The latest John LeCarre spy novel? No. It's the latest bicycle tour book from Tim and Cindie Travis entitled “Down the Road in South America.”
Don't get me wrong. The book also tells about the wonderful people that the Travises meet on their journeys and the remarkable landmarks and scenery that they experience from the saddles of their loaded bicycles.
I suppose the book is best described by its subtitle, “A bicycle tour through poverty, paradise, and the places in between.”
In 2002, the couple left Arizona on a seven-year world bicycle tour. They soon figured that their wanderlust wouldn't be satiated that quickly, so they removed the expiration date on their adventure.
An earlier book, “The Road That Has No End,” dealt with their bicycle tour through Mexico and Central America. The latest book tells the story of their travels around South America.
What I particularly like about the Travises method of cyclo-touring is that they have no schedules and no pretensions. If they like a place, they'll stay there for a while. If they're in the mountains and it's cold and rainy and a truck driver offers them a ride, they're not to proud to take it, such as in Equador:
“Bicycle tourists tend to believe that taking motorized transportation is cheating. Occasionally I fall into this trap as well and for a moment I considered turning down his offer.
“We were both cold and wet; we risked hypothermia. We could have found a place to pitch the tent and survived, but the goal of our trip was not to draw a line on a map; it was to experience the culture. I did not want to let my foolish pride potentially end our trip. It was better to get in the truck.
“Looking back, it is decisions like that that kept us on the road for years to come.”
They also keep to the backroads where they can experience the simple pleasures of the countries they pass through. If you learn anything in this or the previous book “The Road That Has No End,” it's that the rural folk are very welcoming to bicyclists. At border crossings and in the cities, however, touring cyclists are just another target for theft or a fast buck (peso, drachma, yen, you name the currency).
Bicycling through rural areas brought them face-to-face with extreme poverty. Even so, many people shared their homes and meals with them.
The only exception was a region in Peru that was frequented by buses carrying tourists who gave money and presents to schoolchildren, essentially training them to be beggars. Strangers, such as the Travises, who didn't give handouts were treated rudely.
Tim and Cindie traveled through South America from June 2003 to June 2004, making their way from Ecuador, to Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.
They learned about the culture along the way, and about recent history. Tim writes about learning about a bloody war between Ecuador and Peru, a war that was previously unknown to him. He also writes about civil unrest in Bolivia and passing a scene where farmers had recently battled with police.
They also write about the Andes and other scenic and historic landmarks on the continent. Of them all, the high plateau called the Altiplano, seemed the most surreal. It takes the Travises days to cross the ancient dried lake bed to the Salar de Coipasa, a salt flat. They describe the salt flats:
“We entered the hard and perfectly flat surface of the salt lake, like the smoothest, biggest parking lot on earth. I never thought a place could be so beautiful and yet so empty at the same time – a wilderness of nothingness.”
The Travises continue their exploration of South America, then return to the United States before setting out on the next leg of their world tour — China and Southeast Asia. But I assume that's their next book, which I will look forward to reading.
You can follow the Travises adventures at their website: DowntheRoad.org. After exploring Southeast Asia, they turned their attention to Australia, New Zealand, and (this past year) North America.
Their first two books are for sale there in soft cover, or on ebook or mp3 Audiobook formats.
Above photo from DowntheRoad.org website.