to express my complaints. “I have 6 points to make”, I said. He insisted on me telling him right now. I told him. We were shouting.. and he… left! He left me alone for more than half an hour and I found him sleeping while seated later on the route..

I was so happy because of the whole challenge but this guy pushed me to my limits… I had invested so much.. He told me that we should stop advancing because of the high avalanche risk, but I am convinced this wasn’t the case.. The thing was that the only team that was still on the quest of conquering the top of the mountain  was me and the other guy that he had added. If later on, the other guy wanted to go back, I should go back too. The guide would be very “exposed” as that was the very reason why I paid to go alone. Of course I was already very angry, but I couldn’t argue at 6000 m with a “professional” guide… on the possibility of avalanche! I just had to accept it… What a pity really, I was disappointed. I wanted to take the picture with the Greek flag, at the very top of the world. (Shit happens though… and safety first!)

When we got back, after 7 hours of very difficult hiking, I was FURIOUS! On our way back to the refuge the guide was telling me that “tu no tienes piernas” – “you have not legs”… To a cyclist… that a month ago was cycling for 14 hours and did 251 km… Τhat I have no legs…? I was ready to explode! We reached the refuge, I am shouting at him,  I am explaining all his mistakes, and I am telling him I will continue hiking all day in order for him to see for how much long I could hike and be very careful with his words next time. “I am your client”, I kept repeating. So I did for the next 1 and a half hour. I was hiking from the base refuge to the top refuge and back (with the boots and the bag)… Just to showcase him.. I had to leave, though, because the other climbers were waiting for me to get to the city. At last, he apologised for everything and admitted he was wrong.
I took half of my money back, but still I was not satisfied.

Overall, though, I have to mention that the experience was… tremendous. The view, the sense of achievement, the lack of oxygen, the moon-like ice-filled landscape… Marvelous!

Something else I enjoyed a lot too, was sleeping in my tent. Some meters above the refuge. For some days I was the highest sleeping human on Earth. And that is, the man (on Earth) closest to the stars, to the outer space. Apart from the breathtaking view, something else I will keep in mind forever is the absolute silence. 19:30 at my tent. darkness. SILENCE. no air, no animals, no trees, no humans, no technology…. What a feeling?! Absolute mute… Can you imagine?  It was stunningly awkward.

Oh! One more thing that I almost forgot!
As I said I went to the refuge three times. Because I was camping and neither I wanted to take all of my stuff down to the city nor leave them inside my tent, I brought my bags into the refuge and kind of hide them under the stairs. I asked of course, before, and I thought they will be fine.. Not… Someone stole one of my bags! The one I had all of my clothes and also my motor (!!!) that I had it removed from the bicycle in order to practice better! What a disaster..! I told to the personnel and they said “oh yes, here there are a lot of thieves”, and I am like “but I asked you!!”, and they are like “ohhh, que penaaaa” (what a pity)……. I got so frustrated but I made a new bag and bought used clothes for less than 20 dolars!

Jungle

Yes my friends, Jungle. The idea was to go from Ecuador to Peru by boat and pass through the tropical rain forest. I was dying to see wildlife but I couldn’t really afford an organised tour into the deep jungle and I am also kind of against them (they usually have captivated animals). However, I wanted so bad to see an anaconda.. I wanted to see that snake and this desire, I know it sounds funny, but has its roots in a school-time joke that we were making. If you wanted to introduce a lie or a lair you would go like “…and when I was fighting with the anaconda…” ahaha.. and then lots of videos on youtube with anacondas fighting other animals, and the  movie… You know, it was a legend!

The story begins in Coca (Francisco de Orellana). The plan was to take the boat and go till Iquitos, in Peru. At some point, before crossing the borders we had to sleep at a village, and next day we should find a very small private boat to cross the borders. From Coca to that point our boat had 30-40 persons. Among them, myself and 3 more gringos (foreigners). When we disembarked, we started talking a little bit and then, each one according to his needs, was looking for a place to stay. I was just looking for a place to camp, but also dying for internet access. I had to upload something, I don’t remember, send an e-mail. After walking for a bit, heading to the local open stadium, someone approached us and offered a hammock at his house. And also we could cook… And also, internet access. All for 5 $! Success, I am thinking. We go there and the guy was a Jungle guide. He brings the “ipad” and shows us an anaconda that he had found 2-3 days ago randomly into the National Park Yasuni..!!! He says “it will stay there for 40 more days to digest his food, wanna go see it?” – I was dying to see it. The guide was also wanted to go there again because he was a huge fan of anacondas. He offered to take us there and then to take us to the border crossing point. 2 in 1.

