Cyclist traveling from Argentina to Canada stops in Vermont

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BRATTLEBORO — Despite the political divisiveness he sees now in the United States, Cameron Russell finds that most people throughout the world want to help each other.

Russell, an SIT Study Abroad alum who grew up in Middlebury, is part of a project called Mundo Pequeno, which saw a group of three cyclists ride from Ushuaina, Argentina, to the west coast of South America through Central America, then back home to Vermont. The name means "small world" in Spanish. Photos, videos and stories are available at mundopequeno.org.

The trip took some getting used to, especially the close quarters.

"We're friends, and we get along, but when you spend upwards of a year with each other, 24/7, it's like we work together and live together and hear each other snore," said Russell, who went to the University of Vermont and did his undergraduate studies in Nicaragua.

He visited the SIT Graduate Institute campus in Brattleboro for the first time Monday. In the past 10 months, his group pedaled about 11,600 miles and still had some more to go Monday to get to Burlington.

Part of the idea was to capture random acts of kindness, said Russell. He is considering filming a documentary with the same theme in the future.

Having biked solo once from Oregon to Boston, kind strangers paid Russell's restaurant bills and gave him places to sleep, without his asking. After returning, he became interested with the concept of random acts of kindness.

Mundo Pequeno was "born out of the love of adventure, people and cycling," according to its website. Friends Eli Bennett and Noah McCarter joined Russell on the trip, and some form of social connection with others emerged at all their destinations.

In Lanco, Chile, the group inquired about the price of a room.

"It was a little over our budget," a blog post states. "We thanked them and chatted about our trip and what we are doing, thinking that we'd continue pedaling until we found a wild camp out of town. After hearing more about our journey, the owner said she would let us have a room for a quarter of the price. For us, it was yet another affirmation of the generosity and compassion we've been met with on our adventure."

The owner told the cyclists she thought they would do the same thing for her, and she wanted to support the adventure, according to the blog.

The cyclists posted their Insights along the way on their blog.

"It's often amazing to see how the organized chaos of Latin America seems more efficient than many of our daily happenings back home," the group writes. "You need to ride the bus? Don't worry about reserving a ticket — unlike the sparsely populated public transit of the U.S., bus stations in Latin America will surely have you on your way to your desired destination within a half hour. You need a knife sharpener? He's walking by the house — when he calls 'knife sharpening,' let him know you're interested. You need tortillas? Someone will be walking in the street yelling 'tortillas' at the top of their lungs ... and they'll still be warm. For all of our modern 'efficiencies' back home, we'd say Latin America often has us beat."

The beauty of Cusco, Peru, "is hidden in the taste of its food and the stones in its streets," another blog post states.

The group also described the climate and terrain.

"Southern Mexico was hot but flat riding," a blog post states. "The landscape rolling jungle broken by grasslands and distant hills. We spent another rest day on the beach to say goodbye to the west coast before heading inland. Then it was up into the mountains again as we headed for the city of Oaxaca."

Leaving Colombia, the group felt challenged in traveling to Panama.

"The Darian Gap marked the no man's land between the two countries," a blog post states. "A wilderness with no roads and notorious for cartel activity and smuggling, our choices for travel were between air and water. We boarded the Wild Card, a 60-foot steel hulled sailboat to make the crossing from Colombia to Panama. We would spend the next five days living on the ship with 20 other passengers, four crew and a one-year-old dog named Max."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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