The shortest cycling tour ever???

This is yet another attempt to write this post. We have thousands of versions of its beginning, we even got as far as the middle part but we have never gone through to the end. We told our story million of times, we could even tell most of it in Portuguese, the language that we cannot actually speak.

When we set up this blog we thought more about sharing photographs than words. We don’t have many pics so far but we have what we think is an amazing story to tell. A story about events that took place during the first two weeks of our trip. It is written for all the people that were part of the events so that they can see the whole chain of situations with our eyes. There were dozens of people and there is no way we could mention them all here. Not only because many remained anonymous to us but also because with many of them we spent too little time to have a meaningful impression of them. We focused on few characters but this story is about everybody involved.

So this was the little-too-long-introduction to the rest of the text. If you feel brave enough bring some coffee and handkerchiefs. You will cry, you will laugh just like when watching your favorite Brazilian soap opera.

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We are finally on the southern hemisphere, in South America, something we were dreaming of for some time. We came here with a simple idea to cycle for as long as we could. The preparations were long and tiring but we enjoyed them nevertheless as they brought as closer to our goal.

Wojtek was mastering “applied cyclology” to prepare our machines for the expedition and to be able to fix any problems on the way. I was going through insurance options, travel agencies, vaccination and I was gathering necessary clothing.
We went through hundreds of websites of other travelers to ask for hints about equipment and we finally gathered everything. We were prepared for extreme hot with our water bags, water filter and extreme cold with our down sleeping bags and merino wool clothing. We had a suite of electronic devices to tap into the digital world on the go and solar panel and portable batteries to keep them going off the grid. We had dozens of gadgets each one serving some purpose to make our thousands kilometers long journey easier.

We landed in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and we hopped on a bus to Sao Vicente where Wojtek was assembling bikes for two hours. After all was done we went for a test drive around the bus station showing the locals our temporary lack of abilities to ride these slightly overloaded two wheeled vehicles. When we felt ready we hit the road.

Just to be clear, when we set out for this trip we didn’t want to break any records. Speed, distances, this isn’t our thing. Unexpectedly and unwillingly we broke a record (or so we think) of the shortest distance ever traveled on a bicycle trip. After a whopping 1.7 km our journey was violently stopped in its tracks. This amazing score was not due to the weight of our machines nor was it a lack of stamina nor was it our decision to travel in a more comfortable way. It was a rather unpleasant reality check. Brazilian reality – the dark side of it.
In broad daylight, on a busy road with dozens of people around we were attacked by four guys. One of them on a falling apart bicycle blocked off Wojtek while another grabbed my bicycle. The other two bravely supported the effort by reaching to my pockets and taking my wallet. Wojtek let go off his bicycle only when one of the guys made a move as if he was reaching for a weapon. They jumped on our machines and wobbling they took off leaving us in a state of shock and dismay: our first day of the trip, our “perfect” bicycles, our dreams all gone in a matter of seconds.

Some people who lived nearby and who passively observed all that happened offered to call the police. We couldn’t say no to this. We had been waiting for 40 minutes but the local law enforcement apparently had more important things than a couple of ex-cyclists. We didn’t feel safe at the place where it all happened so we decided to walk back to the town center. In a supermarket, where an hour before we had bought some food, we asked to call the police again. Soon we became an attraction with people approaching us and with a pity asking “Tudo?” – “Tudo.” we were automatically replying – everything. “Everything” was, as usual, an exaggeration. After all we had some cycling gear left – our helmets and gloves, some camping gear – our Petzl knife that Wojtek put in his pocket after opening the bike boxes. His big pockets saved some other stuff too: a phone, his passport and vaccination book and… his credit card. The latter being the reason why we are still in South America and not on the first plane back to Europe.

