Fall at Freewheeling

By Freewheeling staff member,  Alana Lojek

View Of St. Margaret’s Bay, from Freewheeling HQ

Ah, fall. Sunny days, crisp nights, and the glorious progression of autumnal hues. A chance to catch our breath and reflect on the whirlwind summer, a wonderfully hectic season that has suddenly passed us by.

As the greenhorn of the group, I have been able to watch as adventures unfold; from the early booking stages of my first days at Freewheeling, to the post-tour feedback from guests. It has been an exciting experience witnessing tours come to fruition.

If we’re being honest, though, I must confess to finding myself in a rather panic-stricken state for the first few weeks of employment at Freewheeling headquarters. Not that there is anything nerve-wracking about the staff here; on the contrary, you couldn’t ask for a kinder, more laid-back bunch. It is the million little details that go into a tour (so-and-so only likes orange Gatorade, or was it blue?) that woke me at 3 am, wondering if I had remembered to book the proper hotel rooms and note the medical details for tour participants.

Now that I have shed the rabbit-in-the-headlight demeanour (or so I am choosing to believe), I can see that it is precisely that level of attention to detail that make Freewheeling trips so special. Need help making pre-tour reservations? We can do that. Like dark chocolate, but not so fond of white chocolate? We’ll make sure you get all the cocoa-ey goodness your taste buds can handle. Basically, we aim to please.

These days, our time here at Freewheeling headquarters is spent preparing for next season, identifying and implementing improvements to our routes, inns, and service.  We are once again busy planning great tours, and having fun along the way.

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Cycling the Eastern Townships

By Freewheeling guide, Dan Corbett

After a classic getaway from a sweaty Grand Prix weekend in Montreal, the tour kicked off amidst a street festival of local crafts and produce in the picturesque hamlet of Dunham, Quebec. Late in the afternoon, there was just enough time to acquaint with our bikes then take on an easy 24km loop ride. Stomachs growling, a local sauvignon blanc magically complemented Françoise’s beautiful presentation of Lac Brome duck and grilled peppers in the intimate dining room of her lovely B&B.

A drizzly morning could put no damper on the boundless ambitions for a second day of riding, neither could an unexpected detour around a missing bridge. Thankfully, one amongst the many things the Quebecois have mastered is the preparation of coffee. Les Sucreries de L’Erable, while famed for its maple syrup pie, also serves up a mean espresso. The extra jolt carried us all swiftly towards a hot lunch at Sutton (and no, we didn’t even consider tasting the exquisite apple cider brandy at Domaine Pinnacle) just as the drizzle and wind escalated into a veritable downpour. Enter the support vehicle. Cold, wet and longing for ease? Hop on board! Tired, poor and hungry masses congregated in the Volvo for a dry shuttle to Knowlton. Side note: if you’ve yet to experience from inside a car the sight of your friends riding in the pouring rain, you’ve yet to feel true pity. The 150-year-old Auberge Knowlton awaited us with hot showers, towels and hot meals supplemented carefully with a brief shopping trip in centreville Knowlton.

As with most foul weather, this storm simply didn’t have the gumption to stick around for another day. The sun shone beamingly through the clouds by mid morning on the third day and we made our way along the trafficless, wooded road beside lake Memphremagog to a stone-pier, shoreside picnic of local foods in Knowlton’s landing. Free entertainment (en français) was provided by sailors Larry, Curly and Moe, raising their vessel’s mast to inaugurate the season. Stuffed with prosciutto, Camembert, chocolate & strawberries, we sluggishly carried on riding towards the Abbey at St. Benoit du Lac. Here, we toured the vast, active monastery to the sound of an organ resonating Bach throughout. The last leg of the day was interestingly split between the busiest road of the week and a dedicated bike thoroughfare. One must feel lows to really appreciate the highs. The bike path into Magog was second to none and led us directly to our delightful, French ex-pat owned B&B. A supper of smoked salmon focaccia and exotic pizzas left us brimming for the short walk through the lively village back to our inn at the end of the night.

