You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

December 22, 2011

Fin

It was in Salar de Uyuni that I realized I was thinking about home the same way I used to dream about this adventure.  Even standing in the center of the biggest salt lake in the world, all I could imagine was reinstating my Xbox Live subscription and going out to the garage to tinker on my ’82 XT 550.  The novelty of waking up in the same bed for longer than three consecutive days and wandering out to a refrigerator loaded with familiar foods was compelling me.  Developing a daily routine, a steady diet , nice clothes, working out, pursuing other hobbies; these all were starting to sound better than living out of stuff sacks, smelling like gasoline, and living on third world fast food all day shitting my guts dry every morning. 

It wasn’t until Santiago, though, that I felt like I had nothing left to prove.  In Bolivia I was tired of travelling, but not ready to quit.  There was still Argentina, the country I’d been anticipating since senior year of high school.  Plus Patagonia.  Plus in my head this has always been a ride from Seattle to Buenos Aires.  I needed to get to BA so that when I tell this story to American girls, they’ll at least have a grasp of how badass it is (face it, Seattle to Potosi doesn’t have the same ring).  Most importantly, my mom had a flight booked to meet me in a month.  Continuing south was the only option, but for the first time I was eager to get the trip over with and get on to something new.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the impact of the last nine months.  Back in March, before I left, people would ask my plans for when I come home; I had none.  I’d just spent two years wearing blinders working on the trip around the world.  There was nothing beyond it, because it was the only thing that mattered.  Getting away was the focus, not getting back.  I needed a chance to live only for myself.  Outside of the realm I was so familiar with.

Before this trip straight A’s in high school and a 3.7 in college had sucked some ambition out of me.  I knew that if the only reason to do my best was to keep piling on more work and responsibility then I wasn’t going to enjoy the next four decades very much.  After college I set out on a ‘shithead phase’, a year or two where I shirked responsibility for skiing, windsurfing, and recklessness.  I was lucky that Alex caught me just when minimum wage jobs and worthless coworkers were really starting to wear me down.  His trip around the world was the right mix of hard work and planning paired with complete disrespect for the future. 

With a plan as grand as riding around the world I was able to apply myself while still putting off any decisions that would result in the chains of life.  My friends all nodded and smiled when I’d pour over the trip to them; they were all supportive, but the idea didn’t seem to compel anyone else like it did Alex and me.  Whatever it was that had me so restless, I would find the answers on the road. If I could make it home alive, I’d deserve a satisfied mind.  In the weeks leading up to the trip I got sick of hearing ‘dude, you could die…’ so I threw myself a birthday going away party called ‘The Ready to Die Party’.  Of course I wasn’t ready to die, but I was ready to test myself in something other than academics or employment.  What’s amazing is how well this trip did just that.

Eight months later, I know why I left.  I’ve got an appreciation for my home and country more than I dreamed possible.  Everyone needs to get out of the U.S. to really appreciate it.  If you watch our media enough you begin to believe that our best days are behind us.  Cross a couple borders south, though, and the power and draw of the United States present themselves.  Our problems are so inconsequential compared to those I’ve been surrounded by in the last months.  It’s an inevitability that we won’t have the rest of the world by the balls like we did for most of the last century, but that doesn’t mean it’s any worse of a place to live.  And the look across every single foreigner’s face when they find you you’re American is a reminder that we still are a symbol of exceptionality throughout the world.

Then there’s a newfound confidence that life can’t get more difficult than I’ve experienced or witnessed down here.  I’ve passed the ‘ready to die’ test; under harsher circumstances thanI anticipated.  Starring down a gun barrel, watching Alex disappear underneath that truck, bailing into dirt ditches; these were all things I wouldn’t volunteer for ever again.  I literally waded through piss and shit to escape something I threw myself into.  But having come out in one piece, I stand proud.  There’s a slight remorse that I did nothing charitable while confronting such horrible living conditions most of the way down here.  The fact is there just wasn’t time or money to make a worthwhile impact.

 Volunteering and small donations are important and I commend anyone who takes part, but I think my next few decades will be better spent understanding the root issues and working to make a much more dramatic impact.  Rather than donate my under-utilized time slapping mud bricks together, I think I’d prefer to go make a million dollars and throw a hundred thousand into the solution.  Regardless, I now know there are bigger problems in the world than Seattle traffic and partisan politics; I won’t forget that as I continue on.

I’m no longer worried about answering the big question ‘what are you going to do when you get back?’  I don’t have one set plan right now, but I’ve got heaps of short-term and long-term ideas and projects to get me where I want to be in ten years.  Some of them involve getting rich, some just finding a happy place.  This trip has given me a lot of perspective; taught me a lot about what I need to be satisfied and which aspects of life matter the most.  My eyes are opened to a lot more options with parameters expanded far beyond where they started out eight months ago.  I plan to wander to a degree, but still in a progressive direction, never backpedaling or treading water.  Where and what are just the details.  Nothing’s decided, but I’m going to hit the ground running and make the rest of my twenties count for a lot.

Countless people have warned me that when I go home I’ll have changed dramatically, but home will be exactly the same.  To that I say damn straight.  Home was pretty awesome as I remember it.  I didn’t want to leave; I had to so that I could come back and stop wondering.  I plan to settle in quite nicely and pull up stumps for a while, indulging in the comfort of something constant and familiar.  That’s not to say that I’ll stay either; there are high paying jobs and big opportunities elsewhere.  But the Pacific Northwest will always be home, I have no doubt. 

By the time this is published the ball will already be rolling.  The bike is crated and on a boat steaming for Seattle.  I land in Vancouver, BC on Tuesday after a sixteen hour flight that took me nine months to accomplish overland.  The process of returning home happened fast, even though I’ve been planning these dates for the last two months.  As I said, I felt like there was nothing left to prove once I made it to Santiago.  I had my eyes on the future, I had an appreciation for home, and a confidence that I wanted to take home use to my advantage.  I’d seen enough.

I was also getting tired.  Since Argentina there’s been an overwhelming feeling that I’m pushing my luck every time I mount the bike.  There have been a lot of instances on this ride where I threaded a needle.  As Chas warned back in Baja, motorcycles really do come down to milliseconds.  I ride cautiously, but after 20,000 miles I’ve had my share of encounters that left me praying to God.  I’ve come within feet of flying off cliffs when I couldn’t make the turn, often ending up in the oncoming lane.  I’ve locked up my rear tire at 60mph inches from the rear bumper of a slow moving car after I came up on it way too fast.  I would have gone over my handlebars hitting a baby llama in Peru if the stupid animal hadn’t tripped in its terror darting across the street.  These, and hundreds more, were mistakes that I decided not to mention in previous reports.  Then throw in all the other maniacs crowding the road driving even more dangerously.  Every day I cheated death, and my nerves are a little fried from it.  In Santiago I saw a window where I could escape with my health and no regrets. 

The only nagging doubt was that I could have gone to Ushuaia.  I’ve stated many times that I wasn’t set on it, but when Charlie proposed my flight down there to meet him it was too easy.  The second night in Ushuaia we started contacting shipping agents and scheduling our departure from South America.  Having seen everything I was on a mission to get home for Christmas.  Charlie had to get to LA by January 4th to meet his mom and was in a similar mental state as I; we both decided to drop Andrew off on the 13th and immediately head to Valparaiso to ship the bikes.  My reports have been more infrequent lately for a lot of reasons, mostly because my heart has been at home for much of the last two months rather than on the road.  The last few weeks have been especially quiet though as this return was a surprise to a lot of people in my inner circle.  I’m not a good liar, so I just stopped writing. 

