Riding the Red Sea

Riding a bicycle down the coast with the ocean on the East is a tad different than California. The Red Sea makes up the Eastern coast of Egypt and provides stunning seaside road one would expect from Malibu. (Just change to ocean to the other side of the road and read from right to left)

Having the Suez Canal past the Sinai peninsula, this uniquely blue Red Sea has been crucial in the geopolitical and economic condition of the planet. The waters provide a shipping lane and ideal location for global transport— as well as a great road for three bicycle tourists to ride.
A brand new paved highway leads from New Cairo to Ain Shokna, the seaport town. We rode on fresh pavement made possible as part of the newest development plan by Abdul el-Sisi, Egypt’s new president, who lives bicycles by the way! 

The first ocean jump into the marvelous waters of the Red Sea was a refreshing cool down as we are getting used to riding in desert temperatures. Our daily intake of juice is about 3 liters- one pomegranate middle of the ride, one orange to start the day and one strawberry-banana or lemon-mint, on top of the 6 liters of water to stay hydrated while riding a hundred miles in hundred degree heat. 
But the real difficult thing is not the heat, it’s the wind. I shutter to the sight of windmills facing the other direction you are riding and spinning rapidly in the gusts. It takes twice as many pedals to go against wind, and it feels as though the whole desert is going against you. But on a bicycle tour you must take the crooked with the straights. The tail wind that gently carries you across the land and to a beachside oasis is dreamlike—- and met with teal clear water that is the perfect temperature to take an hour soak and, better yet, maybe three!!
One repetitive theme in our conversations with the locals is that there has been much less tourism to these parts in recent years. After the revolution, many people have thought Egypt to be unsafe, and perhaps not the place to go on a vacation for chance of something bad happening to them. Many buildings have been abandoned or look as though they were never fully completed because the whole industry fell by the wayside. Our new friends biggest request is that we tell people back home how Egypt is actually full of friendly people.

We have been treated almost too well, with people trying hard to drive our bicycles down the road. Or, more appreciated by people crazy enough to turn down a bus and ride 200 miles through the blistering heat, new friends great us with a home cooked meal. A police colonel gave us liters upon liters of water at a military checkpoint at which we had to spend a lot of time waiting. He even called his friends to get us on a dive boat on the Giftun islands off the coast of Hurghada. A true welcoming to the Red Sea.
Under the surface of this teal water exists a world of pristine coral and fish of every color and more from Dr. Suede’ one fish two fish, red fish blue fish! We got to go on 7 dives over the course of three days, and every second contained its own magical view unlike anything I’ve seen before. A divemaster from Northern England said this is his favorite place in the world to dive, and spends two weeks in this area every year. I am grateful for the opportunity of being weightless in a field of thousands of rainbow fish, rays, and expanses coral more astonishing than the pointillist mural of La Grande Jatte. It goes hand in hand with the feeling of flying down alongside the coastal rode under my own power while on the bicycle.
It is true freedom to be able to ride our bicycles this far, and the dream continues as we meet up with the Nile River in Luxor, and follow its waters into Sudan.

The Great Pyramids


Could not ask for a better first ride! Sleep deprived at the airport, we assembled our bicycles and rode across the city to the West Bank of the Nile, only to be greeted by the only ancient wonder of the world still standing
The Great Pyramids of Giza. 

Where the Nile fans into the Mediterranean, at the intersection of desert, river valley, and ocean, Giza holds a crucial position on the planet. And for the last five thousand years, the ancient Egyptians have proved why. 


The pharaoh Khufu was mummified and placed directly on the western side of the river where the sun dips beyond the Earth, where the ancient Egyptians believed represents the after-life. To protect his tomb and resurrect a monument in his name, the people built a 481 foot tall pyramidal structure of glowing polished limestone. And to honor his dynasty, they built towering pyramids for Khufu’s son Khafre and grandson Mankare. Continuing the lineage directly to the West, these three Pyramids are perfectly aligned with the Earth’s axis, which makes for some incredible sunset viewing! 

“It’s beyond imagination how they built these.” Ahmed, our great host said as he raised his arms in disbelief, “each block is bigger than a car.” 

And the crazier thing is that there are 2,300,000 blocks in each pyramid! 

Carried by the flow of the Nile and an army of laborers, these blocks were chiseled in a quarry in Aswan, placed on boats, and brought 500 miles to this end of the river each year when the Nile flooded. 100 years later, the three great pyramids of Giza were fully constructed, and have withstood the test of time ever since.