We gave 130 $ the 4 of us, we went into the jungle with a small canoe, we fish piranha in the rain, we swung from a tree and *bloom* into the river, we found the anaconda, I pulled it out just to see it (I wasn’t mocking it, I felt bad later).. It was just magnificent… How big it was, and how strong and heavy… Oh…

Thoughts in Greek, related to this experience, εδώ.

Those days, in the jungle, and afterwards for a bit, in Iquitos, I was with Evi from Austria, Sandra from Germany and Stoyan from Bulgaria. I was feeling nice with them.

And some random pictures 🙂

(If you made it that far, I doubt, but, well, you are reading this, so, yes. If you made it that far, I ‘d like to put here something more. These months were like a movie for me… Crazy Hollywood movie… I am so grateful to the ones that hosted me and also very happy because I met people that they touched my heart. People I admire. However, I’d like to mention, and I am putting it down here for a reason, I ‘d like to mention a subtle feeling I had, a general feeling of exploitation. In Ecuador, I felt, they wanted something more from me. Not from the people that hosted me. In the streets, in the mini markets.. The people were not as friendly as in Colombia, nor as in Peru. Just an example… I was told different prices for the same products throughout these 3 months (double, triple… crazy prices.. not 10%). I understand that I am a tourist for them. But, all the time! 3 months! And they could see me struggling with the bike. BUT, yes, subtle)

Weeks 27-38, Riding Colombia

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WoW!

I just counted how many weeks this post is about… Time flies and I am on the same mood.. It’s hard and incredibly time consuming to write a post, because… it’s not just writing.. Imagine that for the video you are gonna find at the end, I had to watch more than 450 video clips, select the interesting ones (85), and then cut the most interesting parts of the interesting clips in order to do the editing… I hope it’s not boring!

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Colombia 😀

I was very sorry to leave Jaime and his awesome place in Gazancipà, but I was already too late. I wanted to spend all of the Holy Week in Pereira, a city west of Bogota that I knew it had an orthodox church, but I couldn’t resist staying a bit longer with Jaime and spending some time not only in wonderful discussions but also in making his house an even better place.

In regard to where I would stay in Pereira, I was already in contact with Fr Crisostomo, the local priest, who offered to host me at his house, a little bit outside of the city. The church was inside the house of the priest, or, in order to be more precise I should say, the church was inside the enclosed area of the house, but it was outside. A church without walls!

In this strangely beautiful church of the Nativity of Theotokos, we celebrated the christian orthodox Easter. It was a unique experience.. Very different.. We were no more than 10 in total and the whole atmosphere was a participatory one. I was trying to sing some chants with my awful voice while some young boys where helping the priest with all the necessary stuff for the Easter services. Luckily, there was also another Colombian man, who had spent some years in the Holy Mountain, Athos, in Greece, in the monastery. He new very good Greek and he was a great help with the typikon (the procedure).

It was hard to reach Pereira as the sun was really hot, the uphills were intense, and I had spent so much time without riding… I decided to take advantage of my folding bike and I took a bus in order to cross La Calera. A mountain of 2.000m elevation gain – hahaha, now I am writing these words I have climbed in one day 5.400m… I didn’t know at that point what I will face later in Colombia.. The fun part is that when I was about to enter the Bus Station, the guard told me that bikes are not allowed. I folded it in front of his eyes and my pleasure seeing him moving sideways  in order for me to pass reached the sky. (The driver was going so insanely fast, turn after turn, overtaking track after track, driving mainly on the opposite lane, that I was seriously thinking that this may be the last ride of my life. All of the passengers were holding the front seat and I was holding my breath. The woman next to me was so angry that she shouted “queremos vivir, tenemos hijos, tranquilo o pare!” = we want to live, we have children, go slower or stop because I am out of here” – the driver understood.)

On the 21st of April I left Pereira to go to Cali. The very same morning father Crisostomo asked me where will I stay in Cali and I told him… that I had no idea. Indeed the plan was to go there and look for a hostel. There are a lot, since it’s a big city. He gave me the phone of a christian orthodox family there and when I reached Cali and called them they were very kind to invite me home!

