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Not quite Che Guevara

Human beings seem to be motivated by either fear of loss or desire for gain.  Psychologists say that the fear of loss is the greater motivator, triggering some primeval instinct in our brains that spurs us into action.  I guess you could say my travel motivation has always stemmed from a fear of not being able to see it all before I die.  I’ve never really had a fear of death, but I have a great fear of not living, of being ordinary, wearing what everyone else is wearing, commuting to work, and carrying on with the cell phone.  Normal, Boring, Death.

So I set off with great excitement for our third annual motorcycle expedition with the same group of friends; Mark and Neil from Africa and Will and I from Denver.  Our two previous expeditions were to Scotland and S. Africa; this time we were heading south to Argentina and Chile.  This would be about my 35th country I’ve been to, with a goal of hitting 100 before I go (gotta hurry).  I had been looking forward to this trip for months, actually 12 months, since the day I got back from S. Africa.

In looking over this journal, now nearly a month old, I can see that most readers would assume this might be the worst holiday they have ever heard of, but I actually have great memories of this trip and I truly enjoyed it.  I’ve always had a short memory for bad things and I’ve always tried to just keep the good stuff in focus, so I did that for this one too. 

So here it is, the actual play by play from one of the strangest travel experiences I’ve ever been on.  Enjoy and don’t forget to laugh, I sure did.

Tues, March 27th, 2007 – Dulles International Airport, Washington, DC

Well, we begin again; trip #3 with the boys.  This time we are off to S. America and I personally am off to a bit of a rocky start, having spent the last two days in airports, and I haven’t even left the States yet.  Bad idea this buddy pass thing, especially when you need to be somewhere.  I learned a valuable lesson, I’m just hoping that the lesson is over and I get on this 9:00pm flight to Buenos Aires. 

Getting out of Denver was the bad part, sat through 5 or 6 flights yesterday, watching and waiting and begging and watching and waiting some more.  I felt like the ugly girl at the junior high dance, just waiting to be asked for a spin on the floor.  Way too much stress, it is much easier to just buy a damn ticket and get it over with.  I got spoiled by my last two overseas trips using the buddy pass, they both went off without a hitch.  This one hit a bit of a snag though, due to a cancelled flight by United and a hefty band of spring breakers trying to get outta Denver.

Anyway, I’m now here in DC, happily moving forward and looking forward to the next segment, an 11 hour flight to BA.  Then I get to try to renegotiate my Lan Chile tickets that I missed out on yesterday and see if they’ll let me fly tomorrow morning to Chile without having to donate a small child and/or goat for extra fees.  Oh, yeah, and I do hope my luggage shows up somewhere along the route, I haven’t seen those bags for 2 days now.  Yikes.

I’m feeling lucky today though, so I’m sure all will work out.  It always does, whether we know it at the time or not.  Will just dropped me an email from Osorno, Chile where all three of the other intrepid travelers have arrived safe and sound, so that’s good news.  He also apologized for being a little short when he found out I missed the flights yesterday, he had been standing around waiting for me for an hour and a half at the arrivals section of BA and was a little grumpy.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news for him in one hour or so.

Thurs, March 29th – 2 days later

Wow, where to begin… first, I guess is the lost luggage.  United got it to Washington and then left it there when I got on the plane to BA.  That didn’t work too well.  I went on to Osorno, Chile, but no clean underwear, no toothbrush and worst of all, no riding equipment.  So I arrive in Osorno, manage to track down the Moto Aventura guys, where
Sonia informs that Will and the boys were supposed to call with their location.  The nearest they think they will be is across the border in Argentina, at Villa La Angostura.  I’m really anxious to catch up to the guys and make up for lost time, so I decide to set off for the little town across the border. The problem of no gear is overcome by borrowing some pants, a scratched up, wickedly small helmet, tiny little gloves and a flashy red ski jacket from Sonia.  Think Michael Jackson in Thriller and you have the jacket look.  It was about 6 pm and I was not really listening to the hints that Sonia was dropping as she handed me my motorcycle and border crossing papers, like “it is far and it will be cold”.  I definitely was not thinking correctly, possibly due to the fact that I hadn’t been in a bed in about 48 hours.  As a pilot, we call that get-home-itis, in motorcycling the Andes, we just call that being stupid and / or stubborn.

Well, bad idea as you might imagine.  Here I am, with none of my gear, wearing a super tight fitting helmet with enough scratches on the glass to make it look like a welding mask, short, borrowed pants, and my trusty Doc Martens.  Oh and my dress socks, that was a nice touch. 