Villa Kunterbunt, our hostel/shipping agent in Valparaiso, did an excellent job organizing the shipment home for the bike as well as crating it up.  I have to say I’m pretty pissed that my bike broke down and had to be towed the final 20 miles of a 20,000 mile trip.  Everyone dreams of dropping that kickstand at the dock at the very end of the trip.  I lowered mine out of a pickup at the port.  Oh well, it’s out of my hands now and should be running within days of when I get it home. 

We met a real cool guy in the hostel.  His name was Bill and he was born in Portland and now lives in Western Australia.  Instantly Charlie and I both had a strong connection to him.  Bill is driving a thirty year-old VW Synchro van throughout South America and presumably as far as he wants after that.  The van was super cool with all the important adventure upgrades.  We had a good night with Bill around the barbeque.  He had some amazing stories and ideas, someone I learned a lot from over just a few beers.

After four nights in Valparaiso taking care of the bikes, Charlie and I took a bus back to Santiago.  Today, Sunday, Charlie flew to LA.  I depart on Tuesday for Vancouver where Alex will pick me up at the airport and drop me off at home to a very surprised family.  The party’s not over, though.  Charlie and I have been brewing a lot more than just getting out of here.  The day after he arrives in LA Charlie will be picking up a German friend named Nina, whom we met in Lima.  From there they will take four days to drive up I-5 and celebrate Christmas morning with the Reuters!  Charlie and Nina will spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest with Alex and me and then drive back to LA to meet his mom. 

Overall I think this story has sewn itself up quite nicely.  This will be the last report for a while.  Someday I’ll do another motorcycle trip.  It will be for a shorter time and I’ll focus more on the riding and less on the partying.  I don’t regret the partying at all; at 24, I’m the youngest person on a bike I’ve met all trip and I’ve had an absolute kickass time.  By the next installment, though, I think I’ll be more into early starts and eating miles.  Until then thanks for reading and go read Alex’s ride report if you haven’t already.  His trip was different but just as wild.  I’m sure he and I will have some new scheme cooking by the time we pull into Lake Stevens on Tuesday.  Now as I fly out, everyone hum the Indiana Jones theme in your heads and imagine that little red line stretching across the tattered brown map from Santiago to Seattle with the 747 fading into view in the skies.  I’m going home.

December 16, 2011

Back in the Saddle (barely)

It's been a busy week since Bariloche.  Andrew and Charlie and I left Argentina and drove to Pucon, Chile last Friday.  It was a tame ride with occasional dirt and plenty of ash.  At one point we drove 20 miles off-course to go see the spewing volcano.  As we should have expected, though, all we could see was ash in every direction.  We were definitely close.  The border crossing was simple and 30 miles beyond that was Pucon.

Pucon is a very nice ski town tucked in the foothills at the base of Mt. Villarica, yet another smoldering volcano down here.  We spent three nights in a posh cabin just off the main street.  For the first time since Mazatlan I had my own room.  With Andrew's trip near the end we were all in the mood to hang low and relax.  We did take a drive up a 4x4 track on Saturday, but were forced to turn around when we came to a bridge haphazardly made out of four logs.  No need to push our luck in a rental car.  Pucon is another place I'd love to come back to.  It's a bit ritzy, but small enough to feel inviting.  A ski hill on a volcano is a new one for me as well.

Monday we made the final 800k push up to Santiago and parked up at the usual hostel for the night.  That evening we cleaned out the Hilux and dropped it back off at the rental dealer.  They weren't happy to see that the truck had 9,000 new kilometers on it over the past month.  Or that we hadn't cleaned the exterior.  But as we all agreed, for the amount they charged for the rental, those are all their problems.  The inspector signed off on its condition and with that we went back to the hostel for a few beers.  It was quite a relief to get rid of that responsibility.

Tuesday morning Charlie and I had plans to go back to Valparaiso.  There is a shipping agent there and we needed details on what it will take to eventually get these bikes home.  There's always been the option of selling to another traveler down here, but the coordination involved has never appealed to me.  The whole point of this trip was to plan nothing and work around nobody.  Plus, more than anything, I like the bike and I can afford to send it home.  Fifty years from now it might be a cool antique to have sitting in the garage, a time capsule of memories.  When we went to leave in the morning our hostel reception had disappointing news.  The only garage key was with the owner across town during rush hour.  We waited two hours for the key to show up; long enough to develop quite a short temper.

Valparaiso is only an hour and a half from Santiago.  Charlie and I hit the freeway at 11:00am, both of us feeling very exposed on the bikes after a month off of them.  We rode timidly, still making good time.  My bike was cruising real smooth down the freeway although backfiring once in a while when I let off the throttle.  Thirty miles from Valparaiso the engine cut out as I was gearing down to stop for a toll booth.  It seemed like it was flooded and after a few minutes poking around with the carb and the choke I had it running again.  I was a little aggravated considering the amount of money I just poured into the bike.

Ten miles after that I was cruising at 75mph and the engine again cut out the second I rolled off the throttle after passing a truck.  I coasted to the shoulder and pulled out my tool set.  I went through every part of the engine which I understand and didn't find any problems.  So with nothing better to do I took the seat and tank off and changed the spark plugs.  The whole operation took a half hour and with the new plugs in the engine turned right over as if nothing had ever gone wrong.  I was going to be very disappointed with myself if spark plugs had been the underlying issue for my last few weeks of developing engine issues.

As it turned out spark plugs weren't the case either.  One mile further down the freeway I was back on the shoulder.  I think I scared some nearby Chileans with the amount of profanity that spilled out my mouth when I first dismounted.  I never got the bike back running.  Charlie and I were both out of ideas so we walked it to the tire shack down the street and found a guy with a truck to take it the last fifteen miles into town.

So that's where we're at now.  Back in Valparaiso a month later and not much has changed.  We're staying at the hostel that specializes in motorcycle shipping and arranging transport early in the next month.  In the meantime I've got plenty of motorcyclists coming through every day to help me get the bike running again.  I think I'll start with the carb and work my way towards the fuel tank.  First I need to charge my battery; it's barely there after begging the electric starter to get it chugging so many times. 


December 8, 2011

Fotos XI

 From Ushuaia the Hamersley bros and I drove north for thirty hours straight to Bariloche, Argentina.  It was a 2,200 kilometer trip with two border crossings and a ferry.  We took a three hour nap in the middle of the night on the side of the road and rolled into town at noon.  It was tiring, but we saved a day and woke up in paradise.  Bariloche is paradise.  All those Caribbean beaches and palm trees were nice, but Bariloche is home away from home.  It's a mountainous area covered in evergreens with vast lakes at the bottom of every valley.  The mountains remind me of Colorado, the trees of Washington, and the lakes of Wisconsin.  I'm certain I'll own property here one day.

We've pulled up in a cabin on one of the lakes and have been relaxing for the last two nights.  Bariloche is a big tourist getaway but it's having a rough season due to a nearby volcano in Chile that has covered the city in ash for the past six months.  The snow caps are all brown and the sky is usually hazy.  There is ash piled up on the shoulder like sand.  From the few clear moments we've had I can say it's the most beautiful place in the world.  There's a ski hill in town for the winter and turquoise water in every direction for the summer.  I could go on and on, but I'd be wasting precious time here.  In the meantime, here are some late photos.

