Our “adventures” while wandering around Argentina on our own

South American Checker Cab. Many South American's can't afford a car and Tuk Tuks are the primary method for inner city transportation. They're a three wheeled version of a m/c with an enclosed (canvas) passenger compartment. Engine serves as heater as well.

Going to a foreign country, or in our case a foreign continent, gives one the chance to get an insight into how other people live.  South America was a perfect place to do this as its close enough to get to, yet far enough away to be different.   I was expecting to be impressed by the food, dress, architecture, art — the regular stuff of visiting foreign lands.  

But it was the nuts and bolts of their life that stuck with me most after our trip. We Americans live a charmed life in so many little ways.  Our trash is picked up every week, we always have enough electricity.  Paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper are in abundant supply.  We don’t have to memorize three different ways to dial a phone depending on what kind of phone we”re using and where we’re calling from/to.  We have street signs and good maps.  Money is available on every corner as banks and ATMs are ubiquitous.  Want to buy a TV that’s more than you can afford this week?  No problem, put down the MasterCard and pay it off next month or the one after that.

Need a washing machine or TV set? You can buy them in the same store in many towns in SA. Motorcycles are viewed in the same mode as a washing machine -- basic utility. Small m/cs (125ccs and less) are the primary method of personal transportation throughout SA. Probably more so than washing machines and ovens.

It’s these little things that make all the difference.  And so it was that over the 90+ days we were in SA, we became more familiar with the nuts and bolts of life, which gave us a better insight into how people in SA live than any of the regular stuff.

Let’s talk trash, for example. We pay a company/city to pick it up every week.  There’s a system of containers, times, recycling, etc. that happens as automatically as a dial tone on our phone.   It’s not so automatic in small towns in Bolivia or Peru.  Or, for that matter, in lots of places in Mexico.  There’s not much infrastructure to do this because there’s no… (1) tax base to pay for it  (2) no place to put it  (3) no money to pay for it  (4) no containers to use,  etc.

Here’s the rub:  most South American towns/cities that we visited were remarkably free of trash.  So, what do South American’s do?  They do it on a block by block basis;  pickup trucks come by and take the  trash piled on an agreed-to street corner every day.  I assume that these trash picker uppers make their money by selling the recyclable trash, but I don’t know.

Once outside bigger cities, you see dumps that collect trash in almost every village.  Can you imagine having to carry your trash to a dump every couple of days?  And if you don’t have a car, how likely are you to take the trash down the street to the dump?  Hence, many houses create their own mini dumps and eventually burn it.

The lack of high-volume trash processing infrastructure has other affects;  South Americans consume less and reuse more.  Toilet paper is a well-regulated commodity in hotels;  you get one small roll per day.  Napkins?  Paper thin and watched closely.  Plastic soda bottles?  Reused to carry everything from gasoline to water.  After a while, the idea of consuming less becomes a habit, and not a bad one at that.  You need smaller dump sites and Toyota pick ups can handle the neighborhood trash needs.

This house was a five hour drive from Copiapo, Chile. Located in the high Atacama, recent addition of solar panel allowed refrigeration, lights and ... an Internet satellite dish!

Technology is your friend, especially if you live high up in the Andes.   Living “off the grid” is the only alternative in many villages and towns in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  Laying electrical, telephone, water, sewage lines isn’t going to happen in our life time.  Remote villages in South America are discovering solar power.  We stayed with a family who had one panel on the roof of their house with a wire strung to a set of car batteries.  This single solar panel gave each room light via a single florescent bulb.  And for the first time, this family could read, or listen to a radio, or look at pictures from gringo tourists at night in their kitchen.

Much like the USA, solar power is made affordable by government grants in countries like Peru.  There are a lot worse uses of tax dollars (or Soles or Bolivianos) as it literally changes lives and living conditions.  Imagine what will happen when the cost of solar and other alternative sources becomes affordable on a large scale in South America?

South American kids aren’t suffering for lack of mobile phone connectivity. Whether in Seattle or Santiago, their attachment to all things mobile is the same.  Every kid had some kind of mobile phone or game and had their head buried in its screen.   Same thing goes for adults as mobile phone use on the road is widespread. Conservation of this critical resource (minutes) is top of mind.  Since there is no monthly billing for the most part in South America, everyone buys minutes from magazine stands and mini markets.  (I’m not sure whether mobile phones can be used as payment vehicles like they are in Asia)  Mobile phone reception was remarkable even in the most remote places.  My Blackberry rarely gave me the SOS indicator.

Even toll stations have Wi Fi connectivity in Argentina. This shot is in the middle of the Pampas at a toll booth, which has a 100 sq ft convenience store and one table. We used the one table to Skype Sam and Ryan to get advice on another road side repair.

We stayed with a family on a remote island in Lake Titicaca, Peru. The kitchen served as living room, dining room and itchen. Floresent lights allowed kids to show pictures from previous gringo guests.

Same thing goes for Internet connectivity; it’s everywhere in most of South America.  Only two hotels in 95 days of traveling didn’t offer Wi-Fi.   Many Argentine and Chile gas stations offer free Wi Fi.  Internet cafes are still going strong, tucked away in every nook and cranny of Cusco, or Arequipa, or Puno.  Everyone has an email address, or a  blog, or a FaceBook page.  Exchanging contact information with people we met along the way meant getting their email address, not their phone number.

Traveling in South America is an audio experience as much as a visual one.   There’s lots of noise.   Trucks grunt, cars  and m/c’s beep their horns, pickups with loudspeakers in their beds blast advertising messages, and even trash trucks play music as they move down the street.  Street musicians and bands can be heard on many city streets.  The Latin stereotype of being passionate people is to some degree accurate, as people in South America tend to speak louder with more gestures than we Norte Americanos.   And, they do it more often with a smile on their face.

On almost any day, but especially on the weekends, Tango dancers can be found on most parks in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. They dance for tips in the day and then perform formally in shows at night. Never a dull moment in BA.

Loading supplies onto the only train that goes through the Sacred Valley. This woman loaded as much, or more, than her husband during the few minutes that the trains was available

Women of all ages are beasts of burden in Peru and Bolivia. They carry wood, crops, food, kids, tools, clothes  and anything else you can imagine on their backs via a sack called Keperina.  It’s common in the Andes to see women and their children walking along a road with their Keperina’s stuffed full, far away from any apparent destination.  These women are strong, as I know I couldn’t carry all this stuff at altitudes of 12-15,000 feet.  What’s more, their faces mask any exertion, as they are  more likely to be smiling than grimacing. ( A side note to illustrate the point.  While we were staying with the family on the Lake Titicaca island, we decided to walk up to a nearby mountain top to take in the view.  OK, we’re not talking about K2 here, but I was huffing and puffing just taking one step at a time.  I look over at our guide — the mother of the family we were staying with — and she’s knitting while she walks.  Evidently, we were going so slow that she could catch up on her stitches;) ) We didn’t see many men carrying stuff as we women.  Karen wondered if the men worked at all.   If not, Peru is on my list of places to live 🙂

Yes, I”ll remember Machu Picchu, the snow packed peaks of the Andes, the thunderous sound of the Iguacu Falls, and the vastness of the Atacama forever.  But I’ve also come away with what I really wanted, which was to get a taste of how other people live.    I’ll never take trash removal for granted ever again.

Did I get it wrong or do you have something to add? We met a lot of people in South America who became our friends and now read TRT.  There’s no way the above can be anything other than a Gringo’s view, so I’d love to know if you think the above is “right” or not, or what else would you add ?

Comments are welcome from everyone, of course.  Karen and I look at TRT as just a place where we can talk with our friends along the way.

This isn't a posed picture. Everyday working people were quick to smile. This is a truck driver in the city of Ilo as he backs his truck up to the fish market.

My hero. This guy has two computers going in a cafe in Buenos Aires. He's using Skype to talk with a customer while using the second one for some other task, all the while sipping a beer. They do business differently in Latin America.

Typical South American dexterity of thought. Jam-packed Internet Cafe in San Pedro de Atacama is combined with a mountain bike rental agency. Makes sense if you think about who uses both services.

Grid or maze? Typical "infrastructure" in South America is not too scalable without access to a Ouija board. Puerto Vallarta has similar electrical spaghetti. Makes for happy workers with lots of job security.

Always time for a cold one. Group of women standing in the street in La Paz, celebrating.... Carnivale.

No mandatory retirement age. Or dental health care. Woman in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Merchandising in La Paz Mercados and food stalls was immaculate. Pricing of eggs reflects size. Based on the cartons, the customer can individually select which eggs they want.

Counter space? Next time The Little Woman wants to remodel the kitchen, show her this picture. This is a kitchen hut on a reed island in Lake Titicaca. Bucket has water from the lake that is boiled for eating/washing.

Well-used:  Now Voyager and us.

Tell me it isn’t so! How can our trip be over so soon? Just 95 days, 9000 miles, six countries, ten border crossings, four tip-overs, two flat bed truck tows, 45 different hotels and a gazillion bad meals later and we’re on our way back to Los Angeles.   Along the way, there were no accidents of note, no broken bones or other serious injuries, and no robberies.   And we’ll always  remember the help we received from so many kind people who must have felt sorry for two gringos lost on a motorcycle.

OK, maybe the word “just” isn’t quite right.   I knew it was time to go home when minutes after crossing the Brazilian border for the second time Karen walked out of a mini-Mercado with a serious, quizzical look on her face and asked, “What country are we in?” We have been on the road for a long time I thought and re-doubled my effort to get us home as quick as possible.

Here’s the Stat Package of our trip:

Bumps and peaks

This trip is a perfect example of how the best laid plans go awry and you just have to deal with the results in the here and now.  Two years in the planning didn’t prevent everything going wrong from almost the first day in Buenos Aires.  Now Voyager was more than two weeks late in arriving.  Misplaced passports prevented us crossing into Chile when originally planned.  And, of course,  Now Voyager developed serious and multiple over-heating episodes that literally changed the course of the trip.  We found ourselves on the Shit Happens Express and had no choice but to ride it out.