After some time spent in front of the shop our guardian angel appeared in a person of Isamanda. At last the words spoken to us made more sense. With a mix of Spanish and English we were taken off the street and offered a shelter at her home. All of her family not only were comforting us but also offered food, clothes and a bed to stay for a night. But it didn’t end there. Some phone calls were made in an attempt to recover our documents, but it turned out they were thrown out to the ocean. Isa drove us to the police station (btw the police never arrived after the second call) where I could talk to somebody from the Polish consulate in Sao Paolo. Unfortunately the police resources have to be really limited as I was forced to finish the conversation half way through. We were then invited to a room where an officer on duty proved his identity by ostensibly taking his gun out and putting it on his desk. Then he proceeded to prepare a report. While doing this he was entertaining us with jokes in Portuguese we couldn’t understand not to mention that we weren’t in a mood for laughing. With a relief we left the place holding a 3 page long report in our hands.
The next day Isa’s parents drove us to the Polish consulate in Sao Paolo. If it weren’t for Isa and her family we would probably still be in Sao Vicente trying to figure out what to do. For all your help we thank you wholeheartedly!

The people working in the Polish consulate were really kind and helpful. In a matter of hours I had a temporary passport and some maps to get around Sao Paolo – the city of bad reputation as far as personal safety goes.
Despite all that had happened we knew we wouldn’t give up. We were determined to carry on with the journey, we just needed the right place where we could feel safe and where we could think about what to do next.
Sao Paolo definitely wasn’t this place. It is a monstrous agglomeration we didn’t know anything about and which we didn’t plan to visit. We were there against our will and we had to deal with it somehow. It took us over two hours to find an Internet cafe. You would think that “Internet cafe” is an international phrase but you’d be wrong just like us. After asking some random people and trying every possible pronunciation of “Internet cafe” we could think of and still getting nowhere we found a guy speaking English in Portuguese Language Museum (life is not without a sense of irony). He kindly explained to us that in Brazil “Internet cafe” is called “LAN House”. LAN House??? Really? After 5 minutes we were sitting in front of a computer getting all the information we needed.

We decided to go to Curitiba, a city in Parana state of Brazil. We chose it for few reasons. Firstly, it was on our original route of the journey. Secondly, it was smaller than Sao Paolo but still large enough to get all the required equipment. However the most important reason of all was that there is a lot of descendants of Polish immigrants living there and we needed something familiar to get our lost confidence back. We hopped on an overnight coach and we arrived there the next morning.

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In Curitiba our first steps led us to… LAN House. That is right! We are the children of the information revolution. The Internet never lies, the Internet will save us.
We decided to get in touch with a local cycling community with a help of warmshowers.org. This is a kind of social network similar in a way to couchsurfing.org but dedicated to cyclotourists. The idea is simple, you find a person living close to your cycling route and you ask whether you can stay for a night or two. The “showers” in warmshowers is the important part. All cyclists know that there is nothing as regenerating after many hours of pedaling as a warm shower. We found a couple of people from Curitiba registered on the portal and we sent out a call for advice and help. What we counted for was some hints about shops, second hand bikes and so on. Who else if not the local cyclists would know better about all those things? We weren’t wrong!
In 10 minutes our phone began to ring and a wave of support started to roll. The same day we met with João and later on with other cyclists at what seemed to be a crisis counsel. The possibility of being back on bicycles was starting to be real again. We were sitting at the table with all the guys with our jaws dropped, not really believing in what was going on…. and this was only the beginning.

narada_wojenna

Crisis Counsel

Curitibian Humanitarian Action for “dois poloneses” was getting up to speed and its size far exceeded our expectations. Only few hours before we had felt lost and alienated in this huge country and all of the sudden we started to experience that there are always people willing to help without being too serious about the whole thing.
And so in the first evening we tasted one of the best rib sandwiches and we got to know the secret code of ordering beer (warning to all people visiting Curitiba, do not play with the cap of the container in which the beer is served, it may end in a large quantities of the amber beverage on your table :) ).
The evening wasn’t however only about tasty food and cold beer, we got news that some people will contribute bike parts and that there are good chances of assembling new horses. We were happy and overwhelmed at the same time.