Crossing the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago.  Feels like a long time ago now.
Pulled up on one of the 23 switchbacks for this shot.  There are ski lines everywhere around here.
Mom at Mendoza's nicest park.  There's a rowing club on the lake.
We got swindled into posing with tango dancers, but this picture may have been worth it.
Nature reserve in Buenos Aires.  Just beyond it is the Atlantic.
Looking out across the BA marina.
I never mentioned the Buenos Aires cemetery, but it was amazing.  Every grave was a miniature cathedral.
Congress in Buenos Aires.  One of many buildings just as grand.
At the fish market in Santiago just before Mom flew home.
Meet Andrew in Ushuaia.  Can you tell they're brothers?
Proof that we made it to Ushuaia.  If they sold the Hilux at home, it would be my first purchase when I got back.
The view from our cabin in Bariloche.  Right now I can't even see across the lake due to ash.
Charlie and me looking back on our cabin.
One more night here in Bariloche and then we head north to Pucon, Chile for a couple more nights.  Then it's a one-day drive to Santiago where Andrew flies home and Charlie and I pick up the bikes.  Hard to say what happens after that.  We're working on it right now.

December 3, 2011

End of the Road

After eight months of riding and a three and half hour flight I've finally hit the end of the line: Ushuaia.  It's been a great few days getting down here from Santiago.  I had two nights to kill after Mom left and I spent the entire time either at Subway or right next to the wireless router at my hostel.  I downloaded about 15 gigs of entertainment in two days, enough to keep me going for the duration of the trip.  I also took the bike back to Suzuki on Tuesday and had them install a new horn.  I laughed out loud when they brought it out; it's all chrome with red detailing and about twice the size as my previous.  Probably came off a Grand Vitara.  They had it installed in fifteen minutes and it is loud.  There will be no missing me on the road from here on out.  I plan to honk it as often as possible to make up for lost noise pollution.

Thursday my flight took off early afternoon.  I was chomping at the bit, so excited to get south and continue the journey with my mates.  It was great having Mom down, and good to have her familiarity around for two weeks.  I left the bike parked next to Charlie's at the hostel, sparkling new for when I get back.  My only regret about this part of the trip was missing Torres del Paine.  The Aussie's had just spent the last three days hiking and horseback riding through the park.  Charlie's pictures on facebook looked incredible.  Regardless, you can't see it all, and I haven't.  The boys would pick me up in Punta Arenas and we'd head south for Ushuaia from there.

As luck would have it, though, the skies were crystal clear all afternoon and our pilot decided to fly right over the most recognizable mountain in Patagonia with my window looking out across it.  It was an incredibly exhilarating moment when I peaked up from my movie only to see one of the most alien peaks in the world just below me.  The jagged teeth of Torres del Paine were just as incredible as I had imagined, each spire it's own monolith.  It just hung below for about ten minutes while a stared out the window in disbelief.  Just south was Glacier Grey, one of the classic ice superhighways that fill an entire valley.  I got to see it all from 20,000 feet.  A view money can't buy.  Luck I never imagined to hope for.  The Aussies had to hike in 15 miles to see the peaks; it probably meant more to them, but I was plenty smitten.  Just south of Torres del Paine the Andes petered out for the first time since Colombia and we touched down half an hour later.

Charlie, Andrew, and Greg picked me up in the Hilux right on time and with that we went into town.  The boys already had a room set up and within minutes of dropping my bag on the floor we were into the boxed wine.  It pretty quickly turned into a fast night and the very end found us all in the local casino together.  Andrew and Greg were up big while Charlie and I were reminiscing about the trip and discussing the endless options for the next one.  I would have loved to have slept in until about 3:00pm the next day, but somehow we all managed to pile into the truck by 9:00am.  Punta Arenas had a tsunami drill scheduled for Friday and if we weren't out of town by 10:00am they'd force us to participate.  Just before we pulled out Greg decided to stay behind.  His return flight is from Santiago in a couple days and he decided Punta Arenas was his best bet on actually getting back there.  We said goodbye and got out before the fake wave washed us all away.

It was 180 miserable kilometers to the ferry landing we had to catch.  Heading off along the shore on the way out Charlie spotted some ice burgs.  They really do exist.  We ended up waiting there for two hours when a semi broke down coming up the ramp off the ferry.  It took two other semis strung up like a train to pull him out.  After the twenty minute passage we arrived in Tierra del Fuego.  I didn't really have any expectations for Tierra del Fuego, but I was still surprised to see that it's a desolate wind-swept prairie full of sparse, dry, dead looking vegetation.  We continued south through a lot of sheep herds and eventually crossed back into Argentina.  From there it was another 300k to Ushuaia.  The Argentina section turned was beautiful.  The southern tip is home to a small mountain range.  It's full of waterfalls, rivers, and lakes.  Very colorful and a mountaineer's dream.  It reminded me a lot of Alaska, which make perfect sense.  It's actually a perfect contrast to my Alaskan winter in Fairbanks exactly one year ago.  Instead of three hours of daylight, we're getting three hours of darkness down here.  I'm really glad someone else is up there driving the ice roads right now instead of me.  That was a good place to make money, this is a better place to spend it.

We pulled into Ushuaia at 9:00pm in broad daylight, found a hotel, and crashed real hard real fast.  It had been a long day after a long night.  If it weren't for the sun staying up, I doubt we would have had the energy to make it.   Ushuaia is nothing like I imagined.  I expected hard, dirty port city at the end of a windy spit.  Instead it's tucked in the shadow of the mountains behind it and surrounded with greenery.  The place is teeming with tourism and in the daytime it's warm enough to get around in jeans and a tee shirt.  This morning the three of us went out and toured the main streets.  There's a lot to do here.  Helicopter flights, penguin tours, trips to Antarctica.  For me though, just being here will be enough.  The place isn't cheap and neither is the entertainment.  After eight months of adventure though, the idea of paying for a good time is kind of lost on me.  Charlie and I long ago distinguished ourselves as separate from the tourists.  Cramming into a tour van with ten of them and hearing about the unbelievable first five days of their two week vacation would make my ears bleed.

Andrew flies out on the 13th from Santiago which means we can't stay long.  It's a shame because Ushuaia is wonderful.  It's one of only a handful of places in the last eight months that enchants me.  All the other big cities are nice, but once you've seen the colonial town center, the market and a couple bars, they all start to feel the same.  Ushuaia is raw though, completely different.  You feel adventurous just waking up here.  The similarities to how I felt in Alaska are overwhelming.  You don't have to look at a map to know you're at the ends of the Earth.

The drive back north will be a long one.  We plan to head through El Bolson and Bariloche on the way.  We're planning on two monstrous days behind the wheel to get up there and then a few more to get all the way.  I do wish I had brought the bike down here.  There's a slight sense that I left something unfinished, more like left something behind.  But truthfully I was sick and tired of the ride for a while there and finally I can appreciate it again.  If you ask Charlie, the wind and rain the whole way down would have only broken my spirits further.  And I didn't start in Prudhoe Bay on the bike either.  I flew from Fairbanks to Seattle, rode a bike 20,000 miles to Santiago, and flew to Ushuaia.  It's nearly a mirror image in both hemispheres.  Pole to pole in twelve months; good enough for me.  I think anywhere I go from now on I'll wish I had that bike.  Every time I step on an airplane I'll be wondering how many days it would take to ride to the destination.  That's the feeling I want to be here with.  The bike is the most beautiful method of transportation I've ever encountered.

