Editor’s Note: Alvaro Galvis is a 26 year old carpenter in the midst of a long-distance bike trip from his hometown of Popayan, in the far south of Colombia, to southern Argentina.
I met Alvaro in a campground in the mountains near El Bolson, Patagonia, and was instantly struck by his aura of calm, even though he is alone, with very little money, 9,000 kilometers from home.
I asked Alvaro to share the travel wisdom he picked up on those 9,000 kilometers of Andean highway, and we spent a night by a campfire, drinking cheap red wine and talking about things you can control, and things you must accept. This article is the fruit of our conversation.
I always wanted to travel.
I wanted to know other places and escape the routine of everyday life. For many years I dreamed of making a trip like this, slow and independent, without a car or motorcycle.
One day a childhood friend suggested we travel by bicycle to Ushuaia, at the southern end of South America. At the beginning I thought such a trip would be very difficult, maybe impossible, but the reality of this journey is much more difficult than I ever imagined.
If my brother were to make a similar trip, this is what I would tell him:
Forget your ideas and plans. Total control is impossible. You must mentally prepare for unexpected situations. Keep your ultimate goal in mind, but do not become overly attached to specific outcomes along the way.
Control What You Can
There are some things you can control, such as your mindset, the mechanical condition of your bicycle and your choice of equipment. You must plan well, cultivate self-control and take great care in your preparations.
Patience is very important. Sometimes you will break down, no one will pick you up and you will become frustrated. You must accept this, and stay calm in difficult situations. This is especially important when traveling with a partner, because uncontrolled frustration can quickly lead to conflict.
The Story Of Two Lemons
One day, two lemons were crossing a street. A truck came along and crushed one of the lemons. The other lemon screamed in anguish – NOOOOOO!!! A passer-by came along and asked what was wrong. “I got lemon juice in my eyes,” the lemon howled.
Choose your travel partners wisely. Look for people who are not self-centered and who demonstrate empathy. Know their motivations, and be sure they are physically and mentally strong.
Study The Terrain
You must not travel blindly. Carry a good map, and study it everyday. Think hard about how much food and water you will need in order to traverse a section of road. Determine what shelter will be available along the way. The price of a mistake – like running out of water – is one that you cannot afford.
Let Off Steam
Even if you are on a strict budget, eating only rice and bananas, you must go out and have a party once in a while. You must drink, laugh and forget about your troubles for a time. Doing this will keep you sane. This is very important.
You will make friends on your journey. Sometimes you will relate to people strongly, but you must realize that you are traveling. You are in your place, they are in theirs, and always you must move on.
Many times I’ve thought I could stay in Argentina, and that’s a very crazy idea.
Time moves slowly when you travel. I feel much older now. It seems like years have already passed. Sometimes, when I wake from sleep, I forget that I am traveling. I think I am only a few kilometers from home. It’s a beautiful feeling.
But then I remember where I am – 9,000 kilometers from Colombia – and I know I must prepare myself for another day, and the long road ahead.