April 06, 2006

Central and South America by Road (Bradt Guides)

An admirable effort, but just not enough detail. The best info in the guide is surprisingly the general planning stuff at the beginning of the book

Chapter with good info:
1. First Steps – Baby steps which include route, language, guidebooks etc.
2. Your Transportation – Motorized or bicycle and transportation of your transportation
3. Preparation and Planning – GEAR, GEAR and other stuff like repairs for motor vehicles
4. Organized Tours – Whatever
5. On the Road – Number One rule: Don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose and other good tidbits of info.

The rest of the book attempts to be a guide book for all of the countries of Central and South America, but doesn’t do a good job at all. There are a few interesting sounding recommendations, but overall the descriptions are too general to even be of help in planning, much less help when you get there.

Overall, this is an OK book to start your planning process but I am certainly not going to lug it around on my bike for 6 months. Rather, I will copy some recommendations and explore when I am there.

Amazon Link: Central & South America by Road by Pam Ascanio

March 05, 2006

Latin America by Bike: A Complete Touring Guide (By Bike)

This is a great reference book to help with planning your trip. Most of the information still applies even though the book was written in 1993. Be sure to do your own research on political circumstances and health requirements before you leave though.

Each country is divided into the following sections:
• Intro to the country
• Cycle Zones – each geographic region of the country is listed whether there is a tour in the area or not. Terrain, Scenery, Cultural Interest, and Weather for each zone is described.
• Tour Route Description with Map – Route described by mile points. The maps are not great, but get the point across.
• General Information: Getting to the Country, Documents, Accommodations, Drinks, Health, Money, and Security
• Cycling Information: Bicycles, Roads, Maps, and Bike Transport (other than riding)

The appendices are fantastic. He has included a packing list, list of recommended shots, temperature tables and biking words in Spanish. These alone have been of great assistance, but the “Safety Awareness Chart” is a little out of date.

The routes are usually circle route – beginning and ending at the same location, but each geographic area is described whether there is a route in it or not. The author does state that the routes are designed for people who have some time in a country to do a limited amount of cycle touring. You can incorporate these routes into your own path with little difficulty.

Note: There is information on but no routes in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, or Uruguay.

Amazon Link: Latin America by Bike: A Complete Touring Guide by Walter Sienko

February 23, 2006

A Concise History of Bolivia

A worthy, if ponderous, read and as the nice bartender from Nougatine (my favorite bar for eavesdropping) said, “That looks like some heavy stuff.” I couldn’t have asked for a better conversation starter. After 30mins and a fair amount of a cucumber martini (read: gin infused with cucumber and a squeeze of lemon) it was time to close the book and listen to Jean George chat up two young Asian women next to me.

Back to the book...this is a great book for getting an overview of the country of Bolivia and how it came about. It gives a timely context to some of the incidences and attitudes described by Harry Franck in Vagabonding Down the Andes. I skimmed quite a bit though – the only place I could read it without my eyelids drooping (besides a bar with a gin martini) was on the subway which allowed for about 15 minutes of quality reading time at a shot.

I learned about how the conquering Spaniards embraced the existing Indian social structure to their advantage and about the war over guano which lost Bolivia its ocean access. And then there’s silver and tin. It seems that after colonialism and before the cold war, politics consisted of a bunch of hot air where each party promised everything, sucked the country dry and then either overstayed their welcome to the post or ran off to be diplomat somewhere far, far away when things started changing out of their favor. Not like ours is much better at times.

It’s crazy – loosely connected communities that have been successfully organized by an Indian social structure for ages (I have no idea how long) gets taken over, the new regime incorporates the Indian social structure into the colonial social structure, and finally centuries later the old colonial/indian hybrid social structure is permanently abolished through more politics and now you have a country with no past model for a functioning social structure and lots of military rule.

After the 50s there was a peasant revolution and the indigenous, bottom-of-the-rung farmers finally started getting a say in politics and some land to boot. Some changes that took place for the farmers were the disassembly of the hacienda system and the right to bear arms, but there still ensued another 50 years or so of military rule. Now there have been at least two bilingual (indigenous—Amayran or Quechua—don’t know which and Spanish) candidates in power. Ever so slowly the country has moved from military rule towards some sort of multi-party democracy with most, if not all, people being recognized. The level of education has risen and although still high, the infant mortality has dropped significantly.

Bolivia is a country with a rich history and I’m looking forward to meeting its people. A place’s government does not necessarily reflect everything or even anything of its people.

Amazon Link: A Concise History of Bolivia

February 14, 2006

Vagabonding Down the Andes ..

What a huge book. Six hundred and twelve pages of trudging up and down the Andes, scavenging for food, attempting to talk with the natives, and figuring how to carry his photographic equipment. How lucky for us that, at the very least, cameras can now be carried without the benefit of a mule.

Harry A. Franck has written many of these tomes and although they are not the travel books of today, full of witty stories and slights of culture, they are remarkably readable. It will take you awhile however.

Vagabonding is full of minutia about life throughout the Andes was around the early 1900s. There are mentions of bribes, mosquitoes, heat and cold, and well he’s sort of a curmudgeon with a knack for detail. Although he makes a point about how walking makes him invisible to the upper classes and how he wants to see the real people, he tends to make a fair amount of stereotypical or even derogatory remarks about the indigenous people. He’s writing is typical of his time, before the concept of PC and should be taken with a grain of salt. It is important to try to read a book in the context of the time it was written and to not apply your own, current belief systems to it.

There is a lot to be gleaned from this book, especially about geography, culture, food, people and I can only hope that my accounts give some similar rendition in the modern setting.

Amazon Link: Vagabonding Down the Andes Being the Narrative of a Journey, Chiefly Afoot, from Panama to Buenos Aires

February 09, 2006

Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World

I picked up this book about a year ago because it was unique. It was about cycle touring and written by a woman. As I read I became more and more impressed with Anne Mustoe’s travel accomplishments and hope to be able to emulate these in my travels.

This book does not discuss a particular journey, rather it talks about different types of things that she encountered on multiple trips and the people she encountered along the way. She acknowledged in the beginning of the book that another book about scenery would not be appreciated and that is is, as much as we don’t want to admit, not fun reading for those who didn’t go on the journey. I appreciated the insight on situations and the story-telling aspect.

This book should inspire people to take their own trips, especially women who think “I could never do that, I don’t know how to fix a bike” or “I’m too old” or “I can’t find anyone to go with”. Anne has defied all of the misconceptions of what it takes to travel adventurously.

Amazon Link: Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World


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