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Chile! The Peru/Chile border crossing was one of the fanciest we went through. Huge air conditioned buildings, metal detectors, x-ray machines. Much unlike the shacks we had come to know in all of our other crossings. On the Chilean side we had to take the bags off the bike and have them X-rayed. All of the Chilean border workers carried handguns, even the ones just processing paperwork. Chile meant business! Over and over again in Peru we heard "Chile es bien organizado", and it certainly seemed to be the case. Once again, no cost to cross this border.
Chile... holy hell!
First time of the trip we've seen 4 digit KM markings on the signs. It hit us just how long Chile was...
We stopped in Arica to check email, get out money, and grab something to eat and fill the gas tank. We were surprised at many things. Food was at least $5 a plate. Internet was twice as expensive as Peru. The ATM charged me $7usd(!!) to pull out money. And worst of all, gas was the $7+usd per gallon! I was expecting everything to be more expensive in Chile, but I didn't count on $35 fill ups. Not good news given we had 4,200km to cover in Chile.
All those taxes went to good use though. Roads were great in Chile, as was all public facilities. Quite a departure from the poverty of Peru.
We were going to Santiago, supposedly to meet up with a motorcycle gang. We hadn't ever talked to them, but the world traveler El Patagonio had assured us they were waiting. Michelle's lost notebook meant we had no phone number to confirm this, but Santiago seemed like a good enough place to head anyway, so we set our sites south.
To get to Santiago from Peru, you have to go through the Atacama desert. 1,000 miles of nothing. Driest desert in the world. Almost no vegetation, almost no people. Just the long, straight Panamanian highway stretching into eternity.
Close to Arica the road is actually a quite fun. Twisty mountain roads and huge canyons between the dunes.
The entire terrain is monochromatic. Sand, rock, dirt, sand, rock, dirt. Brown brown brown. It was fascinating for the first few hours. The next 20 hours... not so much. Also, surprisingly chilly. Deserts are supposed to be hot, right?
As the sun went down it was surprisingly difficult to find camping. Huge expanses of empty space were abundant, what was lacking was any sort of vegetation to burn. Dinner was usually a very simple rice or pasta, and breakfast was always oatmeal, so a small fire was a necessity for any camping. In the desert we had not even a shrub to sacrifice. Finally we came across a strange area that had large thorn thickets. Thorn bushes are everywhere in Texas, so that was not unusual. The land was the puzzling part. Everywhere the ground surface was covered by hard, oddly rounded outcroppings.
They were hard enough to walk on, and appeared from a the road to be just continuous piles of stones. On closer inspection you could see they were all one continuous formation, and were connected with the ground rock-hard ground. If you gave a sharp kick you could break large pieces off, and these pieces would break like porcelain if thrown against the ground. Never seen anything like it, and am very curious as to what formed that landscape.
As you can imagine, impossible to ride across. Luckily there appeared to be a rough truck trail that headed off the highway, so I pulled off and started figuring out a path. Michelle, wisely, decided to get off and walk behind while I forged ahead to search for a campsite. I started off down the trail, which actually wasn't too bad. As I scanned all around looking for a flat space to lay our tent, I became aware of a 2' hole in the middle of the trail. No time to react, I hit it square on. I flew over the handlebars.
I sat up and looked at the bike. The windscreen was toast, maybe the fairing too. The wheel looks round. Wasn't going fast. Michelle is running, but I'm laughing by the time she gets there.
Pick the bike up and give her a look over. The fairing is still fine! Only casualty is the windscreen. Give her a crank and after a few seconds she spins to life. Crash number three and still nothing but scratches! I love this bike!
We find a flat area and set up camp.
The next morning we woke up, cooked our oatmeal and hit the road. If the pictures are any indication... there was nothing...
Actually over 200 miles of nothing. Not even a gas station. The stock ninja 250 has a pretty astounding range. 4.8 gallon tank and great gas mileage, 250+ miles out of a tank was not uncommon for this trip. On this stretch... I don't know what happened. I hit reserve at 160 miles. Either I didn't fill it to the top on the last fill, the petcock fuel leak was more severe than I realized, or blasting at 80mph down the panamerican was killing my fuel economy. Maybe all three. We puttered to the side of the road at 195 miles. Hadn't seen a single building in 3 hours. First time I've ever run out of gas on a motorcycle. I barely have my helmet off before Michelle flags down a passing pickup. He says the next station is not far and he can take us. Michelle stays with the bike and I hop in. About 10 miles down the road there is a lone gas station, apparently just a refueling halfway point. I fish an old plastic coca-cola bottle out of the trash and fill it up with gasoline. Lacking Michelle's feminine charm it takes me 15 minutes to flag down a ride. Eventually a semi stops and takes me 10 miles back down the road, where I pour my coke bottle into the gas tank and off we go back to the gas station.
