Leaving Istanbul

Drying Laundry

Fearghal

Bulgaria

Last Thursday we cycled out of a grey and shiny Istanbul. It had been raining heavily, the road was slippery, and we we had wet feet within a few minutes. Leaving Istanbul was hard. We had spent the previous week hanging out with family and girlfriends, it was difficult to drag ourselves away and get moving again, the cold dirty spray from passing trucks did little to help. By nightfall we had failed to escape Istanbul’s urban sprawl and camped on the only dry land we could find, on the fringe of a petrol station forecourt.

Munching on excellent kebabs, and drinking the endless supply of tea plied by the forecourt attendants it began to sink in- we were on the last leg of our cycle. In a few days we’d be in the EU, in three months we’d be home- the adventure would be over. Somewhere in Turkey the world had changed, and it now seemed behind us. Somewhere along the way, possibly the cold and empty desert of Iran, or the icy passes of the Caucasus we had crossed a bridge, had left a dream and were cycling towards an achievement- and now it was time to start thinking about after. But enough of after for the moment.

Silhouette

Technically our last few days in Turkey were also our first in Europe, but in reality they were our last in Asia. Cycling towards Bulgaria I could feel it, the tea, the dancing with arms aloft, and all the fancy trim of the orient ebbing away. Curved crescents giving way to angular crosses, warm and unquestioning hospitality to reservation. Inshallah to cold rationality. All of this had been happening gradually, but there’s nothing like a border to evoke determinate perceptions where in reality blurry lines exist. Sometimes a line in the sand really helps bring things into focus, and the line in the sand between Bulgaria and Turkey was a bold reminder that most of this is adventure is now behind us and now each kilometre brings us closer to the familiar rather than propelling us into unfamiliar worlds.

Located at the nexus of several realms, where Europe, Asia, Arabia meet Turkey begs cliches and handy metaphors. All of them apt. It is a crossroad and a bridge, it is where the Occident and the Orient merge, its kebabs and beer, ordered roads and pragmatic Islam. For us its where the hard yards, the unknown and unusual begin to give way.

Turkey was good to us. The Turks possibly the warmest people I’ve encountered. They are excellent hosts, generous and undemanding, gregarious and outgoing. I’m sorry to have left.

Tea House

Wicklow 100

Emma puts  the feet  up

Simon

Quito – Ecuador

This weekend, ex Revolutionary, Emma Jane will be competing in the Wicklow 100 race to raise funds for Aware. The couse will take her and the 3000 other cyclists (including my Dad) from Dublin, through the Wicklow hills and back again. Emma cycled with us in Peru from Cuzco to Ica, and ascended some of the longest climbs we´ve done so far. With legs trained in the mighty Andes, a cycle through Wicklow, minus the panniers, should be a doddle.

You can help her reach her target of 2000euro, (currently 1500euro) by donating on her secure online donation page.

Good Luck!

Machu Picchu- the Incas rocked

Revolution Cycle-Machu Picchu

Fearghal

Peru-Cuzco

I’m not particularly fond of seeing 3.59am on my alarm clock. It’s not so bad if its flashing en route to sleep after a night on tiles, or if it’s a brief glance before turning over and dozing for a few more hours. But when the digital display reading 3.59am is accompanied by the bleep of an alarm clock I’m rarely polite nor compus mentus for several hours. Our day at Machu Picchu started in the middle of the night at the ungodly hour of 3.59am, and by 4.20 we were neither awake or feeling particularly civil, but silently marching into the beams of our head torches, up steps carved over five hundred years ago to the sacred city of Machu Picchu.

Sleepy Revolutionaries

Not surprisingly, Machu Picchu gets its fair share of visitors, around 1.5 million every year. The best view of the deserted city is to be had from Huayna Picchu, a pillar of jungle green flora covered granite standing next to it, as its peak is around 300m’s higher than the Andean citadel and gives a condor’s view of the surrounding valleys and the shear cliffs looming over the sacred river of Willkamayu. In a nod to conservation and safety, apparently 2 people fall off it’s narrow and slippery steps each year, the authorities limit the numbers of the foolhardy to 400, first come first served. So every morning there is a race up the 400m’s of roughly hewn and well worn steps to sign up, hence our uncharacteristically early morning call.
      
