An old tango sings: "Mi buenos Aires querido, nunca te podré olvidar" (My dear Buenos Aires I will never forget you.)
I've never been a fan of tangoes, but I've become almost addicted to Buenos Aires.
It is a great city among cities.
One night I walked the streets of Recoleta with my dear friend Dr. Bárbara Uriburu. We crossed streets and avenues untill dawn, resolving ancient existencial troubles. As the sun came up between the tall buildings, we were better firends and a little wiser... and no one had tried to mug us.
I went to a rock concert in the gardens of Palermo. Thousands of porteños (citizens of Buenos Aires) did too. Beautiful girls in skirts, moms and dads and babies, quite a few lovers. We jumped and sang to a popular Argeninian band and were happy together. When it was over, most of us walked home slowly.
The streets of Buenos Aires belong to the people. There is always someone walking the good life or buried in garbage trying to sleep the sleep of the poorest of the poor.
Cafes refuse to stay indoors and populate the streets. There's always good coffe. Quilmes beer is good, Mendoza's wine better... and the lovely girl drinking in the next table... a woman in full bloom.
Buenos Aires is the noisiest of cities, and is full of dog shit.
Any night is a good night to party after a good nap. People dine, go to sleep, get up at two in the morning and go into the night looking for fun.
In Buenos Aires obtaining an x ray can take a week.
In Buenos Aires you can find any spare part you need for a KLR 650
In Buenos Aires cars are not more important than people.
There is an ecological reserve and an old dock.
There is a great obelisque in the middle of the widest street in the world.
There are prostitutes in bars in the commercial district. It doesn't matter waht time of the day it is.
Soccer is religion. Asados are a true passion.
In Buenos Aires you don't need to comb your hair. No one does. This is the city of hair in the wind. I love it, I hate to comb mine.
Most restaurants close after 3:00 pm and you have to wait untill seven to eat.
The subway is full and warm and goes everywhere.
I like it. I do.
Night was falling.
I was almost falling
My Polartech Windproof jacket fell... so did my favorite riding gloves.
I had never been in Alota before. I didn't know if there were any hostels there, or food or gas. I had left my tent and sleeping bag behind and it was getting very cold. I could only hope for the best and focus all my energy in keeping the bike vertical.
I saw lights in the distance.
The distance grew smaller.
A beaten up truck with very dim lights drove in the opposite direction, refusing to stop and talk to me. (These bastards would pick up my jacket further down the road).
I arrived and a car signaled to me with it's lights from a fenced house.
It was no house, it was Hospedaje Los Andes, a small hostel.
I was saved.
There were three guests there. A driver, a salsa singer - anthropologist and a biologist. They were conducting a workshop to save the wetlands nearby.
They looked at me under the light and got scared. Grinning, they bought me dinner and gave me lots of water. Then the lot of us went on an expedition to rescue my stuff.
Fortunately I had marked a waypoint with my GPS where the things were hidden.
We found everything except for my jacket. We even found my gloves that were 8 kilometers appart from each other.
The driver would not leave the SUV because he said that the devil dwels in those rocks. Good thing that the devil is no biker, otherwise he would have stolen my gear!
Needless to say, I was a very happy rider.
The next day my friends gave me a lift to Uyuni where I had my tire fixed and bought new spares.
I was ready again. I hired a taxi back to Alota with new determination.
As the sun was setting, the blood on my right thumb dried, the small wound packed with dirt. The wind was blowing fiercely. The flock of flamingos remained undisturbed. In the direction of the setting sun a large fox watched me crosslegged, it's tongue hanging loosely from it's snout.
I was exhausted and a bit afraid. I was in a kind of middle of nowhere that is not a real middle of nowhere kind of place. True, it's at least two days from the nearest useful town... but it's also an obligated pass for the SUVs that carry tourists every day through this rugged high dessert in Bolivia.
Still I was well above 13 000 feet and no one would show up for at least 18 more hours, plenty of time to get in severe physical trouble.
