Three brothers savoring a break on a journey of a lifetime from Alaska to Patagonia by bicycle ate hungrily at an expensive Italian restaurant.
The Berg brothers left Anchorage, Alaska on August 11, and 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) later, they arrived in Santa Monica, California, about to plunge south into the unknown of an exotic and possibly dangerous subcontinent.
AdvertisementNathan, 24, Isaiah, 22, and David, 19, grew up on a farm in the midst of the flat, windswept prairies of North Dakota. Now they are intent on traversing the Americas on $10 a day, raising funds for Habitat for Humanity on the way.
A path strewn with obstacles, both natural and human lies ahead: Mexico's violence-torn border lands, the jungle-choked Darien Gap in Panama where the Pan-American highway peters out, South America's mighty Andes and vast stretches of bone-dry desert.
They hope to cross the Mexican border by late November and spend Christmas in La Paz, in the Mexican state of Baja California. If all goes well, they will be in Argentina by May.
"We are very aware about what's going on in Mexico and the possibility of other violence in South America as well," said Nathan, as he tasted carpaccio for the first time at a Santa Monica restaurant.
"But we have a lot of resources, a lot of people that we know giving us information ... telling us: 'don't take this road, there are bandits out there'."
Still, the brothers took precautions and are carrying canisters of pepper spray powerful enough to ward off bears.
"If we're going to use it, they have to really deserve it," said Isaiah, recalling how one of the canisters leaked on the bike ride to Santa Monica, leaving him in tears and overcome with nausea.
"It is so hard to evaluate how risky it is," he continued, referring to the journey ahead. "And the image that people get through the news is that the entire region is dangerous. It's important for us to respect the risk and the danger."
But he remained optimistic, saying "99 percent of Central and South America should be full of very kind people."
As they wolfed down the fine Italian fare, the brothers said they had been living off donuts bought on sale and slathered with peanut butter for a caloric punch.
"Halloween was very good for us," recalled Isaiah.
They are paying for the trip themselves, but are also using the journey to raise donations for Habitat for Humanity, a group that builds housing for the poor using volunteer labor.
Traveling about 60 miles (100 kilometers) a day by bicycle, they hope to raise $60,000 -- enough to build one house -- through their blog boundsouth.org. They had raised $5,000 by the time they reached west Los Angeles.
Every three or four days, they break for a couple of days. They use some of this time to help build a house, as they did in Oregon and hope to do when they get to San Diego on the border with Mexico.
"It's a great way to spend the day out," said Isaiah.
The brothers grew up in Starkweather, North Dakota, surrounded by cattle and practising their Lutheran faith.
They are enthusiastic about getting to know Latin America, and a culture that seems so different from the job-driven way of life they know in the United States.
"People make time for family and friends," said Isaiah. "They spend a lot of time together. People seem to be less in a hurry."
As brothers just emerging from adolescence, they have found they awaken maternal instincts -- and worries -- among those they meet, and count on that kind of good will for the rest of their trip.
"I think we are going to make it," said David, the youngest of the brothers. "If not, we'll keep trying."