South American route

May 5, 1999 - km 16952 - Cali, Columbia

Japanese immigrants in Columbia


While I was in North and Central America, many people told me not to go to Columbia: It was not safe. I did not make any plans about what to do after Panama. Indeed, drug kartels and crime cause many problems in Columbia. I decided to not cross the Darien Gap by bicycle, because it would be wet season and the Japanese embassy discouraged me to to there. (The Darien Gap is an area south of Panama, densely overgrown with jungle and very few acceptable roads.) I met a Dutch cyclist, Joery Meurs, in the hostel in Panama City and he gave me advice. He cycled from Usuhaia to Panama and he was in Columbia, where he made many friends and he had no trouble. Columbia was his favorite country.

I decided to go to Columbia. Joeri came from Cartagena to Panama by boat, but is was more expensive than flying and it cost him a lot of time. So, I wanted to go by plane to Cali because I had a Japanese contact there, a member of the Japanese Adventure Cyclists Club.

In the rich part of Cali, the northern part, I met Mrs. Yoshimi Tanaka and I stayed in her house for 3 days. Her husband, Mr. Shigeo, died in 1998. He was the chairman of a Japanese group and was decorated by the Japanese emperor.

In 1929, the Japanese government sent agricultural specialists and their 5 famlies to Columbia to help the development of the country. The specialists helped to convert jungle into fertile land. After 5 years and a difficult start, the brother of Mr. Tanaka was invited over. Initially they grew beans, but now they grow sugarcane. Many of the Japanese people became quite rich and they do not have to work the land anymore.

Many could have sold their land and return to Japan, but few actually did go back, because in Japan there was little land available and the mentality is more closed-minded. Mr. end Mrs. Tanaka are one of the more successful families. They stayed in Columbia. Mrs. Tanaka gave me the addresses of her daughters in Ecuador.

They like Columbia, even when there is trouble: One of the Japanese farmers was shot in his leg and robbed of his car on his own farm. But the Japanese community is here to stay.

May 13, 1999 - km 17031 - Popayan, Columbia

Up and down the Andes

Bicycle in Columbia

It was a cloudy day when I left the inexpensive hotel after four days. I stayed for four nights because I had a cold (but also because the hotel was so comfortable). The friendly owner invited me for dinner several times.

It looked to be a rainy day, but I decided to leave anyways. The road climbed steeply, right after I left the town. I stopped for a few minutes, to recuperate. I was out of breath and my heart rate was very high. I was still sick. I was at more than 2,000 meter altitude. I drank some water and caught my breath. After 20 kilometers, I found a small village, where I stopped at a restaurant to drink some Coca-Cola.

The restaurant owner told there would be 5 mountain passes more before Popayan. In spite of my bad shape I wanted to reach Popayan. After five passes, I stopped at a small shop for a rest - I had 30 kilometers to go. It started to rain. I put on my raincoat and continued. It turned out there were four more passes to go on this road witout flat parts! I was very tired.

It is not easy to cycle while carrying a lot of luggage.

May 19, 1999 - km 17336 - Quito, Ecuador

The hard way to Quito


I have diarrhea again - I don't know why. The chicken last night may not have been cooked all the way. Or the orange was a bit rotten. Or the bananas were bad. Then again, I always eat fruits like that. I'm not in a great shape. I left Tabacundo (Ecuador) for Quito.

Quito is only a few hunderd metres more elevated than Tabacundo, but the Pan Americana descended for 5 km into a valley, crossed a bridge and climbed steeply (10%) for 3 km. It was the start of the day, so I had no trouble. I arrived in a town, with a lower elevation than Tabacundo. But the road descended again! It was only 30 km to Quito, and I had still to gain altitude. I expected hard work and went to a small restaurant to eat a lot.

The road climbed and climbed very steeply after the first bridge. There was not one flat spot. It was warm and the sun was strong. My clothes were wet with perspiration. The sweat from my head kept running into my eyes. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath.

After 5 km, I found another restaurant and drank one litre of Coca-Cola very quickly while talking to the shopkeeper. He told me that many cyclists stop at his shop. I continued my climb slowly, pushing the pedals a half revolution at a time. Without luggage this would have been so much easier - I regret that I have so much stuff. Two hours later, I reached the top with another shop, where I rest again. This shop owner told me that I had not reached the top yet - there was another pass after which I could descend to Quito.