At the gas station I noticed that the motorcycle, my jacket and my helmet were covered in black gunk. 100 miles back I had passed what I thought was some sort of a street sweeper. It had dirtied my face-shield but I thought nothing of it. Now I saw it wasn't dirty water, it was tar. I asked Michelle how I ended up behind an asphalt-laying truck, surely they would have stopped traffic from driving on a road in progress. "Yea, they were waving at you. I had no idea why you kept going." The desert was getting to me, I hadn't noticed anybody. I cleaned the bike as best I could, using rags and gasoline. Gasoline isn't good for the paint, but I figured tar was probably worse. The jacket was permanently spotted and the already scuffed helmet became even more opaque. The road looked fine when we crossed over it again a few weeks later, but I sincerely hope I didn't cause that road crew any extra trouble.
After the mishaps, we stopped in a tiny roadside town to pick up gas and groceries. The ninja hit a milestone...
30,000 miles, 12,000 of those being in Latin America.
And then we camped... and there was nothing...
No bushes in that area, but we found what appeared to be an informal trash dump. I picked out old 2x4s, random sticks, paper, and we burned trash to cook our rice. Living in fine style!
Next day we continued the blast to Santiago. An hour down the road I saw a sign for "Mano Del Desierto". I immediately knew what it must be, I had seen pictures of it before. I had no idea it was in Chile. Pleasant surprise.
And then... there was nothing...
That afternoon we stopped into Copiapo for groceries. Michelle was hankering for a shower, so we scoured the town for anything affordable. No dice, cheapest we found was $40 for a dirty shared bathroom. By the time we were defeated it was already dark, so we were in a tough spot. Nothing to do but hit the road and hope we found a campsite. We were tired, it was cold, and all we wanted to do was sleep. 10 minutes outside of town I saw a little dirt service road leading off the highway. We got off the bike and started looking for a campsite by flashlight. Plenty of open space, and heck, there was even some dry brush to make a fire. Problem was, the whole place was hopelessly rocky and uneven. It was also apparently another informal trash dump. No way we could sleep on this crap. But then I had an idea... we could put our tent on that old rotten mattress over there! Michelle was disgusted with this idea, but after I convinced her that the tent would surely keep out any infestations she swallowed her pride and agreed.
Michelle packing up as quickly as possible in the morning.
Next day... there was nothing...
So much nothing that amazingly not one picture was taken. I guess Michelle got tired with the scenery. We stopped at a gas station and paid $1 for a hot shower. Had to wait in line for half an hour, but we figured as long as we could shower every once and a while there was no need for hotels anyway.
As we approached Santiago the Panamerican highway became more developed. Toll booths (some cheap, some expensive), fences, 4 lane highways. We were excited to be getting nearer to the capital, but very worried about our chances of finding a camping site. Hundreds of miles of fences lined either side of the highway. It got dark and we got desperate. We camped at a public rest stop for 18 wheelers.
It was busy, with the semis pulling in and out every few minutes. No way to stealth camp, but I figured the amount of traffic would keep people honest. I wasn't thrilled about the racket, but we've slept through worse on this trip. On the plus side, this place was more than just a gravel pull-off. It had picnic tables, toilets, hot sinks, hot showers. All public, all free. Just walk in and use them. We regretted wasting time and money paying for a gas-station shower earlier that day, but it was good info for the trip back up to Lima.
The next morning we washed up, packed up and headed out early. It was especially brisk, so we treated ourselves to eggs, bread and coffee in the first little town we passed. The quaint place we stopped wasn't too expensive, the woman running it was friendly and the food was delicious. Best part was the decor. Neat, tidy, 70s style.
And a few hours down the road we started passing dozens of little shacks on the side of the road advertising "pan" and "queso". Bread and cheese is nothing special, but if there are dozens of roadside shacks advertising the same thing anywhere it normally means it's a safe bet.
We stopped, and man, it was delicious. The simple soft white cheese of South America is... exquisite.
As we approached Santiago, the unthinkable happened. Green!
The Atacama desert was over. 5 days of riding. 1,300 miles. Longest stretch of the trip by far. I love barren, stoic landscapes. The beauty of that eternal expanse will stay with me forever. And damn, I was ecstatic to be done with it.
We arrived in Santiago… first order of business was to find a hotel after camping since Peru. We arrived downtown and started our search. Checked dozens of hotels and hostels looking for something that would fit our increasingly tight budget and give us enough money to make it back to Lima. It got dark and we kept riding around. I saw a cool little motorcycle mechanic shop and we stopped to ask for suggestions.
Ended up chatting with the owner for a long time. This guy loves motorcycles, his little shop is filled to the brim with motorcycles of all sorts. His prized motorcycle was a Suzuki GS500 from the 80s. Apparently he was a huge fan of a hugely popular chilean pop group in the 80s, long before they got big. He went to all their shows and all the members loved him. When they struck it big and got famous they went off touring in Europe, and they brought back with them that motorcycle and presented it to him as a gift, with the tank signed by all the members. The bike is well worn, he has driven it all over Argentina and Chile. (I cannot remember the bands' name for the life of me. They were very catchy though.)
