Initial Thoughts Day 1
Well, here I am actually on my way to South America on a motorcycle. I’m with 3 high school friends that go back 40 years, Dogcow, The Big Easy, and Space Cowboy. Of course their names were different back in school. Anyway, we are a group of four guys heading down on this adventure. In this group I see Dogcow as the lead singer, who aptly named us “The Gang of Four”. On keyboards I see Space Cowboy, contributing as many ideas as the range of keys on the keyboard. Backing the group in the rear we have The Big Easy, the drummer. He’s got a lot of heart and he’s constantly checking up on the group to make sure we don’t miss a beat. Myself, I guess I’m the bass player, hanging quietly in the back helping out whenever I can but otherwise going along for the ride.
The trip we’re going on is cool, scary, worrisome all at the same time. Sitting on my machine my thoughts seem amplified in my helmet and the solidtude gives me time to reflect. I find myself considering how many aspects encompass our journey. We have the organizational aspect where countless hours were spent on the internet researching information on the road conditons, border crossings, weather, necessary paperwork, supply shopping, mapping, and setting up this website. It also accounts for the planning of shipping bikes, arranging for tires and servicing at the midpoint most of which was done by my three travel companions. Thanks guys!
There is the riding aspect where like a skiier poised on top of the run choosing a path to carve around moguls on the fall line, we study the road surface for gravel, potholes and other imperfections so as to wind safely along the highway. Also like a fighter pilot sitting in the cockpit with all our controls at our feet and fingers, we extraxct the most from our baby while flying down the highway, always in control, communicating with the rest of the squadron to keep our formation – the safety net against the enemy traffic. Talking is not an option at high speed. Make-shift sign language will have to do. To this point the highways are somewhat familiar because we’re in the US. Who knows how that will change on the South American roads.
The communication aspect looks into the technology we need to contact people back home and to keep ourselves updated with weather, accommodations, scheduled events and such. We have iPhones, iPads, and a netbook, all of which need some practice to make work. Facetime for example is new to most of us. The internet continues to provide endless assistance in our planning. Dogcow has become quite adept at making things happen as they should, especially when navigating with the Garmin GPS. He has made our navagation through busy cities and lonely country roads seem like child’s play. We’ve been easing on down the road slicker than axel grease. The next big test will be South America. Great lead so far Dogcow!
Then there’s the physical aspect. Four sleep deprived old guys with old eyes, half deaf and sore muscles. Butt, lower back, shoulders, and neck muscles get a good workout for sure. The throttle hand feels like it’s going to get petrified in the grip position and the pain begins working its way up the forarm. I begin to wonder if stamina will grow and the pain decrease as our bodies adjust to the new physical demands, or will the pain just get worse and make permanent damage. Of course we try prescribed remedies to help these problems. But if that’s not bad enough Old Man Weather and Mother Nature are going to add to the physical challenges. The wind buffets us about most of the day and at times the crosswinds make you lean the bike sideways while just to ride straight down the road. With the sun low in the horizon visibility is greatly compromised while banking around corners. The blackened asphalt absorbs the scorching rays of sun and double the heat already pouring off the engine to our skewered feet on the foot pegs. The sun does its best to cook us sunny side up, boiled, or basted. We can’t forget the protective lotions or blistered skin is sure to follow. The rain can pelt down so visibility is next to zero and making road surfaces unpredictable. We really need to slow down to keep safe. My body reacts to the cold by stiffening up and keeping my muscles tense. Circulation in my fingers becomes poor and they’ll tingle like when your foot goes to sleep. Speaking of sleep, everyday it seems someone comments on needing to pull over for a break because they’re getting the nods.
What about a mental aspect? Motorcycling is more than a means of transport. It’s also a sport, and like any sport an athelete needs to focus mentally to perform their best. It can become very tiresome, especially on highways through the big cities, while trying to keep focussed on being safe through the zigzagging motorists and watching the signage so as not to miss our correct direction. Out in the country we want to keep up our speed to make good time but this requires proper banking around corners and good decisions about when to pass. The most difficult mental concentration is taken on by whoever is leading the group, the squadron leader. That person makes all the choices as to when it’s safe to change lanes, what speed to follow, choosing the right direction, when it’s time to stop, and be accountable for keeping in mind the rest of the groups personal short comings, needs, and bkie capabilities. The mental aspect is important because mistakes can be fatal.
