St Lucia: Escaping the Daily Grind

Chavez eyesLike any young professionals, after a year and a half in the same role, we knew it was time to get away from it all, to escape the daily grind for two weeks r&r in the sun.

The Hitch
We left our bikes with our friend Marcel in Colombia. As a student in Bogota, Marcel had a moment of clarity and realised the city was stifling him. The next day, he took a bus to the suburbs and walked / hitched the nearly thousand miles to Ecuador. There, he picked up a second-hand bike at a market, returning four years later to start his own farming community. Marcel impressed us with his hand-built octagonal adobe house and a Chilean-style wood oven, which we used to make pizza and bread on our last night together.

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Venezuela’s Fundacion Organica: Campesino RebSolomon – DOWN WITH THE SYSTEM

9 months ago, sitting in our respective city offices, we arranged a week of volunteering on an organic farm in San Rafael, a small farming community in the Venezuelan Andes. Fast-forward, and one week became six and six weeks became twelve. We find ourselves sitting around a table with a tinto (a strong black coffee), spiritedly denouncing the inherently unsustainable, self-serving, planet-destroying ‘system’, the scarily globalised reach of industrial agriculture and the petro-based chemicals that go with it, the manipulation of the world by big business and the underhand capitalist powergames of the US Empire…that’s right, 6 months in Venezuela and we are hard-core, Chavez-addicted, system-bashing lefties. Continue reading

The Venezuelan Andes…from Bananaworld to Berryland

Two months in and unable to find any more flat land in Venezuela, we began the 3600 meter climb to Merida. On the first day, after giving it what we considered a bloody good go, we quickly realized (and how did it take us so long!?) that 7.30am was the perfect time to call it a day. It turns out that three weeks of flat cycling is insufficient training for anything requiring a gear change.

Thankfully, as we completed our end-of-day stretching routine -time now getting on a bit to 8am- we met Alberto. Those who have been following our blog will know that we are helado (ice-cream) addicts, and as if by divine intervention, Alberto happened to be a full-time helado maker. In our three days with Alberto (in the short breaks from helado eating) we were given a great introduction into how its possible to integrate the natural environment into everyday life and how a community of people can benefit from intercambio (the exchange of skills, knowledge and goods). Continue reading

Venezuela’s El Llano: Making Cachapas and Slaughtering Cows

1, 165 kms, 260, 000 leg rotations and we’ve crossed from the far East to the far West of Venezuela, reaching the foot of the Andes.

El Llano is Venezuela’s heartland. The home of Venezuela’s cowboys, it’s a massive region; hot, flat and with its own distinct customs and music. We predicted a good chunk of monotony from such a long continuum of farmland, but we were wrong. The flooded grassland which forced stampeding cows to flail up to their necks in water (very funny) turned into thick forest before the arid land with a vicious wind heralded the foothills of the Andes. It’s a region renowned for its sunsets, stars and particularly wildlife: caiman, snakes, birds and capybara, although our best safari spots were cycling past roadkill. Continue reading

Chavez-landia

Full-time global celebrity and part-time politician, Hugo Chavez, El Presidente de Venezuela, is a divisive figure. Many love him (‘Chavistas’), and many hate him, and we’re yet to meet a Venezuelan without an opinion to share.

His core support comes from the poor, where he’s seen as a man of the people, fighting the injustices of capitalism and its offspring, inequality. For the middle classes, the majority seem to actively despise him, though many sympathise with his vision but have become disenfranchised. Continue reading

Venezuela’s Gran Sabana

…for all those concerned, we survived that terrible dirt road! After realising that the possibility of cycling to El Pauji was a viscous rumour spread by 4×4-wielding motorists looking down from their suspension-supported thrones, we arrived squashed with our bikes in the back of a Toyota.

El Pauji sits in a unique location: on the edge of one of the oldest landscapes on Earth (the Gran Sabana), looking over a precipice at one of the newest (the Amazon). The contrast of the rolling meadows, punctuated with tepui to the right, with the dense carpet of the Amazon stretching away to the left was hard to take in. Continue reading

Found! Mount Roraima

Welcome to La Gran Sabana, one of the oldest places on earth, a UNESCO world heritage site and the 6th largest National Park on the planet. Our first destination was Mount Roraima…the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’, but now found by up to 400 visitors a day. Roraima may now be the Mecca for Venezuelan holiday-makers, but by visiting in the off-season, we could happily pretend to be ‘intrepid travellers’ roaming an undiscovered land.

The trek began with some classic Venezuelan driving- 100km an hour down pot-holed dirt roads with loose stones pinging off the truck and in through the windows. Courtesy of Venezuelan timing, we set off on foot in the heat of the day, with our Pemon-Indian guide Frank (in fact British Guyanese, and definitely hamming up his local roots). Frank was an interesting character. Our first night was not spent getting to know each other round a campfire, singing Kumbayah and toasting marshmallows, but instead sitting in an awkward silence in a darkened room being lectured by Frank on the evils of tourism to the area. If Frank is to be believed, when tourists aren’t busy destroying indigenous culture, they are either suffering horrendous injuries or giving him obscene amounts of money in tips. We asked what first attracted Frank to Roraima, his answer? The money making opportunities from tourism of course… Continue reading

Venezuela’s Caribbean Coast – Great Food, Great Families, Great Pharmacies

Arepas, Empanadas, Bollitos, Tequenos, Enrollados, Pastelitos… how many ways can you find to eat meat and cheese wrapped in pastry? In our 23 days in Venezuela, we’ve had them all.

The hospitality we’ve received in Venezuela doesn’t stop with the food. Being on the bikes no doubt makes us more vulnerable to ‘la gente mala’ that we keep being warned about, but it also enables us to experience the best of people and places… Continue reading