Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adventures in the Rainforest- Biking to Santo Domingo with Pedal for Change

Adventures in the Rainforest
Biking to Santo Domingo with Pedal for Change

As I observed the T'sachila shaman cleanse the soul of one of my friend somewhere within the Ecuadorian rainforest, I layed back in my hammock and enjoyed the mysticality of the moment. I realized how eye-opening, impromptu and magical traveling can be.

                I never would have thought I would spend my weekend visiting an indigenous community in the Ecuadorian rainforest. My roomate heard about the trip through an acquaintance a few days before. We didn't know much about Pedal for Change then or what it stood for, but we're always ready for an adventure in Ecuador. We quickly read through the travel information and jointly agreed : "¿Porque no?"

                At 5 am on Saturday morning, I wondered if we had made the right choice. Should we have stayed in Quito for the weekend and gone out in la Mariscal? Half-asleep we made our way to the Velodrome where we met our guide and the rest of our group. Reina, the founder of Pedal for Change, welcomed us with a bag full of food. She knows how to make friends. After a gorgeous 2 hour car ride west of Quito, we stopped in a tiny village up in the mountains. Helmets on, water bottles full, cameras ready, we mounted our bikes and headed down the road. I don't think it can rightfully be called a road, it was more of a rocky dirty path where you cross the occasional cow and beat-up truck with a trunk full of kids hitching a ride up to the next village. At first, I was focused on trying to figure out the gears on my bike and trying to avoid falling off a 20 foot cliff, but as I relaxed, the beauty of the scenery hit me.  Traveling by bike let's you see and discover so much more. This road was barely accessible by car, we never would have been able to experience this view otherwise.  As we rode down the environment started changing;  waterfalls started appearing and the trees grew bigger and greener. I took more than a few breaks to take pictures of the breathtaking nature, and also to rest my hands. Brakes and rocky roads are not my friends. After two hours of downhill we started our 9km ascent. I pedaled through, the voice of my spin instructor in the back of my head urging me to keep going. Except this time the reward at the end of the hill was greater than at any of my spin classes:  the most amazing sandwiches I had had in Ecuador served with a gorgeous view of the misty valley.

                Bellies full, we rode down the hill for another two hours before reaching Santo Domingo. Strangely our hands hurt more than our legs after our 6 hour ride, blame it on the bumpy downhill once again. After a quick nap in the car, our group finally reached the T'sachila community where we would spend the night. The T'sachilas are a famous indigenous group in Ecuador due to their tradition of painting their hair red with achote. After receiving a warm welcome from the community and a delicious meal, the leader, Alfonso, spoke to us about his community. The young go where the money is, many are leaving behind their indigenous culture in favour of modern lifestyles. He shared with us the importance he is placing on tourism to help the community succeed financially and to revive his culture. He invited a local shaman to practice a cleansing ceremony for us. Curiously, with candles providing the only source of light, we observed him chanting in T'safiki, agitating palm tree leaves to the sky and spitting out an unknown liquid. "Who wants to be cleansed" said Alfonso. We all looked at each other with a mixture of amusement, curiosity and fear of the unknown. Sebastian, one of the guides, was the first brave volunteer. Waving leaves, hitting rocks over his head and chanting, the shaman cleansed his soul. When asked for other volunteers I quickly put my hand up. Getting my soul cleansed by a shaman in Ecuador, "¿Porque no!?". I'm not an overly spiritual person but as the shaman was practicing the ceremony I felt a different kind of energy, my mind was relaxed and I was solely focused on myself. It was a moment of meditation and appreciation. Maybe this feeling was born out of the mix of the sounds of rainforest, the warmth of the people and the thrill of the ride.

                After falling asleep to sounds of drums coming from the other side of the forest (I imagined them to be tribal drums but I'm about 100% it was some kind of rave), we woke up in the early morning and floated down the river on a raft we found by the shore. Our breakfast consisted of fresh passion fruit, homemade pan de Yuca and instant coffee ( a must in Ecuador). Alfonso told us we had to catch our own lunch, after a good laugh we realized he was serious. We went down to the river and the men showed us their traditional fishing method. Before lunch, Alfonso's friend demonstrated how he painted his hair with achote. A couple of the girls got streaks in their hair, maybe we'll get the hairstyle trending in Canada! After eating the fish we helped catch and chewing on fresh cacao, we had to pack our bags and head back to Quito. I was ready to rent out a hammock, live off cacao beans and spend another week in this paradise. Throughout the trip I kept thinking about how lucky I was to experience this epic scenery and to learn about the T'schila culture.

This Pedal for Change trip has by far been my favourite experience in Ecuador so far, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wishes to go on a life changing adventure. I mean this NGO combines all of my favourite pastimes: traveling, cycling and volunteering. What is there not to love about it? This trip has inspired me to get more into biking and to plan biking trips during my travels around the world. Because I truly believe in Reina's cause, I'm now volunteering for Pedal to encourage other students to experience Ecuador in a sustainable and culturally-enriching manner.
   Hopefully you'll join Reina on an adventure soon! The road is waiting for you.

