Archive for June, 2009

Live to work or work to live?

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

This will be my final post to this blog. Yes, I made it back home on June 23 and within days saw a doctor who prescribed some nice painkillers as well as steroids which he said should help my spine problem.

So that’s it. I want to thank everyone who commented on my blog posts. One thing I learned about blogging is comments are a great psychological boost. It confirms that people are actually reading your stuff. Otherwise you don’t know. The blog was tough at times. Internet access was spotty and slow most of the time. In China the internet cafes were filled with dozens of young Chinese kids, all smoking so the room was thick with hazy smoke. I was usually tired and did not feel like writing. But I felt compelled to continue with it, encouraged by your comments and knowing people were expecting more. Without that, I probably would have abandoned the activity.

A few special thanks. My uncle, Captain Don Kilpela, probably wrote the most comments, all with some angle or aspect that expanded my original thoughts and observations. My cousin Ben was always ready with a challenge to my assertions and questions, and with ease and eloquence poked holes in the logic of my arguments. My father Stefan and sister Katrina also commented many times. One of my favorite comments, though, was posted by my brother Steve when I was in Turkey. I had explained that I had posed several philosophical questions over the past few months but  no one had responded to them. In his subtle dry humor he provided some answers.

Here are the questions I posed with my brother’s responses in italics.

– Is it right or wrong to give money to poor begging children?
Its OK. I give Karl (his son) a few coins, once in a while.

– What are the merits of Ramadan from a Christian point of view?
Had lunch at the Ramada after a funeral coupla months ago. It was OK. Sat with the minister.

– Is it wrong for humans to try to control nature?
Good question. I’m taking pills for that.

– How people selectively remember history.
I used to whup Ben’s rear in Monopoly and chess.

– Is it wrong for a state to pacify its citizenry with subsidies to keep them quiet and peaceful?
They’d better decide on that one in Michigan pretty quick.

– The Russian influence in Georgia–justified protection of its citizens or unwarranted meddling?
Is it worse than the Finnish influence in da U.P.?

– Are wars inevitable?
Hey, its October in Houghton County. Its gonna get wars before it gets better.

– Should dog owners be held responsible for the behavior of their dogs?
Listen, if you didn’t want pups, you shouda had the dog fixed.

Trip Statistics

For the record here are some statistics of the trip.

-Distance pedaled: 22, 097 km (13, 730 miles)
-Duration: 645 days (just over 22 months)
-No. of countries: 30
(Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania)

Major cities:
Montevideo, Uruguay
Asuncion, Paraguay
La Paz, Bolivia
Lima, Peru
Quito, Ecuador
Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, Colombia
Caracas, Venezuela
Panama City, Panama
San Jose, Costa Rica
Managua, Nicaragua
San Salvador, El Salvador
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tokyo, Japan
Qingdao, Xi’an, Urumqi, Kashgar, China
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Baku, Azerbaijan
Tbilisi, Georgia
Beirut, Lebanon
Damascus, Syria
Amman, Jordan
Cairo, Egypt
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Nairobi, Mombasa, Kenya
Kampala, Uganda
Kigali, Rwanda
Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Tanzania

-Highest elevation: 4500 meters (14, 765 feet), Peruvian highlands
-Lowest elevation: 408 meters (1338 feet) below sea level, Dead Sea, Jordan
-Hottest day: 52 deg C (125 deg F), Turpan, China
-Coldest day: -5 deg C (23 deg F), Peruvian highlands
-Highest one day distance: 134 km (83 miles), central Paraguay
-Number of consecutive days without a shower: 5, Tanzania
-Number of flat tires: Lots, about 50
-Number of tires: 7
-Number of falls: several but none serious
-Number of broken spokes: 1, Uganda
-Number of times hit by a car: 1, Amman, Jordan
-Cost of the trip: about $30,000

-Most difficult day: This is a tie between the day I rode into Abancay in the Peruvian highlands and the road to Kargi in northern Kenya. The road to Abancay was incredible. I rode/walked by bike uphill for 40 km, climbing 2000 meters in about 10 hours. At the pass, it was dusk and I sped down into the town of Abancay in the dark, a stupid, dangerous thing to do. I arrived completely exhausted.

The road to Kargi was in the desert on a difficult rocky road. Hot and with no water, I felt I was a goner. I also had a kidney infection. Luckily I was helped out by three Rendille warriors who I paid to push my bike for 20 km, arriving in Kargi after dark, exhausted and dehydrated.

The Top 10

People sometimes ask what are the most memorable places I saw. So I put together this “top ten” list. It is in chronological order.

1. Bolivia. A fascinating place where you can see how the Quechua indigenous people live. Spectacular mountain views. La Paz and the Highlands are worth a visit. You can also explore Lake Titicaca. Around La Paz you can bicycle the World’s Most Dangerous Road.