From Pereira to Cali,  I needed 10 hours because the distance was… 223 km… There was a huge downhill in the beginning where I broke my old speed record and set the new (76.4 kmh). It was a very nice journey..  The day started with 1 hour of steep downhill,  and then I had a wonderful time crossing the Valley of Cauca, with the endless sugarcane fields. Apart from the multiple variations of green (trees and flowers of all kinds) I was happy being accompanied by a guy in a motorbike for 45 minutes!! He told me he left his house way earlier so he was in no rush – haha 😀 . Not only I learned everything about his personal life, but also he was telling me about the trees, the villages, the  factories (sugar, cocoa), the people of this area etc.

After 3 days in the house of the lovely Espinel family, in Cali, I thought it was about time to go to a hostel so I am not a burden to them. I wanted to write the blog-post about the 35 days in Bogota and I knew I needed some time. They asked me how much I am going to pay in a hostel and I responded 20.000 pesos (6 euros). They had an offer for me. They asked me if I wanted to give them 15.000 pesos (4.5 euros) per day, stay at their place, eat with them all the meals of the day, and in this way help them a little bit financially. As you can imagine that was a very good deal for me, but not only in terms of money. I had my space and some good internet connection, I had local meals everyday, and some good company (Camilo!), but the best was that I had the opportunity to live with a family that had 4 kids (2 going to school, 2 going to the University). Ι loved it, honestly. Culturally speaking, that was the best inside experience I could have.. Couchsurfing or hostels or my tent cannot be compared to this.

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I woke up the first day, and I saw this by my bed…

So, how was it? How was the life of this family from my point of view? Tough, but beautiful. I was writing all day and all night and I could really see every aspect of their daily life unfolding in front of my eyes. Around 4:50 the first alarm clock! The father or the mother would wake up in order to cook for the day. 5:30 the kids that go to school wake up. They take a shower. Every day, all of them, take a shower at least once. In Cali it’s hot and humid. They don’t have warm water, but they don’t look to bother. I needed some time to get used to it. COLD showers brrrr.. Then the university students wake up around 6… but not to go to the uni, no. They go to work. Yes, both of them work 5 times a week – 8 hours a day. And they go to the (public) Uni at night AND on Saturdays all day.  They have to pay a lot for the uni. Something like 400 euros per semester, if my memory serves me well, but it depends on the subject they study too. Heavy schedule! Both father and mother worked  a lot too.. The family didn’t have a car.

I went one day to play football with the 2 sons of the family and their friends. 15 minutes walking from the house. First thing that struck me was that we played football for 80 minutes and there was not even one foul. Not that it didn’t happen, but they were playing without fouls. Tough football, pushing and pulling and fighting, but no fouls. Even when it was super-obvious.. No. That was pretty awkward for me and the only explanation I could think of was that the whole issue of violence that permeates their culture is also to be found in the football pitch. You pushed me/ pulled me/ punched me, well ok, we just keep playing… When I asked them why they don’t have fouls they responded so naturally, “but there’s no referee”… When we finished the match, the time was 2130. The younger brother (17 years old) said to the elder that he wanna go home very quickly right after the match, but the elder didn’t agree in letting him go alone at home, because it was dangerous…!

What I liked a lot was their simplicity combined with their dreams.
The food was simple. There was not even one day that there was no rice on the table. A bit of veg, a bit of meat, a bit of bread, a bit of juice. Yes, juice always, in every meal. In all Colombia! At night we usually had aguapanela with bread. That is water with panela (sugar with a flavor) in which we put the bread and we eat it. I liked that. And I also liked this:
Yuli-Alexandra was studying to become a lawyer, pays for the uni, contributes to the house and has her own motorbike.
Fabian was studying something related to computers. He was doing this so he could earn enough money to study what he really wanted, that I cannot remember right now, but it was very expensive to pay.
Estefania (15 yo) was trying hard at school. She wanted to go to the USA, to live with some relatives and become a doctor. She was very determined and sure.
Camilo (17 yo) wanted to make money. Lots of money. How are you gonna do that Camilo? I am gonna work in the Oil Industry. I am clever and I know I can make it. And why do you want so much money? Because we (the family) don’t have. I wanna have lots of money and give back to my parents too. Beautiful soul.