The place is called Laguna Cañapa and is the first laguna altiplánica you see after crossing the Salar de Uyuni as you head towards the Chilean border.
And I was there because of a flat rear tire.
It had gone flat just a hundred meters from the lake in the middle f a sandy road. So I rode my fully loded bike that distance, destroying the tube's valve in the proces due to tire creeping. So when I dissmounted it I knew it was dead.
Obvioulsy, I carry a spare tube so I got it out, put in place and proceeded to inflate it with my electric mini compressor in front of a group of amazed tourists, that surely thought I was the coolest, better equiped biker in the world...
When they left , their oppinion had changed.
The tube wpouldn't inflate. So I took it out and checked it for leaks. Found one, patched it, put it in again and inflated it... but it only got to 20 PSI or less.
So I took it out again.
I had ruled out a faulty compressor because the night before I had changed a leaking fork seal and had tried to dislodge it with air... and the compressor got it up to 150 PSI. The seal did not come loose and I had to resort to the old method of destroying it, prying it, burning it and finally pulling it out with a used, crooked, rusty motorcycle spoke that Don Víctor had stored on the dirt floor of his precarious workshop.
So I looked at the tube, put air in it and took it into the lake. wich water has an enormous amount of borax... which in turn burned and peeled my hands... and forced me to use one of my 4 precious liters of water to aliviate the pain.
No leaks though.
So I put it in again and got it again to a whoping 20 PSI.
The touristas were long gone. There was only the volcanoes, the flamingos, the wind, the fox, the blistered hands and an internal little voice that said: "It must be the compressor"
"Impossible" I answered "Just yesterday it got to over a 100 PSI"
"Yesterday was yesterday" the voice said "just a few weeks ago you could read without glasses..."
This was a tough argument. So I disasemabled the pump and discovered that the 150 PSI had wore out the o ring. So I put some tape in it's groove to make it protrude more, put the devise together and proceeded to insert the tube in the tire, yet again. I got it up to 30 PSI and one side set. But that was it. So I assumed that I had puncutred the tube as I remounted the tire. This happens to everyone now and then.
So I took it out and checked. No leaks... sooooo. I came to the brightest conclussion possible. "The tube is porous" I told myself. And then cut of it´s valve to try and fix the other tube.
Not a good thing to do. Not even professionals favor this solution.
I couldn't do it, and used up all my patches. So It got dark and I had no spare rear tube.
The night was very cold... but the stars, the stars... no... THE STARS!!!! I could see every one of them at once, I could even see the lines that weave them into constellations... I could see the fat in the milky way.... I could see everything. I saw the most beautyful sky, the only sky there is. And I thought that if I had lived a life that led me to that dying place... I had lived a damn good life.
But I didn't die. I just spent a very cold night near a great volcano, besides a beautiful lake full of sqwaking flamingoes.
The morning was crisp and bright.
I checked the inflator again after my granola breakfast... and noticed that the tape had been disoldged. So I had killed a perfect tube uselessly (are there any useful killings?)
So I put some of the foil from the air protector of my MSR stove.
There are no trees at that altitude. No bushes. No shade. We have dug a hole in the sky right above where my head was, there were way too many UV rays there, I tell you. So I had been overexposed to the sun. My lips would bleed every time I smiled, or cursed, or did nothing. The skin on my face also had a thing against facial expressions.
My hands were pulp. I had mounted and dismounted the rear tire over nine times.
I pulled myself together and put my front spare in the rear wheel, and I inflated it to 45 PSI. The tire didn't set, but I didn't want to put more air in it because the the tube was very thin and I didn't want it to explode.
By then the next badge of tourists had arrived. Many took pictures of me and my camp. Only a cute Japaneese girl asked me if I needed anything and then gave me a two liter bottle of water. As I very slowly picked up my camp, the backpackers had chicken lunches and played frisby. No one shared with me a morsel of their food. I was very depressed and instead of asking I sulked a bit.