2. Peru. Peru has it all: Machu Picchu, highlands, Lake Titicaca, Beaches. You can spend a lot of time there. Great place to see Aymara and Quechua cultures. The floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca were fascinating.

3. Colombia. Hospitable people, nice mountain views, great salsa music, and of course, my favorite, Cartagena. Cartagena has great beaches, beautiful colonial buildings and a wonderful atmosphere.

4. Panama, the San Blas islands. Tranquil, postcard like beaches populated by the interesting Kuna indigenous people. a great place to get away from everything and everybody.

5. Japan. Anywhere in Japan is fascinating. Clean, orderly, everything works. Way out in the middle of nowhere you can find spotlessly clean vending machines to buy water, juice, beer or coffee. Amazing. But Kyoto and the many shrines are worth a visit.

6. Western China, especially Kashgar. You travel back in time to the great silk road markets, a fascinating glimpse into the crossroads of the east and west.

7. Kyrgyzstan. A mountainous beautiful country. Great for hiking or horseback riding, Wonderful cold fast flowing rivers to get water and bathe.

8. Jordan. Wadi Rum. A stark, beautiful desert, the HQ of Lawrence of Arabia and home to the Bedouins.

9. Kenya. The traditional tribal communities are fascinating. Then you have the animals: elephants, buffalo, giraffes, lions, zebras, hippos, monkeys, etc. Nairobi is a great city and Meru has the best mangoes I have ever tasted.

10. Tanzania–Here the Serengeti National Park stands out. More wild animals per square mile than anywhere I have seen. Zanzibar offers a fascinating glimpse into the Swahili culture and has some fine beaches.

Best of the rest

I loved the NW coast of Peru– nice beaches and beach towns. I saw the sun rise over the ocean one day after staying up all night chatting with some locals. There are great places to sway in a hammock and watch the waves while sipping a rum and coke.

Turkmenistan – A look at what totalitarianism can get you. An interesting police state with some weird places like the burning pit. Elaborate, gaudy statues to the former ruler, Turkmenbashi (Head of all Turkmen) still dominate the capital.

Georgia-Tbilisi is a great city. Cool architecture, lovely churches, a quaint old town with nice cafes and bars, and cheap accommodation.

Damascus – An interesting historical Muslim city. Nice hamams (steam baths) and souqs.

The Dead Sea, Jordan – A cool place to float. The lowest spot on earth and the saltiest lake.

Nuweiba, Sinai – great beaches

Cairo pyramids – Fascinating ancient Egyptian artifacts

Medellin and Cali, Colombia – Salsa until the sun comes up on a party bus. Then lie in bed all the next day with a hangover so bad you wish you were dead.

Xian, China–Terracotta warriors

Uzbekistan–The great Silk Road cities of Bukhara Samarkand, also a great place to get a massage.

Some final thoughts

One thing about bicycle touring: you get a lot of time to think. I started thinking about all the people I pass everyday who are working to make a living for themselves and their family. I sometimes felt a bit guilty that I was indulging in this hedonistic pleasure while the rest of the world has to work. I had to remind myself that I deserve this. I worked hard for years to save the money to take this trip. I have no cause to feel guilt. I tried to convince myself I was still adding value to society. I was providing entertainment value to the local population, I was boosting their economy by spending my dollars, and I was hopefully inspiring and entertaining people with this blog.

They say there are two kinds of people: those who live to work and those who work to live. If you define “work” as something you must do to make a living, I definitely fall into the latter bunch. But I suspect there are many people out there who in fact continue to work even though they did not need the money. Why? People need to feel productive. they need to feel they are adding value to society. I wonder sometimes how professional golfers feel. Do they feel any guilt that they make millions of dollars playing a game? Are they adding value to society? Are they “working?”

In a way I was also “working”, although I doubt anyone would pay me to travel (but if anyone reads this and does want to pay me to take another bike trip, please contact me asap).

I’m curious what other people think. If you suddenly became wealthy (or are already there) would you continue to “work?” Would you change your job? Would you volunteer doing something you truly enjoy? Would you feel less of a person if you did not work like most everyone else?

The other thing I realized is how lucky I was to have been born in white, middle class America. I and most people I know are in the top 1% of all people on earth in terms of wealth and prosperity. The vast majority of people I saw, from the Quechua farmers in the Bolivian highlands, to rural Chinese peasants, to Rendille tribespeople in Kenya eking out a living herding goats, would probably not believe how good we have it. We have more freedom, more opportunities, better health care and education…the list goes on. Is it fair? Well one of the things I have come to believe is that life is not fair. You have to do the best with the hand you were dealt. You can’t feel guilty that millions of people around the world live in dirt hovels and get by on one meal a day. At least, I try to not to feel guilt. In any case, just appreciate what you have, many others must survive on far less.

I will close with those thoughts. Thanks again for reading my stuff. I hope you enjoyed it. My next project is to go through some 20 hours of video and more than 5000 photos to create some kind of video of my trip. Check theaters soon.

Adios!
Kevin