He gave us vague directions to a cheap place to stay a few miles away. This hotel is was apparently unmarked and nobody in that area knew about it. After a good hour and half of searching the same square mile we finally found the hotel.
Actually quite a comfortable little place. Not a hotel, just a woman who rents out a room in her house, which explains why nobody knew what we were talking about. $25usd, cheapest we found in Chile. There is no way we could ever find it again though.
In the morning we went to an Internet cafe and tried to get in contact with the club there. We weren't even sure if they would remember us, since they hadn't heard anything about us in a month and the invitation was relayed to us through a third party. We could just see the city on our own we supposed, but I figured we might as well give it a shot. Sure enough, we had received an email from "El Patagonio" who gave us the number of "El Padre". We gave him a call and he remembered who we were! He told us to meet us at his piano repair shop.
Once again, we had tremendous trouble finding where we were supposed to go. We found the intersection that the shop was supposed to be at and couldn't see anything. We walked up and down the street, asking people, looking for any sign of a piano repair shop. We got back on the bike and checked all the blocks in the area. Finally, we found it, right where he said it would be. A virtually unmarked glass door behind a gate. Despite our difficulties, Chile is actually quite easy to get around compared to other Latin American cities. They have things like "street signs" and "traffic laws" which make it a breeze to get around.
"El Padre" is an interesting fellow. He is one of two "Master" certified Yamaha piano technicians on the entire South American continent. He has studied in Japan, Europe, the USA. His shop is filled with Stienways and grand painos of all makes. Also, he is a big burley biker dude who drives a 10ft long chopper trike. He is called "El Padre" because he is the father of the "Black Demons" motorcycle club.
He called another club, the "Drakkars", to escort us to their clubhouse where we would be staying. He took us down the street for lunch while we waited. Even though I'm from the home of the harley, I'd never hung out with biker dudes before. I was definitely excited for the next few days.
Motorcycle clubs in Chile are based on a biker gang system of organization. To be a real club, you've got to have a clubhouse, member dues, a system of prospects, club initiations, patches and loyalty. The Drakkars club are small but dedicated. There are four members who together split the cost of a house they rent for the clubhouse.
Can you guess their colors? The inside, predictably, is filled with sparse furniture and magazine cutouts of motorcycles and naked women. We could stay here as long as we wanted, and we could park the bike in the living room at night. So perfect!
Over the next few days we got to know all of the guys in the Drakkars. Also got to know their bikes. The dream bike for everyone I talked to was, of course, a Harley. The world over HD will always be the ultimate cruiser bike. Harley ownership is not a small deal in Chile though. Because of Chile's tax system Harleys run about twice as expensive as they are in the USA. Combine that with much lower salaries, low import numbers, and a high cruiser demand in Chile, and you've got quite a challenge. Even the Hells Angels have very few Harleys in the club! However, I can totally dig the bikes they come up with instead.
Black Demon bike:
No idea what it is.
Julio bought a brand new China cruiser and made it into this: Complete with metal seat.
He's recently sold it and built this:
That's a citron boxer engine from a 2cv, shoved into a custom built frame and now legally registered as a road-going motorcycle.
The first night in the clubhouse we polished off a couple bottles of Chilean wine with member Julio, before he went to class.
He uses the clubhouse to study (or he did before the chilean student protests). He's the one we hung out with the most, he's a very funny guy.
The next day the whole club took us for a sightseeing trip around the city.
Went up to El Cerro to see Santiago.
Due to the positioning of Chile between the mountains and the ocean currents, there is very little rain and smog never really dissipates. Even though Santiago was one of the cleanest cities on our journey the smog we saw from the mountain was the worst!
The following morning we finally set out to fix the leaking petcock that had been plaguing me for the last 2,000 miles. The Kawasaki dealer would need two weeks to order the part… no good. But there were dozens of China motorcycle shops running along the street, so I just started checking the tanks of each bike on the showroom floors until I found one that looked like it might work. Eventually, I was successful. The United Motors 250cc bikes use a bolt-on petcock that has the same dimensions as the stock ninja petcock. Got the new petcock for about $10, bolted it on, and no leaks! What a relief!
That night we went to a Hells Angels of Chile Anniversary party. The Black Demons and the Drakkars met up at the clubhouse.
We rode in convoy to the bar/clubhouse that is owned by the Hells Angels.* Riding with the bikers was an experience in itself. I always feel sheepish riding around in urban areas because my exhaust has big holes in either side and is fairly loud. Not a concern with these guys, probably not a baffled exhaust among them. They left a trail of car alarms down whatever street they took. I looked down in panic the first stoplight we came to because I couldn't hear my motorcycle and I thought it had died. Nope, just drowned out. Also, they preferred to move all together. If somebody was in the wrong lane and was going to be shot off in the wrong direction other bikers would slow down or cut off other cars to give that rider the space to get back in the right lane. If part of the group got caught at a light the others would all pull off and wait. When El Padre's trike broke down in the middle of the road the other guys fanned out around him with their flashers on so he could get it going again… in the middle of the road. Car drivers who were stuck behind were amazingly patient with this scene, courtesy or fear I'm not sure.
