At the mercy of men

I’ve told this story before, but never on this blog. As my laptop is still broken, no time to come up with anything new for now, so here we go!

I started my journey across Latin America in Ushuaia, Argentina, in November 2015. Since then, I’ve been solo cycling slowly, yet steadily, through heaven and hell. Within eighteen months, I’ve crossed the isolated valleys and heavy headwinds of Patagonia, the palm embroidered, rhythmic coastal villages of Uruguay, the Alpine-like communities with their Oktoberfests and baile gauchos of Southern Brazil, the infamous drug-trafficking regions of Paraguay, the harsh Bolivian highlands, the cold Peruvian mountains and the humid rainforest regions of Ecuador.

I’ve seen a glimpse of the biodiversity of this continent, yet what I’ve seen much more is the diversity in its peoples. The European influences mixed with the ancient indigenous traditions. The connection between nature and modernity, between the old and the new, poor and rich, men and women. Contrasts, which even after one and a half years continue to take me by surprise time after time.

Still, there is nothing that has left me more in awe than the hospitality of Latin Americans. “Mi casa es tu casa” is not just a cliché foreigners hear before landing on this continent. It’s not an urban legend, a phrase locals have nothing to do with. No… it’s reality. A guest is treated like a member of the family – if not even better. A thirsty long-distance cyclist is offered beverages, a hungry traveler food. Especially by the non-wealthy who are used to sharing even the little they own. And people will always, always help you out. No matter what the situation.

The day of desperation

I haven’t had many desperate moments on my journey, yet there was this one time in the beginning of my trip that I really felt like going home. And who helped me out on that day were the local men we European women are continuously warned about.

In January 2016, I was cycling across the Argentinian Pampa after two months of only lovely experiences. So, what does a Finn do? Start thinking: “wow! Things are just going too well. When is something sketchy going to happen?!” And there we go! About two minutes from this thought I realize a small bag with my my ID, credit card and some money in it, has fallen off at a crossing where I had a “toilet break” 50kms back.

Luckily, there’s a farm nearby, so I ask the owners if I can leave my bicycle there while I hitchhike 50kms back and forth to look for my bag. The answer is: “of course”. So, I go back, find the bag and think: “what amazing luck!” There I go and start cycling again.

30kms more and a truck drives quite close by me. I move out of the way to the side of the road and fall. Scratches on my knees and elbows, some blood and the handle bars of the bike looking weird. No biggie. I clean myself and manage to fix the bike. And my thought? “Wow! Could’ve been worse!”

There I go and cycle 30kms more. Hungry and tired, after pedaling for 135km, my destination of the day now lies only 10kms away. Dreaming of salted peanuts, I suddenly see a sealed bag of caramelized nuts on the side of the road. Would you think this is a gift from above and stop? I do. So I stop, pick up the bag and continue…or well, try to continue. My gears won’t switch. I try again. Nothing. Too tired to think, I try again (what idiot does this?). And there we go…I see my entire rear derailleur twitch and fall off. Oh great.

Gladly, there are a lot of cars passing by, so I decide to hitchhike with my bicycle to the next town. No one picks me up. I’m being totally ignored. Suddenly, a pick-up truck pulls over with three heavily tattooed men walking towards me. Cool. The nightmare of my mother. They try to help me mentally by watching me convert my bicycle into a single-speed. I’ve never done it nor have I seen it done. Yet I’ve heard it’s possible, so I measure the chain, cut it and use my chain link to put everything back into place. Or that’s what I think. I proudly get on my bike and the men drive off.

Just one stamp of a peddle and my chains get completely stuck. My thought this time? “Shit.”  I have no choice but to try and hitch-bike again, so I stick my thumb up by the side of the road. In a split second I catch the attention of two Harley Davidson guys on their motorcycles. (The nightmare of my mother continues.). They ask me if me, my bike and my five panniers want to get on one of their bikes. No, not really. Doesn’t seem too safe to me. So we come up with a better solution, which involves a motorcycle, a rope and a bike. Yes, I’m being toed 10kms by a Harley Davidson.

On my arrival to the next town I’m told I’ll be able to fix the bike only in the next big city, which lies 40kms away. I can’t ride the bike, nor do I feel like hanging on a rope on the back of a motorcycle for 40kms more. So I start asking people at a petrol station whether someone will take me to Bahía Blanca. All cars are full. That is, until​ a truck driver walks up to me and says he’ll take me (mom, please wake up!). So, I tie my bike to the back of his truck and get in. A great guy. He offers me coffee and ‘mate’ (Argentinian herbal tea). I’m in heaven.

In less then an hour we reach the city. Night falls. Me and my broken bike are somewhere in the suburbs with no street lights. What I’m trying to do is find the house of a Couchsurfing host who hasn’t replied to me after his first message a week ago. I have his address, so with 3% of battery left on my phone, I navigate to his house. The door opens and I’m invited inside. My host offers me a homemade dinner, a warm shower and a soft bed. And perhaps needless to add: without any further intentions.

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Fascinated by meeting, interpreting and understanding people. Strangerless at soul and heart.