A couple of drivers came over when all was packed and we discussed my options as I had no spare tubes.
They told me that in San Cristobal (about 200 k away) I might find help and spares. There were a few little villages on the way there. However this road was off the beaten track...
On the other hand I coud ride 250 ks to San Juan, where I had fixed my fork.
Or go on to Chile.
I decided to try the safest road: San Cristobal. So off I went. And all went fine until my rear tire was flat again.
This time I was in a real middle of nowhere kind of place. I waited four hours for a car or truck to pass. None did. So I took of the wheel and looked at the tube. The valve was gone.
I cut it out and carefully inserted it at another place with washers and rubber. Then I cut the tube and tied knots at it's ends obtaining a "u" shapped tube. I inflated it to test it and found no leaks. So I put it on and could not go over 25 PSI. I re checjed the compressor and it didn't work. So I placed it over a rock, lifted a big stone and smashed it cruelly. I hit it at least 10 times cursing it to deepst holes of inflator hell.
So I had no tubes, no inflator, no hope of fixing the bike. And I was sun stroke, I think.
So I took refuge in the meager shade some rocks provided and drank my last water.
I checked my GPS and discovered that the village of Alota was a mere 16 k away.
"There is no way I can walk there" I pondered "I'm way too tired" "Also it's impossible to ride the loaded bike... but I can ride 20 ks on a flat rear tire on a bike with no cargo."
So I unloaded everything I own and hid it behind the rocks so it could not be seen from the road. "If I loose this stuff, the trip is over... fair enough"
It took me forever to hide the duffle bag. I could not lift it. I could barely drag it. I almos gave up and just left it there. "If you loose this, man, it's a one way ticket to Mexico." So I carried it, and dragged it and hid it.
I though about filling the tire with plants and clothes... but I knew I didn't have the strenght to pull it off. I just mounted the tire with no tube, assembaled the bike and left.
I will have been on the road for two years next month.
These are a few of the things I've learned on the road.
I'VE LEARNED THAT:
The old cliches: "Know thyself" and "All you need is Love" are in fact true. We repeat them like phylosophical parrots without honestly looking into them. We have heard them and said them sooo many times that they've lost meaning. Well... stop talking and start riding.
Another thing I know is that I've found the origin of all human misery (western humans anyway) It is called MONDAY. Do away with Mondays and your life will change instantly for the better.
In this 24 months I've come to love three women that I've met while travelling. Non of them begged me to stay when I had to push that start button again and reset the GPS. That's why I love them still. But the old myth that girls just love men on bikes is false. I found out that women like men who tell the truth and enjoy long foreplays. Bikes have never been a plus in my experience... Hmmmm... maybe it's the kind of bike I ride.
Bikers are brothers. We have stronger bonds than religious sects. I've found out that love at first sight might be an illusion (given that hormones are to balme for 99% of it) but friendship at first sight exists... ride a fully loaded bike covered with mud and faded stickers and you have instant two wheeled friends all over the place. Moto taxis, big engined motoclub memmbers, pizza delivery kids... the list has no end. I have aquired debts of affection with fellow bikers that I have no means of repaying, no matter what I do. I've stayed at their homes, eaten their food, used their tools; I've received presents, spare parts, and all kinds of drinks... I've ridden local secret trails, been pulled out of mud pits, been lent enduro bikes (oh man! thank god for that!!!), been interviewed in radio and tv in seven countires. I've been introduced to mayors, police chiefs and beautifull girls... I've been treated like an old friend by people I just met half an hour ago... Bikes rule!
I also know now for sure that there are too many poor people in the world. That we use up resources like mad, that this is silly. I also have learned to live comfortably with what I can load on my bike. Stuff is the bars of the prisions we lock ourselves in.
There are two key rules for motorcycling: Don't ride at night and don't ride drunk. I've never met a traveller that observes them..... still, they're good rules.