Is there a spiritual aspect? None of us are particularly religious but I wonder if we are being watched over. What makes me wonder is something as simple as rain clouds in the distance that never appear as we advance toward them. Who keeps pushing them away? One time in Utah the clouds we threatening enough that we decided to stop and put on rain gear. Even a car coming toward us passed with its wipers on intermittently. Yet as we get back on the road and take a couple of corners the rain disappears. later, when we got to Moab thunderstorms were predicted. Clouds were building all around us, lightning could be seen so we battened down the camp and went to bed expecting the worst. Nothing ever came of it. Another example was when we arrived that afternoon at Moab to the popular Devil’s Garden campground in Arches National Park, we knew bookings were necessary days in advance. We didn’t have reservations but now regretted that because the place was so breath taking. All the signs read “Full”. We thought we’d ask the camp host anyway and sure enough a site had just became availble across from where we were standing. Thanks again to our ghost rider. Later in Old Santa Fe, we pulled up to a hotel in the Old Town and luckily got the last two rooms. Some voice talked to Dogcow somewhere in New Orleans and said, “call Key West to get a hotel”. He perused the website and found a quaint place, pricier than what we may have chosen but really the only hit he came up with for accommodations. Low and behold a huge annual biker rally is going down in Key West the same time we’re there. We got the last available rooms at this pricier hotel for two nights only. Even if we wanted to stay longer we couldn’t because all days afterward are booked. Whew! On previous trips radar traps or police are always needing a respectful eye. Our guardian on this trip has made sure that we are on our best behaviour evertime the federallies appear.
Aside from these aspects the one that hit me the hardest was the emotional aspect. I haven’t encountered the range of emotions that have overwhelmed me this trip, when compared with our week long trips in past years. All the planning we did couldn’t prepare me for the day I left. My emotions left we with a heavy sinking feeling. Here I was selfishly going on this three month adventure while leaving my wife behind to deal with soooo much on her own. It heightens my love for her from the support she has given me. I have had to look for comfort from my high school buddies who are here sharing this epic journey with me.
October 22, PAST THE HALF WAY POINT
Well the above aspects of riding still hold true no matter what country we´ve ridden in. Now I´ve been wanting to give my impressions of the countries we´ve visited to this point. Columbia was our initial exposure to the new culture so lots of pressure was on it´s shoulders since first impressions are lasting ones. The country seemed poor because modern facilities aren´t immediately evident. Poles hold the bird´s nests of wires running along streets and into buildings. Main roads are paved in the cities but have potholes and can be rough. Most cabs we rode had worn springs from the bumpy roads and would often bottom out when driving us around town. It’s interesting that traffic lights have a number lit up beside them that counts down the seconds for when the light will change. It has them for pedestrians as well. Some places will use the amber both ways. Amber before turning red as well as going amber before turning green.
Out in the country homes are simple some two or three stories of concrete but most one level mud brick homes or brick with roofs made from clay tiles, corregated metal, or thatched grass and mud. Some had electricity and water and some not. The big cities are way different and offer a lot more. Streets are narrow and remind me of the Portuguese cities. Not many high rise buildings. Vehicles are cars, trucks and mostly small motorcycles. These vehicles are not for pleasure but work. Everyone on the road is using their vehicle for whatever business they are in. They are loaded to the hilt usually so transporting can happen in as few trips as possible. I´ve seen up to five people on a little 125cc motorcycle putt putting down the road. Some trucks have loads stacked way above the cab, bulging at its sides held on only by the tie-down cords. They bounce down the road and seem to make it to their destination. Many people in the city can be seen talking on the cell phone and ads promote the lifestyle everywhere. They´re like this wanna be country. They offer modern technology like home but I´m sure most can´t afford all the luxuries we take for granted at home. Television seems to be a big deal because most hotel rooms give us a remote for the tv with the room key and will even come to the room and turn the tv on to prove it works. All the cafes and eating areas have tvs blasting some program 24-7. Facilities are bare bone by our standards but fancy hotels are available for those willing to spend the cash. Columbia still has the military presence. The numbers increase as you go south because that´s were guerilla activity can still happen. All government installations, and bridges are guarded with road checks everywhere. Speaking of roads, the main ones are paved but as soon as you leave them it is dirt or gravel. The dust produced by these side roads creates a lot of dust which is why so many places appear so dirty. The people have been very interested in us and come to talk with us. Unfortunately we don´t speak the language and can´t engage in a real exchange. There’s so much about there lives we won’t know because of the language barrier. We can only derive our own interpretations from the fleeting moments of time spent chatting on the street or when flying by the highway on the bikes. Columbia is fairly expensive considering what little it has to offer in the way of modern day comforts. I don’t know why I expect beer, food and rooms to be cheaper than at home but I do and they’re not by that much. The people have been very patient with us tourists and helpful. I have’t felt scared, attacked, or endangered at any time. The bikes have always been safe although we take precautions so as not to tempt fate. All in all Columbia is a positive experience.