In the race to Huayna Picchu we had a bit of an unfair advantage over our competitors- a mixture of serious trekkers decked out in technical gear, wheezing backpackers slipping their way up in jeans and runners, and aspiring American golden oldies tripping themselves and everyone else with their walking poles and covered from head to toe in North Face logos. As, we’d spent the previous 3 months cycling in the thin air at altitude, we thus now have the respiratory systems that a Kenyan runner would be proud of. We quickly squeezed past those who had managed to tear themselves from bed even earlier than us and comfortably made queue for Huayna Picchu.  

Once we’d signed on we had time to relax, eat some breakfast, and digest the significance of that amazing city, built without the aid of complex technology, or even the wheel for that matter. The Incas started building it in the 1430’s then abandoned it when the Spanish arrived 100 years later after which it was “lost” to the world until it was “discovered” by  an American, Hiram Bingham in 1911.

Machu Picchu- Terraces

The thing that struck me at Machu Picchu, after 3 days trekking along parts of original incan routeways- narrow stepped walkways carved into the shear valley sides with hundreds of metres of empty space below, was how comfortable they must have been with heights. The incas lived in a world of 3 dimensions, they seemed to be as comfortable building up and down as we are building left or right. They farmed terraces on the side of vertiginous cliffs, designed banks of steep stone steps that would fatally punish one mistep, and built impressive large stoned structures in apparently impossibly steep and inaccessible places when there was perfectly good flat land at close hand. Crawling like a crab down the scarily steep steps on Huayna Picchu on my arse, with my heart in my mouth, and my sweaty palms slipping on the greasy granite, I imagined nimble large calved little incas nonchalantly skipping past me with heavy loads balanced on their backs.

Although, modern man, has managed to build structures that reach beyond the clouds, most of us aren’t comfortable at height. Most of us are only really comfortable in two dimensions. The slippery narrow and exposed stairwells of Huayna Picchu, that no doubt would have been as comfortable for the Incan inhabitants as an elevator is for us, showed up the vertigo of modern visitors. The added exertion of having to propell oneself up as well as forward illustrated our physical short comings. Many times during our day out, when I passed a sweat soaked, panting and shell shocked tourist perched on a slippery step clinging to the safety wire trying to muster enough energy to go on, I was reminded of a video on YouTube which showed a platoon of british troops who had been given LSD for experimental purposes and were reduced to clinging to trees or absurdly staring wistfully into space. Incan 3D urban planning is not a comfortable for a modern man, or woman.            

As the sun cleared the cloud from the jungle below, and burned off the dew from the chunky stone buildings, the structures looked less like buildings on a remote island off the west of Ireland, and we began to get a full sense of the place. The magnitude of carving a city from from hard granite on a mountain-top hit home. As the clouds rose slowly, like steam from a shower window, from the jungle below we began to understand why the Incas reveared this sacred place. The scene was enough to move this devout atheist to consider the Incan triadic cosmology. The incan cosmos was divided into three parts, represented by a trinity of sacred animals. The Serpent who signified the underworld, the Puma who embodied the living world and the Condor who represented the heavens.     

Normally, I’m not one for landmarks. I find that I get more from the “in between” bits than the destinations. In the past, I’ve been sorely disapointed by places that are supposed to inspire, as usually the droves of tourists  rabidly taking pictures of well known spectacles get in the way.

Machu Picchu was different. It is a trully magnificent site, inspiring moving and mind boggling even though by midday it was over-run with Canon toting tourists.

           
         

Going our own way

Ahem, an Inca fetility temple.

Fearghal

Things have been a bit odd in the revolution camp for the last few weeks. We arrived in La Paz to a home from home in Loki Hostel. My stomach was still playing gastric tricks on me so I laid low for a while, munched antibiotics to combat the bugs and probiotics to combat the antibiotics. Then, Simon and Marina climbed a very big mountain while I headed to Lake Titicaca, leaving the bike and traveling by bus to see my Mum who had some business in the jungle near Iquitos with a shaman.