We went out one night to dance… I wanted to experience salsa, since Cali is supposed to be the capital of salsa… We had lots of fun and laughter. I drunk so much aguardiente (like the Greek tsipouro) that I couldn’t remember some good parts of that night the other day… And many other things happened that I think it’s better not to be online. These 20 days were… intense, mainly because I had my role during these days. I was a silent observer that had his personal relationship with every family member, and the family members didn’t know the status of my relationship with the rest of the members. That was very interesting because as you know, or as you can imagine, a big family has its own very powerful dynamic. I was part of the flow of their daily routine and I was part of this dynamic too, as I could pull my strings and alter some bits with the “power” that I had as an external observer that cared about this family. Very intriguing.
Thank you so much Espinel Family!

Camilo’s Birthday

I left Cali in order to ride for 130 km and reach Popayan. A small town that is also called “ciudad blanca” (white city) because during the 20th century all of the colonial,  of european architecture, buildings were white…  The plan was to stay there for 5 days. I had a university essay to submit, and I had done nothing yet. 5 days of absolute focus, I thought, would give me just a pass at this module. Well, once more, things didn’t turn out as I planned. I reached Popayan super exhausted once more. Almost every ride in Colombia is a big question mark. Will I make it? I reached Popayan and at the very same night I went for a beer with Evgenia, from Russia. She is also touring with her bicycle. We met on a facebook group and we had the same route but she was going North and I was going South.. We had a beer in the plaza and in 10 minutes a clearly drunk but communication-able man approaches us and asks very straightforwardly to join our company. 3 hours later we were laughing and telling stories. Fun and unexpected.

Like the rest of my days in Popayan.

P o p a y a n !

If I were a guy who likes putting titles and labels I would say that these 38 days in Popayan were the best of my life. But I don´t like titles, so I will just say that something that had never happened to me before took place in Popayan. It all started with an essay I had to submit for my University… One of the things I was analysing really struck me in a personal level and I started writing on my personal notebook. Initially I was working on the essay and at the same time I was writing down my notes, thoughts and feelings.. From a point and then, I left the essay aside and focused 105% on my notes… I was furiously writing all day and all night. Coffee and oreo biscuits, 18 days in a row. The rest of the days I was editing (adding photos, videos, recordings) and uploading all of my notes in the blog.

I had produced a text of 80.000 words in Greek, in the form of various blog-posts, one for each day. There is a main character (well guessed, myself) and I describe in lots of details my everyday reality in Popayan, among with other thoughts.

From what I read afterwards, I was using a narrative technique that’s called “stream of consciousness” and has to do with automatic writing. I was writing pretty much everything that was coming in my mind, without paying attention to spelling, typos, the whole format. For me it was like a personal revelation because I never knew I could write so much, but mainly, in a poetic-abstact-lyrical way. I really want to share these writings with you… But I am not sure yet.. I am working on it..

In Popayan some bad things took place as well. I was robbed 3 times in the hostel. 3 of the 5 weekends I spent there the weekends-cleaning-lady decided that she wanted my
– second phone
– 170.000 pesos (50 euros)
– bike GPS

She had a suspicious face and I understood from the very first time (that I couldn’t find my phone) that she was guilty, but I couldn’t prove it. I talked to her and every word that she was using as an excuse it was translated to my ears as “I did it” – “I did it”…. Well, I let her understand that I understood that it was her and I hoped she won’t continue. The weekend I finally talked to the cleaning lady, Jhana from Colorado, was also in the same dorm. I sat in my bed and said to myself “well I am not moving until the cleaning lady is over…” Jhana though challenged me – “do you like adventures?”, she told me. (That was our first contact). I said yes. And she told me “do you want to come with me to spend the night in a mountain refuge and tomorrow morning we will hike up until the crater of a Volcano…” I liked the idea and we had great time together.. 😀 But, let me go back on the cleaning lady… If I was to go to the Volcano that weekend it meant that I had to leave my stuff again. Daemn’t, I thought, and I just took two photos of my stuff, just before I left and right after I came back. There was no other person in the Dorm and I doubt that there were more than 3 persons in the hostel. And, above all, it is super unlikely that 3 different travellers, in 3 different weekends took my stuff…