Sonia suggested it would be an hour and a half drive and 140 kilometers.  She was only off by an hour and a half and about 30 kilometers.  That was assuming you knew how to cross the Chile/Argentine border, which I didn’t… and assuming you new Spanish, which I didn’t (accept of course the Spanish staple of all lost travelers, “grassy ass”….), oh, and assuming it wasn’t a pitch black, dead of night, winding road over the Andes mountains.

So it turned out to be a cold, long night.  Did I mention the speedometer and odometer didn’t work on my trusty new steed, the BMW 650 GS?  One hand warmer worked good, which is kinda of nice, I guess, for that right hand anyway.

By the time I got to the Chile border, cold, somewhat lost and barely able to see the road through my fogged over, scratched to hell face shield, the border guard took pity on me and offered to take me to his house to stay overnight, probably assuming he could prevent my untimely death, frozen to some guard rail half way up the Andes.  I declined, but I really thought about it a few times.  I felt committed (I should have been “committed”) because I thought my mates were waiting for me on the other side of the mountain, and I somehow thought my arrival, through thick and thin and cold and dark, would make them feel like I was really trying hard, since I’d basically blown their first two days of the trip with lost flights and lost luggage.

Anyway, I made it to the Villa Angostura, somehow feeling my way through the dark at half speed, faking my Spanish at both Policia stations on the border, and finally wheeling into town.  Now I needed to find a phone, food and lodging and it was about 10:30pm.  Good luck, gringo.  Thankfully, I found another couple of white guys, who happened to be from New Zealand, stumbling down the rock strewn side street I happened upon and they said they thought their little hideout had a couple of extra rooms.  Sure enough, the Kiwi’s were right and I was home free, at least as far as sleeping accommodations were concerned.  $50 Argentine Pesos for the night, which is about $17 USD, and I was in. Then I called Sonia to see if the guys had phoned in, where I discovered my buddies were still in Chile, 225 clicks to the NORTH of Osorno!  Exactly where they weren’t supposed to be and still in Chile!  I did all of that scrambling and border crossing in the pitch black of night for nothing!  Now I not only was alone, but I also had to go BACK to Osorno alone, to fetch my lost luggage; assuming the luggage gods and United were on top of the situation and my luggage was in fact heading to Chile.

I found a late night place to eat, ordered a tall glass of Argentine red wine, pointed to something on the menu that sounded like chicken, ate and fell fast asleep.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Obviously, I did something to piss off the luggage gods, because I still have no luggage.  Went to the airplane with Sonia yesterday at 5:40pm just like we were told to, and “walla”, no luggage.  This after she called United two or three times to confirm that it was in fact sent to us.  Best guess is that it is in Santiago, Chile and MIGHT arrive today, Friday, on the 10:45am flight.  I’m trying to remain positive, but PUHLEESE, I’m a little burned out on high expectations right now, so forgive my sarcasm if I don’t jump up and down at the site of the Lan Chile flight screaming over Sonia’s shop (and it does scream over, about 300 feet over the top of their shop; at least they know when to go pickup their clients from the aeropuerto).

So now I sit and wait at the Hostal Truyaca, a really nice little hotel about 3 kilometers from Sonia’s place.  If all else fails, I at least have Seinfeld on Direct TV.  God bless those satellite companies, how would the third world make it without them.

Speaking of third world, (Chile is really more like second world) got a little taste of it yesterday as I motored off toward downtown Osorno to find some eats.  Right across from the hotel is a local college of some sorts and they were having their own little violent demonstration over something that pissed them off, complete with the violent demonstration ritual of burning piles of stuff in the middle of the street (probably that crappy dorm room furniture every dorm room has).  I innocently cruised by, not really getting it, until I noticed the torchers were wearing hoods and scarves to hide their faces, looking like something out of a CNN news clip from Beirut.  As I passed, a big ole rock came whizzing at me, presumably meant for the van that was right behind me.  I think it nailed the van and then trickled my way; hopefully they wouldn’t intentionally stone a stupid American on a BMW with nice dress shoes and four day old underwear.

I didn’t stick around for the rest of the fireworks, but I probably should have put my digital camera to work to test my skills for that National Geographic interview I’ve been hoping for.  About a hundred meters up the road, 10 or 12 policia were all lined up, shoulder to shoulder, big Plexiglas shields positioned in front of them, marching toward the students like Roman soldiers, except these guys had big sticks instead of swords.  I never heard what happened after that, but I’m guessing the kids decided to go back to check on their calculus assignments before the big mean looking green guys got too close.  That would have been my inclination anyway.