After a long third day, a bit of rest was in the cards for our circuitous ride about Magog. The route called for a long venture uphill toward the north border of Mt Orford National Park, followed by a long, winding, backroad descent back to Magog. To truncate the day, we elected simply to drive to the top then cruise back down. What a joy it was! This stretch of road was probably my personal favourite for the whole trip. So it was possibly for its immaculate pavement, downhill stretches and almost entire freedom from cars, but more likely for its terminus at one of the finest bakeries ever I’d visited. ‘Twas a very good thing the remainder of the road was scarcely inclined. The provincial, downtown Magog was at its best on a sunny afternoon. To be sure, lakeside patio dining comes no finer.

Day five brought us from Magog to North Hatley along 80 kilometers of quiet roads. Climbs both steepened and stretched, but with four days behind us, everyone was feeling strong. Yesterday’s forests were replaced with vast pastureland – grains, grapes, lavender and ‘mooooooo’ cows. A classic covered bridge made for a terrific spot for fresh fruit and fabulous home-made cookies at our mid-morning break. Lunch in Ayer’s Cliff could have been no better a preface to a beautiful stretch of lakefront bike lane. One of the best sections of riding for the week was today’s 20km converted rail bed beside the Tomiphobia river. Avian songs and a trickling river were all that could be heard apart from bike tires on packed gravel. A mill re-conditioned to become the Picallili restaurant in North Hatley offered memorable tastes plus a quiet & refined but modest atmosphere. I was told that the salmon was not to be missed. I, however, blessed my tongue for the first (ahem, and last) time with a most splendidly presented plate of veal kidney.

With the promise of a second night in North Hatley’s Manoir Hovey, there was little need to wake early for our penultimate day’s 55km ride. An unsightly construction zone was carefully bypassed in the car and the ride began at the quiet crossroads dubbed the town of Compton. The week’s sole punctured tire was replaced in record time and only a few rolling hills dotted the route through pastoral richness. A latte break in the bustling small town of Coaticook was the last of our stops on route to a picture-perfect waterfront park at Lac Lyster in Baldwin Mills. With the day’s riding finished, our picnic was decidedly abundantly stocked in all things delicious. The eating was appropriately no holds barred. Ice cream and sunny naps in the grass were for some, while others took 62 minutes (sorry to keep you waiting) to hike to an endless outlook from atop the mammoth cliff at Lac Lyster.

In only a modicum of haste, we returned to Manoir Hovey for a dining experience that was an event unto itself. Finer attire somehow absent, I contentedly sat, much to the bemusement of our half-dozen servers, in a borrowed M.H. golf shirt whilst we were served possibly the most extraordinary food that has ever graced my palette. You must experience it for to understand. Tired and stuffed, we passed on the sampling of 25 local cheeses and moved right along to desserts that were otherworldly in their goodness.

A pleasantly tardy final morning marked the end of a week fast gone by. The 90 minute drive back to Montreal was broken up by the tying up of loose ends in Dunham and one last charmed bakery stop for lattes and melt-in-your-mouth croissants.

The colours and tastes of this remarkable region still linger in my mind. One of the great joys of being a Freewheeling guide is that I know I’ll be back here soon. It’ll be just a matter of weeks, in fact. You ought to come along for

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Just getting started

By Freewheeling guide, Dan Corbett

A full season of near perfect weather is a rarity to behold – abundant sunny skies, persistent tail winds, hot days and cool sea breezes. It’s a cyclist’s dream really. And when, after a full season of said majesty, the forecast suddenly calls for a hurricane, I get excited.

It takes a fairly substantial amount of personal mania to be keen to ride a bicycle in ferocious winds and pouring rain, but then again it takes a similarly good bit of mania to want to be a guide of bicycle tours. Understandably, if I were to have booked a bicycle tour months in advance to arrive to a forecast of such tremendous severity, I too would have cause for concern. Herein lies a quirky paradox. In reality, nothing would please me more than to be out and about on a bicycle, embracing these periodic Gaian endowments for all that they’re worth. In character; however, my mission is to convince everyone in the van of (1) the falsehood that “it’s not so bad out there” and (2) the utter improbability that it will just pass us by – the storm, that is.