These structures, poised on a hill above the city, still reign over the area as the pharaohs did. The royal places of the dead mark a skyline intersection between the Earth and the heavens.

As I stood at the base of Khufu’s pyramid I felt dwarfed and humbled by the size, but also in awe of the sheer magnitude of the innovative capabilities. These pharaohs used the same astronomical, geographical and mathematical principles that our society uses today. And in this desert they created a testament to human ingenuity.

The Great Pyramids are also aligned with the stars of Orion, each pointing to a respective star in the constellation. This celestial architecture is the work of a people who had an innate connection with the world’s physical geography. 

I am grateful for all the innovative progress this civilization made for all human history. Contemplating the 4500 years that these monoliths have been in this one spot takes quite a bit of time. It slowly reminds me of how much has changed since these were created, and at the same moment reminds me that the governing forces on Earth remained the same.

From the top down, these pyramids are shown to represent the a beam of light shining through the clouds. The ancient Egyptians designed all these aspects of the architecture to represent the power of the pharaohs to “out live this Earth” In some way, I do believe that these pharaohs have reached an afterlife of sorts because their legacy still lives on in every person that hears about the Great Pyramids. And the 100,000 workers that came together to build these works of art are honored to have people come from all over the world to see them.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see these Pyramids and gain an understanding of all the things that had to come together to make them possible. 

The 3 great Pyramids, with 6 smaller pyramids surrounding them, are guarded by the Egyptian mythical figure of a large feline with a pharaoh’s head. The Sphinx holds a strong position in the ancient Egyptian religion and philosophy, and was constructed as a protector of the pharaoh’s monumental tombs. 

In order to visit this surreal location, one must answer the riddle of the Sphinx,

“What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening?”

Being a Bike Messenger

A bike messenger carries stories with them as they ride. The bicycle is a common experience to most people, and the idea of riding down the street, using your own power to push yourself forward, is commonplace in a child’s upbringing. The bike messenger relates to that inner child within us when he ecstatically cheers every time he starts riding. The joy of the bike messenger is part of the message he carries, that people have immense power.

The bike messenger might not have to say anything at all. A wave or a nod of the helmet can tell miles and miles of tales in a mere half-second interaction. In that wave, the bike messenger conveys the capability he shares with every other human body, and the power its movement creates. As the man on the roadside waves back, he is ignited with curiosity of distant lands, and the ambition to see them. The bike messenger gives him the hope of attaining green grass on the other side of the hill.

The best part of being a bike messenger, every person on a bicycle is one.

 

 

Bajada de La Muerte

Without a doubt the most adrenaline ever pushed through my body. In just a little over 6 miles, the road bends over Loma de Coyas and drops down to the river valley a full 5,000 feet below. At least a hundred hair bend turns along a narrow ridge. Every second requires an intense amount of focus with a full grip on the handlebars. The voice inside your head fully converts into pilot captain, “Right leg down, put pressure and lean into the turn, then cycle the pedals and put the handlebars as close as you can to the inside line.”

My body became fully in tune with everything in front of me. Drop down ridge on the left with a slight glimpse of the river that lies a thousand meters directly below. But–no time to think–literally every ounce of sweat is put in to directing yourself around the bend and into the correct positioning for the next turn.

On some sections, the bumps could be devastating. A centimeter to te left means a crash. There was one steep 180-degree turn I approached rapidly. As usual, I arched toward the yellow lines in the road’s center, creating the best angle to lean into the right-hand bend. As I cut hard around the corner, the end of the turn revealed a pot hole the size of the kitchen table, smack in the middle of the right lane. With all my body weight and the seventy kilogram bicycle on an edge, heading straight toward it at 30 mph. In a split second, with adrenaline racing, I took a half rotation pedal to shift my weight. Front tire misses by a centimeter. But the time until my back tire passed was an eternity within an instant. I thought for sure my rear wheel, with a larger turning radius as a result of the weight, would directly hit the edge of the pothole. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of the back tire snapping and to be skidding to a halt. It must have been the wind or some grace of the mountain to make it around the bend. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Yeeewwww!!!!” to the shock of motorcyclists heading uphill.

I still had a lot more exciting turns to go! Each one a thrill combining with the one before. I put myself to the limits of each turn, having no idea whether the bend would straighten out, hug tighter into a hairpin, or bend back the other way as the road ribbons along the ridge. It takes humility to give yourself completely to the mountain. I was at the mercy of the steepness of the valley’s grade as well as the sharpness of each turn. I was propelled by the gravity of these towering mountains. I merely reacted to how it was pushing me.