When I got back to La Paz Si was Cuzco bound as he too had a rendevous with his folks on the 28th. So I headed off all on my ownio. It was refreshing to cycle by one, stopping when I felt tired, and going as far and as fast as I liked. It gave me a good chance to reflect on the last few months in Bolivia and the road ahead. 

Cycling by one also allows for more headspace, with my body engaged in the kineasthetic mantra of spinning my mind relived previous tours as the kilometres rolled by; I smelled the pine forests of Poland, and the eucalyptus trees of Victoria, I relived eating black cherry tarts in Germany and dill pickles in Estonia. I indulged in long forgotten memories of grey kangaroos eyeing me with suspicion by the roadside. 

At the border town of Desaguadero, shabby and restless and full of the dodgy types that seem to thrive in liminal and lawless places, I was reminded that a team of one is not all freedom and space, as I darted through immigration trying to keep one eye on my bike outside. A pack of 6 kids with dull glazed eyes had offered to look after it for me, and I had to leave it unattended while I queued for a passport stamp, so I wasn’t exactly relaxed.

Arriving in Peru, a new country with new material culture to oogle was refreshing, as was the notable increase in the quality of food; fried trout and potatoes never tasted so good. I arrived in Puno, the tourist hub for Lake Titcaca, after dark, and during yet another thunder storm, drenched tired and, no thanks to the erratic driving of peru’s taxi and bus drivers, in one piece.  Luckily Simon and Marina- who is en-route to Cuzco by bus- were still there so we all headed out for a nice meal in the touristy district and they regailed tall tales of their mountain.

Simon left for Cuzco the following day hoping to make it to the Inca capital in time to welcome his folks. I opted to hang out with Marina, who was waiting for the blockades erected by some unhappy miners on the road to Cuzco to be lifted, and see some of the sights.

Tomorrow I’m back in the saddle, and if my wobbling Bottom Bracket allows me, I should be in Puno in time to catch Machu Picchu with Emma our next revolutionary. I’m also really looking forward to catching up with Simon and hearing his tales from the road over a Pisco Sour or two.                      

Marina, signing off…

Marina takes a break

Marina

As we stood overlooking the sprawling brick jungle of La Paz, it sadly dawned on me that this is the end of my cycling trip. It’s been an incredible three months filled with rib splitting laughter, salty tears, falling from grace, gaining cycling proficiency, eating for five, and growing very attached to the two revolutionaries.

It all began last December when I met Ferg and Si in Buenos Aires. I remember reading their latest blog regarding loss of social graces, and thought that my new feminine presence might scare them back to their gentlemanly ways. Quite the opposite happened as I quickly tumbled down from grace and quickly joined the lads in their style of life.

Uruguay served as the perfect starting point, rolling hills helped train me up to speed, the warm summer weather allowed for comfy camping and tasty food was readily available.

The citric plantations of North-eastern Argentina offered a great balance of encounters and long leisurly lunches; and cranking out large distances.

Veering west into the Chaco became ground-hog day. 1000km of flat and bland landscape, roasting temperatures, and a slight head wind wrecked my head. Thankfully, the Andes rekindled spirit and energy as we climbed steadily into breath-taking landscapes. I never thought that the ascent into the Andes would be the highlight of the cycle. And finally Bolivia…well, toughest cycling yet and I’ve never been so filthy in my life.

As I prepare to watch the boys continue the expedition, I’ve decided to match-fundraise the amount of kilometres pedalled during the trip: 3000km. So how do I feel? Super chuffed for having joined the boys at sea level, as a mere cycling novice; and winding up in the highest capital city in the world with legs, lungs and a heart of steel!

You can sponsor me here
 

Highs:

         eating ALL the time

         finding shelter after a long day’s cycle

         ending up in the most random places

         living the landscape (smells, relief, temperature)

         changing into warm & dry clothes

         accepting my cycling pace and capabilities

         cycling effortlessly on tarmac at 4000m

         completing what I had originally se out to do, taking each moment in its own time, taking each day at a time.  

 

Lows:

         Cycling & camping in HUGE thunder storms. (and Fearghal admitting only yesterday that the charred tufts of grass lining our route had been struck by lightening…)

         Balancing my sleeping bag on the therm-rest while watching rain water pool around and drip on me all night long.

