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Monday, 22 March 2010

Pura Vida: Chip Albright Bikes the Americas

Written by Kristen Hamill
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Chip Albright is a self-described modern day explorer from a small town in rural Ohio. Inspired by a passion for the environment and a desire to see the world, Chip left his studies at Hocking College early to travel through Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and eventually South and North America. He's funded his travels with a variety of different jobs -- from farming, to waiting tables, to working on a prawn boat off the coast of Western Australia for eight months-- whatever it took to get to his next destination, and he has no plans on stopping anytime soon.


"For me it has always been about the freedom of the open road, a love of nature and people."

Pura Vida: Chip Albright Bikes the Americas, travel Australia, New Zealand, travel South America, biking americas, biking the Carretera Austral in Southern Chile, biking Bolivia, interview intravel, Kristen Hamill

INTRAVEL: Where are you now Chip?

Just outside of Bakersfield, California. I'm working at a cherry farm for the next few weeks.

INTRAVEL: How did you get inspired to take this trip?

When I was 18 years old I was hitchhiking down Highway 101 out west with three friends. Eventually we ended up in New Zealand, after traveling through Southeast Asia for a while. I bought a road bike and toured around for a bit in New Zealand where I was working at a ski resort. My roommate was actually a professional downhill racer and really into biking, and one night after a few beers we starting talking about how we could probably bike even further than just around New Zealand. We thought, why not try the Americas? And then four months later with a handful of cash, my good mate and I found ourselves on a way-one flight from Auckland to Buenos Aires.

INTRAVEL: How did you plan for your trip?

You’d be surprised; we didn’t do a whole lot of planning. We tried, but it was pretty difficult to get maps of South America in New Zealand, you had to order them in. We had road maps for the general route, but you never really know where you are going until you are at that cross road. My friend I was biking with actually tore his knee out, so he had to go home two months into the trip, so the route changed a bit once I was on my own. But basically I was going on my gut instinct for most of the time.

INTRAVEL: How long have you been biking through the Americas?

Only 14 months, but I’ve been traveling around the world for about four years now. Before that I was a student of ecotourism and adventure travel down in Southern Ohio at Hocking College. I was about to graduate with only one quarter left, but I was sick of all the talk and wanted to experience ecotourism for myself.

INTRAVEL: What have been the highlights of your trip?

Definitely biking in the Carretera Austral in Southern Chile, that’s 900 kilometers of gravel road. It was amazing, in one day you could bike by fifteen glaciers and twenty-five waterfalls, and that was ongoing for about sixteen days. It was a unique experience because the people we were meeting on that road were extremely friendly, and they weren’t used to seeing tourists all the time.

Another highlight was the Mother Nature [aspect of the trip]; we were drinking the water straight from the rivers and waterfalls. The country of Bolivia was also a pretty big highlight; you’ve got the Altiplano which stretches on for about 1,000 miles. We crossed the salars, or salt deserts, like the Salar de Uyuni, that was a pretty cool experience. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America but the people were so generous. Many of these people had absolutely nothing, especially in the places like Altiplano where the conditions are extremely harsh. But every night they’d invite us in to eat dinner. It was like night and day, two different worlds – from being on the Altiplano where they speak Spanish and also Quechua, to the remote villages of the jungles and the papalands. It was interesting to see the two different worlds that were separated by literally 70 kilometers.





So my highlights would definitely be Bolivia, and for Central America I could say that Costa Rica is pretty unique because of the landscape and animals – the volcanoes, the beaches, and the howler monkeys. They have a phrase in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida,” which means pure life; every person I would meet on my bicycle would repeat that phrase to me. I was on a very tight budget, so I’d put my tent up most nights, so I’d ask the locals if they’d mind if I slept in on their property and they were always more than generous. They’d tell me “you are living the pure life, you are more than welcome to put your tent up.”

INTRAVEL: Do you speak Spanish?

I speak enough to get by, but I’m not fluent by any means.

INTRAVEL: Did you experience any significant cultural barriers?

Most definitely, when I was in the Amazon I traveled through the Indian reservation there, and they didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, so that left me behind a huge barrier when I met these people. We communicated with our hands and through gestures. When I started the trip I just learned on the fly.

INTRAVEL: What was the hardest part of the trip?