Ecuador is much like Columbia except I feel it gives off a cleaner perception. Things are much cheaper here. Gas, hotel, food, and beer are well priced. They use American dollars for their currency. People are just as wonderful and that safe feeling continues whether we leave our bikes to get a bite in a roadside restaurant or while walking at night in the city streets. Billboards and signs everywhere give out positive public messages about doing whát’s best for your country and fellow citizen. Working toward a better future. The beautiful, clean, modern pictures on signs are such a contrast to the real world around them. I wonder how effective they are. Can the people here even associate with the ones portrayed in the ads? I enjoyed Ecuador for three days and could have stayed longer if further destinations were’t calling. Border crossings were no real problem, other than our own mistake of not noticing the building where we needed to sign our bikes out of Columbia. There’s always that learning curve swinging back and forth every day.
Peru is poor. Now the question is, are they happy? They appear to be and may not know better or question a meager existence. So many old men sitting at their doorstep watching life pass by. The stare expressionless as we pass by on the bikes and wave to them. If I was alone in the world on this trip and I knew the language, I would love to stop and spend time getting to know these indigenous people to find out their outlook on life. Have they ventured more than 100 miles from their home in their life? Äre they knowledgeable about the outside world and all it has to offer? What are their goals in life? When they get up each day what plans do they make? What long terms goals do they set for themselves, their families, or even their village? It doesn’t appear that even have the means for making money and if thát’s true then their options for planning for the future are greatly reduced. You’d be limited to the resources around you. And it’s apparent that they use the land and it’s resources as much as possible. Life seems simple. Yet I see similarities to life as we knew it so many years ago. Some poor villages in the mountains don’t seem to be much ahead of medieval times. I’m not saying that means they’re not happy I’m just stating an observation. Could be they don’t want to change. The kids go to school and you’d think they learn about the world and talk to their parents. So do the kids want to leave and explore those wonders of the world they read about in school or are they content to see a future right there with their dirt and animals? Anyway I don’t want to explore that further. Peru has two distinct areas. The lower ocean area and the Andes. Both appeal to me. I loved the curves and experience of being miles high through the Andes but found the air thin and hard to exert one´s self. By the ocean I can’t get enough of the waves crashing on the sandy beaches on the coast. All in all Peru is also a positive experience but it is hard work travelling this vast country.
Chile has a new feel to it. The cities are modern and somewhat like things where I live. However, out of the cities there has been barren desert with very few facilities or settlements. We need to study the maps carefully so we can plan ahead. We don’t want to find ourselves out of gas or in the middle of nowhere as night falls. We had a neat experience pulling off the main road to the little beach town Hornito. We are able to drive onto the beach here, pitch a tent and stay as long as you like. We planned ahead and made sure we had water, food, wine and of course our tents. It’s totally roughing it and we next we’ll have to go to a hotel if we want to shower. This is how I find things in the north of Chile. Í’ve yet to experience the southern half. Up till now we have spent most of every day riding to our destination, eating breadfast, sometimes lunch and usually dinner, looking around to find accomodations, then using the night to look at maps and make plans for the next day. Before you know it the day is gone and we’ve only been able to get the essentials done. That’s an aspect of the trip I didn’t know would happen. I thought we’d have a little more time to enjoy or destinations. At least things have been real safe and positive which is different than my preconceptions. I packed safe guard items that have never been used and I don’t expect to. That’s all for now. On to southern Chile and Argentina.