We were invited to stay for a night by Luiz who became our host for all 11 days we spent in Curitiba. He is a seasoned cyclotourist. His living room walls are full of photos from different trips that him and the rest of the odois.org crew made. He even cycled along the famous Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route in Spain. Something we cannot claim we did even though we lived so much closer to the country than him. He is a man that combines such seemingly distant things like vipassana meditation and punk rock, photography, cycling, being computer geek and massage therapist. But above all he is a guy wearing a heart on his sleeve. He was one of the main coordinators and initiators of the efforts to help us out.  We hope that the Polish invasion of his house, taking over his bedroom and turning his living room into a storage place will not discourage him from hosting more strangers (especially from Poland). It is hard to use words to express how grateful we are to Luiz for his involvement and his patience with us.

So here is how the Curitibian action developed.

Wednesday – 13.03
We met with some Curitibian cyclists and we experienced the power of the Internet. The news about our adventure started to circulate among the locals and new possibilities were opening. We also ran into Alicja and Tomek – Polish tourists we spent most of the day with. Nothing like Polish company in “Polish” city ;)

Thursday – 14.03
We started with a visit to Bicicletaria Cultural – an amazing place where you can not only learn a thing or two about bicycle mechanics but it also serves as a place for all sorts of events and activities: movie watching, language courses, natural birth workshops, etc, etc… we even attended a part of quantum physics lecture in Portuguese (double whammy! I guess it was too ambitious). If you are ever cycling through Curitiba drop in, this place has a good vibe.
Fernando and Pati who run the place let us stay over there for as long as we wanted to focus on assembling the bikes. They are this kind of people that you meet for the first time and you feel you have known them forever.
To us Bicicletaria Cultural was not only about bicycles but it also was a place of meeting different people who were always happy to exchange few words no matter what language.

Bicicletaria Cultural

Bicicletaria Cultural

The evening was a moment to catch a breath after chasing bicycle parts all around the city. We sat down in a nice place with the cyclists crowd.

We also got to know Rafael better – a guy who probably was born sitting on a bike. I am not sure though what kind of bike it could have been: mountain bike, fixed gear, road one or maybe any other. It seems as if a bike is an extension of his body. You must see to understand it. Rafael is not able to sit even for 5 minutes unless he has a bicycle saddle under his buttocks ;).  Thanks to him we learnt about a division in the community between mountain bikers and fixed gear cyclists remaining in a state of a constant bloodless war. A war fought with jokes, teasing, slagging and big hugs in the end. His passion for all types of two wheeled vehicles makes him a good link between those two worlds.

Fixed gear cyclists community is not only about the bikes. As we observed it is also about fashion and a pinch of madness, it is about mastering track bikes and rushing through the streets without brakes.

There was no way for this evening to finish to early because Victor entered the scene. A guy with a razor sharp mind and a pure blood fixed gear biker (or so we think). He showed us a night life in Curitiba and invited us for a night or rather what was left of it to his home.

Friday – 15.03
When we woke up around 12 we were introduced to Vic’s family and we stayed for a lunch. We left the place and chatted away while strolling through the town waiting for the evening meeting which was to be a turning point in our mission to get back on the road. At Paço da Liberdade – a regular meet up place for the local cyclists – we were observing people coming from all directions bringing bicycle parts: wheels, brakes, a frame, cassettes, chains, camping gears, clothes, money, kidneys, livers…. OK, there were no organs involved but it wouldn’t surprise us if there were. Again with a jaw dropped we were watching the pile growing. We could see that even the local guys were amazed with the result of their action. There was no turning back. The bikes had to be assembled and we had to be back on the road. All this couldn’t be in vain.

na_placu

Paço da Liberdade

fixed

Paço da Liberdade

 