Back in the Volcano story…
Very cold, pretty windy, a bit rainy, super muddy and extremely cloudy.
We were trapped, let’s say, in a vicious circle – we had to keep moving because it was very cold, but the higher we were going the need to stop was even greater (because of the altitude = less O2). Imagine that we did the hike in 5 hours instead of 7, hiking from 2800m aprox to 4700m approx. Never been so high! Apart from the hiking part, it was very nice that so unexpextedly I spent 30 hours with someone that I am not going to meet again and we shared our stories, our experiences, our feelings – our worldview in a way 😀

In Popayan, time stopped and my normal functioning also changed. I stopped writing my expenses, I stopped taking my medicine (a pill I am taking for Thyreoid, every day), I was not going out, I didn’t care about shower or eating. I was also smoking.. Oh my God, I can’t believe I am writing it but it’s true, for 30 days I was smoking almost a packet a day. PIEL ROJA, without filter. For the first time in my life I felt like smoking and at that moment I didn’t want to say NO to myself to anything. I also forgot one of my 2 pants there, one t-shirt, my formal shirt… Absent-minded!

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It was such a blessing for me that at the time that I was living like this, ICAROS came into my life in Popayan… From the 3rd day of my stay there, this 24 year old guy from Brasil, came in the hostel and took care of me… He was bringing me food, sweets.. he was my company.. the voice of logic.. “Come on let’s go out a bit, come on eat something, take a shower…” He was such a positive influence and I owe him so much… Only his voice speaking-singing in Brazilian was such a great joy. I miss him.

I left Popayan on the 29th of June, truly touched! I packed my stuff, prepared the bicycle and took a walk on the hostel to say goodbye to the surrounding materiality, which accompanied and stimulated my creative and introspective writing for 38 days. I was trying to stop myself from crying. Equally emotional were the following days until I reach Chachagui, on the 2nd of July. However, my strong feelings and thoughts in regard to Popayan lagged behind those of the hard time I had climbing, mountain after mountain, mile after mile, with the sun burning every little inch of my body. Τhe skin at my hands was coming out, despite I was using only long-sleeved shirts! My body was not in the mood, I was very tired, I vomited at some point, I was constantly dehydrated, locals were completely misguiding and… well, ok, I had some hard days, until I reached Chachagui!

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I find my paradise there. Carlos and Patricia, the owners, were incredibly friendly and not only I had some rest, but I did some things online, and I wrote a great part of this post. The only problem was one tooth of mine that rebelled against my child habit of not brushing my teeth – a terrible pain started at the beginning of July. Now, one month later, I am going to the dentist in order to get it properly fixed.. One month of one-sided eating, horrible. When I left Chachagui, on the 9th of July, my next destination was Ipiales, the city that was next to the borders. I was in contact with a Warmshowers host, Ozkar, that was an extremely cool guy and was hosting cycling tourists for many years.. There, I met Carlos, Mauge (Maria – Eugenia) and Seba (Sebastian) and I was extremely happy to ride with them until the borders.

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My dear friends,
almost 4 months in Colombia.
I loved the country and I feel somewhat a Colombian myself, but I want to continue… I am so excited with what’s in front of me: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina… So many places to see, so many people to meet.. I am very very happy because these 4 months (that someone may think I am on vacations), I was really productive and I had been doing stuff that I wasn’t able to do since I began this trip. I feel like building, honestly.. I am constructing something transparent here and the excitement has to do with this… Carefully creating and putting in order building-blocks – not necessarily memories, or blog posts, or interviews.. But the things inside, I feel I am getting richer in all possible ways. (exaggerating – I am getting poorer, financially speaking – hehe)

Live in totality means receiving reality in expansion.
I enjoyed my time with Jaime and his lifestyle
I enjoyed writing in Popayan
I enjoyed Colombia
But what is amasing is that these are open windows and open doors..
Not only I experienced them, but I saw the view…
And I can cross these doors….
I saw the Possibility. You know, I could live like Jaime. I never knew.
I now have a new language… The language I invented in Popayan. My personal language. I can write now. I never knew.
Colombia is part of the South American culture. More open, more humane, closer to nature, historically rich… The whole culture is magnificent… And all of these are in front of me. There is more!