I’m profoundly amazed by the enthusiasm the guests are able to maintain despite the noticeably worsening conditions in driving up to Cape Breton this mid-September day. Positive attitudes aside, I think there’s an inconcealable sadistic inclination most people feel when faced with adverse conditions. In this case, said inclination will be expressed with persistent inquiries into radio weather forecasts which persistently report the same doleful news. Islanders in all corners of the Cape are said to be boarding up their windows and triple-anchoring their boats, leaving us with discouraging mental images of widespread desertion awaiting us on arrival.

“You can never trust these silly forecasts,” I say, “and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Eastern Canada (in this, my first season here), it’s that weather prophets are, at best, as legit as they sound.” Meanwhile, I keep a tight lid on my eagerness to ride in such meteorological misery.

The rains climax at times with the fortitude of a small army and I feel the need to pull over the vehicle and wait it out; necessarily taking the opportunity to don my waterproofs and review the quality of my knots, making fast once again the bicycles on the roof. The winds fill our big, blue, steel sail with such gusto that I’m sure we’re destined to become an automobile rollover statistic. The thunder and lightning is… well, intimidating even to a lover of all things turbulent.

The Canso causeway (a confidence-compromising bridge if I’ve ever traversed one) is looking like a bit of a disaster zone. Massive waves surge against the stone break only 10 feet to the van’s starboard, blasting spray in a vertical duel with the rain high above our heads. The wind howls with the guttural passion of a famished beast, desperately trying to push us overboard the crossing for the sea to feast. Our sad shadows under the orange streetlamps show the wheels of the bikes spinning much faster than most people would ever care to ride. Once we’re safely across the bridge, surely the worst must be over.

And then from straight out of left field, something absolutely unexpected takes us for a ride. The storm starts to subside. Finally conceding defeat after trying her best to keep us at bay, Gaia reclines in her chaise lounge and says, “Okay – you win. I guess there’s no stopping the Freewheeling van.” The rain ceases, leaving little more than big puddles amidst drying patches of tarmac. The wind relaxes refreshingly like the long awaited finish to an unpleasant carnival ride. The thunder and lightning: nothing more than a damp taste in the air. A surreal drive into Baddeck, it is.

And in a scene reminiscent of the cliché dénouement towards the end of every apocalyptic action movie, people start coming out of their homes, gazing upon the now fragmented cloud cover and the six o’clock rays of sunset beaming through the gaps.

“Well,” I say, “I guess it’ll be a good day for riding after all,” secretly frowning over the recent turn of events. Alackaday, my perfect storm will have to wait.

 

If you think that’s exciting, you should see what happens after we arrive. The weather isn’t always this much fun in Cape Breton, but the adventures are always unforgettable. Come join us!

Visit Freewheeling.ca and see our Cabot Trail Tour.

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Cycling In Taiwan

Ah-liang and Ah-bu are our new tour partners in Taiwan. Both are avid cyclists and well known community members who love what they do and do it very well.

Ah-liang is known in particular for his penchant and skill in assembling custom bicycles.  Just give him a list of parts and components, and he can generally source them directly from the factories in Taiwan and have them delivered within the week.  All this for less than half the price of a comparable bike in Canada.  Perhaps your trip to Taiwan could be a good time for you to make a wish list?

His better half Ah-bu takes care of the accounting at the shop and seems to be in charge of P.R. 🙂 She has a degree in English, and is often volunteered for translation duties.  She once spent the day translating for Jane Goodall – which, as she will attest, was a very nerve racking experience!

Together they’ve developed a great sense of community.  Ah-liang keeps his bike shop open until at least 9 or 10pm on weekdays, and on any given night you’ll find the shop full of friends talking shop, whether it be bikes, racing, or the next club outing.

The IronMan bike club is a well known and very accessible bike club in Ilan.  Offering rides every Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the shop is unique in providing bikes for friends and significant others free of charge. It’s a family friendly and easy going club, with hot cooked meals in mountains meadows often provided by the vehicle support.  They also have an unusually high number of “foreign friends” in their ranks.  They’re not sure how it started, but the local ex-pat community of English teachers has been well represented over the past couple of years.  Another day, another ride, another cultural experience.

See www.freewheeling.ca/tours/taiwan.htm. Ah-liang and Ah-bu guide this trip.