Saturday – Sunday 16-17.03
During the weekend we were invited to Luiz mom’s house where we met yet again with incredible hospitality of all the family members and we further explored Brazilian cuisine. We were joking that if we kept on enjoying all these delicacies we wouldn’t be able to get on the bikes again. It was amazing to watch Luiz’s mother conjuring up delicious food that our taste buds got crazy about. We also got to know Eduardo, Luiz’s brother, a devoted cyclotourist and a member of odois.org.
On the same day my new bike was born. It was named Franchesca as undoubtedly she had something in common with Frankenstein being put together form different parts of different bikes.

montowanie_roweru

First Steps of Our Bikes

On Sunday we went to explore nearby mountains but somehow we ended up in a magic forest. No, really, we met “Jesus” – Eduardo’s and Luiz’s friend – who led us to a nearby house of his friend who makes…. pannier bags for bicycles. That’s right, meet Tommy of Quatro Ventos who generously gave us one second hand pannier bags and sold one new pair for a good price. It WAS a magic forest.

Monday – Wednesday 18-20.03
We don’t even know how these days passed by. We were waking up early and running to Bicicletaria Cultural, where Wojtek was working on Franchesca and was preparing parts for his bicycle. With a help from Fernando we discovered a local bicycle shop Agencia Bicicleta. We were a bit intimidated that with our poor Portuguese explaining the details of what we needed would be hard if not impossible. Luckily Vivienne, who works at the shop turned out to speak fluent English. She was our communication channel to the rest of the crew. We are not sure where she took all her patience from as we were visiting the shop sometimes four times a day, but she was our savior. The whole crew got really involved to help us out. They were giving us advises, they gave us huge discount on everything we bought and we got some freebies too! They even went as far as going to another shop to check whether the others had something they were out of stock. Their mechanics did some part of the work on the bikes where our skills fell short. Thanks to them the work on bicycles progressed rapidly.

assembling_bikes2

In Heat of Work

On Tuesday evening we got a chance to see what else can be done on a fixed gear bike – obviously cycling backwards and putting it on fire is not enough. And so we witnessed a bike polo training session. That’s right, your legs on pedals  - and be careful as there is penalty for touching the ground – and a polo stick in one of your hands. Easy peasy? Not quite. When I was mastering the strikes with polo stick Wojtek was trying to tame the bike. However with our skills we were not able to combine these two things together. In contrast, the guys (all two of them) were smoothly cruising around the playground without loosing their balance and actually being able to hit the ball. A pure act of finesse…

However not for the policemen who unexpected appeared in front of us and started to search for drugs. For us not used to the local procedure it was quite shocking and disturbing to watch the policemen jumping out of their car with a gun ready to use and to see guys putting their hands on their heads without any objections. Obediently we followed the others. I couldn’t stop wondering where were they with their guns when our bikes got stolen couple of days before.

Thursday – Saturday 21-23.03
We were racing with time. We really wanted to hit the road on Sunday. Cities are not our domain and we felt an urge to be on the road. Franchesca was ready but Wojtek’s bike was still in… parts. There were some important bits missing… like a frame :).

At the same time thanks to the incredible Thais, Luiz and Eduardo a fund raising event was organized. It was a dinner at one of Curitiba’s many churrascarias (Brazilian version of a barbecue restaurant). A whole bunch of people showed up to support the cause and some who couldn’t appear in person contributed by sending money over a wire. After the dinner was over the guys from odois.org ran an auction to raise additional funds.
To top all this the management of the restaurant agreed to pay my bill for the food. On the same night Michal, a Polish-born guy we met the day before at Bicicletaria Cultural, brought us a whole bike. Unfortunately we couldn’t use it for this kind of trip so we passed it on to Fernando from Bicicletaria Cultural.
All this was quite overwhelming, we couldn’t believe the generosity and selflessness of all the people. The bright side of Brazilian reality far outweighed what we experienced on our first day – tenfold! Of course we suspected all the guys met secretly the day before and all agreed that they need to get rid of us as quick as possible or we would never leave Curitiba :)

