Two wheels, one mission … Laura Bingham cycled across South America, surviving purely on strangers’ kindness

Laura Bingham: 7,000km cycle across South America, July 2016

What was the high point of your trip?
When my sister joined me for a while in Argentina. We have been working here for two days, a person stopped at the roadside, began to speak. He told us how he rode in Spain last year to give us the place he stayed that night. When we arrived at his house, his mother opened his arms to greet us and we had so much food that we ate like king for the first time in the month. The next day we met another cyclist who invited us to his home and his friends for lunch and arranged for us to stay one day later. After a generous lunch, we went to his friend’s place and was stopped by a man in the local city to give us a big bag of oranges. He also offered a stay at home … this level of generosity shocked my core. I think we forget how and how to give people a stranger can take care of you do not expect any return. Interestingly, kindness and a warm smile can highlight your day.

Laura Bingham checks her map during her 7,000km ride

The low point?
The moment that stands out was on day 16, just over two weeks in to my trip. I had been pushing my bike up the Ecuadorian Andes for four days; it was pouring with rain and I was extremely hungry. I had passed house after house of rejection: no one would help. Nothing. We reached a house and I fell to my knees in tears, begging the woman for help, even just her garden to put up my tent. She looked at me, looked at how desperate I was, the tears streaming from my face, and shook her finger. Nothing. I could do nothing and I felt like nothing. I dug deep to source any shred of energy or willpower to keep going.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to do a similar trip?
If you’re planning a cycling trip, pack light. Very light. Weight will hold you back and you’ll be surprised by the amount of stuff you don’t need. Think practically and essentially. I would recommend Gore gloves and rain jacket as they are lightweight. I also loved my down jacket: it kept me warm and worked as a pillow too! Finally, it is important to keep positive. I was raising money for a charity called Operation South America and the thought of them got me through my darkest days. And download some motivational videos or podcasts. I liked to listen to Motivational Madness – it keeps you strong if you’re feeling low.

Rob Greenfield: 72 money-free days travelling from Brazil to Panama

Rob on one of several rides in Mexico

What was the high point of your trip?
Stepping off the plane in Brazil. I had no money, no contacts, no solid plans and 7,000 miles of mystery and wonder ahead of me through lands I’d never set foot on. With so many of us on a quest for more stuff and more money, this is a perspective on Earth that few of us get to feel.

The low point?
The daily challenge of finding a new source of food and water, a place to sleep, and a ride made the whole trip through South America strenuous. To hitchhike 7,000 miles when you don’t like cars isn’t always the most fun. One day in Peru I accidentally got off the Pan-American Highway and ended up in the middle of nowhere. It took me around 12 rides to go just 130 miles. But hitchhiking is worth it because it takes you to places and introduces you to people you never would have seen or met in any other way.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to do a similar trip?
Be prepared and have the gear to be mostly self-sustaining. Carry a tent and sleeping gear, water purifier, cooking equipment and comfy clothes. Travel light and leave behind what you don’t need. Make connections for places to stay,  Ditch your expectations before beginning the journey and keep an open and curious mind.

Rhinal Patel: travelled from her UK home to Hong Kong

Breakfast at sunrise by Lake Toba, Sumatra

What was the high point of your trip, so far?
There is no better feeling than when someone, without knowing who you are, holds out a hand to help you. One memorable experience was hitchhiking in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. My friend Paco went to ask an elderly Muslim lady how far the next town was and she looked at us like we were crazy (hitchhiking is not common in Indonesia). We started waving at the cars going past when suddenly she came over, calmly stood in the middle of the road and made a stop sign in front of a car going past. It stopped immediately, and she told us to get in. This old lady had more power and courage than most kids today! I was truly inspired and impressed. The power of social media also amazed me. People would find my blog online and contact me, inviting me to stay with them.

The low point?
The lowest point was in Germany, I had two days to get to Poland for my flight and I had planned to travel 300km across the north. On the way, a Brazilian guy who picked me up found out that there were growing neo-Nazi towns in the north and I could be entering a dangerous situation. I rerouted via Berlin, adding another 300km to my journey. I arrived late at a service station and decided it was too late to hitchhike, so I slept in the toilet. Then I got a message from someone in Berlin saying that he had read my blogand asked what he could do to help. I told him my situation and he offered to come and get me as well as pay for my bus ticket and a hotel. But before I could reply I lost Wi-Fi connection. I spent the next 90 minutes asking people if I could borrow a phone to call him: everyone said no. Finally, one girl agreed and we waited for her boyfriend to come out of the toilet so I could explain my location to my contact in Berlin. As soon as he came out the look on his face told me he was not going to help me, but I did not expect what was to come out of his mouth: “I am sorry we cannot help you. You might be trying to organise a bomb somewhere.”

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to do a similar trip?

The bad thing will happen to the risk of having a lonely female roaming, but it’s important for me to demonstrate the importance of freedom and independence, especially for women. After hearing that I almost quit the story of Berpe’s story berries, but I decided to act with caution. At night I do not ride a ride I do not know, I started to use other methods, such as train, car stocks, or friends with friends. It is also important to ask the locals how to learn how to read people’s body language and to study the country beforehand.

You need a positive attitude and determination. You will hear “no” on your way, sometimes with dirty looks and annoying comments. But you can not give up on the first, be sure to learn to try it until you get a “yes”. You’re easier to take a ride when you smile than when you’re lost and frustrated. Usually when someone stops, it eventually becomes a beautiful experience. Sweden is a difficult place for me to ride because of bias, but the best advice someone sends me is: “Focus on your goals and do not let anything or anyone else hinder you.”

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