My legs were heavy like lead and I had to stop often, but I made it to the top, the real one. From there, I had a nice view of the large city. But I felt sick and I had a headache. I felt like an old man.

The altitude in Quito (1,400,000 inhabitants) is 2,850 meters - the second highest capital in the world. I wondered why some many people would live here. I crossed the equator today. I am in the soutern hemisphere - the first time (in this journey).

After I reached the hostel, I did not feel well. Even while it was warm, my body felt cold. I was not hungry (bicyclists are always hungry) but I wanted to vomit. I had a headache. I was suffering from altitude sickness. I needed to rest for a few days, but the next day I had an appointment for a radio interview. I decided to wait and see what my condition would be after that: go to the monument or sleep some more. I did the interview and I went to see the monument.

May 28, 1999 - km 17805 - Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

One day on the islands


The tropical Galapagos Islands have become famous because of Charles Dawin's research performed there and his book "Origin of Species". There were many tourists, mainly because modern mass-media include Galapagos in their coverage. The islands are 1000 km off the mainland; it is reachable by airplane of ship. Foreign tourists are taxed US$ 100.00 which goes towards protecting the area. Unguided visits are not permitted; visitors can view the wildlife only in groups that travel from island to island by boat. UNESCO have put the islands on their list of World Heritage Sites. Since the wildlife is protected so well, it is very easy to observe it.

Because the islands are so isolated, evolution produced some unique species which differ from the (similar) ones found on the mainland. During my five days on the islands, I saw many animals:


The people that live on the islands brought some domestic animals, like rabbits, goats and cats. A few of them have escaped. They are a threat to the wildlife, and therefore many are killed in an effort to protect the indigenous animals. Also, many of the indigenous animals died because of the effects of El Niņo.

The government of Ecuador also tries to limit the number of visitors, but I am worried that nature will not stay undisturbed.

June 16, 1999 - km 18167 - Lima, Peru

Japanese in Peru

Cuzco, Peru

Lima, the capital of Peru, counts 7,000,000 inhabitants. Alberto Fujimori is the president. His parents came from Kumamoto, Japan. Only 100 years ago, many Japanese immigrants started arriving in Peru (mostly to work in agriculture). I met many Japanese people in this country. In Lima, I stayed with Mr. Masaru Akita, also a member of the Japanese Adventure Cyclists Club. He completed his journey after 6 years and decided to stay in Peru and become a tourist guide. He showed me around Lima for one week.

In Lima, I met more people of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). Their job is to help the local people, but they could not speak Spanish. They came to their offices every day in chauffeured cars and had local employees to do most of the work for them. They did not communicate with the local population, they never even walked in the streets, because they were too afraid to be kidnapped. I wonder how they can be effective...

I also visited the Japanese embassy in Lima and I was amazed by the number of security people. In the office, I met a Japanese man who lived in Peru, who was very friendly. We both could only talk with embassy employees through bullet-proof glass window of about 5 centimeters (2 inches) thick. It all looked very high-handed. It made me feel unwelcome in my 'own' embassy.

Then, I went to Fujimori's house and joined a guided tour to see the interior of the presidential residence. There were 8 Japanese women in the group. Japanese are quite shy when they are alone, but in a group they no longer care about other people; they were shouting loudly. It made me feel ashamed.

Peruvian Japanese

I was talking with an 86 year old Japanese immigrant, who was born in Japan. She told me about her tough life in Peru, but also that she was very glad to live in Peru now. Modestly, and without exaggeration, she told me about her experiences.

While I was the presidential residence, I met the sister of president Fujimori. Her parents came from Kumamoto, Japan, where I hade lived for a few years. We talked about Kumamoto. She was very friendly, like the people that live in the countryside in Japan. She wished me good luck on my travels.

The Japanese tourist agency sold airplane tickets for Europe to me. I told them about my world-trip, which they enjoyed, and they helped me a lot: to save me some money, they kept telephoning KLM to get my bicycle transported for free. Eventually, KLM gave in.

The third generation Japanese Peruvians can't speak Japanese anymore. When I talk to Japanese Peruvians, they are afraid to respond because they feel insecure talking 'our' language. They may not speak my language, but I could recognize their Japanese behavior. (Which I liked.)

After 100 years many Japanese families have mixed with Peruvians and their culture is mixed as well. They may not be as successful as the Japanese Columbians (or as rich), they have a good life in Peru.