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TOTEM POLES TRACK THE ROUTE OF A CHILEAN ROUND-THE-WORLD CYCLIST

Dream road to China

IT WAS snowing hard when the 50-year-old Chilean cycling sculptor Juan Carlos Lizana, accompanied by his student, a 19-year-old Romanian girl, arrived in Bratislava on a recent Sunday.
Leaning over their heavily loaded bicycles, they peered into the windows of the closed Bratislava Information Service, searching for information about the local bicycle clubs that usually serve as their first contact in a new country. Lizana then noticed two cyclists passing by and, with the hope of getting advice, he approached them.
"That day was perfect, when me and my friend decided to try cycling in the snow," said one of the passing cyclists, Martin Jarábek. After Lizana approached him with his request, Jarábek tried to contact several bike clubs and hostels. Nothing worked out. "I could see no other solution than to take them home with me," he recalled.


LIZANA: "My extraordinary life is dedicated to the poor street children in my homeland, Chile."
photo: Ján Svrček

IT WAS snowing hard when the 50-year-old Chilean cycling sculptor Juan Carlos Lizana, accompanied by his student, a 19-year-old Romanian girl, arrived in Bratislava on a recent Sunday.

Leaning over their heavily loaded bicycles, they peered into the windows of the closed Bratislava Information Service, searching for information about the local bicycle clubs that usually serve as their first contact in a new country. Lizana then noticed two cyclists passing by and, with the hope of getting advice, he approached them.

"That day was perfect, when me and my friend decided to try cycling in the snow," said one of the passing cyclists, Martin Jarábek. After Lizana approached him with his request, Jarábek tried to contact several bike clubs and hostels. Nothing worked out. "I could see no other solution than to take them home with me," he recalled.

The black-bearded Chilean is a woodcarver who is travelling the world and teaching youngsters the skill of carving totem poles. A descendant of Inca Indians, Lizana left his hometown of Rancagua, Chile, on January 1, 1985. Over the past 18 years that he has been on the road, he has visited more than 100 countries, ridden over 180,000 kilometres, and created over a thousand works of art. And since June 2002, he has had a companion - Loredana Elena Stoleri from Romania - whom he met during one of his workshops.


ONE of Lizana's totem poles.
photo: Juan Carlos Lizana

"I want to bring a new culture to the people I come across. The totems are part of my ancestors' culture and I want to carry their message all the way to China, which for me is the symbol of the farthest, and therefore most interesting, culture," says Lizana, explaining that his choice of bicycle as a means of transport was deliberate. "It's a very social way of [getting around], plus it's ecological."

The Kerouacian life that Lizana has been living for almost two decades will end after he reaches China, which might be in four or five years. From there he plans to return to Chile to set up a centre for street children and teach them the skills of woodcarving.

Hard work, deep traces

The traces of Lizana's presence can be found in the carved sculptures and totem poles he has left behind in Latin America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Everywhere the round-the-world cyclist goes, he carries his carving tools, his photo albums, various documents, newspaper clippings from the countries he has visited, and clothing - amounting altogether to 85 kilograms.

"Life on the road is for me like a huge totem pole. The motifs I carve into the totem poles or other works are from experiences I have with other cultures on my journey," he says.


LEFT, Lizana's work; right, making totem poles.
photo: Juan Carlos Lizana

The creative workshops that he sets up with the help of sponsors in the countries he visits finance his round-the-world journey. When in a town for several weeks or months he teaches children between 8 and 19 years the skills of carving. He encourages them to create their own designs, which they then carve into oak wood. A two-metre tall totem pole, carved all around, takes an entire month of 12-hour workdays. Then he gives the work a final touch, smoothing it with sandpaper and polishing it with beeswax.

The last workshop Lizana organised was in Tirgu Jiu, Romania, where he spent eight months working with young people on a 10-metre totem pole, the tallest one he has ever carved. Lizana then dedicated it to the centre of the local sculptor Constantin Brancusi, whose work he admires.

Loredana was one of the participants in the totem pole workshop.

"I met Juan at his workshop at school and I was very impressed by his work," says Loredana. The girl persuaded her mother to let her accompany Lizana after the totem pole was finished. She would like to become a sculptor herself one day.

"Loredana has radically changed her life, but also mine," says the once solo-traveller Lizana. The relationship between the two seems like one between a caring father and his daughter.


LIZANA and Loredana (above) spent four days in Slovakia before moving on to Austria.
photo: Ján Svrček, Martin Jarábek

Nature versus civilisation

"When I was around 15, I saw an Andean Indian carving through the open door of his house. From then on I followed his work, noticing that he was translating modern inventions into the sign language he understood. I remember how fascinated I was by seeing an airplane developing into a bird through the work of his hands," Lizana says, recalling an experience that changed his life and gave it meaning.

"The carvings helped me to discover my true Indian identity. Now it's my road experiences that I translate into this language."

Lizana has had eight bouts of malaria, survived two road accidents, and has been robbed four times. However, he believes he will successfully complete his mission of cycling to China. The last time he was robbed was at the beginning of this year, near the Romanian-Hungarian border.

Lizana has not held many workshops recently, as he failed to find a sponsor in Slovakia and Hungary. After spending four days in Slovakia, the cycling duo left for Austria, heavier by four hard-to-find chisels, which Jarábek's father had given him. Lizana says that if his mission also fails in the surrounding countries, he would like to come back to Slovakia.

"I plan to come back and create the tallest totem pole in this country, a 25-metre one, right opposite the concrete National Bank of Slovakia. I want to place a piece of nature next to [that building]."

For more information about Lizana's work and updates on his and Loredana's journey, visit www.21k.de/lizana.

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