Malena arrived at our home on a Thursday afternoon, after a long pedal from the city of Lobería, her cheeks flushed from exertion or the wind (or perhaps both). At just 5 ft. tall, I towered over her by several inches. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a loose pony tail that poked out from beneath her bike helmet, while her skin, bronzed by many hours of cycling under the intense Argentine sun, stood in strong contrast to my milky pallor. I momentarily marveled at the gumption, courage and strength contained within her rather diminutive frame before inviting her into the house.
* * * * *
The stories on Malena's blog Candy from Strangers first captured my imagination about six months ago. As she puts it in the "About Me" section of her blog, "Malena loves candy. And travel. And both together. And thus, this site was born." I, too, love candy. And travel. And both together. However, since the mere thought of pedaling from Necochea to the next town over gives me heart palpitations, I figured I would leave the cycling to Malena while I sit back and enjoy the ride from the comfort of my home.
Malena's sugar-fueled adventures have taken her through Mexico, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and now South America. When I found out that Malena's first stop on her South American bike tour would be Argentina, I contacted her and invited her to swing by Necochea.
She stayed with us for two nights, during which time we gave her a tour of our illustrious city and did our best to feed her need for sweets and ice cream – lots of ice cream.
We also introduced her to other Argentine classics such as milanesas, dulce de membrillo and steak. Can you believe she'd made it all the way from Buenos Aires to Necochea without trying some of the famous Argentine beef? Don't worry, we fixed that in a jiffy.
Of course, no journey would be complete without sampling some of the local candy. We took our honored guest to Ámpola, an artisanal chocolate shop here in Necochea, where she loaded up on various goodies like chocolate en rama, fruit gels, and chocolate-covered orange peel. We also went to the bakery around the corner from our home for some specialties like pasta frola, conitos and alfajores de maizena. Fortunately for Malena, her adventures pretty much give her carte blanche to eat whatever she pleases since she burns off all those calories on the road. I wish that merely reading her blog had the same effect on me.
During her visit, she regaled us with stories of luscious one-of-a-kind candies in Mexico, her hardships while traveling through India, and the warm welcome she received in countries like Cambodia where she was humbled by the generosity of those who lived with next to nothing but were willing to share all they had with a stranger. Malena says that her travels have reaffirmed her faith in humanity and proven to her that people are essentially good.
Disenchanted with the backpacker scene and longing for an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the locals, Malena – a native of my home state of Pennsylvania – bought herself a bike in Thailand and set off for parts unknown. She explored Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia all while in the saddle of her trusty two-wheeled transport.
In contrast to Asia, Malena noted that biking in Argentina has presented more challenges, most notably the strong winds that she has encountered as well as the significant distance between towns here. Malena travels with a tent, a small stove, and a sleeping bag on the back of her bike for those times when she can't make it to a town by sunset and has to camp on the side of the road. In certain instances she will have to carry two days' worth of water when there are no places to stop along the road in desolate, sparsely populated areas like the Patagonian steppe. Her solo biking journey requires not only a great deal of physical stamina but mental fortitude as well.
Whether you think Malena's adventurous, brave or just plain crazy, I guarantee that you'll find her stories entertaining. In addition to Candy from Strangers, Malena also chronicles her travels on Crazy Guy on a Bike, a journaling site for cyclists. Add a little sweetness to your day by visiting her blogs and seeing what she's up to. ¡Suerte, Malena!
[Photo credit: malena616]