The Hells Angels party was pretty much what I imagined, which was awesome. Lots of black leather vests, a metal band, drinking, tattooing, choppers and strippers.
You can see the stage, bar and makeshift tattoo parlor on the right. The strippers didn't come out until later in the night. Obviously no pictures of that.
Sweets Hells Angels mural. One of these bikes is not like the others...
The Hells Angels we met were very friendly. The night is a members-and-invitees only part of the program, but apparently earlier that day was wives/girlfriends/children get-together.
Next, everyone was going to a Guns N' Roses cover band, and they had two tickets for us. I'm not a huge GNR fan back home, but of course I wouldn't miss it. Another chaotic ride across town and we made it to the club. Nice thing about being on a motorcycle is ease of parking. We found a single spot and crammed all the motorcycles in and around it.
Before the show they were playing Chilean pop from the 80s and 90s. The whole club would start cheering and singing along when a hit came on. They even played the hit from the band that had given our motorcycle mechanic friend his GS500. Then Chiles' best Axl Rose hit the stage.
This club was packed! The crowd sang along to many of the songs, even though they were in English. The singer also did not speak English, but he did the whole bit to the T, even using common Axl between-songs banter in English and changing into a different Axl outfit every other song.
The next day we took it easy. We did some laundry in Edu's apartment. The Drakkars were looking to spruce up their clubhouse, so we tagged along as they got a truck and picked up some furniture.
Prospective member Fuzer doing the dangerous job of wiring up the new lamp.
It seemed like they could fix everything. Julio came across a broken stereo, and instead of throwing it away he took it apart and fixed it on the spot. In the average US household that would be straight to the trashcan.
Mattias working on the logo being painted on the wall. I forget the significance of "45". The Viking battle-axes refer to the name "Drakkars", which I'm told is a name for a viking longship.
The following day Julio took us out to enjoy the best sandwich ever. Huge slabs of moist pork with cheese and avocado and some white sauce. He promised us it was the best place in Chile for this sandwich, and I trust his judgement. It was incredible.
That night would be our last night in Santiago. Everyone in the Drakkars club came to the clubhouse and a great celebration was had. We drank "terremoto" (earthquake), a delicious drink made with ice-cream and pipeño (semi-fermented sweet wine). One of the most delicious drinks of the trip.
At the end of the night Michelle and I were given a token of the Drakkar's affection. Mattias took out his knife and cut the patches off his vest and gave it to us. This was a very special gesture because patches among these clubs are not taken lightly. It takes months and a full club initiation to earn these patches.
A huge thanks to the whole Drakkars club. Our time in Santiago was incredible! All thanks to the friendship and camaraderie we found in that club. Such a cool experience!
Gracias a todos los Drakkars! Nuestro tempo en Santiago few increíble! Gracias a la amistad que econtramos en su club! Nunca olvidare su club o Santiago!
The next morning we sadly gave back our key to the clubhouse and departed from Santiago. Our flights were booked for the 28th, we had a buyer lined up, and we were almost out of money. We had agreed to make it to Lima four days in advance so we could deal with any paperwork problems that might arise. That gave us 6 days to travel 2,200 miles. We really, really wanted to swing into Argentina on our way up, but unfortunately the reality was there was no way we were going to be able to add two border crossings, unknown road conditions, currency exchange and another extra couple hundred miles of travel. It was a crying shame, but deadlines mean sacrifices. I hate deadlines, necessary though it may have been in this case.
Thus, back across the hellishly boring 1,000 mile Atacama…
We left Santiago and made our way back through the Atacama desert. The Pan-America through northern Chile is a straight, wonderfully maintained highway. You can blast down the whole thing at 80mph if you want. We're pretty leisurely travelers though, rarely doing more than a couple hundred miles in a day. Between making breakfast, packing up camp looking around for a shower, grocery shopping, eating lunch and finding a campsite in time for dark, we're not putting down any iron-butt numbers. Even on the Pan-America highway through the Atacama desert, where there is virtually nothing to do but ride, it still took us a good four days to travel the 1,300 miles from the Peruvian border to Santiago.
Now, we were on a deadline! 2,100 miles in six days. As an added incentive, I had heard there were dunes suitable for sandboarding along the Pan-America in Peru. I'm a big snowboarder, and I've always wanted to try sandboarding but never had the opportunity. Huancachina in Peru is considered to be one of the best places in the world, so I figured if we could get ourselves into Peru fast enough I might just have time for an afternoon of sandboarding before hitting Lima to sell the bike.
So the race was on. Nothing new to see, just the same old 1,000 miles of dirt and rock.