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Revelations in Cuba

Revelations in Cuba

The Guest family goes to Cuba by bicycle, March 2008

Written by Cathy Guest

 

As an alternative to skiing, and with an eye to having an active holiday in a warm place,  Tristan, Taran, Philip and I decided to go to Cuba over March break this year, taking our bicycles and exploring as much as we could. Our initial plan was to use an “all inclusive” as a kind of home base: a beginning and end, if nothing else. In our research pre-trip, which was limited to reading a few guide books and studying up on Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s lives, we determined that the most centrally located point for us might be Varadero, though Havana would be even better situated. In the end, waiting til the last minute to decide, we got the only thing we could: return airfare to Varadero from Moncton for four. All attempts at booking accommodation failed, but conversation with others who had been to Cuba before heartened us that we would find places to stay along the way.

 

The whole point of going to Cuba was to meet the people of that country. Philip had the fondest of memories about Cubans from his fisheries observer days. He once brought home the captain of the vessel, and maybe three others, and we sang and ate, enjoying ourselves immensely while the “authorities” sat in an idling car in front of the house, watching for illegal activity or worse, an escape. Since then, it has been one of Philip’s dreams to visit the homeland of these generous and animated people. You could say we went on faith: Philip was so confident that we would be taken care of.

 

The trip was truly an adventure, and it wasn’t until near the end of our week there that I picked up pen and paper to write a few observations. These are the first words I wrote: “Waiting for dinner. Spirits (mine) are low. I’m feeling unattractive, dumb, and disrespected by my family, by the world, and possibly, by me, too!”

 

My family was pretty shocked when they read that I was feeling this way. I have included this entry to illustrate the darkly pervasive mood that came over me when we came to stay at an “all inclusive” on the Varadero hotel strip. Maybe it was the absence of soul contact there that instigated a welling up of the worst in me. This place, we had all decided, was not Cuba. Lucky for us, we had gotten to know a bit about the “real Cuba” before this, and were able to shake off these feelings of unworthiness, of excess, and of sadness.

 

My adventure truly began with a bathroom visit at the Varadero airport on arrival. Three of the most beautiful women I had ever seen were hanging out in uniforms: these were the cleaners, and the dispensers of the toilet paper. “I have my own”, I said proudly. They pointed to the helmet and inquired “bicycle” or reasonable facsimile, then laughed and laughed, holding their sides.

 

We collected our bicycles and assembled our gear, then stood outside in the noonday heat, amid buses and taxis and blazing sun, wondering, waiting for Philip to change money, and talk to this one and that. Finally, a plan emerged: we would go by taxi to Havana, stopping on the way to see if we would get a room in the hotel in Jibacoa. The route was flat, and we were excidedly looking out the windows. There was much to see – old cars, palm trees, the ocean, and the run-down looking town of Matanzas – we shuddered, thankful that we were not on our bicycles. We stopped in Jibacoa, and were able to look through the glistening hotel lobby. It was cool and inviting, with palm trees and a glimpse of paradise out the other side, with blue skies and turquoise sea. Our hopes soared, then were dashed: no room at the inn (this was to be the story of our trip). It was onward to the old city.

 

We had heard of Havana, and tried to maintain an open mind as we wheeled our bikes, loaded with panniers, among hundreds of people, moving and mixing, en route to the hotel, where Philip had found the last room at the inn. The Hotel Florida was glorious – cool, vast, ornate, exotic. Our room was also lovely, though for four of us, and our bikes, it was a tight fit. We took over a portion of the upstairs lobby, fiddling with our bikes and relaxing in comfy chairs while caged doves cooed soothingly. Exploring for supper options, we found a wonderful old gathering place, Plaza de Armas, and strolled along the fabulous Malecon, with music, fishing, and so much to see by the oceanside. We walked the crowded streets of Old Havana, teeming with Cuban people of all ages, all sizes, all colours. The voices were loud, the smell of sewage and heat disturbing, the poverty appalling. People were dressed like us, walking like us, but seemed to live in dark and crumbling cubicles lining the narrow streets that went on and on every which way. We found a bar, which was recommended in our trusty guide book, The Lonely Planet, and were pleased to find music there. The night was festive and fun. Our welcome to Cuba was warm and exciting.

 

Sleep for me was difficult. In addition to the intensity of the still heat, the streets seemed to be crazy with music and dancing. I longed to go outside and be part of it, but fear overruled: not knowing the language and being alone were too daunting. The party went on and on into the night, so I awoke tired and hot.

