I first met Giovanni by chance in South Korea, where I spent a few weeks cycling with him and Marco. That was my introduction to traveling with Italians. Now I’m in the immersion course on this trip from Medellin to Lima, traveling with four Italians and becoming the fifth. Everywhere we go, people ask us where we’re from, and we often just respond “somositalianos”. In this way, I’ve been traveling as the undercover American. With that comes some responsibility to act more Italian.
So how do you act more Italian? I can only share what I’ve observed from my compatriots here. Be open about everything. Nothing is banned from discussion, even when the shy American side of me wishes it was. As we go along, we stay in close quarters, and it quickly becomes clear that they’re more open about nudity than Americans are. In every sense, Italians keep nothing hidden. The Italian way is also to be friendly with strangers. In every town we pass through, we get smiles. This is partly because of how funny and crazy we look on our bikes, but also because of the friendly Italian aura that surrounds us. It rubs off on me and makes me act friendlier.
Take food very seriously. There is a big focus on food on this trip. Giovanni has confessed to me that he feels very uncomfortable riding a day without an ample supply of bread packed on the bikes. Without pasta, camping is out of the question. Then there are the strict rules of Italian food. I’ve learned that certain toppings are never allowed on pizza, not even the American favorite, barbecue chicken. We are all lovers of food, and it motivates us to keep going to the next place.
In all, it’s been a trip with few problems and many happy moments. We spend our time off the bikes cooking, reading, writing, telling stories, joking around. Things get a little smelly and dirty at times; that’s just the nature of traveling on a bike. I’m glad to be part of this team and see South America through this Italian lens.