After having a bike tour through the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (the St. James Way), in Spain, and having some bike trips around Brazil, Ada Cordeiro decided to go out by herself for a “basic” cycle throughout South America. After all, why not?
It was almost two years of trip, 23.000 km ridden and 12 countries crossed: Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, even Venezuela (only a small part, but it happened), Guiana, Suriname, French Guiana, and in Brazil, part of the Amazonia and nearly all the seashore. Everything registered on the blog PedalADAs.
Ada is 35 years old, is from Minas Gerais and works as a government employee in Brasilia. Her great partner in this adventure was Branquinha, her mountain bike Specialized Myka.
We started to follow on social media her trip when we were organizing our car trip through South America. So it was very inspiring to see where she was passing! We went back from the trip at the same time and now interviewed her to learn more details about the journey.
Read the interview in full or click below to go to a specific section:
Bike Trip Planning: Bike Tour in South America
1. How did you come up with the idea of travelling around South America by bike?
Don’t freak out people..Sim...I was happy before the trip, but exactly for that reason I decided to change...get out of the routine, out of my comfort zone, I decided to let go of things, and get attached to sensations, feelings…choosing to go through this experience wasn’t because of insatisfaction, unhappiness, lack of love or thinking that something was missing and by going out I would find it. Or even that I am paying some kind of promise…none of that!!!
It was simply in order to gift myself with sensations, experiences, that in case I had stayed inside of “my world” I would’ve never had the chance of experiencing… all of that comes from the wish of knowing the new, of feeling in the heart that kind of anxiety of not knowing how the way would be tomorrow… from the wish to feel the wind on the face, to feel alive and moving…
The life was supposed to be like that but we get used to our routine, which is most of the times inevitable…but I wanted to be able to do it differently, and I could, so I decided to try and there I go…
The bike is something that each day becomes more part of my routine and with a very special way the bike tour also came to make me happier…it was in a simple and innocent bike bike trip, almost two years ago that everything started…this love, for the bicycle, for the road, for the beautiful feeling of being able to reach anywhere you want with the power of your legs… simply like that…for this light way, with no hurries, not attached to seeing life and relating with it, and therefore I decided to hit the road!!!
2. Before the trip, were you used to ride how many Km and with what frequency?
I have always liked bicycles. During college I used it as a mean of transportation and also at weekends to practice sports.
On the 2 years that preceded the trip, I started to ride the bike even more. I used it as a mean of transportation to go to work and solve some day-to-day matters, but also used it to ride with a group of friends at weekends.
The frequency of the bike usage was pretty much daily, but the mileage varied a lot. At least 16km/day to go and get back from work, in the average.
3. How did you define the amount of time you would spend in this mission?
I went with purpose of travelling for a year. I thought that was enough time to get until Colombia, that was the goal.
I had made a financial saving to support me for this period. And got a license at work for this time.
During the trip, I realize I could handle with much less money than estimated and the trip was something that made me feel very well.
So I asked for another year of dismission at work (it’s an unpaid license to deal with personal interests, a government employees’ right) and, with the authorization of my bosses, I could finally go on with the trip. It was almost two years on the road.
4. How was the process of planning and preparation?
I would say that the trip starts way before hitting the road. It starts when we start dreaming about it…
My preparation was specially long. One year and a half before I started to getting ready… to dream, to wish and imagine it coming true!
In this period I also worried about buying some items I judged important, such as: tent, saddlebag, camp stove, racks, photograph equipment, clothes…
I thought about the itinerary I would like to do.
Also made a financial saving. I was planning to travel for only a year and didn’t intend to stop to work on the way.
A very important preparation was the psychological one. That was essential, but I don’t know if it’s so easy. Even if you imagine yourself on the road, being on the road is very different. I would say the psychological controls almost everything and if you are peaceful, good with yourself and aware of your wish the things will flow in a such better way.
5. How was your day-to-day before the trip?
Before the trip I had a “common” life. I lived in the city of Brasília, had a common routine… with work times. But my life have never been shorten into work.