Today Alex starts a twenty-hour trip home from Buenos Aires, not something I'm looking forward to.  We had a good Skype chat from Santiago and can't wait to hit the road together back in Seattle on the first clear day.  I want to thank everyone for all the comments so far, especially Chief and Rich; it's a good reminder how far I've come.  It's hard to wrap my head around, but tomorrow I head north... for the first time in over a year.

November 28, 2011

By Land, by Sea...

Today Mom and I got back from Pichilemu and the first thing I did was run to Suzuki and pick up my best friend.  It had been nearly two weeks since we'd last held each other and I was getting antsy.  I rocked up to find my bike sitting where I last saw it, clean as a whistle.  The chain looked brand new, the cables slid smoothly, the shock actually absorbed.  My mechanic had me start it up; like always it puffed to life on the fourth turn, this time with a healthier ring to it.  We went through all the work that was done to it and they managed to fix everything but the horn, which needs a replacement.  I've been riding without a horn since Mexico.  Stupid, I know, but hey... I made it.  The horn is in stock and they just needed my approval to install it so I'm bringing it back tomorrow to have it replaced.  The total bill was $250.  It stings a little, but it was time and when I pulled out of the lot I knew it was money well spent.  My engine finally rolls on and off just as my throttle dictates.  All the creaks and groans are gone.  Most of all, it has that seal of a professional mechanic's approval that makes me sleep easy at night.  I know there's a bunch of gearheads out there pulling their hair out thinking I just wasted a quarter grand, but I didn't have the tools, time, or patience to do what the dealership did.  It's money spent, and I'm a satisfied customer.

Then this evening I got online and bought myself a one-way plane ticket to Tierra del Fuego.  All that talk and fretting about Patagonia and riding solo and how to get there vanished the second I chatted with Charlie online.  The Hamersley brothers and Greg are in Torres del Paine National Park and they're heading for Ushuaia, the southernmost city in South America.  Charlie told me that the last two weeks heading south in the Hilux had been rainy and windy all the way down.  And then he told me that his brother Andrew wanted to pay half my flight to come join them for the ride back up.  This trip has toughened me, but I'm no glutton for punishment.  And after last winter driving truck in Fairbanks, AK I've got nothing to prove.  I know what cold and wet is like; it sucks. 

So with very little deliberation I booked a flight to Punta Arenas, Chile for Thursday afternoon.  The boys will pick me up in the Hilux, which is fully equiped with heating, air conditioning, radio, windshield wipers and a locking waterproof cab.  Australians know how to travel.  From what I've gathered we'll head south to Ushuaia and then make our way back up through Patagonia on the Argentina side hitting El Bolson and Bariloche as well as the HU meeting in Viedma.  Basically I get to see everything I've regretted doubting without the hassel of 5,000 more tough miles on the bike. 

At the start of the trip I would have scoffed at the idea of getting on a plane.  On this trip you get the mindset that it doesn't count if you didn't ride there.  Now, though, I could care less.  Like I said, I've got nothing to prove anymore.  I still love the ride, but there's no reason to make it difficult.  Alex rode thirty miles on a flat tire the other day.  I'm sure he's somehow better off for it, but that kind of adventure just doesn't sound fun anymore after eight months.  I've pushed my luck through plenty since Seattle; continuing this break from the bike is a welcome opportunity.  The DR will rest two more weeks while I take the plush ride back north in the Hilux.  From there Charlie and I will have a little more time to ride together before figuring out the next step.

The last few days I've been watching 'Long Way Round' with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman.  I used to diss these guys and their film since they beat us to it and stole our thunder.  Now that I've seen it though, it turns out they're just badasses who blazed the trail and went through a lot of the same hardship I've seen.  I recommend the show to anyone after the impact it's had on me in the last few days.  It made me a lot more appreciative to be out here where I am; excited to meet the guys at this big HU meeting too.  It's nice to see other people change their plans and end up just as satisfied in the end.

Ideally I would have made it to Ushuaia on the bike.  Ideally I'd go around the world on the bike; that was the original plan anyway.  But this is an adventure and ideals don't count for much.  As I see it I'm lucky to have made it this far and even luckier to have mates who want to pick me up in a 4x4 down there.  Not to mention bombing around Patagonia with three Western Australians will be an absolute riot.  That's the news.  Thursday I take to the skies. 

November 24, 2011

Good Winds

Things are really shaking out and shaping up these days.  Mom and I knocked off Mendoza and Buenos Aires and are now settled back in Uspallata for the next two nights.  She's got under one week left down here and after that I will be on my own for the foreseeable future. 

Two nights in Mendoza was plenty, especially after I had slouched around there for most of a week already.  Friday we took a tour through the wine region visiting two wineries and one olive oil factory.  The wine was good, I even appreciated it, but I'll still take a micro brew any day.  That evening we came back, had a meal, and hit the sack.  Saturday was mostly stuck in limbo.  Our overnight bus to Buenos Aires didn't leave until 7:00pm and the hotel kicked us out at 10:00am.  We spent most of the morning wandering around town looking at ski shops and touring the big shopping centers.  In the afternoon we walked out to Mendoza's massive park on the northern side of town.  It was a fantastic spot with a lake, a zoo, and plenty of green trails.  When our feet finally gave out we wandered back to town for McDonald's and then hopped in a cab to the bus station.

I had dreaded riding the bus up until this point.  Stepping onto a bus feels like getting neutered after eight months on a motorcycle.  Worst of all is being on someone else' schedule.  I remember some jerk at a hostel giving Charlie and me shit for leaving late one morning after we said we'd be gone before sunrise.  Charlie looked at him smiling and said 'that's the beauty of bringing your own transportation... it leaves when you're ready!'  And vroom, we left him in the dust. 

Saturday's bus turned out to be quite a plush ride, though.  Mom and I had the front seats on the second floor.  Perfect for viewing the driver's insanity.  They were leather recliners, bigger than airline first class.  We were also the only people on the second floor.  There were probably five passengers total the whole night.  The waitress served us a hot meal, two cups of wine, and then a nightcap of whiskey on the rocks.  I put my feet up on the window and watched the miles tick by, indulging in someone else finally doing the driving.  Sunday morning I woke up still pretty tired, but finally in Buenos Aires. 

I knew the city was big.  At thirteen million souls it's the second biggest in South America.  Buenos Aires is huge, though.  Not only is the entire metropolis expansive, the downtown itself must be the size of Seattle.  The 'tourist area' stretches for miles in every direction.  Mom and I ended up in the San Telmo bohemian district.  Lot's of old architecture for her to crane over and plenty of entertainment to go around.  Of course our hotel couldn't check us in at 8:00am on Sunday so the first thing we did was to go Plaza de Mayo, the biggest plaza in town.  Each side of Plaza de Mayo is adorned with monstrous buildings that look like they belong in Rome or Florence or Barcelona.  I walked into Casa Rosada and marveled at it's art collection and looming ceilings.  The National Bank building was bigger than a stadium.  And the Catholic church was greater than any I'd seen in Europe.  Columns, arches, statues, gargoyles, it's all there.  The streets jut out from the plaza in a spoke and hub formation so looking West from the plaza you can look down two at the same time.  The magnificent buildings continue as far as the eye can see, each one trumping the next.  It looked like a movie set; like I'd get a block down the street and then walk into a big blue wall with clouds painted on it.  After coming through Quito, Lima, Cusco, and La Paz (all of which were built of cinder block and rebar), Buenos Aires is heaven on earth.

