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Cycling through Central America – An inside look at Gerard Castellàs’ bike touring travels

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Gerard Castellà, a 30-year-old cyclist, grew up in the small seaside village of Palafrugell, in Northeast Spain. Though he has a master's degree in ecological economics and environmental management, he has been working as a Bicycle Tour Guide for the past three years. 

Castellà believes there's no better way to travel and see the world than by bicycle, and he chronicles his lengthy trips on his blog, A Cop de Pedal, which means "by pedal stroke" in Catalan language. He has cycled extensively throughout Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa), South America (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile), Asia (Indian Himalayas and Kyrgyzstan) and Europe,

Currently, Castellà is cycling through Central America including Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, after beginning his trip in Mexico. As of Feb. 1, he's pedaled about 3,000 km (1,864 mi), and plans to ride about 1,500 km (932 mi) more. Though Castellà is halfway through his three-month journey, he graciously took the time to give insight into his world. Here's what he had to say:

"A bicycle is the ideal means of transportation to explore the world."

What inspired you to travel around the world by bike?
A bicycle is the ideal means of transportation to explore the world as you travel at a speed that enables you to see things with your own eyes. Traveling by bicycle means moving around with the fragility of porcelain. A bicycle doesn't have doors or windows, so during a 24-hour day, you're completely exposed to random meetings, to natural elements, to uncertainty and to perpetual vulnerability. 

Tell me about the places you've passed through on your current trip.
I started this current trip in Cancún, following down the coast along the Yucatán Peninsula. Then I entered Belize, visiting Belize City, Belmopan and its Garifuna side of the country, in the south. In Guatemala, I cycled through the Petén, Alta Verapaz and Quiché regions, stopping in major cities such as Flores and Antigua. After a short detour to El Salvador Mountains, I stuck to its Pacific coastline. Honduras was a short three-day ride through its warm southern regions.

In Nicaragua, from where I am now, I have cycled a few off-the-beaten tracks up north in the Ruta del Café (Coffee Route), and now I am on my way to León. I chose to bike through these countries in particular because I was in Latin America back in 2011 when I rode through the Andes Mountains, and I fell in love with the people. 

How do you plan your routes?How has long distance cycling changed you as a person?
Traveling by bicycle is an exercise of simplicity. Packing all your belongings in a few panniers makes you realize how little you need to live. In that sense, my bicycle trips have taught me to appreciate small details: a sunset on the beach, being surrounded by friends and family, being grateful for having running water at home. I also believe that traveling brings humility, humanity and respect to people. It provides some values that cannot be taught anywhere else. Traveling by bicycle is about being aware of our own fragility and vulnerability as human beings.

I usually don't plan my itinerary before I arrive to any country. However, I like riding in the mountains and especially through back roads, trying to avoid the most touristic places. A map is all I use to set my routes. The main challenges I have faced up until now are the super steep Guatemalan climbs,  with gradients up to 20 percent, and the high temperatures of Southern Honduras, at around 40ºC (104ºF).

What kind of bicycle equipment are you using for your ride?
My bicycle is a combination of different components I already had – a steel cromoly mountain bike frame made by Espai Bici, 26" wheels with 36 spokes, double-walled Ryde rims, 1.75" Schwalbe Marathon Plus tour tires, Brooks saddle, aluminum flat handlebar, Ergon grips, Tubus rack, SPD pedals, Lezyne bottle cages, kickstand, Topeak mini-pump, full Shimano LX groupset, Shimano LX V-brakes, Ortlieb panniers and Ortlieb rucksack, Vaude tent and sleeping bag, Thermarest air mattress, and Revelate Designs bags attached to handlebar (where I keep my big lens and some other handy stuff).

"Once you are in motion, everything will fall into place."

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I think it is essential that your very first bike touring experience must be easy and enjoyable. Start by traveling in a place you already know, i.e. your region or province – you will see things differently. Also follow your own path and do not pay attention to the mileage. Yes, do some research about equipment, but do not go crazy with it.

Get your bike, pack your few things, and hit the road. For this trip I am carrying only a few clothes, a medical kit, camping equipment and a few spare parts. Food is cheap and easy to find all along the way, therefore there is no need for a stove. Once you are in motion, everything will fall into place.

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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