Our days consisted of this:
This time however we did stop at something called the "Zoo of Rocks". I had seen the sign when we had come south and was puzzled, so I decided to pull in this time. Turns out it is a set of trails that runs around a bunch of rock formations.
You can tell this area used to be ocean not too long ago. The sand is littered with shells and many of the weirder rocks are clearly dried coral. Neat little area to ride around and stretch your legs.
Also, a typical diner breakfast in Chile is basic, unspectacular, fried eggs, bread and coffee. For Michelle, this was a godsend. She loves a good breakfast, and had not enjoyed Peru's "lunch-for-breakfast" attitude about morning eating. Since we were riding well into the evening most nights and unable to find firewood in the desert, we were obliged to enjoy a road breakfast.
We made it to the Peruvian border on the evening of the 21st. That final day was a personal best, we had travelled over 500 miles that day. We were speeding because we were not sure when the border closed and were determined to sleep in Peru that night. As it turns out, the border closes at 9pm, which was lucky because although it was only 6pm by the time we got there, paperwork issues kept us from crossing till late. Apparently something wasn't stamped correctly on the Chilean side, and then once we got the Peruvian side we were sent to a bunch of different places to correct the problem. Of course I was also starving by that time so it seemed to take much longer. As soon as we were free we blasted to Tacna and grabbed the same hotel we had chosen before, at the same ridiculously low price that Michelle had negotiated for two weeks ago. $5usd for hot water and a bed!
Then straight to the little shack down the street to get a couple of chess burgers. I tried to avoid eating non-local food as much as possible on the trip. Any non-local style cuisine was generally more expensive and not as good as what I am used to in America. The hamburger though, was different from country to country, and always cheap. In guatemala a hamburger actually comes with ham, beef is an optional extra. In Peru if you get your burger with fries they stuff the entire order of fries in the burger. Also, if you are out late at night a burger shack may be the only thing open.
The next morning we hit the road early. We had done that Atacama but we still had 800 miles to go till Lima.
Camped in some sort of mining excavation that night, followed by a little morning maintenance.
Desert raider mode. Still cold!
Where the desert meets the sea.
Had to ride a couple hundred yards off the highway for the next night's camping spot, through some pretty deep sand. Luckily the little ninja is so light you can almost lift it out of the sand if it gets stuck.
The land was flat and arid so the only place to stealth camp was in this dried riverbed. Those dead shrubs provided wood to burn and hid us from view of the highway.
Sometimes I wonder if I've posted too many pictures of our campsites. I just like pictures of stealth camping I guess.
In the morning we found we were only an hour away from Huacachina. Huancachina is a small village near Ica. The village was formed around a small natural lake in the middle of the massive expanse of sand dunes. Pretty touristy these days, but very cool to see a natural oasis straight out of a cartoon.
Small sub-oasis in foreground, bigger main lake is around the dune.
We rented boards and began trudging around the dunes. We were too broke to afford a dune buggy rental, so we used our own power to get up to the dunes.
As it turns out, it's incredibly hard to walk up sand dunes. Especially while wearing snowboarding boots. Every step is a great effort and after the sand is done compressing under your weight you've travelled 4 inches.
I go on a yearly snowboarding trip with my friends back home and I've been skateboarding since I was 12 years old. Sandboarding was all my idea, but Michelle was a great sport and did quite well for her first time on a board.
It was actually me who was the first to throw in the towel. I'm not sure if it was the sun, the exertion, dehydration or something else, but after an hour I was completely wrecked. I felt nauseous and weak. Though we were only half a mile from civilization the march back felt like an eternity.
Did have a great time before my body gave out though.
If my flailing arms are any indication, I was still getting the hang of it for this run.
Overall snowboarding is far preferable to sandboarding. You really don't appreciate ski lifts until don't have them. Also, sand is much slower than snow. Still, I'm so glad that I got to try it.
Our initial plan was to ride through the evening and make the short 4 hour trip to Lima that night. I was feeling so poorly however that we decided to stay in Ica for the night.
The next morning I was feeling better so we headed the short 4 hours into Lima. When Danny from the motorcycle club had guided us out of Lima it had taken no more than 20 minutes to get out of Lima. Coming back in we had only vague notions about our destination and we were immediately enveloped in chaotic traffic. For the first time in months I was afraid. Not since my first timid miles in Juarez, Mexico had I felt any anxiety about riding in 3rd world countries, every near miss was just a part of the experience. Now, with the finish line so close in sight I was terrified that our luck would finally run out and we would be struck down by the inevitable hand of fate, leaving ourselves wounded or the bike un-sellable. The traffic in Lima, Peru was by far the craziest of the entire trip, and the last 50 miles through the city dragged on for an eternity.
Eventually, thankfully, we dug our way through downtown and made it without incident into welcoming arms of our friends at Club Peru Moto Turismo.
The next few days we enjoyed their company and took care of miscellaneous pre-departure stuff. Michelle doesn't like wearing contacts and had lost her last pair of glasses long before the trip started. We figured $30 on some custom glasses in Peru would be preferable to $250 in the USA, so we went and got some made.