         Always being behind: even with a headstart, the boys would cycle up behind me effortlessly. Infuriating!  

         Crackers, tinned sardines, boiled rice and stock-cube soup

The Great Revolution Challenge; Wicklow 200

Salar de Uyuni
Fearghal

Ok, its March, the snowdrops poked their heads out weeks ago and the daffodils are following suite. Its chilly but the end of winter is near. Its time to put that new year’s resolution into action, dust off your bike, lace up you running shoes and blast away those winter cobwebs. Now is the time to commit, to something that stretches you, and start training.

We’ve been pushing now for 4 and a half months, and you’ve been enjoying our hardship, trails and tribulations. Now we challenge you to suffer a little bit for a good cause.

You’ll be glad you did. Attemtping something that takes you out of your comfort zone makes you feels alive. Starting to excercise boosts your confidence, energy and mental outlook. Completing a challenge, or at the very least giving 110% of yourself to something, makes you realise what’s possible. Well at least it did for me : )

Join the Revolution!

We’re calling on people to take part in the Wicklow 200, either a 100 or 200km bike ride through the Wicklow mountains. Raise over 150euro and we’ll give you an expedition T-Shirt on the day.

Register your interest in a comment below.

So will you join the revolution?t shirts

You can buy a revolution t-shirt here.

Get your own revolution sponsorship page here or print a sponsorship form here.

All money raised goes directly to Aware.

Update; Salta-Argentina to La Paz- Bolivia

It’s time for a “monthly” update again. This one is written from Loki Hostel, a little haven of Irishness in La Paz. Osgur, Siobhan and Abril and all of the freindly staff welcomed us with open arms, toasted cheese sandwiches, bottled Guinness(drool) and comfy beds and our first hot shower in over two weeks. They even threw a table quiz to raise money for Aware in our honour. For which we are eternally grateful.

Since leaving the city of Salta and climbing into the Andés it has been the best of times and the worst of times. We enjoyed a gentle introduction to high altitude, acclimatising like good boys and girls as the road wound 200km up a valley floor in Northern Argentina. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, our first longtitudinal landmark , the next one will be the equator in Ecaudor in a few month’s time.

February is carnival time in South America and we managed to squeeze in some of the festivities en route. When we arrived in the Argentine town of Humahuaca they were celebrating the feast of the Virgin de la Candelaria with a bizarre procession captured in the latter segment of the video below.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3470646&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
Salta to Humahuaca, Argentina from revolutioncycle on Vimeo.

We crossed into Bolivia in early February at the border town of Villazon. We were immediately introduced to the unsealed Bolivian roads which would prove our nemesis for the coming weeks, as the asphalt stopped at the town’s limits and the gravel begin. Our speed decreased and our daily distance became embarrassing as we dragged our sorry souls into town after dark on several occasions.

Andes, Bolivia

After much ado we reached Uyuni and were knocked out by a particularly musical strain of food poisoning before seeing some spectacular natural sights and crossing the Salt Flats in various states of undress. At the town of Salinas we were plied with hooch and press ganged into dancing around the dusty square in the annual Carnival parade, then we made freinds with some frenchies going our way and all five of us spent 5 days wandering blindly around the near deserted Altiplano after taking the wrong turn. Which was fun.

With the first leg of South America behind us we say farewell to Marina who’s road from Buenos Aires ends over two and a half thousand km later here at La Paz. Simon and I are re-charging batteries and looking forward to the visit of Si’s folks and my mum over the next few weeks. Then its back to business as we welcome Emma the next revolutionary who’ll join us in Cuzco. Emma has been blogging her preparations here.

After the dismal roads from the Bolivian border it feels like we have a period of respite until Cuzco, and both myself and Si are quite relaxed about the road until then. We’re still pouring over route options in Asia, with recent unrest in China, and the cordoning off of Tibet seriously cutting down on the options for a continuous run home with a bitter winter to the North and uncertainty to the South we are not left with great options. Either way though we’ll find a way.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3490733&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia from revolutioncycle on Vimeo.