I have always liked physical activities. In the last year before travelling, I did yoga, circus classes and took part in a musical percussion group. O loved to go out to waterfalls at weekends or anytime possible.
On the Road: Bike Trip Around South America
6. How was a “common” day for you on the road?
On the road, the routine was not to have a routine. But that, unfortunately is impossible, isn’t it?
Well, basically was having that breakfast, pack up things (demount camp, if that was the case) and hit the road.
The good was not knowing what was going to happen, where I would pass, the people I would meet. This uncertainty was good, this sick feeling in the stomach of not knowing what was going to happen, where to stop or sleep was very good…
And usually, at the end of the day everything would be ok and I great experiences would have happened.
The worries were summed up into waking up, pedal, eat and find a safe place to spend the night. The rest was happiness and fun!
But, against what many people think, I wouldn’t ride the bike every day… I rode, sometimes 3 or 4 days and stopped some days to get rest, organize life, do laundry, etc.
7. How was the experience of travelling alone?
To me it was the best experience of my life until today.
I can sum it up into fear overcoming, personal empowerment, a lot (a lot!) self-knowledge, the discover that the world is really made by good people!!!
8. What were the biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge is the departure, getting out of our comfort zone, when everything is good it isn’t any easy. But I like to see things in movement and the wish to change was on of the biggest motivations of my departure.
Then, the fact of being alone… it is very important for you not to be afraid to be with yourself. Being good in your inner self is something that makes it a lot easier. The relation with other people will be a lot easier. And it is a huge learning. The fact of being alone allows a greater contact with ourselves, but also with the others. There are situations that will only happen if you are alone. And that is amazing.
The adaptation into the road life was easy, when you do what you like there is no difficulties. But some parts of the trip were really tough… I went through harsh winters which I wasn’t used to, with temperatures under 5ºF (-15ºC), like in the North of Chile and Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Getting used to ride very cold was complicated, but in times like these we see how our body can adept into many situations. It is really amazing.
Another big challenge were the tough ascends. Get used to ride in more than 3.000 meters of altitude was also an overcoming test. I crossed Andes Mountain Range many times, doing very long ascends, sometimes more than 40 km and with an impressive unevenness (I got to ride on 4.800 meters of altitude in Ecuador)!
I rode on the toughest ascends of all South America, but, that was also learning. In any moment I changed my route because of the possible difficulties I would face. In this case, the ascends are a part of it, they are like the life challenges. It is necessary calm and patience to overcome them, but overcoming brings lots of wisdom and self growth.
Although being extremely physically exhausting, most of the times the most important thing is the psychological factor, believing in your purpose will drive you until the end.
9. Have you ever felt threatened?
No…the biggest fears are the inner ones, in our head…of keep fantasizing things that most of the times don’t exist.
I have already feared some people that have stopped their cars and have approached me on the road. At first I would be afraid, but then they would just want to know about my history or take a picture. Sometimes they even offered help without me asking for it.
There were so many situations like these, more in the beginning of the trip, where I still was entrenched with this fear imposed by society, that screw us every day by the news telling that people are bad. But then, I started seeing, in my day-to-day, that it was different…actually people are, most of them, good… So every time I meet someone I think he/she has something good and only with this thoughts good things happen…
Actually this is it, what it wish for is what usually happens and the world is a chain of reactions. Have good actions and thoughts and, without you notice it, that returns to you.
But, with the trip I learned to respect a lot the nature and its unbelievable power. The few moments that I found myself in danger were due to a natural power that was out of my control: heavy winds, an undertow in the Pacific Ocean where I almost drowned, in the amazon rainforest, in Guyana, in a deserted road where I saw footprints of a jaguar…but all situations ended up well!
10. What was your monthly budget average?
I left with a R$70,00 (around US$20) per day budget. I intended to travel for a year.
But then, during the trip, I saw that was a lot of money for a bike trip in a very simple way. I saved a lot and with the same budget I could travel for almost 2 years – in other words, her budget was of R$35,00 (around U$11) per day.
11. And how did you fund the trip?
Well, I funded the trip with a lot of work…YES…I work hard before I went out, for more than a year, I gave up many things in behalf of this dream…finally, I did savings.
