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Traveling book tour makes stop in Watsonville

Modified: Monday, Jun 30th, 2014

"Up the Amazon, Down the Andes" is a new book by Ben Ballweg of Wisconsin who recently rode his bike through Watsonville.

WATSONVILLE It is only fitting that a book about traveling through South America is celebrated with a tour of its own.

Ben Ballweg, a Madison, Wis. native, traveled along the California coast, visiting hostels and bookstores, including a stop at Crossroads Books in Watsonville, to promote and sell his first book, "Up the Amazon, Down the Andes."

And the month-long, 600-mile journey, which ended on June 17, was completed all while riding a bike. But even that was not the most difficult aspect of the trip, Ballweg discovered.

"While the bicycling ended up being a challenge, it was much less challenging than selling the books," he said.

Ballweg knew that he wouldn't be able to transport copies of his books on his bike, but with the help of Hostelling International USA, the organization allowed him to send his books in advance to hostels across the state.

Selling to bookstores proved to be difficult, mainly because he said he didn't give them enough lead time. Ballweg gave thanks to Crossroads Books owner Kelly Pleskunas, who purchased copies of the book to sell.

Not to be discouraged, Ballweg gave presentations on the book at nearly each hostel he stayed at, citing positive responses from those who attended.

"Up the Amazon, Down the Andes" follows Ballweg as he traverses through nine countries in South America, such as Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia and Chile, and even includes a stop in Antarctica. Using his background in military journalism, Ballweg also features nine different South Americans to add "cultural depth" in the book, he said.

Ballweg took the three-month trip with a fellow journalist, who were celebrating their time in the Navy.

Describing the book as "chock-full of hijinks experienced while winging it on a foreign continent," Ballweg said the trip opened his eyes to South America, and especially changed his perception of Colombia.

"Colombia was a big surprise for me," he said. "Us in the states very much think Colombia is a big overrun drug country."

But after visiting three cities in the country, that outlook changed for Ballweg.

"I felt like those were very cosmopolitan cities," he said. "That was really a pleasant surprise."

"Up the Amazon, Down the Andes" can be purchased at Crossroads Books, 1935 Main St. in Watsonville, or Amazon.com. For information, visit www.downtheandes.com.

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