As soon as the room was ready I checked in and took a nap.  Mom still had tourist exuberance, but I've been doing this eight months and I needed my beauty sleep.  She went to a flea market while I took a nap.  That night we drank plenty of wine over a nice steak dinner and got to bed pretty late; we're on local time now.  Monday we were determined to see the city so we hired another bus tour.  This tour was cheaper and more reliable.  Still not my favorite activity being at the mercy of a bus company, but it wasn't too bad.  We saw all the neighborhoods, most notably La Boca and Palermo.  La Boca is cute and antique looking, but very touristy.  After ten minutes of sleazy street solicitors I was ready to leave.  Palermo was a good distance away and has a distinct feel to it.  A little more upscale and clean than San Telmo, but not overrun with business either.  I liked it over there and never got to see enough of it.  At the end of the tour we were exhausted.  We probably walked five miles that day skipping the bus ride between certain stops.  Another steak and a few more bottles of wine did us in.

Tuesday I was tired of the tourist sprint.  I went out with mom to visit the last of the 'must-sees' in the morning.  These were congress, the theater, and the subway.  Congress and the theater were both inspiring.  Buenos Aires is unique in that there are plazas every few blocks and each one has an architectural masterpiece presiding over it.  And the surrounding buildings are impressive in their own right with intricate balconies and stonework leading eight stories up.  It's desensitizing.  With those out of the way I had seen enough.  Eddie and Lizzie were coming into town that evening and I didn't want to crash beforehand.  I went home and took a nap while Mom took a Tango lesson.  She loved it.

That evening we both went over to Eddie and Lizzie's hostel and together we all put down some drinks.  Then Mom and I went out for steak; we finished dinner around 11:30pm so she went to bed and I went back to the hostel.  This was my last night with Eddie and Lizzie.  Mom and I were scheduled to bus back to Mendoza the next evening and within two weeks the Aussies will be off touring Europe.  So I had to make it count... and I did.  It was a great sendoff from those guys and I'll miss their company.  Regardless, I'll be seeing them again soon somewhere around the globe.  I wandered back to my hotel at 5:00am and crashed hard until 10:00am for checkout.  I managed to wake up with the shits and a crook stomach much to my own undoing.  Luckily the hotel gave us a very extended checkout and a few hours later I was able to walk normal and hold liquids.  Part of it was obviously a hangover, but Mom was crook all day too, so I was apparently waging war on two fronts.

Wednesday the only thing I got done was dropping off Al's shock at a nearby hostel for him to pickup and getting us to the bus station.  Alex won't be to BA until Saturday, so sadly we won't be seeing each other again until we're both stateside.  He's selling his bike to a committed buyer in Buenos Aires and then shipping out early December.  Meanwhile Charlie still has three weeks with Andrew and Greg; he also has made plans with his mom to meed in LA early January.  I haven't gotten details out of him yet, but I would imagine he'll start the shipping process real quick once he gets back to Santiago if he plans to leave the continent three weeks after in the height of Christmas season.  Ty and Jill are out of the picture and living happily ever after.  So that leaves me and my bike and a whole lot of opportunity down here. 

There's a Horizons Unlimited meeting in Viedma, Argentina starting December 8th.  Horizons Unlimited is the most respected adventure travel website around.  At this meeting I would find scores of bikers heading in all directions.  Plenty of stories and inspiration.  Viedma is 1,000 miles from Santiago and I'd have one week to get there.  It's well within the realm of possibility and is starting to look like a brilliant option for me.  Before I commit to anything I want to hear Charlie's plans though.  We've been on the road for months now and it would be blast to knock out one last leg together.  I might even link up with him and his mates depending on where they are.

Like the last eight months my future's all up in the air right now, although it's finally starting to come into focus.  I've decided I'll be coming home in January, the earlier the better.  I want to give it just three more weeks and see Patagonia before I go home, but with Christmas prices eliminating the prospect of air travel for me, I'll just ride a little further and kill some time in my tent down there.  One last push on a well-tuned bike in the decency of Argentina and Chile under one of the world's most amazing backdrops.  I'm expecting a lot of distance and solitude.  However it unfolds, it will be enlightening, a solid end to such a liberating adventure.

November 17, 2011

Family Reunion

The trip was instantly jammed back into fifth gear with Mom's arrival on Tuesday.  The past two or three weeks in Argentina and Chile I had worked myself into a very leisurely 2:00am to 11:00am sleep schedule with nothing but coffee and calories during the daytime.  I was getting nothing done and loving it.  Tuesday morning that all changed; now I'm trying to keep up with her bright-eyed bushy-tail enthusiasm for travel for the next two weeks, something Charlie and I gave up long ago.  It's not a bad change, just a lot more to take in.

Monday night I convinced Charlie to come out for 'a beer' at the Irish pub in Santiago's Bellavista district.  The Packers were playing the Vikings; enough said.  My eyes were glued to the screen the entire evening while Charlie practiced his Tony Soprano accent on a girl from New York.  'A beer' turned into several pitchers and by the time the game ended at 2:00am we reluctantly decided to turn in. 

It's a good thing we did; at 7:30am we were awoken by the local car rental company.  Charlie had hired a Toyota Hilux 4x4 the day before and they decided to deliver it and have us fill out paperwork at the ass crack of dawn the next day.  By the time it was all filled out we barely made it to the airport for my mom's arrival.  Nevertheless, we were there, nursing coffees at the international arrival gate at 10:00am.  After an hour's wait Mom finally popped through the exit and gave me a big hug.  Neither of us got emotional, but I was sure glad to see her.  We all hopped in the Hilux and Charlie drove us home. 

Back at the hostel we dropped Mom's luggage and immediately went out for lunch.  It was a greasy meal, just what we all needed.  Afterward she and I checked into our rented apartment and Charlie drove off for a much-needed nap.  Tuesday afternoon Mom and I walked around Bellavista and took the Funicular (tram) up to the top of the hill to get a 360 degree view of Santiago.  It's a beautiful city from any angle.  On top is a religious sanctuary celebrating the city's 450 years of existence.

We took a break after that for the afternoon but in the meantime I rode my bike over to the Suzuki dealership just two blocks away and pulled out my laundry list of repairs: clean gas tank, clean carb, clean chain, clean the rest of it, lubricate cables, lubricate swing arm, lubricate all other moving parts, new fuel filter, new air filter molding, replace shock, replace leaking hoses, replace anything else broken, missing, or failing.  And while you're at it, fix my horn.  I think there was even more, but that was the meat of the work order.  The technician looked at the 25,000 miles on the odometer and understood.  In the end I said I wanted it to be like new again, and he nodded and smiled.  I was confident in him; when I pulled up he was in the middle of putting together a brand new DR650 right out of the crate.  There were three others still boxed up beside it.  Finally a professional!

That evening Mom and I went downtown to see Santiago's Plaza de Armas in the evening.  It was all pretty mundane to me, but she had the camera on quick draw the entire time.  Around 9:00pm we both got real tired so we smashed some Chinese food, boxed the leftovers, and walked back to the apartment.  We both slept about ten hours that night and were up late morning on Wednesday to see the rest of the city.  We had picked up some groceries and did a brunch in the apartment before leaving. 

