With the premeditated precision of a guided missile I made good my exit from Venezuela. I had been through the mess that was Central America too many times and the prospect of passing through in the wet season appealed even less. I made a clean break.
From the Caracas Airport I would be home in 9 hours. The bike would follow separately in a day or two.
It was an easy way to close the chapter on a 6 month odyssey through South America. It was a wonderful trip shared in part by my wife, Sandra...the "Best of Brasil", as we called it.
As I reflect back on the journey which carried me through six countries in six months, it just didn't seem that long. The pace was more leisurely than aggressive and yet I still accumulated 34,000 kilometers. I accomplished all I had set out to do and more.
I met and befriended many wonderful people along the way, some of whom I still correspond with today. I have gained an insight into lives and cultures that were both foreign and very different from my own. I supplemented my Spanish and learned Portugese. I traced the paths of conquerors and therefore history. I made my own history. I fulfilled some dreams.
Some events are more unique than others. Manaus and the journey up the Amazon was one of those. Being so foreign and remote and isolated it was hard to believe I was actually going there, even when I was on the boat.
Some people travel so they can "name drop" at parties to impress their friends. This trip was not about that. This trip was about seeing and understanding a part of the world that had long interested and fascinated me. Now when I return home and supplement my travels with further studies, everything will be much clearer. I have a mental picture of the people, the places and the events. I will better understand the suffering and the plight of the people, but perhaps not the reasons for it.
Greed and lust for money and power have always shaped the world and its cultures. This is not a part of my genetic character, but the places I visited were built on that foundation...were shaped by greed and lust and cruelty.
Few people understand the motivation to travel and experience life on a motorcycle. It is a high energy form of travel often accompanied by fatigue, always suffering the vagaries of Mother Nature from searing heat to freezing cold. There is no feeling of aloneness quite like breaking down in the middle of nowhere and knowing there will not be another human being along that day, who can help you, or the feeling of fighting the clock to make a destination as night closes in on you. There is no blackness like the South American night. It is total. It is absolute.
Those who have never travelled by motorcycle often liken it to a car journey on two wheels. They will never understand the risks or the hardships and therefore never reap the rewards. Their travels will always be diminished from a motorcycle adventure. For that is what it is...an adventure...much more than just travel...an unforgettable lifetime experience. It can easily end in tragedy, but when it doesn't it is the closest you can come to nirvana and remain on earth with both feet firmly fixed on the ground.
Extended duration motorcycle travel is even more demanding on both man and machine. The conditions down here are far more extreme than anything available in North America. Until you have witnessed it you simply cannot relate to it because you have no scale to measure against. You can only measure against that which you have seen. How can you relate to a road that takes 3 hours to travel 60 miles (100 km), if you have never seen one. You simply cannot if you have not been there. The continuous 8 hour per day pounding that you and the machine take as you fight your way through is often more than most people can endure. Why everything does not break or shake to bits is beyond me. But those are the tough days...rewarding in their own sense for their own special reasons.
Equally rewarding are the brilliant days where everything is simply perfect from start to finish...fantastic scenery, lovely roads, good food and good people.
All of those combined are the memories that televisions, cars and cruises can never provide for you do not earn anything. You simply pass through barely touching the surface...barely receiving any sensory feedback...barely a part of anything at all...earning nothing, gaining little.
That's why we do it...to get more out of life. You have to risk more to get more. We risk it all, for the risks are high...but we get more...oh, so very much more. And when we drag our sore asses and wounded bikes home, it takes barely a day of healing before we yearn for the next adventure, start looking at that other far away and desolate place where we can punish ourselves yet again in the quest for the ultimate high.
There's a sadness that comes with the close of a trip. Yes, of course there is the anxiety of going home and the sense of euphoria that accompanies it. But, the sadness is right beside it, matching it step for step. The daily struggle will not be there; the hardship, the suffering, the ever changing kaleidiscope as you follow that ribbon of asphalt; which branch you take determines the outcome of the day. Those choices move behind you when you return home. They are replaced by normalcy, familiarity and things you know well but whose memory has faded during your absence.
It is a return to a familiar land with familiar customs and a familiar language. You are no longer THE White Guy. You are simply any other white guy. You blend in. You become invisible because of your sameness. There will be no Jantar Lady, no mystery meals, no daily plan to dissect and execute. Suddenly I feel like cancelling the whole return. It was the winning against the struggle that I had subconsciously looked forward to but had failed to recognize.
I left the RANA in Valencia. A chance meeting had directed me to this Cargo Shipping Terminal. Valencia was the Cargo place not Caracas. But now I had to get to Caracas. I took the bus, Executive Class, $6.00 for a 2-1/2 hour ride.
Caracas was built somewhere within the navel of the Cordillera which extended to the east, from the main chain of the Andes. A more difficult and fractured terrain is hard to imagine. Also difficult to imagine is the level of gridlock created by such a rugged environment. Perhaps it was pretty once, but not anymore. With over seven million people jammed into the crotch where the slash meets the gash, the city had a distinctive Soviet look most likely a byproduct of its past and present dictatorial regimes. The future was looking the same, unfortunately.
A bevy of Taxi drivers greeted me as I stepped off of the bus. However, they were both intimidated and disinterested by my request for a ride to the airport. 100,000 Bolivares was their best offer. I was expecting 40,000 Bs but settled for 80,000 Bs.
It was 6:30 PM. A block away the wheels of progress slowed to a crawl...the revolutions of the wheels kept pace with the second hand on my watch. And then they stopped. There were no more revolutions as darkness descended upon the land. We waited, as nothing happened, seemingly forever.
I had a twin pack of Oreo Cookies. We consumed those. We got out of the car and walked around. Finally, we began to move...one painful revolution after another. Soon we were up to speed, the tires humming in unison. The lineup heading into Caracas was longer than the one we were in, leaving town. The taxi driver cringed at the prospect of returning.
No wonder the fare was a tough sell. Those who bid said it would take 3 hours for a return trip. We consumed 2 hours on the way out. They would be shy by an hour. I paid the taxi driver more. It wasn't his fault...it wasn't mine. If gas wasn't free here, you couldn't afford to go to the airport.
The only solution is stacked freeways but no one would survive the construction period which would take decades. We need to call in the Americans to nuke this place and level it and begin anew with a fresh layout and a new government. What this place needs is a democratic demographic...just ask George.
I entered the US near Houston and flew overland to Dallas. The orderly arrangement of the farms, communities and roads struck me. Unlike the chaos that had been my constant companion for the past six months and more especially the last month, there was an obvious sense of order and planning evident here. Traffic moved at a leisurely, organized pace. Three lanes of vehicles travelled within the three lanes marked on the highway, not six lanes of vehicles occupying three lanes of highway as had been the norm down south.
There was an obvious observance of the rules governing automobile travel. I smiled inwardly at the norm I was familiar with...a sense of order that would be easy to conform to. I had returned to the area of my roots...I had survived unscathed. An incredible journey had come to an end...a traverse of epic proportions. Not unique by any means but remarkable just the same.
Goodbye my friends. Thank you for being a part of my journey...for sharing my experiences...for listening to my miscellaneous ramblings...for wondering if I would survive...I HAVE.
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