Touring Latin America on two wheels: Salvadoran woman seeks to conquer 13,000 miles by bicycle

This adventure allows me to connect with nature, the mind, and the body. It is a constant mental and physical challenge.

  • 2 years ago
  • June 5, 2022
5 min read
Cycling has allowed Paola to see the world and experience the generosity of her fellow human beings along the way Cycling has allowed Paola to see the world and experience the generosity of her fellow human beings along the way | Photo courtesy of Paola Renderos
Paola Renderos
Interview Subject
Paola Renderos is a 40-year-old Salvadoran cyclist. She decided to tour Latin America for the first time in 2020, with a goal of traveling 22,000 kilometers (13,670 miles) from El Salvador to Argentina.

However, due to the pandemic she was stranded in Panama; though she was eventually able to move on to Colombia, traveling about approximately 7,400 kilometers (4,600 miles) total, she returned to El Salvador.

In April 2022, she decided to try her crossing again. Currently in Mexico, she hopes to finish her adventure in 2023.
Background Information
You can follow along with Paola’s cycling journey on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

ARRIAGA, MEXICO—My bike is all I have. It is my home. I feel like a snail when traveling, carrying all my belongings along with me on my bike. I have all I need: cycling gear, cold weather clothes, my sleeping bag, a portable kitchen, and other personal items.

Like many others, I’ve dreamed about seeing the world since I was young.

I used my bike to commute to work in El Salvador, but at one point, I met a few cicloviajeros (people who travel long distances by bicycle). They told me about their lifestyles during those trips, and suddenly, I made up my mind: I wanted to experience that.

In 2020, I set out with a plan to travel more than 22,000 kilometers (13,670 miles) by bicycle, from El Salvador to Argentina. Though the COVID-19 pandemic derailed my plans then, I’m back at it now and determined to reach my goal.

Experiencing the world atop my bicycle

One of my biggest concerns daily is, where I am going to sleep?

There are support groups and apps for cyclists that allow me to find or map people who host bicyclers or travelers in general. Another choice to sleep is in fire stations or Red Cross/Civil Protection facilities, though, due to the pandemic, some of these places have eliminated that option.

While traveling, I take a few stops to eat. Sometimes I buy food or cook something quickly, like sandwiches, or I eat seeds and nuts, cookies, and other snacks. If I go through a town, I take the opportunity to eat.

Cycling is an incredible experience. It’s a total disconnection from the world as I knew it: a stable job, home, responsibilities, and the normal daily routine.

This adventure, which I am taking alongside a friend from Mexico, allows me to connect with nature, the mind, and the body. It is a constant mental and physical challenge.

Encountering kindness and battling fears on the road

People see me on my bike, loaded with gear, and they rightly imagine that I am making a long trip. Many people greet me and stop and ask me where I am from, where I am going, what if I get tired—questions like that. I am always happy to share my thoughts.

Experiencing human kindness has been the most beautiful aspect of my journey. It is admirable that even though people do not know you, they open the door of their home and share a plate of food, a glass of water, and a safe place to sleep. Creating and building a connection is a most beautiful experience.

I also encounter fears along the way. Sometimes it scares me when I see roads full of cars that do not respect cyclists. I worry that someone could steal my bike; it would be like not having a pair of legs for me. I am afraid of being robbed, or arriving at a house and something happening to me.

However, I do things despite the fear. It allows me to be alert and observant, rather than paralyzed.

Asking the highest possible effort from my body

The body is a marvelous machine that adjusts to different conditions and environments. My body is not perfect, but it adapts as I need it to, depending on the conditions, and endures the exertion I put it through day after day.

A journey like the one I am doing requires so much physical effort. The photos posted on social media look cool, but they don’t reflect the challenges and how tiring they can be.

The heat can be overwhelming, and I get dehydrated quickly—sometimes I don’t find water on the road, but there’s no remedy except to keep pedaling. I wait a moment, recover, and continue.

My age also affects me. I am already a 40-year-old woman. If I had done this years ago, it would have required less from me due to my body being in a better physical condition. However, with patience, it is still possible.

Pandemic delays, but doesn’t derail, goal to reach Argentina

My particular strength is mental, not physical. I am determined to arrive at my final destination. I wanted to travel the world, and I found the bicycle to be the way that most encouraged me to actually pursue that goal.

The idea for my trip began in 2018, and at the end of 2019, I met my travel companion. He told me about his experience, and I decided that I had to do it now or never.

I would already be in Argentina if not for the pandemic and its blockading of international borders. I ended up stranded in Panama and Colombia and had to cancel the rest of the journey. It discouraged me and caused me financial difficulties, but luckily I have good friends who helped me get through it.

In April of this year, I set off again, determined to reach Argentina this time.

Being the first Salvadoran to leave the country on a bicycle fills me with pride and satisfaction. It is a beautiful experience, and I love marking the path for other women who have not dared to do it.

Paola started her second attempt to cross Latin America in April of this year, and she's already made it from El Salvador to Mexico
Paola started her second attempt to cross Latin America in April of this year, and she’s already made it from El Salvador to Mexico | Photo courtesy of Paola Renderos

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