KR and I will always remember “riding it out” as we coasted through a mile-long tunnel, watching the headlights of approaching trucks getting bigger and bigger in the rear-view mirror, knowing if we couldn’t get the silent Now Voyager to the tunnel’s exit, we were probably toast.   “Crouch down!” I shouted to Karen, hoping that we’d make a smaller aerodynamic footprint.  Well, the travel gods were with us that afternoon as we made it out of The Tunnel and two tow trucks later we rolled into Santiago.  After this, the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” had a new sense of realism for us.

Slowly, our luck started to turn. When NV sprouted its leaking water hose, a fellow Brazilian biker staying in the same hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, helped fashion a fix that would last for hundreds of miles through the Atacama desert.  Then we met the manager of the Hotel El Mirador in Calama who advised me not to try to fix it there, but to go to a BMW expert in Iquique.  It was both excellent advice and a trip-turning encounter with Jorge, Ruben, and Beto in Iquique.  Once Ruben ripped out the thermostat and replaced it with a red Coke bottle cap, he declared, “The Chile Way. Forever.”  We never had a problem with NV after that.  In addition to fixing our motorcycle, Jorge literally drew out our trip plan that suddenly brought my foggy vision into clear focus.

We were lucky with the weather as well.   Yes, for weeks on end we had rain at least part of every day, and it rained often when we were riding.  But it never rained when it would have been disastrous.  Coming into La Paz at night it suddenly stopped raining (a greater power knew we already had too much to handle) and all we had to deal with was traffic, hills, drunks and a city-wide party.  We crossed Bolivia just after the rainy season had left the country soaked to its red mud core.  Somehow we rode the 40 kilometers of dirt in the middle of Bolivia during a two-day dry spell.  Even one hour’s worth of rain would have doomed our crossing as the road would have turned into thick red mud.  And what about seeing Machu Picchu in the mist, just clear and bright enough to give us a mystical experience?

We were lucky with our crashes and near-crashes as well.  My two beach tip-overs provided entertainment for beach goers, but caused no damage.  When we fell over in the middle of making a turn in Arequipa’s traffic, three guys sprinted out in the street to stop traffic, help get NV righted, and push us onto the sidewalk.  Despite KR’s new found fear of skip-loaders, our river crash was tame in damage to us and NV.  Biggest loss was our two cameras and KR’s confidence in my tackling less-than-stellar road conditions.

One of the things I will always remember fondly is South American gas stations. Yes, I said gas stations.  I will never forget sitting in an Argentinean station way out in the Pampas talking with Sam and Ryan via Skype as we tried to analyze and then fix NV’s first overheating episode.  All gas stations and toll booth mini-Mercado’s have Wi-Fi!  I can’t pass a YPD or Shell station in Argentina without wanting to stop and hang around.

Sometimes simple maneuvers can make a big impression.  You’d be surprised at the challenge of getting into and around South American gas stations as ruts, rocks, trucks, cars, dogs, cattle, kids, and any manner of “thing” might be in your way.  In one station a couple days out of Santiago I pulled in and made a perfect arc to the right side of the pump. I remember thinking, “Hey Walti, you’re starting to ride this thing OK.” Two days later, when I brought this episode up as an example of getting into The Groove, KR said, “Yes, I remember that one too and thinking you were really smooth.” This of course begs the question of what I was doing in the other 200 gas station  visits, but let’s not go there.

Certain images leave a lasting impression as well. Talking with a Russian Mennonite, living in Bolivia was one of them.  Our conversation took place way out in the eastern part of Bolivia, at a gas station that was literally ringed with huge rocks and boards preventing any car from entering (remember, in Bolivia finding a gas station doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found gas as they’re often out of gas).  I swung NV between the rocks to see if there was gas because I saw this Mennonite farmer on a horse-driven flat bed wagon getting two 50 gallon drums filled with Bolivia’s finest.  Apparently, only Mennonites and motorcyclists get gas at that station!  It was good talking with him as he spoke perfect English and seemed to be as curious about us as we were about him.  Not surprisingly, his knowledge of road conditions on Ruta 4 turned out to be wrong, but  what was I thinking asking him in the first place. How far can you take a horse pulled wagon, anyway?

I could go on and on about my fondness for South American gas stations, but I’ll stop.  Full service. Wi-Fi.  Food.  Beer and wine.  Ice cream. And attendants eager to help a couple of lost motorcyclists will be missed.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

For those who would ask, “What would you do differently?  What did you learn?” I offer the Clint Eastwood version.

The Good

  • I would buy the same bike and configure it in the same way.  BMW has enough dealers that you can find someone to help.  Honda and Yamaha dealers are also plentiful enough.  But anything else, like a KTM, Kawasaki, Ducati, or  Suzuki and you better be able to repair it yourself with parts you’re carrying as there just aren’t that many dealers.   Now Voyager, a BMW F650GS,  is a good answer to our motorcycle challenges (height, weight, double-up, third-world travel destinations, etc.).  Those of you who want to talk more about this, just let me know.
  • I would run a knobby front tire and a on/off rear for a great combo of off-road directional help (the knobby) and highway endurance (the rear) again.
  • The spare gas tanks were heaven to have and to use.
  • We took the right stuff and had a pretty damn easy packing system.  For those who accused me of taking too much, I say: YOU travel with your wife for three months!  Parts and tools in the left pannier.  Electronics and admin stuff in the right.  Two Wolfman wet bags for our clothes and a top box as junk drawer.  Packing and unpacking was pretty much hassle-free even though we had to do it at least once a day.  KR bought a bunch of travel zip-up bags that we each used to organize our clothes and they made all the difference.  On reflection, I would probably get a bigger top box: )
  • My riding suit (Revitt) worked great.
  • The Starcom intercom worked flawlessly the whole trip.   I replaced two headsets and one connecting cord.  I would bring more spare parts for this next time.
  • The money strategy of ATM card, two credit cards, and a stash of cash is the only practical way of going.
  • Electronics were a go! A computer for each of us meant that KR used her computer to do travel research.  We started out with three cameras (a G12 for KR, a tiny Cannon for me, and a video camera for the bike).  Makes for some significant battery, charger and connector requirements, but it was worth it.
  • Footprint’s  South American Handbook was excellent.  Considering we only have one book for all of SA, it was terrific.
  • We were prepared paperwork wise:  copies of all necessary docs, fake wallets, fake registrations, etc., etc.  We never needed to make a photocopy or get a passport photo.
  • Finally, and definitely most importantly, we were connected to friends who helped us with all our problems along the way.  I had a Technical Team (Ryan, Bruce, Ron), a Map Team (Sam and Dan) and the All Around Figure Anything Out Man – Sam Hershfield.   Then there were the on-the-ground friends who helped locally: Jorge, Nacho, Fede, Jorge Hernandez, Edson too many more to mention.

The Bad

  • KR says she would do more pre-planning than we did.  Considering we did NONE, that wouldn’t be hard too do.  When you’re moving every day, it’s difficult to keep up with new destinations coming up in terms of hotels, what to see/do, etc.
  • Maps.   We needed more and better.  This goes 10X for the Garmin, which was actually useful when it had a map of the area.  Putting old maps into the GPS in South America is just inviting trouble as it made the Garmin a questionable resource for most of the trip.  Garmin’s MapSource software is one of the least intuitive applications that I’ve ever used, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given their website and product user interfaces.
  • Entering big cities (it’s relative again) at the end of a day is tough as we inevitably got to our hotel tired, stressed and cranky.  Our best strategy was to stop on the outskirts, grab a coke/beer, and plan our entrance.  When we did this, things turned out well.
  • Getting out of big cities is as challenging as figuring out how to get in, maybe even more so given that we needed to find our way to a certain highway.  Remember, no street signs, no highway numbers, dirt roads, etc.  The only solution we found was to ask local sources for directions prior to lift-off.
  • The Touratech panniers were both good and bad.  They may be ugly, but the things are sturdy after four tip-overs.  The locks and everything worked well enough.  Yet their mounting system is designed in such a way that the panniers tend to get loose and as a result one pannier fell off entirely because the system failed.  This forces a pannier check twice daily.  Also, they’re nowhere close to being water proof and necessitated wrapping everything in double plastic bags.
  • The concept of multilayered riding suits is hilarious.   Both our suits had inner layers designed to break the wind and keep the rain out.  Think about this for a moment, you’re riding along and you get hit by rain.  Quick – pull over, take your pants and jacket off (and boots), zip in the rain liner, and put them back on again!   All on the side of the road in the pouring rain?  Impractical.  We both tossed both inner layers (warmth and rain) and just layer our way to warmth/protection.
  • Rain suits generally don’t keep out the rain.  My two-piece BMW rain suit let rain in all the pockets and the crotch.  KR went through two suits (one by___ and the other by North Face) and still ended up wet at day’s end.
  • Nolan helmets.  Once again, great idea (flip up, built-in sun shade, comfortable) but poor execution.  My helmet was NOISY, pieces kept falling apart, and the mechanisms stopped working when sand got in via the wind.
  • I brought too much of the wrong clothes and not enough of the “right” stuff.  I basically wore one pair of shorts or one pair of pants the entire trip.  I had two shirts that I alternated.   But then I had way too many back-up shirts, t-shirts, long-underwear, etc.  We were close, but I’d rethink the specifics.
  • South American food was generally horrible.  Not in the sense of “be careful what you eat” (which you should) but in the taste and health sense.  Granted KR and I aren’t the most adventuresome people so it’s partly our fault we didn’t like the food.  But most of the food is from poor ingredients, with heavy use of fats, and either fried or grill-fried.  Now, before all our friends and hosts in South America email me with threats, there were lots of exceptions to the above generalization.  But the majority of the hundreds of meals we had were less than memorable.