Manuel (president of Club Peru Moto Turismo) and his wife made us Papas a la Huacano, a traditional Peruvian dish.
The next night we were out at a store downtown with Danny and came back to our bikes to find a huge puddle of gasoline underneath my bike. My first thought was my new petcock had failed, which meant another frantic search for a replacement petcock. Luckily a quick investigation revealed only a small pinhole in the fuel hose, which shot out a small pressurized stream of fuel. I had a tiny bit of fuel left, but no replacement hose or tape with me at the time, so we decided to just try and make it back to the hotel. Turned out to be one of the riskiest rides of the trip. If the petcock was 'on' it would shoot out fuel, if the petcock was off no fuel leaked. So my method was to cycle the petcock between 'on' to fill the carb bowls and 'off' to keep the fuel from collecting on the hot engine. Having to reach down and work the petcock every thirty seconds is a tall order in Lima traffic. To add the the fun, Danny, who we were following back to the hotel, an experienced rider and not fully aware of my situation, was darting through the lanes with his usual agility. It's hard to keep up with Danny on a good day, near impossible one handed. The insanity of my situation kept me amused and I did not feel the anxiety I had felt coming into Lima a few days earlier.
The buyer and I had settled the price for the motorcycle previously, so the only thing left to do was the paperwork. The agreed upon price was fair for me (an EX250 in that shape would go for a similar money in the USA), and him (rare bike but 40% import tax plus other fees). Paperwork was handled no problem.
Before the sale I spent a few hours disassembling and cleaning the beautiful motorcycle that I was leaving behind.
It had been a brutal 15,000 miles and 6 long months since we left Austin, TX. There were many skeptics, but the bike had surpassed every expectation. It pushed itself through gridlock Guatemala traffic, blasted down the Atacama desert at 80mph and crawled up Andean mountains. It was crashed, neglected and overloaded. It had never left us stranded.
My love for that bike was surpassed only by Michelle's. In her mind there will never be a more perfect motorcycle and I don't think she will ever form an emotional attachment to any other bike. When our friend expressed his plans to paint the motorcycle black she begged him to reconsider and repaint in the original yellow. One consolation was that we were selling to a trusted friend who would take good care of the bike. It our hope that someday we will be able to buy back that motorcycle and bring it back to Austin.
Our last day we spent making decisions about what we could bring back and what would have to stay. We were flying with an airline that charged handsomely for each bag, so we had to make a lot of tough decisions. Any mementos or gifts from friends along our journey would of course have to come back with us. Michelle's HJC helmet was having trouble with the latches and was discarded, my scorpion helmet was battered but still usable. The camping gear would be expensive to replace so that had to come with us. Tools, spare parts and other things could be left with the motorcycle. Many of our clothes were trashed beyond repair and were easily discarded, the rest would be worn onto the plane. We would each be wearing many layers of clothing and filling our many pockets with miscellaneous little things that wouldn't fit in our one checked bag. It was going to be a fairly uncomfortable flight, but at least it would be cheap!
Our final night of the trip we went out and saw Lima from above.
With our friends Manuel, his two children, and Javier.
We returned to Manuel's apartment and enjoyed true Peruvian pisco sours.
The next morning they took us to the airport. It was surreal being at the precipice of such a tremendous change. For the last 6 months we had been nomadic throughout Latin America, and now we were about to board a flight back to the USA and a life we could hardly remember. The last month since we had booked our flights home had been marked by periodic conversations about the first thing we would eat back in Texas, how great it would be to see the friends/family, how great it would be crash in our own bed. It was a strange feeling being only a few hour away from all that. 6 months to get here and only a few hours to get back. The end of the trip brought us feelings of nervousness, excitement and sadness.
Departing four of many, many friends that graced our trip through Latin America.
The views, the food, the culture, the adventure. All these things were important to our trip, but the most valuable thing we brought back was the memories of the dozens of friends we made throughout the trip.
Amazing adventure, thank you so much for sharing it with us. I have been lurking for a while on here and advrider, and am inspired to go on my own pan american adventure. If you don't mind my asking, what was your total budget for the trip / how much would you recommend saving up before heading out? Thanks!
You guys are proof that the bike isn't important - it's the faith and will of the driver that is. So big a voyage on a little ninja. Congratulations!
The ninjette was my first bike. I did a 2000 km trip on it in 5 days two years ago. However, my back was killing me because of the inclined position. I've switched to BMW enduro since that. How did you cope with that?
We arrived in Dallas many uncomfortable hours later. Dallas is 4 hours away from Austin, our home, but flights to Austin were three times as expensive. Michelle's best friend, Karla, had happily volunteered to come pick us up at the airport. She insisted on getting us a hotel room and had (without our knowledge) rented a car just to pick us up. Karla is a truly special friend, and it was great to see her when we got off the plane!