Since before she arrived Mom wanted to take a bus tour of the city, so the first thing we did was buy tickets and hop on.  The Turistik bus line was a good way to see the whole city, but in hindsight it was a complete ripoff.  The draw of the scam is that the loop route has thirteen stops and you can hop off whenever you want.  You tour the stop on your own and then wait for the next Turistik bus to come along, guaranteed every thirty minutes.  What I didn't realize until we got on was that the first seven stops are all within a half hour's walk of each other.  And that the other six were gems such as the mall, the shittier mall, and even the Sheraton Hotel.  Of course the buses didn't show up on time once either.  I could have done the entire route on foot with a pair of cab rides in half the time.  Having come all this way via motorcycle, it was very hard for me to resign my schedule to a tourism trap.  But Mom enjoyed it and I'll admit there were some cool things out there that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. 

By the time we completed the loop we were both beat and went back to the apartment for a siesta.  On the way I stopped at the mechanic's shop to check out his progress.  It was all good news; he was halfway done and everything was coming along very well.  While cleaning the carb he found a big blockage on the interior filter of my main fuel intake.  I know that's actually bad news, but it's great to hear that it's gone.  He didn't seem to worried about it and was pretty positive about the rest of the bike's condition.  When I left he was pressure washing the engine with a soapy mixture.  They're taking 'like-new' very seriously.  This stop in the garage might cost me a bit, but it's money well-spent.  The garage is also going to park it for free for the next two weeks while I'm out of town.


Charlie spent Wednesday picking up his brother Andrew and friend Greg at the airport and helping them settle in.  That night we all met at the Irish pub and the Hamersley's put on a show with the help of a lot of red wine.  It was another 2:00am performance and at the end it was me dragging my mother out of the bar.  Charlie, Andrew and Greg were all heading south in the Hilux Thursday morning at it was agreed that we'd catch up again soon before the trip is over.  With that we shook hands and went our separate ways.  Since the Aussie boys are here for an entire month, I hope to catch up with them once Mom flies out and get in on some of the shenanigans.  Judging by their stories from Thailand together, it will be raucous.

Today Mom and I got up, checked out, and hopped on a bus for Mendoza.  It was seven hours including a lengthy stop at customs.  Mom enjoyed it a lot more given that I've done most of that ride twice already.  Still, crossing the Andes, is always pretty cool.  We got a five second window where Aconcagua was in perfect view and the rest of the time just marveled at the ski lifts and cliff faces everywhere.  Now we're in Mendoza with bellies full of steak.  Booked in for two nights here and on Saturday the plan is to overnight to Buenos Aires.  With luck the reunion will continue in BA with Alex as the headliner.  He's finally free and probably in La Paz right now.  Expect some high fives.

November 12, 2011

Looking Forward

I talked to my friend Ryan via Skype the other day and he asked me a good question.  'So you're in Chile right, I mean you've pretty much made it all the way.'  It's a good point, something that I haven't been able to really wrap my head around for the last month.  All that time in Central America and even down through Peru almost seems like a different life now.  I've been living in the moment for so long that it's hard to look back and take in how far I've come.  Or to look forward and figure out what's next.  At least for the next two weeks it's pretty simple: vacation with Mom. 

Charlie and I are back on our own.  We arrived in Santaigo last night with a great sense of relief.  The plan was to meet Allerick and Jina for a farewell dinner, but facebook failed us and they are probably touching down in LA at this moment to continue their trip.  Eddie and Lizzie went south and I'll probably catch up in Buenos Aires in late November.  It was great fun traveling as a gang of six, but the tandem team has its advantages too.  Charlie and I have a lot of motorcycle specific needs when it comes to travel and accomadation.  And spending the last two weeks with two sets of lovers was starting to feel like a lesson in couples therapy.  Charlie and I were the lovable bad boys constantly distracting the doting Allerick and Eddie.  Great fun.

The six of us spent the last three nights in Pichilemu, a small coastal surf town south of Valparaiso.  We rented a cabin on the beach for $100/night and drank and ate way too much the entire time.  There are rolling waves coming into the Pichilemu bay and a constant strong wind.  Pro-quality windsurfers were out every day riding up and down the waves, surfing harder than I've ever imagined.  All the windusrfing I've done has been on flatter water or rocky chop.  Never long rolling waves that you can work up and down as they come in.  It looked amazing.  Knowing there's a reef right under the surface, though, I decided to hold out until I find conditions better suited for me.  Buenos Aires is rumored to be amazing.  I've waited a long time for wind, a little longer won't hurt.

Pichilemu was a blast.  There wasn't much to do, but that allowed us to unwind without the stress of wasting days.  We've been on the run for a long time now trying to find a place we really liked.  Argentina was awesome, but so much so that I couldn't relax; I tried to get too much out of every day.  There was a false hurry built up and finally after Pichilemu it's gone.  I'm back on vacation, wandering around however I please.

Santiago is the best big city I've seen since San Francisco on this trip.  It's expansive, green, spacious, and modern.  On the way in there were no slums.  There are no bums.  No garbage.  It rivals most American cities as far as I'm concerned.  Pedestrians have plenty of space and comfort walking along the avenues, with no holes or jagged rebar as obstacles.  There's a subway connecting all ends of the city.  In the next three days Sonic Youth, Stone Temple Pilots, Primus, Pepper, Damion Marley, and even Pearl Jam are playing.  Charlie and I have been chasing Pearl Jam all over this continent.  First we missed them in Lima, then they were just out of reach in Buenos Aires last week, and now we have a chance here in Santiago.  If I can find tickets I'm going.  A legendary Seattle band 20,000 miles from home would be a fun divergence for a night. 

Chile in general has been better than expected.  I always had my mind set on Argentina as a place to live for a while, but Chile's on my radar now as well.  I don't know that I'm ready to work here yet, but I see myself returning to this part of the continent for another extended trip sometime in the future after I've gone home, recharged, and restocked my bank account.  So far there are three places in the world that I know of that have ample skiing and winsurfing both within an hour's drive: Hood River, New Zealand, and Chile.  My options are limited.

My mom arrives on Tuesday and from then on I will be like everybody else riding busses.  The plan is to spend two nights in Santiago (hopefully see Pearl Jam) and then head east for Buenos Aires via Mendoza and whatever else fits in.  She flies out of Santiago as well so it will be a round trip.  Charlie's brother and friend are flying in on Tuesday as well.  Those two will be here for a month.  They plan to hire a 4X4 and hit Patagonia.  Given the wind and weather down there, I might catch up with them and hop in the cab for that section.  It was nice seeing the unforgiving Atacama from the Land Cruiser.  Patagonia from a Toyota Hilux might also be the way to do it. 

Aside from the still blown suspension the bike is running well.  Up until yesterday I was very concerned about my engine.  It was bogging down and dying when I held it at low throttle.  When I cracked it wide open it roared and held the RPM just fine.  The freeway was fine, but around town had me stalling out.  I got my hands dirty in Pichimelu and ended up cleaning my two airfilters.  That didn't help.  Then I pulled the carb out, disassembled it, and soaked all the components in gasoline to clean them out.  It was dirty in there.  Probably because some mechanic back in Peru or Colombia removed a piece of stripping around my air fliter and essentially broke the seal (I realized that on Thursday).  That's going to haunt me as long as I ride this bike.  Cleaning the carb still didn't do anything so I called out to the ADV community on Alex's blog.  The responses poured in and the next day I figured it out.  Back in Bolivia I had turned my idle screw as tight as it would go so the bike would start up in the cold mornings at altitude.  When I came back to sea level and opened up the fuel mixture screw, I started flooding my carb every time it idled.  And that's why it was bogging out off the line.  I turned it the idle screw back down and it runs like new.  I feel stupid for that one, but on the bright side my carb is way cleaner than it was. 