The Ugly

  • The Spot Satellite locater is a piece of shit that never worked. Their support folks don’t understand that you might be calling in from a far-away place (“Mr. Walti, we’ll mail your warranty papers to you).  If life wasn’t too short, I would hassle this company no end.
  • BMW Service’s reliance on their computer diagnostic system.  While I understand its purpose and reason for being, ALL the BMW mechanics I encountered in South America relied exclusively on it to diagnose the problem. If the computer said “no problem,” then there was no problem.  Even if you’d just been towed 100 miles because of overheating.
  • BMW’s lack of a global, by-model knowledge base of technical issues that could be shared by BMW mechanics.  This is simply mind-blowing that ALL of BMW’s technical experience is held only in its local mechanic’s heads.   If you’re local mechanic happens to have experience with the same problem you’re having, you’re in luck.  If not, you’re out of luck.  Trying to get access to some of the technical brains within BMW corporate proved to be a joke.   And yes, I know there are a bunch of rider forums who do an excellent job of trading technical information, but try and search that info and get your local mechanic to act on it when his computer is saying “no problem” is just as much of a joke.  BMW should be ashamed.
  • I got educated on how to ship a motorcycle the hard way. I paid just about $4K all-in to ship my bike to BA and just under $1100 to ship it back.   What changed?  Just about everything, but the biggest difference was Federico Testa (email: normaduran@logistic-solution.com.ar) handled everything going back and therefore I wasn’t double charged by multiple forwarding agents.  We also used the roll-on, roll-off method which eliminates the need for crating (my crate cost $750 for the trip down).  As for timing, I would never, ever ship a m/c by sea if I needed to get it somewhere by a specific date (i.e. the Dakar) unless I targeted an arrival date  a FULL MONTH ahead of time.  Paying customs warehouse storage fees are a small price to pay to avoid the delays we experienced.  Finally, I opted for as little bike-prep as possible, which eliminated the air freight option (taking the front wheel and cases off, draining all fuels, etc.)  When NV finally arrived in BA and the crate was opened, all I had to do was stick the key in and start him up.

What’s Next?

Having not just fallen off the Turnip Truck, I haven’t broached the subject of our next trip to KR just yet.  I’ll be curious as to whether our “motorcycle around the world, one continent at a time” strategy is still operable given the soreness of KR’s butt and back.  I suspect she’ll try to modify it with a different vehicle or destination.    In the meantime, KR is anxious to get to PV to reunite with the love of her life (Lilly) and to prepare Corona and Little Big Sur for any of you folks who can find the time and means to get to Puerto Vallarta.  All are invited.

My immediate tasks include finding a more permanent place to stay in Los Angeles and getting back on the horse to help Neal at TPG.  There are some pretty exciting opportunities popping up and I have a feeling that TPG is about to reach a whole new level.

No matter where, when and how, I intend to chart our own course in life from now on.    I feel that we’re mid-stride in our Rewire Project to reconfigure our life for more control and fun, less restrictions and responsibilities.  I will let you know how the next step goes.

A Lesson from the Enterprise bus driver

Last night the driver of the  Enterprise Rental Car bus reinforced a message that we all know is true, but few of us really act on.  After chatting for a few minutes on the way to the lot, he said in response to our trip summary:  “You gotta enjoy your life! We only got one!” He said it with such conviction and enthusiasm that I thought he’d just come back from a 90 day m/c trip.   We then launched into a discussion of our favorite South American foods (few) and he responded by giving us a detailed blow-by-blow descriptions of his favorite Honduran dishes.  By the time we got to the Enterprise lot, all three of us were hungry!  I got off the bus and thought to myself, life is what each of us make it, whether we’re a bus driver or management consultant.

And so I resolved to enjoy whatever days we have left to the best of my ability.  Whether working or playing, I’m going to try and enjoy it.   I wish all of you the same.

Fred

If it’s a Fiat 600, we must be in Argentina. This has to be the world’s most tricked out Fiat

Quick, if a town has an impressive gate, what country are we in? Mail in your answers for a big prize

Technical innovations are the key to survival on the road. I bitched that KR bought a hair drier, but it was both a boot-drier and the primary therapy for my six weeks of hip problems.

Beef baby, and lots of it! If you want a great steak, Buenos Aires is your town.  Cows seems somewhat less than enthusiastic about participating, though.

How could you not love this woman? KR stuck it out for 9000 miles and countless “encounters.” Good looking glasses were a special present from me.

Devilish things seem to follow us no matter where we went. Here Jim Hyde goes with the flow in an all-out New Years street party in Palermo. We celebrated Carnival in both La Paz and Cochabamba on successive weekends. Then as soon as we cross the border into Brazil, we meet up with a bunch of guys celebrating their fishing accomplishments one night around the pool.

JH and FW await vehicle arrival news.

The Rented Iron Duke and KR outside our Buenos Aires apartment on the first day we get on a motorcycle. KR must be psychic as she's getting visions of what's ahead. We end up riding the RID for 1900 miles while we await Now Voyager's arrival.

Even the second time around, seeing the Dakar was breathtaking. I was thrilled that KR got to experience a couple of days of the race. She wasn't shy in getting close to the action to get her shot. She didn't believe me about the crowds until we were greeted by tens of thousands of people on our way to Purmamarca.

Famous Dakar racer signs autographs for fans

We met lots of nice people on this trip, none nicer than a group of Brazilians on a motorcycle vacation to Argentina and Chile. We tried to keep up, but NV wasn't up to the task (yet).

Argentina gas station: Wi Fi, a cold drink and a/c to get away from the 106 temperatures. I miss them already.

I quickly found my Inner Peruvian Self. KR refused to sit at the same table with me...

NV's overheating problems were a bummer in so many ways, but also a learning experience. I know more about cooling systems than I ever wanted. I feel much more confident in out-of-the-box road repairs having seen some pretty amazing fixes applied. And, of course, who's to say how often flatbed truck loading can come in handy.

Santiago was two-faced for us. One face was the fear, hassle and anxiety that goes with trying to figure out how to fix NV. Once we did that, we hit the reset button and spent a week exploring several alternative Santiago neighborhoods.

Valparaiso was drop-dead gorgeous during our couple of days there, though we never found our (its) groove. Physically, it was the most beautiful city we visited, yet we were never comfortable there as everyone we met warned us to be careful of getting robbed. Caution is a good thing, in moderation, and this place seemed to be too on edge.

Our spirits were on the upswing by the time we got to Lago Verde on the San Francisco Pass over the Andes. We spent an entire day exploring the Andes in a 4X4 and it was a wonderful experience. Lago Verde needs to be put on everyone's South American list.

Hey dude, nice hat. San Pedro de Atacama was like living in a time warp from the 60s. I felt right at home among the Reggae and dreadlocks. I could have warn a tank top too, but I didn't want to intimidate anyone...

Rescue crew. Beto, Jorge, and Ruben and fix NV "The Chile Way." It was indeed, forever. Thanks guys.

How can you not love the people of Peru? This lady was proud of her daily fish offerings, taken off the boat just behind that wall. Fresh, you want fresh?

We were repeatedly warned about protests and work stoppages in Peru and Bolivia. Didn't see any of that, but we did see a lot of street marches supporting candidates or complaining about some issue. Seemed to me that the people of Peru and Bolivia were really into their newly functional democracies. We all could learn something from this type of street level involvement in government.

The Atacama. We spent weeks riding through this ever-present, but constantly changing desert in Argentina, Chile and Peru. During much of this time we were unsure of NV's ability to withstand the heat, thus focusing my mind on "what if" rescue scenarios.

Yet we came across valleys like this one in the middle of the Atacama. Fed by a river carrying snow runoff, these valleys were a lush green that's hard to capture unless you're there.

On our way to Cusco in the Andes, Karen finds some new firends. It's hard not to have a good time among the people of Peru. Always quick to smile at two crazy motorclyists.

Dinner anyone? Guinea pigs are fattened in the kitchen of a restaurant high up in the Peruvian Andes. KR and I could not bring ourselves to sample the delicacy...

We spent two days exploring the Colca Valley in the Peruvian Andes just east of Arequipa. Valley is 70+ miles long and famous for its terraced fields that are a thousand years old. It was a great place to see, but two days in a bus is about 1 3/4 too many.

Real Men (and Women). We met a number of fellow bike adventurers along the way. None were more adventurous than Q & Shu who were on a nine month journey from the Middle East, through Europe, South America, Central America and North America. We met them in Cusco and had a great dinner and shared lots of tips. Their bike, a BMW F800GS, had just suffured a broken yoke and they were about to put it on a truck for the two day trip to the BMW dealer in Lima. They made it and continued north. Last we heard, they were thinking about extending their trip...

Why? Time and time again a complete stranger stepped in to save our bacon. This is the local Cusco family's VW bus that we followed to find our way out of Cusco. Sounds easy, does it? You try and find a particular road in a town of no stop signs and numerous road closures. Anyway, we were helped by the kindness of complete strangers in La Paz, Santa Cruz, a small town in Bolivia (whose name I forget) which is notorius for its bad traffic, Santiago, and Mendoza. See, there are advantages to appearing to be clueless.

There is simply nothing like it. Machu Picchu was BY FAR our most stunning excperience. Even in rain. With lots of other people around. It was worth the 20 year wait. GO!

Recycling. I was often surprised at how inventive South American's are in meeting their transportation needs. We American's are totally spoiled in this manner. This is a VW Bus reconfigured as a train repair/parts carrier.

This will not make CNN's headlines: we went into more than our fair share of bars and restaurants that might be classified as "Iffy". This was probably the most bizarre and coolest one. Located in Ollantaytambo, Peru, it was housed in a thousand year old Inca structure featuring Bob Marley motif and a pole for quick escape from the second floor. Oh, and how could I forget the fireplace coming out of the Mermaid's womb?

The Incas were unbelievable craftsman, especially when it comes to their stone work. It's no wonder that the Spaniards built their houses/churches/palaces on foundations created by the Incas whenever possible. Here's what's most amazing to me: their buildings were architectural, engineering and craftsmanship marvels that even today make us wonder, "How did they do that?" Yet, they had no written language and left behind a legacy of mystery and guesses about who they were and what they did. Strange.

One of the reasons we liked Peru so much was that many of their people dressed in traditional "costumes." It was nice being in a country in which of its citizens still valued a way of life their ancestors enjoyed. Bolivia was very similar. Not so Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

We spent almost a month in the Altiplano at elevations of 10,000 feet and above. It was beautiful, especially in Peru, as much of the Andes were in a Sound of Music green. It was difficult to adjust to the altitude despite having all the drugs and a lot of time to do so. We never got sick nor really encountered bad headaches. Rather, we had trouble sleeping, physically doing things, and most importantly -- it was COLD, especially on the bike when it rained. For a two weeks stretch KR and I never felt warm. We finally wimped out and beat a retreat to the tropics of Bolivia and Brazil.