We stayed that night in an average hotel, but it seemed to be paradise. The mattresses were thick and soft, the sheets were clean, the TV had 200 channels. It was a shock, so different from anywhere we had stayed in months. I felt incredibly spoiled, but it's just how we live here in this country. When I drove the three of us home the following day I was awed by the elaborate, well-signed, organized traffic system where pavement is smooth and every vehicle follows a set of strict laws.
I was talking to a friend the other day about the conditions on the trip, and he, like many other people, told me he didn't think he could handle it. But he is wrong. Yea, it's nice to have A/C, running hot water, and clean clothes, but familiarity and routine do not equate a necessity, it's an illusion. Within a short amount of time anybody will naturally adapt to new circumstances. When entering Mexico, realizing that I would not be returning for months, I quickly forgot about what I was "missing" and my standards conformed to the reality of the journey. Within a few days of leaving home it seemed as if we had never known anything else.
There is nothing remarkable about me, Michelle or the trip. It was an idea of traveling, and we simply followed it day by day because we loved it. The idea was the important thing, anyone who has that is capable of the pursuit.
This attitude applies to the motorcycle as well. There is nothing remarkable about taking a "little" sportsbike on a large journey. No matter what motorcycle you're riding the process is the same. Pack up, get on the bike, ride the bike. From a honda 125cc to a harley roadking the process is the same. Having the "perfect" adventure motorcycle is nice, but putting off the adventure until you have the perfect adventure bike (or farkle, or budget) is counterintuitive. Unless you're planning on extensive singletrack you really don't need a specialized motorcycle. Besides, Adventure bikes are not built in a factory, they are made by the adventure.
Speaking of motorcycles, my old bike is in good hands down there in Lima, Peru. Since the ninja 250 does not exist down there I agreed to be the middleman for any specialized parts the bike may need. The buyer took the motorcycle to his mechanic and promised me he would let me know exactly what would need to be replaced. After flogging that little bike two up through hell and back I received news that the only thing the bike needed was a new rear shock (400lbs of payload no surprise!). I sent him the lower fairing I had taken off before the trip, a used monoshock off ebay, a set of stickers for the repaint and a couple of oil filters. They did terrific job rebuilding and repainting the bike.
He repainted it yellow! Michelle's prayers and pleas were answered. You can see the new fender and windscreen he sourced. Looks beautiful, a proper sports bike. I'm so happy to know at 34,000 miles it's gotten a new life terrorizing the streets of Lima, Peru. Brings a tear to my eye. I look forward to shipping ninja parts to Peru for years to come.
Back in the states we didn't have any trouble getting jobs. I had an open invitation to return to my previous place of employment, doing skilled labor for a small custom flag company here in Austin, TX. I've been working there for 7 years, so they're fond of me. My boss had a crawfish boil for me the weekend after I came back.
Michelle worked briefly in high-end retail but moved to Houston a few months ago to start a clothing design line with a friend of hers. She was a textiles and apparel major at the University of Texas at Austin, and it has always been her plan to start her own clothing line, and when the opportunity presented itself there was no way she could pass it up. It's a risky enterprise and she won't see returns until mid 2012, if at all, but Michelle fears nothing and I've got faith in her.
We came home and had nothing. First order of business was to get transportation. Michelle made plenty of friends at her retail job. She was talking one day about her plans to save up, buy a car and then start her own company, when one of her co-workers offered to give Michelle her old car with minor body damage... for free. Michelle declined but eventually a trade for clothing alterations was agreed to. Unbelievable kindness, Michelle seems to attract it. Best part is it's a 1991 BMW 525i. My first car was an old BMW 5 series and I was huge into building old BMWs before I got into motorcycles. My old skill-set came in handy when the clutch went out a few weeks later, I was able to do the repair myself in the driveway for only a few hundred dollars.
For me there was no other transport choice but another motorcycle. It took me two months but eventually I saved up enough to start shopping. Unfortunately it was peak riding season here in Texas so there were no good deals to be had, but with enough patience I found myself this beauty.
1979 Kawasaki KZ400. Simple, small, capable of highway speeds and good gas mileage. Plus a centerstand, backrest and hard luggage. It's in great shape and cost me $1400. Not a crazy bargain but it really is the perfect motorcycle for my needs and I really could wait no longer. The only problem is it's so old and well kept that I feel like I have a duty to wash it every once and a while.
There have been no adventures on this bike yet, no more than 400 mile round trips thus far. I am torn about what the next adventure will be. I feel like the next motorcycle trip should be a USA trip, maybe all the lower 48 or perhaps a trip to Alaska and back. The problem is that the amount of money it would take for a 1st world trip could take us so much further in Mexico and Central America, and our experiences in the south would probably be more interesting. And it's quicker to ride to Mexico than it is to ride to another State. Of course eventually we will be taking another epic ride back to South America as soon as possible. So much we didn't see, so many friends to re-visit. Won't be for many years but we will definitely be doing the trip again. And of course, if budget permits, the rest of the world too.