Solenn Madevon

University of Victoria student

Pedal for Change website: 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Ecuador Adventures LESS Than One Month!

Loyal Draftees,

At 7am on June 21st 2013, the first Ecuador Adventure  "Into the Tropics, Santo Domingo de Los Ts├íchilas" will depart the city of Quito.  Volunteers will load into a van with backpacks and bikes and head up the winding road into the high sierra.  Once we hit a altitude where air is thin, the bikes will be unloaded and we will begin our Pedal venture.

Three guides, eight volunteers and one support vehicle will then descend into the tropics down an incredible dirt road that will take us through waterfalls and cloud forests.  The route is one of the most incredible descents in Ecuador that very few people know.

After six hours on our saddles, we will arrive to a unique indigenous community.   Men of this ethnic group are distinguishable because they wear an elaborate hair decoration by shaving the sides of their heads and shaping the top part into a seed-like feature that is colored red.  
Volunteers will spend two nights in the community working on reforestation projects and learning about the unique customs of this indigenous group.  

This is only one of our 4 adventures!  Just one week after our first adventure begins, our 2nd "Into the Cloud Forst, Mindo Lindo" will depart!  We have an entire summer chalk full of adventures.  Check them out and be sure to sign up before you lose your spot.  And remember...You can always catch our draft at!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Putting Ecuador on the Map! Bike Style…

There is absolutely no doubt that Ecuador is on the pro-bikers radar as some of the most epic single-track downhill trails in the world.  Bike Magazine journalists, Brice Minnigh,  and a group of pro riders headed down to Ecuador to check out the scene.  Within the group, Wade Simmions, known as the godfather of freeride mountain biking, ripped up the trails with a group of locals known as the cockroaches. 

“We had come to this country to experience the astonishing range of ecosystems--from glacial Andean volcanoes and high-altitude deserts to lush rain forests—and of course, to shred some of South America’s sickest singletrack,” explains Minnigh.   As the group explored the country north to south,  the locals (and I would like to include myself in this category) grew ever more hopeful and confident that Ecuador will become a model of bike adventure and activism. 

PEDAL is right on board with the bike pros.  We have created four epic short bike expeditions that do not only explore some of the most incredible landscapes in Ecuador, but pairs cycling with once in a lifetime cross-cultural experience.  Through community service, Pedal expedition members work and live within small rural societies.  We believe that if Ecuador is giving us these amazing opportunities to explore it’s rich scenery, then the least we can do is give back.  

Imagine descending from high Andean volcanoes through cloud forests, banana plantations and the spray of waterfalls to end your day eating dinner with the indigenous Tsachilas community.  After a night’s rest in the village, you wake up with your group to work on planting community gardens to help keep the village sustainable.  We do what the pros do, but add a touch more!

Check out our expedtions at:

We have added bike maps of every route we plan to explore.  For maps, just scroll down to the bottom of the page of the expedition that you are checking out.  For example:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Ingredients for Happiness

What makes you happy?  A question that many seek to understand and fulfill.  However, is there a universal answer?  Can we actually tap into the qualities that fill people’s lives with joy?  Absolutely!  I have recently watched a documentary entitled “Happy” that explores these very questions.  Based on research, this documentary delves into people’s lives across the world to discover the ingredients for happiness.

The documentary takes viewers on a journey from the bayous of Lousiana to the deserts of Namibia.  Brazilians, Japanesse, Northern Europeans and Indians are featured in the film.  Exploring the secrets behind this valued emotion, the researchers discover that our extrinsic values or goals such as money, image and status seem to be misinterpreted qualities of happiness.  In fact, these goals do not make up the ingredients of happiness at all.  Those of us who are dedicated to personal growth, relationships and our desire to help are the happiest.  Our interdependence with each other and nature create circumstances to be sublimely happy.  Amsterdam, statistically one of the most happy cities in the world, has more community living options than many other cities.  CO-OPS are very common and several locals choose to live where meals, common areas and recreation is shared among all the residents.   Researchers have linked high quality of life with communal living. 

As I watched the documentary, I realized that the intrinsic goals that people set for themselves are PEDAL’s very own principles.  The three intrinsic goals are 1) Personal Growth, 2) Developing relationships with others and 3) Desire to help.  If what makes people happy align with PEDAL For Change’s mission and principles, I would say that we are off to a pretty good start.  Through our adventures, PEDAL has come to believe that sharing, living simply, and being sustainable will be more environmentally friendly and will substantially affect people’s happiness.  Participating in group activities, sharing bicycle adventures, and living and working in foreign communities are all the ingredients mentioned on the list.  As I sit down and ponder our goals and mission, I am amazed how everything seems to be connected and that what is good for our earth is also good for us.