Posted by: cyclingsi | January 18, 2011

Inspiration and resilience

Is it the great stories of adventure and daring that inspire? Is it someone who has suffered, lost and then rebuilt, demonstrating stoicism, commitment to the future and resilience to all that is thrown at them? … By nature or humankind.

For me there are many things that have inspired me to be where I am (on the coast of Chile). When I try to think back to what made me want to embark on my adventure it came from the most unlikely of sources. My passion for climbing and mountaineering had been born from books about great adventures in the greater ranges, the suffering, the challenges and the camaraderie that develops through a shared experience of danger and the unknown. For cycling it was not the fastest, strongest and most daring tale of adventures that first planted a seed in my mind… it was a retired headmistress who on finishing her working life decided to head off round the world. She was not an adventurer, although she was well travelled, but rather she saw the benefits of seeing the world through the perspective of a cyclist. The ability to feel every contour of a map, the surface of the road and move slowly enough through a culture that slowly it seeps into your pours.

I am talking about Anne Mustoe, who is sadly no longer with us. Her passion for her adventure, the history of the lands she travelled through and her love of the people and places she met leapt out from each page. While she was not able to even fix a puncture when she left the UK she soon learnt what was needed along the way and if not then the kindness of strangers carried her through. It was her believe in the goodness of us all, in humanity and love of a new life, whether temporary or permanent, that spoke loudest.

So why do I mention her? We all take our inspiration from different sources depending on what we want to achieve or learn. Sometimes it is our family and friends, people who have trod the road of adventure before us or simply a stranger who ignites a fire in our belly. It is increasingly difficult to be the first to do something or go somewhere new, and although we should not follow the path but make a path for others to follow, just do it anyway. We don’t all have to be setting the world on fire. We just have to start the fire in our own life.

So what is inspiration? I have thought about this a lot as it is through inspiration that I am in South America, cycling and here in Chile. People have inspired me to visit this crazy continent made up of passions, extremes and wonders. Inspiration is that moment when all the little bits of pieces inside your head click. For a brief moment they all mesh and you think… that looks brilliant, I could imagine myself doing that… and so I did…. and so should you. Whether it an adventure, a change of job or a new hobby. We are all inspired all the time we just need to remember that inspiration is nothing without perseverance as it can take a long time for an acorn to grow into an oak. It is those early stages when it grows fastest but is also most vulnerable.

It could be that the brief insight or inspiration that came to us might be just a bit too much to contemplate but maybe it is worth a ponder, a scribble on the back of a cigarette packet or a conversation with a friend to sound out an idea. Maybe inspiration for you and me, the artist, musician or architect is just a moment of clarity. The difference between those who act upon inspiration and those who don’t is maybe that they live a life true to themselves. They have the balls to follow their path.

Christmas was spent in Mendoza with Adrienne. Mendoza is a beautiful city that with a quirk of fate has made it appear like a city in a forest. Mendoza has suffered from many earthquakes and so the streets are wide to allow the buildings somewhere to fall and because of the heat (and it is very hot) nearly every street is lined with noble trees offering cooling shade throughout the city. In turn the trees attract birds which sing with appreciation. If in Europe it would be chocked with tourists seeking out the many charms of vineyards, cafe culture and boutique shops but here it is just a beautiful city, full of beautiful people taking advantage of the Argentinian siesta and going for ice cream or a walk in the park at 3am. It is a culture that is hard to adapt to but Argentina doesn’t bend for anyone and fighting it is just too much hard work so you give in, sleep in the afternoon, drink mate and stay up till dawn. It is like a city of vampires… only when the sun goes down does the city change gear and come alive.

After Mendoza it was time to head east and cross over into Chile, and with a few wrong turns and few dead ends (out of date maps!) I eventually made it onto Ruta 7, heading towards the border and Aconcagua, South America’s highest mountain at nearly 7000m. With a couple a days cycling to ease my body back into life from nearly a fortnight of eating, sleeping and relaxing, the climb up the pass into Chile slowly relented and via a few tunnels found myself in a new country. New challenges, new currency and a new Spanish accent to contend with. South America seems an ideal continent to travel with one language predominantly spoken but the reality, just like home, is that accents and slang rule supreme and so just like someone travelling from the Black Country to Glasgow and ordering a beer, there is countless opportunities for misunderstanding… which can be resolved by playing pictionary with the locals.