KR found her styling groove on an island made of reeds in Lake Titicaca

The evening we spent with a family on an island in Lake Titicaca was by far our most memorable personal encounter with Peruvians. Our family seemed pretty damn happy to us despite not having what most American's would describe as basics.

Beautiful children. Even an old grouch like me was charmed by them.

Unknowlinglhy, we rode right into the middle of Carnival celebrations in La Paz on one Saturday night. What's more, we somehow found ourselves in THE neighborhood celebrating the hardest. I think Karen an I will always wonder how we survived that night without a crash. Next morning we awoke to this as the party just continued...

We encountered remarkably few dirt roads, but the ones we did were challenging for two-up riding. This stretch of dirt road lasted two hours and occurred in the middle of the Bolivian tropics.

The Iguacu Falls were scary powerful when viewed up close. The day after we visited two Americans were killed when their tourist boat capcized upon hitting some rocks.

There are some real advantages to riding a motorcycle versus a car. Motos were always allowed through toll stations for free. We were always ushered to the front of a border/inspection station line. And, in the case of long lines caused by a huge truck accident (above), we rode past miles and miles of waiting cars and trucks to the point of the accident. We quickly figrued a way around and were on our way while the rest of the four+ wheelers sat and waited in ignorance.

Blue on blue. 9000 miles later and we're back in Buenos Aires at La Casita de San Telmo. Two days later we're on the plane home.

The customs guy in BA rides Now Voyager onto the ship for the trip back to LA

They're not shiny new anymore, nor might I add are we. But we'll all be ready to go when the gun fires at the next start line.

Fifteen hours after starting for Santiago, NV arrives at the Santiago BMW dealership after two (2) flatbed tow truck rides.

The Shit Happens Express accelerates as we attempt an Andes crossing and fail

Of all the skills that I had hoped to acquire in my life, being an expert at loading and unloading Now Voyager from a flatbed truck didn’t even make the list.   I can now take a quick glance at the flatbed’s surface, its winching system, the eyes of the driver, and determine how NV should be hoisted on — and off– any flatbed.   You too would be an expert if you’d loaded/unloaded on a flatbed twice in a four hour period.   Moreover, what does it say about the BMW “ultimate driving machine” experience when I felt relatively safe for the first time in 15 hours sitting in said tow truck rumbling down the road  toward a city, snug in its warm comfort.   No more engine quits at the side of the road, no more semis bearing down on us in a tunnel as we coast out, no more pushing NV along to save its overheated engine, no more being pushed around as truck after truck hurl by inches from where NV has quit running.

Yet, there is something to be said about the feeling of accomplishment in having somehow, with no understanding of Spanish and dwindling resources to rely on, KR and I get us down the mountains and into a BMW dealership without getting hit, killed or robbed or hurt.  There were no Wi Fi networks, across the globe links to experts, gas stations with air conditioning and food, nor much in the way of “civilization” as we know it to rely on.   We got here because we had to, we had no other choice other than the prospect of spending another night alongside the road.

For those of you with a life, here’s a short version of what happened:

  • We spent two days in Mendoza getting Now Voyager “fixed” from the local, authorized BMW dealer.  Their analysis says basically that my road side repairs of the previous day’s journey were inadequate and that now they’d put the cooling system right.  All systems are a go!
  • We reconnect with the wonderful group of Brazilians and ride with them over the nearest Andes pass, which will deposit us close to Chile’s capital, Santiago.  The first part of the day goes well as the road and scenery are spectacular.   I catch myself thinking that we’re on the verge of our first good motorcycle day in the three weeks we’ve been in South America.  We reach the Chilian border, about 10,000 ft up, and get all of our paperwork done and through in slightly more than an hour.  KR does a great job in ushering us through the administration and I keep the Steed moving along.
  • Shortly before the top, NV begins to overheat a little.   Whenever I slow up — even in high, cold altitude with no engine load — he starts to get hot.  Always being the optimist, I hope its just a little thing caused by the altitude.  I start the emergency drill immediately:  never come to a stop without shutting him down, push him along rather than the stop and start that everyone else can execute, don’t push him in terms of speed or stress.
  • None the less, we make it over the top and descend the wonderful switchbacks coming off the Andes on the Chilean side.  I have great video which I will upload once I figure how to.   Then it happens without much warning.  We slow for some traffic, he gets hot, strews coolant all over, and a couple of miles later the red warning light is flashing and we come to a dead rest along side the road.
  • We’re about 70 miles from Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes with no town near.   One of the Brazilians driving the chase car stops and offers assistance.  He attempts to call the BMW dealer that Sam has supplied (thank you Sam about a dozen times!) and eventually goes on his way.
  • Three hours later, after concluding no help will come, we fire NV up and attempt to limp toward Santiago.  We are on a highway that winds through the hills (they would be mountains in any other part of the world except perhaps the Alps) and we’ve made another 17 miles.   We find ourselves behind a slow moving pickup truck when we enter a tunnel.  This tunnel turns out to be very long, very narrow, and because of the pickup, very slow.  Now Voyager is having none of it and all alarms blast off again.  I shut it down and start coasting down the tunnel.  If we come to a stop, KR and I know we’re toast as there’s just no place to go.  I can see the headlights of the semis coming closer and closer.  I tell KR to lean down to get the best aerodynamic position possible.  We make it out of the tunnel and coast another 2-4 miles down the mountain to a toll booth.
  • This turns out to be a crucial piece of luck.  While there is nothing close to the toll booth — no store, houses, town, etc. — one of the guards calls an emergency vehicle.  He explains to us that they can get a truck out here, but it has a 20 km limit.  Go back 20kms to the town of Los Andes or go 20 km forward and get deposited somewhere alongside the road, but closer to Santiago.   We pick the latter option.   Both KR and I know if we hadn’t made the toll booth, we’d be camping alongside NV tonight as there is just nothing else around.
  • Tow truck #1 promptly arrives and after a fair amount of discussion (of which I only understand 20%), we figure out how to get NV onto his flatbed and proceed down the highway toward Santiago.  Neither KR nor I really understand how far he will take us nor will ultimately he will deposit us.  He goes more than his allotted 20 kms and drops us off in a gas station about 18 miles from Santiago according to the Garmin.   He calls tow truck #2, a commercial outfit ( amazingly, tow truck #1 is free), and 10 minutes later a big red Mercedes flatbed arrives.  After a similar amount of discussion, we figure out how to load NV and start the slow, but oh so comfortable ride to the BWW dealership somewhere in Santiago.
  • We arrive at the Santiago BMW dealer around 10PM.  Our driver convinces the security guards to find someone in “authority,” which they do and eventually we are let inside the gated and guarded car lot.  We unload, ask if there’s a hotel nearby, and are given a ride to the Radison two miles down the road.
  • This is not your ordinary Radison, but one of the most sleek and luxuriously hotels we’ve been in (certainly lately:).   It’s great.  We dump everything in the room and rush downstairs to the restaurant before the 11:00PM close time.  Screwdriver please!

The situation as of 11:00 AM on Wednesday in Santiago, Chile. I write this in the lobby of the local BMW dealer awaiting the removal of NV from their new car parking lot to the their motorcycle service department some miles down the road.  Everyone has been very nice, but no action has taken place yet.  I am in a mean, no bull-shit mood.  If one more person tells me that all 800s have overheating problems in the mountains, I’m going to whip out my pepper spray and dust them.   I have applied every account-guy fiber ever developed over 30 years of client service to not to rip someone — anyone  — a new asshole .  I am so totally disgusted with the BMW over-promise that I could choke someone.  But, I know that won’t accomplish anything and probably will just piss off someone that might be able to help me.

Despite its many statues and parks (this one of San Martin taken as he swipes at the moon), Mendoza isn't our favorite city. The primary redeeming visual characteristic is the thousands of trees (there are more trees than people) planted a hundred years ago and are fed by an elaborate underground irrigation system. The real attraction of Mendoza -- its wines -- are to be found in the wineries surrounding the city. Not surprisingly, the cheapest thing in this town are great Malbecs.

A thin patina of safety. NV sits in the service bay of Genco BMW in Mendoza. I can't really blame the folks at Genco as they tried their best. One m/c technician, about a dozen bikes awaiting attention, and here comes this gringo who obviously performed road side repairs in a less-than-stellar fashion. Conclusion: its my fault as the thermostat, fan, radiator cap, and water pump all work. They top it off with coolant and send me on my way. I ride NV around Mendoza all day, making sure not to baby it in traffic and all things do seem right. I'm optimistic.

Calm before the storm (again). NV sits in front of the maligned Alcor hotel in Mendoza. Perhaps I've been too tough on the Alcor whose staff have been extremely gracious and nice. Yet, it's located in a gritty part of the city and the room doesn't even have an electrical socket. And for $65 DOLLARs a night, I feel a little ripped.

KR and Edson celebrate what will surely be a wonderful day of riding in the Andes. The night before we had dinner with Edson, his family and some friends. We like them alot and decided to hang with them over the Andes and into the Atacama.

And the roads were terrific. Going up, they're fast and sweeping curves. Going down, it was another story.

Road construction delays are expected and common. I guess a short summer makes for little progress as they seemed to be working on the same places as when I passed last year: )

We approach the Chilean border crossing at 10,000 ft. Cars and motos are directed to the large lot in the lower right.

Surprisingly, I was most apprehensive about our first border crossing, this one from Argentina to Chile. Here KR took over the filling out of a dozen forms and shuttling them between offices. We were done in a little more than an hour with no problems.

And DOWN we go! Switch-backs on the Chilean side make for great, but ohhh so careful riding.

Taking pictures with your eyes closed: ) We lean in and KR snaps a pic

Then the S.H.E. kicks in for real. We're in the foothills of the Andes along side Ruta 60. KR and Francisco take shelter in the shade of a small house. We make phone calls for assistance, to no avail.

