Bicycle tourists, unlike the riders in the Tour de France, don’t get crowds of people shouting encouragement and applauding you on your way. I do get frequent honks from passing cars and trucks, but I’m never sure if they are being supportive or just pissed off that I am in their way. I think it must be the former, because of the dozens of times people have extended their generosity to me on the road.
When I biked from Texas to Michigan in 1984 with my ex-wife Machelle, we practiclly had to fight people off, they were competing to invite us into their homes. Once, we stopped in front of a house to fix a flat tire. Soon a guy came out and began chatting. Before we knew it we were invited in for dinner, showers and to sleep in the spare room. It became almost a game: if we wanted to get invited in I had Machelle, looking forlorn and pitiful, stop at the church or police station and ask if we could camp somewhere. Nine times out of ten someone would hear about us and within an hour we would be in someone`s house. Except for Arkansas. There, we asked a woman if could camp in her vacant field and she looked at us suspiciously and said, “y’all are bahkers? No, we don’t want bahkers here”.
Another time when I was biking in the UK I stopped in a small town to check my map. I heard a shout and some guy from across the street came running. Turns out he was a cyclist also and wanted to buy me a beer and talk about cycling. so we went to the nearest pub and talked for two hours while he kept buying pints. Then two women came in and he began hitting on them and lost interest in me. That was my cue to exit.
But I digress. Rewinding a bit, I was excited about crossing the Rio Uruguay into Argentina. There is a dam, or represa, across the river which I figured I could ride across. Well I got about 10 feet and the police said nope. No riding across the dam. I asked if I could walk my bike on the sidewalk. No. I considered a bribe but he did not look like the type. Plus his colleague was standing close by. So I asked what should I do. He suggested I go back to the main road and hitch a ride with a truck. Frustrated but with no other option that I could think of, I turned back, took off my headband and sunglasses and tried to look as harmless as possible to any passing trucks. The problem was there weren´t any. For some reason, this border crossing had almost no traffic. I stood there like a dork for 30 min. then decided to go back to a hotel I had passed and just call a taxi. But just then a guy who works for the dam showed up in a pickup to give me a lift. Apparently the police called him and said I was stuck and needed a ride. Now isn’t that nice!
Once in Argentina I got on an awful road. No shoulder, huge trucks and busses. It was the scariest road I have been on so far. No room when two trucks pass so you have to just bounce off into the dirt and let them pass. It was hell. I was sure I would be squashed any minute. But that is another story.
So after about 10 km, I turned on to a dirt road that eventually would take me where I wanted to go. But the dirt road was real bad: Sand, washboard, rocks and pebbles. I bumped along for a good four hours before dusk and I began looking for a camping spot. There wasn’t much. Pasture and crops.
Eventually, though, I passed a school with a nice lawn so I decided to stop and ask if I could camp there. The teacher, Susanna, and her husband Julio lived there. After a brief look of incedulity, they decided I was harmless and proceeded to invite me in to take a shower while Julio prepared their parrilla and set up a spare bed in the classroom. We had a nice dinner of grilled cordero and beef with salad, and I had a good night´s sleep in the classroom. They were thrilled with my digital camera, exclaiming “que barbaro!” when they could see the picture on the small screen.
Here I am with Julio and Susanna. By the way, she is holding a cup of yerba mate, dried leaves from a local shrub that they steep. They periodically pour in fresh hot water which they keep in a thermos and carry around with them. You see this a lot in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.
Here is Julio preparing the meat
My bed in the classroom. Not the first time I have slept in class. HAHA.
The kids all get to school via horse or pony. No school busses here. This kid was the first to arrive in the morning.