It made me realize how powerful this mountain range really is. For just like the speed of a kayak is a result of the river’s force, me as a cyclist is a resulting component of the inclination, viscosity and direction of the land. My movements downhill felt like a dance; merely moving left and right, lead by the rhythmic beat of the road. A motor allows one to brake and go as they wish, merely transporting over the road, not with it. A cyclist flying down a hill creates no propulsion, and like a snowboarder or skier, uses entirely what the mountain provides. In this dance with the mountain, one must know their limits with respect to the power of the terrain. When reacting in harmony, the dance is a smooth glide over the subtle movements of the landscape. The dancer, whether it be a skier over snow or a cyclist down a hill, humbly embraces each turn and matches the force of the mountain. The road into Santa Fe, known as Bajada de la Muerte, or downhill of death, allowed me to understand this sensation. Thank you adrenaline and pure luck for giving me the chance to dance with this Colombian mountain range, and emerge humbled and stoked, with a new respect for what nature’s power can do!

Fresh Fruit

Today I woke up in a hammock strung between a mango tree and a coconut palm. In these relaxing hangout spots of Costa Rica, I have learned that being conscious of the food we eat is a grand part of being aware of where you are. The family from Uvita that is hosting me has a quaint house in the tropical countryside. They eat organically. From their backyard. Last night I drank the best pineapple juice I’ve ever had, meters from the place where the pineapples were growing. It was the first time in my life seeing a pineapple growing, let alone drank from one that was cut off the bush hours before. I am lucky to have this opportunity. Thousands of tourists visit Uvita to see the whales, the breathtaking waterfalls and go to the music festival. Very few of them are able to step into the lives of someone who lives off the same land. Probably just two. The two cyclists who, after experiencing incredible bouts of hunger from riding for 10 hours in the heat, have an uncanny appreciation for gifts of food. Going on a bicycle tour makes you the kind of person who hums loudly with each bite, singing “riquísimo” in praise, and spends twenty minutes in silence after a single bite of a mango. A mango that you got to pick, from a tree that you slept under.

It’s more than just the thousands of new fruits, drinks and dishes we have seen in new countries, but the time, effort, and specific location required for the creation of such wonderful moments and gifts. We are part of the lucky few who get to understand the wide range of food in Latin America. It has made me realize that the places we go as humans, and the time we spend in them, make up who we are as people. I would also add the the food we eat is a large part of our personalities. Jaziel, the women who is hosting us here in Uvita, is ‘amable,’ a Spanish phrase meaning friendly and with an open heart. She knows the entire process, from groundwater to flowering fruits, of how her food came about. People who are the most down to Earth and happy with what they have are those that are aware of themselves, what food they put in their body and where it comes from. They know that this is what makes up who they are. A small house in the countryside has more room for fruit trees. And someone who owns that home has more room in their life to welcome complete strangers, feed them and spend hours learning about each other’s favorite foods and cooking techniques.

Maybe…

Maybe someone will come along with some ice cream…

Maybe I’ll get a flat tire on Christmas Eve

Maybe someone will rob my bags while I’m not looking

Maybe this hill will end around the next bend

Maybe someone will be able to weld this pannier back together

Maybe this food will make us sick for a week

Maybe a coconut will be laying on the side of the road

Maybe there will be a bike lane

Maybe trucks will honk at me repetitively

Maybe I’ll be able to wash my socks for the first time in a month

Maybe this town will have fish tacos and pineapples

Maybe we’ll ride for hours without food or water

Maybe it will be 15 miles all downhill

Maybe there will be a crazy rash from wearing these bike shorts

Maybe I’ll get 15 tacos for a dollar

Maybe I’ll sleep in a bed

Maybe I will see a truckload of Hondurans deported from the states

Maybe I’ll be able to climb a tree in a dense tropical forest

Maybe it will be nearly 100 degrees

Maybe the river will be cool and refreshing to swim in

Maybe this lake will be infested with crocodiles

Maybe we will forget something and have to turn around

Maybe other cyclists will ride alongside us for a few days

Maybe we will make it through the border smoothly

Maybe I’ll find another rock to carry with me

Maybe we will get lost

or maybe we will go for a bike ride and let what happens, happen

Working Hard For A Bad Reputation: Honduras

6:30 a.m.–brrrrrring brrrring brrrring, Gustavo’s alarm goes off.

