My eyes close, stomach cramping with hunger – no dinner tonight. The rain is pouring so I can’t make a fire to cook the small amount of rice I have left. In my tent, I lay on my roll mat in my sleeping bag, on the side of the road, trying to get to sleep. The hunger absorbs my mind. I toss and I turn but the hunger envelopes me. Thankfully I’m so exhausted that sleep comes before long. My mind can’t even muster up a dream to give me hope. I awake. No rain! But the joy is short-lived. Everything around me is soaked so it’s once again impossible to make a fire. My stomach growls with pain, protesting, but there is no food so I ignore its groans. Hours and hours pass pushing my bike uphill, having to stop for breath every 40m. The energy just isn’t there – without fuel, physical exertion is impossible. Six hours done, 20km done, our incredibly slow progress hits me like a knife in an already gaping wound. As the water drips off my face and the feeling vacates my fingers, I approach a house exhausted and wet once again.
I don’t want to fail, but I feel like I’m giving up. Giving up is not who I am, not what I’m known for. I’m Laura. Hard-working, determined, enthusiastic, happy-go-lucky Laura. I’m 23 and I need to do this not only because I said I would, but because I want to. We’re in Ecuador and I’m cycling across the continent of South America and I’m doing it without a penny. I want to see if it’s humanly possible; can you cycle 7,000km with no money and rely on the kindness of fellow people to help you by? But I’m also doing this because South America is filled with homeless children who experience the hell I’m going through right now on a daily basis. There’s a charity in South America that looks after young girls in this situation, Operation South America, and I want to help. But to be able to truly help, I need to understand. Here I am, the first month in. Weeks of anxiety, pain, upset and hunger. I think I’m beginning to understand.
It’s 3.00pm. I ask the owner of the house if we can camp in their garden or if they have any stale bread they could spare for us. No. Simple and straight. It’s their choice and if their answer is no then I have to respect that. I have lost all feeling in my fingers and toes. It’s cold and wet and I’m at the point where my soul feels numb, like there is no point in crying, no point in anything.
We’re currently travelling through the Ecuadorian Andes, me and Cho, my cycling partner. The few houses that we find are very sparsely built. The people are not used to strangers; they do not like them, and they don’t want to help. We’re struggling to power on. It has taken us a long time to travel a short distance, and with every step and every push we are getting slower and slower. Food is now a distant memory – perhaps a couple of days since we had any? I haven’t the energy to even think about when the last time was.