I've been taking a series of small adventures since I got back though. Hiking in Wyoming, trip to El Paso to see Michelle's family, trip to Memphis to visit a friend and a canoe trip down the Colorado river, snowboarding trip to Colorado. I love to travel, so much so that the trick will be to stay still long enough to actually earn the money required for the really great trips. On a non-motorcycle level, I have become obsessed with the idea of kayaking the Amazon river from start to finish. I am having difficulty finding information on this sort of travel (there's no advkayaker.com) but that's only made me more excited for the prospect. Unfortunately, also a costly trip and will be at least a few years away.
Adapting back to a first-world lifestyle was not difficult, within a week I could hardly believe that a month ago we were battling our way through the mountains of a country halfway around the world. What was most amazing is that although I been on the trip for an intense, life-changing eternity it seemed like almost nothing had changed back home. I was almost a little sad when I left on the trip because I really do love Austin and my life here. Well, everything was waiting for me exactly as I left it.
Michelle and I are doing great. We had only dated a few months prior to the trip, so it was a risky relationship move. Certainly a trial by fire, but we came out great so things look bright. We had no worries about a long-distance relationship when Michelle had to move to Houston for 5 months. If we can make it through being together 24/7 for 6 months, we can handle almost anything.
Total trip time: 6 months
Total trip mileage: 15,000 miles
Total countries: 11 (including the USA)
Total budget: ~$7,000usd (not including bike)
Trip route: Moto trip 2010 - Google Maps
Favorite Country: Colombia. Colombians were the friendliest people of the trip. Everywhere in Latin America you've got tons of friendly, helpful people, but Colombians stand above all the rest. See the Colombian entries for examples of this. Aside from the people the food is good, the variety of terrain is outstanding, the cities are vibrant and amazing. Colombia has a bad image in many people's minds but let me tell you that the violence is virtually wiped out everywhere except small pockets of jungle in the far South-West corner.
Favorite City: Medellin (Colombia)! I rate my cities based on my enjoyment and my perception of the authenticity of the experience. Many destination cities are often beautifully preserved and have interesting activities but give me the impression of falseness, as if the real culture happens behind closed doors and the outward show is just for tourists and businessmen. There is no falseness in Medellin. There is a visible abundance of prostitution at all hours of the day, poverty on every corner, and cool stuff happening every night. Medellin is known as the cultural capital of Colombia. It's a gritty, dirty city, contrasted with pockets of skyscrapers and clean plazas. The night we spent in the tenement house was one of the best nights of the trip. I've never been to New York City, but I imagine it's something like Medellin. Exploding with life and energy. Just writing this makes me wish I was back.
Favorite food: Nicaragua. Moronga, Fritanga, Carne Bao. Heavy Central-American flavor, sweet and rich dishes. Far enough away from Mexico to be completely different from the Mexican fair I know so well but not far enough South to be heavily influenced by European styles. Distinctly Central American, but with less of an emphasis of beans and rice and more variety of yucca and plantains. Also cheapest food of Central America. (Note, Michelle's favorite food was in Mexico).
Favorite scenery: Peru. Spending a few weeks lost in the Andes was a treat. Nothing like riding a motorcycle at 15,700ft, above the clouds. So barren, so sparsely populated, so cold. It's a beautiful sight all the way through. Now we didn't see the vast majority of most of the countries we went through (it would take a lifetime), but of what we did see Peru was the most beautiful.
The world certainly seems a smaller place now that I am back. Living in America you routinely see images of people living in conditions very different from your own, and it seems alien and foreign. Go to these places it strikes you that everywhere it's just other people. It happens gradually and suddenly you realize that different educations, different cultures, different languages, but we're really all the same. You are sitting on a street corner in a little highland town talking to somebody straight out of National Geographic... it seems so amazing and so ordinary at the same time.
Many years ago I came to the conclusion that my goal in life is the accumulation of experiences and memories. This trip has cemented my hunch that traveling is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal. Meaningful experiences can be found anywhere, but they are guaranteed on a trip like this. Every older person I have ever talked to that took some trip, some adventure during their youth, always treasures those memories. I know it's cliche, but Twain's quote: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do" has to be the most accurate, convincing endorsement of adventure that has ever been written. We are so thankful we took this trip and eagerly look forward to the next.
About $7,000 all told. Not bad for two people and 6 months with a darien gap crossing, less than I expected to spend. You definitely quickly find a travel rhythm and traveling gets cheaper and cheaper as you go along.
For some reason the seating arrangement of the ninja 250 never bothered me in the slightest. I believe the 250 is more of a "standard" than the "sport" it's dressed up to be, and the seating position was quite neutral for me. Of course, it is a small bike and I'm 6'5", so I was pretty folded up on it, so I would stand up on the pegs to give my body a stretch periodically. Or it could be that I've never ridden any other bikes so I don't know how much I'm suffering!
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