He wakes up to the sun rising over the Ulúa River valley, showers and puts on his electric company uniform. Gustavo’s breakfast routine is coffee, eggs with a hand-made tortilla and a copy of the newspaper, La Prensa.

He turns page after page of political strife of citizens with grievances over their current president. Like news outlets across the States, Honduras media is filled with the latest corrupt law or decree imposed by the president, Juan Orlando Hernandez. But unlike the papers of the States, La Prensa’s articles do not use the political demonstrations and murder rates in the capital Tegucigalpa as a way to negatively portray the people of Honduras. Gustavo puts down this paper, finishes his coffee and starts his commute to work.

The drive to the factory in San Pedro Sula from his hometown in the suburb Portrerillos contains hills of dense cloud forests and wide rivers flowing toward the Caribbean. Gustavo passes by fields of sugar cane gently blowing in the morning wind and arrives in the city amongst the other 600,000 inhabitants of the growing urban center.

Buses honk, motorcycles screech between the gaps in the traffic and the breeze from passing semi-trucks brushes the leaves off the trees that form the median of the Central American Route 5. The walls of the city are decorated with ‘Fuera JOH,’ and other activist phrases demanding liberty for their well-being of the people. Gustavo drives by the walls, and parks next to hundreds other electric company workers. He adjusts his clothes that got wrinkled in the drive over and clocks in.

Four and a half hours later, the sweet relief of a lunch break, a fresh baleada and a conversation with his good friend Rodolfo, a local fisherman from Omoa. Both in their late forties, Gustavo and Rodolfo have seen the country of Honduras go through many changes, from the coup d’etat to agricultural growth and urban development. They share baleadas and talk about their days, their ex-wives and the current fruit season. They like to laugh. Rodolfo knows the history of Honduras like each tangle of his fish net, talking about his ancestors that sailed across the Atlantic to call this coast home and his parents that continue to put in an effort to make their family’s life more comfortable. Rodolfo tells Gustavo, “No lo hizo el mundo, pero trabajando para aumentarlo.”

On this lunch break, a release from his long day inside, Gustavo sits and admires the water’s flow. He and Rodolfo are joined by construction workers in need of a release from the heat. They ditch their boots and hard hats to take a jump in the river. Each of these men does ten or more hours of physical labor daily. As a break from the beaming tropical sun, they dive into the river in style. Jumping off a rock into a refreshing river is their special treat. For guys making 100 limpira a day, the equivalent of $4.31, they sure are happy to be where they are. The splashes of the water ripples back to the shore, and the men return to work. Gustavo to the electric factory, Rodolfo to the fish market, and the construction workers to the roadside.

After working the second half of his shift, Gustavo loosens his top buttons and breathes in the fresh evening air. He drives past the sugar cane fields and up the river valley back to his home in Portrerillos. He meets his neighbor Freddy for a post work beer and a much needed dinner, pollo con tajadas. They sit and enjoy the last hours of sunlight. Gustavo admires the clouds atop the Western hills as they turn from white to bright yellow and fade from orange to slight gray. Freddy has lived across the street from Gustavo for over ten years. This is their favorite time of day. Their small town gets even more tranquil knowing that their work is done and they have the time to enjoy time together.

Freddy is thankful to have Gustavo as a friend ever since he was deported back to Honduras for driving without a license. He still has a child and wife in Georgia that he is unable to see. Now he works everyday for a fraction of what he made doing the same farm job in another country. Gustavo tells Freddy about the subtleties he enjoys about the small riverside village. Enjoying the natural surroundings helped him recuperate after his wife passed in childbirth.

Just as it was about to get dark and the corner restaurant about to close, two strange looking men on bicycles roll down the street. Not accustomed to foreigners in this village, Gustavo and Freddy call the duo over. Covered in sweat and looking lost, the cyclist looked lost and Gustavo thought they could really use a beer and a fresh-cooked meal.

Very thankful for the offer after a day of riding, these cyclists enjoy sharing some R&R time with the local Hondurans. Gustavo, awestruck by the quantity of bananas eaten and kilometers travelled by these cyclists, decides to offer them a place to stay for the night. He sees this as a chance to make a good impression for his community.