We were helped all along the way by total strangers. Two workers from the Colbun Central Chacabuquito hydro electric plant drive by and stop. None of the four of us can speak the other's language, but they convince us it will be safer to move us and bike down the road to their plant. Which we do... In this shot, one of the guys stands in the shade while the other "explains" to me about safety with the guard looking on. Later, he heated water for our tea 🙂

For a while we relax hoping to be rescued by Santiago BMW. We soon come to the realization that we're on our own. Now than NV has cooled down, we chance another madly-slow-dash to Santiago

This is definitely NOT the light at the end of the tunnel. We catch a slow truck entering a narrow tunnel and NV goes bonkers again. I shut him down and we silently coast down and out of this mile-long disaster waiting to happen. Somehow its downhill enough that we're able to keep our speed up sufficiently to get out of the tunnel and down the mountain to...

The toll booth located somewhere on G115. Here the "rescue tow truck driver" and I try and understand what a passerby motorcyclist is saying. We finally get his message, " You're shit out of luck."

All I'm thinking is how appropriate it would have been to drop NV on a tow truck 🙂 Not this time, I manned-up and made it happen. Right after this picture, KR took over the operation of the winch and tow truck driver #1 rushed to help me get NV all the way up.

This is the BMW experience they don't advertise, but it was welcomed.

Not knowing the language is just an inconvenience when ordering a drink, a great deal more serious when you're in trouble. This is an example of what occurred a dozen times. FW speaks only english. Tow truck driver #2 speaks only Spanish. We find a 3rd person -- this time a guy who's walking out of McDonalds-- who has a slight grasp of both languages. The three of us collaborate sufficiently well to get the job done.

The Happy Ending for this episode 🙂 Best hotel we've stayed in for quite sometime. KR is still purring. I may not get her to leave. Can't really blame her...

.

10:00 PM on an increasingly deserted street in Mendoza.  The bike is broken as its overheating severely.   I’m attempting yet another road-side fix. We’re lost and have no place to stay.   And more and more people with the “are you crazy” look in their eyes come up and warn us that shortly the street will be too dangerous to stay.  I’m (no kidding) thinking that we’re sleeping on the sidewalk with pepper spray in hand to defend our fallen steed.

This is as close to disaster as we’ve been in a very, very long time

For the rest of our lives one word will mean fear, confusion, bone-deep weariness, despair, desperation, and, ultimately, survival to Karen and I:  “Mendoza.”   The past twenty-four hours have brought much of why we like to travel ‘freestyle” and much of what we pray doesn’t ever happen to us.  It’s the kind of experience that reinforces to some of you that we’re crazy.  Somehow, through the help of friends, the harnessing of technology, the never-never-give-up-always-on-the-case attitude that emergencies require, the kindness of strangers and pure, unadulterated luck I’m writing you in the stark comfort of a small hotel in downtown Mendoza.  I still don’t know where we are, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.

The headlines…

  • Over 15 hours we nurse an overheating motorcycle 300 miles through 106F degree heat, making two 2-hour road side repairs by the least able mechanic I know (me).  We arrive in Mendoza and literally coast off the highway as Now Voyager has expired at the city’s edge.
  • Blackberry, Skype, email and Internet literally link a friend in Florida, an expert technician in Los Angeles, and me somewhere in the Western pampas of Argentina, together to brainstorm and fix Now Voyager.  Sam searches for similar problems by other bikers, looks for the nearest BMW dealer, and generally acts as communications hub.  My friend Ryan who happens to be an expert BMW technician, gives me blow-by-blow instructions over Skype on how to fix NV.  I take pictures with the Blackberry and send to Sam/Ryan for collective analysis.
  • It just keeps getting hotter and hotter.  For much of the day, it’s near 100, but then it jumps to 106.  I’m riding with one eye on the road and the other monitoring the temperature gauge.  I’m silently praying that the needle doesn’t move, or if it does, it does just a little.  This prayer isn’t answered as I’m forced to make one repair in a gas station 150 miles from Mendoza and the next under a tree at a toll booth a couple of hours later.
  • We would be up shit’s creek if every gas station, toll booth, “convenience” store in Argentina didn’t have high horsepower and FREE wi-fi.  I’ve never been to a country as connected as Argentina.
  • We avert another kind of disaster as KR awakens from her nap (yes she sleeps on the bike) to discover the bag tied on one of the panniers has loosened and the straps are beginning to get spooled in the rear wheel.  She warns me in time to come to a stop just as the rear wheel is locking up.
  • We arrive in Mendoza at Sunset.  We let NV cool off as we try to find a B&B or hostel to stay in.  We’re both disoriented, but have two potentials highlighted.  We ride less than a mile and NV severely overheats again, forcing a stop in a less-than-stellar neighborhood.  It’s now somewhere close to 10 as I decide to make another repair of the heating system and KR wanders off to try and find a hotel.  For the third time, I take the fairing off, open the system, and bleed the water pump.  This time its not going well and I don’t seem to be making much progress.
  • The street is now almost totally deserted — its maybe 11.  More than a couple of nice people walk up and warn me about getting robbed.  They have a seriousness of expression that makes me believe them.  I’m  a little unnerved.  But, I can’t go because NV isn’t buttoned up.  And if he was, would he run more than the few blocks he made last time?
  • Finally  I button him up and go looking for KR, who went off down the street looking for help. I’m cursing my stupid decision to let her wander off by herself when she reappears with vague directions to a garage that a hotel uses.  We slowly creep along, running red lights and dodging buses, as the last thing I want to do is be stationery.  We stop where the parking garage is suppose to be:  small, narrow street.  Not much lighting.  No one on the street.  Where’s the f___king garage!  KR goes looking for the hotel as I stand near NV.
  • Instead of going straight down the street, she hangs a left,  totally disoriented and lost.  I run after, trying to stop her, but lose sight of her.  I look back and some guy’s standing next to NV so I run back prepared to use my pepper spray in our defense.  It turns out he’s the garage attendant.  I run back around the corner yelling at the top of my lungs, “Karen!!!”  Five minutes later, she appears.
  • We store NV in the basement of a building that’s either being torn down or built, but its a ruins none the less.  We walk two blocks and find a hotel.  We sit in the lobby totally whipped and know that we’ve skated past total disaster.

The situation as of 6:00PM, Sunday in Mendoza, Argentina. Everything’s closed today, so I’ve spent the day working.  Tomorrow we tackle trying to figure out what NV’s base problem is. It might take a few days, but we’ll figure it out somehow.  Next, we’re going over the Andes and then up the Atacama desert.  If NV’s problem continues there, we’ll be toast.

The best part of traveling freestyle on a m/c are the people you meet. This is Dolf, a dairyman in this small village about 100 miles west of Buenos Aires. He tells us his story: he's from Scandinavia and was attending Ohio State to learn more about milking cows (I'm not making this up) and he meets his future wife there. They get married, and move back to his wife's home town and now Dolf works for her father who is a ... dairyman. Dolf and dad assure us the road west is fast and wide. No speed limits required. I don't need encouragement...

The trouble begins. NV starts spitting out its coolant. We're a couple of hundred miles west of BA, 20 east of a little town called Rufino. We ride to Rufino.

We find a cafe, with wi-fi of course. Here, I'm skyping Sam or Ryan while showing them video of the problem from my computer's camera.

Another serendipity occurs. We arrive at Rufino's only hotel (which Sam has guided me in via Google Earth/Skype) to find the hotel full of Brazilians on their m/c vacation. We have a truly wonderful evening of refreshments, talking bikes, learning about Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil. We have such a good time that we decide to tag along with them to Mendoza, which we do until the first stop. NV is overheating so we have to stop and make repairs, and they continue onward. We bump into them 14 hours later as we ride down a street in Mendoza.

Overheating repairs along side a toll station that had free wi-fi. We trace part of the problem to a malfunctioning radiator cap, which I replace with a spare (Thank you Ryan!). Then fill the system up again, bleed the water pump, put all the skin back, and repeat as necessary. It works well for a while...

Sitting at a Mendoza sidewalk cafe where NV expired. We're estatic at this point because we think we've "made it." Our plans and composure quickly go haywire when we get on NV and realize we can't go more than a couple of blocks without it overheating.

Which leaves us here. Shot with my Blackberry as I continue working on NV on Avenida San Martin. "You better go now, Mister!" I'm advisded by more than one person

Come on, would you have thought this was a hotel's garage? And this was shot during the day.

This is where NV sits now.

This is the normal reaction when man is reunited with his motorcycle after two months. (In the interest of transparency, this picture has been digitally altered as its subject is no longer able to leap -- for joy or any other reason)

19 days after getting to South America, we get Now Voyager off the docks of Buenos Aires

Christmas came late to the Walti/Rutherfords as Now Voyager emerged from his two month journey from Los Angeles to Houston to a dozen ports down the Atlantic coast of South America to the Buenos Aires Harbor and finally  to a customs warehouse on the docks.   Finding and extricating him from the claws of Argentinean bureaucracy has been a learning experience to say the least.

Here are the basic stats of Now Voyager’s journey:

  • Date dropped off at shipping company in Compton, California:  October 28t8
  • Original arrival date in Buenos Aires:  November 12
  • Delayed arrivals: Dec 12., Dec 19, Dec 22,
  • Arrival date on the docks of BA:  Nov 29th
  • Days to unload the container: 13
  • Days through customs: 2
  • Documents required: Original Bill of Lading (I used a forged copy), original title (I used a forged copy), passport and copy.
  • Cost (approximate because all the bills aren’t in):$4100

Key Learning:

  • If you’re shipping by sea, give yourself an extra month.  The storage cost if it actually gets there on time will be minimal in comparison.  I essentially paid TWICE the amount because I had at least two freight forwarders AND the freight company AND the warehouse,etc.  Don’t use an agent/forwarder who can’t predict what the costs will be.
  • It’s a bit more of a hassle, but ship it air if you can.  The equivalent cost for air-freighting the bike would be in the neighborhood of $2500.
  • A good crate is worth every penny, even an over-priced crate like mine
  • DO NOT try to get your bike out of a Latin America customs bureaucracy by yourself.  Get an agent.  In one customs office, a poor guy from Spain was literally rolling on his deodorant in prep for another long day sitting in the hall
  • Always ask the “why” behind delays.  Don’t take people’s word for where your bike is.  You can track your ship’s progress on the Internet

The situation as of 10:30am on January 13th in Buenos Aires.  We will spend the day packing and re-packing NV, trying to get as many things on him in as light and tight fashion as possible.  We still have some stuff to get around BA — our jackets are being fixed and we need some man-sized pain pills and muscle relaxers for my hip.  Our goal is to be on the road, heading west toward the Andes, by tomorrow morning.