Chile is like no where in South America. It is like neither the USA or the UK but is somewhere in the middle about 10 years ago. It is expensive and affluent but also harbours poverty, tucked away in the corners. Shopping malls stand next to shacks with a single water tap and the poverty seems worse because of it but there are positives. It is friendly, clean and has an order which has has been missing the last four months but with it comes the loss of freedom. Elsewhere in South America it seems like there is a freedom to exist, pursue ones dreams and be who you are but here, in Chile, the force of Western compliance bears down, and the day to day humdrum is much more apparent, as if like horses we have been broken in.

In Chile there are good roads, cheap wine and English is more widely spoken has gone some way to compensate for the expensive cost of living. After a few days getting caught out by a roads merging into motorways I decided it was time to head for the coast and find some quieter roads… my life has been flashing before my eyes a little more often than I would like.

I found myself in the small town of Lolol, a town propped up with scaffolding, a result of the earthquake last year. A chance conversation in the corner shop resulted in two bottles of whiskey, family BBQ, a midnight rodeo (this is not a euphemism!) and a seafood stew on a hungover Sunday (the best food I have eaten in the whole of South America). Thanks Francisco and your family for a wonderful couple of days..

Heading to the coast from Ruta 5 you enter a more relaxed pace of life, where vineyards stretch for hundreds of hectares, cowboys ride their mounts down the main street and life just seems a little less complicated. I met a group of cycling Americans (http://bicicletaabajo.wordpress.com/ , eight days into their trip and thirsty for adventure) and Adrienne a few days later. We travelled down the coast to Constitucion. A town devastated by the earthquake and tsunami last year.

We decided to make up a few miles before finding somewhere to sleep and an idea was hatched to tow me behind her motorbike. This worked better than one could imagine and soon we were eating up the miles, until after one lucky break too many, the local police clocked us and we were given a good telling off despite our reassurances that this method of travel was widely accepted in both Canada and England. Mmmm. So after a conversation which neither of us properly understood, we were either going to a hotel or the police station. We set off with full police escort (me now cycling behind) to the centre of town… to a hotel… where the policeman made sure we had a good rate and posed for a photo. Life is nothing but surprising.

Constitucion, a once thriving town, is now a building site and horror show of destroyed buildings. Many residents have been relocated by the government from the city giving it an empty lost feeling, it lacks buzz. As we travelled down the coast, peppered by picturesque fishing and tourist towns the magnitude of the tsunami is awe-inspiring. It has claimed over 700 lives, levelled towns and still people choose to live here. They are rebuilding themselves, their homes, their livelihoods. It is not the first time that they have had to do it and unfortunately it will not be the last. Their resilience is inspiring. To live somewhere where the ground could swallow you up or the sea rise up to steal you family from their beds defies belief and logic but home is home and we are stubborn creatures and so we rebuild. There are volunteers from universities painting tsunami evacuation signs on the roads and manning much underused tourist information centres but there is nowhere for tourists to stay. It has all been stolen by the sea..

It is high season and the legacy of the tsunami will not be the instant loss of live and devastation but rather how the coast died through lack of visitors and so the death of the local economy. There is plenty to attract them… beautiful beaches and scenery, world-class surf but it feels like the communities which rely on tourism will slowly slip into the ocean to be forgotten.

It is beautiful and depressing in equal measure and so I have left the coast to travel towards the Lake District… is it like the Lake District at home? And from there? A couple of days ride to Puerte Montt and the start of the Carreterra Austral and where the adventure officially begins again. PATAGONIA!

Note – For the first time on this trip I have had to translate for someone whose Spanish is worse than mine. Unbelievable but true. People are amazed that I have got as far as I have on my lack of Spanish but this poor traveller doesn’t stand a chance. Great that he is here, having his adventure with his friends, but really… his Spanish is worse than mine. It made me realise how far I have come, literally, and also that I have less than two months left of this trip. It seems it was only yesterday I landed in Quito not really knowing very much, wanting to head South. And South I am. There has been the countless help of strangers, new friends and life lessons. I don’t feel as though I have significantly changed but rather I have filled my shoes.


Responses

  1. no more updates? Hope all is good đŸ™‚

  2. […] writings on Why we Adventure eloquently sum up how many of us feel about travelling on two wheels: Is it the great stories of […]


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