flyer

Churrascaria Event Flyer

churrascaria2

Churrascaria

On Friday and Saturday we were in the heat of preparing our departure. The money raised covered the missing parts of the second bike and so Salvadore was born. It was named after Curitibian artist who was a regular visitor at Biciletaria Cultural and whose appearance was strikingly similar to that of the famous painter.
On Saturday we visited Agencia Bicicleta for the last time to pick up a wheel and few other bits and pieces. Then it was the time to say our goodbyes.
We got back to Bicicletaria Cultural and just before it closed we finished work on the bikes and we even found some time to decorate them using some silver and blue spray pain just so they don’t look worth stealing. At last! After all these days we left BC actually cycling! We were so happy!

last_days

Last Touches

The last evening we spent on planning the route with João and Eduardo who turned out to be full of great tips and information.

Sunday 24.03
Finally! The day of long awaited departure arrived. Escorted by Rafael, Luiz and few other cyclists we left Curitiba towards the Foz do Iguaçu. The guys were accompanying us for the first 50km and then we parted our ways.

w_drodze

Our Escort from Curitiba

Luiz_Rafael

Goodbye Time

The first chapter of our Curitibian story is closed but we know there will be another one. We want to go back there to meet again with all this incredible people and to share our experiences from the journey. We promised that and we will keep our word.
The second attempt at cycling around South America would have never happened if it weren’t for the people of Curitiba: crazy in a good way, passionate cyclists, their families and friends. Thank you again and we will see you in a while.

Writing this post took us many hours to complete. We wanted to keep the story of the unlucky beginning and our time in Curitiba short, we wanted to keep it in documentary style without getting too much into details. We doubt we actually achieved it. As we wrote this text our memories brought moments, people, events that we wanted to find a place for and so the text grew to the size of a novel chapter. At the same time we are aware that this text is not detailed enough to cover everything that happened during that time.

18 Responses to The shortest cycling tour ever???

  1. Nick says:

    Aga, it is so wonderful for me to see you smiling in those photographs. Many years ago as a young geologist taking time off from an oil rig in Venezuela I was mugged in a town called Santa Marta in Colombia. It took me a month to find my way back to my job in Venezuela. But you know what, the misfortune brought me in touch with some wonderful people. There were evil people too, but the generosity I encountered far out weighted the nastiness. It left with me an enduring belief in the essential goodness of people which has never left me. I wish you and Wojtek every joy on this trip. Living the dream is about experincing the pain and the pleasure. Go for it girl!
    Nick

  2. Lenka i Bolo says:

    WOW! An amazimg story, when you`ve survived this, you`ll survive everything! :D
    We don`t even know what to say, your adventure is the proof that everywhere in the world you can experience the hospitality of good and inspiring people! Our prayers are with you, good luck, cheers from Warsaw, hope to see you again one day!!!

  3. Thanks for all the good time we have here! Hope you have a wonderfull trip, and come back with many pictures and good histories! Have fun!

  4. Tomek says:

    I told you to stay home…just kidding, unbelievable story, …keep your heads up guys and keep us posted. enjoy your next kms of your trip and stay away from guns and drugs:)
    I see it’s raining there so at least it feels like home:)
    thumbs up
    Tomek

  5. Dominika says:

    Hej!

    …only the Polish words come to my mind first:”kuuuurde….historia jak z filmu!!!!”
    I have read all the chapter and it took my breath away..It is like reading an extremely interesting book: you really want to come to the end and find out what’s next! Although the very beginning was a big surprise, you have shown that you can go through this and you can keep moving on.I am sitting on the chair in Poland right now trying to imagine the whole scenario…I can’t! From one side it is a big pity that you have lost your “horses” after 1.7km. On the other hand : it is amazing how you faced the situation and got back on track with your “Francesco” and Francesca” ;) All that initial story, with all the messed thoughts in your mind and mixed feelings, made the beginning of your adventure even more satisfying! I hope you will keep enjoying you journey and I am looking for reading the next chapter!
    Aga and Wojtek: GOOOOOOD LUCK!!!!!
    Dominika

  6. Zaba says:

    Wow, Wojtku i Agnieszko. Jestem podekscytowana i pod wrazeniem. Nie przeczytalam jeszcze w detalach, ale przeczytam wkrotce do poduchy. Pozdrawiam.