Who would have guessed that it would take almost three weeks to “start” or trip as somewhat originally planned.  But, when you’re aboard the Shit Happens Express, you need to just deal with the changes.  Not all of unexpected happenings have been bad:  we’ve gotten to know and love Buenos Aires over two weeks, we’ve had a taste of the Dakar race, stayed in some truly spectacular hotels, and met a lot of interesting and helpful people along the way.  Somehow we managed to find our way through this maze of obstacles and are poised to start wandering.

Bring it on!

For those of you who want the gory details of what its like to get your bike out of a South American port, here are the nitty-gritty details in pictures.

Our day begins at Customs Office #1. This office is located in the port, behind a parking lot and it has NO sign on the building. We spend 1 1/2 hours getting paperwork.

My shipping agent, Federico Testa, is hard on the phone trying to get me m/c insurance as we found out yesterday (for the first time) that we might need it. As it turns out, we don't.

Truck awaits its container lifed onto its back

Customs Office #2. More paperwork, but I don't have a clue as to why.

Customs Office #3. Ditto above

Now we're getting close. Outside the Custom's approved storage warehouse where NV sits

Around the corner and we enter a whole new world. This is the covered part of the warehouse. We walk through the warehouse into the mayhem that's outside

The best that I can figure is this must be the "odd lot" warehouse as there are dpozens of fork lifts, trucks of all size, and men loading up "stuff."

At the very back of the lot, behind and under lots of other crates, NV's crate is pulled out. I was wondering if anyone could read the English sign on the crate

We start breaking open the crate. I can barely watch as I fear what's on the other side -- a broken motorcycle stripped of its gear...

And then he begins to emerge. As the crate is broken apart, all the warehousemen come over to see it. Is it for the Dakar, one asks? How do I answer that? Yes, but...

Now Voyager emerges from his long sleep with not one scratch and no dust. I turn the key and he starts right up! Only lost a little air pressure. I'm unsure as to why I had to put on the vest. Do they know about my riding skills?

We miss getting NV out of the Customs yard by minutes and catch a 90 minute lunch delay.

The Man: Federico Testa. Always friendly and concerned, he pursued his fprize for three weeks.

NV gets fed for the first time in two months

New use for a bidet. Two days of rain made for long nightly sessions of drying things out. Here KR improvises. I wouldn't want to be the next person to use the hair drier...

Back to Buenos Aires: 1400 kilometers, two days of rain, one doctor visit, and still no Now Voyager

Let’s start this report with the good stuff.  KR and I got our passports back from Jim in Purmamarca and we immediately started riding back to Buenos Aires on the rented Iron Duke Dos.  We made it back to BA in three days with no accidents or mechanical breakdowns. We have not had ONE bad night, as each town, hotel, restaurant and Wi-Fi bar has been a unique experience.   We roamed the streets of Purmamarca and fell in love with this charming little town at the foot of the Andes,  flooded with kids trekking and camping.   We rode into both the oldest town in Argentina (Santiago Del Estero built mid-1500s) and the third largest (Rosario) without a clue or map of where to go and we found our way about pretty well.  We got lost several times and figured out how to navigate with no Spanish.  We are staying in the part of Buenos Aires we like the best, San Telmo – home of the Tango – in a bed and  breakfast located  underneath a freeway.   We love this place and for $25/night, it’s the buy of the century. I’m loving Buenos Aires so much that I’ve set a goal of finding a house-exchange partner here in which we can each live in one another’s homes for a month or two each year.

And then there’s the not so good stuff. Two of our three days of riding were 10+hours long, entirely in full assault rain storms.  Riding the rented Iron Duke Dos was extremely uncomfortable for both of us and we dragged ourselves in every night.   My entire right thigh is black and blue from banging on the gas tank of this one-size too small m/c.  Along the way we learned that our rain suits weren’t rain proof and that having the right gear is the difference between happiness and disaster. Once into Buenos Aires, I had two new pain attacks on my right hip, couldn’t walk for long periods, and have just seen my first doctor.   His prognosis: I have arthritis in my right hip, take lots of pain killers, and man-up about the pain.  And finally, we found out today that Now Voyager is still in its container and it will probably be a couple more days until we see what condition he’s in.

We have learned a few things, even during these first few days “on our own,”that will be useful.

  • I no longer feel scared riding a m/c in Argentinian cites of any size. I can tell that I’m starting to ride like an Argentinian more and more.  What does this mean?  Going with the flow, not getting too upset when a (pick one) car, bus, truck, or bicycle moves into your lane, and realizing that the rear view mirror is your best friend as a warning to get out of the way from that VW going 140KPH.  I’m also not particularly worried about getting lost anymore.  Each city requires its own navigation strategy:  I followed delivery vans in Rosario,  kept following the same signs in Santiago Del Estero no matter how small the road became,  and finally pulled into a (what else) bar and asked for directions.
  • Adaptability is king in solving problems on the road. It might have taken me two ruined jackets and a baseball-sized hole in our bag to make me realize that I had to figure out how to tie our extra baggage onto the rented Iron Duke Dos, but it was KR’s adaptability that solved the problem.  She found a couple of pieces of fiber board lying on the side of the road and we fashioned a luggage rack from them!  We never lost another item due to exhaust heat:)
  • Rain is serious business in this part of the world. When it rains, it rains for days. If your rain suit doesn’t work (shame on you BMW), you get soaked and stay soaked for a long time.  Rain gets into everything and you better make sure all electrical bits and important papers are wrapped in plastic several times over.
  • Currency is going to be more of a problem than thought. My plan was simple:  when we’re out of cash, hit the local ATM machine.  Except 90% of the small towns we rode through on our three day ride didn’t have an ATM.  And the gas stations don’t all take credit cards.  None of them take dollars.  Even getting cash in BA was a challenge this morning as there were long lines at ATMs.  It seems that the government doesn’t have enough pesos to meet demand.  As Pablo, the man who rented us Iron Duke Dos observed, ” Last week we had cash and no gasoline.  This week we have gasoline and no cash.  This is Argentina!”
  • Either everyone in Argentina is paranoid or there is a real prhttp://therestlesstraveler.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1542&action=edit&message=10oblem with theft. We have met so many wonderful people in this great country and almost every one of them cautions us on being careful of theft.  Cameras. Motorcycles.  Money.  Credit cards.  The newest scam is that “gypsies” spray foul smelling liquids on unsuspecting tourists  and then “help” them clean it off, while in the process of picking their pockets.  This happened to us, but KR had read about them and we survived without loss.  I found out today that one of Rawhyde’s motorcycles were stolen yesterday in Chile.  It makes a guy want to get theft insurance for his motorcycle.

Buenos Aires is a great city, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to explain why. I know I can get overly passionate about things, so I’m trying to damper my enthusiasm for BA as a result.  Even KR tells me to cool it as its the first South American city we’ve seen. But here’s my net:  Buenos Aires makes every city I’ve been to — except NYC and Paris — look plain and boring.  Buenos Aires has become my favorite city and I’m feeling the urge to get back here often.  Buenos Aires is a city…

  • Of grand scope.  It’s huge in size, its boulevards are grand, its government buildings are expansive, it’s parks are plentiful and its port is impressive.
  • In which interesting architecture resides in almost every section.   The buildings here are just interesting with intricate detail.  Your basic BA building would be a historic treasure in LA.  Somehow they have melded the old with the new.
  • Of parks and statues.  Every dead general or saint or angel or artisan or merchant has a statue in some park, square or roundabout.  There must be hundreds-perhaps thousands- all over the city.
  • I in which there is a real sense of style, fashion and sophistication.   People in BA have a sense of grace and style about them.  And for a guy who is used to getting dinner by 6:30, I’m cool with starting dinner at 10 or 11.
  • f contrasts.  Palermo, San Telmo, Ricoleta, La Boca are all wonderful, but totally different neighborhoods within BA.  Each has its own groove.  We stayed a week in Recoleta and realized it was too nice for us.  San Telmo is our favorite because its the oldest part of BA and home to Tangos and antiques.
  • A bustling, commercially happening city.  There’s a ton of  business being done here.  The newest and tallest buildings have names like Microsoft on them.
  • Where almost every bar, restaurant, hotel, fast food place, has Wi-Fi and it works  and its for free.  Yes, their technology is a little weird, but there as “connected” as anywhere.

The situation as of 9:00AM on January 11. 2011 in Buenos Aires. We are still in limbo as we await the status of Now Voyager.  Federico has stopped calling, which can only mean not-so-good news.   In the meantime, we’re trying to deal with my hip and find all the supplies that we need based on our first 1400km trip.  We should know about NV today — and if we get him — we’ll be out of Buenos Aires on Thursday…ish.

On the road to the Andes. The last day of dry weather.

And we think we had it tough? Purmamarca was jammed packed with kids back-packing their way over the mountains. Purmamarca was one of their last stops going up. Try walking up a narrow winding road to 15000+ ft carrying back pack. It's a young man's game.

A few yards down the road from the camping site, FW was hard at work in his office -- a porch in the El Adobe hotel

KR is hard at work, as well. Here she gets photography lessons from Steve (a professional journalist), John and Charlie. KR is really getting into photography this trip. I suspect that she'll want photo credits pretty soon.:)

Big ass truck. Jim Hyde hauls across Argentina's pampas trying to catch up with his tour group. Truck was delayed in Customs, which required the late start. Most valuable cargo? Our passports : )

First brush with the law. We were stopped at an inspection point and were pulled over for a document inspection. And no, I wasn't doing anything illegal (then). Typical case of some government guy wanting to feel important.