After letting them safely secure their bicycles at his house and change out of sweat-coated bicycle clothes, Gustavo wants to show his new friends what his town is really like. The center of Portrerillos, where the two main roads intersect, is hosting the fair this week. Gustavo helps out his friends that work to put on rides for the town’s children, known as juegos mecánicos. Like the cycle tourists, these carnival workers are traveling the country. They shared stories of events on the road, and the best places to get a baleada, the classic Honduran breakfast. The juego mecánicos are a family, and quickly welcomed the cycle tourists into their group of misfit adventurers.

Sea After the fair and getting to show his new friends what a social event means to rural citizens, Gustavo calls Jose to get a ride. Jose, who goes by Boogy to everyone in town, is a mototaxi driver. Down a dirt road under the starry night sky of northern Honduras, Boogy drove Gustavo and the cyclists to a hot springs pool just out of town. He continuously cracked jokes and blasted his favorite music on their way to the hot springs, known as the aguas termales. The group spends hours at the rejuvenating spot. Boogie frequently cannonballs in, shouting “bomba!” and nearly draining the entire pool.

When he’s not splashing around or driving the mototaxi, Boogie works for the Red Cross. In San Pedro Sula, which barely gets any funding for this medical response unit, the volunteers sometimes have to pay for the gas in the ambulance. With a gallon of gas totaling 92, or $4, this is not an easy way to give back. He generously drives his friends around the town in his mototaxi, only accepting some breakfast in return.

Gustavo thanks Boogie for helping him show the cycle tourists around town as they climb back into the mototaxi and take the dirt road back home. And as they dry off from an hour soak in the natural hot springs, Gustavo hands the cycle tourist a hand crafted model boat his friend sent from Italy, saying “I always want you to remember this moment, and how great your time with the people of Honduras truly was.”

6:30 a.m.–brrrrrring brrrring brrrring, Gustavo’s alarm goes off.

He wakes up to the sun rising over the Ulúa River valley, showers and puts on his electric company uniform. He wakes up his cycle touring guests to say goodbye and heads off to work hard for the bad reputation of being Honduran.

Setting and End

And he is off…to return to the place he has been. Having a destination makes the entire route feel different, as if free-drawn lines turn into a game of connect the dots. In a sense the same picture arises from both paths, especially because the traveler is the artist that invests himself fully into the work. But what happens if the drawn line strays away from the structured dots? Is the picture wrong because it is not what it was intended to be? Or perhaps is the creation of something real, something outside of pre-conceived notions the result of an otherwise “mistake?” And when one does not connect the dots in the pre-designed order, can he continue, leaving one section missing? He surely wouldn’t arrive at the same picture. Or would he then be creating something new, like someone who tripped into the mud only to find a silver compass just lying there?

And in the beginning, if he set up the dots to orchestrate a certain image, it would only end successfully as viewed from that original standpoint. When the artist reveals his work, the viewers will see his underlying structure. Any rigidity in movement is clear as day. But the magic of it, in their eyes, will be those auspiciously indescribable drawings. The type of imagery previously inconceivable. The artist, in letting the fluid brush strokes speak for themselves, found beauty in possible mistakes. For the traveler that evokes this artist within himself will arrive back at te place he started, picturing the world in a way he originally never thought possible.

Seeing Guatemala

In Entre Rios, a rural town in South-East Guatemala, students recite the poem Ay! Como me dueles Guatemala for a fifth grade assignment. A thirteen-year old child reciting a nationalistic poem about the problems within a country is a great example of an education. With a soul full of energy, admiration and emotion, Andrea spoke from the heart to tell us a cry for embetterment of her beloved country. She doesn’t know the negative light that people cast on a region that falls below the United States poverty standards. Andrea sees her countryside and the people in it. She knows they can improve in certain areas as she sees the trash on the side of the road and the violence in the cities. We both woke up to the front page saying, “Periódicos fueron asesinados” and ate eggs and drank orange juice.

Andrea works hard in school to learn how to be better and know more. I wish her education could be spread to others who live with the same problems. She shares issues of health and wealth with sixteen million other Guatemalans. I worry that these periódicos, newspaper writers, were killed for trying to spread the truth to their compatriots. For they worked hard in school learning how to make their country a better place to live, while some people concerned with their own well-being make it more dangerous for Andrea and her schoolmates. Furthermore, the observations of these hard-working journalists will go unfulfilled and people in the States and other well protected places will use this headline to further their fallacious belief o Guatemala as a crime-ridden country. But if those journalists could have their last words heard, they’d speak for Andrea and all future Guatemalans in saying,

“Guatemala, lloro y trabajo por ti.”

Andrea performing the poem