Refresh Ecotours is a new company offering adventure tourism in the relatively unexplored rural area of Serra da Canastra National Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Starting this month, Leo and his partner Simone will be offering two different tours per month – ‘The Mountain Bike Challenge’, eight days of mountain biking around the National Park, and ‘The Trek-Bike Traverse’, which brings trekking and biking together over eight days of unforgettable contact with the nature and culture of this beautiful area. Both tours have English speaking guides, a support vehicle, high-spec mountain bikes and accommodation included.
BICIKLO: Is it true the whole idea of cycling tours in Serra da Canastra stemmed from your Latin American Studies MA while you studied in Liverpool?
LEO: That’s right. I had always been interested in the culture and peoples of the area, so while I was studying a Latin American Studies MA at Liverpool University, I decided to conduct my research and do my dissertation on the area. I was studying tourism, its development and sustainability, and saw an interesting opportunity to look seriously at the relationships between the environment and people of Serra da Canastra and the encroachment of tourism.
I’ve always been into cycling and know how popular it is as a sport and holiday activity in the UK and Europe. The more I spent time in Serra da Canastra I realised what a great way cycling is to experience all its beautiful mountain scenery and waterfalls, share the region with others and at the same time offer something that can have a positive impact.
BICIKLO: BBC Worldwide has called the Serra da Canastra “utterly astonishing”. Tell us about the area – what makes it special for you?
LEO: The area of Serra da Canastra is made up of Cerrado, a type of vegetation is unique to Brazil. There are some tropical transition forests, especially by the rivers, which form an intense green gallery. It is important due to the many endemic species of animals and birds to be found there, as well as the various types of flora that make up Cerrado.
Another special feature of Canastra is its great source of water. The region is absolutely full of springs, rivers, waterfalls and crystal clear pools, and is a beautiful and refreshing place to visit and enjoy.
However, this astonishing place is in danger. Everyone has heard of the deforestation happening in the Amazon rainforest, but actually the Cerrado is in greater risk of disappearing, as mass agriculture and cattle ranching have been destroying large areas of Cerrado for many years. Serra da Canastra also has a third major industry threatening this environment: mining. Serra da Canastra is said to have great diamond reserves and today there is a strong lobby in the Federal Brazilian Congress to gain access to part of its protected area to exploit for mining.
BICIKLO: There aren’t many tour companies operating in such a defined area. Does this allow you to get to know the area more intimately?
LEO: Because it is still off the beaten track, there is the opportunity for tourism to be developed in a sustainable way. Meaning communities can get involved in its project, development and benefits; nature to be not only preserved, but taught and experienced; and local culture to be celebrated and shared.
BICIKLO: Taking a responsible approach to tourism is very important to you. Are you having a positive impact on the local culture and economy?
LEO: Well, I hope so. And this is the main reason I was inspired to start the business. My dad was born on a farm and lived for part of his life in the area of Serra da Canastra. This has helped me to come into contact with the rural culture of Cerrado since my early childhood: their traditional farming methods, way of life married with their intrinsic knowledge of the land, their food and their local environment.
Unfortunately, today I see this rural culture being slowly but steadily adapted by mass agriculture, encroaching tourism ventures and land speculators that have no regard for the local people, and who sometimes forcefully bring their modern urban and fast changing approach to this delicate environment and culture. Thankfully, there are also those who take positive actions in helping Canastra, such as the Chico Mendes Institution, a few NGOs, some tour companies, local people and visitors.
Our tours are designed purposefully to interact with the local people, to see and share their way of life, as well as bringing them into contact with people who are interested in travelling and visiting places in a responsible and healthy manner. Our tours make a positive economic impact on the people we visit, helping to support them and their way of life; at the same time they have the chance to be actively involved and gain from tourism activities.
As tourism is still happening on a relatively low-scale in the area, we believe that we have the chance to demonstrate to people a type of travel and tourism that is considered and responsible, and with low impact on the environment, so that others see the benefits of alternative forms of travel and/or opportunities of developing activities in a different way. Refresh wants to help to give a respectful, responsible and horizontal ground for these relations between humans and the environment to happen: we are confident that cycling and walking are great ways of doing just that.
BICIKLO: What are your plans for the future?
LEO: We are looking to develop further tours in and around Serra da Canastra and in a couple of years time we hope to offer other cycling tours from Minas Gerais: taking in mountains, colonial culture and heritage, rural areas, en route to the ocean! With Brazil being such a vast and diverse country that has so much untapped potential for international visitors, we want to help share more of this beautiful country in a responsible way.