 

We packed and loaded our bicycles early the next morning and pedalled out of the hotel lobby into the seething humanity of Calle Obispo, down to the Plaza on cobblestones, then left, out along the Malecon. What freedom! What joy! People waved, and called out “Ola!” One man, across the wide divided road, yelled over his encouragement, blowing kisses, arms wide as if he was trying to hug us as he ran along the road. I wept tears of joy and gratitude for this tender kindness.

 

The fumes eventually began to overpower us, then the heat, and then, the slime got Taran. When waves crash over the concrete wall along the Malecon, the sidewalk becomes green and slippery. Taran went down, and so the epic adventure truly began.

 

We cycled about 40 km, and by 2 p.m., we were baked. Our destination, Playa Baracoa, was an oasis that we longed for. But Playa Baracoa was no oasis. The “book”, our guide, talked of the one kilometre long beach with white sand and friendly casas. We rode from one end of town to the other, wondering where in the world the beach was. Instead, the sea was rough, the coastline strewn with garbage, the water’s edge littered with concrete slabs and demolished structures. People began appearing on the sidewalks and calling out to us from their homes: “You need a room? Come and see!” and so we viewed many fine casas, all inappropriate because there weren’t enough beds for us. We chose a place with two beds and a sofa, with a promise of supper and breakfast. The family was lovely. We learned soon that only three lights worked, that the water (cold only) operated occasionally at best, that the beds had one sheet on bare mattresses, that the pillows were made of knotted rags (I guess…), and that outside our window, the noisy, grunting, fuming, hulking bus stopped often. Ear plugs in, nursing sunburns, we did our best to sleep, and were able to get riding by 7 a.m., in the earliest light, after a scary breakfast of slimey eggs on yellow buns with rancid butter, undrinkable sweet coffee with powdered milk, and thankfully, some fruit. A big journey lay ahead – 60 km to Las Terrazas – paradise, said the book. A five star hotel was sure to have room, and if not, casas abounded. Taran had been suffering with severe burns, sore bum, and general exhaustion. It was a very difficult ride for him, and it went on and on and on. The rest of us enjoyed it, but we were tired as we neared our destination, and ready for rest. Las Terrazas had no rooms for us…but we did manage a delicious swim in the river and some English conversation and sympathy before loading up and vanning it to San Diego de los Banos, 60 km away. In pouring rain, we arrived at the tawdry but welcoming El Mirador. This was heaven for us: space, air, a charming and helpful bellman who looked like Denzel Washington, decent food, Cuban ‘son’ music. The air seemed clearer and fresher. We became rested, reading our books, Taran with Scar Tissue, Tristan with Electric Kool aid Acid Test, Philip with Deep Storm, and me with Before Green Gables.

 

Tristan was sick, and all plans were off. We didn’t know how to proceed, so let him sleep and sleep. Later, he seemed well enough to travel, though not ride, and we had to give up the 60 km “most interesting ride in Cuba” (said the book), much to Taran’s delight. We cabbed it again to the backpacker’s haven of Vinales, and had a driver who lived there and knew everyone intimately. We were poured into the welcoming arms of the Leon Leon Hernandez family for two days, fed and cared for. Hotels, of course, were full. Carnaval was on, and Thursday was ‘pre Carnaval’ – craziness ramping up. Again, the streets were noisy with music til 2 a.m., then full of drunken rants and song.

 

Friday brought fabulous cycling and adventure in the big cave. We were thrilled with the massive cave interior and its beautiful spaces, charmed by tiny ‘pine forests’ of the stalagmites, the glistening walls encrusted with rock like diamonds, views out of holes into green and blue, the helping hands of our competent guide, and making musical bongo sounds on stalactites.

 

After the ride – a glorious downhill with tailwinds – back to town, lunch of ‘jamon y queso’ (ham and cheese) sandwiches was disappointing, but determined to make the most of our stay, we were lured into renting horses and exploring a small cave with clear pools for swimming (“…well worth the trip,” said the book). The horses were near starved, with no energy, the ride mucky and thorny, and the caves dirty and mosquito infested at the entrance. A highlight for me, however, was the capable lamp holder, an old Cuban with rubber boots and straw hat, sure-footed and kind. With his encouragement, I was the first into the questionable pool, and I found it refreshing and uplifting.