Before I left I sold the few thing I had: an used car and some things from the house.
I made enough money to travel for a year, under my initial vision.
I did a crowdfunding on the internet, where I would sell photos from the trip. It worked like this: each one could contribute with how much he/her wanted and I would send a postcard to this person. This was something natural, I didn’t promote much, but many people helped me by it.
During the trip I found other ways to fund it too… selling(most of the times, exchanging) photos, food and handicrafts.
Travelling by bicycle is a magic! I found out that with so little it is possible to live, so the money grows and you can discover other ways to fund yourself, that don’t necessarily involves money. Like the exchange of work for accommodation, feeding, and, like I did, give small things to people that help.
It is a way to leave a bit of your energy behind and don’t feel only receiving, but also returning something to the universe.
12. What items you saw that were very useful and would recommend?
I start with the frying pan. YES. Already in the middle of the trip, I bought a small frying pan, very small, but a real one, made of teflon. Guys, my life has changed after this frying pan. The food became looking homemade. The egg was done perfectly, Omelettes. Sautéed vegetables. As my friend would say, even spanish tortillas I could make. No to tell that in Brazil, every day there was tapioca!!! That’s why it is an item I strongly recommend.
Another very useful item was the hammock. But calm down, not those big ones. I used one very compact from Kampa brand. It weighs almost nothing and you can take that nap after lunch, under a tree, it was priceless.
Another thing that was my partner from the beginning until the end of the trip was a thermal bottle. Guys, this is life quality. Imagine, having that hot tea in the winter, when the temperatures were tough. And in the summer, when the sun hits, you take that bottle and the water is still cold. Guys, really, this is so good.
Have a bed sheet. Yes, a single bed sheet. It is awesome to lay on the inflatable mattress, that plastic thing, with a sheet over it. It looks like you are in a real bed. And in the summer there is nothing better to sleep. I started doing that when I was in Colombia. It was so hot I could barely look at my sleeping bag. That’s when i decided to buy a sheet and it was the best thing of the universe!
13. How many bags did you carry?
I carried 5 bags. Basically divided through the following way:
- Front ones: one with food and other kitchen stuff, like pans, lights and a few other thing more.
- Back ones: on the both sides I would take basically clothes, shoes, electronics. In the one that was over the backseat I took tent, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, hammock…
14. And how many liters of water?
I usually took at least 2 liters.
But in some moments of the trip I took much more, specially when I went through desert regions that I didn’t know where I could stop to refill.
15. What items did you take to the trip that you ended up to using?
When you think of the trip, the things you imagine that will be necessary has more relation to your current life than with you future one… So, of course, I took some things that I never used, like:
Some clothes (dress -I took 2 believe it, tops), make up (believe me, I put in the necessaire foundation and blush), camelback (those bags with place for water), body/face moisturizing (at the end I only used Bepanthol and hypoglossal for everything… hydrated body and face).
16. Do you have any funny story or interesting that you want to share with us?
I was riding with a friend in Ecuador. It was a route with some good climbings. I was going a bit further than my friend, riding on my pace (in climbing it is like that, you have to follow your pace).
In the middle of the climbing I see a van passing by us. The car passed slowly and stopped a bit further.
I confess I wasn’t afraid. First because I had my friend’s company and second because, with almost a year on the road, I already knew that if people stop it’s for a good reason.
If it were in the beginning of the trip, I’m sure I would think a thousand of bullshits like: “what do these people want with me? What if it is someone who wants to do something? We are here, in the middle of a climbing, don’t they have anything better to do! Oh Lord!”
So, I came closer to the car, when suddenly comes out of there a reporter and a cameraman. There wasn’t time even to think, not even to fix the hair (haha) and she already came with her microphone making a thousand questions. My friend finally arrived and she became a focus as well.
At the end it was funny! We had also some key rings, that we did to sell during the trip. They saw and bought ALL OF THEM!!! We thought: “what a shame we didn’t do more of them last night!”
This was one of the good stories that always happened on the way!