But the main thing I've learned is this: I HAVE LEARNED TO HAVE FUN. I thought I knew how to do that, but I didn't. Now I do. Fun is learning about yourself and then agreeing fully with what you find. There is nothing more fun that being who you are without restrictions, without concessions, every where, every time.
I'm currently in Bolivia armed with a helmet cam.. haha! you'll soon read trip reports and other travel related tales.
Remember: YOU CAN BUY THE BIKE...
NOT THE BIKER SPIRIT
The most dangerous thing for a traveller's trip is for the traveller to fall in love.
This happened to me with the City of Bogota. It has positively been the highlight of my trip so far. The warmth of the people there has created an affection debt that I will find very hard to pay... I'll definitely be back at some point.
This love affair started about two or maybe three years ago, when I first concocted the idea of a transamerican motorcycle trip... at that time, however, Colombia was not a part of the travel plan. As a matter of fact it only became a part of it while I was already in Panama. (Maybe I should start this blog with Central America, but I tend to eat dessert first anyway, so bear with me).
As many other travellers I was advised against visiting this fabulous country. I am still in the middle of it and can´t tell what might happen as I make my way through a region where guerrilla activity has been heavy in recent months. But I can tell you it is a friendly and stunning country, well worth visiting. As with any love affair, one does not come into it free of risk... you all know that.
From Panama, I sent the bike via air to Bogotá using the good old Girag Cargo company. They charged me 250 US for the bike and then slapped me with an extra 75 bucks for "dangerous goods" certificate, they could not provide a decent receipt for this charge and I still think I got ripped off. The service was good, they had me disconnect the battery and that was it.
After leaving Tewke (bike´s name meaning "young woman" in the Tarahumara language) I took a cab to the passenger airport to find out that there were no tickets to be found to get to Bogotá that same day. Not only that, the lady at the counter evcen said to me: "you might have to stay in this country untill the first week of January". I have never cared for Christmas, so I forgot to consider that everyone else does... and that half the population of Panama City is Colombian and wants to be home for the holidays!!!!!
I had to get a first class ticket (ouch $$$) for two days later. In the end this turned out to be a good thing because I got to meet a gorgeous Colombian girl in my exact same situation... we visited Panama City together and shared the expenses... Panama is a good place to party and no too expensive. I had a really fantastic time.
So I finally got to Bogotá. The next day I went to the customs building. As I was getting my paperwork started a very friendly guy approached me, he told me he was a biker as well, the proud owner of a Virago 750. We immediatelly started talking bikes and trips. The bike was released smoothly and Germán agreed to guide me to my hotel. He then invited me to a "Harlistas" ride on Sunday. I immediaty agreed, of course.
Sunday ride was the most fun I've had on two wheels since I got my xr400 under water at a river crossing back home.
We were about 80 bikes. Most of them Japaneese cruisers, but there were a few Harlys there as well and only two dual sports: mine and a Suzuki Freewind 650.
The road to the city of Tunja was wonderfull... people ride and drive like Juan Pablo Mntoya (the F1 Colombian pilot) all the time; they have absolutely no respect for speed limits, lane lines, speed bumps, on comming traffic... it was a teen ager's dream ride. Lots of risk and total freedom.
As we made our triumphant entrance into Tunja, we were met by 10 police bikes. My heart stopped for a few moments, I could see my self in a Colombian jail for breaking every traffic law in the country. To my surprise... they were there to escort us into town!!!!!!!!!
The reason for our trip was to donate a bunch of toys to the town's poorest children. So we paraded through the main streets with sirens and horns and fore crackers.... it was incredible!
We alla parked at the ain square and hundreds of people cheered us in. As I was the only forigner I sort of became a one day star. I gave away authogrphs and kissed a bunch of babies... well I did kiss some babes as well. Then we took children for rides on our bikes. The look on their faces was of sheer joy. At one point I had three children on the bike as I road down main street roaring loudly at very low speed... It was memorable.
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