 

That evening, we watched dancers in the town square. I was truly inspired by those fabulous bellies, tight and slithering – glitter, feathers, high heels (for the women only!), bright colours and big smiles. I vowed to work my belly and hips like that every day.

 

We were ready to leave town the next day after another raucous night in the streets that surely went on until 4 a.m. After much deliberation, we settled on Varadero as a destination, figuring an all inclusive would repair our tired muscles and satisfy our need for comfort. After six and a half hours in a hot and dusty taxi, via Havana – with a bonus dancing and music break – we arrived on the Varadero strip. After our lovely taximan left us, we went from inn to inn, wheeling our bikes, with sagging spirits until we were finally welcomed into Sol Melia Coral; I felt like Anne Shirley, praying with all my heart for someone to take us in. When we got “the bracelet” and finally “the room”, we dashed into the warm salty ocean and watched blissfully as the sun set into the stunningly blue sea. Next, a mohito (I didn’t like it), leading to a pina colada, and dinner. That is when I wrote my first entry (before the mohito). The thrill wore off quite soon, surrounded as we were by large white people with tiny bikinis, burned crispy, everyone, it seemed, smoking. People were not friendly, and kept to themselves. The Cubans smiled ingratiatingly – lacking the sincere, beautiful warmth we had grown to love. Nonetheless, we did well the next day. I enjoyed doing yoga on the beach at sunrise, then a big ocean swim and breakfast. As the boys relaxed, Philip and I bicycled to Xanadu, soaking up the beauty and civilized comfort of that place, having delicious coffee by the ocean. We snorkelled and swam some more, ate burgers, baked on the beach, snoozed in the shade, saw a Cirque de Soleil style show, and were blissed out in relaxation. The next day, we hung onto our bracelets until the last moment – about 1 p.m, then set off into the last unknown, towards the airport, 40 km away. Our destination was the snorkelling haven of Playa Coral. The wind was crazy, and blew behind us, sending us soaring dizzily at water’s edge with palm trees leaning, skies blue, waters turquoise with white caps. Playa Coral arrived too soon. We had hours ahead of us to hang out, but made friends there: fixed Joseph’s bike, ate lobsters brought to us on plates through the woods from Mom’s kitchen, read our books, chatted, hugged our friendly gatekeeper with tears of gratitude, and eventually made our way to Varadero Airport for our 1 a.m. departure. We rode in darkness under stars and moon, soft air, still howling tailwind, happy to be on our way, glad the last day had been perfect, finding the airport assimilation unfolding without a hitch.

 

Arriving in Moncton 6 a.m.ish, with cold and clear air, clean bathrooms and rude customs officials, we were completely happy to be home, even more so to step into our beautiful beautiful house on the hill.

 

It’s taken us days to recover – laundry, some queasiness, bone tiredness, and settling our active minds.

 

So what is Cuba, everyone wants to know. And what do we know, with only eight full days there? Yet, we have all been touched by the spirit of this country: we have seen optimism and joy in the midst of darkness and dirt, glaring noonday sun, dusty potted roads, empty shelves in tiendas, garbage and slime. We cling to our exquisite surroundings here in on the edge of St. Margaret’s Bay, revelling in the quiet peace, clear cold, luxurious furniture, bedding and temperature, and satisfying, wholesome food. But how close is that scene of disintegrating buildings and run-down architecture to us? How soon before the cars are heaps that we coax into running with bits gleaned from this and that, fuel coming from ‘black market’ sources, chickens, pigs and fish giving us food that we ourselves must nurture, catch and kill? Lettuce that we grow in own front gardens, carrots, cabbage…How would we survive as a people if poverty prevailed, each of us as poor as our neighbours, having to share, count on each other, since to be alone is to perish?

 

The boys think they will not return to Cuba. They may choose not to ride bicycles with panniers again either. But for Philip and me – our hearts grow fonder with retrospection. There is much for us to learn there, and much that we can bring to that country. The prospect of an incredible sharing of human spirit beckons. We are grateful.

