Sometimes you just luck out and end up at the right place at the right time.  So it was last Sunday evening in Paysandu, when we stumbled across a group of Candombe musicians rehearsing for the upcoming Carnival celebrations.

Candombe drummer preparing for Carnival.
Candombe drummer preparing for Carnival.

Candombe originated when African slaves brought their dances and percussion music to South America.   Candombe rhythms are produced by drum ensembles, known as cuerdas.  That’s what we’d stumbled across, quite by accident.

Traditionally, Candombe drummers and dancers assemble in the evening and perform under the moon lit sky.

That evening down by the port in Paysandu was my first experience with Candombe, and  it was a magical moment.  The Cuerda slowly made its way down a broad avenue, surrounded by neighborhood people tapping their feet and moving to the rhythm of Candombe.  Everyone just let loose and let themselves be taken over by the rhythms.   I trotted alongside with my camera trying --not very successfully-- to capture the spirit of the moment.

Time to let loose an o with the rhythm.
Time to let loose and go with the rhythm.

Although my photography efforts didn’t amount to much, the music succeeded in lifting my spirits and distracting me from a sinking feeling that I’m suffering from Bicycle Touring Burnout.

Listening to Candombe  masked the lousy feelings for a while, but as soon as the drums stopped beating I started thinking.  Too much, and too negative.

Mostly I was subjected to an annoying little voice taunting me with phrases like, “You’re wasting your time.  There’s more to life than riding a bike.  You’re gonna hate Patagonia.  It’s cold.  It’s windy.  It’s just one great expanse of comfortless nothingness.  It’s not normal to spend 24 hours a day with the same person for years on end.  You need your space.”

You get the picture.  Not very uplifting thoughts with which to fill one’s mind.

I was in a funk, so I did what anybody with a laptop and an internet connection would do.  I consulted Google.  This is what I learned from  Burnout signs and symptoms:

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  1. Every day is a bad day.
  2. Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  3. You’re exhausted all the time.
  4. The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  5. You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

I set out to see if I met the requirements.

1.        Honestly, every second of every day is not bad. How could it be? That kind of utter unhappiness would be well-nigh impossible on a bike tour.  My days swing into gear with spectacular sunrises and come to an end lingering over the sunset.  Complete strangers shower me with amazing kindness.  My efforts are rewarded with scenery that could humble even the most jaded cyclist.

Just another beautiful sunrise in Uruguay.
Just another beautiful sunrise in Uruguay.
This guy knows how to spin a tale. Notice the Mate, Uruguyans won't go anywhere without there tryst mate.
This guy knows how to spin a tale. Notice the Mate, Uruguayans won't go anywhere without their trusty mate.
Cows! Our constant companions.
Cows! Our constant companions.

2.        Requirement two, on the other hand, is a toss up.  Pedaling like some mad fool all around the planet does strike me (at times ) as an utter waste of energy.  Does it really matter if I cycle 100 kilometers or a 100,000 kilometers?  Expanding horizons and building bridges to other cultures is wonderful, but when you get right down to it, we’re just cranking the pedals most of the time.

3.        Requirement three hits the nail on the head.  No way do I have the energy I had in Africa.  The alarm still starts squawking at a little past 5 AM, but now I just roll over and ignore it.  I whine about the hills and the weight and stop every 5 kilometers to make sure I don’t have a flat.  ‘There must be something wrong with the bike.  It’s not moving fast enough.  Check the brakes, I’m sure they’re rubbing.  I know you checked them 10 minutes ago, but really there’s something wrong.  The bike just won’t go like it used to.  And no, the problem is not me.’

Really, I was quite listless that day.
Really, I was quite listless that day.

4.       The act of pedaling for 6 + hours a day can be mind-numbingly boring.  Dull, faceless cities of concrete that sprawl into eternity.  Bleak landscapes of unending bush.  Rotten roads and insane drivers making life miserable. T he first hour I’m loving it, the second hour’s still pretty good, the third hour’s not so bad, but by the fourth hour time starts to crawl and well, after that, it’s just a question of hunkering down and telling yourself you will cycle till that kilometer counter reaches 100.

Of course, there are the soaring peaks and empty backroads to balance things out.  The tailwinds that push you along so you fly down the road.

Cycling only looks pleasurable.
Cycling only looks pleasurable.

Of course, there are the people you meet.  The cool Couchsurfers who open your mind to new ideas, the random guy on the ranch who invites you in, starts telling you stories and has you laughing silly within minutes.

Federico, our super cool, highly hospitable couchsurfing host in Paysandu.
Federico, our super cool, highly hospitable couchsurfing host in Paysandu.

And as for overwhelming, well, life on a bike is pretty simple.  You’ve got just 6 bags stuffed full of all your possessions.  You eat porridge for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and spaghetti for dinner.  The most pressing decisions to make are when and where to call it quits for the day and if it’ll be Highway 17 or County Route 7.

Sunset at Carmello, just across the river lies Buenos Aires.
Sunset at Carmello, just across the river lies Buenos Aires.

5.       Alright, the final question and it looks like I fail the burnout quiz.  Cyclists are an appreciative bunch, and there’s often an email of thanks waiting in the inbox.  Who wouldn’t feel good about that?

So maybe I’m not afflicted with Bicycle Touring Burnout.  Just suffering from the normal ups and downs of life on the road.  The best cure is probably a long look at all our tour photos and some time spent reflecting on all the moments that made me love bicycle touring in the first place.    That Candombe helped.   I think I’ll make it to Patagonia after all.

Candombe cures another case of Bicycle Touring Burnout.
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3 thoughts on “Candombe cures another case of Bicycle Touring Burnout.

  • November 23, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    Oh Amaya,hang in there! I can completely understand how you must be feeling burnt out,but I hope you can hang on for another month. We have started cycling in Vietnam and it is HARD so far. We are not in the groove yet and I can’t tell you how many times I have told Dan “Amaya is my inspiration..but how on earth does she do this for so long?”. Rremember all the rice and beans in Africa? We are a little riced out here at the moment, would actualy love a plate of beans with them. And you ate that for months on end. Let me say it again – YOU ARE MY HERO!

  • December 2, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    congrats to your yeoman’s service! love reading your your ups and downs and know how great you must feel to be taking a break, and maybe even how strange it feels to not be under the big skies anymore. olivia and i talk about you frequently. you made an impression. whatever is next, it won’t be quite the same, now, will it.

    shanti om from india

  • February 11, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    Amaya every time I read this story i remember your face in that street parade. Nice feelings.Music is magic!!


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