  7. Camila says:

    Jaysus, can’t believe this all happened to you in such short space of time! Federico sent me an email this morning when I arrived in work with the subject “surprise” and the link on youtube to the video. And it was a huge surprise indeed! But I’m really glad to hear you found support from so many nice people and managed to get back on the road. Best of luck for the next part of the trip, trust you’ll keep in touch!
    All the best :)
    C xx

  8. Lulis says:

    Ow, polacos, how amazing was that? And I’m pretty sure that will be much more, afukngincrediblejourney has just begun!!! Thanks for all things that we have learned with you these days, guys! I’ll never forget! Good journey! And go back Curitiba at end (and here you know were to stay!)! =D Niemuviepopolsku!

  9. Dora says:

    Wow!!! my favourite read in a long while!! A big can of pepper spray at hand at all times to use it on those who want to grab your bike!!!!! Such an amazing story and I am glad to hear you are on the road. Keep the blog coming!! xxx

  10. Patrycja says:

    Speachless… The story simply left me with no words. I read it with jaw dropped literally touching the floor ;) Awaiting a second chapter of your crazy and ubelivable “novel” I wish you all the best!

  11. ola says:

    pozdrawiamy i kibicujemy wam, po przeczytaniu asia pozostaje w szoku :)
    mamy nadzieje ze kolejne przygody beda duzo przyjemniejsze

    hakuna matata
    ola i asia

  12. Viviane says:

    Hey Wojtek and Aga,
    Your story could turn into a movie or a brazilian soap opera for sure!!!
    Brave of you not getting intimidated and facing all… you two experienced the worst and the best of us brazilians!!!
    Really good to know you´re back on track!
    And as i said, stay off the bad things and i hope for now on, you only get to know good people and good places to share experiences!!!
    Good psychlo trip!!!

  13. CARLOS AUGUSTO KARECA says:

    PESSOAS SIMPLISMENTES FANTASTICAS,QUE DEUS ABENÇOE AS PELADADAS DELAS.
    FOI MUITO BOM RECEBE-LAS.

  14. Marina says:

    The most importate can not be stolen: faith, courage, joy and perseverance. You are true warriors. I’m sure after this experience you are stronger to keep cycling. I feel sad and ashamed of you were robbed in Brazil. But at the same time I was proud to know that you received help and remain confident. You have inspired me much!

  15. Orlaith says:

    This is incredible, what ugly misfortune transformed into a beautiful experience of human kindness and also FOOD! Keep on truckin you two, I eagerly await your adventure to unfold.

    P.S
    Wojtek’s looks like an escaped convict with his new shaven head.

    Love to you both x

  16. Miriam says:

    The flag the white and red flag, I made it, yehhhhh!!!!! Thank you my friends I loved your post here.

  17. Ken K says:

    Yo! Great craic altogether! That’s why you go on these trips! Glad it turned out well.
    The new haircut is…ummm…practical, but I think you missed a bit at the back, Artur!!! LOL
    The funniest bit was the 100% pure Irish rain as you cycled away. You could have got that in Connemara!

    Happy trails! Keep the stories coming! See you when you get back. Ciao.

    • Wojtek says:

      Hello! Hahaha, don’t reveal my true identity dude, I am here incognito, hahahha. Yeah, the weather in Curitiba is exactly like in Ireland and it was one of the factors contributing to that we felt at home there :). I read recently that Ireland broke the record of consecutive sunny days. 6 (sic!) since 1970? Keep it up! Greets!

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