I've come to the conclusion that I'm not done riding once my mom leaves (a lot has changed since Peru).  When my grandma Bitsey passed away this year she left me a generous four-figure inheritance.  It's allowed me to live a little more lavishly in South America and now gives me innumerable options on how to finish out.  Within the next six weeks I will have spent all the money I left with.  That's an average of just under $2,000/month including every expense incurred since I left Lake Stevens.  There's a figure for all the backpackers who ask me how much money traveling on bike saves me.

I don't want to go much longer, but I'd like to finish strong on a functioning suspension at sea level.  A two or three week trip down into Northern Patagonia would be perfect.  Unfortunately that has me heading home right when all the flight prices spike for Christmas.  That being the case, I wouldn't be able to ship out until early January.  Charlie's in the same mindset and together we're plotting these next couple months.  Brazil is on the table to kill time.  We've also considered shipping to Houston and riding home from there... except it's January and most of the states I want to see are covered in snow and ice.  We'll see; I could still come home as early as mid-December.  But the enchanting mystery of the trip is back, and it's about time.

November 7, 2011

Valparaiso


I´m finally in Chile, well ahead of schedule.  The six of us agreed to head to Valparaiso after three nights in Uspallata.  Chile is about 100 miles wide so the port city wasn´t far away.  Charlie and I took off before the bus riders.  On the way to the border we stopped off at a viewpoint for Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at 6,900+ meters.  It was a quick stop.  We didn´t want to leave the bikes in their vulnerability and on top of that we were lazy.  We walked about 100 feet for the first view we could see.  In the distance Aconcagua didn´t look as grand as some of the other stuff we saw back in Peru.  When you consider that the mountains surrounding us in the foreground were all 6,000 meters, though, the perspective was warped.  

We hit the border by 11:00am.  It was well-laid out.  Argentine and Chilean immigration and customs work together, making it a one stop shop.  It was still at South American border crossing, though, so it took two hours.  The ride down from the mountains towards the coast revealed what we´ve heard for months.  Chile is the class of South America.  On the road it´s hard to tell you´re not at home.  The gas stations are even better than we have.  Drivers follow the speed limits; you can´t bribe the cops here.  

Since then we´ve spent two nights in Valparaiso.  It´s a nice coastal town with good weather and a huge art influence.  There´s grafitti everywhere, but it´s tasteful, part of the city.  We had a big night out Saturday.  Cover charges of $10 had everyone balking.  Sunday I must have walked a few miles down to the beach and back.  I got lost on my way back and ended up on the wrong hill.  Santiago is a series of hills leading down to the water.  Cerro (mount) Concepcion is the tourist area where we´re staying.  

Today Charlie and I took a cab to the recommended motorcycle shipping agent here in Santiago.  Turns out it would cost around $1,500 U.S. to ship to the United States from here.  I was looking forward to the opportunity to offload the bike, but not for that price.  Now I´m thinking about screwing around down here through Christmas and trying again from Buenos Aires.  Possibly shipping to Miami or Texas and riding home.  It´s not the right time to be motorcycling the states, but weather hasn´t stopped me yet.  Selling is an option too, but I really don´t feel like coordinating with another person while stranded in South America.  

Whatever happens I plan to come back to a like-new bike after my mom comes down.  With a new (used) shock and a full service, it should be more enjoyable than the last 1,000 miles.  With my mom nearly a week away the future is getting bright down here.  She´s bringing underwear, a newer pair of sneakers, and possibly a new computer to replace my currently failing hard drive.  Chile is expensive so I won´t be here longer than I have to.  It´s a good place to find a job, but not great for budget travel.  If I do end up sticking around for a couple more months, it will be in my tent eating steak in Argentina.  I have a hard time writing much down here.  It´s just not as shocking and really nice.  I´ve been sleeping in and eating as much as possible for about two weeks.  Not much is going on, but it´s the break I needed.  I don´t plan to do much in the next nine days either.  Tomorrow we´re all going south a few hours to see something new before heading into Santiago for the family reunion.

Also, congratulations to Ty and Jill who announced their engagement from Ushuaia, Argentina at the bottom of the world.  What an amazing highlight to a life-changing trip.

November 2, 2011

Siesta Time

Catamarca to Mendoza was a long day.  We started late, got lost on the way out, but made it 750 kilometers by 8:00pm.  Argentina is another hour forward, four ahead of home.  The sun stays up well into the evening.  On the way there we met two Argentine brothers on BMW’s.  One of them spoke perfect English and it turned out he had played pro basketball for the San Antonio Spurs.  He was at least 6’8” with hair to his shoulders towering over us.  The R1200 looked normal sized on him.

They said we could make it to Mendoza so we went for it.  We pulled in late, but had a relatively easy time finding our hostel.  It was owned by an older couple who made their money in the U.S.  We parked the bikes, unloaded, and went to McDonald’s.  The next morning Eddie and Lizzie arrived.  Together we went out and chose a new place to stay.  We ended up all four in a dorm outside of downtown in an overpriced, but convenient hostel. 

We stayed in that room four nights, but didn’t do much.  Argentina has turned into a trip completely based around food.  We drank a lot of good coffee, ate out daily, and cooked cheap feasts every night.  It’s nice to get a big weekend in every once in a while.  Argentina is also a ‘siesta’ country.  The whole place shuts down for a nap between 3:00pm and 7:00.  You can’t buy anything, so you take a nap.  It’s brilliant.  One day we skipped the nap and took Eddie and Lizzie as passengers up into the mountains for a picnic to a place called Uspallata.  The little ski town was a great break from Mendoza and we’ve ended up there again tonight.

Mendoza is a great city, but after Cafayate the wine town feel was lost in this city of over 100,000 people.  Mendoza’s easily the best big city I’ve been to since Cali, Colombia.  It’s clean, bright, and colorful.  Full of life all day long with lots of pretty girls.  But after five days of sloth we had to leave.  So this morning we all got up and moved to a cabin in Uspallata.  For $18/night we have a full kitchen, couch, satellite TV, internet, and Eddie and Lizzie finally have a private room.

We met a Californian named Andrew while buying dinner tonight.  He came over for Charlie and Lizzie’s big roast cook.  It was a full meal with plenty of great food.  Tomorrow’s menu is already in the works and it will include sweets from the bakery. 

I haven’t taken a single picture in Argentina.  It’s been such an entertaining place to be on vacation that I can’t be distracted with a camera.  People watching and eating are plenty.  After waiting for so long for this atmosphere, it’s very rewarding.  We’ll spend at least another night here and then head into Chile to explore.  Then I plan to arrive in Santiago by the 10th to start sorting a bunch of stuff out.  Bus schedules, bike shipping, bike selling, and when I want to go home.  I could see myself hanging around a bit longer and getting all I can out of this part.  Getting home for ski season with a little spare cash and starting a routine would be a good change of pace too.  I don’t have a plan, but it’s becoming clear that the trip can’t go on forever.  My mom is bringing down a new shock and bar risers, though.  I’ll have to test them out. 