OK, well, at least my journal is getting thorough while I wait for the luggage to mysteriously arrive at my doorstep.  With a little luck, I won’t be writing anything in this journal for a couple of days because I’ll be hauling my  butt back over the Andes to Bariloche, the Aspen of Argentina, where my buddies will be waiting with wide open arms and cold drinks…..and Neil’s dinner he is preparing for tonight!  (Neil is a world class chef who has worked in some of the top hotels / resorts in eight to ten different countries around the world).

Hasta Manyana.  My Spanish is completely hopeless.

Monday, April 02, 2007- 6am  (3 days later)

The interesting thing about these motorcycle trips is how quickly the days pass when you are rolling.  I missed two, almost three full days of writing my journal notes, but the days were certainly not slow. 

I am literally listening to the rooster crow as I carefully unwrap my trusty Dell, expertly wrapped in my used underwear to provide maximum shock protection from the dirt roads we’ve been on.  We are now in Futaleufu, Chile just across the border from the Argentine checkpoint we crossed last night.  I’ve got to check that spelling on Futaleufu, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong.  We were joking about stopping in the gay bar here when we arrived, with a great name like that, you’d think there’d be at least one, but, no luck thankfully.

So backing up, my luggage does in fact arrive on the Friday am flight from Santiago, much to my amazement and excitement.  Clean underwear and socks, yeah!  But mostly, all my nice biking gear, including the great hiking boots I bought in Scotland on our first bike trip.  Those are pretty much a necessity, since tennis shoes are not such a good idea on a long bike trip….. as Will is soon to find out, see the next section for bloody details.  Oh boy…

So I pack up, throw on the I-Pod and hit the road, the shuffle program picks The Beatles, “In My Life” and a nice rocking Led Zeppelin tune and I’m thinking, really, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world”.  I love it when life makes you think that, which it should do quite often if you read the owners manual and follow the directions correctly.  So the last four days were complete crap…. So what, now I’m dialed in and motoring across Chile in beautiful weather listening to tunes:  what more could you ask for?

I meet some nice Kiwi bikers at lunch, the real kind of bikers, on steel frame, old school ten speeds but with more gears.  Now that’s a committed vacationer.  Ride your bike up the length of Chile and Argentina, under your own pedal power, for nine or ten months.  They did have nice legs, I must say, but I don’t think I’d be up for that one, which is what I told them.  They were a couple, and apparently still liked each other after all those months sleeping in a tent together and basically hanging out with each other 24 hours a day.  That is the true test of compatibility, if you ever really want to know the answer to that inevitable question, which you may not.  If you have any doubts about how well you really click with someone, and you still want to stay with them, I would not suggest an extended vacation, the real vacation that the Kiwi’s and Aussies and Europeans take, minimum 6 months, normal time frame being about 1 year, or more.

The roads so far had been great for me, but we were soon coming into the dirt season, as I would find out when I met up with the other three amigos.

And meet up we did, on Friday afternoon finally, in the bustling little/big town of San Carlos de Bariloche.  This was an interesting town, like an overblown Breckenridge with a million little tourista shops.  However, they did get one thing right:  they are seriously into chocolate in this part of the country, with four or five chocolate shops on every block it seems.  Good stuff too, must be a local thing they got into here.

We spent two nights in Bariloche, with a really cool, but rough going ride up to a glacier on the first day, just outside of town at the Parque Y Reserva Nacional Nahuel Huapi.  This was a postcard-like scenic spot with very rough, gravel roads complete with interesting rocks to run over with the bikes.  A couple of them ole rocks got the better of Wilbur and he went down, twice, while chasing after me.  Poor old Will, he actually was zipping along behind me just fine, then he mentally checked out, “realizing” that he was in over his head.  That false image of losing your confidence gets you in a lot of things, and motorcycling on dirt is high on the list of things you want to be confident in.  Anyway, he took a little digger, make that two, but came away with just a few scrapes and bruises and a fierce hatred for the older BMW single banger 650 he was on.  I don’t mind the little Beemer, but I did jump on Neil’s 1150 GS later and I immediately made a “note to self” never to buy a 650GS if you ever want to take a serious bike trip around the world.

So now it is Sunday and things begin to get interesting, personality and childhood dysfunction wise.  Will decides to go it alone on the way down to Futaleufu, urging us to go ahead at our pace with him meeting us for morning tea and lunch along the route, but traveling slower behind us.  That plan works out fine for the morning tea, but we arrive at Esquel, Argentina for lunch, wait somewhat impatiently for a couple of hours and no Will.  We do the mini panic thing, wondering if he got plucked by a tour bus, which have the nasty habit of crossing the yellow line on the corners, then we decide that Will likely just took the wrong turn back when we zigged to the left (following the pavement) and he zagged onto another dirt road leading to Esquel.  It turns out our guess was correct, but we didn’t confirm that until much later Sunday night, after we got into Chile and found an Internet spot that happened to be open on a Sunday night.  God bless Al Gore, we would really be lost without that high speed connection, keeping us in touch with our lost comrades. 

