While fear of violence keeps most US tourists out of Mexico and Colombia, the young Austrian couple Andreas Huble and Anita Burgholzer bicycled and tent-camped all the way through these countries (and many others), armed only with friendly smiles. They are happily pedaling still.
I met them as they rested in Copacabana, Bolivia. We chatted about their almost two-year journey-in-progress.
What were your experiences in Mexico and Colombia?
As a rule of thumb we can say that 99% of the people ALL over the world are good! With a little bit of preparation and common sense you will be able to travel in most of the countries which are “oh so dangerous.” We always try to carry our smiles, and even more important to keep our hearts open. Most of the encounters we have are positive.
The people in Mexico (and especially in Colombia) were always very helpful, enthusiastic and hospitable. We did not have any problems regarding safety.
In those countries, most of the criminal activity happens internally, between rival cartels, the police and para-militaries. If you avoid traveling in high-risk areas (locals will tell you where those are), you will most likely be safe. Even in the States, or in Europe, there’s a chance of being robbed at night in the wrong ‘hood.
In Colombia and El Salvador we felt extremely welcome. Very few tourists go there, and locals treated us like family members. In Colombia, we received many invitations into people’s homes, and had a wonderful time. It was just great, far better than we expected.
How did you decide to do this journey?
Traveling and cycling have always been essential parts of our lives. We started saving money – just in case our dream would someday turn into reality.
I (Andreas) read a lot of books from other adventure cyclists and was fascinated by the way they see the world. Traveling by bicycle they are part of the environment, and get a much deeper understanding of a country and its day-to-day culture. These stories, written in a sensible and critical way in the natural voice of the author, created a lot of pictures in my mind. They fed my yearning for someday breaking out of the routine.
How did you prepare for this trip?
In 2008 we made our first “test-trip.” We spent three weeks bicycle camping on the small island of Socotra (Jemen). It was such a wonderful experience that we decided to set off when the time was right.
At the end of 2009 we were no longer happy with our jobs (although now, after seeing how most people live, we have learned not to complain). We knew that we could not wait much longer as we dream of having a family one day. So we set a date (May 5, 2010), and communicated our decision to our families and friends – which was the most important step of the whole journey.
Why was that?
First, we figured out the logistics of what to do with our jobs, flat, etc. before we told anyone. That way when they raised objections, we could explain in detail how we would take care of those situations. Then, the reactions were stunningly good!
It was the most important step because once other people are involved in your plans, it gets more difficult to say, “No, it all has just been a joke.”
The acceptance motivated us a lot. We knew that we were doing the right thing, and that our family and friends support us.
What were your jobs/careers?
I (Anita) worked as a Graphic Designer in a small advertising company. I (Andreas) worked as a purchaser for a company which produces solar panels.
Why do you prefer bicycling, instead of flying or driving?
It is the slowness of our travel that makes it so intense. You are urged to stop in small, remote villages – talk to people with different social backgrounds. Some are bitterly poor, and would give you their last piece of bread. But also many rich people showed us respect and were very hospitable.
What does “slowness” mean to you?
There’s a saying which describes “slowness” perfectly: “The snail can tell you more about the way than the rabbit.”