October 27, 2011

Deliverance

Having spent one week here now, Argentina is everything I’ve imagined since I wrote my culminating report on it in UW-Spanish for Senor Garcia way back in high school.  I love this place.

From the La Quiaca border crossing Charlie and I moved south to catch up with our friends Eddie and Lizzie.  We met the couple in La Paz, Mexico and haven’t seen them since Mazatlan.  We’ve come close to catching them several times on the way down, but somehow always missed each other.  Not this time.  Charlie and I hooked it down the well-signed, fully paved Argentine roads heading south.  We stopped at a small town north of Jujuy for lunch and enjoyed the best steak sandwich I’ve ever had.  Great meat on fresh bread with a salad bar for toppings.  It’s been since Mexico that I’ve eaten this well. 

Best of all were our servers.  They were unshaven guys our age listening to funky music wearing hats backwards and sunglasses.  Guys I felt like I could have a good time with.  They were cool, just screwing around, being in their twenties.  The people here seem really upbeat.  You get the feeling that they can grow up and to a degree choose their futures whereas unfortunately in Peru and Bolivia, they’re fates seemed sealed the second they started working for the family at age eight.  I know it’s a different culture up there under different circumstances, but I much prefer this one for the long-term.

From Jujuy we moved west towards Salta on a very unique road.  It was one lane paved, with the yellow line running down the middle.  Why build two lanes when you only need one?  It was a winding road through foothills and across rivers leading towards Salta and the entire time I felt like I was on a giant bike staying in my half-lane.  We arrived in Salta at 5:30pm.  It’s a big city, and very clean.  There were street lights and green trees running the sidewalk.  Some of them were budding with pink and purple flowers.  Springtime in Argentina.  I saw a supermarket with a big Wal-Mart sized parking lot for the first time since Colombia.  Salta looked nice, but Eddie and Lizzie were still 200 kilometers south. 

Charlie and I got gas, got lost, and an hour later were finally on the road to Cafayate.  After an hour of night driving under the stars we pulled into El Balcon Hostel in Cafayate and found Eddie and Lizzie.  It was crazy seeing familiar faces from so long ago.  Last time I saw these guys I was barely a month into this trip.  It was spring then too.

Sunday night we all went to bed pretty early.  I learned a lesson about Argentina as I tossed around in bed that night: they start partying at 2:00am and go all night.  The disco next door blasted electronic music all night long.  My earplugs managed to suffice and I actually slept pretty well.  The next day Eddie and Lizzie went on a bicycle ride to go look at some rock formations.  Charlie and I were pretty satisfied sitting around catching up on emails and facebook instead.  For dinner we all had a big barbeque of steak, sausage, and grilled vegetables over the hostel’s grill.  For $5 I filled myself with more protein than I ate in a week up north.

Charlie and I did one more night in Cafayate while Eddie and Lizzie went ahead.  They only went about a hundred miles.  When we gear up, we like to make a day of it.  Getting on the bike is like preparing for war, and I just can’t bring myself to that mentality for a hundred miles.  We took our extra day relaxing and eating even more flame-broiled steak.  In the afternoon we both installed our extra rear tires and I’m happy to say that neither of us pinched tubes.  It was a first for me and I was beaming.  Wednesday we mounted up again and moved south.

The end of the day put us in Catamarca, a big city with plenty of money.  Charlie and I spent two hours doing laps around downtown trying to find a cheap enough hostel.  We were just about to break down and pay $40/night each when we found San Pedro Hostel.  It’s an fun, relaxed place run by a guy named Julio, who recently sold his BMW F-650.  He likes us and we like him.  Tonight will be our second night.  There’s not a lot happening in town, but it’s absolutely pleasant.  I can’t get over how good it smells and how clean it is.  The green trees everywhere have boosted my mood too.  Best of all, we’re back below 1,000 meters elevation and I can breathe again.  I can even stand up without getting a head spin.  It’s a lot like home, and it’s just what I needed.


Right now it's siesta time.  The whole city shuts down from 2:00pm until 6:00.  Then everything stays open until past 10:00pm.  It's awesome, and the attitude around town reflects it.  No hurries, no worries. 
Tomorrow we’ll move south again to Mendoza.  It’s 750 kilometers and likely a two-day trip.  We’ve really flown through northern Argentina, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come back.  Julio just spent the last hour explaining to me a slew of bike routes we could take around here in the foothills of the Andes.  With my mom and Charlie’s brother flying into Santiago in two weeks, though, there’s no time to waste.  These bikes are reliable, but a simple failure could mean a week’s wait or more.  I plan to arrive in Santiago five days early just in case. 

With my shock blown out again I’m not so keen on being adventurous with the bike right now; it’s more about survival.  Just like before, the back end humps up and down over the tiniest bumps and through the hard curves.  It’s manageable, but not much fun.  Luckily an adventure rider named Pat from California sold me his lightly used shock for a very low price and it will show up with mom in Santiago.  There I’ll leave the bike at a mechanic for a full service and the shock installation.  Otherwise the bike has been running pretty well.  Back at sea level I have seemingly infinite power.  When it was real cold up in Bolivia I had an oil link every morning at several points out of my radiator hoses.  It was never a big deal because as soon as the engine warmed up, the leak stopped; nevertheless something I’ve been keeping an eye on.  I remember Ty had that problem on his V-Strom as well.  I’ll have to ask about it in Santiago.  I also picked up a couple new fuel filters yesterday.  My current filter is disgusting after going through Bolivia. 

The plan is simple from here.  Find Eddie and Lizzie in Mendoza, band together for up to a week and then head to Santiago.  From there we’ll park up, rest up, and start the family tours.  I think my mom and I will use public transportation to hit Valparaiso, Mendoza, and then Buenos Aires over her two-week visit.  After that I’ll figure out how to get back to the bike and see what happens.  I’m sure I’ll want to ride more, but not necessarily all the way to Ushuaia.  I also applied for a travel consulting job in Buenos Aires, so if that materializes into an interview I’ll be focusing on something other than motorcycling for once.  If that doesn't happen, they still have world-class skiing and windsurfing here.

October 24, 2011

Fotos X

Charlie and I made it to Cafayate, Argentina last night and caught up with Eddie and Lizzie.  We love it here and will be staying a few days.  Easily the best country since Mexico.  Here are some pictures since Peru.  Oh and my shock blew out again as many warned it would.  F....antastic!
The final day of our 1,400 kilometers of dirt in Peru.  Eye drops helped.

Looking down on Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu.  Best view all day.

Terraces leading down into the mist.


Here's that incredible Inca stone work.


Machu Picchu: ticked off the list.

Heading for Lake Titicaca at 4,000 meters.

Crossing the lake on our 'lancha' just after paying $40 to leave Peru. 


Miners protesting and blowing up dynamite on La Paz's only arterial.

Charlie and Anna enjoying some juice.
Following Charlie inside the mines.
Trying to hold together hundreds of meters below the surface.
Two miners pushing thier 2.5 ton cart.
Me with the mining devil.


La Paz with Huayna Potosi in the background.
Train graveyard.

On top of Fish Island overlooking Salar de Uyuni.

Gina and me inside the cooking pot.

Pigmy mummy!

Very creepy individuals.

The new train transporting minerals across the Salar.
Get used to the red jumper.  One of the lagoons in the Atacama.

Steaming geysers at 6:00am.

The red lake.  The same red in the lake makes the flamingos pink.

There they are!

6,000 meter peaks in the background.

Yeah, we even saw the most photographed rock in Bolivia.