We’re also hoping to set up a foundation, taking a percentage of the profits from our tours which can then be invested in causes and projects in the local areas where we work, such as with the rural schools in Serra da Canastra. Educating the children about the importance of the place is something that concerns us. Enabling them to be proud of who they are and appreciate where they come from, so that they may work even more towards their own goals as they help protect their environment and fortify their culture.
You can find out much more about Refresh Ecotours on their site, refreshecotours.
The Tour d’Afrique Company have added a number of tours to their roster for this year, in exotic destinations like Namibia, India and Turkey. But they have also added a tour in an unexpected location: North America. The North American Epic takes riders from San Francisco, California to St. John’s, Newfoundland and riders can also choose from one of 5 sections of the route. Paul McManus is tour director for the 2011 North American Epic.
BICIKLO: We know Tour d’Afrique’s reputation for offering epic journeys on two wheels. Why is this North American tour EPIC?
PAUL: The full tour is 3 months long and covers almost 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles). Traveling from the shores of the Pacific to the shores of the Atlantic ocean, it’s the longest organized tour of North America available, and the only one that journeys through both the US and Canada.
The tour visits some of North America’s most iconic cities and parks, starting at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We visit Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, cross the Great Divide, and follow Route 66 from St. Louis to Chicago. In Canada we visit Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City and the tour finishes by riding along the coast of Nova Scotia and a ferry crossing into Newfoundland. I think epic is a pretty fitting description.
We decided to keep the route on paved roads and kept the average distance per day to around 105 kilometers (65 miles) so it won’t be as difficult as the Tour d’Afrique, for example. But there are still plenty of physical challenges.
BICIKLO: Tell us about the Trips for Kids aspect of the tour.
PAUL: The Tour d’Afrique Foundation has been giving back to the communities we travel through in Africa for 8 years. Now that we have tours on 5 continents, we thought it was time to expand the foundation’s efforts to include all of our tours. Trips for Kids was founded by Marilyn Price in 1984. The first chapter was in San Francisco and now has more than 60 chapters across the US. TFK’s mission is to provide kids who do not have access to bikes the opportunity to experience the sport of mountain biking. It’s kind of like an outward bound program for cycling.
Our support for TFK is twofold. First, we will donate one bicycle to Trips For Kids for every full tour rider on the North American Epic. Secondly, we will try to increase peoples’ awareness about TFK and the great work that they are doing.
We’ve helped TFK chapters run fundraisers using the documentary film about our 2008 Tour d’Afrique, “Where Are You Go”, and we’ve helped them develop their own media lists and distribute local press releases in their communities. As the tour travels to each of the cites on our route where there are TFK Chapters, we’ll host a donation ceremony and event as well.
BICIKLO: Are riders expected to fundraise for Trips for Kids?
PAUL: Rider fundraising is a key component of the Foundation efforts but we don’t require or pressure riders to fundraise. We do believe that adding an element of giving back deepens the tour experience and if a rider does decide to raise money for the Tour d’Afrique Foundation or other cause we help and support them as much as possible. Typically 15 to 25 per cent of riders will choose to ride for a cause.
BICIKLO: What are the historical and cultural aspects of the tour riders can expect to experience?
PAUL: It’s hard to summarize all the cultural and historical aspects of the tour but some highlights would be the Asian influence in San Francisco, the Native American cultures of the Southwest US, and The ‘Pioneer’ history of CO, KS and MO. Route 66, which we will follow from St. Louis to Chicago, is well-known for its kitschy Americana.
The Native American culture in the Southwest US is of great interest. We’ll cycle right past old cliff dwellings, and spend a rest day in Monument Valley, which is well known for preserving its Native American roots. Detroit, the Motor City, is currently undergoing a kind of urban renewal after years of being economically depressed. The Maritime cultures of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are also quite unique. Really, every section of the tour has something to offer.
BICIKLO: What are the sections that riders can expect to be: 1) pretty tough 2) fairly easy 3) beautifully scenic?
PAUL: Every section will have its tough days and beautiful scenery. One fairly easy section would be from Wichita, Kansas to Chicago. It is also our shortest section at 12 days. Called The Land of Oz, much of it travels along historic Route 66. Highlights are the History of Culture of the Great Plains (the pioneer culture) and the cities of Wichita, St. Louis and Chicago. We’ll be in Wichita to celebrate the 4th of July.
Another section I’d consider fairly easy is Urban Pleasure from Chicago to Quebec City. The route travels between the Great Lakes and visits the Canadian cities of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City.
The first section, The Wild West from San Francisco to Flagstaff, will be challenging and very scenic. The riding along the California coast is difficult but the views of the Pacific are incredible. That section also includes Joshua Tree National Park, which will most certainly be a highlight of the tour.
