Cycling Stories

Touring South America

January 19, 2020


Touring South America

“Whether it’s growing a vegetable garden, sewing your own clothes, or traveling the world on your bicycle, freedom starts there.”

Eugenia Tovar

“Would you travel through South America with me? On your bicycle?

Most people would have said ‘’no’’ to that question, especially if they’d known the person asking for less than eight days. But I’m not like most people.

This question sure did catch me off guard, though. Until then, I’d only biked around the city, never riding more than 50 km at a time.

My bike didn’t even have gears. If something happened along the way, I didn’t know how to fix it.

“Chances are against me,” I thought.

I didn’t have enough money. I didn’t have the right bike or the proper equipment. I didn’t possess the knowhow. I didn’t, I didn’t, …

I did have the intention of traveling, however. I did want to explore the world. And I did see myself accomplishing both on my bicycle.

So, I did it.

Leaving Venezuela

The stranger who asked the magic question, a man from Argentina who had already traveled on his bike through Brazil, was descending out of Venezuela to get back home. 

“If he could do it, then so could I,” I thought.

I had just graduated from University, I longed to do something different with my life, and I had rekindled my bicycle riding as an adult four months ago. Why not?

So, in August 2016, we decided to cross the Venezuelan border into Colombia.

Before we left, all I heard from my parents was how dangerous our planned crossing was, and how crazy I was for embarking on this journey. But the thing is, I had to do it—I had to see reality for myself.

Shifting My Perspective Through Bike Touring

I packed everything I needed, and off we went on our tour.

I still remember the first day so vividly. I was leaving everything I knew and enjoyed, and entering into the uncertainty of this trip, with unknown pavement along way.

As soon as I started pedaling, I was so excited. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, feeling, and thinking.

I felt empowered. I felt brave. I felt like this is the life I wanted to live. I was destined for this. 

My bike quickly became my best friend, one who would listen to everything I said, who knew me almost as well as I knew myself (I did spend more than seven hours a day on it), and who I knew would always be there for me.

My bike took me to far-off, unknown places. What else could I need? 

Continuing My South American Bike Tour

I continued bike touring for more than eight months, spanning 4,000+ km across Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

To keep some cash in my pocket and fund my adventure, I sold photographs along the way.

You name it, and I’ve slept in it: abandoned houses, churches, hotels (everything from extravagant to run-down), friend-of-a-friend’s homes, gas stations, and fire stations. I’ve dreamed next to an active volcano, in front of a beach, in a jungle, and the middle of a city.

Each time we arrived at a destination, people were surprised that we traveled so far with our old bikes, and our panniers made from recycled plastic. They couldn’t believe it.

Opening Up to Conversation

Two of the most common questions they asked were, “Why don’t you take the bus? Or a plane?”

‘’Well, If I took the bus or a plane, I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation with you,” I’d reply.

“I wouldn’t get to visit small villages, filled with individuals who have massive hearts. Sometimes, they give us food, water, shelter—and even money—as we pass through,” I’d exclaim.

After all of the kilometers and meeting so many beautiful people, touring by bike helped me realize that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Whether it’s China, Bulgaria, or María la Baja, Colombia, chances are we have many things in common.

So, I would love to get to know you!

My Bicycle: Ultimate Freedom

Above all, my bicycle tour gave me the freedom to know these places, to pedal all those kilometers, and to continue seeking more.

Now, we have a son, and we want him to join us on our bikes, experience nature, and help him reach the same level of happiness while we spend quality time together.

Sure, I’m proud to say that I crossed three international borders on my bicycle. But in the end, the biggest lesson I learned is that there’s nothing like overcoming obstacles on the way to accomplishing your goals.

Whether it’s growing a vegetable garden, sewing your own clothes, or traveling the world on your bicycle, freedom starts there. 

And for me, it began on my bicycle.

Eugenia Tovar is a photographer, creative writer, and mum from Buenos Aires, Argentina. After traveling through South America on her old bicycle, she now lives on a farm and is planning her next bike tour with her two-year old.
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