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I am also very happy because I love the way I travel!
I can be very independent if I want to, sleeping for days into the woods.. I can go to hostels to have a “home” for a bit.. I can stay with locals (friends of friends that I meet), or I can meet total strangers through couchsurfing and warmshowers. I am flexible. I can ride 230 km because I am not carrying lots of stuff. I can climb 5.500 m in a day, because I have an electric bicycle, or I can fold it and put it in a mini van, that a normal bicycle couldn’t fit.. I am also flexible in regard to time… I don´t plan to repeat what happened in Popayan, and that is staying 38 days in a place, but just the fact that it happened, it´s beautiful. The fact that I can do it, there are no restrictions. I don´t know for how long I will be travelling.. What is sure for now is… I don´t have a time-frame. I am just going. I enjoy my time without spending a lot and I experience stuff that are truly new. (myself included)

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oh! I wanted to write about some very intriguing persons I met in Popayan!

– I spent some 5 hours discussing with one man I met in Popayan. From Colombia. He had tarot cards and he told me very straightforwardly that he is a magician.. He told me that there are several types of magic (red, green, white… etc) and that he is actually practicing white magic. He told me he had been in contact with souls, and that he knows lots of stuff about his previous life… Five hours there I asked him so many things…  He was telling me about astrology and astronomy and how valid these things are and how they affect our lives. He had a very relaxed face and everything he was saying seemed to come from some sort of experience.. Now, I don´t know of what kind. I was intrigued to ask him to do the thing with the tarot cards with me, but I finally didn´t. (“just asking”, I whispered to myself)

– and now the craziest of all meetings of my life
Canadian man around 36 yo comes into the dormitory of the hostel. Thin, fit, bald, eating from a can with a spoon. We start talking and he is very  very serious for the next 3 hours, saying the following: He works for the Canadian military in a mission. the war of consciousness is taking place on earth at this time. Alien and human beings that are telepathetic kill the consciousness of ordinary people and take their body. He told us he had killed over 4.000.000  of these beings in high resolution dreams. High resolution dreams is a situation in-between sleep and asleep that you are totally conscious. You have to be telepathetic. He told us that he has 2 nano-cameras into his eyes and he has a brain implant and everything he perceives goes straight to Canada. He told me that of course we have this technology – and that at The Base (in Canada) they don´t program with 01 but with another system. Canada and the States have alien spacecrafts and through reverse engineering we took so many things that the wide public doesn’t know. So he was on a mission to save humanity and two days ago he destroyed Cali with a bomb… Honestly, he was very serious. I told him that “what do you mean? Nobody is dead and the city is OK. He told me that they think they are OK. What is in Cali now, people included,  it’s a hologram. It is just a projection.. They are not real. What else? Ah! yes the bombs… small very strong magnets, that he is placing them in MRI machines… I didn´t get that. But MRIs were really bad. He could also teleport with his mind through LCD televisions… Ηe was telling us (there were more on the room) that he had met someone who was 10.000 years old… Yes yes… in Vietnam. He heard (telepathetically = in his head) the real voice of a child, approached it, and had a conversation where the child told him he is 10.000 old and when a body gets old he just moves to another one, kills the consciousness and uses the body as a host… Oh… he was also telling us he could have very long conversations with animals and also with stuff that have consciousness. Yes yes, he said that someone´s soul/consciousness can be attributed to a thing, if someone expells it from a body.

Crazy stuff, but I am just writing them here to tell you how awkwardly interesting can be a traveler’s afternoon. I couldn’t help but laugh at some points and I was asking him what the horn of the car said or the bird outside… He was telling me.

Enjoy the video!

Last but not least, I want to share with you a feeling of a subtle happiness that has to do with the fact, the acknowledgment, that this trip is a blessing.. I am repeating myself, I know, but isn’t my reality doing the same? I look back and I see intense moments. Meeting amasing locals and making Friends in Bogotà, celebrating Orthodox Easter in an outdoor church in Pereira, living for 20 days with a family in Cali, the writing days in Popayan. And these only in Colombia.. Back in the States, same stuff…
In Europe too, what can I say… After 4474 words of this post… I have no words!

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(And I ‘d like to add that there are very intense and interesting incidents that unfortunately I cannot share with you, either because I am not sure if the persons involved would like these incidents on-line, or because, some things are very personal! 😛 )

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Interesting anti-road-accidents campaign!