KR uses her indepth understanding of Spanish to ask this innkeeper how the hell do we get there! The result of this conversation? She ordered two bottles of beer instead of the intended one. We still have a ways to go on the Spanish language challenge.

Not an official BMW accessory. Our fiberboard luggage rack did the trick, which is more than I can say for BMW's official rain sit.

Whenever we got REALLY lost, we'd stop in some bar or restaurant and have a pop. We got really lost in Rosario and stopped here. The waiter not only brought us a drink, but also the news that we were only one block away from some hotels. Rosario is a great city, not often mentioned for its beauty, but KR and I were both impressed and would like to go back when time permits. In this instance, we reach Rosario after another 500kilometer day all in the rain

Besides being Argentina's 3rd largest city, Rosario is also the birth place of Che Guervara. This building is now a Che youth hostel that's pretty run down lookiing on the outside. I guess Argentina doesn't celebrate its revolutionaries, just its generals.

Another day of 300 kilometers and we arrive back in Buenos Aires. KR found a little B&B in San Telmo on the Internet. This is what we were greeted with: an address, no sigh, and immediately to the left is one of BA's freeways. But, my mother always told me we should never judge a book by its cover.

This is what's behind the blue door-- La Casita De San Telmo -- a wonderful place. La Casita is owned by a docter (more on Eduardo in a minute) his wife and son. Wife and son are Tango singers as well.

Which room is ours? The one with the wet boots and socks in front. La Casita has three or four groups staying now (from Germany and France). We all share common bathrooms and kitchen. It works out remarkably well.

Doctors office? Our room in La Casita became the examination room for my visit with a local orthopedic doctor... Who just happended to be the proprietor of the B&B as well. I swear I'm not making this stuff up!

Current office -- La Casita's kitchen. I spent the entire day working on Sunday in here and actually pounded out two pretty good docs. This is semi-encouraging, that one can pull-on-the-oars-of -commerce from anywhere. I actually like working with Tango music playing in the background. I'm not the only one working in the kitchen office as one of our fellow travelers is a German girl doing translations from Chinese to French

We found this group of drummers outside La Casita on Sunday morning. Not sure what they were doing, but they had a fire surounded by their drums. Not sure if this was a "good vibe" ritual or actual instrument prep.

One of the things that Karen likes most about San Telmo is its many small stores that have wonderful art deco furniture and decorative items. The only thing that has saved me so far is we can't strap furniture on Now Voyager: )

Tango in the streets. Three blocks from where we're staying, these two dancers entertained a crowd for hours.

Night life. It wouldn't be a post from us if we didn't show a bit of San Telmo's night life. This group is standing in front of a French bar in the heart of the Tango district of San Telmo.

La Brigada is one great steak house. To prove the point, the waiter cut our steak in two with his spoon.

Nothing is too old for use in Argentina, which is probably one of the reasons I feel at home here 🙂 There are still lots of Fiat 500s running around BA, in addtion to tons of 1960's Ford Falcons and thousands and thousands of Honda 50 step-throughs!

Two Days in and Fred Demonstrates Amateur Hour Again and Again

I believe bad things can happen while traveling and one shouldn’t always expect “holiday fun” type experiences. Shit happens and you just have to deal with it.   So I was OK when Now Voyager was way-laid at sea.  I was cool that we’d have to rent a bike and leave NV behind if we wanted to Chase the Dakar.   And I just manned-up when the bike didn’t have a wind-screen, my helmet was 2X sizes too big, and we didn’t have half our gear at any one time or place.  Ditto for the 500 mile ride through the pampas at night and in the rain.

But now, I’m getting scared that this trip could end badly before we ever get our legs.  One bad move after another has me thinking that KR (and especially me) are amateurs at this travel thing.  We’re making basic mistakes that are having significant effects.   Could this be a precursor of one or both of us getting hurt?

The latest round of bad moves started the first morning of the Dakar Chase.  Once we got our bags into our room at the Estancia La Paz, I realized that we had left behind our map case.  The case with all our good South America, Argentina, Chile and Brazil maps in it.  We couldn’t even find our way back to Buenos Aires without a basic map.  A sleepless night ensued but we found it the next day.

No sooner had I breathed a huge sigh of relief and the next pig-headed, dumb, amateur move by Yours Truly occurred at 1:00AM the following morning when we needed to split our belongings into two groups:  One set was to go back to BA and await our return and the other smaller set was to go with us for our ten day excursion Chasing the Dakar.  So, off we go north toward the Dakar and where do you think our passport, money and important papers go?  Yes, south to some guy’s closet in BA.  This will cause a significant problem because we can’t get over the border from Argentina to Chile without passports.  So a 6 day Dakar tour has been cut to two.

You’ve got to start wondering whether the Travel Gods are trying to tell you something when the next time we stop I notice that the exhaust has burned a hole through the bag we have strapped on our rented bike.  A strategically placed hole as it has burned through both – yes both – of KR and my hi-tech motorcycle jackets (they’re hot when it’s cold, cold when it’s hot) before we ever got a chance to wear them!  I’m not making this up.   Oh, and did I tell you that KR’s purse got a hole blasted through it too and she lost a bunch of stuff inside?

So, here’s our situation as of  Noon on Wednesday, January 5th 2010.     Because we have no passports, the Dakar group has left us behind in Purmamarca, Argentina, which sits at the foot of the Andes.    Our passports are theoretically being delivered by Jim Hyde as he races to catch up with his group.  Jim has had his own set of  troubles thrown at him from the Travel Gods and has always reacted in a positive, “how do we fix this” attitude”.    IF and when we get our passports, we will ride the Rented Iron Duke Dos south again toward Buenos Aires looking to hook up with Now Voyager.   We will then spend a couple of days packing, repairing and re-configuring before we head out of BA towards…… who knows.

First glimpse of the race is up close. We stop along Hwy 9 somewhere south of Tucaman and encounter the Dakar racers speeding by. Hundreds of people are lining this dirt road waiting for them to fly by. Which they do, and close!

One of the leading competitors flashes by. This is the best shot I have of them as they were coming too fast and too close.

Typical race watch wear when the track is two feet away

KR is becoming quite the action sport photographer

Gas stops along the race route become a chance for the locals to get their pictures taken with all the racers… including us: )

It doesn’t take long for all of us to get into the swing of things too. Here KR signs her autograph on a T-shirt.

It’s hard not to smile, wave, beep your horn, touch hands and generally have a great time when you’re greeted with this reception town after town. This is a typical crowd shot from KR’s camera as we enter San Salvador de Jujuy in northern Argentina. The crowd pressed in so much we had to stop and start signing autographs! This kind of reaction from the poeple of Argentina and Chile make the Dakar a truly memorable experience.

Pampa Adventures arranged some truly spectacular hotels for us. This is the Sol San Javier nestled in the mountains above Tucuman, Argentina. We couldn’t really enjoy it too much as we didn’t get there until 9:30PM and left at 8:30 the next morning.

Summit at the summit. Trying to herd 16 motorcyclists with varying skills and styles is a tough job. Here Kevan tries to reinforce the “trail rules,” a set of guidelines that you are suppose to follow to watch-out for your fellow rider. Non-rule following would make for some long days and unnecessary confusion. Yes, yours truly was part of the problem.

The next day included an hours worth of dirt road. This was KR’s first dirt road experience in more than a decade. I was rusty two-up on the dirt as well and this caused both of us some scares 🙂 Yet, by the end of the stint we were feeling much better about it.

Three faces of my lover: On the left, this is what 12 hrs on the bike looks like, ending at 9:30PM up a winding road in the dark. Middle – 30 minutes later prior to dinner. Right, after her most scary day on the bike, we’re relaxing at the foot of the Andes.

Local color. I’m making my transition from International Man of Mystery to Andean Trekker.

The hotel in Purmamarca where we’re staying for a couple of nights, the Casa de Adobe. 

Why is this Llama hiding? Because he ended up on our dinner plate last night. Not sure why KR suggested this — her heart-felt caring for this shy critter or her sometimes sick sense of humor. You decide 🙂

Does this look fun?

500 Miles Across the Pampas

It’s only the first day on a bike (not the bike) and I’m thinking whose idea was this anyway?  Here’s this episode’s scene from the Shit Happens Express.  It’s almost midnight and we’re 400+ miles west of Buenos Aires on what I think is Highway 9.  I don’t know for sure as I’ve been looking at the back of this Mercedes van for the past nine hours, as its my only compass of where we’re headed.  Why I have my nose up this van’s butt is a long story and I don’t want to repeat it.  Suffice it to say that if I lose the van, I’m lost.

Back to our scene.  I’ve been on the bike for nine straight hours and will eventually do 10+ before all is done.  I’m not in my “comfort zone” to say the least: I’m on a machine I’ve never ridden, on a road I don’t know, not knowing where I am or where I’m going, with a helmet that’s 2 sizes too big and… it’s raining!    Oh, and it appears we’re lost as the van driver keeps pulling over to the side of the road, asks a question of someone on the road, and then makes a U-turn.

As the S.H.E. has taught us, it could always be worse.  We’re on our way to join the other RawHyde Adventure tourists to begin our Chase of the Dakar at a famous Estancia called La Paz.  We’re told it’s a wonderful place, but we’re staying somewhere else tonight and we still can’t find it.  We’re now well past the city of Cordoba, winding on a narrow two lane road through small villages in the pampas of Argentine.

Crazy as this sounds, there’s still lots of people up as we finally roll into the restaurant we’re suppose to have dinner at.  Yes, our hosts arranged for a midnight dinner once we arrive.   They are waiting for us and we indeed have a wonderful dinnner.  Still don’t know the name of the town nor the hotel we eventually stay in.

Did I tell you about New Years in Buenos Aires? We had dinner at an outside cafe in Palermo on New Years Eve. About 11PM-ish a street party materializes as a band swings down the street. People pour out of the bars and restaurants, who start dancing, which attracts more people and...you get the idea. A wonderful way to bring in 2011.

Devilish doings on San Salvador St in Palermo

Two different views of the "first ride."

