Seeing my whole life rush before my eyes ten times a day. It is averaging out at four homicidal assaults a day. Not too grateful for this. I mean, the story aint so interesting. I don’t need to be repeatedly reminded thanks very much. Christmas in Colombia is a month of booze and more booze. Have a drink have a drive. It is wild.
See three wrecks on the way to Cali. Two in the ditches, one driven up on the metal side-fence. The car is gently swaying in the wind, balanced on its ripped undercarriage. Twenty-four carat Italian Job. Four wheel drive to no wheel drive. I feel its pain. The wide-eyed driver is beyond suffering. Not hurt, just sharing the fate of his car, absolutely smashed.
The staff warn me not to leave the hotel after dark. Yeah, but what about my trip to the carnival? Imprisonment in an air-conditioned box is not what I had in mind. I escape with Paula from reception playing diminutive bodyguard. We watch the world go by on Sexto Street, half of it tottering on four-inch heels. It is a bit like being in a giant Christina Aguilera video. So this is why the boys talk so fondly of Colombia.
Get to the Ecuador frontier on the 31st December. Ten in the morning. Everyone is very friendly. Very friendly indeed. The conversation’s fumes are a fire hazard. The whisky bottle on the office table has been empty a good while. But never was bureaucratic refusal done with such warm-hearted bonhomie. I make half a dozen friends for life but don’t get through the border. “Ask anything of us amigo, anything but that.” I turn around and do my last hour in reverse. I push the bike backwards to make my point. Nothing is quite as petty as the rage of the defeated man.
Recompense time. I take a room in the top hotel in town. There is a hot water bottle in the bed, Ché on the wall and a huge painting of a Palestinian youth in the dining room. Really big. A rock in one hand, in the other a flag. His T-shirt says one word: Jerusalem. The building’s owner tells me of his high regard for Lenin and Trotsky. Yeah, this country is a bit different.
Evening takes its sweet time to arrive. “I just can’t get you outta my head…” is blasting through the walls. The windows shake a dzzdzzdzz mzzhuhmzmzz for the big bass notes. This was great favourite in Thailand too. I take my hangdog face downstairs. The girl at reception keeps giving me rum shots and big smiles. I must have had two dozen. I return to my room for a breather and pass out on the bed. It is an all-too-brightly-lit 2004 when I next open my eyes.
Some good news. I have found the solution to the bike’s altitude problems. Sometimes the solution is staring you right in the face. Just go downhill. Big improvement. It works a treat.
After weeks in the sky I drop to under 1000 metres. The mosquitoes are man size, but it is great to be in the clouds. It is a joy to take on a cumulonimbus—see one on the horizon and then ride right through the middle. Spooky, mesmerising, unbelievable fun.
Ecuador is like Wales. The spectacular mountains, green hills, and lots and lots of rain. I swear that was a pint of Albright I had back there. I give the country two and a half days, which is unfair, but I am keen to get moving after all the delays. More the fool me.
Overlander conundrum time: you lose your keys. Thankfully you have thought to put a spare set in your left pannier. Trouble is, they are locked in the pannier. Get out of that sunshine. Answers by daybreak please.
I ask in town for some tools in order to break into the box. “It is not necessary” says Juan. He takes a hammer and a small screwdriver to my padlock, and gives the latter a gently measured tap. It springs open obligingly. “Te doy las gracias” says I, thinking that it is definitely time to rethink my security system.
We chat for a while. He wants to go back to the USA. “Why did you leave?”
“I was reported. Illegal”.
“Why would anyone do that? Who did it?”
“Yeah. They met.”
For a few days I cross paths again with Didier and Catherine. A familiar division of labour emerges. She takes the pictures, adding wry encouragement and quiet smiles. He throws a charming French version of Australian manhood into the mix, “no inquietudes mate”, and I have lots of obscure adjectives for sand. But they want to go east to the magnificent Inca ruins and onto Rio’s fantastic carnival. I want to keep south into Chile looking for solitude and altitude. It makes sense. Just doesn’t sound like it.
Easier to get in the sand...
...than to get out.
I find plenty. The open deserts pull together all those dissolute thoughts and creeping doubts around biking travel. Huge spaces; the feeling of covering miles without danger or difficulty; the sheer amount of nothingness. Just me and lots of absence. Motorcycle emptiness. I adore these vast landscapes: blissfully lost in my helmet, tracking kilometers on the map, enthralled by the thin black line winding forwards like a discarded leather belt. I am very happy.
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