The Great Divide from Flagstaff, Arizona to Wichita, Kansas will be difficult because we have to cross over the Rocky Mountains. We also visit the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley on that section, so there are definitely opportunities for some epic views. Between Durango and Silverton, Colorado are two mountain passes and about 6,000 feet of climbing between the two towns. We’ll reach a maximum altitude of 10,900 feet before the final descent, and I think I counted 22 switchback turns on the descent into Silverton.
The last section of the tour, Maritime Charm, from Quebec to St. John’s fits in between ‘fairly easy’ and ‘pretty tough’. We will have some tough riding along the coast of Nova Scotia but also some great views of the Atlantic.
Scot Tares is the force behind the new tour company Skinny Tyres, who offer cycling tours and training in Scotland. Skinny Tyres trips are not just for anyone who’s training for a race, they’re also for anyone who loves to ride their bike and wants a unique cycling holiday in the heart of beautiful Highland Perthshire.
BICIKLO: You launched Skinny Tyres just over a year ago. What motivated you to start the company?
Scot: I had just come back from a cycling trip in the Alps and was out cycling with my club around Highland Perthshire. The sky was blue, the mountains were dusted with snow and the conversation turned to how lucky we were to have such a spectacular and diverse landscape in Scotland to cycle in. I felt I wanted others to experience this, so the seed of Skinny Tyres was planted. I was keen to offer something a bit different and I ..
Friedel and Andrew have ridden their bicycles about 55,000 kilometers though 32 countries. Their site, Travelling Two, offers practical advice and loads of inspiration for anyone interested in getting out and travelling by bike.
BICIKLO: You’ve traveled over 50,000 kilometers by bike. How have you been able to find the time and resources to travel so extensively?
If you really want to do something, then you always find a way to make it happen. Sometimes people think that we must have a secret (perhaps a large inheritance) to do so much travelling but it’s not true. We are just normal people, who live simply and save a lot of money to fund our dreams. We’d rather have $1,000 in our travel fund, than the latest ..
Fourteen years ago, Andy Levine founded DuVine Adventures by taking two clients on a ride through Burgundy, France. Since that journey, DuVine has become one of the most popular tour operators in Europe, with added sojourns to South Africa, North America, Argentina and Ecuador. We asked Andy five questions about where DuVine has come from – and where cycling tours are going.
BICIKLO: Even though the global economy has not fully recovered, you’re seeing great demand for your tours. What do you think is driving that demand?
ANDY: We’re not a traditional travel company. We’re focused on ..
There are cycling tours in France. And then there are tours offered by Official Operators of the Tour de France. Just like the NFL and the Super Bowl, only licensed operators can use the words ‘Tour de France‘. That’s why many tour companies offer tours called ‘France’s Greatest Race’ or ‘Cycling’s Greatest Tour’. Only Official Operators, like Discover France, can get you on the same roads as the pros, then get you behind the scenes, at the award ceremonies and in the grandstands on the Champs Elysees. We spoke with Loren Siekman, General Manager and founder of Discover France.
BICIKLO: What does it take to become an Official Operator of the Tour de France?
Since founding Ciclismo Classico 21 years ago, Lauren Hefferon, AKA Bici Pazza, has risen to the role of Chief Executive Biker. Recently, Ciclismo Classico has joined forces with Trusted Adventures, a partnership of nine award-winning travel companies recognized for uncompromising quality, exceptional guest care and sustainable travel ethics.
BICIKLO: What led you to create Ciclismo Classico, and what changes have you seen in cycle touring in the past two decades?
LAUREN: I fell in love with cycling at an early age and knew that it was going to be a big part of my life. I led bike tours for summer camps, then toured Europe by bike and life on the road came very naturally to me. Through cycling Under the Tuscan Sun I quickly fell in love with Italy and extended my stay to three years. I knew then that my life would rotate around cycling and not the other way around. At the time there were no tour operators specializing in Italian ..
Alastair Humphreys has cycled around the world, sailed the Atlantic, canoed the Yukon, walked through India and rowed to France. He leaves people with the distinct impression there’s not much he can’t do – and he reminds us that there’s not much we can’t do. Alastair now makes his living as an adventurer, author and motivational speaker.
BICIKLO: Your 4-year, 46,000-mile cycling trip around the world has been described as “the first great adventure of the new millennium”. There are easier and faster ways to travel the world, so why did you choose the bicycle?
ALASTAIR: It is cheap, simple and physically challenging. It helps you meet local people and is slow enough to really experience the ..