This is the "after" picture of what 10+ hours looks like. We were welcomed by a wonderful little restaurant in La Granja, about an hour north of Cordoba. One of the best meals ever, although they cook pork in a unique way.

Breaking News: We made it to the start of the Dakar Tour!

After a short ride this morning, we arrived at the Estancia La Paz, the gathering place for our group.   Everyone is meeting here, getting their bikes and adding whatever accessories they want.   We’re staying here tonight and will begin Chasing the Dakar tomorrow morning.

The Estancia La Paz sits on a private lake in the center of 100s of acres of pampas. The estancia was built in the mid 1800s as a summer retreat for Argentina's then president, Julio A Roca. It still serves some moder presidents as a Camp David type retreat.

On one side sits a quiet veranda.

On another sits the Rawhyde Adventures crew. Each rider is adding his/her personal equipment to their bike.

Juli and Kevan take a more leisurely approach to bike prep.

KR is a happy camper too

The estancia even supplies a white horse to the rescue


Where upon we learn about shipping by water and a bunch of other things on the S.H.E.

We flew past “Plan B” the moment we landed in Buenos Aires.  We must be on E or F by now.  The bottom line is this:  our motorcycle (and Rawhyde Adventures’ trucks and m/c’s) won’t clear Argentine Customs in time for the start of the rally/tour because our ships were late getting here.  This has had a ripple effect on the entire first phase of our trip, with constantly changing Plans C, D, E and F.  As I write this, I’m not sure what we’re going to do.

But, there are a lot of lessons to be learned for the newbie international traveler.

  • First, shipping via ocean isn’t a precision business.  There are storms, traffic jams getting into ports, loading/off-loading restrictions, Customs operating hours, etc.  Throw-in a couple of holidays and we were off on our timing by an order of magnitude.
  • Make sure you keep on the freight forwarders ass to understand why delays happen.  My bike sat in a warehouse/dock for almost 30 days.  I trusted them to keep the bike moving…
  • Get ready for the shaft when it comes to pricing.  Regardless of the estimated quote before you give them your vehicle, you will be provided with the actual invoice AFTER the boat has sailed.   Not much negotiating power then.   I’m not sure it would have been more expensive to ship the bike via air when all is said and done.

OK, enough with the learning about transportation nuts and bolts.   We’ve also learned a lot about Buenos Aires during our six days here.  First, a few pictures are in order.

Late night (at least for a 6:00PM dinner guy) planning session on figuring out Plans D,E,F. Weather is spectacular, making outdoor dining at 11:00PM no big deal. Jorge (center) and his son, Nacho, are the Pampa Adventures guys doing all the logistics. Jim Hyde, on the left, is the Founder of Rawhyde Adventures.

Every Sunday there is a street fair/party in San Telmo, Buenos Aires oldest neighborhood. This shot gives you a sense of the size of crowd and the vibe on the street

KR gets attacked by Argentine vampires on a trip to San Telmo. We didn't know that some things live forever...

During this entire Shit Happens Express episode, KR kept telling me not to lose my head. This is another guy waiting for his m/c to clear customs. He obviously didn't listen to KR's advice

Obviously, I couldn't work in this place

Another day was spent in La Boca, built on the mouth of the River Plata by Italians. Most of the buildings are brightly paintedcorregated tin. La Boca is a hot bed of street and cafe Tango dancers.

The guy with the cigarette is a "volunteer." This is a Goucho, swinging a bola. He never smiled, but clipped the cigarette a couple of itmes.

We've had a lot of great meals. This is an Italian restaurant in Palermo, another hi-style neighborhood in Buenos Aires

Even the cows get into the swing of celebrating the Holiday season.

Back to reality as the Shit Happens Express keeps plugging along. I pulled a muscle in my leg, which prevented me from walking for a day. As the S.H.E. would have it, that was the day I had to pick out a rental bike as a temporary replacement for Now Voyager. I manned-up and tried a couple on for size. I settled for a wee-people's bike - a 650.

This is where we stand at 9:30AM on December 31, 2010

This is where the Shit Happens Express has left us.  We have rented a replacement for Now Voyager so that we can still do part of the Dakar Rally.  We’re unsure as to how much of the rally we will follow, but will make that decision today.  There are a lot of financial and logistical implications and we’re “working the problem.”  Tonight we will take possession of said steed and load him up. The Dakar officially starts tomorrow on the largest avenue in BA.   Tomorrow we’re riding from BA to Cordoba to meet up with the other Rawhyde Dakar tourists and to start The Chase.

More as it happens.

fw

Twenty-seven months after deciding to ride our motorcycle around South America, we stand at the start line.

Getting there the easy way

The clock is blinking 4:30AM. I know this because I’m wide awake thinking, “Well, you wanted this and now it’s HERE.” Like a couple of hours away HERE.  After two and a-half years of prepping, including literally a change of life, it’s HERE.  “What am I going to do now?” We’re flying to Buenos Aires this afternoon.  I don’t know if I should grab the champagne or run into the bathroom.

Which is the whole point of this, I suppose.  Not knowing whether to celebrate or run for shelter.

I’m writing to let you all know that KR and I have finally pulled the trigger and we’re on a 777 silently running through the night toward Buenos Aires.  In 1st Class no less! (on miles of course.)  If this is any measure, the Other Half do live differently, but that’s whole other story.

Our plans are roughly as follows.   We’ve rented an apartment in Buenos Aires for a week as we wait to get our motorcycle out of Customs.  We’re then going to watch the start of the Dakar race, join a group of twenty other motorcyclists and follow the race through Argentina, over the Andes, and into Chile. We leave the group half-way through their tour.  We’ll be at the very northern most tip of Chile and we’ll decide what to do next.

We held our first itinerary planning session yesterday.  I’m not making this up.  We were in the immunization clinic, getting yellow fever and assorted other vaccinations, and the office was covered in a man-sized world map stretching in front of us.  We were both silently scoping out South America.  After getting punched in the shoulder a couple of times, I said, “Let’s continue north through Peru…”  KR said, “Oh no!  let’s go east to Brazil.”  Business as usual.

Before and after. Five months of living in the Owens' "wine cellar" left its mark. We try to minimize the damage. Where did all the stuff go?

This is THE way to travel. Way up front on a 777. We know it won't last, but it was fun!

I told you it wouldn't last. FW working at 40,000 ft on the 777 and 39,990 feet lower in the kitchen of our apartment in Buenos Aires. Ahh, it was sweet.

This is why we're in BA -- The Dakar, 2011 edition. Picture is taken in a restaurant in Recoleta that has been a racing gathering spot since the 50's.

KR in a cafe on Florida street in BA. This was one of the few places we found that had people on Xmas. For those with sharp eyes, you can see my SPOT satellite tracker on the top of the red post.

Two classic beauties

Meat. Argentina is all about meat. I had a big piece of meat last night and it was world-class.

Our plan is to hang in Buenos Aires awaiting the arrival of Now Voyager, which was due on the 22nd, but won’t be here much before the 29th.   We’ve rented an apartment for the week in Recoleta, a very, very nice neighborhood in BA.  Tonight is San Telmo and Tango dancing.

I’m thinking steak & eggs for breakfast and maybe a steak sand for lunch and then….

“Working the Problem”

You know something has changed inside when you really believe that riding a motorcycle around the world is no big deal.  You begin working the problem rather than being overwhelmed by the complexity and risk.  A scene from the movie, Apollo 13, comes to mind when the Flight Commander demands of his team, “work the problem people, work the problem!”  Riding a motorcycle around the world is no moon-shot, but most people view them with equal survivability.

Once we crossed into the “work the problem” mode, relating to other people became harder for all concerned.   The poor souls from Jonestown probably felt similar before drinking the Cool Aide, “What’s everyone worried about?” I suspect that friends quietly wonder, Are Fred and Karen OK? As our ”disease” progressed, we found ourselves seeking out a different type of friend, much as a cancer victim might seek out survivors to gain knowledge and empathy.  In our case, we wanted to talk to  people about the best way to ship a motorcycle around the Darien Gap, or what countries were safe to camp and which were not, how much should you pack, what types of clothing to take for three months rather than three days.  Talking tools, spares, and gizmos all night long is a good thing.

We crossed our personal Rubicon in the summer of 2008 when we attended our first Horizons Unlimited (HU) meeting in Colorado.  HU members are the real deal when it comes to motorcycle adventurists, made up of hard-core travel types who ride to far-away places, regularly.   Rugged and independent, most HU members gather around a tire-changing seminar with the same joy and concentration as a fantasy footballer studies the injury report.   No pretences here and no need to hide; we’re among friends.

After three days of “seminars” on how to travel to faraway places on a motorcycle, KR and I came to the same conclusion.  Like most important things in our life, KR was the first to voice our collective thought, “We can do this.  We’ve done a lot of this kind of traveling already.  We know more than most people here.  We can figure this out.  We can survive!  This is no big deal.”

To be honest, it was a lot more than three days of seminars that got us to this point.  No, it was a couple of decades worth of trips to Alaska, Mexico, every state in the US but one, Nepal, Argentina, Chile, India, a few places in Europe, Puerto Rico and some others I can’t remember.   Not all of these were by motorcycle, of course, but they contained enough “shit happens, we dealt with it” episodes that we’re comfortable with the unknowns of what lies around the next blind corner.

The Modified Plan

I knew the likelihood of getting KR to go around the world on a motorcycle at one time was less likely than the aforementioned moon-shot.  So our first modifier was “one continent at a time.”  We were both up to traveling for an extended period of time – say a continent — but then coming back to a home base for some period before heading out again.  Through a series of back and forth discussions, we generally agreed that the sequence of continents would be South America, Europe, and Africa.  Somehow we’d also find time to explore Mexico and probably dip down to Central America as well.  Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand are not sequenced yet.

So, in the summer of 2008 we made the decision to start making this idea a reality, causing a two-year series of consequences chronicled in Rewired, Journey to a New Life.

We have relatively low expectations for this trip; survival, go to some far- away places, meet interesting people, experience! as much of the world as we can, and share it all with our friends.

We’ll keep in touch.