17. From the places you met, what would you indicate to your friends?
I liked very much to know South America the way I did. It was a real immersion into these countries.
We Brazilians are much more used to Argentina and Chile, these two countries are more touristic for us.
But we almost don’t listen from Ecuador. I loved this country, it is small, but amazing. The people are very kind and the landscapes are beautiful. In a car or bus trip (and even by bicycle) you can get to know the entire country. There is the Amazônia part that’s very beautiful, besides the part of the Andes with marvelous volcanos and mountains. And the seashore, that for us it isn’t very impressive, since our seashore is beautiful. I found impressive the structure of the National Parks.. they are great, they have mountain refugees and lots of trekkings are possible without the help from a guide, since the parks are well signed. It’s worth it meeting them!!!
I also loved Colombia, I felt like my own country. It was the country I spent more time. There are also beautiful landscapes in there, from the wilderness to the mountain range and the Caribbean sea, which is very beautiful. But this country gets anyone by their people. There’s no way to not love the Colombians!!!
Coming Back From the Bike Trip: Cycling Tourism in South America
18. What are the main differences that you notice in yourself now rather than before starting the journey?
I think the change that a trip brings is really huge. The opportunity of living the life in a such simple way, being inside extreme situations, being in touch with people from several social and cultural levels and specially the opportunity of being with the best company, ourselves, bring us a great growth.
I see myself as an even peaceful person, am happy for the simple things in life and learned to value even more every detail, the water, the sun, the rain, the food, the family, the hot shower, the people…
We learn we are a grain of sand in the world, but that every have an essential importance in their acts. I don’t need to want to change the world, but I can make my world better.
I came back with this philosophy, of trying to make my life better in its small details, being lighter, valuing what’s worth value.
But I think that besides all of this, the trip really made me see that I am the same size as my dream, that what I believe, dream, I will be able to achieve. Besides self recognizing my ability to be the owner of my desires, I saw the world isn’t as dangerous as I thought and that yes, the people are good.
19. Now that you are back to your house and work, how has the readjustment process being?
This is bit more complicated stage, but it is slowly evolving. I started the trip with plans to finish on day. Like I said before, I went to travel for a year and ended up staying two.
I went through many inner changes and at my life routine (or the lack of it). These two years travelling were completely atypical for me. Life has taken a different route and I wouldn’t see myself sitting in an office room in front of a computer.
The world was dynamic. Getting back to routine is complicated because of it. You get used to being each day in a different place, interacting with different people and the impression of being in an office room, initially is that the life is happening, out there, and I am stuck inside here.
But I slowly got myself ready again, I can recognize that the opportunity to get out and enjoy these two years were because of my job, that allowed me to have this time and also the money for it.
My team received me back with arms wide open, so as to cooperate with this readjustment process. This was very important. I am happy, since I had the opportunity of travelling and coming back with the security of having a job, what nowadays is complicated.
But all this experience has opened my eyes to explore other places, outside this operational environment. Doing things that makes sense with what I think and also being a way to make money.
I want, throughout the time, making objects with recycled material coming from bicycle, like the air chamber and chain. With it do a pleasant and even therapeutic activity.
Quero com o tempo me dedicar a fazer objetos com materiais reciclados provenientes de bicicleta, como câmara de ar e corrente. Com isso exercer uma atividade que seja bem prazeirosa e até terapêutica.
20. Would you do something different in a future adventure?
YES!!! I think at the beginning of the trip I was so in a hurry. I would go too fast. The wish to ride the bike and go ahead was so big.
But then, specially when I started travelling with other people, I saw that this hurry was worthless.
The great about the trip is to enjoy the way…if you feel like staying, accept and stay…if you feel like staying…go ahead… listen to your heart. And that’s how I started to do and start travelling at the pace of my heart.
I feel sorry, sometimes, for not staying longer with some people I met at the beginning of the trip… but that’s part of it..those are things we learn with the time!
21. What would you tell yourself 2 and a half ago?
Don’t be afraid, the world is kind and, for sure everything’s gonna be alright!
Want to see more? Follow Ada!
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