The lowest point was when my friend left because of his injury two months in. When I took off from Mendoza, where he left, I had 1,300 kilometers to travel in the desert, alone, days on end. At that point I ended up questioning the whole idea behind my trip. That was really hard for me. But everyday is up and down when you are living off the land. I also had some interesting nights in Costa Rica. I woke up one night at 2 a.m. because I was covered in thousands of ants that had eaten a hole through my tent. That’s not really a low point, but at two in the morning you are shaking you’re head going “Oh man, why am I doing this again?”

Another hard part of the trip would have been when I was in Chapas in Mexico biking through the mountain region and it rained for four straight days. Mexico I really took for granted. You picture somewhere in the United States like Kansas, you aren’t going to see anything but straight road for 500 miles. If you traveled for 500 miles in Mexico you’d go through lagoons, swamp lands, beaches, mountains of Chapas, and then Baja California’s diverse desert that is always changing every two hundred kilometers. The scenery is always on the go; even biking through the desert you can’t get bored because it changes so quickly.

INTRAVEL: Was the drug-related violence in Mexico a concern of yours as you passed through?

Mexico has its problems, but if you want trouble, you have to go looking for trouble. Nine out of ten times people are not going to mess with you because they are going after the drugs. I only had one really bad experience in Mexico and that was with the police. I was camping out in a construction site; you couldn’t see me and my tent because it was dark. The cops brought in two Mexican kids in black sacks in the middle of the night. They started to rough the kids up, and finally caught sight of me. The police questioned me, asking me what I had seen. I said, “Guys I don’t know what you are talking about, I was in my tent trying to go to bed,” and eventually they left. That was the only time I felt threatened or a little worried in Mexico. It was just the wrong place at the wrong time.

INTRAVEL: Did anything surprise you about the trip, were any of your expectations challenged?

Well, I know there are places in the world where you can get out there and get lost, but when I left La Paz in Bolivia and headed north towards the border of Brazil through the papalands, I was really surprised how desolate the land was and how primitively people lived. The people in these jungle communities were still shooting monkeys out of trees with bows and arrows and single-gauge shotguns. A lot of these people were very shut off from the outside world, they didn’t know about the countries next door, they didn’t know who President Obama was. It was really surprised me that there are still places like that in the world.




INTRAVEL: How did they perceive your journey in those remote areas? Did they understand what you were doing?

They did understand after I explained to them why I was doing it. I think they also saw it as a bit of a luxury that I could travel through these areas on a bike. I don’t think they got many tourists in that area in general, let alone those on bicycles. They were pretty shocked to say the least, but they were still so inviting and generous. They invited me to sleep in their homes, their fields, to drink chico with them, and to really relax. And I had to give them credit, the last thing I wanted to do after riding a bike for six hours was sit around and talk, but they understood that I was tired and gave me my peace and let me go. That was completely different to when I was in Costa Rica, Panama, or anywhere in Central America—the people there kind of smothered me.

INTRAVEL:Was there anywhere you didn’t get to visit that you would have liked to?

I think I would have liked to keep going up the Andes Mountains, up through Peru and into Ecuador. I also didn’t get to go up through the beautiful coastline in Brazil, instead I came up through the Amazon. But on a bicycle you can’t do it all.

INTRAVEL: So what is next for you after finishing up in California?

In two weeks my girlfriend and I will be shooting up the California coast to Seattle and then up to British Colombia in Canada, and finally into Alaska by the beginning of September. Then I hope to head home to Ohio for a little bit, I work for the newspaper in my hometown, and I plan on giving a big presentation about my trip. Then I plan on going back to Australia for an eight months to work on the fishing boats and make some cash. Then who knows, I might go to Africa, I might go to Mongolia, may go to India and do some volunteer work. Either way I know I am just going to keep traveling.

INTRAVEL: Any advice for people who want to make a similar biking journey?

If I had listened to every single person about this trip who told me “you can’t do it, this is not possible, do you have any idea what you are doing?” I would never have made it. You've got have faith in yourself and have a bit of heart. Know what you are made of and what you are capable of, and give those people a nice little wink and let them see what you can do. Anyone can do this trip; it is more mental than physical. You just have to give 110% and be hell-bent on finishing it. You have to believe in yourself.


(c)Kristen Hamill

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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