  

 Cathy

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Israel

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler remains unaware.” Martin Buber

I just returned from a remarkable trip to Israel. If you have had a life long inclination to see Israel or a have an idea for a creative new plan for a family re-union, Bar or But Mitzvah, or simply want to re-kindle a romance; you can’t beat Israel for active adventure with truly memorable sites along the way. As for what you see on the news, our trip is very safe. The only thing happening where we go is awe inspiring geology, beautiful roads, and wonderful culture.

As a guide with Freewheeling for seven years and an avid cyclist myself, I can tell you this is now my favourite trip. There is the perfect mixture of great riding with fascinating historical, cultural and geological points of information.

We start the adventure in Jerusalem, where we stay at the King David Hotel: the best hotel in the safest part of Jerusalem. This hotel is just outside the old city and makes for a luxurious start to your trip. The history of Jerusalem is so rich and varied you’ll be glad to have our excellent guide during our walking excursion on the first day. It is no surprise that a city inhabited by Jews, Arabs, Christians, Russian Orthodox, Armenians and more would make for one of the most interesting places in the world. One of my favourite parts of the city is the Western Wall. As a place that has loomed so large in my own mind, I was pleased by it’s humble beauty. You will see many people writing little prayers and slipping them into the cracks of the wall. On the ground are old prayers that have fallen out. At the end of each day, these little leaves are carefully put in jars and taken to place where holy texts are safeguarded, and there, they remain forever. I find this is a perfect metaphor for how my own memories of Israel now are kept.

After Jerusalem, we transfer to Biet Guvrin to see an ancient cave city replete with columbarium (I am not telling you what this is, just to keep you interested). This site is one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been. In the heat of the day it is amazing to walk underground and see these clever constructions.

From there we see so much more, I could write a book. Instead, I will keep this to a quick overview: We see Masada, bathe in the Dead Sea, talk to Lot’s wife (the old salt), ride into the Negev Desert, hope to see burning bushes but may be limited to ibex, foxes, amazing tropical birds and ancient roman and Jewish villages not to mention machtesh (I’m doing it again). 

Pete

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Hello world!

Following are collected chronicles of our experiences with bike touring as a commercial and lifestyle endeavour.

Cycling Yucatan and Quintana Roo

The first time I went to the beach near Tulum, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, was in 1977. The sand was warm and white. The water was turquoise, and the reef was a short swim away. Food was fantastic, and everyone was friendly. I visited nearby ruins by bike, and made friends with gentle people who made their living from the earth. It was too brief a visit, and I wanted more.

Three years later I returned with friends and stayed for a month. We lived on the beach, and snorkeled on the reef most days. We ate coconuts, fish, and jungle honey, and met beautiful Mayan descendants who took us for walks through the jungle to swim in hidden freshwater pools where tiny colourful fish nibbled on our skin. In the warm evenings, we swam into Mayan ruins and ate on top of pyramids by moonlight, drinking to the Mayan gods with tequila-laced mango juice, before returning to sleep in huge, comfy hammocks. One night we ate barracuda fresh from the reef, as we sat on a large circular concrete pad sharing stories with Mexican friends. Someone had built the pad with intentions of opening a beachfront palapa restaurant, but had abandoned the dream, leaving us with a perfect dance platform overlooking the sea.

Years later, we returned to refine the itinerary for a new Freewheeling Adventure, and found the palapa finished. It is now a hotel and yoga retreat we frequent on the Mayan multi-sport adventure. The jungle grottoes, known as cenotes, have become popular places for divers and swimmers, and the beach is not as empty as it used to be, but fish still nibble your skin at some of the cenotes, and the beach is often all yours. Coconuts can still be found near the strand, fresh fish and lobster in the restaurants, and jungle honey at roadside tiendas. Inland, the Mayan temples overlook the flat jungle expanses of Quintana Roo, and if you rise early before the day gets hot, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of abundant wildlife, especially in the small villages well away from township bustle. Indigenous Mayan ways of life are changing, as subsistence farming gives way to the demands of international interest in this tropical playland. Go now. You will see why the interest is so keen, and you can still enjoy the simple attractions if you go beyond the resorts, to the lesser known routes and Mayan ruins inland, and the beach villages south of Tulum.

Philip

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