Will drops us an e-mail that confirms he went down the wrong road, for a long ways too, on his favorite turf, gravel.  He says he fell down one more time, but we haven’t seen him since so we don’t know how bad it is.  He is not a happy camper and swears (via e-mail) that he is heading back to the Chile coast to take a boat out of here.  Hopefully that is just frustration talking and we can talk him out of it.  Emotions run high, both for Will and for Mark, who doesn’t like to get thrown off schedule.  He became a little testy when Will went AWOL and it progressed into pissed off from there.

We are staying in a cool little cabin in Fu Fu, the only show in town since all the hotels (both of them) were pretty full and didn’t have any spots for us.  This place is right out of Deliverance, a rustic little spot with a pretty, ultra shiny finish on the wood strips of the walls.  I slept on the floor on a mattress by the pot bellied stove, nursing my sore jaw.  I KNEW I should have gone to the dentist before I left the US.  Man, if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have flossed a lot more often.

I had to separate Mark and Neil at the cabin, (not physically, but verbally) when they got into it over the missing man and their reaction to all of that.  It’s interesting how diversity pulls different emotions out of people.  Neil’s reaction was to become passive and concerned while Mark’s reaction was to become a bit irritated and instinctively try to push on and push through the problem, sort of a grab the bull by the horns approach and wrestle the problem to the ground.  That conflicting thought process brought the two of them to blows, figuratively speaking.  It made for an interesting dinner, where I, the ever amiable peacekeeper, got to try to keep a three-way conversation going with mere grunts and nods coming from my two pouting dinner partners.  It felt like I was eating with my kids after a spat over someone taking the other guys Lego’s. I was praying for someone else to stroll into the restaurant to break the tension, but it never happened.  Good fish though.

Just a note on scenery:  you can’t go wrong with that one, this entire country is amazing.  Even the Patagonia is pretty, although it does look like southern Wyoming or Nevada for long stretches.  But as soon as you hang a right and start moving back to the west, you get back into the amazing Andes mountain country, which is stunning.  The mountain peaks are very unusual; they all seem to have a really jagged, pointy top to them, which makes them look very unique in my book, in a Lord of the Rings kind of a way.

Note to self:  Never let circumstances dictate how you feel.  That’s like saying try not to breathe the air, but there is a lesson in there if you can do it.  Life moves on and you have to just enjoy the moment, I think that is what all the great philosophers have been trying to tell us.  So what if things happen, things happen.  It’s not going to ruin my vacation, these things are too hard to come by for me.  I’ve pretty much said as much to the boys, that I am just having a great time and I plan to have a great time, no matter who does what.  It’s just too damn amazing to not enjoy what we are doing, we are so lucky, we can’t lose site of that.  No one can dictate how you feel, that is a personal choice you make, regardless of what is going on in or around you.  You just decide how you want to be and then you go with it, that’s about it.  Choose wisely, grasshopper.

Sure enough, about 9am Monday morning, Wilbur shows up, motoring down the sleepy streets of Fu Fu, looking for love.  We spotted him and directed him to the cabin, where hugs abounded and all parties were happy again.

We rode most of the day Monday down to the Chilean coastal town of Chaiten.  We drove through some amazing mountain like rain forests, very lush and a little wet, but not too bad.  The riding by everyone got much smoother and more comfortable in the dirt, especially for Will, which was very good to see.  We actually hit some pretty high speeds, up to 100 Km/hour in good spots on the dirt.

I’ve had a great time on the bike, but today was spent mostly in moderate to severe pain, with a massive tooth ache/infection.  I’m guessing it was the result of the rear most molar that I had pulled about 2-3 weeks ago.  It seems like my jaw and my ear on my left side have been compromised somehow.  Maybe it is just an infection in the bone or something, or maybe just the teeth moving around somehow, but whatever it is, it hurts like hell.  It makes for a challenging ride, which is of course, a bummer.  Especially when riding through such amazing places.  I try to concentrate on the road and just get through it, hoping for a remote pharmacy somewhere in the rain forest.

We arrive in Chaiten and I quickly scramble to find some type of generic looking painkiller that the Farmacia gave me.  I don’t like taking any drugs as a rule, but especially when I have no idea what the heck I just ingested.  Oh well, that or a small firearm is all I can contemplate right now.  It’s hard to be clever when you are in pain, so not much writing for me tonight.  Ugh, or actually, ow.

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